There’s a television commercial in which a woman says something to the effect that it has to be true if you see it on the Internet because you can’t put anything on the Internet unless it’s true. When asked where she learned that, she replies, “On the Internet,” then walks away with her blind date, alleged “French model” that she met on the Internet.
Unfortunately, too many believe everything “because it was on the Internet.”
It once was the same with newspapers. When newspapers were the primary means of communication, people might say, “I know it’s true because I read it in the newspaper.”
Despite their critics, the vast majority of newspapers, especially the smaller community ones such as The Times, remain the most reliable of the myriad means of communication in today’s fast-developing, sky-high-tech world.
The late Jimmy Townsend of Jasper, a newspaper columnist, was a nephew of W.B. Townsend, the legendary editor of yore of the Dahlonega Nugget. W.B. Townsend was the oft-quoted and cantankerous writer who kept half the county irritated with his pokings at public officials and regular residents, but he entertained his subscribers with his commentaries on everything from world affairs to courthouse politics.
Jimmy Townsend was as prolific in his writing as his uncle before him, his words often resulting in books about North Georgia and the old days. He was a colorful storyteller who latched onto a good yarn wherever he might find it and whether or not it could be documented.
In one of his books, “It’s True What They Say About Dixie,” he said in the 1940s, “We believed that anything that was in print to be the gospel. It just never occurred to us that a story would be published in an Atlanta paper unless it was true.”
But he went on to undercut that assumption with a story he told from a column by Blanche Jones, who wrote for the North Georgia Tribune back then. She had taken it from an account in the Atlanta Journal in 1941.
A couple was returning from a Halloween party one rainy night in Atlanta. They saw a girl wearing an evening dress and crying while sitting on the side of a street. They stopped to ask if they could help, and she asked for a ride home and gave them the address. The couple put her in the back seat, tried to talk to her, but she remained quiet.
When they got to the place she had directed them to, one of them got out to help the girl out of the car, but she wasn’t there. There was no way for her to get out without the couple knowing it.
Mystified, the couple went to the house where the girl had said she wanted to go, and an elderly woman answered the door. They described the girl to the woman, who said, “That was my daughter. You are the fourth couple who have been here tonight to bring her home. She was killed four years ago tonight in an automobile wreck ... ”
A good Halloween story, but a stretch to say the least, even if printed in the Atlanta Journal, as respected as it might have been seven decades ago.
But Jimmy Townsend loved mysteries and legends, collecting them for three books that he wrote.
In another book, “Mountain Echoes,” he spoke of the “ghosts” of Indians, whose footsteps and cries he could hear as a little boy walking through the woods around Talking Rock in Pickens County.
He lamented the white man’s treatment of the Cherokee Indians when they were marched out of Georgia and imagined their spirits still stalked the countryside of their former hunting grounds.
Jimmy Townsend also made it clear that he wasn’t the Jim Townsend, another author, Atlanta newspaperman and former editor of Atlanta Magazine. “I’m the Jimmy Townsend, the man who never went to college a day in my life,” he wrote. “I got most of my education by reading The Market Bulletin and The Country Gentleman ... my vocabulary is about the size of a mustard seed.”
That didn’t bother his readers. He knew how to tell a story, fact or fiction, and it didn’t always take 50-cent words to do it.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.