before he acquired the papers, makkos had already been an admirer of Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook Nicholson, a poet and businesswoman at the forefront of Victorian journalism. Growing up in Mississippi, she’d published pastoral, earthy poetry in the Picayune under the pen name Pearl Rivers. A member of the first wave of female journalists storming the newsrooms, according to KnowLA, an online encyclopedia of Louisiana history and culture, she became literary editor of the Daily Picayune in 1870. Within two years she married the Picayune’s much older owner, Colonel Alva Holbrook, who died four years later, in 1876, making his widow the first female publisher of a daily metropolitan newspaper in the country.
At that time, the paper was in debt and underperforming financially, but Picayune business manager George Nicholson purchased a portion of the company as a show of support for his young, trailblazing boss. In a further show of support, he then married her. Eliza Jane Nicholson’s content innovations and George Nicholson’s business skills made the Picayune into a powerful ship that the couple expertly navigated through the end of Reconstruction, the yellow fever outbreak, and the 1893 Cheniere Caminada hurricane, as Lamar W. Bridges recounts in the journal Louisiana History. Makkos’ archive picks up about 10 years into their marriage, and he has taken to calling it “The Eliza Jane Nicholson Collection.”
Innovator The Eliza Jane Nicholson Collection’s New Year’s edition (1928). (Image courtesy of NOLA DNA)
Nicholson, realizing that women were an underserved audience, broadened her editorial tradition of offering poetry, and literary and romantic stories. She expanded the Picayune from one eight-page section focusing mostly on power and money, giving it a second, more female-oriented section just as suffrage began to bloom. Her new “Section 2” included book reviews, articles about animals, columns about health, and a women’s advice column by Dorothy Dix. Nicholson published the first weekly issue of a serial novel called A Dead Life, and Makkos reaches into his pile to show me a syndicated Sherlock Holmes story from 1905. “That wouldn’t have happened without Eliza Jane,” he says.
“The back of the second section was a children’s page,” Makkos says, showing me the copy. “So the family are all reading the paper together, and dad hands mom her section, then mom tears the back off and throws it to the kids.” The new section’s front page typically featured Nicholson’s most notable editorial innovation: Society Bee, a local column she wrote, sans byline, covering Mardi Gras krewes and other high-end society news. “That idea was first rejected by the Uptown crowd, because they felt it would be invasive,” Makkos says. “But Eliza Jane won them over, and the column became a big deal, like, ‘We’re celebrities now because our names, and even our photographs, are in the paper.’ ” The paper went on to add a sports page, a magazine, and more prominent visuals, transitioning from illustrations into the age of photography. The earliest photo Makkos has found so far dates to 1900, four years after Nicholson’s death and some 20 years after the New York and Chicago papers had started running photography. Somewhere among of all his tubes is the first photograph ever published in the Picayune.
Innovator The Eliza Jane Nicholson Collection’s Sunday magazine (left, 1913). (Image courtesy of NOLA DNA)
For now, he obsesses about oversized, sepia-toned portraits of New Orleans judges encircled in typographic illustrations and crooked, flowery borders. He giggles, showing me examples of rudimentary hand-drawn borders “tipped in” atop photos. He stares down at the paper, admiring the ways in which the technologies mesh. Makkos aims to similarly mesh new digital technology with his turn-of-the-century printing presses to document and recreate aspects of the Eliza Jane Nicholson Collection. “I am a purist,” he says, “but there’s no reason not to combine every technology available.”
That includes technology that Eliza Jane would have recognized. Makkos has been interested and immersed in antiques since childhood. The son of an antique dealer in Cleveland, OH, he grew up watching his father junk, pick, salvage, and restore antique lamps and furniture. Makkos eventually developed his own vintage fetish, for antique printing presses.