Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Betty Blurbs
One sure way to tell a dud in the genre of those little one-column pithy saying cartoon panels is this: if the cartoonist doesn't bother to make a drawing that has something to do with the caption, you've got a real stinker on your hands. In the case of Betty Blurbs, of the four samples I got from Mark Johnson (thanks Mark!) not one of them has a cartoon to match the caption. I don't count the one about the lowered necklines because that dress is backless, which seems like a somewhat different thing to me, though I admittedly know nothing about fashion. That has to be the worst batting average I've seen since Dean Chance. Looking at quite a few other samples of Betty Blurbs online, I have yet to see one in which the cartoon actually complements the caption -- you would think just by statistical chance the cartoonist would manage it occasionally!
Betty Blurbs was distributed by King Features from sometime in 1929 (Mark's samples from the Altoona Mirror from March of that year are the earliest I've encountered) until January 3 1931 (as per the Lethbridge Herald).The oddly haloed gal drawings were drawn by Jesse Beesley Jr., and that name may give us a clue as to why this stinker was ever marketed by King. If I have the right guy, he was the owner of the struggling Murfreesboro News-Banner newspaper. Maybe he and someone in the Hearst organization were tight, and they tried to help keep his paper afloat with the proceeds from this feature. If that really was the case, it wasn't successful. The News-Banner was shuttered in February 1931, shortly after the demise of Betty Blurbs.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Edith Stevens
Edith W. Stevens was born in Massachusetts on October 4, 1899 according to the Social Security Death Index. Her middle initial was recorded in the censuses and city directories.
The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded Stevens and her parents, Beaumont, a foreman, and Margaret, a Canadian emigrant. The family resided in Fitchburg, Massachusetts at 233 Rollstone Street.
According to the 1910 census, Stevens’s mother remarried to Oliver D. Sherwood a U.S. mail carrier. The family of four, which included Stevens’s brother, Roswell, lived in Boston at 31 Batavia Street.
The Boston Traveler, December 6, 1951, published an article about the hundredth anniversary of the Boston Girls High School and mentioned Stevens as one of its alumni.
In the 1920 census, Stevens and her widow mother were Boston residents at 9 Albemarle Street. Stevens was employed as a filing clerk at an insurance office.
Information about Stevens’s art training has not been found.
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Stevens drew Us Girls for the Boston Post. The series debuted March 4, 1929 and ran into the 1960s.
The 1930 census said newspaper cartoonist Stevens, her mother and a boarder, Sherman Davison, lived in Arlington, Massachusetts at 216 Broadway.
A 1934 Boston directory listed Stevens’s office at “259 Wash”. In the 1935 Arlington city directory, Stevens’s address was 22 Churchill Avenue. The 1939 Boston directory had the same address for the Boston Post artist.
Stevens’s residence was unchanged in the 1940 census which said the household included Stevens, her foster brother Sherman Davison and a maid.
Stevens passed away in January 1983 in Massachusetts.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Monday, July 24, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Us Girls
Edith Stevens wasn't any great shakes as a cartoonist, and as a humorist, well, I wouldn't exactly put her in Al Capp or Rube Goldberg territory. What she did have was more important than either of these qualities -- a devoted following among the lady readers of the Boston Post. Popularity can trump talent in a local cartooning gig, even in a big newspaper town like Boston.
Us Girls debuted in the paper on March 4 1929, and if you think Ms. Stevens' drawing ability was a mite crude in the above examples from 1939-43, trust me that she had improved quite a bit by then. Crude drawing notwithstanding, Us Girls seems to have struck a chord with the female population. Stevens' humor was definitely aimed directly at women, looking endlessly at the dynamics of female friendship -- men very rarely made an appearance in her work. Stevens was also very interested in fashion, and she occasionally dispensed with the humor altogether to draw a group of vignettes about the latest styles.
During World War II, Stevens' cartoons began to appear with less frequency in the Post, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time, and then appearing weekly for long stretches. After the war, Us Girls appears more frequently, but still doesn't go back to being a consistent daily. It seems that Stevens' work was welcomed by the Post when and if the spirit moved her to draw one.
With the Boston Post microfilm available only at the Boston Public Library, my research time was so precious while there that I had to give up the chase for an end date for Us Girls in the reels of 1950, when it was still appearing. The Post folded in 1956, so presumably somewhere in that 1950-56 timeframe Us Girls came to its end. Or so I thought. An online search reveals this 1962 advertisement in the Troy Record:
Did Us Girls move over to the Boston Globe when the Post folded? This 1962 ad would seem to indicate, in a roundabout way, that that was indeed the case. The research never ends ....
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the sample images.
Saturday, July 22, 2017
March 1 1909 -- In case you're wondering if Dr. E. Stillman Bailey had really found a miracle substance in "tho-rad-x", which supposedly had the beneficial properties of radium without any of the harmful effects, he presented his discovery at a convention of the Southwest Homeopathic Association. Need I continue?
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, July 21, 2017
Wish You Were Here, from Gene Carr
Here's another postcard from Gene Carr's 4th of July series, in which street urchins and firecrackers are the common thread. These were done for the Rotograph Company, and this one bears the designation F.L. 219/2.
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Thursday, July 20, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 6 Part 2
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
The Chaparral to The Tenderloin (part 2)link to previous installment link to next installment
Stories of desperadoism found ready hospitality in the Kansas City newspapers. Here was a market for some of the stirring tales Jacobo Coy had recounted to me in San Antonio. The Kansas City Times accepted the first one offered. It was Coy’s version of the two spectacular tragedies through which he had gone with Ben Thompson.
The Irons interview in the Journal and the Ben Thompson story in the Times paved the way to a regular job on the Kansas City Star. Ralph Stout was city editor. The temptation to continue work under his direction almost disrupted my itinerary. His brilliance as a news technician ultimately earned for him the editorial chieftaincy of the Star. He would have been an outstanding giant in broader fields. Stout was that rare city editor who invested local items with universal significance. News, under his treatment, pushed back the boundaries of his community until they touched a world’s intelligence. Provincialism had no place in his lexicon of editorship. Only the recollection that I had not yet penetrated the North tore me from Stout’s staff. The Mason and Dixon line must be passed to reach Yankeeland. That lay beyond Missouri.
It seemed unfair to withhold from other newspapers the articles which the Journal and the Times had considered worth buying in Kansas City. So, at my next stop—St. Louis—refurbished and rearranged, they were offered for sale. The St. Louis Chronicle, a link in the Scripps-McRae chain of dailies, bought the Martin Irons statement. The Chronicle was a liberal paper. It catered to union-labor readers. The editor considered $12 a fair price for the story. The Globe-Democrat paid $8 for the Ben Thompson thriller. The sale of the same material for publication in different cities is the basis of newspaper syndication. So, without realization of the fact, I had entered the syndicate field, the department of journalism which twenty years later was to engage my entire attention.
The swift-moving Pullman strike and the World’s Fair in Chicago hastened my course to that city. Again my ready-to-print wares were offered. Both stories were purchased by the Chicago News. But that was not until Charles M. Faye, the managing editor, had handed me a jolt. It was a primer lesson in newspaper syndication. He wanted a day in which to ascertain “whether the matter was available from other sources.” It was my first notice of the need for copyright protection of matter to be vended for publication. Nobody explained why the Chicago News decided to pay me for what it could have taken without cost from the Kansas City and St. Louis newspapers. It did not seem proper for me to complain. Any demurrer might have embarrassed a negligent exchange editor.
