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Friday, October 30, 2015

Ten Years In the Newspaper Game, part 5

[In this series, Beatrice Boedefeld Andrews described aspects of her experiences as a newspaper reporter and editor from 1910 through 1920. She worked first for The Elkhart Truth in Elkhart, Indiana, and later for the Casper Daily Tribune in Wyoming. She changed many names, such as substituting Concordia for her hometown, Elkhart. This is the final episode in the series. The first parts are:
I. Becoming a Sobsister.
II. Tramp Reporters.
III. City Editors I Have Known.
IV. Paste and Shears and Colyums.]

V. Getting the Big Thrills in the News Game

(Final story of a series by Beatrice B. Andrews, of Casper, Wyoming. Read this even if you have missed the others.)

No matter how much drudgery there is in the everyday round there are usually compensating moments. If there are not, then must the worker indeed be miscast in the great drama of earning a living and his plight is sad.

It is the knowledge that no two days will ever be alike that gives the newspaper game its great fascination. There is a treadmill, to be sure. Each day the beat must be traveled, and the reporter must ask his little list of pertinent questions, and meet with the same old answers:

“Well, what do you know today?”
“Not a thing.”
“Anything new, Bill?”
“Nothing new under the sun.”
“What’s doing in the shoe trade, John?”
“Oh, same old seven and six.”

But—you never know. Just around the corner the story of a lifetime may be lurking.

One of these days Bill may say, “Lots of excitement out our way last night, Joe. Man held up a guy, took a diamond and a watch off him and the guy managed to get him down and brained him with a brick.”

And you are off after a few questions on a red hot story.

To the girl reporter the thrills come a bit differently than to a man. For me there was my first scoop, a golden wedding celebration in which the leading figures were of unusual prominence. The tip had come from a preliminary story in the opposition paper, and they forgot to follow it up. I had many bigger and better ones later, but there is always a thrill in a first experience.

Among the highlights of my newspaper career, it seems to me now that election nights brought me the greatest thrills of all. There is a sort of breathless excitement in a newspaper office on election night which the most callous and blasé person must feel. So many hopes hang on the figures reported piecemeal from the various polling places. The little more means so much in hope and anticipation, and the little less is so often the difference between rejoicing and despair. And there are all the thousands of eager people in the street outside, in the public gatherings, or in their homes, depending on the paper for their knowledge of the results. There is something big in feeling that your paper has been the first to compile the complete returns and get them to all those waiting people.

Election day was always a day of big preparations in the office of The News. Cards with the names of the candidates in the principal parties were prepared and the boys were sent out early in the afternoon to all the precinct polling places in the city with instructions to get the promise of one or, better, two of the officials to telephone us the vote as soon as the ballots were counted.

It was my task to assist in preparing great charts, cross-ruled for the number of precincts and vertically ruled so that each candidate might have a column, and see that the names of precincts and candidates were properly inserted. The huge projecting lantern was set in place in the editorial room and the white sheet upon which the returns would be flashed was stretched on the building across the street. Stacks of isinglass slides appeared on the editor’s desk to be typed with the bulletins when the news began to come in.

Sometimes extra telephones were installed, and an effort was made to rope off a space surrounding the desks of reporters, editor, and telegraph man to keep the politicians from crowding over the desks and interrupting the busy workers.

If it were a general election, there was a thrill in the report from that first little town in Massachusetts which always completes its count about 4:30 in the afternoon. There are only some 68 votes to be counted. Those 68 votes are as a grain of sand in the whole result, of course, but there is a superstition about the showing there, just the same. There was no reason for sticking around between five and seven o’clock, but we generally did, going out one at a time to snatch a bite to eat at a hot dog stand, or some place close at hand.

Then the wire would begin to tick off the first meager returns from upstate counties in New York. The great electric lantern would be turned on and focused by the man engaged to operate it and cartoons and preliminary messages would be flashed on the screen.

Answering the battery of telephones was my task. There were always two and sometimes three whose bells must be distinguished. Something definite had to be told each inquirer—the prestige of the paper rested on my shoulders, I felt. Each of those inquirers must get as much information from us as he got from the opposition and more if possible. It was no easy task either with very meager returns from New York, Chicago, and a few Ohio cities to answer the woman who immediately assumed that her candidate was elected because he was in the lead, or the man who demanded the local vote on sheriff when only the heads of the ticket had been tabulated.

Then the local returns would dribble in bit by bit. Volunteer workers had gained entrance to our roped off space by hook or crook, and were as busy with pencils, phones and cards as were the reporters.

“Here’s Harrison township complete,” would come from one.

“Can’t get anybody at Osolo North. Do you ’spose they’ve gone to bed without reporting?”

“I’m getting Osolo North right here, Bill,” from a volunteer on another telephone.

And all the while lights glaring, telegraph instrument clicking madly; typewriters pounding out a running story for the extra edition to be run as soon as enough returns were in to justify it; the electric lantern roaring and snorting; tobacco smoke thicker and thicker; elated and disgruntled candidates decorating the tables and chairs not otherwise in use, and getting in everybody’s way; litter on the floor growing thicker and thicker; and above and through it all the incessant ringing, ringing of the telephones.

Then a lull—complete returns from the city all in. Almost complete returns from the south half of the county, collected by the paper in the town which was the county seat, the trend of the national election as well as the state clearly shown—the final bulletin to the fast thinning crowd outside and supper for us.

No banquet tasted so good as those chicken suppers with their accompaniment of strong and bitter coffee sent in from some neighboring restaurant on the order of the editor.

One year the steward of the Elk’s Club sent us a feed of roasted wild duck, which was something to be remembered forever.

I was generally sent home in a taxi shortly after midnight.

“You’re game, girl,” the city editor would tell me, “but you’ll have to answer twice as many phone calls tomorrow and you’d better get some sleep.”

I never wanted to go, even though I knew, after the first time, just what the next day would mean. But even I had enough in 1916 when for three days the issue in the national election hung in doubt. I found myself saying mechanically, “We do not know yet, the result in California is still uncertain,” even though the party at the other end of the phone line hadn’t mentioned the election and was merely trying to give a personal.

Giving out the results in the World’s Series ball games always afforded me another thrill. For the eight days or so each fall when those games were on, all other afternoon work of mine was secondary to phoning ball scores to anxious fans gathered in some eighteen or twenty pool rooms and like centers throughout the town.

With the aid of the telephone company, we worked out a plan of having these parties put on our line all at once while I repeated the score slowly three times. Those who got it then hung up and those who had questions were supposed to ask them one at a time. Of course they all piped up at once, but the scheme worked fairly well at that.

The installation of an electric score board and the employing of a megaphone man to detail the plays brought the fans from the pool rooms to the street in front of our building and cut my work down to answering only the casual inquiries from men and women fans all over town—merely three or four hundred, and they all wanted the result by innings—or so it seemed. But it was something out of the ordinary, and there was again the satisfaction of furnishing eagerly waiting people with news which they could not get in any other way.

Twice the paper on which I worked managed to “scoop the world” for the news service which furnished it its telegraph news.

Through the United Press, the News was the first to announce to the world that arrangements had definitely been concluded for the big railroad strike which was threatened in 1916. A high official in one of the brotherhoods [a union official] lived in Concordia, which was a railroad division terminal, and telegraphed the news to us immediately after the action was taken in Cleveland and before the meeting which was held behind “closed doors” had adjourned for the day.

We were able to make a definite announcement from Concordia before the news appeared in the Cleveland papers.

In December, 1919, the Tribune at Casper “scooped the world” on the capture of Carlisle, the daring train bandit who escaped from the Wyoming penitentiary at Rawlings and immediately afterward held up a Union Pacific train in the spectacular manner which he had made peculiarly his.

After robbing the train, the bandit, wounded, escaped into the desolate mountainous wilds which lie between the Union Pacific and central Wyoming and made his way from ranch to ranch until word of his whereabouts was finally sent to the sheriff of Converse County. The train robber, half delirious from a septic wound, was surrounded in a lonely cabin and brought to Douglas, later to be returned to the “pen.”

Their imaginations fired by his daring, jokesters all over the country kept sending out news of Carlisle’s appearances, and wires warning U. P. officials of further contemplated robberies were received at points all up and down that road so that there was universal interest in Carlisle’s capture.

Our regular edition had gone to press when the telephone rang and the editor was summoned to talk with Newton, editor of the paper at Cody. Newton happened to be in Glendo, east of Douglas, on business and had seen the sheriff’s party bring Carlisle in. He gave us a complete story of the capture and we were able to send a man by automobile to Douglas before the party with the bandit arrived there on the evening train.

Our extra contained the first published news of the capture and through the Associated Press, Casper told the world about it that night and the following morning. We even had the story before the editor of the Douglas weekly knew what the purpose of the sheriff’s mission had been.

I was not much surprised, however, when I met him the following spring. Douglas is one of those towns where they “roll up the sidewalks at nine o’clock each night.” Indeed, I first heard that phrase in Douglas when I was sent there for a week in April, 1920, to cover a murder trial as special correspondent for my own paper and for the Denver Times and the Denver Rocky Mountain News.

That was about the most important assignment I ever received, I think.

A dramatic story lay back of the murder of a deputy sheriff for which a young taxi driver was on trial. Politics was involved, a prosecuting attorney had resigned because the case had been taken out of his hands and put in the hands of special prosecutors. He and the sheriff had been arrested by the town marshal on a warrant issued by the prosecutor prior to his resignation. Casper had so taken sides that a change of venue to Douglas had been secured.

The shooting resulted from an effort by the sheriff’s office to run down bonded whiskey valued at $50,000 which had been stolen from a warehouse in Casper. It had been moved several times and an old taxi man by the name of Moore was believed to be directing the operations. A Moon car which he owned had been followed on mysterious errands. Finally the cache was located with the help of four Greek stool pigeons. The liquor had been stored under a garage built by a plumber living in the east end of Casper. The man was the father of nine children and probably needed the money given him for concealing the liquor.

When tipped off one night that the cache was about to be moved again, the sheriff, without stopping for a search warrant, took his entire force to the spot, intent on recovering the stolen liquor.

Armstrong, detailed by Moore to watch the place that night, was on the scene. His defense was that he and Martin, the plumber, had thought the house was being attacked by Greeks who hoped to get the liquor and that he and Martin were defending the latter’s home when they shot at the intruders.

The state contended that the sheriff and his men had commanded Armstrong and Martin to halt as they emerged from the house and told them the place was being searched by officers. That in spite of this Armstrong had fired, killing Majors, a deputy, and Martin also fired, wounding the old bailiff who had been taken along as an additional deputy. Martin himself was shot by a third deputy. Moore and Martin were held as accessories, their trials to follow if Armstrong were convicted.

