Got Cooties? Try P.D.Q.

Altoona Tribune, February 13, 1950

Cooties aren’t what they used to be.  When I was a kid growing up in the long-lost 1980’s, cooties were imaginary germs — and not something you usually wanted.  If you accidentally came into exposure with these fictitious microbes, quarantine wasn’t necessary, though you might get socially ostracized for a day or two.  In the worst-case scenario, you could just rub the little critters off onto somebody else.  One definition even calls cooties an “infection tag game.”  The dark side, of course, is the mild sexual harassment hovering over elementary school playgrounds.  And yet. . . some cooties you actually want.  Without these love germs, life might not even be worth living.

Early Clinton-era cooties, though, weren’t the kind that an earlier generation of Americans knew.  A senior colleague of mine at the State Library has just testified that the psychological variety of this make-believe organism has been around since at least the 1950s.  Yet its pedigree dates even farther back than that.

Cooties, in fact, were being mentioned in American newspapers as early as 1918.  The ancestral cootie?  Like most of us, it seems to have had immigrant roots.  As far as journalists knew, this was annoying variety of lice that proliferated in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Were cooties immune to warfare?  Maybe, maybe not. The writer was probably joking here, but it sounds like one to get rid of the bug was to give them a good jolt:

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Captain Charles W. Jones, a teacher at a Greencastle High School who served on the Western Front, told a Putnam County audience in 1919 about his uncomfortable experiences in France.   Alongside the perils of bombs and poison gas. . .  the little bug called cooties:

Greencastle Heraldn, February 5, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 5, 1919)


Etymology meets entomology at the Oxford English Dictionary, whose talented word-sleuths think “cootie” might come from the Malay word kutu, denoting a parasitic biting insect.  Except for one minor naval battle, World War I wasn’t waged in Southeast Asia, so unless Malaysian troops fighting in Europe coined the word, it’s passage into English is actually mysterious.

Yet soon, cooties were coming to America in letters:  literally!

Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919.)


That was good news for the Netherlands, which wanted to get rid of them:

Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918

(Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918)


In the event of the next global war — and in an eerie parallel to chemical warfare — the (perhaps mad) English entomologist Harold Maxwell-Lefroy was actually looking at ways to disseminate deadly diseases behind enemy lines, by means of propagating mosquitoes, house flies. . . and — get this! — cooties.

South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920)


In fact, the tiny foe looks disturbing enough:

South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922)


By the early years of the Jazz Age, these pestiferous creatures had apparently made it “over here” on the backs, in the clothes, and probably in some of the doughboys’ uncomfortable nether regions.

Up in Cadillac, Michigan, folklore, at least, thought the Kaiser’s cooties were refusing to recognize the Armistice and were carried on the war against American grasshoppers undismayed:

South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919)


Even venomous snakes, it was believed, got laid low by the dreaded bug:

The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), November 25, 1918(The Call-Leader [Elwood, Indiana], November 25, 1918)


The New York Tribune thought these lice should have figured into the staggering death toll of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919)


Around 1919, somebody invented a children’s board game.  I have never played this game, but according to one description, you put two pill-like objects with BB’s inside a box painted like a World War I battlefield.  A cage with a hole underneath it sits at one end of the box.  The challenge is to maneuver the “cooties” over the mine-infested field of death and dispose of them inside the hole.

In 1920, this game was being manufactured by the Irvin-Smith Company of Chicago and touted as “good for your nerves.”

Cooties Game (3), 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum

(Cootie Game, circa 1920.  Courtesy Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.)


Cooties Game, 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum


The Cootie Game was offered for sale at George H. Wheelock’s department store in South Bend in 1919:

South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919)


Having cooties on you, however, was no game, and is a genuine part of American medical history.

One solution for the lice was a “liquid fire” called P.D.Q., possibly manufactured at Owl Chemical Company in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The initials were said to stand for “Pesky Devils Quietus.”  Wherever it was made, the squirtable cootie-killer was on sale in Hoosier drug stores not long after the end of World War I:

South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922)


Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920(Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920)


What the exact difference is between cooties and the domestic American chiggers, I’m not sure, since nobody seems to have checked into hospitals recently complaining of cooties.  Sometime around 1950, apparently, these bugs evolved into a mildly harmless children’s phobia.

