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Charles Hillinger's America : Journal Takes a Peek Into Diaries of Ordinary People

Charles Hillinger's America

September 03, 1989|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

LANSFORD, Pa. — "The days are closing in as the anniversary of Dad's death draws near. Thirteen years since he was murdered. And still no answers," writes LoRee Peery of Walton, N.Y., in her diary.

"Someone, somewhere has kept silent all these years. I know somebody knows the killer. Someone who is too frightened to come forward . . ."

An excerpt from the diary of Michael Brownstein of Chicago starts: "I was looking for a cool seat on the train." In her diary, Lynette Benton of Arlington, Mass. laments: "I write till my muscles ache as though I've been hauling bricks."

A teen-ager named Julie confesses in her diary that she has been reading her sister's diary.

D. Watt of San Diego tells of hitchhiking from Las Vegas, N.M., and eventually getting a ride in a van "from a bearded Moses-type guy. I was a captive audience down the desert road as he played Holy Roller sermon tapes."

And, Gladys Street of Cadiz, Ky., writes about a landmark day in her life: "I woke up and said: 'Ugh! Today I am 85! How awful! But, I'll have to go along with Minnie Pearle. I'm just so glad to be here.' "

These and scores of other excerpts from contemporary diaries have been appearing in a monthly tabloid, the Diarist's Journal, published since January, 1988.

Brewery worker Edward Gildea, a lifelong diarist himself, moonlights as publisher of what he believes is the only periodical in the world devoted exclusively to diary and journal keeping. He publishes the nationally circulated paper from the cluttered basement of his modest home in this small Appalachian Mountain coal-mining town.

The 60-year-old publisher graduated from Penn State as a journalism major in 1952. He worked on several small-town Pennsylvania daily and weekly newspapers as a reporter and editor before going to work for a brewery. He and his wife, Dolores, who have been married 30 years, have seven children and five grandchildren.

Abiding by the Journal's motto "True things happening to ordinary people," Gildea fills his 20-page publication with excerpts from personal diaries submitted by his readers. But he also runs features on present and past diarists.

"I saw an item in a newspaper reporting that 5 million blank diary books are sold every year in America," explains the shy, slender 5-foot-6 bespectacled publisher.

"Thinking diarists would like to share their recorded personal experiences, I decided to publish a journal just for them." He spent eight years planning the publication "before I finally got enough nerve to do it."

He expected the Diarist's Journal to be a lot more successful than it has been so far. "I thought I would have at least 1,000 subscribers by the end of the first year, 2,000 to 3,000 by the end of the second year. So far, it has a circulation of only 536 in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

It is most popular in New York, where 82 are sold. California is next with 55, then Pennsylvania with 52 and Texas with 35. Subscriptions cost $2 a year. Gildea says he hasn't lost any on the publication so far: "My big problem is getting the word out to people who keep diaries that there is a journal especially for them."

Retired Los Angeles attorney Raymond Lee Zager, who has kept a diary since 1957, did a story for the Diarist's Journal about a trip he made to Kirkcaldy, Scotland, to visit the grave of Marjory Fleming. A statue on top of her tombstone shows a young girl seated in a chair. Wearing an ankle-length dress, she sits with a quill in hand and a diary on her lap.

The inscription on the tombstone reads: "Marjory Fleming. 'Pet Marjorie' died at Kirkcaldy Dec. 19th, 1811, aged eight years and 11 months. The Youngest Immortal in The World of Letters." The girl started keeping a diary when she was 6 and filled 154 pages by the time she died.

A photograph of "Pet Marjorie's" tombstone taken by Zager occupies the entire front page of the April, 1989, issue of the Diarist's Journal.

A story about 1,000 years of diaries written by Japanese women appeared in a recent issue as did a story about Betty Lacey's collection of 100 old diaries found in flea markets and antique shops.

The entire July, 1988, issue was devoted to Edward Robb Ellis, the 82-year-old New Yorker listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's champion diarist. He has been keeping a daily diary since 1927, writing 18 million words on 35,000 pages bound in 60 volumes.

Ellis' diaries are housed in the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center. He began his diary when he was 16. He worked on several newspapers as a reporter until his retirement and was married three times.

James and Kristen Cummings are the owners of what is said to be the largest private collection of diaries in the world. They have more than 12,700 diaries in the library of their Stillwater, Minn., home. Their collection was the subject of a feature story in the Diarist's Journal.

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