A position on the Chicago Times was obtained with astonishing ease. Richard Linthicum was managing editor. Mention of W. A. Stinchcomb as my first newspaper employer clinched a job. Stinchcomb and Linthicum had been warm friends for years. The cordiality of that friendship, however, did not explain the nature of my assignment. Linthicum installed me as a copyreader. The work, usually allotted to seasoned journalists, was performed at a circular desk over which a chief presided. The Times copyreading staff numbered six members in addition to myself. None of them was under forty-five. Two were in their sixties.
Little effort was made to conceal the affront my intrusion inflicted. With me had come the inexcusable offense of contrasting youth. The irritation it engendered was not only understandable; it was warranted. These men were veterans. They had been chosen for their tasks because of capabilities proved through years of experience. Now they were galled by abrupt subjection to parity with a beardless boy. This was the first—and happily it proved the last—time that friction with fellow workers resulted from the disparity in our ages. Hitherto, the variance was individual. Here it had massed effect.
It was a valid assumption that a copyreader possessed a mental equipment that qualified him to correct and improve the manuscripts passing through his hands. It was necessary for me to sustain that premise. Six pairs of ears impatiently awaited questions that might betray a damning deficiency. Never was my tongue under tighter rein. Three months would be ample to test my competence. During that period my first job of copyreading would not be sacrificed by any oral misadventure. There was plenty of conversation between my colleagues away from the desk. But at work, or in my presence, a tense muteness prevailed. No word was addressed to me except by the chief. His remarks were confined strictly to the work in hand.
Into this tight silence on a hot August night, breezed W. Bob Holland. Bob had quit the managing editorship of the Kansas City Sunday Sun. A conjunction of conscience and discretion had caused his resignation. He knew everybody in the office. A mordant wit wagged his tongue. Surveying the occupants of the room with mock gravity, he asked: “What is this? Is Dick Linthicum wavering between The Last Supper and The Nativity?” The irreverent witticism snapped the strain of many weeks. There was a splurge of levity. Even Asa Dame, the white-haired senior of the desk, loosened up. He actually chuckled for the first time in my hearing. The shaft of derision called for a counter thrust. .“You misunderstand the situation,” I said, ostensibly addressing Holland. “I’ve been doing some research in paleontology. Mr. Linthicum merely gave me an opportunity for firsthand study of several fossil organisms. My term here is finished now. I’m leaving at the end of the week for Pittsburgh.”
“You’ve cut down a loss for us!” exclaimed Herbert Sill, youngest of my deskmates. “We bought some testimonials to present at the first break you made. They were a bad investment. Now, they can be used as a sort of going-away shower.” He pulled from a drawer an assortment of infantile accessories—bibs, nursing bottles, rattles, teething rings and diapers. Sill’s confession of discomfiture cleared the atmosphere. It did not lessen the bitterness of the dose that had been prepared for me; but it put aside further acrimony. Holland’s whimsical wit cut another caper. “These are trophies that mark the raising of a memorable siege,” he said, pointing to the pile of nursery paraphernalia. “Let us not treat this momentous event too lightly. I propose a presentation ceremony in the august company of the Whitechapel Club.”
So came about my introduction into the most unusual coterie it has been my lot to meet. The Whitechapel Club was sui generis. Its membership and habitués included names that have passed through the favor of countless households into permanent niches in the gallery of American literature and art. The colorful legends that surround its annals fall disappointingly short of the actualities. It was the quintessence of Bohemianism. It was a Rabelaisian parade of pagan genius. Surpassing talents, in volume enough to light a city’s press with incandescent brilliance, were squandered nightly in intellectual escapades. Originality formed the sole claim to an audience. The volume of its applause was usually proportioned to its content of impiety and contumacy.
Fitting quarters for this impish society of journalists were maintained in Calhoun Place or “Gamblers’ Alley” between Washington and Madison Streets in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. For six years Koster’s saloon was the regular meeting-place. Then, in 1892, the club moved to its own premises a few doors away. The only entrance was through a basement doorway. Above it rested a stained-glass window with the inscription, boldly lettered, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Inside was a long room, designed to achieve the same pleasantness of effect sought by Madame Tussaud in her Chamber of Horrors.
Eerie illumination was supplied by gas jets encased in human skulls. Each eye socket was fitted with colored glass through which tinted rays issued. For the cheerful convenience of smokers, there was an abundance of ash receivers. They were brain pans that had been sawed out of the skulls which lined the walls. There were numerous mural decorations. Each told a story. They were mementoes of shocking homicides, hangmen’s ropes, bloodstained blankets, knives, blackjacks and firearms. Conspicuously displayed was the sword of a Knight Templar of the Masonic fraternity. The steel blade had been turned against its owner in a Louisville murder.
The single room upstairs was equally edifying. In the center stood a table. It was a replica of the coffin of a notorious underworld boss. For some unexplained reason, the top was studded with brass nails. Above it, suspended from a bronze chain, dangled the piece de resistance of the upper floor. It was the well-preserved skull of Waterford Jane. Before her departure from worldly relationships was hastened by abrupt violence, she had been known as “The Queen of the Sands.” The Sands was a hectic section north of Chicago Avenue reserved for reckless playmates of the night.
The club’s name was derived from the Whitechapel slum district of London. A series of Jack-the-Ripper murders there coincided with the Chicago fraternity’s inception. The thirty-two founders originally restricted membership to newspaper writers and artists. But the bars were dropped for a few distinguished laymen. So, United States Senator Chauncey M. Depew, famous as an after-dinner speaker, and Alexander Herman (“Herman the Great”), the premier prestidigitateur of his time, became full-fledged members. On the charter list were Brand Whitlock, who afterward moved from a correspondent’s job on the Chicago Herald to literary eminence and a political career that embraced the United States Ambassadorship to Belgium; Opie Read, author of more than a hundred novels, among them The ]ucklins, A Kentucky Colonel and A Tennessee Judge, and who wrote fully thirty of his best sellers in settlement of poker debts averaging less than $75; Peter Finley Dunne, creator of the inimitable “Mr. Dooley,” whose popularity as a newspaper feature reached a scale untouched through more than a quarter of a century by any other letterpress humorist; Alfred Henry Lewis, whose fame as a Washington correspondent was matched by his success with piquant stories of the West; Frederick Upham Adams, who divided his talents between important inventions and equally important books; and Tom Powers and Horace Taylor, whose contributions to comic art won them nationwide recognition.
Some of the guest attendants were equally as helpful to the Whitechapel Club’s unique hilarity as the formally enrolled membership. Among them were George Ade, whose triumphs in satiric humor and as a playwright became household legends; George Barr McCutcheon, acclaimed for his Graustark and Brewster’s Millions; his brother, John T. McCutcheon, whose cartoons have taken on the complexion of a national institution; Eugene Field, whose faculty for the writing of classic poems of childhood was exceeded only by his facility with unpublishable doggerel; Emerson Hough, who wrote The Covered Wagon and The Mississippi Bubble; and Stanley Waterloo and Ernest McGaffey, the verses of each of whom are treasured in numberless American homes.
Special dispensation was required for the Chicago Times party’s visit to the Whitechapel Club. Opie Read offered his sponsorship. We were good friends. Our Southern fellowship and my avowed admiration for some of his works had installed me in his favor. It was after the last newspaper edition had been put to bed at three o’clock in the morning that Read ushered us into the bizarre hall back of the stained-glass window. The room shook to the chorus of scores of lusty voices. A verse—The Whitechapel Wassail—was being chanted. It was startlingly sacrilegious. Beer steins were pounded on the walls to punctuate the end of each phrase. The words rolled out in diabolic diapason—
“They were three strong men of Tarsus,
Each grimy and rugged and bold;
And aloft they flung their wine cups
As they drank this ribald toast:
‘Here’s a health to the Son and the Father,
But to hell with . . .’ ”
The last four syllables of the final line varied with the vocalist’s choice. The common version was irreverent enough to abash the most hardened sinner. The license for an optional phrasing was an incentive to out-Herod Herod. The scene was intensely masculine. But it was a masculinity that plied a lancet in one’s conscience. Here were gathered some of the brightest journalistic minds in the Middle West. To what abuses were these splendid brains subjected? Were tipple and blasphemy their favorite toys? My father’s violent disapproval of newspapermen came to mind. “Association with them will land you in the gutter,” he had said.