It was the most dramatic trial which Douglas had seen for a number of years and the courtroom was crowded daily. The streets and the terrible eating houses were crowded with Casper people who were likewise there for the trial. The hotel was filled with them also.

My instructions were to treat the story in an absolutely impartial manner, favoring neither side, and in particular, I was not to give importance to the arguments of the attorneys.

The paper was in a delicate position, for at the time of the shooting we had been loud in our championship of the sheriff, only to find that his carelessness and negligence in not procuring a search warrant would probably lose the case, which it did.

So I was somewhat put to it to keep the goodwill of my attorney friends on either side who would discuss the case over luncheon or dinner tables, each blowing his own horn a little and hoping to see some kind words on his cleverness and wisdom appearing in the next issue of my paper.

I was kept on the keen jump when it came to getting my reports for the Denver papers written and filed at the given hour without missing anything of importance in the court procedure. The detailed story for my own paper was sent out on the night train, and I always had the escort of a couple of deputy sheriffs down the dark street which led to the station.

One night they treated me to ice cream at the Bull Pup Café and pointed out holes in the woodwork made in some general shooting affray which had occurred there when the place was a saloon.

“Yep, Red Jack died right over there by the door, and the bullet that killed him went right through, making that hole,” Roberts, one of the deputies, said. Real wild west stuff.

In the end, the state lost the case, partly on the fact that the sheriff had no search warrant and that Martin had been defending his home, presumably from Greek marauders; and partly because the counsel for the defense was far more clever in his final arguments than was the Irish special prosecutor who bellowed and roared, got red in the face, tore his collar loose so that one end rode wild under his ear, and tried to make up in noise what his arguments otherwise lacked in effectiveness.

Even the elements seemed to protest the verdict which set Armstrong, Moore and Martin free, for a terrific April blizzard struck Wyoming that night and marooned us all in Douglas for two days after the trial ended, all traffic by road or railroad being at a standstill for that length of time.

And so I covered a murder trial. There was plenty of chance for “sob stuff.” Armstrong’s aged parents were there from their Missouri home and sat by his side, day after day, making a most appealing picture for the jury. And on the other side of the courtroom Major’s widow with her two little fatherless children, a baby boy and a little girl, also sat, day after day, where the jury could see them plainly.

Armstrong had always been a model son at home, they told me. Church and Sunday School and all that. They couldn’t believe that he had intended to do anything wrong.

One of the deputies had ruthlessly shot a Mexican in Cheyenne in performance of his duty, so he said, but he was scared to death that the attorneys for the defense would bring up the affair in an effort to discredit him, and as a result made a very poor witness.

The poor old sheriff had a horror of death and had had an attack of mental aphasia at the coroner’s inquest brought on by his grief at the death of his deputy and the shock of the whole affair. But he got no sympathy on that score when he had to admit on the witness stand that his mind was blank on many of the happenings of the day after the murder.

The wife and two of Martin’s little daughters testified to being roused from sleep by shots and brutally harried by deputy sheriffs in their search of the Martin house for the gun used by Armstrong.

And all of this I used to its fullest extent, you may be sure.

It is well these high days do not come too frequently, and that there are stretches in between of the quieter search for everyday news. But they do come, to every reporter, and it is the hope of getting the big assignment which keeps him always alert to do his best on the little ones.

And the only reward he wants is to have the old man look up for an instant, after reading his story, and remark, “This is good stuff. Give us some more.”

A great newspaper man who once addressed the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago said he counted that moment the greatest in his life, and I count the rare times when it has happened to me as my most satisfactory moments, too.


1. Bill Carlisle, the train robber, was an orphan who had moved to the Powder River country and was a hard-working cowhand until he robbed a train during a destitute period of his life. He was known as “The White-Masked Bandit” and the “Gentleman Bandit” for refraining from robbing servicemen, women, or children. He had served about 3 years of his life sentence when it was commuted to 25 – 50 years, but he decided he couldn’t wait that long and escaped by being carried out in a packing case of shirts—he had worked at the prison shirt-making factory. After his capture and return to prison, he received time off for good behavior and was released in 1936. His later life was successful and honest.
2. A Moon car was one manufactured by the Moon Motor Car Company out of St. Louis, Missouri.
3. Greek stool pigeons: men who agreed to tell authorities what they knew in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Greeks were stereotyped at the time as mobsters.
4. Aphasia is a type of brain injury that affects the ability to communicate, whether speaking, writing, or understanding, or some combination of the three..
5. The murder of Tom Majors was for many in Casper the last straw in a series of corruption scandals in which it seemed to the general public that bootleggers and other criminal syndicate types were running things and getting away with their crimes. Here is another version of the case, written by Alfred J. Mokler, a former publisher of the Natrona County Tribune who had retired in 1914, author of Natrona County History 1888—1922, published in 1923.
“Bootleggers Murder an Officer
“Charles Moore, H. J. Evans, H. B. Armstrong, Roy E. Martin and Lawson Hallowell, the three former being taxi-drivers and the two latter engaged in the plumbing business, but whose principal occupation was bootlegging, were the principals in an atrocious murder Sunday morning, November 2, 1919, when Deputy Sheriff Tom Majors was shot in the arm and the head with a shot gun and instantly killed and County Jailer George McKenzie was shot in the right shoulder. Martin was shot in the right breast three times and the thumb of his right hand was shot off by one of the deputy sheriffs. McKenzie and Martin were taken to the hospital and in due time both recovered from their wounds.
“Armstrong and Moore had previously been arrested upon the charge of stealing $40,000 worth of whiskey, but the case against them was dismissed on account of the lack of evidence. It was learned that about two hundred cases of liquor had been stored on the Martin property, and at 4 o'clock in the morning Sheriff Pat Royce, Deputy Sheriffs Tom Majors, W. E. Kilgore, Charles Easton and George McKenzie and Special Detective Roberts of the Burlington railway went to the Martin plumbing shop to make a raid on the bootleggers. When the officers surrounded the building, Armstrong and Martin came around a corner armed with shot guns. Majors saw them approaching and called to them to put up their hands. "Go to hell! Put up your own," was the answer and command of Armstrong, and without further parley he fired at the officer. The first shot shattered the deputy sheriff's right hand and the second shot struck him full in the mouth, the charge passing through and blew out the back of his head. Martin opened fire at about the same time and wounded McKenzie, but before he could fire a second time Roberts opened fire on him, with the result of four bullets taking effect, three in his chest and one shattering his thumb. Armstrong and Martin then ran to Martin's house which was near by. When the smoke of the tragedy had cleared away search was made of the premises and great quantities of liquor were found buried under the floor of the plumbers' shop, the cases being covered with several inches of earth.
“Armstrong and Moore were placed in jail and Martin was guarded by a deputy sheriff in the hospital. Evans and Hallowell were dismissed. The board of county commissioners appointed C. E. Winter and M. W. Purcell as special prosecutors for the county to prosecute the case against the assassins. This action of the county commissioners caused Prosecuting Attorney W. E. Patten to feel slighted, and he caused the arrest of Sheriff Royce and Deputy Kilgore at 2:30 in the morning of November 6, charging them with feloniously attacking Armstrong on the morning of November 2, with the purpose of committing violent injury upon him. The sheriff and his deputy were dispossessed of the office and Constable John McClellan, who served the warrants on the officers, took charge. The trial of the sheriff and his deputy were had before Judge W. E. Tubbs without delay and the cases against them were dismissed, and the sentiment of the community was so strong against the prosecuting attorney that he was forced to resign, and the feeling against the men who were charged with the murder of the deputy sheriff was such that a number of citizens organized and no doubt would have dealt out justice without waiting for trial by the courts had they not been assured by the special prosecuting attorneys, the county commissioners and other county officers that a speedy trial would be had and that justice would be meted out without unnecessary delay.
“At a preliminary trial held before Justice Tubbs on November 16 the three men were held to the district court for trial without bond upon the charge of murder in the first degree. At the December term of the district court in Natrona county a change of venue was demanded and granted and the case was ordered to be tried in Douglas before a Converse county jury at the April term of the district court. The case against Armstrong was the first to come to trial. There was no question in the minds of the people of Casper but a conviction would be had, and if ever a man deserved hanging it was the defendant, but be it said to the everlasting shame of the jurymen, some of the witnesses who gave perjured testimony, and others connected with the trial, a verdict of not guilty was returned by the jury, and once more the people of Natrona were compelled to witness a travesty of justice and the rights of good citizenship flung to the four winds. The charges against Moore and Martin were immediately dismissed after the verdict of not guilty was returned in the Armstrong case, and thus ended the farce with the courts, and the murder of Tom Majors has never been avenged.”

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ten Years In the Newspaper Game, part 4

Beatrice Boedefeld Andrews wrote a five-part series about her work from 1910 — 1920 as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Elkhart, Indiana, and Casper, Wyoming. The series was published from November 1924 through March 1925 in a trade magazine called The Nation’s Publisher. If you missed the first three parts in the series, they are:

I. Becoming a Sobsister.
II. Tramp Reporters.
III. City Editors I Have Known.

IV. Paste and Shears and Colyums.

(Fourth of a series of stories by Beatrice B. Andrews, each complete in itself.)

“You may paint, you may paper these walls if you will,
The scent of these verses will cling to them still.” —J. H. K.

John King pounded out the sentiment on a bit of copy paper, smeared the back of the sheet liberally with paste, leaned across his table, and plastered it, at a slight angle, on the wall.

The wall was already covered with similar offerings. Interspersed here and there were cartoons, picture postcards from absent members of the old News gang, recalling bits of office fun, newspaper headlines arranged in a great hodgepodge of letters large and small to form sentences which were of a mystical nature to all save the initiated.

And “pomes”—

There were poems about the stove and the fire which would not burn, odes to the coke in the fuel box, pomes on the futility of life and the cruelty of work, odes to John King, one of the first of the gang to embrace matrimony, and many, many more. Some of them were rank enough, heaven knows. No wonder King mentioned the “scent.”

The play hour in the old News office came when the forms were closed and the editor lingered in the composing room for the casting of the last stereotype form and the first paper from the press.

Then pipes, cigars, and cigarets were lighted anew, the smoke in the air became a little thicker, the doings of the day were discussed at leisure, old office jokes were bandied back and forth and new ones were sprung.

The telegraph instrument ceased its sputtering racket except for an occasional spasm when late race results or bits of sporting news came over the wire.

