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.
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:
“WHY UNUSUAL—WE THOUGHT THEY WERE QUITE ACCEPTED”
“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
“SOC..cc B SHRDLU SHRDLU cum c harve ½” and again
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”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—
“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.”
A big, ripe, luscious,Paraphrasing some well known poem will get by, too—
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!
“He was a tall reporter manConducting 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.
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.”
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:
“THE UNTERRIFIED COMPOSITOR AND THE INSPIRED MAKE-UP MAN.
[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.