by Larry Smith
In 1963, the Twilight Zone ran an episode called the Printer's Devil. It told the story of a publisher who, when his linoptype operator quit, had to strike a deal with the devil to save his newspaper.
The point is that linotype operators were critical to a newspaper's survival. So what is a linotype, you ask? Well, it was a big noisy machine that cast lines of type from molten metal for printing.
Sounds medieval, right? But back then it was considered "the acme of perfection", and was a huge leap for the printing industry. For hundreds of years before the linotype was invented in the 1880s, typesetting had been a painstakingly slow process performed by hand, letter by letter.
Today, the entire newspaper production process is digital. But it took a long time for the industry to make the transition from complicated mechanical systems like the linotype to computers. And the changes were bitterly resisted by linotype operators and others, who took years to learn their trade.
Tribune Publisher Sir Etienne Dupuch brought the first linotype to Nassau in the 1930s. "He learned how to dismantle it and rebuild it because there were no technicians on the island," Eileen Dupuch-Carron, the current publisher, recalled.
"My father said the click of the linotype keys, the clank of the long arm picking up and dropping the individual lead slugs into place, was the lullaby that put me to sleep in the evenings. He held me in one arm, as he worked the keys with his free hand."
Computerised typesetting was an even greater industry watershed than the linotype had been. In fact, it is almost impossible for someone who has not experienced the old technologies to imagine the difference that digital processes make today.
And most are also unaware that the late John Perry, who owned the Nassau Guardian and the Freeport News for more than 30 years, as well as a couple dozen Florida newspapers, was a key figure in that transition, which began in the 1950s and was not completed until the 1980s.
Through his own research, Perry modified off-the-shelf equipment and in some cases developed his own machines and processes to improve newspaper production. His innovations cut industry costs dramatically, but also led to a three-year strike by the International Typographic Union.
Perry, who died in 2006 at the age of 89, had moved to Florida with his parents in the 1920s, and took over Perry Publications on the death of his father in 1952. After the three-year ITU strike, he sold the family's publications in 1969 to Cox Newspapers for a reported $70 million. But he held on to the Nassau Guardian and Freeport News until 2003.
"During World War Two, when I was ferrying aircraft back from Europe, and in the process flying over the Bahamas, I came to recognise just how beautiful (and) how majestic those islands are." he wrote in his autobiography, Never Say Impossible. Seventeen years after the war he bought the 600-acre Lee Stocking Island, off Barre Terre, Exuma, for a mere $70,000.
"I could see the value of having news organs in the Bahamas, for it never hurts to have a friendly press in a place where one's activities could be subject to political pressure," Perry acknowledged wryly. He bought the Freeport paper - a weekly newsletter at the time - from Wallace Groves for only $200, and later acquired the Guardian for less than $5,000.
Lee Stocking proved to be an ideal setting for Perry's other big interests - marine research and renewable energy. He developed the island as a scientific field station and tried to make it self-supporting by translating new technologies into working models on the property.
"Our island serves as a microcosm, for year by year scientists have become increasingly aware of how critical food, water and energy supplies will become on a planet where population growth rates are rising out of control," he wrote in 1996. Early research projects focused on tilapia, conch and lobster mariculture.
Perry's interest in the sea dated back to 1956, when he began building submersibles in a South Florida warehouse. It was more than a hobby - a Perry Cubmarine was used by the US military to search for a lost hydrogen bomb off the coast of Spain in 1966. And Perry Oceanographics became a leading manufacturer of high-tech underwater equipment, before being split up and sold in 1989.
In fact, it was Perry's interest in marine research that led US President Lyndon Johnson to appoint him to a commission that recommended the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This federal agency was created in 1970 to better understand and manage coastal and marine resources.
And from the early 1980s until 2006, NOAA helped fund the research centre at Lee Stocking Island, which included laboratories, housing, airstrip, docks, boats, and dive support facilities. At one time the field station featured shallow-depth submersibles, but SCUBA technology has now advanced to the point where divers can descend up to 300 feet by themselves.
Brian Kakuk, the American diver who discovered those amazing fossils in the Sawmill Sink blue hole on Abaco in 2004, was part of a team of experts who helped established Lee Stocking as a leading centre for cave and deep-reef research diving.
On a visit to the island a few weeks ago, I met Dr Mark Slattery of the University of Mississippi, who has conducted undersea research in the Bahamas for the past 15 years. Much of his work focuses on the chemical ecology of marine life, with the aim of developing new drugs targeting malaria, bacterial infections, AIDS and cancer.
"There's a lot more biological activity in underwater caves and on deep reefs," he told me. "And we have developed some exciting biomedical leads from invertebrates, sponges and soft corals found in these environments. We are also seeking a better understanding of why organisms produce these chemical compounds."
One example is a natural sunscreen to protect against skin cancer, but Slattery says the patent process prevents him from talking about specific drugs. Besides his job as a professor (he was shepherding a group of 20-something students during my visit), Slattery is director of the Ocean Biotechnology Center and Repository in Mississippi, which stores thousands of extracts taken from sea life around the world.
Other scientists who use Lee Stocking include Dr Mark Hixon of Orgeon State University, who researches lionfish; Dr Erich Mueller, whose interests include coral biology and health; and Dr Craig Dahlgren, a fisheries expert who has been promoting marine reserves in the Bahamas.
But my recent visit to Lee Stocking had more to do with John Perry's other big interest - renewable energy. Unfortunately, all the Perry Institute's facilities on the island are powered by a diesel generator.
"Perry had ideas that were way ahead of his time," explained John Marr, the Institute's Florida-based executive director who grew up on Abaco. "The original concept for Lee Stocking was a self-contained biosphere that would produce its own food, water and energy, but we are not there yet."
After years of research in the 90s, the Institute formed a consortium in 2004 with California-based Teledyne Technologies and Ford Motor Company to develop a wind- and solar-powered fuel cell system that would store hydrogen as a generator fuel source for the disaster relief market. But the project collapsed with little to show for it.
Sitting in John Perry's well-preserved bungalow on Lee Stocking Island, it was hard to accept that all the interest, money and scientific effort that went into energy research here over the years has proved futile. But perhaps something is on the horizon that could achieve Perry's original vision.
A New York resort company called Papillon is seeking to develop a "fully sustainable, carbon neutral, five-star sanctuary and wellness retreat" on 80 acres at Lee Stocking. It will feature 70 luxury hotel villas, 15 private estate villas, an energy farm, spa, organic farm, whole food restaurant, marine science centre and other amenities.
This project is the brainchild of investment banker Michael Waters, who is a follower of spiritual guru Deepak Chopkra. Waters says he is using his banking expertise to establish a sustainable business model on private islands across the globe. Lee Stocking will be the flagship location for the new brand.
"We are currently pursuing approvals with the government," Waters told me, "but I can tell you that our intention is to honour the renewable energy legacy which John Perry began on Lee Stocking Island."