[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|
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.
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.