Opie Read was standing beside me. He sensed the trend of my thinking. “Cheer up, old cotton boll!” he rallied. “This isn’t nearly so bad as it seems. As your trail grows longer, you’ll learn that there’s no way to test a watermelon except by plugging it. You can’t judge the core by the rind. Nor can you judge the hearts and natures of these fellows by the forms their frolics take. Ungodly play of this sort may be only the reflex of a harassed piety. Remember that news for the most part is a calendar of evil. Only a small percentage of newspaper space is occupied by chronicles of men’s virtues. As journalists, we know that most of the printed praise of leaders in civic righteousness is mere poppycock manufactured for ulterior purposes. So streams of hypocrisy swell the oceans of overt viciousness through which the newspaperman must swim in the performance of his daily duty. Extravagant profanity, booze and pretended cynicism constitute for him a homeopathic treatment. You may regard the dosage as too heroic at times, but if ‘like cures like,’ we need a hell of a lot of sham depravity to equal the real wickedness in a day’s news.”
The same reasoning that overcame my father’s dictum that newspapermen were drunkards now fortified my rejection of Opie Read’s specious theory. Instead of a forfeit, the captaincy of one’s appetites and indulgences was an essential to success in newspaperdom. Self-mastery rested with the person, not the profession.
My rate of earning had been considerably advanced on the Chicago Times. Copyreaders were then paid from $25 to $35 a week. Of course, I got the minimum. The same salary was assured in my next job. It was offered by Austin Rice, city editor of the Pittsburgh Times. A letter from Rice, inquiring for available reporters, had been turned over to me by Hollis Field, a former San Antonian at the moment on the editorial staff of the Chicago Daily News. Shortly after my arrival in Pittsburgh, the Grand Army of the Republic gathered there in annual reunion. On the day of the big parade, the Times issued a special edition. A chalkplate drawing was made to splash across the first page. C. W. Danziger, the managing editor, ordered a whoop-’em-up description of the Grand Army pageant to accompany the unusual illustration. The first copy submitted was unsatisfactorily stiff. An editorial conference decided to “let that breezy lad from Texas take a whirl at it.” Sixteen years later, the yarn bobbed up in an important newspaper deal.
As New York grew nearer, it acted like a lodestone pulling me onward to the center of journalism. In the largest city of America must be found the greatest editors of the nation. That should be a newspaperman’s final goal. My term in Pittsburgh was curtailed for a sampling of journalistic work in the national capital, and then the jump to Park Row.
“Don’t let old Gotham get you down with buck ague,” had been Opie Read’s parting advice. The caution against the species of jitters generally associated with a hunter’s first glimpse of a stag through rifle sights, was a pregnant analogy. Its real significance came when New York was no longer new to me.
Aladdin would have been a boresome companion on the ferryboat that carried me across the Hudson. What had his lamp to offer compared to the wonders that could be wrought with one’s own hands in the magic city yonder? It was an Indian summer afternoon in 1894. A haze, gilded by the setting sun, shimmered behind Manhattan’s sky line. It was a golden augury.
Within a week all the gilt had vanished. Much of it was replaced with dross. New York was a community of strangers—strangers to me and strangers in the main, it seemed, to each other. It was impossible to obtain an audience with a city editor. Repeated calls, every day at every newspaper office, were in vain. Several times admittance was gained by different ruses. Instead of a momentary indulgence or tolerance of these shows of resourcefulness, there was rough displeasure. After a while, it became apparent that here a journalist of my type could not “break” in. He required introduction. This was wholly unlike my experience in any other city. Confidence didn’t disappear, but now and then it lagged behind a bit.
Soon a series of compensating emotions set up a defense against the rebuffs the newcomer encountered. It began with the amusement provided by an absurd incident at the Herald office. The reception clerk engaged me in a prolonged dicker. By gradual stages he scaled down my request for an audience with the chief executive to a talk in the lobby with a second assistant city editor. A form was finally filled out stating my name and home address and the purpose of my call. Five minutes later, the space around me in the mezzanine gallery of the Herald building was buzzing with a curious crowd. They behaved like spectators viewing a freak in a circus sideshow. They questioned me spiritedly. An office boy was responsible. He had passed around the word that a wild Texan was in the hall.
Most of the queries tossed at me concerned the private life of Geronimo, the Apache warrior. Eight years before, after his surrender to General Miles in Arizona, Geronimo had been held in detention for a few weeks in San Antonio. My interlocutors were astonished to learn that the chief was not a leading citizen of my home town. My answers to other inquiries seemed similarly disappointing. A press foreman in greasy overalls, with a wrench in his hand, wanted to settle a problem that had long worried him. He didn’t explain its personal importance. “If a man lives after he has been scalped,” he asked, “does his hair grow back?” It had not been my fortune to meet such a survivor.
Kindred episodes added testimony of New York’s isolation. The national metropolis lay many thousands of miles farther from the hinterland than the maps showed. The paradox only emphasized the stern realities. Unless a newspaper job were immediately forthcoming, a temporary livelihood must be found in other fields. Stark necessity was in the saddle. In the most dismal hour that had yet befallen me, a friendly face appeared. William Ransom, seated on a stand in Nassau Street, was having his shoes shined. Ransom had once been city editor of the San Antonio Express. We had never met. But his strongly marked countenance was unforgettable to the boy who had looked upon every journalist he saw as a character apart from all other men. It seemed too good to believe that he remembered me. It has always been my feeling that the recognition was a fabrication of his generous soul. At all events, he became my benefactor.
Ransom was night city editor of the Charles A. O’Rourke News Bureau at 6 Murray Street. A note from him to the day manager put me on the assignment list the next morning. Of course, it was up to me to qualify for the work. The bureau was the predecessor of the City News Association of later years. It served a score of clients. Among them were the Associated Press and all the daily members of that organization in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Its copy consisted of yellow flimsy. The writer pressed a stylus through twenty-five sheets of tissue paper and twenty-four layers of carbon against a metal back. Considerable physical exertion was necessary for the production of legible copy.
My initial assignment was a garment workers’ strike meeting. The head office boy, three years my senior, had a quick sympathy. He lent me twenty cents for carfare without a word. There were two days’ work in one. The compensation for eight hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. was $2.50. The tour between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. paid $2.25. Comfortable quarters and palatable meals were obtained at the Smith & McNeil hotel with entrances on Washington and Greenwich Streets. The room cost $3.50 weekly. The restaurant, which claimed to be the largest in the world, served a seven course “dinner de luxe” for 55 cents. The average patron contented himself with a meal that cost 15 or 20 cents less.
Within six months it was my lot to cover every regular night assignment in Manhattan for a week or more at a time. The south-side police run was the most trying. The conviction grew upon me that it included the coldest spot inside an inhabited area in America. It was the stretch between Pier A and Old Slip Police Station. Forty years of subsequent observation failed to alter that judgment. A fortunate opportunity relieved me of the south side and all other undesirable night beats.
The Lexow investigation was at full tilt. New York was in the middle of its strangest muddle. Rev. Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst’s crusade against vice had grabbed the city by its ears. Cesspools of sin and crime had been dug up and tossed into the air. The dregs splattered in every direction. Thugs, prostitutes, gamblers, felons and crooks of every category suddenly found themselves among new neighbors. It was a period of social surprises. The police department, under the most searching arraignment in its history, moved in a daze. The climax was reached on the day that Timothy J. Creeden confessed before the Lexow committee that he had paid $15,000 for an appointment to a police captaincy.
