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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Letters from Newsmen—Bob Allen

Bee Boedefeld worked for the Elkhart Truth from 1910 through most of 1919. You can read more about that in her series, “Ten Years in the Newspaper Game.” During that time many reporters came and went, but a few formed friendships that Bee treasured. She kept the letters and postcards sent by some of these colleagues in her scrapbook.

Bob Allen was the telegraph operator for the Truth during the first six or seven of those years. He was born Robert Edmund Allen to Joseph Patrick Allen and Mary Doyle on 13 July 1887 in Holland, Michigan. (He was just three months older than Bee.) Bob became a Press Telegrapher for International News Services and worked for the Truth Publishing Company until he entered the military. He was shipped overseas in the spring of 1918 and was apparently wounded in the fighting and spent time in England recuperating. After the war, he returned to his old job at the Truth and married Velda May Sterner on 31 March 1919 in Elkhart, Indiana. They had a son named Robert Jr. in 1923, and they moved shortly thereafter to Buffalo, New York, where Bob continued in the same profession. He died in 1948.

In early 1916 Bob went to San Antonio, Texas, to report on the military news. Bee included him and Maurice Mahurin Frink, who was studying at the Columbia School of Journalism at that time, in a “Round Robin” letter that went to one of the two men, who sent it to the other, who sent it back to Bee at the Truth office. Mahurin joked that it wasn’t as much a “round robin” as a “triangle.” This card was postmarked March 17, 1916 in San Antonio, Texas.

Miss Beatrice Boedefeld
c/o Truth
Haven’t located the Ex-Line yet. Had a card from Mahurin this week. Lots doing here these days. I’ll write soon. Bob
313 Navarro Street

Postmarked San Antonio, Texas, May 11, 1916, 10:30 AM

Miss B. Boedefeld
c/o “Truth”
Round Robin has reached here from N.Y. Going forward in few days. Needs a rest after its long flight. Did Tom ever get my letter? “Bulletin of Bulletins” received and on exhibition.

The next letter was fastened into Bee’s scrapbook with a straight pin. It was typed except the last line below the P.S., handwritten in pencil. The paper was a highly acidic, cheap, 24"-long sheet so that the whole letter fit on one page. The salutation includes the following: B.B. = Bee Boedefeld; Belva = society writer; Bert = bookkeeper Bert Myers; Tom = city editor Tom Keene; Dick = cub reporter; Harry = Howard H. “Pat” Malone; Jack = John G. MacCloskey; Mac = Mac Gildea; Fred = Fred Palmer, business manager; Bress = Bressler.

San Antonio, Texas.
June 4th, 1916.
Dear B.B., Belva and Bert;
“ Tom, Dick and Harry;
“ Dick, Jack and Mac;
“ Fred, Bres and the res’;

Greetings and salutations, one and all! The round robin is about to resume its flight. The long rest in this summer clime has strengthened and nourished the bird, until I am now ready to offer two to one that it beats Mahurin to Elkhart. Dash along, birdie, with the speed of a Resta, and save my wager.

Well, I’m still on the job, seven nights a week, slaughtering Germans, French, Italians and Turks; sinking dreadnaughts, ruining political prospects, and trying my doggondest to start a rumpus down in this neck of the woods. The town has been infested with war correspondents for months. I’m getting tired of feeding them. In the wake of the National Guard came a troop of camp followers, free lances and boomers. I am located in a front office, on a busy street, near the Express, the Western Union, the postal and Mackay offices. Every operator who strikes town, (broke, of course) hearing to the sound of my instrument, and seeing no guard at the door, drops in and “mooches” me for two bits. I’m going to have cards printed asking the question “Have you a card?” That card question is all that saves me from being a sort of an accentuated Salvation Army. I find that the class of operators who carry cards, very seldom get “down and out.” Score one more for Unionism.

