Woodworking: Back in the day, editors blasted away with their wordsWhen I was a callow youth, I read an essay by Mark Twain, which I figured was a bunch of “BS” made up by one of America’s great BS’ers.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
When I was a callow youth, I read an essay by Mark Twain, which I figured was a bunch of “BS” made up by one of America’s great BS’ers.
Twain’s essay was called “Journalism in Tennessee” and purported to be an account of his years as a young weekly newspaper editor out on the American frontier.
Twain recalled that the town where he worked had three papers. All came out on Wednesdays, just like the River Falls Journal.
The similarities end there.
Twain recalled that all three papers spent most of their ink insulting the other two newspapers and so when the papers appeared, the editors got out their shotguns and blasted away at each other.
Bunkum, figured I.
But as I read 125-year-old issues of my hometown paper I’m beginning to wonder if Twain wasn’t approaching the truth in his memoir.
The editor of the Whitehall Times back in 1885 was a fellow named Dan Camp, whom University of Wisconsin historian Merle Curti compared to Mark Twain.
Camp came early to Whitehall, served as editor of the Times, as the town’s Cargill agent and also as one of the town’s first grocers. A block on Main Street still bears his name.
Here are a few items he wrote 125 years ago:
On Oct. 8, 1885, Camp reports that in nearby Ettrick, James McCarty took possession of the post office on Thursday, “…having moved it to the Dusso block, where he will remain until he has time to build. The world does move, the sun still shines upon the just and the unjust, nature is putting on her most bewitching robes of varied hues that put to shame the finest works of art. People live and move and have their very being, business continues the same as a month ago, our mail arrives with the same regularity and we are greeted at the post office with the same alacrity, notwithstanding the fact that we have a Democratic postmaster.”
On the same day he had some fun with one of Whitehall’s first attorneys, soon after he had passed on:
“When Emory Storr’s estate came to be settled up it was found to be less than $3,000. This recalls Webster’s remark, ‘We lawyers work hard, live well and die poor.’ In Storr’s case, this was needless for he made money very rapidly, but it slipped through his fingers like buttered toast.”
And he also had some fun with his colleague down the road in Independence:
“The Independence News editor says the price of his paper is $1.50 per year in advance and $2 (after publication), but he wants his patrons to know that these prices do not include the editor.”
Over in Osseo on Oct. 22, Camp reported that, “Deputy Sheriff P. J. Linderman’s eyes are slightly shaded — effects of having taken a steam train to Eau Claire. While attending to his business peaceably, his face suddenly came in contact with a pair of fists hung to a 230-pound body. Phil says he is no slugger, but he would like to be as big as that fellow just long enough to lick him. But as he is not his equal in brute force, he proposes to pound him through the courts to the bitter end.”
It’s obvious that Dan Camp had a gift for the irreverent use of language that would have driven today’s college journalism instructors bananas. So did a headline writer at the Chicago Sun Times back in the ’30s.
When he learned that famed kidnapper-linguist Richard Loeb had been killed at Joliet Prison after he made a pass at one of the prison guards, he typed out the following headline: “FAMED GRAMMARIAN ENDS HIS SENTENCE WITH A PROPOSITION.”
And just across the river, in Red Wing, Minn., there was also an editor who had a flair for the insult. I’ve told this story here before, but I believe it bears repeating.
Back in the 1920s, Red Wing boasted three newspapers: The Red Wing Republican; the Red Wing Eagle, a Democrat publication; and a left-wing weekly that derived its political inspiration from the Non-Partisan League.
The editor of the latter paper had no advertisers, very few subscribers and thus had little to lose. And so every Tuesday he had a field day insulting the other Red Wing editors.
Here’s what he wrote on one Tuesday: “If you took the brain out of the editor of the Republican and if you took the brain out of the editor of the Eagle, and mashed up what you got with a mortar and pestle, rolled the mush into a ball and inserted it in the bladder of a mosquito it would rattle around like a bean in a boxcar.”
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.