The Associated Press ordered from the O’Rourke News Bureau a special story of the day’s proceedings to run up to 4,000 words. That was quite a stunt for the little agency at 6 Murray Street. Ransom gave me the assignment. He advised me to “spread” myself. The copy was served sheet by sheet. When 1,800 words had been delivered, Opperman, night manager of the Associated Press, telephoned Ransom. He needed no more of the yarn. It had been told in such completeness that further details were unnecessary. Opperman made some more comments, the precise verbiage of which never reached me. Ransom was too excited for recitation. A mystic by nature and an ardent student of metaphysics, he was ordinarily given to a gentle reserve. That night he danced a jig. “This is the best thing that has happened to O’Rourke’s in months!” he actually shouted. Whatever it was that so greatly elated Ransom, it brought me a bonus. No cash was available for the purpose. O’Rourke’s was in a bad way financially. It was in arrears on salaries. But it was my privilege to choose any reward that would not entail added expense. My choice was the regular assignment to the Tenderloin district.
No hankering for the effulgent night lights or their concomitant fleshpots prompted my selection. Several serious considerations guided me. Covering the Tenderloin yielded major gains. Above all, it meant sustained contact with people in the upper brackets of personality. It meant cultural advantages accruable from elevating companionships. It meant entree to theatres and the moving brilliance of premiere performances. It offered propinquity to America’s entertainment silo—the great storehouse in which public favor generated the chlorophyll to keep fresh the brains and talents for a nation’s diversion. Rubbing elbows with celebrity became a craftsman’s chore. It straightened the reporter’s perspective of the verities. It accustomed him to quick evaluation of the glamor and enamel of ephemeral fame. At the same time, it made possible the enrolment of friends and acquaintances of inestimable usefulness to a news-gatherer. Always the Tenderloin was a panorama of the artifices—a postgraduate course in the study of sophistication. It kept alive the unsolved puzzle of Broadway, the enigma of that Pandora’s box in which hope never ceased to sparkle.
There was a marked difference between the pleasantness of this beat and the physical inclemencies common to a majority of other night details. The comfort and cheeriness of warm clubs and hotels alone made the assignment attractive. The district then extended from Fourteenth Street to Herald Square. At points it reached a couple of blocks east and west of what came to be described as The Great White Way. Here prospered, in unexampled luxuriance, the bane of my private and professional existence—exhibitionism. Its dank growths obscured every other Broadway fungus. Then, as afterward, its chief cultivators delved among the shifting sands that lie between the theatre and its various auxiliaries. They waged an unending struggle for notice in and outside the press. The lower the scale of their standing the greater was their aggressiveness. They prompted this definition: “The ham is the performer who spends his unengaged time in proving that he deserves it.”
In the spring of 1895 came the urge for another inventory of my professional status. The Tenderloin had been masticated. Its juices no longer stimulated a sense of progress. New York journalism had disgorged a complete stock of reportorial experience. It had been an invaluable training to work shoulder to shoulder with veteran stars of the metropolis. My tours of duty with Ike White and Deacon Terry would alone fill a portfolio of admirable instruction. They were the newspaper “crime sharks” of Gotham. One of White’s exploits followed an attempt in 1891 to kill the multimillionaire, Russell Sage. The would-be assassin was blown to bits. A widespread anxiety attended the efforts to identify him and to establish the motive for the crime. The police were baffled. Ike was then on the staff of the New York World. He picked up a shred of cloth smaller than the trousers button to which it clung. With that tiny clue, after weeks of toil, singlehanded he effected a complete solution of the case.
Journalism was in a state of flux. The publisher surrounded every phase of his operations with rigid secrecy. He maintained the proverbial alienship of his hands. The editorial personnel were little more conversant with his business policies than were outsiders. Fear of competitive coups was the chief reason for this covert regime. Uncertainty as to the immediate future was a companion cause. Mechanical inventions and developments were at hand, presaging radical changes in the publishing field. Within the ensuing decade they transformed journalism from a professional service into a complicated manufacturing business.
There was no precursor of this impending revolution definite enough to distract attention from my present outlook. The milk in the New York coconut had been drained. The husk was not to my liking. The prevalent system of specialization sealed the doors to tutelage in those divisions of newspapermaking that were to complete my training. Moreover, the New York dailies offered less by way of inspiration than some of their western contemporaries. The galaxy of metropolitan editors had dwindled into a fading nebula. Only two remained outstanding—Joseph Pulitzer of the World, and Charles A. Dana of the Sun. Pulitzer already had become a remote entity. Dana, the incomparable stylist, had made the Sun into something of a personal organ. Its quizzical atmosphere suggested a select club more than an open forum. It might be the best-written newspaper in the country, but it presented the journalism of Charles A. Dana, rather than the journalism of America. West of the Alleghanies lay a wide variety of journalistic leadership. Newspaper trails, inseparable from the newly made history of their region, were being blazed by such masters as Joseph B. McCullagh, with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat; Ed Rosewater, with the Omaha Bee; Joseph Medill, with the Chicago Tribune; John R. McLean, with the Cincinnati Enquirer and Henry Watterson, with the Louisville Courier-]ournal. It was not too late to note Horace Greeley’s advice to go West.
No arrogance entered into my adverse criticisms of New York dailies. Nor was there any conceit of discovery in the detection of their faults. Basic precepts indicated their inadequacies. These metropolitan journals flouted the fundamental yardsticks for the measurement of news values. They were more parochial than most backwoods newspapers were provincial. They did display European news. That emphasized the importance of the port of New York. But events west of the Hudson River, except for politics and sports, were sharply discounted if not ignored. It might have been said, with much more point than triteness, that for the New York news editor the sun rose over Fire Island and set on the New Jersey palisades.
The persistence and pervasiveness of this view throughout Manhattan newspaperdom led to an historic chapter in American journalism. It held open the door of opportunity for one of the greatest achievements in the publishing domain. The New York Times was in a precarious state of hastening decrepitude when Adolph S. Ochs took over its control. He assumed the reins in 1896. Unostentatiously, but with unremitting vigor, he applied to the paper the elemental principles of institutional journalism. He made a newspaper that pulsed with responsibility to its readers and to its obligations in their behalf. He employed the same methods he had found successful with the Times in the little Tennessee city of Chattanooga.
For several years his progress was so gradual that it almost escaped competitive notice. No factor of this growth was more substantial than the Times’s telegraphic news reports. Ochs intensified attention on the collection of intelligence from all parts of the country. Visitors to New York discovered that the daily on which they could most safely rely for fresh tidings from their home territory was the Times. Most of these visitors came to buy things. They constituted one of the vital forces in New York’s activities. The Times inaugurated departments of special service for them and for the New York circles interested in them. As always, the alert seller studied the buyers’ judgments. He readily adopted his customers’ preference for the Times.
It is idle to estimate the extent of Mr. Ochs’s indebtedness to his competitors for their delinquencies. They did make possible the strongest impetus to the early advancement of his newspaper. But it is probable that even under other circumstances his unswerving integrity of purpose, coupled with his wealth of prescient talents, would have carried the New York Times to the unrivaled pinnacle that it attained.
A decade later, the comforting realization came that Mr. Ochs’s success had vindicated my judgment. It confirmed the validity of my reasons for seeking journalistic opportunities more favorable than the New York of 1895 vouchsafed. A year intervened between my return to the West and Mr. Ochs’s advent in the East.