The cooties’ association with war did, however, has survived.  In 1920, a service organization affiliated with the VFW was founded in New York City — the Military Order of the Cootie.  Though no World War I are around to tell of us about scratching and other horrors of trench warfare, the order — devoted to community service and, just as important, to humor — is still active to this day.

We salute the Cooties!

Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958(Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958)

Over 55,000 More Pages

The Rising Sun

Hey, readers.  Just a quick news flash.  Here’s a list of new content added to Hoosier State Chronicles over the last few days.

Check out some colorful titles — like Wabash Scratches — and a hilarious and witty antebellum paper from Indianapolis, The Locomotive.  A further decade of this comical weekly, one of the best papers ever published in the Hoosier State, is coming soon.

Additionally, we just added some early titles going back to 1807, when the sun was just rising on printing in Indiana Territory.  A huge run of Greencastle’s Daily Banner, digitized at DePauw University, brings us up to 1968.  Enjoy!

The German & Appalachian Roots of the Brazil Daily Times

Brazil Daily Times, June 30, 1909

Attention Clay County chroniclers and Brazil back-story buffs!  The first batch of the Brazil Daily Times is now going up on Newspapers.com.  (Uploading may take a week or more and will include a run of issues from 1907-1931.)  Indiana residents can access this content for FREE via INSPIRE.  If you need help accessing the content, read our related blog post.

Here’s a short side note on the history of the Daily Times, ancestor of today’s Brazil Times.

Small-town newspapers often have interesting pedigrees.  Brazil’s is no exception.  When the Daily Times’ debut came on December 1, 1888, it was under the editorial leadership of a man named Robert Henkel.

Bob Henkel came from one of the original German families of the American South.  Their involvement in printing, preaching, and pioneering went back many generations.

Though William Travis wrote up the editor’s genealogy in his 1909 History of Clay County, Travis’ version is full of mistakes.  Yet as the chronicler knew, Henkel’s story links Clay County history back to 16th-century Germany.

Bob Henkel’s fascinating family lineage was prestigious, going at least as far back as Johann Henckel, a German Catholic priest at the time of the Protestant Reformation.  While Europe’s spiritual foundations were being shaken up by the monk Martin Luther, Johann Henckel, who served as Hofprediger (court preacher) and spiritual guide to some members of the Hapsburg royal family, was exchanging letters with the Dutch reformer, humanist, and priest Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Mary of Hungary 2

William Travis mistakenly writes that Henckel was Father Confessor to a certain Queen Mary of Norway.  Actually, this was Queen Mary of Hungary, sister of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  Mary later served as Hapsburg Governor of the Netherlands during the height of the Reformation.  Henckel, while friendly to Protestants calling for reform, ultimately swayed Mary away from becoming a follower of Luther.

That couldn’t be said of the rest of the Henckel family, who emigrated to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in the early 18th century.  As Appalachian frontier folk, the fervently Lutheran Henckels (later spelled Henkel) also helped settle the “German belt” of North Carolina at a time when English took linguistic third place in the western Piedmont.  Until the early 1800s, German and Scottish Gaelic — not to mention Cherokee — were commonly-spoken languages in backcountry Carolina.


Ambrose Henkel Printing Press(Ambrose Henkel’s printing press, which he set up at age twenty in the mountains of Virginia.)


Printer’s ink must have been mingled with Bob Henkel’s blood. Around 1807, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley town of New Market, Virginia, the Indiana editor’s great-grand uncles, Ambrose and Solomon Henkel, set up one of the first German-language presses in the American South.  (The Virginia Historical Society has a great webpage showing some of the beautiful work done by these craftsmen.)  From 1807 to 1809, Ambrose published Der Virginische Volksberichter und Neumarketer Wochenschrift, a small, short-lived weekly newspaper printed in the heavily German-speaking area around the famous Luray Caverns.  The Henkel brothers’ press in New Market is considered the oldest Lutheran printing house in America.  The brothers also published educational books, like an 1819 ABC Book in the collections of the College of William and Mary.


Geschichte der Lutherischen Kirche in America(Der Virginische Volksberichter was printed with the motto “Ich bring das Neu’s / So gut ich’s weiss!” — I bring the news, as best I know it!”)


Ambrose and Solomon’s father, the Reverend Paul Henkel, was a celebrated Lutheran minister who preached in both German and English.  One of the pioneers of Lutheranism in America, the North Carolina-born Paul Henkel sowed the seeds of his church in the trans-Appalachian West during travels out to Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana.  William Travis claims that he served as the first president of Ohio State University in Columbus.  This is wrong, but Henkel did help establish education in the early Midwest.


