Name is new, but column has long legacy


The column you are reading has a new name - "Back Story" - but its roots go back almost 60 years in Sun history.

The story starts in 1946, when Neil H. Swanson, executive editor of the Sunpapers, launched the sepia-toned Sunday Sun Magazine. Swanson laid down the magazine's editorial mission: "Maryland is a fascinating place to live, a place filled with interesting people and chock-full of untold stories."

And the first issue, on Jan. 6, 1946, was replete with Maryland stories, photographs and advertising. The magazine instantly found favor with readers.

Its first editor was Philip S. Heisler, who was succeeded in 1954 by Harold A. Williams, one of the magazine's writers. He stepped down as editor in 1979, and retired in 1982.

On Oct. 13, 1946, the magazine added a feature, "This Was Baltimore - 100 Years Ago, 50 Years Ago," that took a look at the news of that week in history.

It included several unedited excerpts from actual news stories and until its demise, on April 10, 1983, was compiled by Charles Purcell Jr., Carol Ann Julian and me. As "This Was Baltimore" was fading, its replacement "Maryland Back Tracks" - later simply "Back Tracks" - appeared for the first time on April 17, 1983.

Its author, Carleton Jones, a native South Carolinian who had a deep appreciation and understanding of Maryland history, wrote more than 200 colorful and informative columns before retiring in 1992.

In the 1950s, The Sunday Sun Magazine added a second historical feature, "I Remember When." The first "I Remember When" - described by a writer as being "tintype reminiscences of bygone Baltimore and Maryland - was published on March 8, 1953, and took its place on page 2. It remained there for two decades before being exiled to the back of the magazine in 1974.

The columns carried a period picture, often from the subject of the interview whose byline it carried. But the columns were actually ghostwritten by magazine staff writers Ralph Reppert, who died in 1979, and William Stump.

In the final edition of The Sun Magazine in 1996, Williams said that "I Remember When" was its "longest-running feature and the most popular."

The Evening Sun, meanwhile, unveiled a daily editorial-page feature, "Our Yesterday's," on July 11, 1951, that revisited actual stories, as reported by the evening newspaper, from 25 years earlier, employing the same format as the Sunday magazine's "This Was Baltimore."

"It reminded readers of where we had been and where we were heading. And it made them feel part of the process," said retired Evening Sun editorial writer James H. Bready, one of those whose responsibility was to research and prepare the column.

"After we came back from the 1965 strike there were a number of changes made and the decision was to drop 'Our Yesterday's.' Not many years later, Gil Sandler sailed in the front door and he became the guy with the patent" on writing about Baltimore history, said Bready.

Now quickly to the present.

After the end of "Back Tracks" in 1992, then-magazine editor Michael Davis was looking for a suitable replacement and came up with "Way Back When," which asked readers to send in pre-1965 family photographs that would be grouped under a common theme like "Snow," "Halloween," or "Down the Ocean."

After four years, the present format was adopted, and with the end of the magazine, it moved to the Sunday newspaper and finally to Saturday. It disappeared from The Sun in December but returned a week ago as "Back Story."

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