Old news resurfaces in Seclusion
By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
April 2, 2012 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2012 at 11:02 p.m.
SECLUSION - Peeling back the thin metal roof of the chicken coop, Eugene Koerth saw it - newspaper print barely legible beneath years of barnyard muck and mire.
Somehow, Koerth ended up pulling a glimpse of the past off of a chicken coup in Texas.
He tugged the metal sheet off the chicken house and rinsed it with water to remove more of the grime. It was a newspaper plate from the Daily Mississippian. On Oct. 28, 1969, Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning was in the paper praising the prowess of the University of Houston Cougars, who had bested his team on the football field that week.
As more of the print was revealed, Koerth stared down, entranced.
"It just fascinated me. Archie Manning was always my quarterback. When I saw Archie there in the headline I thought, 'Oh hell, here we go.'"
The newspaper was founded in 1911. It saw a good deal of controversy during the roaring 1960s - in 1962, an editor was censured by the university president for the paper's coverage of anti-integration campaigns at the school. But the turmoil of those times isn't reflected on this single sheet of metal. On Oct. 28, 1969, the film "Bonnie and Clyde" was set to end it's run. Cheerleaders posed, smiling perky toothy smiles and an advertisement encouraged readers to try the Prescription Center, Oxford, Miss. "newest and most modern pharmacy."
A retired construction worker, Koerth was born and raised in Hallettsville, but he fled the town when he turned 19, eager to get out and see the rest of the world.
He worked on construction crews across the United States and then around the world. Whether they wanted him to live in Africa or South America, whenever there was a chance to travel and see something new, he jumped at it.
Along the way, Koerth developed a deep appreciation for the bits and pieces of life that get handed down to become a part of history. He has a collection of belt buckles made in Aruba and Algerian brass lamps. Every trinket has a story behind it.
About 15 years ago, he decided to settle down. He bought a small red ranch house on a tract of 15 acres of green land, adorned with live oaks about 20 miles outside of Hallettsville. He started doing things the way his parents used to, butchering and smoking his own meat, crafting homemade watermelon wine.
He began collecting things from the past and whether it was an old railroad lantern or a worn saddle, he would settle in and try to find out where the thing had come from, what the story was behind it.
Five years after he found it, the newspaper plate is still a mystery.
Koerth's neighbors brought the chicken coup with them from Louisiana, and gave it to him when he decided to start raising chickens a few years ago. When he went to his neighbors to find out more, they only knew that their children had brought the coup from Louisiana to Texas.
The trail went cold from there, so Koerth sat down and looked over the print, calling the phone number of every advertisement he saw to see if any of the numbers still worked. None did.
A friend's son was set to attend Ole Miss, and Koerth asked him to look into the newspaper plate when he went to school. Still no luck. The fact that he hasn't been able to track down people connected to it doesn't worry him. Someday, if they want to see it, he'll have it right there ready to be seen.
"It's not of value to a lot of people, but it's important to some people, this history. Only God knows what these people would think, to see these pictures, to read this stuff again," Koerth said. "Maybe someday, they will."
Sitting on his porch, he'd like to know how that slim sheet of metal got there, but he's happy just to get to see it, he said. Besides, he hasn't lost hope that someone won't show up to peer at this seemingly worthless bit of a chicken coup roof.
"These are memories somebody will want. They'll be glad somebody saved it," he said.