Former Denison Herald Editor Donna Hunt wrote in 2012 about the June day 22 years earlier when New York Times reporter William H.Honan walked into the Herald office and requested a picture of a deceased Whitewright resident, Joe Tom Meador.

Former Denison Herald Editor Donna Hunt wrote in 2012 about the June day 22 years earlier when New York Times reporter William H.Honan walked into the Herald office and requested a picture of a deceased Whitewright resident, Joe Tom Meador.


Little did she know, or any other members of the local news media outlets realize at the time, that Honan was on the brink of breaking a major story with international implications. Honan led Ms. Hunt to believe he was interested in Meador’s expertise on orchids, and she furnished him a photo of the late Mr. Meador in his greenhouse.


Some time earlier Honan had visited the Sherman Democrat newsroom requesting information on Meador and was directed to the Sherman Public Library, where he apparently went through microfilm files to help complete his profile of the World War II veteran. After the war, Meador returned to his hometown of Whitewright to work in the family business, a hardware store located downtown.


During WWII, Army Lt. Joe T. Meador had been stationed in Quedlinburg, Germany, about the time some priceless artifacts had been moved from the Lutheran church in the city to a nearby cave for protection from bombings. When the crated treasures were eventually taken from the cave back to the city, it was discovered some were missing. More than 40 years later, the missing items were traced to the Meador family in Whitewright. Joe Meador had died of cancer in 1980.


The members of the Sherman Democrat newsroom became aware of the theft on the evening of June 13, 1990, when an Associated Press staffer called the editor, informing him that the following day The New York Times would be running a story about a Whitewright man involved in the theft of religious artwork from Germany.


By the following morning, Grayson County became a media center, and multiple reporters from both The Denison Herald and Sherman Democrat were dispatched to Whitewright to learn what they could about Joe T. Meador and the Meador family and to hopefully learn of the whereabouts of the missing treasures. Honan, of the New York Times, was also still in town and by this point was willing to share information related to the case.


The front pages of both the Herald and the Democrat were soon filled with stories related to the theft and the later recovery of the missing items — eventually found to have been stored in a Denison bank vault. People magazine sent reporters, and major magazines and newspapers around the world carried stories, many of them painting unflattering views of Whitewright and north Texas.


Honan eventually wrote a book, "Treasure Hunt," about the investigation into the theft and continued to stay in contact with the local news media for the next 15 years.


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The question often arose as to why the local news media had been scooped by the New York Times. The answer is an easy one.


The investigation actually began in West Germany, where the government contracted art sleuth Willi Korte to track down the missing treasures. Korte was given a lead after at least one of the items among the missing was put up for sale on the international market. When his investigation led him to the United States, he contacted New York Times culture writer Honan, apparently understanding that Honan would be a good ally in a difficult search.


It was much later that the trail led to north Texas, and by that time neither Korte nor Honan was willing to share investigative information with any other sources. Honan would later say that he always properly identified himself to other news outlets, but he gave no clue as to the object of his search and deflected questions concerning it. The Denison Herald, Sherman Democrat and even The Dallas Morning News were all in the same boat until the story broke.


DON ELDREDGE is the former editor of the Herald Democrat.


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