Black and White & Read All Over

It is not news that we are witnessing the demise of print journalism. Cities that once had multiple morning and evening newspapers are now lucky to have even one. And the ones left are shrinking, thinning and casting off reporters and columnists with increasing frequency. Put the Hartford Courant next to the New Haven Register and you'll see what I mean.

People who once inhaled information over their morning coffee now scan the AP wire or Cnn.com repeatedly during the day on their desk- or lap-tops if for no other reason than to break away from reading Viagra ads and worse on their e-mail accounts. If Horace Greely were alive today, his "Go West, young man" mantra probably wouldn't make it through your spam guard.

As newspapers are dying, so too, ironically, is the most fascinating section of the papers, the obituary. What a loss. A well-crafted obituary is an art. A good one leaves the reader saying, "Gee, I wish I'd known that person". And none are-or were-better than those in the New York Times. Many are classics. So much so that in our office we post them in a select location.

We have, for example, posted the one about the acerbic British eccentric whose wife supported him by taking milk baths, for a fee, with gentlemen callers. There's another classic about the rather unique female tier of fishing flies who lived on into her 80's. There's one about the Navajo code-talker, one of a squad of American Indians employed by the Army in World War Two that confounded the Japanese by communicating about troop locations and movements in their native tongue. Or the circus side-show performer who made a good living by hammering a spike into his nostrils. And Connecticut's own Salvatore Verdurano who created a shrine marked by perpendicularly buried bath tubs that became so popular that visitors to our very own casinos would stop by to pay homage on their way to the gambling tables beyond Norwich. There's one, too, about Harry Caray, the Cardinal's broadcaster once allegedly banished from St. Louis for becoming overly familiar with Gussie Busch's wife, who became the personification of the seventh inning stretch in Wrigley Field.

The folks at The Times, with a wonderful turn of phrase, would transform the mundane into the interesting and the unusual into the spectacular. Their most recent best was the obituary of Leslie Buck, the man who invented the iconic blue and white paper coffee cup with pseudo Greek decoration and lettering that was ubiquitous before coffee prices rivaled the cost of an AR application.

But those are few and far between anymore. Obituaries are more than information about visiting hours and the location of memorial services. That's what death notices are for. And your local daily periodical will be gladly print anything you want to say about the dear departed . . . for a fee. Good obituaries are better than that. They are mini-biographies containing the good, the bad and sometime the ugly. And the really good ones prove there are no small lives, only small death notices. And they are disappearing just like the papers that carried them. Too bad.