Weinman, 54, a lawyer for the U.S. Mint, opened another fragile broadsheet: the Cincinnati Enquirer from May 5, 1970. The front page reported the killing of four Kent State University students by National Guardsmen and included the now-iconic photograph of a young woman screaming over a body on the ground. Further down, a different photo showed a close-up of men looking aghast as the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 19 points, to 714.56.
These newspapers, and thousands more, have been part of Weinman’s life for as long as he can remember. In the 1920s, his grandfather, Myer Weinman, a Toledo native who worked for a company that ran department store watch-repair counters around the country, started purchasing a newspaper whenever big news occurred, wherever he happened to be.
Over the decades, the elder Weinman amassed thousands of daily papers that chronicled everything from the earth-shattering (the victory tour of Charles Lindbergh; the end of World War II; the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision; the assassinations of Mohandas Gandhi and the Kennedys) to the mundane (Mickey Rooney coming down with a fever after getting a smallpox vaccination; cans of Campbell tomato soup on sale, 10 for a dollar; Queen Elizabeth’s return to Britain after a tour abroad as “a slight, but brisk, breeze ruffled the queen’s yellow, navy and white silk dress”).
In the early 1980s, his grandfather fell ill, and the teenage Weinman took over, eventually bringing the papers with him when he moved from Ohio to the Washington area in 1991 and continuing to expand the collection. Now, nearly a century after it began, the collection includes more than 2,000 newspapers, wrapped in white garbage bags and lined up by year on a wall of shelves in his basement.
But now, they all must go.
Weinman’s house is under contract. He has already moved into a new condo on Capitol Hill and doesn’t have room for them. So on May 19, he will lay them out in his front driveway and invite the public to come take what they like (details here). After that, whatever remains will be put out for recycling.
It is not the ending Weinman wanted for his beloved collection. But when he contacted universities and libraries, he found no takers. “Fundamentally, no one wants old papers,” he said. “They have all the headlines on microfiche. Their answer is, ‘We got rid of all our papers.’”
“The worst-case scenario for me is literally taking them to a dumpster.”
The papers are sort of like family members. While in elementary school in Toledo, Weinman would bring them to class for show-and-tell, bringing to life the history the students were studying. At home, he would sit with his grandfather, leafing through the big and small news of days gone by.
“I think he saw them as little time capsules,” he said. “He was a storyteller. He used to teach me history through the papers. … He would show me different papers and talk about bias. How the headline of one paper was different from the headline of another. They don’t all have the same point of view.”
Many are from Ohio, where the Weinmans are from. But there are also plenty from around the country, including The Washington Post, the Washington Herald and the Washington Star.
He has given some to friends as birthday presents, if he had a copy from the day someone was born. He gave several Toledo papers to the Toledo Lounge, a restaurant in the District that had framed copies up for around 20 years.
But even as he continued to add to them with papers marking Chernobyl, the Oklahoma City bombing, the release of Nelson Mandela and the election of President Barack Obama, he didn’t have a plan for them.
“I don’t know what I thought the endgame was going to be; I think collections are like that. But they were so fun, so meaningful, I thought I’d keep them for my children, my grandchildren and so forth.”
Although other family members treasured them, they didn’t want them. His 18-year-old son is heading this fall to a university in California. His Uncle Richie in Oregon already took the ones he wanted. His daughter, Kelsey Weinman, 23, said it had crossed her mind to take them. “But there’s just so many of them,” she said. “I just don’t have the capacity to take it over.”
When his house went under contract last month, Weinman went down to the basement and stared at the collection that had been his baby for his entire adult life.
It was time for a reckoning. But it was also a time for new beginnings.
“Ever since turning 50 I’m learning to let things go,” he said. “There’s less drama now. I don’t get shook up about the things I used to get shook up about. … There’s so many things in life like this, you’ve just got to move forward.
“That’s the sad reality of life; you have to jettison things like this.”
Weinman is keeping a few dozen of his favorite papers, including the 9/11 ones and the “Death Takes Babe Ruth” paper from 1948.
He is also keeping a copy of the Toledo Blade that his grandfather made a point of buying on March 22, 1965. On the front page, above the masthead, above the news of a civil rights march, Myer Weinman had scrawled in red pencil: “See page 28 — Biggest story.”
It was the birth announcement of his grandson, Greg.