If Alan Roberts, the telegrapher, happened to be interested in some race,—and he almost always had a little up on a horse running on some distant track—he made one of the group. Alan, with his subtle Irish wit, seemed to be the center of most of our fun-making in those days.

His great fall from grace when his girl turned him down, and he sought oblivion by trying to drink the entire stock of one of the local saloons, started our orgy of clipping newspaper headlines to make sentences.

“Col. Roberts declares COLDWATER best bet,” was the line the C.E. [City Editor] had pasted over his desk when he returned to duty after being suspended for a week by the United Press—the service we then used. The Coldwater, (Mich.) Gazette supplied the important word from its heading. Others were in all sizes of type.

For weeks we hunted for additions to Roberts’ “Bulletin Board,” and soon it covered a large space and furnished us with many a laugh.

Terrible waste of paste, no doubt the business manager thought, but the walls were so hopeless that we were forced to cover the awful paper with something at least interesting if not beautiful. And the rats would have eaten the paste had we not used it.

“Always have to make my own paste,” Parker used to lament when I forgot to mix the smelly concoction of gum tragacanth and water which he used so lavishly.

John King preferred library paste, but inevitably forgot to cover his paste jar, and often found that the rats had cleaned it out to the last crumb and sucked the brush when he arrived in the morning.

So the office wall became more and more interesting—to us at least—as time went on, and the latest contribution had always to be read and admired when the play hour came.

Searching through the exchanges for headlines to make into bulletins, we ran across many curious items, and began yielding to the passion for “making the Line” which afflicts all dwellers of the middle west who read the Chicago Tribune, and which was particularly violent in those days when the late Bert Leston Taylor, originator of “The Line,” was at his best.

We aspired to “make” the Line enough times to fill a column which we intended to invite Taylor to autograph. Roberts, who led in the sport, found a particularly appropriate quotation under the heading “A Line-o’-Type or Two” one day, and this we pasted at the head of our bits. B. L. T. was having a contest for the most appropriate quotation at the time. This from Montaigne read, “I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the em-dashes that tie them together.” And that was what we proposed to do.

We intended to frame the completed document, but the ambition was never quite realized, although we once contributed a “last line.”

Our rival “The Press” gave us our longest “contrib,” and we used it with great glee.

The town’s social leader gave a luncheon for a bud whose engagement had just been announced. One of the boys on the Press was writing society and spread it on thick in describing the event. “Slush” aptly characterizes the result and so the compositor evidently thought for at the end of the item he set the line—

“Never feazed me. Had on boots.”

The proofreader didn’t notice it and it went into the forms and ran some six hundred papers before it was caught. As the first run papers were distributed in the business district Stein probably hoped that the impudent line would not catch the eye of either the bud or the social leader. But it had not been cut from the papers which reached our office and two days later the entire item appeared in B. L. T.’s column properly credited to the Press of Concordia, Indiana. It was different when something from our own paper “made the Line.” I always read proof on all society items and sometimes on much of the rest of the paper. One weekend I planned to go to Indianapolis, leaving at noon, as soon as I had written the lengthy account of a morning wedding in one of the fashionable churches.

Parker promised to read proof on the wedding himself, to be sure that everything was correct, for the people were prominent and good friends of the News. The boys could not be trusted to copy-read the proof, but Parker was particular, and I went on my holiday with a light heart.

The following Wednesday “The Line” contained the following:

“From the Concordia (Ind.) News.
“The dress of the groom and his attendants was unusual but quite in keeping with the summer motif used in all the arrangements. The groom and his best man were attired in white serge suits while the ushers wore blue coats with trousers.”

Alas and alack: the important word “white,” qualifying those trousers and completing the picture of this summer-time wedding had been overlooked by Parker upon the copy, and had not been inserted in the proof. The corrected proofs and copy on file in the composing room proved this, but such a stormy session as we had until the copy and proof had been found. My pet linotype operator came near losing his head, and I was warned never to mention the attire of the groom in a wedding notice, no matter how unusual.

In connection with my proof reading activities I had a quaint and rather dear little experience with this linotype man. I have always called it my “Linotype Romance.”

His name was Harvey and he had learned his trade in an orphan asylum school. He had run away from the school at fifteen, had been in vaudeville, and could be most entertaining and droll when he chose.

My “stuff” had been appearing on the galley proofs mixed with all the other bits of news matter, but suddenly I noticed that while it still ran mixed with other news it came only on sheets from “Slug Two,” which meant that Harvey had set it.

“I like to set your stuff, B,” he said.

One day he told me, with a bashful grin, that he had dreamed about me the night before.

“Better not, Harvey,” I had said, “Dreams are dangerous you know,” attaching no sentimental significance to it. But I soon learned that Harvey was having daydreams about me, too.

The pi-lines heading society items on the proofs carried messages to me such as

“SOC..etaoin..i $$lk u ..B..harve: :shrd” or
“ B SHRDLU SHRDLU cum c harve ½” and again
“SOC.soc.soc.drrr BB..R…U..mad.wth.H.”

There was no end to his ingenuity. It must have slowed up his setting speed considerably to figure out the variations for those pi lines. It was in vain that I remonstrated with him and told him that someone else might read those galleys at any time. He continued to stick in his “Der” and “Drrr B’s” in spite of all I could say, and used every artifice in his power to make me come down to the machines and read copy to him which he declared was not plain. If I re-wrote the copy and sent it back to him, his lanky form would appear in the editorial room, while he asked solemnly if I really wanted the copy set up that way—all this, when there was nothing wrong or obscure in the first place.

The boy’s admiration was sincere enough, but I was on pins and needles for fear some of the news gang would discover his devotion and “kid” me, for they would be merciless as I well knew. Sex has no place in a newspaper office and sentiment had never entered into my relations with any of the gang. I could picture a collection of those “pi lines” over my desk some morning, should the gang ever “get next,” and I knew I could never live it down if they did.

But before that happened, Harve’s roving foot began to itch, and he left Concordia, so I was saved.

One section of the office wall was reserved by King for errors in accuracy and style. His comments on our work were worth while. We had sport with him over bad headlines and mechanical errors which occasionally appeared. Poetically we informed him that page three of the News was often on page nine.

A great sea disaster occurred and King took the first boat picture he found in the files and ran it with the story. We pasted the picture on the wall in a frame of queries. King clipped pictures of the same boat from other papers showing her with four smokestacks, two smokestacks, anywhere from two to four masts and with no masts at all. All the papers were “doing it,” he said.

Frank Morris, who was in New York at Columbia that year sent us reams of stuff for the wall. His letters were classics. He wrote to B. L. T. that the best papers to read were the W. G. N. and the Concordia News. He added a postscript with regards to us and the advice to clip the contrib and add it to our collection. We did.

Copying Alfred Noyes, he started to write a “pome” which should pay tribute to each member of the gang. The muse departed when three verses had been written.

To King and me he wrote—
“When that I worked for Johnny,
His wish was my command,
And when he made assignments
The stories I would land.
So when came the time for leaving,
My heart was troubled sore,
And I could not ease the grieving
Because it all was o’er.

“When that I worked with Sobbie,
She helped me on my way;
She gave me tips on how to do,
And what to write and say.
And now I miss her muchly,
And eke her golden hair,
And all her virtues suchly,
And wish that I were there.”

“This only goes to show what college, corn cob pipes and the cruel woild in a big city will do to a guy,” he added.

The time came when they finally cleaned up our office and repapered the walls covering the bulletin boards and such of the “pomes” as we could not salvage.

But as King wrote
“The scent of the verses will cling to them still.”

It was well we had trained such talent as we had along that line for when Morris returned from Columbia to be our city editor, we started a “colyum” in the News and needed all the wit and skill in poetizing which we possessed to keep it running.

One of my effusions which was considered good enough to be copied in out of town papers was called
“Soft Coal”
“There was a little sootlet,
A wicked little elf,
He started from a chimney
All by his little self.
He traveled like a snowflake
He wandered down the town
And then he happed to spy my nose
And there he settled down.
I blew upon him lustily,
He jumped onto my cheek.
And when I knocked him off, he left
A little smutty streak.”
We learned about free verse, just coming into vogue, from Morris. It is a great boon to the hard pressed colyumist. For a tiny incident fills much space when stretched out like this—
A big, ripe, luscious,
From a wagon into the
And busted wide open
Right where three little newsboys
Could see it.
Didn’t care about germs.
They grabbed that melon
And sat in the gutter.
What a feast!
Paraphrasing some well known poem will get by, too—
“He was a tall reporter man
On the corner stopped he me—
‘By thy head so high
And by thy bright blue eye,
Now wherefore stop’st thou me?’
“ ‘The Colyum for the morrow
Hath but a line in sight
And good or ill
To help it fill
Thou must a poem write.’
“I looked him up, I looked him down,
He seem-ed much in need.
Then with a sigh
I said I’d try,
And penned this simple screed.”
Conducting a colyum isn’t such hard work, if only the contribs show enough interest. We had a number of regulars, but most of the gang had to assume several personalities, and even pick fights with each other before we got the outsiders started.

When I went to Casper we had no colyum, but our queer experiences in the news line, and the funny stories we occasionally heard were run under a regular heading as “Powder River Stories,” and each one had to end with the cowboy yell so familiar in both Montana and Wyoming, “Powder River! Let ’er Buck!”

One of our best Powder River stories was started as a joke on the society editor by the composing room foreman and became in time a sort of serial.

While waiting for a ’phone call one day, Sally amused herself by writing the following want ad which the aforesaid foreman found and ordered inserted in the daily:

“Wanted: A man. Must be bright and entertaining, good in any crowd except the common; sure of himself at all times; goodlooking, and good at athletic sports; an all round good-fellow but not egoistic; capable of earning a good living; fond of the best but not self indulgent; one who can hold his own in all circumstances—for a husband. Address Box X. Y. Z. care Tribune.”

Sally blushed and giggled when it was pointed out to her the next day. She was so excited she could hardly talk, when answers to the advertisement commenced to arrive. Some of them were from local people who were in on the joke, others came from farther away. One was from a cowboy, one from a pugilist, one from a school teacher. One or two were vulgar but each of the writers seemed to think that she had painted a picture which he filled to perfection.

A good joke can go far, we learned. The ad “made” the Line in the Chicago Tribune and the F. P. A. column in New York and was widely copied from these two papers. Sally received answers for weeks—some from Boston, one from Maine, one from Minneapolis, one from Iowa.

A Greek gardener, who had been educated by his patron, wrote that he would oblige Sally by coming to Wyoming if his way were paid and there was lots of gardening to be done. An army officer (so he said) answered in a facetious vein and was careful to cut the heading from his letter paper. A New York ribbon clerk, who loved to dance, thought Sally must be his soul mate she had described him so exactly.

