Ledger on loan: Historic documents, files moved to Mexico-Audrain Public Library

By: Max Thomson, Contributor
Posted 11/9/20

Some are yellowed. 

A few are brittle. 


That’s not surprising. Some are 130 years old.


Some are just about an inch in length. Others measure 18 …

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Ledger on loan: Historic documents, files moved to Mexico-Audrain Public Library


Some are yellowed. 

A few are brittle. 


That’s not surprising. Some are 130 years old.


Some are just about an inch in length. Others measure 18 inches or more.


All are part of a historic collection of more than 100,000 newspaper article clippings from The Ledger which eventually be more readily available for people doing local historic research.


Ledger Publisher Tim Schmidt and General Manager Nathan Lilley made arrangements to loan the Mexico-Audrain Public Library the clippings archive and several other Ledger-owned items of historical significance to the community. The entire collection was transferred to the library building on Oct. 28 when The Ledger moved its office from 300 N. Washington to smaller office space at 113 E. Monroe.


“We were happy to get these treasures delivered to the library,” said Lilley. “As an enthusiast of all things historic, I’m glad they will be available to the community for years to come.”


The library is working through the logistics to facilitate public access while ensuring preservation of the newspaper’s collection.


“As an agent of literacy,”  said director of the Mexico Audrain County Library District, Christal Bruner, “the library is always excited to partner and collaborate with organizations in the community that share our mission of preservation of resources, shared literacy, and access to information.”


The clippings file, known in newspaper parlance as simply “the morgue,” is a huge cache of newspaper stories sorted by subject into small manila envelopes and filed alphabetically in cabinets. Historically, many newspapers kept clipping files to facilitate the writing of obituaries, hence the name “morgue.” At most newspapers, including The Ledger, the morgue files grew into a quick reference resource for reporters to add historical context to stories other than obituaries.


The Ledger’s “morgue” dates back to the 1930s when a local boy asked then-publisher L. Mitchell White for a way to pay for delivery of the newspaper to his family’s home.


William Howard Taft clipped stories from bound volumes of printed issues of the newspaper, put them into manila envelopes and filed them. A few of those newspapers dated back to the 1890s. The assignment sparked Taft’s interest in newspapers and journalism. He earned a Ph.D. in journalism and for many decades taught “History and Principles of Journalism” at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.


In later years the task of keeping the files up to date fell to a series of proofreaders at The Ledger including Hayden Tratchel, Eleanor Pearl and Beth Seymour.


Librarian Bruner is leaning on volunteers from the Audrain Genealogical Society to assist in the care for the files. The local genealogical volunteers work out of the library’s Mexico building to assist in family research.

The Ledger “morgue” files are just a part of a number of historically reference items the newspaper loaned the library.


Other items loaned include:

  • A comprehensive collection of microfilm recordings of full issues of The Ledger and The Weekly Ledger. Issues in that collection date back to the early 1900s.
  • A collection of Mexico phone     books dating back to the 1930s  
  • A collection of Mexico “city directories” dating back to the 1950s. City directories provided reverse phone number look-up listings and household information by     address, including names of children and occupations of the adults living in those houses.
  • A large number of CDs containing electronic copies of photographs taken in the 1990s by former Ledger photographer Dean Patrick.

The archival preservation arrangement builds on the long-standing relationship between the library and the newspaper.


Former Ledger Publisher Col. R. M. White and local druggist J. F. Llewellyn were instrumental in getting foundation funding to build the old Carnegie Library building on N. Washington Street in the early part of the 20th century. In 1968, Robert M. White II, then publisher, bought the Carnegie Library building, providing part of the seed money for the renovation of the old Post Office building at 305 W. Jackson into the current library facility.


In 1989, Thomson Newspapers, then owners of The Ledger, donated the old Carnegie Library building back to the library and the entire building was moved four blocks to the north side of the current library, facing Clark Street. It was connected to the main library, renovated and since 1991 has housed the library reference materials collection.


“The task to make sure all of the items from the Mexico Ledger collection are available for access will not happen immediately,” Bruner said. “As professional librarians, we plan on meticulously labeling and processing each item in the many boxes from The Mexico Ledger.”


The first items to be processed will be the microfilm of The Ledger. Items will be cataloged so they can be listed in the library’s online catalog with the designation, “Mexico Ledger Collection.” 


“We are planning to purchase archival sleeves and boxes for the morgue clippings so they can be preserved,” Bruner added. “We will be working with the Audrain County Area Genealogical Society so that the information can be indexed and they will have access to the materials for the many research queries that they receive each year.”


A number of people helped facilitate the project. They include Kris Craddock, Cricket and Joe Russom, Genealogy Society volunteers; Don Shire, local historian, Joe May and Max Thomson, former Ledger publishers; and Laura White-Erdel, daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of former Ledger owners and publishers.


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