In my first blog, I mentioned that as I was reading and transcribing more and more articles to include in the book, the content seemed to naturally sort into categories, and the categories became chapters, which made the organization process rather easy for me. The Essential Ed Koterba contains a total of 363 of my dad’s articles. The book is organized into three parts, with each part representing a major area of my father’s interests: personal and family life; traveling; and life in and around the nation’s capital.
Part One of The Essential Ed Koterba includes articles about personal and family life. These articles are arranged chronologically, and cover the years 1950 to 1961. My father’s first column was called “Life in Our County” and was published in the Waynesboro (PA) Record Herald. The Record Herald was a family-run newspaper. My maternal grandfather, Floyd Chalfant, was the original owner and publisher of the paper, my mother, Dotty Koterba was a society editor, and my father was editor and columnist. My maternal uncle, Paul Chalfant, became publisher following the death of his father (my grandfather) in 1954. My father’s column, “Life in Our County” ran from 1946 to 1952. The county was Franklin County, Pennsylvania, resting midway in the long, slanting Cumberland Valley—the home of happy people whose pride in their hometown was intense. The articles attempted to express a cross section of life, death, happiness, tragedy, legend, tradition, and the hopes and reminiscences of the people. The column appeared under the pseudonym of “Hank Hayseed.” In these articles, Dad referred to my mother as “Hattie,” and me as “Little Hank” (However, depending on my actions, I was also referred to as “The Little Stinker,” “Little Scalawag,” “Little Monster,” or “Little Indian.”). The “Life in Our County” articles appear in Chapter One.
In September of 1952, Dad left Waynesboro, PA to head for the nation’s capital, as he was hired as a feature writer for The Washington Times-Herald.” None of my father’s featured stories from the Times-Herald are included in the book, The Essential Ed Koterba. However, Dad did continue writing articles and submitting them to the Record Herald under a new byline: “Jottings from D.C.,” and some of these articles, which represent his first venture into self-syndication, are included in the book. A year later, in August of 1953, my father changed the title of his column to “A Bit of Washington.” The “Jottings from D.C.” articles and the first year’s articles from “A Bit of Washington” appear in Chapter Two.
In 1954, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Washington Post bought and took-over the Times-Herald. Many on the Times-Herald staff lost their jobs. My father was one of the few lucky ones who was absorbed by the Post. He became a front-page reporter, and his investigative reporting of gambling in Charles County, Maryland earned him first prize in the Post’s Front Page Awards. The Post also nominated my father for a Pulitzer Prize. Chapter Three of The Essential Ed Koterba covers His Washington Post days. An article from this chapter (“The Babysitter”) is included on the website as one of the excerpts.
Ed Koterba continued to submit his self-syndicated column, “A Bit of Washington,” to a number of newspapers, and by September of 1955, his clients stood at fifty-five. However, the powers-that-be at the Post frowned upon his moonlighting and eventually gave him an ultimatum—either stop his self-syndication and work exclusively for the Post or resign. My father chose the latter, and quickly grew his clients to over one hundred newspapers. His success with self-syndication, and the articles he submitted during this time period (1955–1958), is covered in Chapter Four.
In 1959, my father was asked by United Feature Syndicate to take over for the late Fred Othman with a new column byline: “Assignment: Washington.” Ed Koterba’s assignment was to “bring distinctive, extremely readable, always-entertaining observations on often-unnoticed but revealing aspects of major and minor events and personalities in the busy beehive beside the Potomac on a six-times-a-week schedule.” Despite his Washington, D.C. assignment, my father still found time to write about personal and family matters, and some of these articles, up until his death in 1961, are included in Chapter Five, which concludes Part One of the book.
Part Two of The Essential Ed Koterba covers my father’s extensive U.S. and abroad travels. The chapters are organized chronologically in the order of his trips. Part Two (Chapter Six) opens with an Airstream trailer trip my parents took in 1956. They covered twenty-six states and Canada—twelve-thousand miles in three months. Starting from Washington, D.C., they traveled west on a north-central route to California, north to Canada, then back south, then cut across the southern states back home toward the east. His articles were reminiscent of Charles Kuralt, as he interviewed and wrote about all the interesting folks they encountered along the way.
A second cross country trailer trip was planned for 1958, with three major differences. One, I was now invited to join them (I stayed with my grandmother during the 1956 trip.). Two, the trip was longer, both in terms of time (six months) and distance (thirty-thousand miles). Three, my father was no longer self-syndicated, as he had signed with Hall Syndicate. This was a good thing. Up until the Hall contract, my father estimated that he spent as many as sixteen hours a day, seven days a week digging up copy, putting the columns together, writing, promoting, stamping envelopes, setting up ad copy, making personal contacts, and answering correspondence. Now, Hall would handle all business matters, and my dad just had to write the columns. Hall had promoted my dad as the “new Ernie Pyle.” Ernie Pyle was the roving correspondent who made a name for himself by touring with the army during World War II until a Japanese bullet ended his life. The six-month U.S. trailer tour is covered in three chapters (Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine).
Immediately upon returning home to Bethesda, MD from our six-month trailer trip, Hall Syndicate planned another ala Ernie Pyle trip—a world tour of military installations to give the people back home a realistic picture of life in the outposts manned by U.S. servicemen, whom my father referred to as “our forgotten heroes.” This assignment took him to the Pacific Islands, Japan, North and South Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand, China, a Navy carrier in the China Sea, and into Saudi Arabia. He traveled approximately forty-five thousand miles in three months and covered many of the military installations that were active in the Pacific Theater of World War II. An excerpt from the “Our Forgotten Heroes” chapter (Chapter Ten) entitled “The Quiet Heroes” is included on this website.
It was immediately following the “forgotten heroes” assignment that my father terminated his contract with Hall Syndicate to join the Scripps Howard network and sign with United Feature Syndicate. Although his assignment was to cover the Washington, D.C. area, United Features accommodated my father’s traveling spirit and agreed to support his jaunts to Antarctica (Chapter Eleven), Czechoslovakia (Chapter Twelve), and India (Chapter Thirteen). An additional chapter (Chapter Fourteen) covers shorter excursions, including Venezuela and the North Pole.
Part Three of The Essential Ed Koterba covers my father’s primary journalistic “beat:” Washington, D.C. Before even leaving Waynesboro, PA, Dad had a desire to bring his small town, “Hank Hayseed” reporting style to the nation’s capital. He had the opportunity when hired by the Washington Times Herald in 1952. From 1952 till his death in 1961, he covered major D.C. events and the personalities behind them from a lighthearted, “Hank Hayseed” perspective he had honed from Franklin County, PA. In Dad’s own words: “Those who have the opportunity to peek under this impersonal, heavy crust of political manifestations, find to their amazement an ‘oddly average’ touch of humanness.”
With a press badge and special clearance to cover events on Capital Hill and the White House, Dad was able to thread his way through the complicated maze of political, government, diplomatic, bureaucratic, military, and civilian circles that made up the capital city. A typical day for him would start at the crack of dawn at the steps of the Capitol. He would “follow his nose” to find the story of the day. Then, just a half an hour before his 4:30 p.m. deadline, he would type out his daily column from the Senate Press Gallery. He said that this last minute pressure kept his writing fresh, and his column was literally “hot off the press.” An excerpt from Part One, recounting some journalism bloopers during Eisenhower’s press conferences (“Presidential Pressure) is included on the website.
The chapters for Part Three of The Essential Ed Koterba are organized thematically as opposed to chronologically. Each chapter heading represents a separate topic. The topics were chosen to represent a balanced, cross-section of the 1950s and early 1960s era, as follows: the lighter, human side of Washington; historic buildings of Washington, D.C; entertainment; the 1960 presidential race; former presidents of the United States; interesting personalities; race and civil rights; McCarthy and the Communist threat; the Cold War and civil defense; the space race; and money matters.
Each article in the book is only one to two pages in length. The Contents include a short synopsis of each article. The reader, once familiar with the general organization, can quickly skim these summaries and chose an article of interest. Or, if so inclined, the reader can simply turn randomly to any article in the book and begin reading, since each article stands alone apart from the rest of the book. However, since my father infused his own personality into each and every article, if one is interested in discovering the “essence” of Ed Koterba, I would recommend reading the book from cover to cover.