By Seth Daniel
From busing to birthdays, and the Big Dig to the Old Charlestown Schoolboys, the comings and goings of Charlestown were chronicled with great precision for decades by the old Charlestown Patriot.
It was where everyone went to find out not only the news, but also the tidbits about family members and friends.
For many, those editions put out by Jim and Gloria Conway and their staff and family – including their son Tim Conway of Charlestown – have been committed to memory only. But now, through a longterm project by the Charlestown Historical Society’s (CHS) Robie Marcella and Tom Coots, the old news of the Town has been brought to life online.
This week, both said they have most every weekly edition digitized and available from 1979 to 2005 – when the Patriot Bridge came into existence.
“It’s like the Town’s Family Bible,” said Marcella. “If you remember people used to put unique and memorable dates in the Family Bible. The old Patriot was really kind of like that…The thing that’s so beautiful about the Patriot is it’s not just news, but also about family. It had pictures of people , personal achievements and even people’s birthdays.”
Coots, president of the CHS, said the project took about four years to complete – from salvaging the old paper editions from a Medford Street storage unit to getting them digitized one by one at a company on the South Shore.
Now, he said, they are up on the CHS’s very active Facebook page – courtesy of Marcella’s technical abilities.
“Many people might say it’s just old news, but this is the modern history of Charlestown and it’s also important,” he said. “You had the bicentennial in 1976 and the busing issue as it played out here, to name a few. We believed this was a definite need…Again, the difference between the old Patriot and the new Patriot-Bridge is the old one was not just news, but about gossip and people’s birthdays and social occasions. People looked to it because it was the social media of the day. It was social media before there was social media.”
Coots said about four years ago, the old paper editions were in a storage space on Medford Street, and Tim Conway contacted him to see if the CHS would want them. The storage space was no longer able to keep them, and there were about 60 boxes of old papers.
Coots, Conway, Marcella and others felt it was important to save the old editions, and so they put together a proposal to get funding from the Charlestown Neighborhood Council’s community funding. They were successful with that, and then were able to locate the company on the South Shore to begin the slow process of digitizing the paper.
There are now more than 1,300 issues online, and the response since being posted last fall has been tremendous.
Still, the paper is only partially finished, as several issues are missing from 1980 and the issues before 1979 are not complete. The paper was established in 1958, and the Conway family took it over in the 1960s.
“The Conways of the 20th Century were like the Frothinghams of the 19th century,” said Coots, referring to the family that wrote the first history of Charlestown.