I am getting to be quite a “flip” sender. Remember what an effort it used to be for me to even answer my call? Now I can reel off a thousand words or so without much fuss. We send out a story from headquarters here each night. Our mutual friend, L.V.B. Rucker, drops in occasionally, removes his Texas sombrero, wipes his brow, twirls his cane, utters a few phrases in the accent that Mahurin is no doubt acquiring, and then ---- off for the bright lights! He doesn’t file any copy at night; Joseph Timmons attends to that end.

You no doubt have printed some Mexican stuff written by Basil Dillon Woon, Authority on Banditry. Well, I’ve fed Woon for a week now; hope his check turns up soon. He accompanied Major Langhorne on the dash of the second punitive expedition. The hat he now wears is part of the loot from Jesse Deemer’s store.

I can imagine the broad smile that spread o’er the face of Frederick the Great when the story of the German naval victory came out, and I can hear plainly his “I told you so.” Poor Willard Chester! Give him a word of sympathy for me.

Bee, is your western trip to be another three months’ affair? And is our poetess laureate, Margaret W., to fill the bay window? Or is it to be Ruth? And has Tom taken his annual canoe trip?

Mahurin, I’ll probably see you before you leave for school next fall. I’ve got a two weeks vacation coming, and I may stretch it into four. And I sort of want to see Elkhart this summer.

Well, be good, all of you, and make your stories brief, all except “Captain Jack.”


P.S. One more word. I promised my sister, just before leaving Chicago, that no matter what else I might do, I would never acquire the Southern drawl, the southern slur, the southern accent. So fear not. Whether you are able to understand Maeterlink or not, after his year in Little Britain, I solemnly swear that I will always talk straight Hoosier.

Oh, by the way, In front of the “Express office” proper, sits an armed guard all night long.
In our preparedness parade last week, Thousands of Mex and Niggers trotted along carrying flags. Some parade!

Postmarked in San Antonio, Texas, Nov 4, 1916, 8:30 AM

Miss Bee Boedefeld
c/o Truth.
Elkhart, Ind.
Assignment for Tuesday night. Order chicken early and see that Jack gets his share. After seven P.M. tell all inquirers “Wilson wins” Don’t let Bob Proctor say “I told you so!” You may leave at midnight.

Postmarked in San Antonio, Texas, Dec 22, 1916, 6:30 AM

To Miss Beatrice Boedefeld
c/o “Truth”
Elkhart, Ind
Tell ‘em all hello for me. Hope you enjoy the double holiday.
R.E. Allen

Bob went home to Indiana sometime after the Christmas postcard and was drafted into the army. The next messages are from military posts. This card is postmarked October 21, 1917, Louisville, Kentucky

Miss B. Boedefeld
c/o Truth
Elkhart, Ind.
Getting settled is a painful and tedious process. Will write Saty or Sunday.
72nd Co 18 Bn 159th Depot Brigade

Postmarked Louisville, KY, Oct 21, 1917, 3 PM

Miss B. Boedefeld
c/o Truth
No, they are not eating fudge. I saved that all for myself. Umm—mmm-mm! Sure did appreciate it, Bee.
Co. C. 309th Field Signal Battalion.

Got into Co E 309th Engrs in time to escape Mississippi trip. Watch me escape everything else. I’m getting to be a soldier. Of “40’s” and “20’s”, 18 transferred, 5 discharged, 11 still here, and remainder in Hattiesburg. 18th Bn no more, the eleven going to 10th Bn.

This next letter had no envelope and was pinned into the scrapbook with a straight pin. It is on lined note paper with colored letterhead, an American flag on the left and the YMCA logo in red on the right; the two logos flank the centered heading.

