BRATTLEBORO — Of all the aspects of editing a newspaper, one of the most challenging - and rewarding - is coming up with appropriate art for the Voices section.
If I do my job right, I'll find illustrations or photos that will draw readers into a piece, that will be editorially appropriate and compatible with the writing, and that, in short, will enhance everyone's perceptions and experience.
When I was preparing to publish Rev. Lise Sparrow's outstanding paean to teachers - and in so doing memorialize Maggie Cassidy, a beloved longtime Brattleboro Union High School teacher who died earlier this year - I went down a digital rabbit hole and found some archives online of BUHS yearbooks of yore.
I set out to run a photo of Maggie with Lise's piece. I thought it would set a tone. I loved how the page turned out.
I really wanted readers to react the way that Casey Murrow did.
“Lise Sparrow's thoughtful article about Maggie Cassidy was a pleasure to read!” wrote Murrow, a longtime educator himself. “We see so few articles that support superb teaching. This was a pleasure to read, including Cassidy's 1982 yearbook photo.”
Except ... it wasn't Maggie Cassidy's photo.
How far off was I? Oh, I was far off.
Very far off.
* * *
So how did I manage to bungle a simple photo from a yearbook?
I found the 1982 edition of The Colonel and clicked my way through to the teachers' portraits. There was a young Maggie Cassidy, clearly and unambiguously identified. I downloaded the page.
If only I left it there.
As it happened, Maggie was also mentioned in the text on another page in the yearbook, this one highlighting the International Club. And there, next to that text, I found a larger photograph that would reproduce more clearly than the first file.
Except for that pesky truth that it wasn't actually Maggie in that photo.
As it turned out, the ink was barely dry on the Sept. 14 paper when I started getting messages and Facebook comments from readers that ranged from “UH, are you sure that's Maggie?” to “I don't think that's Maggie” to “Whoever that person is, that's not Maggie.”
Interestingly, nobody went into the realm of “Wow, how on Earth did you manage to screw that up?”
A couple of days passed and, on Sept. 18, amid my consternation about how best to acknowledge this blunder, an email arrived.
“The photo included with the article identified as Maggie was a picture of me - Mark Eakins - when I was 15 and in a high school show at BUHS,” the note said.
He observed that “it was a little shocking to notice that my old photo was in the paper - and that I was listed as Maggie.”
In my defense, as someone who did not go to BUHS and who was looking at scans of yearbook pages 40 years later, I've got to say: If you put Maggie's real photo next to Mark's, it's not completely insane to think they were of the same person.
But maybe that's just me.
* * *
When I acknowledged the error on Facebook, on a thread that now seems to have disappeared, I expressed my regret that I could have worked so hard to create something this spectacularly wrong.
With characteristic grace, Susie Webster-Toleno responded something to this effect: “I'd like to think that Maggie would have gotten a kick out of it and would have appreciated the spirit in which you intended it.”
That makes me feel better - but I still would have preferred to have gotten it right.