Colonel Jones

A Globe-Democrat cartoon published the day after Jones was ousted as editor of the St. Louis Republic.

“Journalists who take themselves seriously, who regard the work of moulding public opinion as a high vocation, who believe in duty and are willing to accept responsibility, who would rather champion the rights of the many than defend the privileges of the few, are finding it more and more difficult either to enter or to remain in the newspaper field, whether as employees or proprietors.” – Col. Charles Henry Jones, Feb. 23, 1899 [From “Charles H. Jones 1848-1913: Editor and Progressive Democrat” (1974)]

Continue reading “Colonel Jones”

Breaking the pattern

Vacant in the snow, 2018

When we produced the “Tipping Point” stories for the Post-Dispatch in 2018-2019, I was struck by how there was a familiar pattern to decades of news coverage of housing abandonment, segregation, disinvestment and population loss: every now and then, the newspaper or the civic leadership would recognize the problem, express outrage and try to marshal public opinion into taking action.

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Depressingly consistent

The Tampa Times, April 4, 1980

In 2015, I wrote about a century-old insurance industry study that examined murder in selected U.S. cities, including St. Louis. The study linked high homicide rates, in large part, to the “unrestrained sale of firearms.” It also found rates tended to be higher in cities with “persons of color.”

That theme – guns as a cause, minority communities as victims – has remained depressingly consistent for more than a century, especially in St. Louis.

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White riot, 1920

08-17-1920 negro's home burned small
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 17, 1920

The East St. Louis Massacre of 1917, a series of riots triggered by white labor’s reaction to the employment of Black workers as strikebreakers, left dozens, if not hundreds, of Black residents dead and thousands homeless. But workplace-related racist violence continued in the region for years, albeit on a smaller scale.

On Friday, Aug. 13, 1920, the owners of a coal mine in Coulterville, Illinois, faced with a shortage of white workers, decided to make a Black worker, William Morrison, work in a pit hitherto reserved largely for whites. But the white miners refused to work with Morrison. And they again refused  on Saturday, Aug. 14.

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‘No longer will policemen beat the heads off malefactors’

In April 1911, voters in Granite City — a company town founded by steelmakers near St. Louis — elected Marshall E. Kirkpatrick, a 28-year-old shearer at the Niedringhaus mills, as mayor. Kirkpatrick, a Socialist, would prove to be a capable administrator, serving nearly two decades in that office, until his death in 1942.

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100 years of disappointment

04-13-1920 a1 edited

The 1920 Census bumped St. Louis out of fourth place, launching a century-long quest to undo the Great Divorce of 1876. And though its population would climb for a few decades – peaking at 856,796 in 1950 – St. Louis kept sliding in the rankings and dropped out of the top 10 in 1970.  (Most recent estimates indicate the population is hovering just above 300,000 – below the 1870 count.)

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‘Land of opportunity’

the-walls

ST. LOUIS – Somebody was emptying the poor box at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, so the Rev. Father Joseph R. Watson rigged the box, wiring it to an electric buzzer that would sound in his study.

On Feb. 3, 1920, the alarm went off, and Father Watson, accompanied by a nearby store clerk, ran into the church and caught a man who said his name was Vaclav Krejci, a 35-year-old immigrant artist. When police officers searched the suspect, they found tools, skeleton keys and three slugs that Father Watson had placed in the box.

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‘There is no business in America that is more precarious’

01-02-1906 St. Louis Republic A1

When it looked like the St. Louis Globe-Democrat was going to be shuttered, back in 1983, I did a quick study of other St. Louis newspapers that beat the Globe to the cemetery. (I was working for a journalism review; it was my job to know the history.) There’d been many, including the St. Louis Chronicle († 1905), the Times († 1932) and the Star-Times († 1951).

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Legacy

StAll vying for attention, ticking off entries on a résumé, of places visited, of objects and living things consumed and possessed, of citations and honors collected; cataloging ancestors who lived unremarkable lives during remarkable times, and through repetition and embellishment become pieces of other biographies Continue reading “Legacy”

‘There was great rejoicing in hell this morning’

prisonRemembering George Dinning, a black Southerner who in 1897 defended his family from a white mob, then courageously brought suit against his tormentors — and won. 

FRANKLIN, Ky.  •  Late on the night of Jan. 21, 1897, a group of 25 armed white men showed up at the home of George and Mary Dinning and told the family they had 10 days to leave.* They accused George Dinning, a former slave, of stealing chickens and hogs.

Dinning insisted he was no thief, but these Night Riders weren’t listening. They shot into the house — most of the couple’s 12 terrified children were there — and hit Dinning in the arm and grazed his forehead.

Despite his wounds, Dinning returned fire, killing a 32-year-old man named Jodie Conn. After the whites fled, Dinning made his way to nearby Franklin — the county seat of Simpson County, Ky. — where he turned himself in to the sheriff.

