The headline read, “There’s No Smallpox in Palm Springs.” The Limelight article sought to eradicate maliciously spread misinformation.

“The rumors and publicity in outside newspapers that there is smallpox in Palm Springs are not true. There is not a single case of this disease in or around Palm Springs, and there is haven’t had one for nearly two weeks…(when) a case of smallpox was discovered in the campground. This case was immediately isolated and sent to Riverside County Hospital. All residents of this campground were vaccinated except for one individualist who refused vaccination and was therefore quarantined Organizing a revolt against county health regulations, this individual took up the matter with his attorney in Long Beach who reportedly said he would split the city wide with rumors of a smallpox outbreak if his client was not released from quarantine.

“It is likely that the rumors, which circulated outside of Palm Springs, originated from this source. There have been no subsequent cases. None of the children of the originally infected family were students of the Palm Springs school Individual cases of smallpox are not unusual at this time of year across the country The single Palm Springs case is of no community health significance and would have been routine county health daily had it not received the malicious attention of the Long Beach attorney who was able to contact metropolitan newspapers with what looked like unusual news about desert resorts.”

“Unusual news about desert resorts” was exactly what Priscilla Chaffey wanted to print in her little independent newspaper, The Limelight. Chaffey had arrived in the desert (or, as the locals said at the time, “on” the desert) in 1926, and at the height of the depression she was looking for something to do, her husband John having settled as a real estate agent.

The Desert Sun was new and was produced in Banning by Harvey Johnson and Carl Bartko. These gentlemen came to the desert about once a week to collect local news. Chaffey thought this arrangement was inadequate. She wanted local news and lots of it. She approached Johnson and Bartko, asking them to handle the Palm Springs area for their concern.

Rebuffed and, in her story, insulted, Chaffey was determined to launch her own journal. The Limelight was produced entirely by Chaffey. She walked the streets of the village relentlessly in search of news, reporting the smallest details. She interviewed business owners and visitors.

After studying journalism in college, she worked for Riverside Enterprise. Not just reporting, but every aspect of The Limelight was now his job: writer, editor, publisher, distributor. With $47 to her credit, she convinced a printer in Indio to bet on The Limelight. He would print it and she would pay for it when it sold. After the first issue of The Limelight came out, the whole village celebrated at the Desert Inn. Nellie Coffman took the freshly printed paper from Priscilla’s hands and sold the very first edition.

Chaffey was colorful herself, even newsworthy. She dressed exotically, was a supporter of incorporation for the city, and she advocated for Indian rights and the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The stories aired in The Limelight were a mix of short stories, editorial commentary and funny vignettes. She offered advice to “people of a dilatory and procrastinating disposition who have postponed Christmas until December 24. … Too often in the past we have risked our lives and exposed our bodies to evil viruses of all kinds – without talk about incalculable mental anguish, and the demoralizing toxins of fatigue, all those things we’ve endured and more, in the stupid idea that we should go up to Los Angeles and do our Christmas shopping. We return home, worthy of the psychiatrist and the masseuse, only to find that the exact same things could have been bought in Palm Springs for the same price.”

She offered detailed advice and was a tireless motivator for the city. “A stupid, ill-advised whiner made it clear to us during the day that Palm Springs was downgrading. The ‘best people’ don’t come here anymore, they sourly say. Forgetting the fact that all men are created equal according to the principles of democracy as enunciated by Abraham Lincoln, we sniffled and sniffed through our noses in a belligerent, anti-social way and said in a bad mood: ‘What is your definition of “best?”

“‘Oh,’ he replied vaguely. ‘You know, well-known names, rich people.’ So we bang his head against the wall and say words like John D. Rockefeller Jr., Floyd Odlum and his world record flying wife, Jackie Cochran. John Garfield, William Leeds, Howard Hughes, Irving Berlin. Bob Hope, naturally, and Jack Benny, and a whole battery of great steel masters who feel nervous about being mentioned, things being what they are in the steel industry…our audience shouted ‘uncle If the “big” names are the “best” people, Palm Springs has had more of them this season than at any other time in its history. The special charm of the desert, the healthy sun and the peaceful days seem to please the leaders. from all walks of life. He always has.”

The most popular part of the paper was the society page, and Chaffey decided to hire a society editor. There were important visitors, captains of industry and members of the blue book, the social registry, visiting Palm Springs regularly from the rest of the country. Readers found it fascinating to see how the upper crust vacationed. Traffic has increased.

The small newspaper ran such headlines as: “Troubles Gather Thick & Fast For Al Wertheimer”, explaining the notorious mobster’s legal troubles, and “Junior Chamber, Movie Stars To Tangle In Donkey Classic”, announcing “a host of estranged notables at aboard a herd of donkeys to take part in what promises to be the baseball game of all time.”

Another noted: ‘A ping pong match draws a crowd of 200 to Del Tahquitz on Sunday,’ with table tennis championship stars showing off their skills. And another, “PS Airport Transcontinental Terminus for Weekend as Rain Blankets Coast Cities,” reported that “Palm Springs was the only port in California with beautiful skies overhead and the coastal wind reduced to a gentle zephyr.

“A total of eight American Airlines planes and one Pan American plane took refuge at the base of the Mount San Jacinto shelter…Several of the passengers disembarking here said that if they had known they were coming directly to Palm Springs, they would have planned to stop over for a few days.Among the distinguished passengers who flew East from Palm Springs was millionaire traveler Howard Hughes, who temporarily ditched his own plane in favor from American Airlines.

Chaffey’s small local newspaper persisted for 18 years, competing with The Desert Sun, which would come to recognize Chaffey’s wisdom in concentrating local events.

Tracy Conrad is president of the Palm Springs Historical Society. The Memories Thanks column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Email him at [email protected]