Dave Bakke: Reproduced newspapers raise questions

Dave Bakke

While remodeling the attic as she prepared to move from her former house in the 2100 block of South State Street in Springfield, Sara Mark made an interesting discovery.

She found a notebook that appears to be more than 60 years old, with one corner torn off and some water damage. Apparently this notebook belonged to someone named Rob Leef, who used to live in the same house on State around the year 1945.

Who was Rob Leef and why did he painstakingly reproduce, by hand, newspaper pages of the Illinois State Register in this notebook?

We don’t know. Not yet, anyway.

There is no one with the Leef surname with a listed phone number in Springfield. But there may still be someone — a niece, a nephew or perhaps a daughter who changed her name through marriage, or a grandchild — who may know more about him and would want his old notebook.

City directories from that mid-1940s era list him — the only “Leef” in town — as working, not for the newspaper, but as a telegraph operator for the Illinois Central Railroad office on East Madison Street.

That only deepens the mystery of why he would go to so much trouble to re-create the Register’s front pages from Feb. 23, 1944; Feb. 26, 1944; and March 28, 1944, among others.

“Big U.S. Bombers Leave Munich, Berlin In Ruin” reads the banner headline he put on the Feb. 25, 1944, newspaper he drew — just for fun? For a class he was taking? To apply for a job at the Register?

Whatever the reason, his work is impressive and detailed. He not only wrote the headlines, he wrote parts of stories on his newspaper pages. The notebook has some water damage and a few holes in it. But, still, it is striking.

Comparing Rob’s layouts with the original newspaper from the date he put at the top, I find that his layouts are loosely based on the actual newspaper from that day. There are differences, though the main story at least has a passing resemblance to what was in the Register.

Rob has the basic design down pat, along with the nameplate at the top of the front page. But his says the Register sells for three cents when it really cost four cents — wishful thinking? He put the wrong phone number on the nameplate. But he didn’t use his own number, either.

He wrote a small story on his Feb. 25, 1944, front page about the death of “Blana Kurner.” (Lana Turner?) His Feb. 26, 1944, front page introduces a new series: “Stand or Die: The 1st In A Series of True German Atrocities As Told By One Who Escaped.”

He writes that “This thrilling and inspiring story continues on page 3.” There is no page 3, however, just the front page.

Rob’s Feb. 25 newspaper promises a surprise unveiling in the next day’s paper. The Feb. 26 front page in his notebook reveals the surprise — “Another whole page of comics for the kids.”

The 1946 city directory shows that Rob had moved from State to Hamilton. So it is safe for us to assume that his notebook had been in the attic on State Street for 62 or 63 years until Sara found it.

Sara said there was something on the back of the notebook she didn’t understand. Rob had written “LSMFT.” Baby Boomers remember what that stands for — “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” It was the long-time slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

After I deciphered that for Sara, she said her discovery of a pack of Luckys stuck in a pair of shoes in the attic made more sense.

Whoever he was, Rob Leef must have been a fan of the Register, which was Springfield’s Democratic newspaper. Inside his notebook cover he wrote, “Illinois State Register, Illinois’ Oldest Newspaper, Springfield’s Greatest Newspaper.”

At the top of the front page he replaced the Register’s real slogan, “Complete News Coverage In Central Illinois Afternoon Field,” with “Springfield’s Greatest Newspaper.” I wonder what the folks at the competition, the Illinois State Journal, would have said about that?

Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 ordave.bakke@sj-r.com.