The letters furnished us with Powder River stories as long as they kept coming, and filled a good sized scrapbook for Sally.

We wondered if all writers of matrimonial ads met with like response.

From pasting clippings and poems on the office wall to writing “colyum stuff,” “making the Line,” and reeling out Powder River yarns, we followed after all, the same impulse—having a little fun with the other fellow through the medium of printer’s ink.

The old time editor expressed the thing in his personal column when he wrote:

“Hank Jones is calling rather frequently over on Maple Street these June nights. How about it Hank?”

A little more subtle today, but in the office, on the street, where the paper is made and wherever it is read, a touch of humor makes the whole world kin, we are told, and keeps Jack from getting too dull.

[Coming up: V. Getting the Big Thrills in the News Game.]


1. Alan Roberts’s real identity was Robert Edmund Allen, born in Michigan in 1887. He was a press telegrapher for International News Services and worked for the Truth Publishing Company from 1915 through at least 1920. He enlisted in the military and was shipped overseas in 1918, and he was wounded in the service. After he came home, he married and moved to Buffalo, New York.
2. Gum tragacanth is a natural gum from the “goat thorn” tree native to Iran, makes a fine powder when dried, and is water soluble as a paste; while library paste was made out of water and flour or starch, with alum added sometimes.
3. Bert Leston Taylor (1866 – 1921) was one of the most famous newspaper men in the country. His Chicago Tribune column, “A Line O’ Type or Two” was his showpiece, and his initials at the bottom, “B.L.T.” were the most famous initials of the time and place. You can read fascinating details about him on Wikipedia, and his works are available for free at Project Gutenberg.
4. The entire original item in the Line-O’-Type Or Two column for September 5, 1915 reads as follows:
[From the Elkhart, Ind., Review.]
Pink predominated in the color scheme, and a large silver bowl of pink roses formed the centerpiece of the table. Corsage bouquets of pink roses were given as favors. A large heart shaped wedding cake over which was cast an arch of orange blossoms was served on a magnificent silver platter. Miss Paddock was then called upon to cut the cake, making the customary wish. The ice cream was placed on the table from bell shaped molds. The afternoon hours were spent in inspecting the beautiful Beardsley home, the hostess narrating the stories of the many curios collected during her travels in near and distant countries.
Never feazed me. Had on boots.”
5. What sea disaster she referred to is unknown. When the Titanic sank in April 1912, the photo run by the Truth was definitely of the actual ship. When the Lusitania was torpedoed in May 1915, the Truth did not run a picture of a ship either on the day of the disaster nor the day after.
6. Alfred Noyes (1880 – 1958) was a British poet best known for his ballad “The Highwayman.” In 1913 he published a long poem called “The Mermaid Tavern” that described many great Elizabethan figures, among which were Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Walter Raleigh. He became a visiting professor of English literature at Princeton in 1914, returning each year for nine years.
7. The various poems they wrote were take-offs on famous poems of the day. For example, “He was a tall reporter man” was a take-off on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
8. The F. P. A. column in New York was “The Conning Tower” by Franklin Pierce Adams, in the New York Post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ten Years In the Newspaper Game, part 3

[Beatrice Boedefeld was the society editor and a general reporter for the Elkhart Truth in Indiana from 1910—1919, after which she was a reporter for the Casper Tribune in Wyoming. She published this series in late 1924 through spring 1925 in a news trade magazine called The Nation’s Publisher. She changed many names, but some are easily identified—for example, Concordia is Elkhart—and those known are explained in the notes at the end of this post. If you missed the first two parts, they are: I. Becoming a Sobsister and II. Tramp Reporters.]

III. City Editors I Have Known.

(Third in a series of stories by Beatrice B. Andrews of Casper, Wyoming. You will enjoy this whether you have read the first two or not.)

It has been said that your genuine city editor is known by two infallible earmarks. He always blows up half an hour before press time and he always expresses his feelings by a savage use of the word “Hell.”

Some of the city editors I have known ran true to type and some did not. There are worse and better newspaper editors than the half dozen under whom I have worked but I would give up only one of the lot, and he was no true newspaper man.

My first two years in the newspaper game were spent under Ben Parker, ruthless, devoid of conscience, and absolutely ignorant of ethics. As business manager, he directed the policy of The News, even after he ceased to be city editor, and I wonder how I managed to keep any ideals after such an initiation into the news game.

“Get your story, no matter what the means,” was his idea. “Print what you know, whether they like it or not,” was another Parkerism, and the individual who incurred his enmity could hope for no quarter if the News ever dug up a story to his discredit. If hard pressed, he was not above printing newspaper hoaxes of purely mythical character. I remember one concerning an automatic telephone company which was to invade the field at Concordia, printed when Parker had just had a fight with the local phone company. There was no truth to the story but Parker ran it for several days, and the opposition was unable to deny it or run it down.

His political enemies had particular cause to fear his vitriolic pen. Campaign years were one long welter of mudslinging and backbiting. Parker loved nothing better than an editorial argument with the opposition sheet, but for all his cleverness he was never quite able to best George Stein of the Press. They presented much the spectacle of a huge ugly bull dog being tormented in a fight by a dancing, yapping fox terrier. Parker’s lunges were heavy, determined, and generally effective, if they hit, but by the time he had reached one mark Stein had shifted ground and was ki-yi-ing at him from another angle.

The local option fight in Indiana furnished them with endless material. The Press was pro-option and the News anti. The campaign of Senator Roberts, the boy-orator of Concordia for the Governorship on an anti-option platform brought on a fight of months which ended when the Press proved that Mr. Roberts was not old enough to be Governor.

Having backed Mr. Roberts in the lie about his age, the News stuck it out even after baby pictures and baptismal records had been produced.

Whenever a fight was on Parker was frightfully particular about the accuracy of everything we published although it did not matter so much at other times, and every story which was at all doubtful fairly bristled with the word “alleged” inserted as he edited the copy.

It was in the midst of one interminable argument between the two papers in which the underhanded methods and inaccuracy of the News was being flaunted daily in the Press that poor little Dick Davis, our hard working little cub, put over a “wooden scoop” that nearly disrupted the force.

Dick’s great ambition was to get a “big scoop.” He was always coming in with false alarms which more experiences reporters had to run down. Most of his stuff had to be re-written, and most of us were ready to vote him a real pest, although his willingness to run down tips was valuable to us all, at times.

Most of Dick’s stories were taken with salt, then, but this one seemed like the real thing.

“Yep, I talked to her myself,” Dick said when House questioned him about the story. “She was telling her friends at the dance Saturday night how she was locked in the filing vault at the plant where she works, see, Saturday noon, and might have had to stay there over Sunday, only her chum missed her, see, and went back to look, and they had to get the combination from the boss. She told me all about how she felt in there, and how she fainted when they got her out.”

So House added the thrills to the story in proper fashion and it was run under the heading “Trapped in Dungeon of Death.” It was a scoop, too.

But the next night—

“Movies Inspire Girl’s Yarn,” said the Press.

The heroine of our dungeon story confessed to having imagined herself in the role of some screen favorite she had just seen and to having deliberately “strung” poor Dick. The file vault in the factory proved to be a small affair with a window and an ordinary door, not a vault at all, in fact, much less a “dungeon of death.”

Parker wrote a retraction of the story, blaming the girl and exonerating Dick whose intentions were good. And he carried this policy into the office, blaming House and not Dick for allowing the story to get by.

About this time Parker was promoted to the post of business manager and J. D. Mathis became our city editor.

J. D., as he was known to us, will always be my idea of everything a newspaper man should not be. He was a liar, a hypocrite, and a coward. He went out of his way to lie when the truth would have been easier, it seemed to us, and he justified many of his untruths by a perverted philosophy which he said was the creed of some religious cult which he had embraced. Evidently, his crooked brain had misconstrued the teachings, however, for nothing with the name of religion could justify the lies which he told.

Wild promises of unlimited publicity were made by J. D. to people with projects to put over, and never fulfilled. Poems and manuscripts were accepted for publication and lost.

We all felt in mortal terror for our jobs, never knowing what sort of lie J. D. might tell Parker about us in an effort to excuse some of his own failures. If the paper was late it was always the fault of some reporter or of the leased wire operator. The operator got back by dating and timing his reports and keeping duplicates, but we had no such recourse.

My most disagreeable experiences in the news game were while J. D. was editor. Once he accused me, behind my back, of having appropriated theatre comps, promised to the bookkeeper, and really given by J. D. to a personal friend whom he happened to meet on the street.

When I learned of the accusation from Bert, the bookkeeper, I was fortunate in being able to produce the stubs of my balcony seats for which I had paid good money, and to tell him who had occupied the seats always reserved for the News.

“Good thing the desks in this office aren’t worth taking.” Bert remarked. “Maybe I’d better keep an eye on that fellow.” And the matter went no further.

Another time Dick informed me that Mathis had promised my job to a stenographer who had substituted for me during my vacation and I put in a few anxious moments although I knew that the conventions and other important doings in my field which were due at that time were entirely beyond the ability of my substitute. J. D. knew it too, as it happened. He had merely wanted to flatter the girl.

So, knowing his true character, we were none of us surprised when J. D. was found to have opened business office mail left by mistake in the editorial rooms, and to have appropriated to his own use several checks made out to “Editor, News.”

For several months, John King, formerly with the Press, had been our star reporter, and we all rejoiced when Parker made him city editor. King was a human dynamo, a small man, but the volume of work he could turn out was enormous. He had been brought up in Concordia but served his newspaper apprenticeship elsewhere. He had worked under Stein and knew all his methods and with his own ability added was without doubt the best reporter either paper had on its staff in a decade.

There was no loafing in the News office once King took charge. He set us a terrible pace, nerves were often strained to the breaking point, but we got out a great paper and we were proud of it. We were disgraced when we did not scoop the Press once or twice a day at least.

King had no patience with inefficiency or time killing.

“If you’ve got anything to write, write it. If not get out on the street,” he told us a dozen times a day.

“He oils the news machine with vinegar and sand and expects good work,” Brooks complained, but the fault lay in Brooks’ inefficiency. King soon transferred him to the mechanical department and Walker, who was always vacillating back and forth between the two papers, took his place.

While King was city editor we tried a six months experiment with a Sunday paper which came near killing all of us, although King was the chief victim.

Writing a feature article or two a week in addition to the daily stuff was interesting as soon as we learned how. Those features lurked in the most unexpected places. I interviewed the conductor of my street car one day and got a most interesting story on life from his point of view.

One night I stayed in the box office of the local theatre and made a story from the comments of the people who approached the window.