Chapter 7 Part 1 Next Week
link to previous installment link to next installment
Labels: King News
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Christy Walsh
In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Walsh was the oldest of four children born to Walter and Marie. His father, a Canadian emigrant, was a traveling salesman. The family resided in San Francisco, California at 1333 Broadway.
According to the 1910 census, the Walsh family were residents of Los Angeles, California at 1795 Twenty-Fourth Street. Walsh’s father was a salesman of mining equipment.
The New York Times, December 30, 1955, said Walsh “graduated from St. Vincent’s College in Los Angeles in 1911 and began newspaper work on The Los Angeles Express.”
Walsh was profiled in The Fourth Estate, October 7, 1916.
Christy Walsh, the new Pacific Coast representative of the Chalmers Motor Company, with offices in San Francisco, is a lawyer by education, a newspaper and advertising man by experience and a cartoonist whenever occasion demands.Information about Walsh’s art training has not been found.
He is twenty-four years old and entered newspaper work five years ago as a cartoonist and reporter, meanwhile devoting himself to the study of law. As a result of the latter efforts, he was admitted to the California bar after graduating from the University of Southern California in January, 1915.
Law did not attract him at that time, however, and he became advertising manager for Greer, Robbins & Co., automobile dealers of Los Angeles, resigning this summer to become correspondent of the Los Angeles Herald at the United States Military Training Camp, Monterey, Cal.
On June 5, 1917, Walsh signed his World War I draft card. He was married and lived in San Francisco at 805 Lake. Walsh was the advertising manager at Chalmers. He was described as tall, medium build with brown eyes and hair. A short time later, Walsh moved to New York City.
The Los Angeles Evening Herald, August 30, 1918, published this item.
By the way, another most attractive girl, formerly Miss Madeline Soudan, is at Jacksonvile [sic], learning how to be an officer’s wife, as Christy Walsh, her husband, has been in the training camp there for the past two months.About four months later, the Evening Herald reported Walsh’s visit.
Mr. and Mrs. Christy Walsh, the latter being formerly Miss Madeline Souden, are to arrive in Los Angeles on Monday and plan to spend the holidays with Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Souden. Mr. Walsh has been in the service for the past year to more, and some of his clever articles on camp life—the training of the youngAmerican idea how to shoot Germans—will be remembered by readers of The Evening Herald.Walsh was an Evening Herald sports cartoonist.
A number of pleasant affairs are planned in their honor.
Editor and Publisher, March 19, 1921, reported Walsh’s new business.
The Christy Walsh Syndicate. has been established in New York with offices at 50 East 42d street, headed by Christy Walsh, former newspaper and advertising agency writer. After getting a start in newspaper work on the Los Angeles Herald as a reporter and as correspondent for a string of newspapers. he left California for Detroit. where he became publicity director and house organ editor of the Maxwell-Chalmers Automobile Company. Since 1917 he has been with the Van Patten Agency in New York. He has also gained some reputation as a cartoonist.A similar report appeared in the Fourth Estate, March 19, 1921.
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Walsh drew the panel, Rightfield Follies, from April 13 to May 20, 1921. It appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Four panels had contributions from the readers on April 23, April 24, May 7, and May 17.
Walsh has not been found in the 1920 census. 1925 New York state census listed writer Walsh, his wife, Mary, and sons, James and Walter. They resided in Brooklyn at 118 Second Place.
Aboard the S.S. Transylvania, Walsh, his wife and youngest son, Walter Jr., departed Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1928. They arrived in New York on September 2. Their home was in Los Angeles at 1222 North Bronson. Apparently oldest son, James, passed away.
In 1930, newspaper syndicate manager Walsh and his family were in the household of his father-in-law, Oscar M. Souden, a banker, who employed three servants. Their address in Los Angeles was 2190 Ponet Drive.
The Walsh family visited Bermuda in 1930. The passenger list recorded their return to New York on July 14 and home address as 54 Riverside Drive, New York City.
Walsh and his family sailed from Los Angeles, June 29, 1934, and landed in New York City, July 16. Their West Coast address was 2244 North Edgemont, Los Angeles.
Walsh’s marriage ended in divorce. A brief article appeared in the New York Sun, March 21, 1935.
Mrs. Christy Walsh Sues for Divorce
Los Angeles. March 21 (U.P.).—Walter Christy Walsh, sports writer and promoter, was too critical, Mrs. Madaline Walsh charged in a divorce suit on file here today. The complaint said a property settlement had been made and an agreement effected concerning custody of their eight-year-old son, Walter Christy Walsh Jr.
The 1940 census said newspaper executive Walsh lived alone in Manhattan, New York City at 405 West 23 Street.
Walsh signed his World War II draft card on April 25, 1942. The Los Angeles resident was at 741 1/2 South Burnside Avenue. He stood five feet eleven-and-a-half inches, weighed 165 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair.
Walsh passed away December 29, 1955, at his home in North Hollywood, California. His death was reported the following day in the New York Times and other papers. Walsh was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Spur Line
Bud Sagendorf may only be my third favorite creator of the Popeye comic strip Thimble Theatre, but that still puts him in heady company (E.C. Segar and Bobby London come in at #1 and #2, for the record). He really knew how to channel the Segar way of writing, and his drawing was sort of a scrubbed-up version of Segar's down-and-dirty bigfoot cartooning style. I dare say that if you showed the average man or woman on the street a Popeye drawn by any of the strip's creators, Sagendorf's would be chosen as the iconic one.
It only makes sense that Sagendorf was a natural on Popeye, since Segar employed the young cartoonist as an assistant in his studio. When Segar got sick, I'm guessing the only reason Sagendorf was not chosen as his successor was because he was so darn young (about 22) that he wasn't taken seriously as ready for the big time on such a valuable property.
Sagendorf was instead employed by King Features as the cartoonist in charge of many Popeye licensed products, and eventually became the main artist and writer of the Popeye comic books. It wasn't until 20 years after Segar's death that Sagendorf finally was assigned to the newspaper comic strip. In the interim, Sagendorf did manage to create his own newspaper strip, a fun little wacky fantasy about a fellow who runs his own railroad. The strip was well-written, full of slapstick and bizarre situations, following directly in the footsteps of Segar.
Spur Line, however, was doomed from the start. Sagendorf signed on with the Associated Press to produce the strip, and their comic strip syndicate division was running on fumes by 1954, when Spur Line debuted. AP's strips were folding at a constant clip, fueled by creators who couldn't afford ink for their brushes, much less feed a family, with the pittance they were making.
Spur Line debuted as a daily-only strip on February 15 1954, and came to the end of the tracks on April 2 1955. The feature appeared in very few papers -- not many of those dogged few newspapers still taking the AP feature service made room for the strip. That's at least partially because Spur Line doesn't seem to have been a 'drop in' replacement for another AP strip that was being cancelled. That was the normal way AP dealt with ending strips, and made it simple for subscribing newpapers who didn't have to have to redesign their feature page -- one goes out, one goes in. For Spur Line, papers would have had to make room or drop some other strip.
For more on Spur Line and a longer run of strips (including the introductory week), see this post at Ger Appeldoorn's Fabulous Fifties.
PS: If the above strip samples seem to be missing something, it's because the newspaper I scanned these from, in a fit of pointless fiddling, scratched out the syndicate stamps, the dates, and Sagendorf's signature in each one. Sigh.
A major feature of that show was an officially abandoned spur line, separated from the main railroad but kept in operation by a retired engineer and fireman using an ancient engine. Every so often the crusty troubleshooter from the main railroad would try to close it down.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Stubby Penn the Reporter
John R. Bray went on to become an important pioneer in the animated film industry, but we must all start somewhere. For Bray, one of his earliest cartooning jobs was with the McClure Syndicate, and for them he produced his first comic strip series -- all two episodes of it. Presented here in its entirety!
