Northeast Georgia over the years produced some colorful journalists, some of whom attained national recognition for their writing.
Perhaps the rivalry among weekly newspapers in their heyday brought out the best in the editors. At one time, three weeklies flourished in Hall County: the Gainesville Eagle, predecessor to The Times, the Gainesville News and the Herald.
The Eagle and the News prospered, but the Herald didn't last as long. The Eagle entertained readers until the late 1940s, when it converted to the Gainesville Daily Times.
The Gainesville News, which for many years was operated by the Hardy family, published until it converted to the daily Morning News in the mid-1950s. Albert Hardy Sr., publisher of the News, became president of the National Editorial Association.
The Morning News lasted but a year, and weeklies have come and gone since.
William Harvey Craig published the Eagle for several years and became known for spinning interesting yarns, especially about the history of the area. Though he and Hardy Sr. were friends and respected one another, they sometimes crossed swords on their editorial pages, passionately supporting different candidates for office, different priorities for the city, county or state.
Born in the North Carolina mountains, Craig left home at age 15 and ended up in Dahlonega. He got a job as a printer's devil, kind of an apprentice in the print shop of the Dahlonega Signal newspaper. That launched a career that covered 67 years, much of it in North Georgia, though he traveled widely to work in various print-related jobs.
After serving as a printer for the federal government in Washington, D.C., he worked a while as a reporter for the Washington Post. Craig labored in almost every state east of the Mississippi River, "stopping in one place only long enough to work out a grubstake before moving on," according to his obituary.
He bought and operated the Jackson County Herald in Jefferson, the Brownsville, Texas, News and the Gainesville Eagle, owning all three at the same time. He also had been managing editor of the rival Gainesville News for about a year.
Known to most as "Harve," his Eagle staff affectionately called him "Boss." His other nicknames were "Tellum A. Lott" and "the Doctor" because of his vast encyclopaedic knowledge and his scholarly bearing.
Craig's colleagues knew him as sometimes harsh on the outside, but usually tender on the inside. Some called him slightly eccentric, but most agreed he was a different breed. He insisted on accuracy and truth in his newspapers. Often he would research for hours, even days, for the tiniest fact to complete whatever he was writing about.
"His writings were unique," friends wrote of him after his death. "He could grind his pen into adamantine hardness and literally pulverize all falsity and pretense. He could express himself in the simplest terms, be understood by the most illiterate. And he could write a story with such intense feeling and sympathy that a stoic would display emotion." The editor was honest, sincere and intolerant of shabby work, they wrote.
He taught such disciplines to his staff, and they admired him for the lessons they learned under him.
Craig died on the Eagle's press day just before Christmas 1936 at age 82. He had been retired 12 years, but kept his fingers punching keys on his beloved typewriter. He continued to write both for the Eagle and the News, and his work also was accepted by magazines or supplements to major newspapers.
Reflecting the esteem in which he was held, several members of the newspaper Hardy family served as pallbearers at his funeral, as well as other prominent journalists, civic leaders, elected officials and colleagues.
He is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. Two sons followed their father's footsteps. Britt worked on the Eagle before working on the Atlanta papers and breaking the infamous Leo Frank case, the murder of Mary Phagan in Atlanta. He later worked for the New York Sun, but died in 1919 at the age of 25.
His brother, Pete Craig, reported for the Atlanta papers and became well known as a race car driver.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays; you can read his past columns on gainesvilletimes.com.