SMITHFIELD — Bob and Linda Webster were working on tearing up the floor of an old bedroom in their summer camp on Rockwood Lane when they discovered what appeared to be old copies of Morning Sentinel newspapers from February 1944.

The copies weren’t printed on newspaper, but rather on thick sheets that seemed to be laminated cardboard or rubber.

“I suppose they could have been used for decoration or for insulation,” said Linda Webster, 69, a retired teacher, as she worked to pull up the papers, laid out like tiles underneath the linoleum floor.

The sheets are artifacts of a bygone era in newspaper printing when newspapers were produced using hot lead printing presses, according to Jim Milliken, a former city and managing editor at the Kennebec Journal at the time the paper went from hot lead production to cold type in 1973.

“It was quite an involved, industrial process,” said Milliken of the hot lead production. What the Websters found were “mats,” paper mache sheets that were laid over movable type on a big flat metal pan known as a “chase,” he said.

A large roller flattened the mats over the type, they were then heated and dried, creating a mold for the metal plates that were used to make pages.

Milliken said the mats came off the roller curved and they were hard, so he isn’t sure how they’d be flattened to use for floor insulation. He also said that, in general, they were thrown away.

“When we realized what it was we thought maybe someone at the Morning Sentinel would like to have them, or at least know about them,” said Bob Webster, 70. The couple called the Morning Sentinel and invited a reporter to the camp.

The mats the Websters found proclaim news of World War II, legislation passed under the oversight of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and sugar rations for American households. There were more than two dozen of them, all from 1944.

The couple lives most of the year in Portland and originally bought the camp 36 years ago when Bob Webster was a pastor at the Oakland Sidney United Methodist Church.

When their insurance company recently said they couldn’t renew their policy without renovations, the couple decided to rebuild the camp. They began doing some of the demolition themselves in June to save money and were tearing up the floorboards in the bedroom this week.

They aren’t sure who would have put them there, but they plan to save at least a few of the mats for display in their new home.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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