“Ish-ga-bibble,” that strange word which floated through our American slang for a season and then vanished, provided another interesting story—where did it come from and why?

But the rub came when we had to add a Saturday night session of work after getting out the regular Saturday edition. King always put in a straight 24 hours from 7 o’clock Saturday morning until the same hour on Sunday, for no extra Sunday editor was employed. I generally worked until midnight and the boys were on call until 2:30 a.m.

Often King would be found in the press room, helping insert the magazine and comic sections in the news section for the carrier boys, so tired he couldn’t have told his name. But as long as he could give such service Parker was willing to accept it.

One hot June night King collapsed and the Sunday News was not issued that night or again thereafter.

The News gang reached a high point of efficiency under King. Gone were the tramp reporters. Walker, who knew the town inside out, covered the city beat and the sports; Old Mac , who had been reporting when the rest of us were in our cradles, had deserted the Press and covered morts [deaths] and the courts for us. Frank Morris began as cub and worked up to star reporter during those years, finally taking the journalism course at Columbia and working for us in the summers. The high school paper was generally able to furnish us with a promising cub.

The News scintillated with unusual feature stories. We developed originality of style. Each of us had a coterie of fans who would give news stories to us first of all. We were delighted when they called on the telephone and insisted on speaking to Mac or Jim Walker, or Morris as the case might be.

Shortly before America entered the war, our owner, the grim old man whom we never saw, sold the News to a syndicate of Concordia business men, and overnight we changed all our policies. From a Democratic paper we became independent with strong Republican leanings, and there were other changes in policy just as drastic.

Parker resigned and King was promoted to be managing editor by the new owners.

We were not surprised when Frank Morris, who had completed his Columbia course, appeared as the new city editor, but it seemed strange to be working under him after coaching his beginning efforts.

Morris started a column in the News as an outlet for the wit which we had hitherto wasted in “pomes” pasted on the office wall. Before long we had regular contribs who found as much joy in getting into “The Office Window,” as we called it, as the Chicagoan does in “making the Line.”

The new owners provided us with a brand new building, but while we thrilled at the prospect of clean linoleum-covered floors, steam heat, screened windows and brand new shiny-topped desks, we all felt real regret at parting with our battered, paper-littered, dirty den in the old building. Then Morris enlisted.

With dismay we heard that the Press was going out of business and that Stein had been hired as our new city editor. It was worse for Walker and Mac, who had left the Press to get away from him, than for me. I can see old Mac’s face when they broke the news to us, yet.

For Stein had fixed notions on the conduct of a newspaper which nothing could change. He left nothing to the reporter. There was no place for originality or individuality in his scheme. Even society news must be written after one stereotyped pattern.

I was on a news beat and Ellen Bell held the society desk. Poor girl, how I pitied her. She knew how her people wanted their items written, but had absolutely no chance.

We were the most bullied, nagged and pestered lot of reporters you can imagine, and after the freedom we had enjoyed under King and Morris, the most miserable.

All our little pet individualities of style were cut out, old hackneyed leading paragraphs were substituted for our original ways of putting old things. There was no incentive to hunt for news off the beaten track and it was nag, nag, nag all day over trifles which had never seemed to matter to any of our previous editors.

Yet there were good points in Stein’s method. We overlooked nothing in the daily routine under his system. We were glad he had brought with him the “Black Maria”, which was responsible for many a beat [scoop] which the Press had secured over the News. This was a city directory of Concordia in the year 1900, and as Stein had checked his paper through the years he had noted interesting facts after the names of old residents, so that a reference to Maria revealed the dates of marriages, deaths, removals and other important facts at an instant.

If the name of a former resident appeared in the telegraphic news, Maria showed just where in the files the prized local end to the story could be found.

Stein’s system of keeping clippings on all future events so that all data at hand could be handed the reporter with the assignment was a great time saver. We had been accustomed to looking up our own material in the files.

On the whole, Stein came nearer the accepted idea of the city editor than any of the others I had known. Certainly his explosions as press time approached were classics. His vocabulary in times of stress was profane and picturesque. He made himself hated and feared in all quarters—until the press began to roll—and then we forgave him for half of it for the genial fun which followed the ranting and the raving. But the Stein rubber stamp which blotted out our individualities, that we never forgave.

During the flu epidemic of 1918 I had my one and only experience as city editor of the News.

Stein was called to a distant part of the state by the death of his father-in-law and was obliged to be away over a week attending to business details.

On the day after his departure, King, who had intended taking the desk in his absence, succumbed to the flu and had to be taken home after exposing the entire force. Walters was also down, which left old Mac, Jack Lester, Ellen Bell and myself.

“I guess it’s up to you, Miss B—,” the business manager told me the next morning, and I found it very much up to me.

Jack had practiced head writing to some extent and undertook to edit the telegraph report, while I attended to the local news. Both of us had news beats which we felt must be covered, and the day was one series of mad dashes to get stories and madder efforts to write, copy read, and head-line them. Ellen got everything possible over the phone. Old Mac even added a burst of speed to the pace at which he generally ambled over his beat. Our lunches were brought to our desks that we might save a little of the precious time. We were only half an hour late in going to press, and rather congratulated ourselves on our first effort.

The next day was Friday. The time was shortly before Thanksgiving, and the Friday paper always carried heavy advertising for Saturday sales.

Upon my arrival at the office at 7:30 Friday morning, half an hour ahead of my regular time, I found that the plague had indeed struck the News office. The proofreader, the copy boy, two girls from the business office, four out of five linotype operators, two ad men and one pressman had all succumbed and a sixteen page paper was due.

At 8 o’clock not a line of news copy had been set, the one machine operator left being the man who set the running matter for the ads. Ours was a union shop and the only linotype men available in town were non-union men employed by a patent medicine house which printed its own advertising matter.

Would our men work with them if the business manager could get them to come?

Heaven be praised, they would. The foreman of the composing room took the attitude that the flu was an “act of God,” and superseded all union rules.

As I remember it, that day was the longest, slowest, I ever experienced. It took those linotype men, unused to the hurry of newspaper composition, endless hours to set the copy which our regular men devoured with such rapidity, and other hours to make corrections. Some of the galley proofs looked utterly hopeless when corrections had been marked. Press time came and half the forms were still on the stones. It was fully six o’clock before the last page came from the stereotyper and was on the press. And to cap the climax, a dozen carrier boys, having routes in the outlying districts, refused to carry their routes at that late hour through the cold, wet snow which was falling, declared a strike, and either tore up their papers or dumped them in the alley. So after all our work only about a third of the edition was distributed to the readers that night.

How we got out a Saturday paper, I do not know. I can only remember sitting at my telephone, Jack and Ellen doing likewise, and saying over and over—

“Yes, we issued a paper last night but it was very late and some of the boys refused to take them out. The circulation man will see that all routes are carried today. Yes. We are very sorry that you didn’t get your paper. I am sure you will get one tonight,” ad infinitum and very much ad nauseum.

By working all day Sunday we got a little ahead of the game. Two of the machine men discovered that they did not have the flu, after all, and somehow we limped along until Stein returned. He gave Jack and me full praise for our work, for once, and with all his faults we could have embraced him. We had no desire to wear his shoes one minute longer.

Perhaps that year on the News was a purgatory to make me appreciate the almost newspaper heaven which I entered when I went to Wyoming to work on the Tribune at Casper.

No cramping of individual style there. It was Casper at the end of the boom, but teeming and bustling with life, ambition, prosperity, and a great pride and belief in her future. Everybody had news to give out. Everybody was eager to help the papers tell everything about Casper to the world. More news everyday than the paper could print.

Ray Edmunds, the city editor, had no time to work out assignments. We reporters worked them out for ourselves. He merely expected us to do our best and we did. I found myself covering stories which only men in Concordia ever handled. I stayed up until midnight covering council meetings and enjoyed the novelty of hob-nobbing with sheriffs, fire chiefs, policemen, justices and railroad officials.

Seemingly, Edmunds never got excited. He took things as they came, and they came thick and fast some days, with a calm and even manner which could not be ruffled. And what a paper he could turn out!

Ten years and six city editors, and of them all, only one who was in all ways disappointing. They didn’t all blow up at press time. They didn’t all say “Hell:” Some of them didn’t even smoke. But with the one exception they were real city editors, every one. I learned all I know from them, and they, themselves, were all worth knowing.

[Coming Next: IV. Paste and Shears and Colyums.]


1. Ben Parker’s real identity was Fred Palmer, born in Iowa in January 1877. He was married to a woman named Winnifred and had two daughters and three sons. He got into the news business early in life.
2. Stein’s real identity was Frank George Stahr, born in Indiana in March 1869. He was married to a woman named Jessie and had four children. He was a lifelong newspaper man, retiring from the Truth in 1945.
3. JD Mathis’s real identity was probably Irwin David Landis, who was the city editor in 1912 and did not stay in the newspaper business very long.
4. Bert Myers, the bookkeeper, did not have a pseudonym in this series.
5. John King was Tom H. Keene. He was the city editor from 1913 – 1916. In September 1914 he married Mrs. Bessie Simmons Coulson of Wenatchee, Washington; the couple had two children. Tom worked in newspapers all his life.
6. Jim Walker was James Blaine Walley, born in 1887 in Indiana. He was a cub reporter and then worked his way up to being a star reporter, but he did not stay in the newspaper business after the 1920s. He married Nola Schultz in 1917; the couple had no children.
7. “Old Mac” was probably J. G. McCloskey, born in the 1860s, who was maybe also a tramp reporter after all, but apparently very talented. He went to New England after working for the Truth. His wife, who divorced him eventually, lived in New York City. He was called Jack, and was always a newsman, also probably an alcoholic.
8. Frank Morris was Maurice Mahurin Frink, who went by the name “Mahurin.” He was born in Elkhart in 1895 and had been a cub reporter for the Truth before he went to Columbia University in New York City in 1914 or 1915, completing the School of Journalism course and graduating in the spring of 1916. He continued with his journalism career after serving in the military in World War I.
9. Maybe Jack Lester was really Mac Gildea, although Mac went to Columbia in 1916 and enlisted in the Ambulance Corps in 1917, so the dates do not match. However, she seems to have made composites of several reporters she had known, so this might be one of those.
10. The reason union men and non-union men could not work together was that the unions had strict rules forbidding the practice. Otherwise, company bosses could have hired a mix and lowered the pay rate.
11. Bee started work on the Casper Tribune in September 1919.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ten Years in the Newspaper Game, part 2

Ten Years in the Newspaper Game

[Beatrice Boedefeld Andrews published this series from November 1924 through March 1925 about her years as a newspaper reporter and editor, from 1910 through 1920. The publication was called The Nation's Publisher, but it was not the same thing as the very old news magazine, The Nation, and I cannot find it. Any help would be appreciated! In this series she changed the place names and the names of people. Some of them we know and can identify. Concordia, for example, is Elkhart, Indiana. If you missed Part 1: Becoming a Sobsister, you can read it later.]