Rev Paul Hinkel(Reverend Paul Henkel was editor Robert Henkel’s great-grandfather.)


Confirmations-Schein-Amrose Henkel, 1827

(Confirmation certificate printed by Ambrose Henkel in Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1827.)


Several members of this prominent family of Virginia Germans were drawn into the conflict between North and South. A few trained as doctors at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious medical school before the Civil War.  Caspar C. Henkel served as an assistant surgeon in Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s brigade during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign.

It should come as no surprise that the Lutheran minister Paul Henkel’s great-grandson, Brazil Daily Times editor Bob Henkel, was born in apt-sounding Germantown, Ohio, in 1866, just a year after his Confederate relatives back in the Virginia mountains lost the war.  Henkel was raised, however, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he became a printer’s apprentice at age sixteen.  Robert eventually bought the Crawfordsville Daily Journal, briefly moved out to Coldwater, Kansas, where he married Josephine Cole, then back east to Rockville and La Porte, Indiana.


Robert Henkel -- Indianapolis News, February 5, 1930(Indianapolis News, February 5, 1930)


In 1888, Robert established the Brazil Daily Times, ancestor of the town’s current paper.  Under the umbrella of the Henkel Publishing Company, he served as its editor until 1912.  William Travis claims that the Clay County paper was established with capital investment amounting to just $1.60, “with no type, paper or any other supplies with which to establish the venture.”  Within a few years, however, Henkel and his partner “had all modern devices known to the printer’s art.”

At a time when most American newspapers were at least loosely affiliated with a political party, the Daily Times‘ editor kept it independent of partisan politics and was much admired for his honesty and support of the best political candidates, regardless of what party they belonged to.

Bob Henkel moved to Indianapolis in 1912.  In 1918, he bought the Indianapolis Daily Live Stock Journal and published it until he died of pneumonia on February 4, 1930.  Henkel was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.

The Swearing o’ the Green?

Lake County Times, February 7, 1923

Hoosier State Chronicles is about to fix one big gap in our online newspaper archives — the absence of northwestern Indiana, that colorful region of steel mills and dunes beaches and the pulse of Chicago throbbing out there in the distance.  In the next few months, we’ll bring you a long run of Hammond’s Lake County Times from 1906 into the early days of Prohibition.

Hammond’s proximity to the Windy City means that its reporters covered plenty of stories from America’s Jazz Age — the heady days of flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, marriage mills, divorce courts, and the rise and fall of Indiana’s powerful Ku Klux Klan. You’ll see how the Roaring Twenties played out in towns like Hammond, Gary, Crown Point, East Chicago, Hobart and Munster.  But until we’re done digitizing, we’ll just tantalize you with a story here and there.

Here’s a funny clip about the history of impatience… on both ends of the line.  Published in the Lake County Times on February 10, 1923, this story is from Whiting, a Lake Michigan town right on the Illinois state line.

Irish eyes might be smiling.  But you’ve been forewarned: never swear at an Irish “hello girl.”


telephone 1920s 2


Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (1)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (2)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (3)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (4)


telephone 1920s 4


telephone 1920s 5

Conservation and Digitization of the Indiana Gazette

As a conservator, I have had many people ask me why conservation and preservation programs are funded “since we have digitization”. While it is a common misconception that digitization is “forever”, many people also do not realize that there are often times when collections materials must undergo conservation treatment before they are digitized. Some items are just far too fragile or unstable to survive the process.

Here at the Indiana State Library, I recently performed treatments on two special newspapers from our collections that had been selected for digitization and upload to the Hoosier State Chronicles database. Before treatment, I discussed these issues of Indiana Gazette with Chandler Lighty, the Project Manager of Hoosier State Chronicles, who explained just how rare and historically important they are:

“In 1804, Elihu Stout moved to Vincennes to publish the laws of the Indiana Territory.  Stout also printed the first newspaper in the territory, the Indiana Gazette on July 31, 1804.  He published the paper until April 12, 1806.  Shortly thereafter a fire destroyed his press.  No copy of the first issue of the Gazette is known to exist.   Original issues of the Gazette are scarce, and are preserved at repositories across the country including the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard University, and the University of Texas-Austin.  The Indiana State Library is fortunate to house two original issues of the Gazette from February 15, 1806, and April 12, 1806.  These two issues are not very remarkable for their content, which was primarily eastern U.S. and European news.  Aside from their advanced age, they are most remarkable for their purpose.  When Stout first published the Gazette, he helped create a literate and informed public in Indiana over 200 years ago.  After losing his press, Stout re-established a newspaper over a year later, which he titled the Western Sun.”

