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Gilbreth column: The Post and Courier’s upcoming transition brings back memories

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Evening Post Industries is based in The Post and Courier Building is at 134 Columbus St. in Charleston. File/Staff

Having just turned 16 in the summer of 1972 and after working for a month (for free) at Camp Carolina in Brevard, N.C., as an assistant counsellor, I got my first paying “real job” at 134 Columbus St., inside the imposing 237,000-square-foot fortress that housed both The News and Courier and The Evening Post. That was the first of six consecutive summer internships — before leaving to find my way — back when the two papers (mostly the Courier) had circulation around the state and when a lot of Charlestonians subscribed to not just one but two daily newspapers.

At any rate, working in a newspaper plant back then was a study in noise, hustling and bustling, and tobacco smoke. That first summer I was assigned as a copy boy for The Evening Post in the mornings and performed various tasks for the photography department during the afternoons. A copy boy did just that: ran copy and primitive black and white photos from the AP and UPI wire service machines to various editors who would determine what would go in the afternoon paper, make any editorial changes and return the copy to their outboxes. I’d then run back, grab the copy and place it in a conveyor belt to be transported to the linotype machine room.

Linotype machines were amazing and used liquid metal (mostly lead, if I recall correctly) to typeset the received copy, which was later used to form impressions on flexible mats. The mats were themselves cast in metal to create cylindrical plates for the rolls of the printing presses.

Between the hissing and clanging noises of the linotype machines, the clacking of typewriters (pretty much all manual in 1972) and the distant roars and vibrations of the printing presses — not to mention the time crunch before the age of computers and offset presses, thus making deadlines all the more nail-biting — the newspaper building was utterly alive with activity and a sense of exciting tension.

And of course there was the cigarette smoke. Most desks were adorned with ashtrays and coffee was always brewing somewhere. It was hard work but very rewarding. And when one day’s work was done you’d turn the page and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow. But perhaps not before dropping by Raben’s at the corner of King and Line streets to wind down a bit.

Copy boy work was actually pretty tiring. My dad used to take me home for lunch each day, and I wouldn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity for a power nap if at all possible.

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Afternoons in the photo lab or while on assignment with professional photographers who actually knew what they were doing were relatively calm and not as frenetic by comparison to the copy boy world — or at least not usually. Breaking news meant lost opportunities if one couldn’t get to the scene in time. It was great fun learning how to “process” 35 mm negatives (no color back then) in black-out labs, developing prints after exposure, and utilizing the chemical sequence of dektol, acetic acid and “stop bath.”

The extraordinary array of characters, talented reporters, editorial writers, columnists and executives who roamed the corridors and newsrooms of 134 Columbus back during the early- to mid-1970’s, many of whom left huge impressions on me personally during a formative period of life, cannot be understated. These would include — and are by no means limited to — the following: Edward Manigault, Frank Gilbreth, Peter Manigault, Hall McGee, Ernest Cutts, Doug Donehue, Dick Schreadley, Barbara Williams, Arthur Wilcox, Warren Ripley, Jack Leland, Tommy Nielson, Dewey Nettles, Jim Currow, Carl Pollock, Bob Nettles, Bill Jordon, Dick Burbage, Joe Smoak, Basil Hall and many others.

And that was just when I started doing a little work at the paper and doesn’t account for subsequent talent, not to mention all the unsung heroes of the pressrooms, mailroom and packing, delivery and everyone else who helped facilitate the prodigious task of creating a daily newspaper(s). I look at that list of people and think, man, what an incredible group to have been around when it mattered to have been around them.

Such is what goes through my head now that it has been announced that The Post and Courier will be vacating its headquarters at 134 Columbus St. by the end of the year in a memorable transition involving new opportunities, after nearly 70 years at that address and an estimated billion newspapers printed — with a “B.” But that’s not all; 134 Columbus has further been a stable employer, a beacon of philanthropy and the site of numerous other business initiatives.

And yet times change. The new office space (yet to be determined) will be modern, efficient and comfortable, and what ultimately replaces the old building will hopefully be a beautiful crowning achievement to the Courier Square commercial development project — something we can all be proud of and which will stand the test of time.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@comcast.net.

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