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“Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.” — Virginia Woolf
It’s the end of an era as long time columnist Gerrie Noble is wrapping up his final few history pieces in the pages the Dryden Observer — a mainstay item on our Opinion Page for the better part of a decade.
I’m not sure it could have been more misplaced, as Gerrie’s efforts to root out local historical facts is about as far from an exercise in ‘opinion writing’ as one can get. First placed there in lieu of any other local columnists offering opinions, the contradiction has gone unchallenged over the years, even as Noble’s A View From The Past has come to be synonymous with page 5.
If you’ve ever looked at a room containing over 100 years of newspapers, as I frequently do, it would add some perspective to the scope and difficulty of Noble’s historical researches into our community’s past. The rare few among us who are touched with a passion for history have enviable gifts of patience, endurance and time.
In an age when a reasonably correct answer to most questions can be rooted out by an Internet search engine, it’s important to recognize the enthusiasm and discipline it takes to comb randomly through thousands of pages of fading, delicate archives in search of nuggets of historical interest — marking dates, names and looking for connections within the proverbial haystack of the historical record.
There is no index to the last century in Dryden, it is not tagged with keywords or clickable links, which people tend to take for granted.
The closest thing we have to an index is Noble himself, the guy who’s been rolling around in the haystack the most and knows where one might go searching for a certain type of needle.
The sheer size of the haystack is one thing, its reliability is another minefield for the historian to navigate. Operating in a close-quarters political environment, small town newspapers often leave historically relevant details out of the record to protect residents from embarrassment, stigma, or to preserve working relationships. What might be common knowledge in a community in its time can be lost to history forever, or obscured by subtlety or tact to spare people’s feelings.
In my few conversations with the man, I’ve got a sense of the great respect he holds for his responsibilities as a historian, the level of diligence necessary to ensure the most plausible story is being told from all accounts.
Not unlike other older gents who have attained a certain degree of proficiency in what they do, Noble has shown himself to be hesitant in adopting new formats — like email, word processors, or paragraph breaks.
Four to six months worth of columns would arrive in a stack of paper — hand-typed on an old typewriter. You could rest assured that Gerrie would be out the door before you could thank him. On the pages, these daunting blocks of solid grey have taught many a frustrated DHS Co-Op student where to end and begin paragraphs as they converted his lengthy texts from analog to digital form, cursing under their breath.
On behalf of this newspaper, I would like to thank Mr. Noble for his excellent contribution to the pages of the Dryden Observer and by extension his many meaningful gifts to the community which I’m sure he will continue to give in different ways.
A recent conversation with another local history buff, Mary Anne Misner, revealed that a local group has started kicking around the idea of forming a digital archive of all 114 years of The Dryden Observer — a massive, multi-year project to replace the deteriorating microfiche record at Dryden Library and preserve our crumbling paper archives. We are in full support of the idea and would love to see it come to fruition.