Past Perfect: Some Context on The Observer

The Munjoy Hill Observer was born early in 1980, about a year after the MHNO was formed.

There were four principal editors, three of whom had edited their high school newspapers and thought this would be an interesting project for the neighborhood. Barbara Vestal and Ned Chester had just opened their law office at the corner of North and Congress Street and had time on their hands because they didn’t have any clients. Mary Ellen Deschenes was the Director of Public Health for the City of Portland and lived on Fore Street. David Talbott lived on Fore Street (with Mary Ellen) and was a technical writer and was writing the great American novel.

The publication of a newspaper back then was much more complicated than it is now. Once the articles were written, they had to be taken to a printer, who would typeset the information and print it in columns (as they would appear in the final product) on “galleys”. The editors then took those galleys, proofread them, cut them up and “pasted up” the newspaper. The paste up process required that the articles be pasted on sheets of paper the size of a page of the newspaper, along with any photographs, drawings or other graphics. Headlines in the appropriate font and size and captions for the photographs had to be pasted in place as well. When the sheets were complete, they were returned to the printer for the final printing.

The paste up process lasted for hours as the editors discussed the placement of articles and continuations to emphasize what they thought would be of most interest to the readers. These [paste-ups] tended to be social events, with a good deal of debate about priorities.

We have found a cache of the early copies of the Observer and will be reprinting some of the articles over the next couple of months under the moniker of Past Perfect. We would love to hear from you about which articles you find most interesting.