II. Tramp Reporters.

Beatrice B. Andrews
(This is the second of a series of five stories by Beatrice B. Andrews. If you missed the first one, start with this one.)

Like meteors, glowing and bright for an instant, then vanishing into nothingness with an explosion of star dust, they drifted across the limited horizon of our Indiana town. They were brilliant, too, for an instant, delightful and stimulating. Their careers among us ended often in explosions sometimes more violent than those of the drifting star fragments.

Star dust, that once were stars, these poor but sometimes lovable tramp reporters. Human documents they seemed to me and how filled with human experiences! What material for character studies and how fully they had lived!

True, when in later years The News developed a newsroom gang of more dependable stuff from among our own people, the work of gathering information for the ever eager public moved along with the smoothness and peace which seemed impossible so long as there was a tramp on the force. Yet there was lacking something of background which they seemed to carry with them. And we missed the glimpses of the news offices in the great cities of the world which they afforded us in their stories, told in that half hour of reaction and fun-making which comes in most newspaper offices between the closing of the forms and the roll of the press.

There was Matty—Perry Matthewson, to give him his full name. He had been a pal of Jim Kenyon’s in Chicago where both had lost good jobs through their weakness for drink.

Jim, whose home was near Concordia, held the job of cartoonist on The News several times when we were hard pressed for an artist, and when he was temporarily at home after losing some better place. He had been with The News for some months after losing some better place. He had been with The News for some months before my advent as society reporter. Dick Davis told me of Matty’s arrival.

“There was one grand row one day, and Parker fired Jackson for getting scooped on a council story.

“Gee, Jackson was mad. Said he was going to throw Parker down the stairs. Old Ben had to go out and cover the beat himself next day. Then, just after the noon train from Chicago, Matty rolls into the office, asks for a job, gets it and gee! how surprised he is to find his old pal Jim sitting there digging out chalk plates. Hah, hah! ‘It is to laugh.’ Course Jim had wired him the night before.”

Jim etched his cartoon on chalk plates as there was no electrotyping concern in Concordia. The method is crude and entirely out of date now but Jim got good results with it at that except when the boy whose duty it was to cast the cartoons heated the metal too hot and ruined them.

Matty was the son of a Presbyterian minister, he told us. He was proud of his brother who had composed a successful comic opera and was overwhelmingly in love with a girl who was teaching in an exclusive girls’ school near Chicago. He let her believe he was editing our Concordia paper.

I admired Matty’s cleverness immensely at first. He could write a readable and amusing story with the simplest incident as a basis. There was one about a goat which was arrested by the police because it was a nuisance in the neighborhood. It was a sidesplitting yarn as Matty wrote it.

Some of his tricks were most enlightening as to the way in which newspaper mistakes can be covered up.

A man was killed in an accident. We got his fiancee’s name as Skidmore. The Press had something else.

Although he knew he was in the wrong, Matty called up the editor of The Press, posed as Miss Skidmore’s brother, gave a fake interview and asked that the name be corrected. Interview and correction were published by The Press next day, to the great joy of the boys on The News. But I didn’t put much stock in Matty after that.

Matty and Jim left us abruptly.

Concordia county was under local option that year but the adjoining county was not and the saloons in a village just over the line did a thriving business.

Matty and Jim got thirsty one day at noon and took the interurban electric for the “oasis.”

When they failed to appear at the usual hour, Parker began to mutter to himself, chewing savagely on an unlighted cigar and running his fingers through his always unruly hair. He grew more morose with each succeeding ten minutes, finally storming out on the street to pick up a few loose ends of news himself.

“Tramps,” he said, as he banged the door. “No seven head and 1:30. What I get for having them around.”

The No. 7 head was the big headline in The News and there must always be at least one local story carrying such a head on page one or the day was ruined for Parker—and for the force as well.

Jim was hopelessly drunk when they finally appeared at 2 o’clock. Matty made a great bluff at writing but it was quite evident that the typewriter keys wouldn’t stay in their places. I can see him yet, getting his nose down on the keyboard in his effort to make the letters behave.

I had never come into close contact with a drunken man before. How I loathed him all at once. His face, which had seemed quite good looking, was entirely changed. Only shifty eyes, swollen cheeks and leering mouth full of yellow teeth remained.

The story he turned in went into the wastebasket with a growl of contempt from Parker. It wasn’t even readable.

“Whash ole man have to shay?” they asked Dick, when Parker had stamped his way down to the composing room to oversee the “putting to bed” of the edition.

“Oh, you’ll get canned all right,” Dick told them cheerfully.

Parker was hard pressed, however, and let that lapse slide.

But the next time we said goodbye to both Matty and Jim.

It was really funny, in a way, and pitiful too, for they were both so talented and so young.

They had made a night of it “investigating” blind tigers and were trying to find the place where they roomed when they started quarreling and Jim hit Matty in the eye. A policeman happened by and Matty swore Jim had assaulted him with a paving brick. So Jim was taken in charge and spent the night in jail.

Matty was all remorse next morning at having had Jim arrested, but the case had to come up in the police court. He appeared at the office with his eye bandaged, tried in vain to win Parker’s sympathy, and with a pathetic attempt at dignity tendered his “resignation.”

“Get your money down stairs,” Parker said. “You’re fired.”

At police court he swore that he and Jim were the best of friends.

Jim said so too.

“Why, Judge, he’s got my pants on right now,” Jim declared. “Why would I hit him with a brick?” and Matty suddenly tumbled to the fact that the garments built for Jim, who was inches shorter than himself, did indeed adorn his nether portion in a decidedly Hickville high water fashion.

The order of the court room was ruined by the roar of laughter which went up and the case was dismissed after a nominal fine had been assessed.

Parker paid the fine.

His brief story of the case appeared on the front page and ended with the sentence:

“Needless to say, the young men are no longer employed by this paper.”

The Press grabbed at the opportunity to rub it in.

“He’s Got My Pants on Now” was the headline they used over a most humorous account of the affair and Parker squirmed, especially as he foresaw a star chamber session with the owner of the paper for giving the opposition a chance to get in a dig at us.

There followed in rapid succession Eggleston, who had never written a big story in his life, who went deathly sick at sight of a corpse and who ended his one week with us by getting drunk and being thrown off a street car; Hill, who had had a few months at a journalism school and posed as a graduate; Bailey, who had been fired from the faculty of a small town high school because he had been too attentive to one of his pupils, who could write verse and thought he might be able to write news. He couldn’t even operate a typewriter and he lasted less than a week.

Then came House, who was of higher caliber than the general run of the “tramps” although he did not become a permanent member of the staff. He was with us for months and left to become the editor of a weekly in a little Iowa town. Probably he is there yet, a prosperous and respected member of the community.

But House had known his tamp days and used to tell of the stunts he had pulled in the days when he “tanked up”. There was an excuse in his case, however. He was crippled as the result of a football accident in his last college year.

“Didn’t give a damn what happened to me when I found I was a wreck for life. Tried to drink myself to death in Cincinnati. Money my uncle left me paid for my education. No relatives. Then I met Mrs. House.”

His wife had pulled him out of the tramp reporter class, House declared, and made a man of him.

House had a genius for making friends with odd characters and getting unusual stories. He it was who discovered that Captain Hicks, an old Englishman who did odd jobs about Concordia, had a life history which would make any book of adventure look tame. The Captain often came to the office after press time and a little urging would start him off on a tale of tigers in India or grizzlies in the Canadian Rockies. His diary in which his adventures had been recorded had been lost in a Winnipeg fire.

“Too old to rewrite it now, boys,” he would say.

House intended to write the old man’s history, I think, but the Iowa position was offered him and the opportunity passed.

With the departure of House we resumed the struggle with the tramps.

One of the queerest specimens was Nicholson. Undoubtedly he was a dope fiend. He was pompous and paunchy of build and dressed in a black cutaway which made him look like a cross between a preacher and a patent medicine fakir. His make-up was topped by a broad-brimmed black felt hat.

“Where did you get it?” they asked us up and down the street.

In expansive moments Nicholson claimed to be related to every celebrated person who ever bore that name.

Bishop Nicholson was a cousin, I believe. He was closely akin to Meredith Nicholson, also. Called him Merry in a very clubby way.

His career was brief.

Taken to task one day for mistakes in a story, he threatened to throw Parker out of the window and with a prodigious use of vile language brandished the telephone in a reckless way that made me hold my breath. Parker looked him over—they were about of a size—but decided that he didn’t care to tackle Nicholson plus morphine.

Dick, seeing a chance to solidify his position, called the police from the business office, and two husky blue-coats led the raving Nicholson away.

“It’s always booze or dope with those guys,” Brooks said. “Pity Parker can’t see that these floaters are no good and give the city beat to some of us who stick around steady.”

Brooks wanted the city beat for himself, badly.

Poor Brooks. He was just a plodder, at best. Fair at sports; pretty good at the railroad news because he was on good terms with the men who gave out the meager information allowed to reach the public; fair again at death notices, but absolutely lost when it came to writing a feature story or covering anything not in his regular routine. Hackneyed and threadbare was every expression he used, every line that he wrote. He was useful, and they kept him on, but the real news beat was never to be his.

He was a constant annoyance to me—that pest which every girl in the business world has to encounter, the married flirt. Brooks imagined himself most attractive to “the ladies.” He could always be seen on the street corners talking vivaciously with some girl when he should have been after a story. He loved to run his finger across the back of my neck as I sat at my machine. Ugh!

He had been a printer before becoming a reporter and I was truly thankful when they made him foreman of the composing room and made room for someone else in our department.

Up to that time the tramp reporters we had employed had been the victims of drink and drugs, the two great curses of men of the newsgathering profession. It isn’t hard to see why. They must live at top speed, work often beyond their strength on sheer nerve and will power, they eat irregular meals, keep irregular hours, play madly when they should be sleeping, burn the candle not only at both ends, but sometimes in the middle. Stimulants taken at first for sociability’s sake become necessities to tired, overtaxed bodies and nerves when Nature rebels. And when drink no longer gives the stimulus, dope follows. After which the end comes swiftly and surely.

We had two others in our collection of tramps who did not come in this classification. Mooney, who was just a “plain nut” according to the editor, and Littlefield, whose weakness was women and who died in a tuberculosis ward.

