136-year-old newspaper saved
An original copy of the Dec. 3, 1885, edition of The Neshoba Democrat was presented to the newspaper recently by Philadelphia native Ray Humphreys, a retired hospital administrator who inherited the copy from his grandmother Jewell Elliott three decades ago.
“My grandmother just had it in her chest with a lot of other artifacts,” Humphreys said. “When she was going through it … my mother saw it and saw her reading it and looking at it. She went over and joined her, and she realized what a treasure it was. And so my mother immediately called Stanley Dearman, the editor.”
Humphreys’ mother was Alta Kate Elliott Humphreys.
The now late Dearman was so excited to hear about the newspaper that he was sitting in Elliott’s living room in the House community within the hour and got a picture of Elliott with the newspaper, Humphreys said.
The resulting photograph and story were published in the Aug. 24, 1988, edition under the headline “Oldest Known Copy of Paper Owned by Mrs. Jewell Elliott.”
The Democrat announced in the Aug. 24, 1988, issue that Elliott had granted permission to reproduce the issue and the reproduction was included in that day’s issue.
“Many people still bring in that 1988 reprint in thinking it is an original but the pages were much shorter a century ago,” said Jim Prince, editor and publisher of the Democrat. “This original is truly historic for the town.”
That 1885 Democrat was originally addressed to Mrs. Elliott’s grandfather W.H. Warren.
Among the advertisements in the 1885 Democrat is one for attorney R.F. Barrier who lived in a house that was across from The First Baptist Church. Barrier was married to Louisa Brand, who was the sister of the newspaper’s founder Charlton A. Brand.
Also listed in the advertisements of the 1885 issue is Adam Byrd, an attorney who was later chancery judge and United States congressman. He died in 1912.
“One of the advertisements is from Tom Lyle, a Meridian wholesale and retail grocer, that ‘also carries a full line of whisky, brandy, wine and alcohol. …’
“One item said, ‘The new Democrat office is now nearing completion and we expect to move into our new quarters about Saturday.’ The new office was where the Philadelphia Insurance Agency is now, and was there until the early 1940s. …”
Philadelphia Insurance at the time of the reprint was located on Center Avenue near the old Coke plant.
Before Elliott shared the issue, the earliest known copy of The Democrat had been one published in 1888.
“There was a fire at the newspaper office around the turn of the century, and all the file copies were destroyed,” The Democrat’s Aug. 24, 1988, story reports. “A few copies from the 1890s have been located and copied.”
The 1988 story recounts that Elliott, then 90, decided to give the 1888 issue to her grandson Ray Humphreys whose birthday is Aug. 21. Ray Humphreys was then vice president of Methodist Hospital in Hattiesburg.
Humphreys said he kept the newspaper with him all of those years through several moves throughout the state and has now settled back in Hattiesburg with his family in retirement.
Humphreys said he believed it was time to find an appropriate home for the old Democrat issue where more people could see it.
“It needs to be displayed where others can enjoy looking at the original,” Humphreys said. “It needed to go back home.”
Prince said the framed edition will hang in the lobby of the Democrat.
Humphreys said his mother had the newspaper framed before they gave it to him in 1988, and he later had it reframed with new glass. The four-page edition is displayed opened in a frame with glass on the front and back. The copy is well-preserved.
“I realize that it was not really being viewed,” Humphreys said of the newspaper hanging in his home. “It truly has a great deal of interest to a lot of people who like history.”
Humphreys said people could not see the newspaper unless they happened to be visiting him in his home, and they happened to be in the room where it was displayed.
Humphreys delivered the edition to The Neshoba Democrat office on Nov. 15. He said his grandmother had nine children, eight who survived, and 27 grandchildren and remained in the House community.
“Jewel Elliott was the queen mother of the family as far as we are all concerned,” Humphreys said.
The Democrat was first published on Aug. 6, 1881.