Living History: A country newsman bleeds printer's ink
In the early spring of 1912, newspaperman William Perry Epperson and his son, Clyde, boarded the Bamberger Electric Railroad train heralded for its "every hour, on the hour, in an hour" service and traveled to Kaysville, Utah.
According to J.M. Cornwell's Utah Press Association: A Century Later, the two men had leased a plate-littered, "broken down" paper called The Weekly Reflex. Little did anyone know within weeks they would stimulate readership by crafting country journalism with a swell of national news.
William Epperson was born in 1859 in Abingdon, Ill. He graduated from high school at 17 and trained as a "printer's devil" on the Abingdon Express. When the 19-year-old tried but failed to publish his own newspaper he, like so many other youths, headed west.
During the late 19th century, Colorado's silver mining industry was booming. Epperson picked up odd jobs in Denver and then traveled south to Colorado City (later known as Colorado Springs).
He married his sweetheart, Leonora Ash, and the couple had two children, Clyde and Estella. William became active in Colorado City community affairs. In 1888, he purchased a weekly newspaper, The Colorado Iris. For the next 20 years, he worked with Clyde who cut his teeth on metal type to make it a success.
"The last decade wasn't easy," researcher and director of Layton's Heritage Museum, Bill Sanders, told me. "By 1893, the silver market was collapsing, Colorado was in a mining depression and without jobs people were forced to leave."
Sanders, whose manuscript, "The Gentiles: Their Life and Legacy," includes a history of The Weekly Reflex, said the Eppersons struggled to keep the Iris alive. Increasing print costs, waning subscriptions and dwindling profits proved too much.
In 1909, news of land speculation and fruit booms in Green River, Utah, persuaded the family to pull up stakes and move even farther west.
William returned to farming and community life. He helped lead the drive to build a bridge over the Green River and in 1910 worked for the Green River Dispatch. Three years of early frosts and crop losses convinced him that printer's ink was his true calling and sole proprietorship his aim. "If you see a weekly around in Utah that's selling cheap, let me know," he encouraged friends.
The Reflex was named to reflect reality. When William took over as editor and managing director on April 4, 1912, the paper was saddled with a $2,000 deficit. His first two issues resembled most weeklies: local news and "boilerplates" of ready-to-print copy and revenue-driven advertisements, such as "Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound and various catarrh [runny nose] remedies," the UPA reported.
But Epperson understood the impact and value of news. On April 15, 1912, his publishing acumen was unparalleled.
The day before, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic was on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City when she hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sank. An estimated 705 people were rescued but more than 1,500 perished.
Without delay, syndicated news services offered weeklies their reports. Epperson grasped the opportunity to give his readers first-hand accounts about a maritime disaster that shocked the world.
The Reflex captured readers' imagination with images, investigative inquiries, tales of courage and stories by those who survived the Titanic and of those who died.
The paper's circulation soared and advertising copy increased. For nearly two decades, Epperson modernized the paper, expanded its home print and highlighted school sports and activities. Gleaning numerous journalism awards, he was progressive with content and fearless in his editorials.
A city councilman and long-time UPA president, Epperson ran the paper until his death in January 1931. In tribute, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, "The country press lost a sterling character a stalwart champion on the public welfare."
Eileen Hallet Stone, oral historian, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Under generational Epperson family management, the Reflex had a successful 38-year run.