The two episodes of Stubby Penn the Reporter appeared on February 19 and 26 1905. They appeared in the T.C. McClure copyrighted version of their section. Bray wouldn't manage another series until June of that year, but that time he'd be in for the moderately long haul, producing a whole year's worth of Stuttering Sammy strips for the same syndicate.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
March 1 1909 -- The long arm of the law gets the watch stolen off its wrist.
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, July 14, 2017
Wish You Were Here, from Walter Wellman
This 1910 postcard by Walter Wellman indicates no maker. Perhaps this prolific cartoonist self-published? He reserved his copyright on the front, a pretty rare thing.
I don't know which is weirder about this card -- that a fisherman is wearing a tuxedo and spats, or that this dapper fellow would gladly see a pretty girl drowning in order to cop a feel of her ankle. Actually, wait, I do know which is the weirdest -- that someone would purchase this card over all the other options they undoubtedly had on offer at the postcard rack.
Labels: Wish You Were Here
In any case, I'm thinking not all that appropriate for fishin'.
Our friend in the card is just wearing some street-level dressy clothes for a young fop of 1910.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 6 Part 1
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
From the Chaparral to the Tenderloin (part 1)link to previous installment link to next installment
A period of self-discipline was undertaken to prepare for my invasion of the North. Complete detachment from newspaper activity was desirable for this cycle of introspection. It could be found in the lonely stretches of the Panhandle of Texas. Work on one of the great cattle ranges would also provide a stake for my journalistic travels. Two weeks after my departure from San Antonio, I was “riding the line” on the Capitol Syndicate Ranch. The tract covered three million acres. It blanketed ten counties. Starting in the northwest corner of Texas, its western limits followed the state line southward for more than two hundred miles. The area was great enough to inclose the states of Delaware and Rhode Island, with a thousand square miles to spare. An historic transaction accounted for the assembling of this tremendous range under one ownership. The land was deeded to a group headed by J. V. Farwell, Sr., of Chicago, in payment for the building at Austin of the largest state capitol in the United States. Line riding was a unique occupation. It disappeared with the squatter, the nester and the cattle rustler. It was a phenomenon of the times when water holes were priceless jewels of the plain. In droughty seasons, each wet patch was carefully husbanded. As one after another became exhausted, those remaining grew more vitally important. The loss of a single drinking pool, or “tank,” might mean the wiping out of all the livestock on the range. The desperate owner of a herd dying of thirst ignored markers and imaginary boundary lines. He drove his stock wherever they could lap up enough moisture to keep alive. To protect against these depredations and against more vicious forms of marauding, came the line rider—the prairie vedette.
Fences were built at enormous expense. They were cut. The legislature of Texas defined fence-cutting as a felony. Enforcement of the statute was left to sheriffs and the local constabulary. The line rider, paid by the landowner, supplemented this official force. Often, he was formally deputized by a sheriff or a constable. Usually he was a veteran cow-hand. A sudden dearth of expert help had withdrawn seasoned branders and ropers from this patrol work. A gap in the line was assigned to me. The work was ideally suited for my program. Frequently twenty-four hours passed without the sound of a human voice. Here there was utter detachment for unaffected meditation. The completeness of that detachment left its mark not only in insistent memories, but also in habits of thought. It deserves description. For me it was never better pictured than by Arthur Baer in a whimsical bit many years later. “No man can understand Texas and Texans,” Baer wrote, “until he has walked in the invisible bluebonnets on a night blacker than a mule’s bedroom. You cannot see an inch, but you can think to eternity. If you talk, it is in whispers, under a sounding-board of stars, which start where the earth stops and never stop themselves. There are no shadows; there is no horizon in a Texas night, but you can sense something that you cannot see in the cactus, the sword-edged grass and the dwarf oak. It is the chaparral, mysterious and unanswerable.”
Three months on the Staked Plains completed my course of inner questioning. All the answers pointed in the same direction. The code evolved from my experiences and observations must be the constant guide for my career in journalism. It would provide an unfailing shield against the recurrence of past errors. As for success—under these rules, it was certain. The renascence of an unquenchable optimism!
Wes Humphries rode with me to Fort Worth. We had met at a chuck wagon on the Capitol Syndicate Ranch a dozen times. His conversation was a model of terseness. On the range, he had repelled all friendly overtures. Now, on the train, a quality of aggressiveness entered into his reticence. Apparently, he reserved the right to propound questions to others while ignoring those addressed to himself. A nose twisted by at least two breaks, a narrow slit that served as a mouth and a corrugated chin definitely excluded Wes from the ranks of the handsome. A coal black mop tumbled over his forehead and ears. It curtained a pair of glowing orbs the color of which remained undistinguishable through the tangled fringes. While Humphries’ countenance did not compel admiration, it did excite curiosity. We parted at the Katy railroad station. No appointment was made, but Wes left me in no doubt that we would meet again. He had already made it clear that he never met anyone except at the time and place of his own choosing. All of which should have afforded me ample warning of what was to follow.
Forth Worth was to be the springboard for my plunge into Northern journalism. The Mail was without a city editor. The title attracted me. The label would be helpful in recapitulating to Northern editors the breadth of my experience. Moreover, this would be my first position with the rank of an executive on a daily newspaper outside San Antonio. And three months would be adequate for this round of duty.
Industrial unrest was gaining momentum throughout the country. The business depression of 1893 was nearing its second year. The American Railway Union, fresh from a victory on the Great Northern System, was organizing the employees of the Pullman Company. A demand had been submitted for the restoration of wage cuts and the correction of employment abuses. Mr. Pullman had answered that he was operating his car shops at a loss and that he was keeping his plant open only to assure work for his employees. In proof, he offered to exhibit the books of his company.
Living in obscurity in Fort Worth at the time was Martin Irons, leader of the great railroad strike on the Gould Southwestern System eight years before. The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor of America was at the zenith of its power when Irons, as chairman of the Executive Committee of District Assembly No. 101, ordered the walkout on March 1, 1886. In May, the strike collapsed. Martin Irons was ruined, but hundreds of thousands of union men looked upon his personal disaster as a brave sacrifice for their cause. He had led the greatest railroad strike thus far attempted in America. Few men were better fitted to comment authoritatively on the course of trade-union disputes. Now an exclusive interview with him in analysis of the pending Pullman conflict would be a notable scoop. Irons agreed to give me a comprehensive statement. But he wanted a week in which to await certain developments and to prepare his notes.
The delay was onerous. It might force a choice between the Irons interview and an opportunity for a superlatively spectacular news coup. Preparations for the latter undertaking had been in progress for weeks. They grew out of a series of meetings with Wes Humphries. Wes had been slow to show his hand. He played me like an angler reeling in a trout. It had required little imagination to classify him as a rascal. But he was an extremely interesting type, and observation of his personality was intriguing. At first our contacts supplied an amusing game. Matching wits with a master of knavery was an engaging pastime. At last, Humphries turned the comedy into a roaring melodrama. His ultimate proposal was reached by stages so gradual that its startling nature did not lift it out of the sequence of conversation. Wes Humphries offered me a share in a projected train robbery.
The looting of express cars was still a favorite occupation among bandits of the Southwest. Every detail of this job had been worked out with such thoroughness, Humphries explained, that failure was impossible. And this was no piker pick-up. The main haul would be $225,000 in gold. Every sixty days a consignment of that amount of cash in a specially constructed safe was made from St. Louis via Kansas City to San Antonio. It was planned to “grab the next load.”
