Donkey baseball in action! According to those who remember it, the event really was a laugh riot. (Photo credit: Julie Norman)

Donkey baseball in action! According to those who remember it, the event really was a laugh riot. (Photo credit: Julie Norman)

The Editor’s Desk: A window into the past

Looking through the Journal archives each week is a fascinating glimpse at days gone by

I had no idea Donkey Baseball would be so popular and stir so many memories.

A word of explanation is in order. In last week’s “From the Archives” piece, I included part of an article from the Aug. 21, 1947 issue of the Journal about how “The world famous Capt. Bartlett’s Donkey Baseball and thrill Circus is coming to town tonight!” It was a late addition to the “Archives” piece, and I debated whether or not to include it, but finally went ahead, as it tickled my fancy.

(If you read the article in the print edition, you will look in vain for any mention of Donkey Baseball. I almost always have far too much from the archives to put in the paper itself, so some items only appear in the online version, and Donkey Baseball was one of these items.)

When the article went up online, I was amazed to see that many people had fond memories of Donkey Baseball, which appears to have been around through the 1950s and beyond. The article from 1947 promised that the event in Ashcroft would be the “laugh-riot of the season,” and those who remembered seeing it confirmed that the show — in which a game of baseball is played with most of the players on donkeys — was in fact huge fun. One person even posted a picture showing some of the players on donkey-back.

READ MORE: In 1947, Donkey Baseball – the ‘laugh-riot of the season’ – comes to Ashcroft

It goes to show that I can’t always tell what archives articles will be a hit with readers, particularly when going back 75 years or more. The pieces from 50 years ago, in 1972, tend to resonate with many folk, particularly those talking about — or showing pictures of — people who were schoolkids at the time and who still live in the area (or see the articles online). The articles from half-a-century ago that talk about the construction of a now-familiar building are also popular, prompting as they do memories of the “I remember when” variety.

Going further back, readers seem intrigued by the fact that everything old is new again: stories about the poor state of local roads (in 1897) or the unaffordability of housing for young perople (1947) show that there is indeed nothing new under the sun. It’s part of what makes it so much fun, each week, to trawl through those old papers: what was making news 125 or 100 years ago is often still making news today.

Mind you, reading through the papers — particularly the issues from the very early days of the Journal — can be a bit of a trial. In those days, newspapers were not necessarily run and/or written by trained journalists; they were run and/or written by whoever had enough money to buy and print a newspaper. Articles are often no longer than three paragraphs at most, printed in tiny type with headlines not much larger, and there are almost no photographs or illustrations to break up the columns of dense text.

Sifting through them to sort the wheat from the chaff can also be a bit of a chore. The year 1897 has hit a rather dull stretch, for example, as editor F.S. Reynolds was hell-bent on promoting an overland route for the Klondike Gold Rush that started in Ashcroft. The paper is full of laudatory articles about the “poor man’s route to the Klondike,” which — despite Reynolds’ best efforts — never really took off.

The “Locals” section, on the other hand, is often a lot of fun, providing nuggets about community comings-and-goings and events; all the minutiae of small-town life which means so much to those involved, and provides us with a window into a long-gone world. Today’s “Local News Briefs” weekly article is an attempt to revive that long-ago tradition, minus the social news about who was visiting town and who was off on a trip to distant places.

There’s no Donkey Baseball this week (sadly). Having never heard of it until recently, I now want to see it in action. Local organizations, take note: you just might have the seeds of a fantastic fundraising event.

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