My first inspection of these important, historical newspapers revealed that they shared similar issues, despite being printed on two very different kinds of paper: creasing, heavy surface dirt, acidic discoloration from the aging process of the paper, tears and losses, and a lot of fly specs (a polite term used in conservation for “fly poop”).

Starting with surface cleaning, I then moved on to removing the fly specs. Removing fly specs is a meticulous business involving scalpel blades, a microscope, and a steady hand.

Microscope image of the removal of fly specs with scalpel (Indiana Gazette, No. 20, of Vol. 2, April 12, 1806, Indiana State Library Newspapers Collection)
Microscope image of the removal of fly specs with scalpel (Indiana Gazette, No. 20, of Vol. 2, April 12, 1806, Indiana State Library Newspapers Collection)

The removal process was very successful, and the papers were much cleaner (and, perhaps, less icky) than before.

In the next phase of treatment, I decided to wash both newspapers. The issue from April 12, 1806 (No. 20 of Vol. II) was suffering from a lot of acidic discoloration as well as very large tide lines where the paper had previously suffered some water damage. The other issue, from February 15, 1806 (No. 14 of Vol. 2), had several areas with smaller tide lines as well as residue stains (possibly from an adhesive). Washing paper as a conservation treatment is very controlled and involves several techniques that professional conservators have been trained to perform. Do not attempt to wash paper at home! In all cases, all media (such as printing and writing inks, in this instance) and the paper is tested carefully prior to washing to ensure that  no inks will run, bleed, strike-through, or fade during the washing process.

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After washing and pressing dry, all tears and losses needed to be mended. Conservators often use wheat starch paste as an adhesive because it ages well and can be made thicker for strong adhesion or thinner for adhesion with flexibility. Japanese paper is also the preferred paper for mending in paper conservation because of the way it is made: Japanese paper tends to have longer fibers than western papers, making it possible to use incredibly lightweight papers that still remain strong when mending. After mending, the papers were humidified and pressed one last time before handing them back over to Chandler for digitization.

These images, taken in the Martha E. Wright Conservation Lab here at the Indiana State Library before and after conservation treatment, will give you a better understanding of how conservation treatment improved both the readability of the papers as well as their stability and longevity*.

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The issues featured above are available for viewing in Hoosier State Chronicles here and here.  You can read and crowd-source the higher resolution versions online. One of my favorite parts explains just how many ways you can pay for your subscription:

Excerpt from Indiana Gazette, No. 20, of Vol. II, April 12, 1806, Indiana State Library Newspapers Collection
(Before treatment) Excerpt from Indiana Gazette, No. 20, of Vol. II, April 12, 1806, Indiana State Library Newspapers Collection

 

*Please note that colors presented on computer screens are not precisely accurate, and may look slightly different from one screen to another.

More to Like at Burger Chef

OAAA 22

The food trucks and fresh produce stands were gathering outside the Indiana State Library today.  A quick search on Hoosier State Chronicles, however, turned up nothing about the history of my own lunch — pierogis — so here’s some food ads from our latest, fresh-cooked batch of newspapers, among others.  Though ours come from Greencastle, that’s about all the “green” you’re going to get.

Nostalgic food-lovers might remember Burger Chef.  Surpassed only by McDonalds, which only had about a thousand locations itself in 1968, until the late 1970s this was America’s second-biggest food chain.  Originally started in Indianapolis, Burger Chef’s rapid rise came as an unexpected spin-off of the open-flame burger broiler invented for Burger King in the mid-1950s by Hoosier brothers Frank and Donald Thomas.   The Thomases worked for Sani-Serv, a Mooresville company that’s still  in business and primarily produces soft-serve ice-cream dispensers and milk shake machines.  Rather than go to work for Burger King, the broiler’s inventors opened up their own business — first at 1300 West 16th Street, then in franchises that numbered into the thousands by 1968, the year they sold off the company to General Foods, under whose management the burger chain tanked by about 1980.

Burger Chef, 6 East Washington Street, Indianapolis

(Burger Chef’s 450th store, at 6 East Washington Street in downtown Indianapolis, in 1967.  The original building was torn down in 2002.  The site is now occupied by a Chipotle, next door to a Jimmy John’s.  Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society.)