Camp Taylor, Ky. Nov 12, 1917
Dear Bee:—

All is well along the Ohio. I know, because I took a trip to Jeffersonville Saturday. I am no longer an Engineer. Packed up my scant belongings today and moved over to the Signal Corps. It took five hard weeks of wire pulling to land where I should have been sent in the beginning. My new home is right “down town” in the camp. Gen. Hale’s headquarters are close at hand, and the camp post office and theatre are close at hand right across the street. I don’t know much about the work as yet but I do know that I’ll like it better than I have liked the Engineers. (over)

We now eat from real plates instead of shiny tin mess kits, and do not have to wash our own dishes. Bee, you should have seen me trying to get the grease off the tin in cool, soapless water. I will no longer have to tote a fifteen pound rusty gun around with me from sunrise to sunset. That d----- gun was getting my goat. Last Saturday the whole division hiked over to the manouvre field and passed in review before the powers that be. It meant an eight mile hike altogether, and despite the turkish towel padding I placed on my shoulder I was about ready to quit when we got back to our section of the camp.

The gun took up all my spare time in the evening. It needed more cleaning than a five year old boy.

So far, Bee, I am not greatly enthused over army life. Beans, peas and prunes seem to be the only foodstuff left in the country, and I’m too far away from a restaurant to get an outside meal when my stomach revolts at the regular mess. They say we will “get used to it,” army canteens don’t sell much outside of stale ham sandwiches and cracker jack. Oh, what’s the use? Lets speak of something pleasant. I certainly wish I had not been sent with this last bunch. I’d rather be hanging around town, playing rhum, and waiting for the next quota to be sent, than to be here. We will probably all get out at the same time anyway, and every day of liberty is a day of liberty. Just wait till I get out of this mess! maybe I won’t cut loose with a whoop!

I’m still able to get about without crutches, and my appetite is unimpaired. Guess I’ll manage to pull through without losing much weight, and I’ll be in to see you all when we get through with Wilhelm.

Give my regards to the “gang” and drop a line occasionally. My new address is Co. C 309th Field Signal Battalion. Just eight o’clock now and I’m ready for bed. Will wonders never cease?


There was no date or stamp and the postmark simply says Military Post Office Soldiers Mail.

Miss Beatrice Boedefeld
c/o Elkhart Truth
Have arrived overseas safely.
Bob Allen.

Bob served in France and was apparently wounded in the war and spent time recuperating in England, and Bee wrote a letter hoping it would find him. But her letter landed on the desk of someone with a similar name, who wrote the following extraordinary letter back to her.

April, Fog, & London.
Dear Miss Boedefeld,

If you really want a job & will overlook all mistakes in spelling etc. I’ll drop you this little note to tell you how surprised & how glad I was when the postman gave me your letter. I little thought that my fame? would reach Elkhart although I & my brother have both played ball in your town several years ago.

You describe your R.E. Allen so here goes for this one. Blonde. 5’-11½” 180 lbs. They say I look like a swede & act like an Indian, nick name Swede or Big swede. & I love athletics. Is that enough.

I want to say that in the 17th we had some Base Ball & Football team, with a bunch of fellows who didn’t know how to quit. I’m sorry to say that I’ve had to leave the good old bunch but “C’est la guere.” I’ve been sent to Headquarters A.E.F. & am now in England on Special work.

Now about you. “Me? Oh I am the good looking society editor of that same, etc. etc.”

I knew a society editor on one of the Baltimore papers who was realy good looking so I realy believe you when you say so. I can easily understand that you are a writer from the letter for it is really quite good. Won’t you do it again as news from the good old U.S. is sure welcome.

You understand that you are not to use the letters for a theam for a novell or short story or a sermon because if you do I’ll be forced to come to Elkhart & collect Royalty. Realy, please don’t put in the “news from the front”

I’ll be looking for a letter one of these days if you care to write.

Lt. Roger E. Allen,
care of Gas Service.
Headquarters A.E.F.

I’ve been fortunate in being able to see a good deal of France & I’m now in England but the man “Censor” says I can’t write & tell everything I know so I’ll have to stop.
Roger E Allen.


More letters to Bee from newsmen and servicemen are here:

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