Ten years after 

Ten years is a longer time than it used to be. Few schoolchildren in Arkansas would remember the Arkansas Gazette now; few college-age people would remember it as more than an old something that once upon a time died.

That means this upcoming generation is the first one in Arkansas history that has grown up not knowing the Arkansas Gazette.

It's the first generation since the next-to-last generation of American Indians here that didn't grow up knowing the Gazette.

Seventeen decades the Arkansas Gazette monitored the world from the first rock cropping on the Arkansas River, remarking on it, passing tidings along, and then the 18th decade came and went and the old devil, the old lady, the old nag was mute, the oracle gone silent, and people forgot about it.

They forgot about it, which is not to say they forgot it. They remember it still, but only in the same way they remember David O. Dodd or Judge Parker, or the Depression or Reconstruction, or the '27 Flood or picking all that cotton by hand. That is to say, they remember it only formally, sepulchrally, as a piece of the community lore.

They remember it as they remember the Gotham Daily Planet, which it outpublished approximately 40,000 issues to 0.

Sometimes newspapers live on in other newspapers, as people live on in their progeny. There's been some pretense of that in this case, but make no mistake: the old Arkansas Gazette is dead as a hammer. The Arkansas Democrat scalped its logo, and took a few of its relics for souvenirs, including a few of its old hands, but left the corpse on the field, as battle casualties too often are left — symbolized by the empty-looking, haunted-looking, still-outraged-looking, dead-colored Gazette Building, tomblike a decade later there at Third and Louisiana sts.

William Woodruff Jr., son of the founder of the Arkansas Gazette, was one of several owners of the paper for a time late in the 19th century, and he was an editorial presence, though not a very active one. He was hard of hearing from a Civil War injury, and went around stooped, at a slow pace, holding one of those old-timey hearning horns up to his ear and asking those who addressed him to please speak up. His characteristic expression was, "Eh?"

His father, William Woodruff, who founded the Gazette in 1819, was a native Long Islander, was apprenticed out to a printer at age 14, and learned the newspaper trade at the same Brooklyn newspaper where a young editorial writer with his same initials would soon be honing his writing skills. Walt Whitman, of course.

William Woodruff had precious little of Walt Whitman's writing talent, but he was a more Whitmanesque character than Whitman himself was, heading west and then wester to seek his fortune as a young man, finally pushing a pirogue with a heavy printing press on it up the Arkansas River beyond the western frontier, and setting up shop in a deep wilderness outpost with the brash young-country confidence that still stirs the blood to read about it in "Leaves of Grass."

The paper had an effect on the wild, fabulous, sparsely peopled new territory mindful of the transforming influence that the poet Wallace Stevens' mysterious pottery jar had on green Tennessee. It brought a defining order to the place, making Arkansas Arkansas before there was a true Arkansas, the borders then still rubbery enough to loop out over the Oklahoma skillet and to wander southwest almost to the Cross Timbers, taking in miles and miles of future Texas. The paper and the place got their identities intermingled right at the start.



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