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At 100, Virginia Man Has Seen a Lot of Printing

May 1998
SOUTH BOSTON, VA—For the staff at the ProForma franchise here (formerly Creative Ink), it's always a special event when Carroll Headspeth comes into the shop. It isn't just because Headspeth has been a steady customer for 10 years. What makes Headspeth's visits special is that, at age 100, he is a living link to printing's—and Virginia's—glorious past.

Born in 1897, Headspeth has been a printer, linotype operator, reporter and store owner.

Headspeth's career began in a small newspaper office started by his grandfather, R. Hunter Beazley, a preacher, lecturer and Confederate veteran who opened the South Boston News in 1879. He remembers the first car in town, and that no roads were paved in Halifax County.

At the age of eight, Headspeth started working with his uncle in the newspaper business. Headspeth remembers the paper office being filled with activity and visitors, mainly veterans visiting his grandfather.

"Most days were spent entertaining, and evenings were spent working," he recalls.

The South Boston News was at first set in foundry type and in later years in a Linotype Junior, which Headspeth remembers as being similar to a standard linotype, except the mats moved along wires of different lengths, instead of down channels as on later models.

The paper was then printed on a handfed Chandler & Price press. The circulation was 1,000 copies per week. At that time, paper was delivered in bundles of 1,000, and Headspeth's uncle "did not want to open a second bundle." A one-year subscription to the paper cost one dollar; Civil War veterans were charged 50 cents.

Headspeth says that when he worked at the South Boston News, the newspaper would not print gossip or crimes involving prominent people "because everyone knew anyway."

After working on the family paper for some years, Headspeth "could pretty much run the place." At this time, most newspapers were run by men who could do the whole job, from picking up the mail in the morning to writing a story, setting the type, printing the job and delivering it. Those who could afford it hired a pressman to print. As a printer, Headspeth initially made $25 a week.

Most newspapers received a flyer called the Publishers Auxiliary, which advertised jobs in the printing industry. "A skilled printer could get a job anywhere," Headspeth says.

Headspeth was offered a job at the Westbury Times in Long Island, NY, at $50 a week: a fortune during the Great Depression. He could not turn it down.

Headspeth describes his 10 years at the Westbury Times as the best of his life. The owner showed up about once a week, and Headspeth ran the place with the help of a pressman. Among his fondest memories from that time are seeing Amelia Earhart and Admiral Byrd, and flying in a Ford Tri-Motor over New York City.

It was also there that, working mostly on Sunday afternoons with a linotype and Chandler & Price press, Headspeth produced the first printing of "Halifax Volunteers" in 1939.

Consisting of 27 pages, the book was compiled from his grandfather's letters and produced for distribution to his family. The book has been expanded over the years to include lists of Halifax, VA, veterans of World War I and World War II.

In the introduction to the book, Headspeth writes: "In gathering material for this booklet, I have been privileged to live again, as it were, with those grand old veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia whom I knew in my youth.

"Even in their latter years these old soldiers were still active in the religious, business and political life of South Boston and Halifax County.

"Beloved soldiers of the Confederacy, actors in the greatest drama ever enacted on this continent... honored, revered, even envied, for they had 'touched the hand of Lee.'

"Here were men who met McClellan in the mountains of West Virginia, marched with Jackson's foot cavalry, rode with Stuart, charged with Pickett across the peach orchard at Gettysburg, fought at Seven Pines, Petersburg and a hundred other battlefields, and some as mere boys stopped the Yankees cold at Staunton River Bridge.

"These veterans were my boyhood heroes, my idols! From their lips I heard thrilling stories of the war, of battles won, of battles lost. They told of camp life, of long, exhausting marches, of daring cavalry charges, of the cold of winter and the heat of summer, of the hunger and the suffering. During the '20s there were only a few left. One by one they answered the last muster...and then, suddenly, they were all gone..."

Thomas Durand contributed to this report.


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