Finding lost history
Locating a family heirloom that had been lost for years can quickly warm a heart and bring a tear to your e.
Minneota Mascot Publisher Byron Higgin found that out recently.
Byron's family tree is splashed with ink. His father, Richard (“Dick”) Higgin, was the owner of the Cosmos News and later the Cosmos Sun for nearly four decades.
Byron would often help his father at the newspaper office after school, on weekends and in the summer.
“He taught me how to use the linotype, and I would process photos in the dark room,” Byron noted. “I remember pouring hot lead on maps to make images for ads and things like that.”
Byron’s mother, Ardell, also worked at the newspaper office writing headlines among other duties.
“I remember mom sitting in front of the linotype machine (that is now located at the Mascot office) writing headlines one letter at a time while my 20-month-old sister Beth was sitting on her lap,” Byron recalls. “It was definitely a family business.”
Before the age of digitalization, newspapers used to have back issues bound like a large book. Daily papers generally bound issues monthly, while weeklies often bound an entire year in one volume.
After graduating from high school and leaving the family nest, Byron eventually worked in numerous newspaper offices in Minnesota and Wisconsin before landing in Minneota and becoming its publisher nine years ago.
For the past few years, Byron had been trying to locate the bound volumes of the Cosmos weekly newspapers during the times his father owned it.
Byron and Dick were more than just a father and son.
“He was my mentor and he as my best friend,” Byron said softly. “He taught me so much; not just about newspapers, but about life, too. My dad dedicated his life to Christ and he’s the reason I became a Christian, too.”
As a tribute to his father, Byron named his weekly column “Ole Pappy” when he started at the Mascot and concludes each of his columns with some sage advice or a saying that his father taught him as a child.
Dick Higgin passed away in 1988 and as the years went by, Byron often wondered what happened to the bound volumes of the Cosmos News and Cosmos Sun that contained his father's stories, photos and columns.
“Some of dad's newspaper articles began to appear on the Facebook pages of some of the Cosmos people that that I knew,” Byron noted. “I figured they got them out of the bound volumes so I started to ask some of those people in Cosmos if they knew where those books were.
“It turns out that all the editions of the paper were put on discs, and that’s where the people were getting the articles from to put on their Facebook pages.”
Byron had seen the bound volumes when he and his sister went to the all-school reunion in Cosmos 10 years ago and his desire to obtain them increased.
Once he found out the bound editions had been transferred to discs, Byron figured this was an excellent opportunity to return the books back to the Higgin family.
Harry Weseloh, Cosmos Lions Club member,whom Byron has known for years, spearheaded the project of having the old Cosmos newspaper editions put on disc.
“Out of the blue, I got a message from Mark Minnick of Cosmos one day,” recalls Byron.
The Cosmos newspaper went out of business many years ago. Minnick has been the editor of a monthly newsletter for the past year called the Cosmos Gazette, which includes covering Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City high school sports teams.
This past fall, the ACGC football team was out of the playoffs and BOLD was still ih. When BOLD was pitted against Minneota in the Section 5A championship (won by Minneota 35-22), Minnick was curious as to how good Minneota’s team was.
“I’m a big high school football fan and I like to go and watch games,” Minnick said. “And I was just curious what BOLD was going up against.”
So Minnick went online to see if Minneota had a newspaper and noticed the name Byron Higgin popped up in his search.
“I wondered if that Dick’s son,” Minnick told. “I knew him, but I didn’t really know Byron.”
So Minnick emailed the Mascot office and discoved he was indeed the former Cosmos newspaper owner’s son.
They stayed in touch via email and agreed to meet at the Minneota vs. BOLD championship game on Nov. 3 at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
At the game, Byron got a tap on his shoulder and there stood Minnick.
“After the game, we sat in the car and talked because it was so cold outside that day,” remembers Byron. “I told Mark that I would love to get my dad’s editions back and he thought he knew where they were.”
As it turned out, Mark is Harry Weseloh’s brother-in-law.”
Recently, Cosmos constructed a new City Hall and sold building that houses the old City Hall. After the newspaper editions had been transferred to disc, they became the property of the new owner of the building. He recently turned the former City Hall building it into an antique shop.
“I approached the owner, and after a little small talk, asked him if he happened to have the volumes of the Cosmos papers,” said Minnick. “He told me they were in the basement of his home in Hutchinson.
“I asked him if he would be interested in selling them and he told me he would think about it.”
Byron, after being told by Minnick that the volumes were located and in good condition, figured the owner would want compensation in return for the bound editions, instructed Minnick to negotiate a sale at a pre-determined price.
“A couple of days later, I checked with the owner again and he agreed to sell them, and then agreed on a price,” Minnick said. “So I drove over to his house in Hutchinson and picked them up.”
Last Thursday, Minnick, with the 37 lost Higgin heirlooms in the back of his truck, made the 100-mile journey to Minneota.
“Byron had a smile on his face from ear to ear when we were unloading them,” laughed Minnick. “And the girls at the office, seeing how happy Byron was, were smiling, too.”
The Cosmos News was a tabloid-size paper, while the Cosmos Sun was the size of a standard newspaper.
“I will forever be grateful for Mark doing this,” said Byron. “He didn’t have to do this. I’m feeling that in some way God put Mark into my life; the perfect guy at the perfect time.”
In historical terms, it was like Byron finding the Lost City of Pompeii.
“I’m so excited to get all of my dad’s columns, the history of the community I grew up in, and my own personal history back in my possession,” said Byron.
“This is my folks’ legacy. And all of what happened in Cosmos when I was a child are in these books.”
After the smile finally dissipated from Byron’s face, he grabbed the first volume and went home.
“I started reading it right away and the memories came flooding back,” he admitted. “I saw a picture of the Cosmos baseball team and looked at all the names of the players to see if I remembered any of them. I couldn’t put it down.”
The headline on the first edition from March 24, 1955 read: “Cosmos gets its own newspaper this week”.
“It was extremely emotional to read these things my dad wrote; to the point of tears,” said Byron. “As I read through his things, I could understand what he was thinking.”
There are also several similarities between the work of Byron and his father.
Dick wrote two columns a week; “Ole Doc” was his main column and the other one he referred to as his “smorgasbord” column which included several short snippets of happenings in and around the community of Cosmos.
Byron also writes two columns a week; “Ole Pappy” and a sports column.
“We have similar writing styles, too,” said Byron. “And he would try to use ‘catchy;’ headlines like I try to do.”
In one article, Dick’s headline about the mayor of Cosmos, who was also a barber, read: “Mayor runs a clip joint”.
And like his father, Byron runs a caricature drawing of himself above his column.
Byron still has the other 36 volumes to look through; meaning his free time will be spent reliving the past.
“This is like bringing my history to life,” assessed Byron.