Mooney was fat and so nearsighted that he seemed to write his stories with his nose. He lived every story he wrote. Three little children were drowned in the St. Joseph river not far from Concordia on Sunday afternoon. Mooney hired a taxicab to take him to the scene and went over the whole ground. Tears rolled down his fat face as he wrote the story; he fairly sobbed as he described the agony of the parents. It was wonderful story [copy]. So was the expense account which he turned in at the business office, and The News wasn’t used to furnishing its reporters with taxis for country trips. Generally they pedaled bicycles to the scene, if it were within two or three miles and they couldn’t beg automobile rides.

Mooney borrowed money from everyone in sight. He borrowed from the business office until he had nothing coming for two and three weeks ahead.

Finally he charged up a couple of tailored suits to the managing editor, engaged to write campaign publicity on the side for the paper’s dearest political enemy and was told to go.

As a parting shot he wrote a series of sarcastic paragraphs entitled “Advice to Reporters on The News” which he pasted on the office wall above his desk. We got the paper down before Parker saw it and I have it in my scrap book, now.

“Reporters on this paper are not required to report,” he wrote.

“They just write Sunday school stories which the editor dictates.” and more of the same calibre.

Littlefield came to us from Indianapolis where he was known and loved by all the news fraternity. He brought with him a beautiful girl whom he introduced as his wife, but there was some doubt about it in our minds. We liked him immensely. He wrote cleverly, had been a war correspondent at one time, and seemed likely to prove a real addition to the staff. But it soon developed that he was a sick man.

John King, who was our city editor then, and who was very fond of Littlefield, was with him when the doctor pronounced the verdict.

“Never saw such despair,” he said. “I went home with and told the girl. She looked him over, coldly, and commenced packing up without a word. I thought she was simply exhibiting marvelous self-control and was getting ready to take him to Colorado without any delay. But she wasn’t. She left next day without even telling him goodbye. I stayed all night with him, that night. He was wild about her, the little quitter. She had stripped him clean, too, before she left, but he still loved her.”

John gave him the money to get to Colorado and he wrote us from there that he had work and was getting better.

Later we had letters from Indianapolis, where old newspaper friends had brought him when it seemed certain that death was near.

The girl had never gone back to him.

The last letter was addressed to me and asked for news from all the gang. It was brief. “I am too tired to write more just now,” was the last line which straggled down the page showing the weakness of the hand which had guided the pencil.

I wrote at length but we heard no more. Perhaps he did not even live to read my reply.

Human wreckage.

But each had given me something—a humorous point of view, perhaps, a broader tolerance for human frailties, a more lenient judgement of human sins. They had broadened my outlook, appealed to my sympathies, helped me to understand better the community in which I lived—educated me for newspaper work, in a word. And I was better able to write of the joys and sorrows of the people of Concordia for having known and worked with them, tramps though they were.

[Coming Next: III. City Editors I Have Known.]


1. “Rules for Reporters” by Mooney is typed on pink paper as follows:

Reporters are supposed to report, and those who do not will report to Bert Myers for their envelopes.
Reporters must NOT borrow from more than five persons at the same time.
Reporters will not be allowed to report while intoxicated and all members of the staff must be on thr job by 7:30 a. m.
The city desk will not advance more than $5 per week to any member of the staff.
All bar bills strictly cash.
No reporter will be allowed to accept clothing from J. A. Bell. What in hell do we pay salaries for?
This is not a bee hive and we are not going to be STUNG.
Reporters will read The Review in order to keep posted on PAST events; for TODAY'S news read this newspaper.
Reporters will find themselves in a healthy financial condition by refusing to associate with "Hi" Ball and "Bud" Wiser.
Reporters should always remember that Fred Palmer is the big noise around this dump. Interviews with Mr. Palmer may be had when he agrees to see you. Dates for conflabs are fixed by Secretary Myers.
All stories must be written before being handed to the city desk. Stories which are not written will not be accepted.
Early copy is not wanted in this office. We operate the linos for amusement.
If you have any kicks to register consult Mr. Palmer.

2. The above shows the name of the city editor (called Ben Parker in this series) is really Fred Palmer. Mooney is Mooney. He apparently did not rate a pseudonym. The Review was the Elkhart Review, called the Concordia Press in this series. It was the rival paper to the Elkhart Truth, which in this series is called the Concordia News.

3. The tramp reporter she called Nicholson, who used dope or morphine, as she identifies it, was more probably using cocaine.

4. According to Wikipedia, William Rufus Nicholson (January 8, 1822 - June 7, 1901) was a bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church and one of the first professors at the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Meredith Nicholson was an extremely popular Indiana author, known nationwide.

5. The reporter with tuberculosis whom she calls Littlefield was really Howard H. “Pat” Malone, who went to Colorado Springs, which was where everyone who had consumption in those days went, because the dry, fresh air was supposed to help. Obviously it did not cure tuberculosis. He was born in August 1881 to Irish-born parents in Ohio and became a reporter before he was 18 years old. He married Margaret Wiseman when he was 24 years old, but apparently he left her.

6.  A “blind tiger” was another name for a speakeasy or saloon.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ten Years in the Newspaper Game

[In this series, Beatrice Boedefeld Andrews described aspects of her experience as a newspaper reporter and editor from 1910 through 1920. She worked first for The Elkhart Truth in Elkhart, Indiana, and later for the Natrona County Tribune at Casper, Wyoming. She changed all the names, including most place names. Some we know, which will be supplied. The original publication information for this series will be added here as soon as it is verified.]

Ten Years in the Newspaper Game

I. Becoming a Sobsister.

Bee around the time she started
working for the Elkhart Truth
(The following is the first of a series of five narratives of the newspaper game from the reporter’s viewpoint, written by Beatrice B. Andrews, of Casper, Wyoming. They will be found of interest to all and most certainly should be referred to the cub reporter for perusal. Like the serial story, they will be found of greatest interest if no chapters are missed in the reading.)

“There’s nothing in all the world like it, equal to it; nothing that has its fascination,—if you like it,” Matty told me the day I started out to be a reporter, in explaining the news game to my ignorance.

“That’s the biggest thing you have to decide. You must like it if you are going to make good. If you don’t like it with all your heart and soul, you’d better quit right now. A newspaper man or woman must never forget for a minute that his paper comes first, that it owns his every act and thought, that if necessary he must go cold and hungry to get his story.

“If you like it enough for that, kid, you’ll make good.”

That was his creed.

Does it matter that Matty, himself, was a tramp reporter? That he had lost the night city desk on a big Chicago daily because he couldn’t stop drinking? That even while he was pointing out the straight and narrow path to me he was far from sober?

To me it doesn’t. He was a real news man in spite of his fault, and I owed much in the years that followed to the brief three weeks in which he coached my beginning efforts toward becoming a newspaper woman.

How I envy the assurance with which the high school girl of today asserts her intention of entering journalism when she has finished school. She is able to view her school and college work with that end in mind and get so much more from her course because she has her vocation decided. They hadn’t put vocational guidance into the curriculum when I was in high school. Never will I forget how lost I felt when I had gone through the excitement of commencement, emerged with a diploma and a classical education, and found that the family would not be able to afford college in my case and that delicate health would prohibit my earning my way through.

What place was there for me in the workaday world?

After experimenting with clerical work, a library apprenticeship and spending six horrible months as assistant in a dentist’s office, I knew some of the things I did not want to do.

Chance it was that threw me into the newspaper game. O happy, happy chance!

At the urging of a friend I had tried for a place on The Concordia Press [The Elkhart Review] while still with the gory dentist. But a more experienced applicant got the job.

“I know you can do newspaper work,” my friend continued to tell me. “Your English work was every bit as good as mine in school. Watch for another chance.” And as she was making good in Chicago, I continued to watch for my chance in Concordia.

Then came word that the society editor of The Daily News [The Elkhart Truth] was going to Indianapolis, had heard that I wanted the place and had recommended me to the editor.

It took heaps of courage to tackle the society job on The News in that little Indiana town for it was democratic in politics in a republican community, dirty in policy, and yellow clear through. [Note 1]

My upbringing had been such as to make me fastidious concerning my surroundings and the people with whom I associated.

“I just don’t see how you can!” some of my friends exclaimed. “If it were The Press it would be so different!”

Working on The Press would have been quite ladylike, in other words, but seeking a job with The News smacked of the daring.

“Why, Mary Roland used to wear rubber boots when she worked for them, and wade through the mud down at the roundhouse, just like the men reporters,” was another discouraging comment. “Being a reporter doesn’t seem like you at all.” [Note 2]

Probably it wasn’t.

I was self-conscious and terribly shy as well. Approaching strangers was an agony and I was a poor talker at best. I hadn’t an idea I could hold down the job once it was mine, but the more attempts to dissuade me, the more determined I was to try—just to see if I had it in me to succeed against all the odds which seemed stacked against me.

So I applied.

I nearly backed out when it came to seeking the editorial room of The News. The filth on the unswept stairway which led to the office was simply unspeakable. Dust, expectorations, dirty paper, the litter of a week had to be waded through. Germs fairly crawled on the walls. And the room which held the “brains” of the newspaper’s organization was as bad as the stairs or worse.

The News used two floors of an ancient tin front store building, which was prevented from falling down, I firmly believe, only by the fact that there were buildings on both sides of it.
Perhaps the old Truth building was like
one of these smaller buildings.

The editorial room, in the front of the second story, had once been the living room of a flat, to judge by the faded drab wall paper of a once elaborate pattern, the marble mantle and fireplace, now so thick with dust as to be almost obliterated, and the bay window at the front.

The late afternoon sun struggled through glass so thickly coated with dust as to look as though frosted, and revealed to me a room which might have been the farthest corner of a junk shop. Most of the tables had four legs but were “shy” casters and so battered as to seem fit only to be burned. There were several backless chairs; others with the seats mended with boards; a rusty stove; a roll top desk minus all varnish; a battered clothesbasket which evidently did duty as a wastebasket, although most of the papers had overflowed onto the floor.

Near the roll top desk, which stood between the largest windows of the “bay” was the only good table in the room, an oak affair which was roomy of top and still boasted much of the original finish. A swivel chair, which had a spike in place of one of the casters, stood between the desk and the table. The floor beneath was splintered and worn from the dragging of that spike until the under flooring showed through. I used to wonder, sometimes, how long it would take Parker, the editor, to wear a hole sufficiently large to allow him to drop through to the business office below.

I inquired for him, then, of three young men who lounged in the other half of the “bay” not preempted by the editor.

He would be up as soon as the press started, I was told, and was invited to take a chair near his table. I was dubious about that chair, but it proved fairly substantial after all.

