Historical treasure discovered in pawn shop

Published 12:10 pm Friday, May 17, 2019

Mike Marcum knew he had found something special when he ran across two bound folios of old Middlesboro newspapers dated 1909-1913 in a pawn shop. He enjoyed paging through the newspapers, reading what was happening in his city more than 100 years ago, discovering fascinating tidbits like the fact that Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley once gave a shooting exhibition at the Manring Theatre or that Mrs. Hoe of Middlesboro had the first hot water tank in the state of Kentucky (it exploded and blew her window out).

However, he didn’t realize how valuable they were until he took them in to the Bell County Museum. After some research by those at the museum, he learned he had the only known copies of the paper for that time period.

Historians love old newspapers. They are like history books written in real time. Even though newspapers sometimes get some detail wrong or come to an inaccurate conclusion, a historian can usually be sure that if a newspaper reports an incident, something did happen.

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Even advertisements and social notes can give the historian an insight into that time period. Genealogists also find old newspapers to be a rich source of information.

The problem with newspapers, however, is that they deteriorate with the passage of time, especially if they are handled much. For this reason, libraries and museums normally have old newspapers microfilmed. This is an expensive operation especially when they have been bound since the papers have to be painstakingly released from the binding, each page carefully copied and then the papers rebound. However, members of the Bell County Historical Society felt the preservation of this important source of local history to be so important that they donated $1,400 to cover the cost of having the folios microfilmed.

Since the Middlesboro Public Library has an extremely good microfilm reader that will also make copies, the Historical Society asked the library to house the film and make it available to the public. Head Librarian Jeanette Cornett agreed saying, “It is amazing that these newspapers survived this long and that Mr. Marcum knew what a treasure these were when he found them. We appreciate the efforts of the Bell County Historical Society to preserve the newspapers and make them available to the Middlesboro-Bell County Public Library for patrons to use.”