 Daily Banner, June 27, 1968

(The Daily Banner, Greencastle, Indiana, June 27, 1968)


The Thomas brothers’ burger broiler was originally capable of cranking out 1,000 cooked burgers every hour, a number upped to 2,000 by the mid-1960s. Hundreds of pounds of meat rapidly fired over the conveyor belts “reduced tremendously the amount of time it takes you to be served at Burger Chef.”  In addition to “quick-as-a-wink” service and pre-ordering by telephone, mass production also drove the price down to just 15 cents a burger, which were reportedly ready just 20 seconds after ordering in 1968.  Newspapers in the 1960s spoke of open flame broiling as “sealing in flavor and juices.”  Burger Chef also sold “Blue Water boned” hot fish sandwiches for a mere 30 cents.  As part of a “modernization campaign,” management added all-you-can-eat salad and fixing bars in the 1970s, which cost them $5,000,000 in central Indiana alone.  Apple turnovers came in the mid-60s, and funmeals for kids, which included a toy, in 1973.


Terre Haute Tribune, March 29, 1974

(Terre Haute Tribune, March 29, 1974)


Times Recorder, Zanesville, Ohio, January 14, 1967

(Times Recorder, Zanesville, Ohio, January 14, 1967)


Burger Chef franchises spread into 38 states, but were most popular in the Midwest and Southwest.  The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, TX) reported in 1968 that “all managers have to go through a three-week training school at Indianapolis, Ind., and there is constant research on what kind of food the public wants.”  Corporate headquarters were located at 1348 West 16th Street, today a Kirby Risk.

Burger Chefs gave away a lot of free stuff — from balloons and suckers to live goldfish and holiday mistletoe.  In 1973, Kokomo had a chance to meet actor Burt Ward, who played Robin “the Boy Wonder” across from Batman actor Adam West.  (Ward appeared at the Kokomo Mall and a local Burger Chef to sign his autograph on kids’ posters provided by the restaurant.)  Family-oriented both because of its atmosphere and its incredibly cheap prices, the company made itself even more of a bargain by publishing coupons in American newspapers.  As part of its ad campaign, it also sponsored the popular comic strip Family Circus, as well as an Indianapolis basketball team called simply “Burger Chef” and two Pee Wee football and soccer teams in Kingsport, Tennessee, that went under the same name.


Tucson Daily Citizen, September 14, 1967

(Tucson Daily Citizen, September 14, 1967)


Daily Banner, August 15, 1968

(The Daily Banner, Greencastle, Indiana, August 15, 1968)


Banner-Graphic, December 12, 1974

(Banner Graphic, Greencastle, Indiana, December 12, 1974. Greencastle’s Burger Chef was located at 1047 Indianapolis Road.)


Burger Chef 1


Part of the low cost of operating the chain was obviously due to the fact that most of its nearly 8,000 employees were teenagers in 1968 and worked for low wages.

The worst event in the company’s history involved teenagers and occurred in its hometown of Indianapolis.  Around closing time on November 17, 1978, unidentified attackers robbed a Burger Chef at 5725 Crawfordsville Road in Speedway on Indy’s West Side and kidnapped four employees, all aged between 16 and 20.  Two days later, the victims were found dead in a Johnson County field.  Two of them had been stabbed, while the others were shot execution-style.  Never solved, the “Burger Chef murders” remain one of Indiana’s ugliest cold cases.  The gruesome 1978 killings came just over a year after one of the state’s most notorious mass murders electrified angry Hoosiers and the Hoosier press.  The 1977 Hollandsburg Massacre near Raccoon Lake in Parke County, committed by the Drollinger gang, who were said to admire Charles Manson and “killed for kicks,” also left four teenagers dead.  (I grew up surrounded by stories of the Hollandsburg kilings, since my grandparents lived right next door to Detective Loyd Heck, the Indiana State Police’s principal investigator on the case.  I lived across the yard from Heck until I was six.)


OAAA 21

(Billboard for an Arizona Burger Chef, late 1960s.  Courtesy Duke University Libraries.)


