Sunday, March 19, 2006

My Dad the Telegrapher

Recently in the local newspaper an article was printed from an interview Sis and I had with a reporter, seeking information about Western Union. The company known for telegraphing messages and money would officially close that facet this year. The article summarized my dad's life with first Postal Telegraph and Cable Co. and then Western Union which bought out PTCC. During the interview I was thinking how good Dad would feel to know he'd received recognition for his tireless work during WWI and WWII as the single-most accomplished telegrapher in the state. But when I read the article I realized I had dictated a bit of history that few people today would know, and fewer still would only faintly remember.

The telephone rang all morning of the day the article appeared. Fortunately, one of WU workers who had been in Dad's office called to tell me "his story." Mr. P jolted my memory of the many times he and Dad had to leave the comfort of their home on a Saturday to telegraph sports events, repair WU non-working clocks on tall buildings, in the Governor's Mansion, at the State Capitol. On several occasions when disaster hit, Dad would rush in the middle of the night to set up his telegraph key and send news of the event to New Orleans or Memphis because the local area had no means of communications. Mr. P's story underscored the work of men behind the scenes in a profession that few now remember.

I realized from one reader's call that I needed to continue writing this history, as there's no one else to do it in this state. Only old-timers remember the importance of telegrams. There were those sent celebrating happy occasions, announcing the arrival of a military general or a new baby, congratulating a new job, and during those war years, informing families of the death of their son, brother, uncle, cousin killed in the line of duty. Dad took all the messages, sometimes coming home after calling by telephone to announce in advance the arrival of the sad news. That's the only part of being a telegrapher he didn't like. He often said it was difficult not to choke up when reading the sad news.

Dad served his country by manning the telegraph key sending Morse Coded messages. I understand that the telegraphers were so adept at using Morse Code they could "talk" to the telegrapher at the other end and translate the coded message being sent at the same time. His fingers tapped faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. He continued to tap messages as he grew older, only the messages were absorbed into the wooden arm of the chair in which he sat. Once he contacted an old telegrapher in Georgia and suggested they tape messages to each other to keep their code knowledge fresh. What enjoyment these 70-somethings had! Living in the past when the present had forgotten them and their contributions.

Today I have the very telegraph key and sounder that he used in the 1930's and 1940's. Also there is a photograph showing the simple office of Postal Telegraph, with the entire team of five employees at their places. Despite the fact that I witnessed the events of their work from age three to six, I still have a fresh recollection of the way messages were sent and received in those days.

If you wish to read the article, you can find it at:

No comments: