Thursday, February 02, 2006

End Of An Era

A story in this morning’s Arizona Daily Star reports that after 150 years Western Union is out of the telegram business. The telegraph was the miracle communication device of my childhood, the e-mail and instant message we depended on when crucial information had to be sent quickly, often to places where there were no telephones.

For one summer during WWII I was a Western Union messenger in Chicago. For the most part I delivered stacks of telegrams to business offices just off Michigan Avenue, but once in a while my job took me to a nearby neighborhood of small apartments and boarding houses.

On those occasions I might be carrying a “starred message,” handed to me by mistake rather than to one of the adult messengers. It was a terrible experience because those messages announced that the blue-starred service flag hanging in the window would be turning to gold. (Telegrams were the way the government sent death notices and missing-in-action-notices were sent to next of kin.)

Little wonder that the appearance of a Western Union messenger on the door step was the cause of fear and anxiety.

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