Who wants yesterday’s papers, the Rolling stones sang a long time ago. Then they became yesterday’s papers. And so will all of us.
However, I’m doubtful about this, as about all other nuggets of Mick Jagger’s wisdom. Myself, I find yesterday’s papers much more interesting than today’s.
One of the great things about the internet – or no, let me go to 11, here, mes amis – the greatest thing about the internet is that it makes archives so instantly available to us. The prestige of the archive is, in part, derived from the fact that it is inaccessible. Archives conjure up the secret police. In fact, after revolutionary acts – such as the storming of the Bastille – everybody wanted to get their hands on the files of the Parisian police. But it wasn’t until late in the 19th century that a scholar, Francois Ravaisson, put them in order. And now they are available on Gallica and archives.org and one can read the testimony of a prostitute named Mlle. July about her whipping sessions with the philosopher Helvetius.
Of course, this may or may not have been true. To rely on what the police collect and put in an archive for a factual picture of the world is like relying on the astrology column for proof that the General theory of relativity is valid.
But it is interesting.
Newspapers, with their tabloid flights and their bourgeois judgments, are also filled with interesting items that may be true, or may be false, or end up somewhere in the wasteland between. But their age gives them a certain interest, if you have that cast of mind, that reading today’s papers lack. Sure, if you want to know what President Dumbass said at his press conference yesterday, then go ahead and read today’s Times. Myself, I think what President Dumbass said at his press conference will be much more interesting fifty years from now. It will have the interest of a mystery. Time will lengthen it – how did such a person become president? This is not, really, a question the news will answer. It can only pose it. The news can tell you about the weather, but it is not very good at telling you about the climate.
Murders, kidnappings, and high end robberies are very good news items to mull over as time goes by. The newspapers of the 20s and 30s were much more unbuckled about crimes – they were all on the tabloid trail. The front pages Plus, it was an incredible era of crime.
And, not least, the journalistic trade had not yet been absorbed by the journalistic major. Rather, newsmen very often came up from the street. They came at their stories roughly – pretty much the way their readers read them. The front pages were blessedly short of thumbsucker pieces telling us the meaning of it all. Consequently, front pages tended to look like chocolate boxes full of horrors. This, for instance, is a list of the headlines on the front page of the Madera Tribune, a paper that served the Fresno region in California, for December 31, 1937:
CHINESE PLAN GREAT OFFENSE – Natives Flee from Tsingtao
BLASTS ECHO AS PROPERTY OF JAP RAZED – Vigilante Group Organizes to Prevent Lootings by Chinese
MYSTERY OF LITTLE BOAT TOLD POLICE – Adventurer who Sought to Turn Pirate is Blamed for Death of Two
ATTACK ON WEALTH IS AWAITED
LOYALISTS ARE TRUSTING FATE TO AMERICANS – Volunteer Battalions Are Rushed to Front Lines to Battle Rebels
Hollywood Celebrities Routed in Raid Exclusive Night Club
Navy Mail Plane Crashes Into Bay
WILDWOOD MAN IS HELD FOR THREAT
This was a paper to come home to. This is what fascinated millions of eyeballs in the evening, after swatting the kids and going to the icebox for a cold one. I’ve instanced this particular paper because one of the stories – about the “Mystery of the Little Boat” – is about a crime that illustrates the hop, skip, jump way secret histories – like crazy jigsaw puzzles – can amass on the Web. The little boat was an “ill-fated yacht” named Aafje, which was owned by a wealthy Santa Barbara “sportsman”, Dwight L. Faulding. Faulding’s boat was chartered by a man named Jack Morgan, who came aboard with his pregnant, 17 year old wife and a nurse. Also aboard was a photographer who often sailed with Faulding and a guy named George Sternack, described as a “guest”. It turns out that Jack Morgan, having absorbed a number of gangster movies, had decided to make the Aafje into his pirate boat, and to that end he plugged Faulding and threw him into the sea, and terrorized the rest of the passengers.
“It had been Morgan's'plan, since he had no money, to steal his provisions at ports that he passed, or
take them by force as the occasion arose, federal men believed. Apparently he was making foi some south sea island where his wife could give birth to their child with the nurse in attendance.”
Morgan’s plan ended abruptly with Morgan, when Horne and Sernack snuck up behind him and one of them bashed in his head with a marlin spike. Then they threw his body in the drink, and sewed an SOS message to their sails. They drifted and starved, until the SOS was spotted by a plane and the coast card cruiser, Perseus, took them in tow.
The Aafje is an interesting craft to track. I am not the only pursuer, here – others have been on the trail, due to the yacht’s later association with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Some information I have gathered comes from websites devoted to that LSD cult.
After the Faulding murder, the yacht was up for sale. Errol Flynn announced he was buying it, on account of the story of Crazy Jack Morgan. But apparently he did not. Instead, it ended up in the hands of Bob and Evelyn Gaylord, who made a troubled voyage in it in the early sixties. Going from Hawaii to California, they were blown wildly off course and ended up near the Aleutian islands, from whence they limped down the West Coast and docked in San Francisco. The boat was sold at some point to a man named Travis Ashbrook, and here it again enters the annals of crime. Travis Ashbrook was a famous surfer; he was also a famous head. Many of the star surfers on the West Coast were attracted to drugs and selling drugs, and, in true sixties fashion, they formed a drug commune that they named The Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Ashbrook was an adventurer. He went to Afghanistan in the mid sixties and came back with a load of hashish to die for. Many eventually did. It was the beginning of the Hippie road through Central and Southeast Asia.
In the late sixties, early seventies, Ashbrook bought the Aafje. In Orange Sunshine, Nicholas Shou’s books about the Brotherhood, it is stated that Ashbrook knew about Crazy Jack Morgan, which was one of the attractions of the boat. However, Ashbrook didn’t quite get the point of the story: don’t try to navigate a boat in the Pacific if you don’t know how to navigate a boat. The crew that Ashbrook put together – mostly ex surfers and heads - got lost, along with its tons of Sinaloa marijuana, for weeks on its maiden voyage out of Manzanilla. It finally did, however, make it to Maui, and from the seeds that they brought, they started growing ever more powerful Hawaiian pot – Maui Wowee, famous in song and old codgers’ stories.
Such is only one story, culled by chance from yesterday’s papers. The intersection of the newspaper and the internet, of the ambiguous collection of fact and scoop and the millions of witnesses testifying in blogs and listservs endless has not really been explored, or even scoped out, yet. It is a new form of archive. I don’t even have a name for it. Neo-antiquitarianism?