The vigilantes, as Dinning had feared, returned to his home and on a bitterly cold night forced his wife and children to leave. They then plundered the Continue reading “‘There was great rejoicing in hell this morning’”

Names

Alice Martin for blog

Some St. Louis names -> Archer Alexander, Anonda Allen, James J. Allman, Roger Nash Baldwin, Henrietta Bamberger, The Rev. William C. Barlow, Gordon Lee Baum, Charles W. Beehler, Napoleon Bland (Napoleon A. Rahim), Donal Blossom, Oliver K. Bovard, Helen Britton, Garrett Brown, Della Butler, Harry J. Cantwell, Giuseppi Carotti, Charles Chapin, Winston Churchill, Jack Clark, Charles W. Conrad, Col. John T. Crisp, Thomas Anthony Dooley, Elmer Sylvester “Dutch” Dowling, Amerigo Dumini, Cyrile Echele, Rev. Grant Edwards Sr., Chauncey I. Filley, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, Julia Fortmeyer, John L. French, Flint Garrison, Emme and Mayme Gerhard, Jeff Gluck, Frank J. Guetle, Benani Guiseppe, Nancy Coonsman Hahn, Edward Michael Harrington Jr., A. Lincoln Hartley,

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‘Talking newspaper’

09-10-1911 news that talks smallFound by accident, while searching for something else, this Sept. 10, 1911 feature published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the Telefon Hírmondó, the “talking newspaper” of Budapest. Newspaper subscribers would receive news dispatches via a special telephone.

One paragraph in the article about the new news delivery platform has a familiar ring to it: an argument that the new technology would enhance, not threaten, print newspapers:

It may appear at first that the “telefon hirmondo” would seriously cripple the newspapers by depriving them of circulation, but such is not the case. In the first place, only newspaper subscribers can avail themselves of the service, and the advantage of having the news telephone in the house therefore attracts many who would not otherwise be subscribers. Moreover, in the telephone message, the subscriber is given only enough of the news to make him hungry for details, and he consequently looks with greater interest for the arrival of his printed sheet.

 

These exit signs could be characters in a novel

Alta AldersonAlta Alderson (Exit 161, Interstate 64, West Virginia); Louisa Ashland (Exit 191, I-64, Kentucky); Antonio Barnhart (Exit 185, I-55, Missouri); Bill Gillette (sign along Wyoming Highway 59 north of Douglas); Ebenezer Goodman (Exit 146, I-55, Mississippi); Cooter Holland (Exit 4, I-55, Missouri); Marie Lepanto (Exit 41, I-55, Arkansas); Victoria Luxora (Exit 53, I-55, Arkansas); Jerome Dixon (Exit 172, I-44, Missouri) and Waddy Peytona (Exit 43, I-64, Kentucky).

Gathered these from recent trips. Got any others? 

‘Never be satisfied with the surface of the news.’

Bovard gravestone“In this space I cannot hope to describe his singular abilities or indicate the range of his sinewy, searching mind. Through one rule which he laid down for reporters he may be glimpsed. This was the rule: ‘Never be satisfied with the surface of the news.’ If he considered the pupil worthwhile he would explain: ‘There is a formal and superficial aspect of every story. It may be a police report, a lawyer’s brief, an application for a trolley franchise, or a President’s message to Congress. As such it may have a proper place in your story. But to print that alone may result in misleading the reader partially or completely. Continue reading “‘Never be satisfied with the surface of the news.’”

‘What’s the use of living if you can’t help somebody else?’

03-11-1917 madge keith portraitOccasionally, a gem shows up in the archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This item, published on March 11, 1917, shows how a worker found the courage to demand a better shake from her employer. This is taken from the much-longer story, which is included at the end of this summary.

Getting arrested has become a “regular thing” for Madge Keith, 24. In 14 weeks of picket duty at Robinson’s, a restaurant in downtown St. Louis, she’s been picked up by police 25 times. “And I might be arrested 25 more — but it’s all in a day’s work with me now,” she told a Post-Dispatch reporter.

She’s on strike for a wage increase. “We don’t want so very much, either. The restaurant pays $1 a day and 8 hours’ work. We want $1.10 a day 8 hours’ work. We couldn’t get it. So we struck.”

Continue reading “‘What’s the use of living if you can’t help somebody else?’”

‘The house where Eugene Field was not born’

eugene-field_edited-1A plaque on the Eugene Field House says “the children’s poet” — famous for “Little Boy Blue,” “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” and other works — was born there. The Field House Museum, on its website, says “Eugene Field was born in St. Louis at 634 South Broadway, on September 2, 1850.” And some contemporary news stories also say Field was born there.

But he wasn’t.

