I joined the Free Press in 1973 or 1974, after it had left Tremont Street and had been in Somerville for a while. Jim O’Brien was drawn to the Free Press from its earliest days (I remember when we were in Madison, probably 1969, wondering what to do next, and he mentioned the Free Press as a worthwhile destination).
When I was interviewed, I think the group was Jim, Peggy Clark, Suzy Groden, Jill Goldstein, Marcia Hams, and Rob Meyer. I was hired along with Joe Sonntag. Peggy and Rob left about that time, and Suzy soon after. Annie Butler and Meg Costello came in after I had been there about a year. Nancy Nichols was around for a while, maybe as an intern, and then went on to be a mainstay of Red Sun Press. Later we hired Becky Sarah, Sue Silvermarie, and Dicky Williams. When I left in 1976 I believe the group was Jim, Marcia, Joe, Jill, Meg, and Becky.
I did not so much design covers as tweak them when it came time to reprint a bestseller. I encouraged the group to run the cover graphics larger than had been the custom, and I think that’s the only impact I had on the Free Press “look."
My most vivid memories, hmm. I was very happy when my younger brother, who was the mechanic of the family, came by and was impressed that I had learned how to operate all this equipment.
I loved the graffiti over the space where we filled the orders: “I was only filling orders —Adolph Eichmann.” Then: “I was only ordering fillings.”
I remember Joe getting married and, for our in-office celebration, I carved a bridal figure to put on top of a cupcake. I didn’t provide any detail on the back of the figure and somebody remarked that it looked like a tombstone. Joe said “That’s appropriate.” That marriage didn’t last!
It was difficult for us neophyte printers to get the ink/water balance right on those old offset presses. One day, mid-morning, I was alone and frustrated in the pressroom and started singing “I’m so broken hearted cause I can’t get started with you!” Marcia and others were downstairs and Marcia yelled “We hear you, Nick!”
A huge memory if not a specific one is of the friendships I developed there, especially with Joe, Meg, Marcia, and Jim (who was already a friend when I started). Some people think comradeship is a superficial relationship, but I think working and struggling with people you trust and admire and enjoy is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
At a time when many lefties were despairing that the movement was disappearing, it was heartening to be making ourselves useful to so many exciting groups. One night a woman hammered on the door of my apartment building near Central Square, Cambridge, with a bloody face and an abuser in hot pursuit. All the tenants came downstairs — we did what we could to help, called the police, cleaned her wounds, but felt basically helpless. Shortly after that, Betsy Warrior submitted a pamphlet to the Free Press for publication called “Wifebeating,” which advocated for clandestine locations where women could be safe. I was a strong advocate for publishing it, and we did, and it was in great demand. This was at the beginning of the battered women’s shelters and that whole movement. So–a good (though sad) example of translating private frustration into a socialized redress.
I don’t think I have any photos from back then. There was a nice group pic taken in front of the Union Square shop that I wish I still had. I remember we were all standing there shy and dour to have our picture taken until Dicky Williams told us to loosen up and act like we were in a Broadway musical. So we got a lively picture out of it.