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Publisher’s Page: The Past is Prologue

Same news, different year, different century.


Alyson Helwagen
photo: karen db photography

Every month we include a page called From Our Files in the back of the magazine. It’s a look back at stories and photos we published throughout our 130-year history. Our “files” are actually bound volumes of old issues of Paradise of the Pacific and HONOLULU that fill an entire bookshelf. Our office archive stretches back to 1912. For anything earlier, we head to the state library’s microfilm collection.


I’ve opened those old volumes to look for specific things from time to time, but never truly read them. That changed this month when I took home the oldest volume and read it cover to cover.


I expected the flowery prose. I expected coverage of historic events. I expected to find vintage photos of places I recognized. And I got all that.


I did not expect to read about topics similar to the ones in our current pages.


But that’s what happened.


Between write-ups on floral parades, the new state library and Kīlauea volcano, there were some very familiar items, seemingly ripped from the headlines of today’s magazines.


From our July 1912 issue:


A comprehensive review of the athletic records of the past twenty-five years would probably show Hawaii leading all America in the number of champions and Varsity team men she has turned out, in proportion to her number of students in the big universities. Now she is to the front with a world’s champion in the Olympic Games ... When one remembers the number of competitors they have the record is appreciated as a highly creditable one. Stanford, California, Harvard, Yale, Oberlin, Michigan and others of the big universities have all seen men of Hawaiian birth on their Varsity teams within recent years and some of them have Hawaiian citizens on the teams now.”


Now, 106 years later, Hawai‘i-born football players Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa and McKenzie Milton are all in the national spotlight. And just last month, we wrote about how Hawai‘i high school football players are highly sought-after by college teams on the Mainland, and how that is affecting the high school sport overall.


SEE ALSO: Hawai‘i Football is Hot Right Now—Here’s Why It’s Headed for Trouble


The editor and publisher at the time, William M. Langton, also wrote political commentary on the upcoming 1912 election (when former President Theodore Roosevelt split from his party and ran as a third-party candidate). He wrote: “Colonel Roosevelt and his followers have plunged the country into the most violent political storm within the memory of the ruling generation of citizens. It is an era of change.”


And there were long pieces on repatriated royal artifacts (we wrote about another set in May 2016), small pieces supporting buying local versus Mainland-made goods, and a piece about the superiority of Hawai‘i-grown coffee (we did a cover story on local coffee in December 2014). Langton even goes off about the poor state of the roads in Hawai‘i.


Of course, some things have changed dramatically. Every issue included a full page on “Facts About Honolulu.” In 1912, the population was 53,000. There were 900 licensed automobiles, and there was this paragraph, printed every month, which is comical to read now:


No venomous reptiles; no frost; no cyclones; no destructive earthquakes (the Volcano of Kilauea, situated on the Island of Hawaii 200 miles from Honolulu acting as a perfect safety valve); no virulence in epidemic diseases which are generally serious elsewhere, such as measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, mumps, etc.; no poisonous plants (even the deadly nightshade has been proved absolutely harmless here); very little thunder and lightning; no serious storms; no necessity for artificial heat for personal comfort during any season of the year, and at no time does the thermometer mount so high as to entail much discomfort; no malaria; no yellow fever; perfect sewerage; no fogs; no typhoons; no tidal waves; no sandstorms; hydrophobia is unknown.”


We’re a lot more concise in 2018. We just say #luckywelivehonolulu. And that will be the same 106 years from now, too.


Thoughts about the magazine? Please email me at alysonh@honolulumagazine.com.


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