Notice anything new? Our new Florida paper for this digitization cycle, The Lakeland evening telegram, is now up in Chronicling America. We’re pleased to announce that the content from the paper’s debut on November 1, 1911 through the December 31, 1917 issue has been ingested and uploaded for public use. What kind of news will you find in the Lakeland evening telegram? Read on to find out!
The Lakeland evening telegram was published by Michael F. Hetherington as Polk County’s first daily newspaper. It began in 1911 with the motto “published in the best part of the best town in the best state.” The motto truly sets the tone of the paper, and one of its most noticeable features is their unrelenting editorial enthusiasm for Lakeland. More so than other papers in our collection, The Lakeland evening telegram ran articles written locally and by other papers around the state praising the city that housed it. Knowing this, it may not be surprising to learn that when a second motto was added to the paper in 1914, it doubled down on the pro-Lakeland message, proclaiming “boost-remember that Satan stayed in Heaven until he began to knock his home town.”
This support for Lakeland stems from the fact that Hetherington genuinely loved the city. Editor of the first daily in Miami, the Miami Metropolis (now called the Miami News), Hetherington went to Lakeland on an assignment and was so taken with it he sold his Miami paper and moved to Lakeland. While The Lakeland evening telegram was not the first or only paper in Lakeland (Hetherington moved there in 1905 after having purchased the Lakeland News), it was one of five papers in Florida (and the only inland paper) receiving service from the Associated Press. The paper was so successful that in 1913 they announced that they would be constructing their own building because “the institution has been sadly hampered by cramped and unsuitable quarters.” In keeping with the tone of the paper, they point out that “the management believes that more can be accomplished for the good of Lakeland” once the new building was completed. When the building opened in 1914, it was covered extensively. This coverage included photographs of the interior and exterior of the new building, as well as a flattering story on Mrs. M.F. Hetherington, Michael’s wife, whose contributions to the success of the paper were “no less important than that of her husband.” In addition to being outspoken Lakeland boosters, The Lakeland evening telegram was also a fervent supporter of their own publication, frequently running self-congratulatory stories from other papers.
Given The Lakeland evening telegram’s tendency towards self-promotion, it may not be surprising that one of the features that sets this publication apart from other papers is the fact that it publicly celebrated its birthday annually. In these birthday columns, the paper presents a hagiographic account of their continued success in spite of the fact that creating the paper was “against the better judgment of our best friends, and, we confess, not without some misgivings on our own part.” While talking about their triumphs, they also emphasize how the paper has helped boost Lakeland’s profile nationally, as well as helped support local businesses. These quirky columns are a must read for anyone interested in this particular paper.
In addition to being fervent supporters of Lakeland, The Lakeland evening telegram includes topics you’d expect to find in a Florida paper during the time period such as international and national news related to World War I, the Women’s Rights Movement, and presidential elections. Reports of local events including agricultural news with emphasis on the citrus industry, local school events, and other happenings like personal travels, church notes, and fashion tips also fill the pages of this periodical.
What happened to The Lakeland evening telegram? In 1922, The Lakeland evening telegram merged with the Lakeland Morning Star to become the Lakeland Star-Telegram. Samuel Farabee, who started the Lakeland Evening Ledger in 1924, bought the Star-Telegram in 1926 and merged them, forming the Lakeland Evening Ledger and Star-Telegram. Another title change came in 1941, when the paper was sold to Cowles Communications Inc. and called itself the Lakeland Ledger. The paper changed title and ownership one last time; it was renamed the Ledger in 1967 and was purchased by its current owner, the New York Times, in 1971. While some of these dates are outside of our current digitization date range, we’ll be uploading more issues of the The Lakeland evening telegram, through the end of 1920, in the near future.
Citations and Additional Sources:
Hetherington, M F. History of Polk County, Florida: Narrative and biographical. Chuluota, Fla: Mickler House, 1971.
Seeing Lakeland: A guide and handbook to the city and its suburbs. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.
Lufsey, R E., and Kelsey Blanton. History of Lakeland. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.