In 1968, General Foods, mostly known for manufacturing breakfast cereal, bought Burger Chef from Frank and Donald Thomas.  The fast food company hit its high-water mark in 1972, when it had about 1,200 restaurants nationally.  Though ad campaigns in the late ’70s took Burgers Chef onto TV screens and capitalized on the mass-market appeal of movies like King Kong and Star Wars, General Foods lost interest in 1982 and sold the subsidiary to Hardee’s.  (General Foods was also based in Indianapolis when it briefly moved its headquarters into one of the futuristic Pyramids off of I-465.)

The last Burger Chef, in Cookeville, Tennessee, closed in 1996.  By then, many locations had been converted into fast food joints like Arby’s, Hardee’s, Chinese and Mexican restaurants, and banks. Seventy-two of the locations are documented on Waymarking.com. RoadsideArchitecture.com maintains another page dedicated to these old fast food joints.

A renewed spike in interest occurred in 2014, when part of an episode of AMC’s Mad Men was set in a Burger Chef.  The scene was shot in a vacant building in Rialto, California, dolled up by the show’s producers.  The Mad Men episode prompted Time magazine to do a flashback piece on this restaurant that most Americans would have recognized just a few decades ago.

Our arteries are probably glad it’s gone.  But since Burger Chef had Hoosier roots, our taste buds salute it.

Burger Chef -- YouTube 3

(Hoosier State Chronicles, newspapers.com, and other digital archives have lots of interesting old ads for Burger Chef and other companies.  You can also watch a “complete collection” of Burger Chef TV commercials on YouTube.)

“Go West, Young Man”: The Mystery Behind the Famous Phrase

Go west

Newspaper history is full of myths, “viral” stories, and tall tales. Folklore and journalism are often close cousins — especially the colorful “yellow journalism” that sold outright lies to rake in subscriptions.  In the annals of Hoosier and American journalism, one persistent, tantalizing tale continues to baffle the sleuths at the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Who wrote the famous slogan “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country”?  It’s one of the great catch phrases of Manifest Destiny, an exhortation that echoes deep in the soul of Americans long after the closing of the frontier.  But when you try to pin down where it came from, it’s suddenly like holding a fistful of water (slight variation on Clint Eastwood theme) or uncovering the genesis of an ancient religious text — especially since nobody has ever found the exact phrase in the writings of either of the men who might have authored it.

“Go west, young man” has usually been credited to influential New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley.  A New Englander, Greeley was one of the most vocal opponents of slavery.  Antebellum Americans’ take on “liberal” and “conservative” politics would probably confuse today’s voters:  a radical, Greeley famously opposed divorce, sparring with Hoosier social reformer Robert Dale Owen over the loose divorce laws that made Indiana the Reno of the nineteenth century.  A religious man, he also promoted banning liquor — not a cause “liberal” politicians would probably take up today.  Greeley helped promote the writings of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau and even took on Karl Marx as a European correspondent in the 1850s.  (Imagine Lincoln the lawyer reading the author of The Communist Manifesto in the Tribune!)  In 1872, the famously eccentric New York editor ran for President against U.S. Grant, lost, and died before the electoral vote officially came in.  Greeley won just three electoral votes but was a widely admired man.


Horace Greeley -- Matthew Brady circa 1860(Greeley around 1860.  Daguerreotype by Matthew Brady.)


Though Greeley was always interested in Western emigration, he only went to the Far West once — in 1859, during the Colorado Gold Rush.  Originally a utopian experimental community, Greeley, Colorado, fifty miles north of Denver, was named after him in 1869.  The newspaperman often published advice urging Americans to shout “Westward, ho!” if they couldn’t make it on the East Coast.  Yet his own trip through Kansas and over the Rockies to California showed him not just the glories of the West (like Yosemite) but some of the dark side of settlement.

“Fly, scatter through the country — go to the Great West,” he wrote in 1837.  Years later, in 1872, he was still editorializing:  “I hold that tens of thousands, who are now barely holding on at the East, might thus place themselves on the high road to competence and ultimate independence at the West.”

“At the West” included the Midwest.  Before the Civil War, Indiana was a popular destination for Easterners “barely holding on.”

A major cradle of Midwestern settlement was Maine, birthplace of John Soule, Greeley’s competitor for authorship of the mystery slogan.  As the logger, writer, and popular historian Stuart Holbrook wrote in his 1950 book Yankee Exodus, Maine’s stony soil and the decline of its shipping trade pushed thousands of Mainers to get out just after it achieved statehood in 1820.  The exodus was so bad that many newspaper editors in Maine wrote about the fear that the new state would actually be depopulated by “Illinois Fever” and the rush to lumbering towns along the Great Lakes — and then Oregon.


