Mark Twain never said it, but it has been attributed to him and it certainly sounds like something we could imagine him saying:
“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”
That said, or not, the fact is that if Mark Twain were alive today he would probably be reading fewer obituaries and with less pleasure.
Obituaries, which make up a good portion of the content of this issue, beginning on page 22, are less plentiful than ever because many newspapers are no longer running them for free. Newspapers, faced with a shrinking advertising base, now charge, and charge a lot. In our area some of U.S. 1’s noble competitors charge a minimum of around $250 for an obituary of up to about 400 words. A 2016 survey by the website ancestry.com showed that the average prices charged for print obituaries ranged from $113 in small towns to $263 in cities to $2,474 in the New York Times. Even with the charges bundled into the substantial funeral homes fees, people balk at paying the extra money.
And they are less pleasurable, in terms of the extent to which they objectively review and assess the various dimensions of the subject’s life. Experts in the estate field say that your surviving spouse or son may not be the best person to serve as the executor of your estate. And we would add that the friendly guy at the funeral home might not be the best obituary writer.
We at U.S. 1 have stayed out of the obituary business — paid or unpaid. Because the people in our community usually come together in just one dimension, the workplace, the details of their personal lives are often outside the realm of our editorial focus. Those details, essential elements in a well written obituary, belong in the community newspaper in the hometown where the person lived. So we have noted the deaths of people in our business community in the style of a milestone: Name, age, date of death, and connection to the U.S. 1 region.
More recently, however, that approach has left a lot unsaid. This issue, which will hope will be an annual event, attempts to provide some additional understanding to the stories of prominent or otherwise noteworthy people who have died in the past year. As our editor points out there are plenty of people now departed whose wisdom still resonates in his ears.
In our regularly scheduled weekly issues (see Rein’s column for the inspiration for that regular frequency), U.S. 1 will continue to run — free of charge — the small milestones marking the deaths of people in our community. They of course will be heavily edited versions of the accounts created for the paid obituary sections. (And, almost needless to say, our advertising people will quickly quote a price for the space to accommodate a paid obituary.)
In the meantime, we will never wish to read another obituary in the coming year. But as they inevitably appear, we will take note, and look for notes that might resonate in our first issue of 2020.
Have a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.