Got the horrible news that former Gloucester Daily Times sports editor John “Doc” Enos passed away this week. It truly is the end of an era.
It was a golden period in my life when I worked with Doc at the Times. It was a great city and a great newspaper, when newspapers really mattered.
I got the job as a reporter with virtually no experience (Attleboro simply doesn’t count) because some professor decided at the last minute that he really didn’t want such a lowly task. They needed someone yesterday and my unemployment ($45 a week) was getting ready to expire.
It was early in 1968 and I was ready to go — somewhere. Jerry Ackerman was the editor and for reasons unknown, he hired me. I might have been the only applicant because this was before Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate when everyone decided they wanted to be a newspaper reporter.
It was a classic newsroom, where the reporters still used typewriters and handed the copy to the editors. The linotype machines were in the back and you could smell the hot lead. On Saturdays, we took turns pretending to put the issue to bed. There was no air conditioning and the building was a desert in the summer.
My assignment was the charming town of Rockport, Mass., where hardly anything ever happened. I thought several times of starting a (small) fire just to have something to write about.
But gradually, I found features all across the area and I was pretty good with a camera. There is nothing like having a front-page picture published.
It was my rare good fortune to meet the reporting staff. Paul Harrigan, another transplanted Bostonian, had the glamorous job of covering the Gloucester waterfront. He would come in an hour late every day and claim he was “talking to sources.” He eventually left to drive a Volkswagen bus around the world. We became famous when he drifted into my lane one day, I drifted into his and we passed each other on the wrong side of the road at 50 mph, much to the amazement of a Rockport road crew.
Then there was Andy Merton, who was obsessed with the City Council which met until midnight a few days a week, for reasons I no longer remember. Merton once wrote a story about a “dark horse candidate” who rode into a downtown bar on a — you guessed it — dark horse. The candidate still lost. Merton went on to teach journalism at the University of New Hampshire.
The photographer was a genius named Charlie Lowe, who gently reminded me that I still had a lot to learn about photography. He took the greatest nighttime fire pictures I ever saw, since the fires in those old Gloucester buildings never stopped.
There was a Friday afternoon ritual where the reporters always would sneak off for a drink. When Harrigan slid over to my desk and whispered details about the weekly ritual I yelled, “A drink?” in a tone that turned heads. He slunk back to his desk and never quite forgave me.
The fishing fleet was in full force and drugs were just coming into the city. It was a wild time and a great time to be a reporter.
Presidential candidate George Wallace came by for a visit.
The weirdest thing (there were many) was when a wild nor’easter closed down Cape Ann. The National Guard was called in to clear the streets. It took days. Some of the back roads took weeks.
On one of those back roads, two sisters were marooned in a converted lighthouse. Everyone forgot about them. When help finally arrived, both were dead and one was partially eaten by their family pet. The soldiers shot the dog.
It was a tragedy that shocked the city. The editor, Ackerman, assigned Harrigan to go to the VA Hospital in Jamaica Plain to interview the brother of the dead sisters for “a comment.” The brother was dying of polio in an iron lung.
Harrigan, in a rare showing of good sense, refused.
Ackerman came to my desk with the hand-me-down assignment. I said, “Why don’t you do it?”
End of assignment.
They were great days in a great city. I got all the way up to $95 a week, a lot more than unemployment. I don’t know why I ever left. Now Doc is gone, and Charlie, too. And the newspaper business is fading a little more every day.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.