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Historic Cairo

The Cairo Citizen

March 2003 Photo

    Written by Fred Brown, CHS class of 1969:

    The Cairo Evening Citizen was founded in 1885 by George Fisher and his sons, John and Selden. George Fisher had previously founded the Cairo Bulletin, a weekly that continued to publish for several more decades.

    In 1931, John Fisher married Bess Brown, my great aunt. After he died in 1937, she became the paper's publisher, a post she held until her death in 1968. This meant the Citizen was owned by a single generation of the same family for over 80 years. Because of declining health, Aunt Bess turned daily management of the Citizen over to my father, Martin Brown, in the early 1960's.

    The paper was sold in 1970 to settle her estate. Only two of the five heirs--my father and his sister, Maybelle--were interested in paying the inheritance taxes necessary to keep the Citizen in family hands.

    My father, mother, and brother Gary moved to the Chicago area, where Dad went into corporate public relations. Gary still lives in that area. Dad died Palm Sunday 1997 and Mother died in November 2001. Because I was attending SIU when they moved, I never spent more than a few weeks between college terms in that area.

    The Citizen was published afternoons six days a week, Monday through Saturday and was the only daily newspaper for nearly 50 miles. Its primary circulation area was Southern Illinois, with daily delivery routes extending as far north as McClure, Dongola, and Karnak. The Citizen was also delivered daily to such Kentucky communities as Clinton, Bardwell, Barlow, and LaCenter. Its primary Missouri circulation area included Charleston and East Prairie.

    Dad loved his work, his paper and his community. I didn't always share those feelings, partly because he spent many, many hours at the office, often including my mother, brother, and me--whether we wanted to be there or not. It took me many years to appreciate the experiences to which I was exposed and the memories they created.

    Dad believed the newspaper should be a strong supporter of the community, which was very difficult, given the things that happened in and to Cairo in the 1960's. Trying to find--and document--the truth was a trying task. Sometimes, the Citizen was successful, other times not. Both sides in the community's conflicts often criticized the paper. This pleased Dad, who often said, "It's a damn poor day you don't make somebody mad." He also said that if you're making both sides mad, you must be telling the truth. If that's true, the Citizen told a lot of truth.

    One of the Citizen's proudest accomplishments was having extensive coverage of President John Kennedy's death on the day it occurred. Some afternoon newspapers had already gone to press and had nothing about the tragedy until the next day, while others were only able to include bulletin coverage.

    The Citizen was lucky, mainly because Mom was a dedicated "As the World Turns" fan. She was watching that program when CBS carried the first bulletins about the shooting. She immediately called Dad at the office and told him what she had heard. He stopped work on that day's front page until more news came from the Associated Press. That day's paper was a bit later than normal, but it contained very extensive coverage of an event that had occurred that day.

    To note that accomplishment, Dad had stickers printed featuring the Citizen's front page of Nov. 22, 1963. These were pasted into a book entitled "The Torch is Passed" that the Citizen gave to area public and high school libraries in 1964. Written by the Associated Press, that book covered the Kennedy assassination.

    Having grown up in the newspaper business, I often didn't appreciate what a special place the Citizen had in Cairo's life. I understand today what a unique place Cairo was during my childhood and the role the Citizen played in community life. Those are memories I treasure.

    Several other Cairo High School graduates had connections to the Citizen through working there or having relatives who worked there. Those I remember include:

    Comer Phillips,'65, whose father, George, was a bookkeeper.
    Tom Aydt,'68, whose uncle, Gene, was head bookkeeper and principal photographer.
    Dennie Levill,'60, who was circulation manager.
    Boyce,'69, and Beth,'64 Hillyard, whose mother, Nina, was a proofreader.
    Pam,'67, and Mike,'69, Henry, whose mother, Esther, was a proofreader.
    Jim Moreland,'69, whose grandmother, Guyla, was society editor and photographer.
    David Jewell,'60, whose father, Earl, was advertising manager.
    Ron White,'65, whose father, Eldon, was advertising manager.
    Judy,'67, Randy,'68, and Jeff,'69, Wissinger whose father, Jimmy, was a pressman and photographer.
    Robert Moore,'62, who was an advertising salesman.
    John Fair,'61, who was an advertising salesman.

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