From the beginning of my acquaintance with Humphries he had loomed as a prospective subject of newspaper copy. Now, he exceeded my most sanguine expectations. But the very magnitude of the story occasioned pause. Why had Humphries picked me for membership in his select company? In the argot of his kind, he had “ribbed me up” to the role with flattering allusions to nerve, muscle and speed. That, in the same slang, was “just a build-up for a fall”—a tickling of vanity to hasten compliance. Much more important than physical fitness was mental attitude. How had Humphries assured himself on that score? Detailed review of our conversations offered a clue. Wes believed nothing that he couldn’t understand. He couldn’t comprehend ethical restraints. Therefore, there were none. Every man had his price. This he knew. And what he knew was not debatable. He had satisfied himself that my besetting sin was avarice and that $25,000 would lure me to the gates of perdition.
Humphries pointed out that there would be practically no risk in my part of the job. He had chosen me for “the feeler and front.” My task would be to receive from a confederate working in a St. Louis bank and to transmit to Wes, with the dispatch and accuracy necessary for success, certain details including the precise time and manner of shipment of the money. After that, nothing would be expected of me except to serve as lookout when the “heist” was made. Wes had organized a pleasant party of four. The other two members would be presented in due course. At present they were arranging for our quartet to accompany a cattle train to Kansas City. It was my hope that these negotiations would not be completed before Martin Irons delivered his promised statement.
Wes Humphries was throwing into my lap an opportunity such as seldom if ever fell to a journalist. The capture of a trio of train robbers would be both a newspaper epic and a signal public service. Fortune was surely in a gracious mood. James B. Roberts, editor of the Mail, did not agree with me. “I’ve never heard of so foolhardy an undertaking,” he said in high anger. “You can’t put it over. I’ll have nothing to do with so harebrained a stunt.” Nevertheless, he was helpful. First, he agreed to forward to me for my own exclusive benefit any writing that Martin Irons might send in. Next, he worked out an open letter of identification, which he signed. It read, in effect, as follows: “To Whom It May Concern: The bearer, M. Koenigsberg, is a newspaperman. He is leaving the city editorship of the Fort Worth Mail for an enterprise on his own account. He believes he has a workable plan to perform an important public service. I have urged him against the undertaking. This note is written reluctantly, not in approval of his venture, but as such safeguard as my recommendation may afford.”
This document, intended as insurance against an unpredictable adversity, became the source of a violently contrary effect. It was written in duplicate on the India tissue paper of which stereotype flongs were made. One copy Roberts retained. The other, the original, was inserted by a seamstress between the lining and the outer fabric in the back of my coat.
A formal exposition of Martin Irons’ views was in my hands when Humphries presented me to Louis and The Kid. It was an unceremonious meeting. We had made our ways separately to the caboose of a cattle train in the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific freight yards. It was a made-over sleeping car. Introductions were achieved with three-word sentences. Taciturnity was the tacit rule. Later in the evening a semblance of social amenity, warmed by a tin bucket of hot coffee, brought the crowd a bit closer together. The full monikers of my two new companions were revealed.
The Kid was really “The Iron-Gall Kid.” His looks fully confirmed the cognomen. Six feet of a cadaverous frame was topped by a sallow visage totally bereft of any shadow of sentiment. No alchemy was needed to convert The Kid’s facial tegument into brass. Louis, pronounced “Looey,” was formally known as “Lefty Louis.” Fifteen years later, a central figure in a New York gang murder boasted the same name. But the New Yorker was only a hired assassin. Humphries’ protégé claimed a wide proficiency. He was equally familiar with safe-cracking and pocket-picking. Usually one who pursued either calling professed a violent contempt for the other. It was Louis’ versatility that earned his high rank in Humphries’ esteem.
Lefty’s proximity gave me a sense of discomfort. He owed his nickname to the excessive intrusiveness of his “southpaw.” It was never idle. The fingers were constantly in play. Whether they were toying with the loose property of a neighbor—a watch, a pencil or a knife—or whether they were tentatively hefting an accessible item of decoration, Louis always wore an abstracted smile as if he were unaware of what his digits were doing. It was a pose that often proved profitable. The seeming aberrances of this left-handed diligence were not the only source of my uneasiness over Louis. He had a disquieting manner that intimated joint possession of a secret. He would lower an eyelid and then abruptly turn away as if to hide the gesture from our companions. Louis was giving my nerves a ride.
The Iron-Gall Kid remained markedly aloof. One sweeping glance at our first meeting seemed to glut his interest in me. Our eyes never met again. Clearly, my vigilance must center on Louis. Chunky, but as hard as nails and as light as a cat on his feet, he would be an ugly customer in a mix-up. And he continued to wink at me.
Transportation to Kansas City had been arranged in accordance with a common practice. A berth in a caboose and grub en route were supplied in exchange for attendance on live stock in transit. Our quartet were engaged to tend four carloads. The animals were fed and watered at scheduled stops. It was a simple routine. With goads and poles, the cattle were driven off each car down a portable runway, through narrow chutes, to feeding bins and drinking troughs and then back onto the train. An additional duty required inspection of the cars from time to time to prevent the trampling of steers downed by bunching or jolting.
Humphries found pride in his craftiness. This trip was a species of generalship. “It’s what I call a double play,” he announced. First, it supplied transport for his forces at the enemy’s expense. Second, but more important, it furnished facilities for a reconnaissance from the most desirable angles of observation. Wes had already studied the scene chosen for “the blow-off.” But views from horseback or passenger-train windows did not afford the comprehensiveness of vision obtainable from the top of a freight car.
Ministering to the creature comforts and toilets of Texas shorthorns had never excited my enthusiasms. The Iron-Gall Kid made this job especially irksome. He was shirking his stint. Yet this shortcoming might be turned to advantage. An expression of my dissatisfaction ought to evoke some sort of telltale rejoinder. Any trick seemed worthwhile to prod these fellows into unguarded talk. An annoyance more pretended than real was given vocal outlet. It turned into an unfortunate blunder.
Scarcely had the complaint left my lips before Louis’ ubiquitous left hand was stroking my back in a mocking simulation of sympathy. His fingers traveled with incredible celerity from shoulder to flank. They lingered for an instant just below the waistband. There was no audible sound. Yet a noise like the crackling of sheets of foolscap assailed my inner ears as a hand paused over the tissue paper sewn into the lining of my coat. Louis gave no sign that he had discovered anything. He began rolling a cigarette. My fears receded. Then Louis winked at me again. It seemed less an ocular antic than a flicker of fate. If Lefty had started out to fray my nerves, he was close to success.
It had been my idea to defer until after our arrival in Kansas City the formulation of a definite plan for the capture of my unamiable trio. Facts usable as legal evidence must first be obtained. At the moment, there was no basis on which to press a formal accusation. No overt act had been committed. An allegation of conspiracy was not yet provable. Wes might even poke fun at my charges. Thus far there was not even any testimony to convict our two companions of guilty knowledge. It was enlightening to observe how thoroughly they guarded against incriminating admissions. But all this would be changed when Humphries began to drill the members of his gang in their respective and collective duties. That, he had whispered to me, would be the day after our arrival in Kansas City. Now, within twenty-four hours, would come the circumstances from which my program must be evolved—unless Lefty Louis meanwhile put a spoke in the wheel.
That night my outer garments were carefully folded at the head of my berth. On top lay my only article of baggage—a small satchel. A shoelace was looped over my right forefinger, through a buttonhole of my coat and around the handle of the bag, What more could be done to assure my arousal if any attempt were made to get at the hidden letter? When morning came, none of my traveling companions was in sight. A hasty search had shown the shoelace to be intact. That was reassuring. But why, for the first time on the trip, had my droughtful and attentive fellow travelers left me alone? A brakeman, donning his trousers across the aisle, offered a suggestion. “We hooked on a couple of empties at Topeka,” he said. “Your friends may be shooting craps in one of them.” A dice game would be unimportant. A meeting from which I had been pointedly omitted would be altogether a different matter.
