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  • June Park

Old Tusitala: an archeological tour of the history of Stevenson's student news operation




The history of Tusitala, established in 1954, goes back longer than you may have thought. Back when the newspapers were not published online, the members of Tusitala had to publish a paper edition every month or so, which required even more work than papers take today. The papers were printed with alcohol-based ink, which fades with time. To preserve the papers from the 1950s, my great-grandfather, Birney Dayton ‘60, kept them in tightly sealed cans all these years and revealed them to me for this article.


When explaining to me everything about the history of Tusitala and even of the school itself, it was as if Grandpa Birney had traveled back in time, reliving his memories. He excitedly pulled out all the papers he had kept and even gave me a lengthy tour through every edition of yearbooks he had. Even before he was a part of the Tusitala, he was passionate about journalism and was one of the leaders of a reporter club, the Stevenson Reporter.



He then proceeded to explain how the newspapers were made. The Tusitala papers that were made in the ‘50s were very limited — only about 80 per batch, and they were created with a device known as a "spirit duplicator." Grandpa Birney explains, “...the spirit duplicator had the ink right in the master [copy] which was placed on top of the device. The machine had alcohol in it, and the alcohol would dissolve a little bit of the ink with every pass until eventually you ran out of ink [from the master]. See?”


So what kind of things did the '50s Stevenson students care about? Grandpa Birney pointed out the articles he found most interesting among the few that were preserved. For a time back when there was no cable TV, no cellphones bor internet at all, the only way to get information about the world was from magazines and newspapers, I wondered what kind of content the Tusitala members filled the limited space with.



Here are some excerpts from May and June of 1957. Like today, students were concerned about school spirit and competitions. RLS students back then also had an immaculate sense of humor, taking a fun turn on editorials and writing about horoscopes.


This is an interesting excerpt from the Stevenson Reporter papers from, as shown, June of 1956. The completely handmade newspaper is binded together with staples and even includes an original picture attached to it. “RLS boys find baby harper seal pup at Pebble Beach” is the title.

Despite the immense change RLS faced over almost a century, the passion of Tusitala remains the same. Its members are still diligent writers who use their unique voices to truly hold up a mirror to the dynamics of Stevenson. When Grandpa Birney heard that I had joined the Tusitala, he was thrilled and hoped that Tusitala still carried the same amount of pride in their work. I’m glad that I can confidently tell him that Tusitala not only continued (and will continue) to be great, but even grew to be one of the most popular electives today!




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