Beth Farley stepped out of the morgue – the place where we keep old copies of the Dispatch – with tears rolling down her cheeks. "I found my father's obituary," she said.
Beth was holding a yellowed 1971 issue of the paper.
About an hour earlier on Friday morning Beth had come to the counter with a simple request: would it be possible to look through our files? She seemed shocked when we said simply "yes."
As I led her to the morgue, I began to tell Beth the experience she was in for. "People come in all the time looking for something but when they start leafing through the old issues, they wind up spending a couple of hours," I said. "The old papers bring back memories."
She did not anticipate that happening to her, she said, because she did not grow up around here. In fact, this was her first visit to Pittston.
Beth grew up in Maryland, and still lives there. She always knew her dad was originally from Pittston and thought for years about taking a drive in search of her roots. She said she saw something about the Pittston Tomato Festival online and decided this was the year.
"When I told my friends what I was planning, they thought I was crazy," she said.
Married – her husband Timothy actually was born in Scranton – and mother of three, Beth made the trip alone and said she was camping while here. She said she found her way to the Pittston Library only to discover it was closed for renovations and then went to the West Pittston Library where she was told about the Sunday Dispatch and given directions.
I told her a little about the paper and how a friend of mine always calls our morgue "the chronicle of a small town."
"We're in our 66th year," I explained, "and in theory, a person could go into our files and find a photo of his parents on their wedding day, an announcement of his birth, photos on himself on birthdays, perhaps himself in a kindergarten class photo, as a member of a Little League team or Boy Scout troop, a high school graduation photo, his own wedding picture and the announcements of his own children's births."
I always say "in theory" I told Beth because, sadly, our files are incomplete. There's no explanation except, I suppose, for carelessness in the early years, but half the papers are missing for some years, there are merely two ragged issues from 1951, and mysteriously we have not a single paper from 1982.
That one has us baffled.
Beth said she was interested in the older papers and quite frankly wasn't sure what she was looking for.
We made her comfortable at a desk, showed her where she could find the files and left her to her own devices.
"We'd be glad to make copies of things you find," I said, although I had misgivings about her finding anything.
I was wrong.
Early in her search Beth emerged excitedly announcing she had found her uncle in a photo of a sports team. We made a photo copy but she also went out to her car for a camera and took a picture of it.
There were other tidbits, too, and every time Beth found one, we looked up from our computers and smiled.
Then came her dad's obit.
I doubt I will ever forget the sight Beth standing there sobbing. Her dad, Anthony Atmonavage Jr., was only 36 when he died. He was living in Maryland then. Beth was just eleven years old.
Without sounding one bit like she was complaining, although she had a right to, Beth, struggling to talk, looked at the paper and said, "His name is spelled wrong in the headline."
Can you imagine?
Here she had sifted this gold nugget from our less-than-perfect files and it was flawed.
"I don't even know how to say this," Beth went on through her tears, "but would you ever consider re-running it with a corrected headline. I know it's probably too much to ask but I'd love to see it in print the right way."
"We'll not only re-run it," I said, "but I also will write a story about this whole thing."
This is the promised story.
And the obituary of Anthony Atmonavage Jr., finally corrected after 41 years, appears on page 59.
Beth had one final request, this one of Dispatch readers.
"If anyone remembers my father, I'd love to talk with them," she said.
She can be reached at 410-370-3039 or via email at [email protected]