History happily repeats itself


When local historian Jean Wallis first wrote her Highland Guidepost features for The Times-Gazette (back when it was the Press Gazette), there was, of course, no Internet.

Jean’s weekly offerings recounting Highland County history were featured on the inside pages of the newspaper, always with a piece of standing artwork depicting an old wooden signpost with the words “Highland Guidepost” scrawled across it.

When they were first presented, there were no individual headlines that described Jean’s articles, just the “Highland Guidepost” artwork. Looking back, it is safe to say that over time the history lessons Jean provided each week probably came to be taken for granted.

And without the Internet to preserve them, Jean’s stories – presented over the course of three or four decades – could be retrieved only by perusing the actual pages of the newspaper that have been preserved in dusty old binders, or through a trip to the public library to examine the editions on microfilm.

A while back, Jean expressed an interest in writing more articles for us, if she could ever find the time. That’s great, I said, but I also suggested that she could save herself a lot of time and work by merely updating her old Highland Guidepost series, copies of which she kept safe and sound.

After all, a whole generation of readers exists now who never read them the first time, and the Internet opens up a broader universe than was possible before. That fact, coupled with an increased interest in history and genealogy over the past couple of decades, makes Jean’s Highland Guideposts more relevant than ever.

I’m thrilled that Jean has begun submitting updated versions of her former Highland Guidepost series. Rather than placing them on inside pages with a standing piece of art that doesn’t give a clue about the subject matter of the latest offering, we’re featuring them on the front page, with their own headlines and usually with a photo provided by Jean related to something within her article. And, we’re providing them on our website and Facebook pages.

A couple of years ago when Jean provided her first revamped articles, I was happy to report to her that she had become a Facebook star, with a few thousand “reaches” and a slew of “likes” and favorable comments. Today’s readers seem much more enthralled with local history than previous generations.

Jean and her late husband, Lester, were actually a history team. When I was at the Press Gazette from 1983-91, Jean and Lester often stopped by together to share their submissions, whether in regard to Highland Guidepost or another history-related matter. Jean and Lester were the go-to sources for history-related questions that came up from time to time. Not long before his passing in December 2012, Lester and Jean had stopped by again, and Lester showed me some glass negatives he had come across featuring historic scenes.

Jean remains my first call on questions related to local history, and her continued efforts, both with the Highland County Historical Society and through her own preservation of local history, always carry with them an unspoken tribute to Lester, whose contributions to their cause continue to be represented through Jean’s ongoing work.

Jean told me recently that she’s ready to begin submitting articles on a more regular basis, and her articles have been features over the past couple of weeks. Her series will be welcomed by our readers, who have reacted with enthusiasm to her recent offerings.

Sometimes her articles might be previously-published Highland Guideposts with a few minor updates. For example, if an article published in 1986 said that something happened 92 years ago, it will be corrected to say it happened 122 years ago. Other times, Jean might do more extensive re-writing in order to provide newly-discovered information or to elaborate on previous subject material. Either way, readers will be the winners.

History is important, and local history is particularly crucial to preserve. Multiple sources preserve and protect state, national and world history, but how many historians can be counted upon to preserve local history related to a small town or a small southern Ohio county? There are to be sure a few others who do so in addition to Jean, and their efforts are to be celebrated.

The Internet has its positives and negatives, including the fact that something presented there can be preserved and shared, over and over. When it comes to false or scandalous rumors or misinformation presented as fact, that’s part of the Internet’s downside.

But when it comes to preserving local history through well-researched and documented articles, we should all be grateful that a new generation of readers – many of whom depend on digital media as their main source of information – can now accompany Jean Wallis as she once again takes us through fascinating journeys to our past.

Here’s to Jean Wallis – our latest Internet sensation.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.


By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]

No posts to display