Was my heart in my throat?—well, rather.

Could I possibly endure to work in such a place?

Distastefully I glanced at the litter on the floor; at the stack of old files, covered with black dust, which occupied a table and overflowed to the floor in the far corner of the room; at an old white dresser, from which the white enamel had mostly peeled and one end of which was sprayed with tobacco juice; at the cigar ashes and cigarette stubs which were part of the general mess on the floor; at the ashes and coal cinders which surrounded the rusty stove in front of the disused fireplace.

In spite of all my resolves, I almost said I wouldn’t wait—almost,—but just then came a rumble from the depths which shook the frail old building.

“There she goes,” breathed one of the boys in the window.

They so soon became “the boys” to me, as they always will be.

And Parker appeared through the door at the rear of the room, his head buried in the still damp sheet, smelling of fresh ink—the first of the run.

He was a huge man, with unruly hair, bright blue eyes, a puffy red countenance, a cruel mouth, utterly conscienceless and unscrupulous, but a brilliant writer and as keen a politician as I have ever known. He was hated and feared by almost all his associates, but while we who worked for him did not love him, he had our loyalty for the energetic way in which he backed us in our work. The News never made mistakes and reporters for The News were always in the right, according to Parker. Nothing ethical about it, but I doubt if I could ever have become anything of a reporter if I had not had Parker’s strength to rely on in those first years while I was learning to forget myself and my own timidity in the glory of the chase for the eternal “something new.”

The interview was perfunctory. Miss Stamp, who had left for Indianapolis that afternoon, had presented recommendations from the public librarian and my high school English teachers before asking me to see Parker. I belonged to several organizations and a prominent church. So I had those news contacts and I had friends who were “in” society. I had the typewriter to learn and all the technique of the business, but Parker took the long chance.

I was engaged at the munificent salary of six dollars a week and told to begin the next morning.

Suddenly that dingy, dirty, indescribably filthy and repellent hole was transfigured before my eyes.

It became The Office.

Place where My Paper was written.

Where My Stories, children of my brain were to be created and perhaps find place in my paper. The dirt was only part of its picturesqueness, the necessary atmosphere for creative effort.

I shook hands with “the boys.”

There was Matty, who did police and city hall; Brooks, whose specialties were deaths and the railroad; Jim, the cartoonist who could report a story in an emergency; and Dick, the cub, who did a little of everything. They constituted the staff, and though, in the ten years in which I held down the society desk and covered women’s activities for that and other papers, I knew many of their kind, those four will always be dear to me, for from them I received my initiation into that great realm, the fourth estate, and took my first lessons in the trade which, as Matty said, is like no other in all the world. [Note 3]

The office wasn’t so bad the next morning.

The janitor made at least a half-hearted effort to clean it up each night. The jam of table and chairs which had seemed, at first view, so hopelessly unrelated had a semblance of order down the two sides of the room when seen at 8 A. M. instead of 3:30 P. M.

There were typewriters for all, some of them lame and halt and several of them “blind” as well—that is, of the old invisible writing type. [Note 4] An old blind Fox fell to my lot on which to learn. No one else had been able to operate it, I later learned, but, using only the “Hunt and Peck” system I soon attained considerable speed on the poor old wreck, and I really grieved when a wily typewriter agent finally persuaded the business manager to trade it in and get me an almost new L. C. Smith.

During those first weeks I covered miles of copy paper with “This is the time for the quick brown fox to jump over the lazy dog,” or “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party,” those trusty practice sentences with which all followers of the “Hunt and Peck” system occupy their spare moments.
A Fox understroke typewriter.

I was handed a notebook filled with undecipherable hieroglyphics, that first morning, and told that my predecessor had left it as data upon which to begin my work. It was pure Greek, as far as I was concerned. How in the world did one go about getting society news? Later I decided that the dear public had just as vague an idea about it as I had, that morning. Most of my friends seemed to think that I viewed the town with an X-ray eye from some marvelous balloon and so was able to know all that occurred without any assistance from them. [Note 5]

“Better get the announcements of meetings held last night,” Brooks suggested. “Call up the people and make them tell you what happened.”

These announcements I found pasted in Miss Stamp’s book. Here at least was a beginning.

The phone rang.

Matty answered it and called me. I took my first party over the phone. I wrote it up, handed it to Palmer [Note 6] and had it handed back with question marks after every name.

I verified what I could by the telephone book and the city directory and found to my chagrin that most of them were wrong!

Right then I was introduced to A as in Andrew, P as in Peter, B as in Bartholomew, S as in Samuel, and all the other alphabetical saints who save newspaper folk from errors in names, than which there is no greater sin.

Answering the telephone was my job, I learned, whenever I was in the office and the great necessity for accuracy in getting telephone reports was speedily impressed upon me.

The News never gets anything right,” people told me when I stared out to cover the news beat of the society reporter. In the dry goods stores, florist shops, confectionary and catering establishments and the other places up and down Main street where news of interest to the feminine world was supposed to be found, I was greeted with that reply again and again when I asked for news. And I found that my competitor on the Press was profiting by the unsavory reputation of my paper and this “never gets things right” notion.

So I set out to combat the idea with all my might. I chummed with unpopular girls in the stores whom my rival often passed by without even a nod. I tried desperately to write every item from the point of view of the person who had given the information. I was constantly assuring people that we never revealed the sources of our news. And I found that while My Lady of the Press skimmed the cream of the news on the beat, my column was daily growing larger on the rich milk which she left behind.

The News always prints things just like you want them,” they said at last, but that was the work of years, not of weeks.

My big assignment in those first weeks was the publicity for the Charity Ball which was about to be given by the Civic League of the town on a scale surpassing all previous Charity Balls. I had to interview the chairman of the publicity committee in person, each day at her home, for she was deaf and never used a telephone. She was a very terrifying person and how very particular she was that everything should be “just so” in the articles we wrote!

Work! Never since have I worked as hard as I did to get that Charity Ball publicity written up just right. And I attained the dignity of headlines on the front page far sooner than I had any right to expect, because of the importance of the people who were behind the affair. One day the publicity committee asked if I could not persuade the editor to write an editorial boosting the ball. Rashly I promised to try and was surprised when he consented.

But noon came and he had not yet written it.

While I waited in the office for someone to relieve me for the noon hour I tried my hand at writing what I thought the committee wanted in the way of an editorial, leaving the sheet in my machine, not quite finished, when Dick came and I was free to go to lunch.

When the paper came out that night I was absolutely dumb with astonishment when my half written editorial, in blackface and boxed, appeared as the lead of the Charity Ball story.

“How on earth did that get in?” I exclaimed.

“Huh!” grunted Dick, the cub, “I knew you wouldn’t have sand enough to turn it in, so I turned it in myself. Saved Parker the trouble of writing one and he used it.”

The Charity Ball furnished me another thrill.

We did not run many pictures in The News and society folks in our town had not been trained to furnish their pictures for newspaper use. In fact most of them adopted a pose that to be mentioned in the society column at all was a great bore and rather common, which did not make my job any easier.

But Jim, the cartoonist, who was having a hard time trying to boost the Charity Ball pictorially, decided that a spread of pictures showing the members of the committee in charge of the ball would be a good feature, just before the affair took place, and I was told to get the pictures.

With fear and trembling I broached the matter to the publicity chairman. She didn’t favor it, but referred me to the chairman of the entire committee, who lived across the street.

How I talked to that woman—I, who had never been a good talker!

Finally she consented to bring up the matter at a meeting of the entire committee that afternoon.

“You had better come back and ask them yourself,” she suggested.

My trembling soul! to face the social elite with such a request!!

But I did. There were many “I don’t want to’s” and “I should hate it’s” and my heart went down and down. I might lose my cherished job, which I already loved, if I couldn’t put this assignment over, I thought.

Finally one lovely and gracious woman whom I shall adore to my dying day, stood up and said, “Now girls, of course none of us are crazy to see our photographs in print—we can take that for granted—but it will be perfectly splendid publicity as Miss B— says, and I’m for it, myself. Everybody always looks at pictures and they’ll read the story too.”

That decided it.

I felt like carrying a banner when I was able to go back to the office and report that photographs would be forthcoming the next day.

My hunch concerning the getting of those pictures was partly right. Miss Stamp, my predecessor, had not found her Indianapolis job as likable as she had expected and had written Parker offering to come back if I was not making good.

Matty told me a few days afterwards just what her letter had said.

“We checked up your columns with those of the Press and the old man wrote Peaches that you were O. K.” he informed me. Another thrill. To be sure, I was a much more economical item on the salary sheet. But that didn’t occur to me then.

Peaches was Miss Stamp’s nickname. My first name being Beatrice I had been dubbed “Miss Fairfax” as a matter of course. [Note 7]

The Charity Ball story got first-page, seventh-column place with a big head, and with that honor I felt that I had put in my probation and was well started toward being a real “sob-sister.”

“You’ll have to get the human interest touch in a murder story or two before you can really have the title,” Matty explained.

“Yes, and interview the starving mother just as her little one breathes its last,” Jim added. “Girls always get those little details that make you want to cry, that’s why we call them sob-sisters. No man can do those fine bits just right.”

I hadn’t liked the title before. Now I saw it was an honor.


Would I ever have to cover murders?

Well, I never actually saw blood. But I have interviewed the families of the slain, getting the real sob stuff.

I have helped break the news of accidental deaths in distant places to those who were bereaved and I hope have been able to be of comfort and service even in such trying circumstances. I have put my soul into stories of the afflicted when drives for public purposes have been able to persuade a few more dollars into the coffers.

Once I covered a murder trial. But my apprenticeship was far behind me when that occurred.

Coming next: Part II. Tramp Reporters.


1. The term “yellow journalism” was coined in the 1890s to describe the sensationalized, unethical, unsourced treatment of the news, especially in the New York news wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
2. A “roundhouse” is a building with a turntable used by railroads for servicing locomotives.
3. The “fourth estate” refers to the free press. The first three estates were broadly the basis of French medieval society: the clergy, the nobility, and the masses. Any entity acting freely outside those categories was referred to as a fourth estate.
4. A “blind” typewriter was an early model that used an understroke design; the typebars, arranged in a circular basket under the platen, would strike its bottom surface. This meant that the typist had to lift up the carriage to see the results.
5. The first x-rays were made in the 1890s.
6. Mostly she calls the editor “Parker,” but she calls him “Palmer” too. That was his real name.
7. “Beatrice Fairfax” was the name made up by newspaper advice columnist Marie Manning (1872 – 1945). Her advice column began in the New York Evening Journal in 1898.