A former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter named Robertus Love took the blame for the confusion — a century ago. In letter to the newspaper, published on Feb. 12, 1917, Love wrote: “About 15 years ago I suggested a story on Eugene Field.… My suggestion was approved and I was assigned to get the story. I interviewed several persons who had known Field more or less intimately when he lived here as a young newspaper man. Also I interviewed his guardian, an elderly gentleman now dead…. In reply to a specific query as to where Eugene Field was born, his guardian told me it was the house on South Broadway.” Continue reading “‘The house where Eugene Field was not born’”

Jerry the smoking St. Louis orangutan

jerry-postcard(Several links restored on July 17, 2018)

St. Louis still celebrates some of the long-ago residents of its famous zoo. Phil the gorilla. Mr. Moke the chimp. Moby Dick the sea elephant. Siegfried the walrus.

But not Jerry.

This much-photographed orangutan showed up in newspapers across the nation in the 1940s — and even scored appearances in Life magazine and in at least one newsreel.

Today, though, Jerry seems to have been forgotten.

I became curious about Jerry when I spotted an old postcard that showed him in uniform, smoking a cigarette. I made a few inquiries and checked archives.

Here is what I learned. Continue reading “Jerry the smoking St. Louis orangutan”

First uses

The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. — George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language

Apparent first use of certain words employing the “-ize formation” in English-language newspapers, based on a review of online archives. (Does not include variant spellings.) Updated Jan. 2, 2022. 

“‘I think that one want to demonize and other-ize because it makes the world more manageable,’ Kushner says. ‘The whole struggle in American culture now – multiculturalism, difference and inclusion –is really about breaking down those barriers between people, but in a smart sophisticated way.…” [Profile of playwright Tony Kushner, The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 1992]

“By photographing the buildings when not in use, there are no images of people, the emphasis is shifted to the elements of architectural design and the formal composition of the photograph. In essence the image de-contextualizes the building (architectural design). [Ed Bailey-Mershon, “Competent but not really compelling, Southtown Star (Tinley Park, Ill.) Aug. 19, 1979]

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‘Pockets of volume’ ‘Locally heavy’ ‘Hearts go out’ ‘Great’

weather

Weather words: Cone of concern. People are bracing. Blanketing. Dampening. Spotty mix. Icy patch. Wintry mix. Barreling. Lashing. Churning. Taking aim. Little blustery. Frozen stuff. Ridge of high pressure. Packs a wallop. Packing winds of. Packing a punch. Gusty winds. Heavy rain. A line of showers. Intermittent. Periods of rain. Severe. Isolated. Spot. Strong. Sun is starting to peek back in. Pop-up shower. Stray and scattered and residual showers. Hit-and-miss. Notches. Hooks. Locally heavy. Couple sprinkles. Rumbles of thunder. Breathing a collective sigh of relief. Weather-related disasters: Shredded lumber. Twisted metal. Reduced to rubble. Wide swath of destruction. Raked.

Social unrest words: Reckoning. A watershed moment. Tipping point. Turning point. Game-changer. Real change. Not just treat the symptoms. Substantive change. Time for healing. Remove the cancer. Rush to get back to normalcy. Systemic changes. Highest ideals. Speak your truth. Boots on the ground. Seats at the table. In the room. Power to inspire and heal. Having a conversation. Root causes.

Continue reading “‘Pockets of volume’ ‘Locally heavy’ ‘Hearts go out’ ‘Great’”

‘The highest form of reporting’

thriving

“News is easier to recognize than to define. News is an overt act; it is an animated picture of people doing something, not a still-life of the condition of society….

“News is created out of shifting elements: it is relative, not absolute. It is an ingredient in the human awareness of related circumstances — not an isolated fact or incident suspended in time. Something might be news today, and not tomorrow — or an event might be news next week and not today….

“The highest form of reporting is the ability to understand and fit together certain isolated and apparently unrelated trends before they become news. The public knows what news is after it becomes news. Only the accomplished and skilled reporter or editor knows what it is before it becomes news….

“News is what your city editor says it is.” — John H. Sorrells, “A Handbook of Scripps Howard” (1948)

‘Factious, flippant and reckless’

Frederick Law Olmsted  (Library of Congress)“Questions of the most momentous importance come up daily, and exact grave consideration from all. The experience of most persons will confirm the assertion that the manner in which the daily newspapers deal with these questions is most defective and unsatisfactory. Their false prophecies, their abandonment of all attempt to sift evidence — often unavoidable, it is true — their constant sacrifice of the truth to the demand for startling effects, the factious, flippant and reckless way in which many of them deal with the most serious topics, constantly remind their more intelligent readers that they are prepared to suit the requirements of the greatest number, but not by any means the best qualified, of those whose judgment goes to make up that force in human affairs called public opinion.” — “Prospectus for a Weekly Journal,” June 1863, from the collected works of Frederick Law Olmsted, a co-founder of The Nation.