Still, there was no occasion for alarm if Roberts’ letter remained untouched in its hiding-place. And how could it be otherwise? Had not my fingers reassured me at the moment of waking? Ever since the suspicion arose that Lefty Louis had detected its presence, the hidden sheet of paper had obtruded itself on my every thought. It had become an incubus. Perhaps the wisest course would be to destroy it. My fingers, groping for the basted strip, felt a fold of paper. It was easily extracted. It was not the India tissue from the stereotyping plant of the Forth Worth Mail. It was much coarser. It was of the same texture as the roll in the washroom of the caboose. And it bore no writing. Roberts’ letter had disappeared. What he had warned me against was coming to pass. The trapper was being snared in his own trap.
Obviously, Roberts’ writing had been replaced with the blank sheet to delay my discovery of its absence. By restoring the substitute, it would be possible to feign ignorance of what had happened. Such a pretense might prove a critical measure of safety. The strip of lavatory paper was tucked back into the recess where Roberts’ script belonged.
Fright came with the realization that it was with Wes Humphries rather than Louis that my thoughts should be engaged. What would Humphries do? In all likelihood, his decision was already made. The plans for its execution were the subject of the discussion for which the trio had absented themselves. No other conclusion was tenable. Humphries would not let me balk the project on which he had worked so long. Neither would he trust me to remain silent. Roberts’ letter disposed of any such possibility. One could sense Humphries’ judgment as clearly as if he had pronounced it. The pernicious interloper must be put out of the way. The underworld conceives no trespass more malignant than the acceptance of companionship as cover for a campaign of exposure. It is an inexpiable offense.
A sense of frustration confounded my dilemma. It would be foolish to turn to the train crew for assistance. On what could a request for protection be based? No threat had been offered. There was bitter irony in the prospect that none would be offered. Humphries and his ilk took neither the chance nor the time to make such gestures. Safe arrival in Kansas City might be only an emergence from the smoke into the flame. No more help could be expected from the police than from the railroad staff. In fact, it might be Humphries’ design to postpone action until we reached the screen of the city’s shadows. This was the worst mess into which my quest for a scoop had yet entangled me.
There was only one avenue to deliverance. That lay in putting myself beyond the reach of Humphries and his two cronies before they suspected my purpose. Where were they? Kansas City would be the next stop. We were traveling at high speed. Evidently, the engineer was making up time. A leap for escape here would be suicidal. But at any moment there would be a slowdown for the switchyard. Then must come my break for safety. The side door of the caboose was movable along grooves with adjustable ratchets. It was easily set midway. The train wheels began to grind on a curve. The speed slackened. My chance was at hand. Braced in the open door, I searched for a favorable landing spot.
There had been a heavy downpour of rain. Puddles of water hid the railroad ties. On the right, on the parallel track skirting a sod embankment, a string of freights was slowly forging ahead of us. The rear cars were lurching crazily around the bend. They were canted sharply to the left. Their tops were hanging perilously close to the cattle train alongside. Either the inner rails of the outer track had sunk or one of the axles was broken. A sideswiping collision was due at any instant. Would there be a choice between Wes Humphries and a railroad wreck?
At that moment, Wes spoke for himself. He had just made his way through the front entrance. Beside him were Louis and The Kid. All of them eyed the satchel hanging from my left wrist. “Listen, pal,” said Humphries, in the longest single speech he ever made in my hearing, “you’re not breaking away—yet. We have to have a nice talk together. Not now, but when we’re ready. You’ll come right along with us like a good boy. Or there’ll be a very sad accident. And it won’t be any trouble for me and my friends to tell the coroner exactly what happened. There won’t be anybody to tell it different.”
A few minutes earlier Humphries’ words would probably have stirred me to the marrow. But now a more immediate danger overshadowed his threat. The caboose was careening. Intent on their purpose with me and obviously unaware of what was happening outside, Humphries and his companions had not sensed the impending smash. A glance forward through the half-open door confirmed my fears. Several of the cattle cars ahead were toppling over. The back end of the freight had passed beyond our caboose. Now there was open space to the terraced turf on the right. It lay less than three yards away on a level fully six feet below. No part of this fleeting scene was visible to the trio facing me. But the expression on my face must have warned them. They darted forward.
“It’s a wreck!” I yelled, jumping for the brown sward across the track.
No twinge of conscience followed my failure to ascertain what happened to Wes Humphries and his worthy mates. It seemed at least pardonable to leave without a show of solicitude on their account. If items of justification for this neglect were lacking, the condition of my satchel would supply one. It was ruined. A puncture on one side and a gaping hole on the other made it useless. It did not require an expert to trace the action of a bullet. As a parting souvenir, it was much more acceptable 'than the donor intended. The overturning of the caboose had interfered with his aim.
Another memento remained with me permanently. It was produced by the impact against the railroad embankment. Lesser hurts, including two dislocated finger joints, were soon forgotten. An umbilical rupture commanded more serious attention. The Kansas City doctor advised an immediate operation. Three weeks in a hospital would be required. That involved a longer period of idleness than was wrested from my program for more than a quarter of a century. Then surgery became imperative. Thus, thirty-three years after the incident, the scalpel carved a record of my worst fiasco in news adventures.
There was some salvage from the rout. Most important was my deliverance from any further concern over the projected train robbery. Newspaper reports of the wreck showed that Wes Humphries must succumb to his injuries. Tragic as was this source of relief, it also assured me of a personal safety that Humphries’ survival might have imperiled. Without his leadership, neither Lefty Louis nor The Iron-Gall Kid would be likely to molest me. At all events, I never saw them again.
The statement by Martin Irons had been kept in my satchel. Though perforated by the pistol shot, it was still legible. Transcribed in the form of an interview, it made a timely story. Edwin H. Craig, managing editor of the Kansas City Journal, was pleased to get it. Irons had set out to write a dispassionate review of the American Railway Union’s claims against the Pullman Company. It was not wholly passionless. He urged the union not to be tricked into consideration of Mr. Pullman’s books as the basis for negotiation of a settlement. He argued that a big corporation could secrete a million dollars in profits more easily than a laborer could hide a patch in the seat of his trousers. No Argus-eyed income tax department existed then to dispute this argument. Irons was pessimistic over the threatened strike. He predicted its failure unless union labor meanwhile achieved a greater solidarity. Of course, he had a plan. It was for an affiliation between the American Railway Union and the Knights of Labor.
It is noteworthy that such an alliance was formed. The Kansas City Journal published the Irons interview in February. Three weeks later, on March 11, 1894, the historic strike began. In June, under the direction of Eugene V. Debs, the American Railway Union, at a meeting in Chicago, effected a coalition with the Knights of Labor. The combination was defeated by an unforeseen factor. President Cleveland ordered that there be no interference with the transportation of United States mail. The strike was crushed by the calling out of troops on July 4th.
Compensation for the Irons interview introduced me to a curious offshoot of newspaper operation. Craig paid me in hotel scrip. It was an order on the Midland Hotel for a first-class room and three meals daily for a week. The Midland then was one of the two leading hostelries of Kansas City. The accommodations supplied to me represented two columns of advertising in the Journal. For years such trade deals tainted the legitimacy of newspaper business standards. The practice was part of the slipshod methods of those publishers who considered advertising more of a graft than a science. Proprietors of that stripe eagerly sold in bulk their prospective linage for the year for cash in advance. The rates left wide margins of profit. Fortunes were made by outside operators. Usually these were the shrewd managers of advertising agencies.
Chapter 6 Part 2 Next Week
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