JBL Soule(J.B.L. Soule.  Courtesy Blackburn College Archives.)


One Mainer who headed to the Midwest in the 1840s was John Babson Lane Soule, later editor of The Wabash Express.  Born in 1815 in Freeport, Maine — best known today as the home of L.L.  Bean — Soule came from a prominent local family.  His brother Gideon Lane Soule went on to serve as president of Phillips Exeter Academy, the prestigious prep school in New Hampshire.  Though the Soules were Congregationalists, a likely relative of theirs, Gertrude M. Soule, born in nearby Topsham, Maine, in 1894, was one of the last two Shakers in New Hampshire.  (She died in 1988.)

J.B.L. Soule — whom an 1890 column in the Chicago Mail claimed was the man who actually coined the phrase “Go west, young man” in 1851 — was educated at Bowdoin College, just down the road from Freeport.  Soule became an accomplished master of Latin and Greek and for decades after his move west published poems in New England literary magazines like The Bowdoin Poets and Northern Monthly.  A poem of his called “The Wabash” came out in Bowdoin’s poetry journal in August 1840, so it’s safe to assume that Soule had moved to Terre Haute by then.  By 1864, he was still writing poems with titles like “The Prairie Grave.”

The Wabash 1840 -- soule

Soule’s conventional classical poetry is hard to appreciate today, but in 1853 he was hailed as “a writer of no ordinary ability.”  Soule and his brother Moses helped pioneer education in Terre Haute during its last days as a remote town on the prairie.  In the 1840s, the Soules helped established the Vigo County Seminary and the Indiana Normal School (precursor of Indiana State University).  J.B.L. Soule taught at the Terre Haute Female College, a boarding school for girls.  The Soule brothers were also affiliated with the Baldwin Presbyterian Church, Terre Haute’s second house of worship.

John Soule later served as a Presbyterian minister in Plymouth, Indiana;  preached at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, during the Civil War; taught ancient languages at Blackburn University in Carlinville, Illinois; then finished his career as a Presbyterian pastor in Highland Park, Chicago.  He died in 1891.

He seems like a great candidate to be the author of “Go west, young man,” since he did exactly that.  But it’s hard to prove that Soule, not Horace Greeley, coined the famous appeal.

In November 1853, the Soule brothers bought The Wabash Express from Kentuckian Donald S. Danaldson, who had acquired it in 1845.  Danaldson tried to make the paper a daily in 1851, but failed in less than a year.  John Soule and Isaac M. Brown worked as editors on Danaldson’s paper from August to November 1851, when it went under the name Terre Haute Daily Express.  By the time J.B.L. Soule’s name appears on its front page for the first time on November 16, 1853, the paper was only being printed weekly and was called The Wabash Express.  Soule, who also edited the Courier in nearby Charleston, Illinois, served as editor of The Wabash Express for less than a year.


Wabash Express 11-16-1853

(The Wabash Express, under Soule’s leadership, was “Devoted to the Whig Policy, News, Commerce, Literature, and Good Morals.”  A piece written in first-person by Horace Greeley on the front page of Soule’s very first issue suggests that the New York Tribune editor might have visited Tippecanoe County in 1853 to see the Indiana State Fair.)


Four decades later, in October 1891, an anonymous writer in the Chicago Mail reported a tale from an equally anonymous “old-timer,” told in an anonymous Chicago bar.  The “Dick Thompson” of this story is Richard Wigginton Thompson.  Originally from Culpeper, Virginia, Thompson moved out to Bedford, Indiana, to practice law, and settled in Terre Haute in 1843.  During the Civil War, Dick Thompson commanded Camp Dick Thompson, a training base in Vigo County.  Oddly for a man from almost-landlocked Indiana, he served as Secretary of the Navy under President Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877 to 1880.  He died in Terre Haute in 1900.


Richard W. Thompson

(U.S. Navy Secretary and Terre Hautean Richard W. Thompson around 1880.  Courtesy Library of Congress.)


Supposedly based on Thompson’s own memory, the story showed up in a column called “Clubman’s Gossip.”

“Do you know,” said an old–timer at the Chicago club, “that that epigrammatic bit of advice to young men, ‘Go west,’ so generally attributed to Horace Greeley, was not original with him? No? Well, it wasn’t. It all came about this way: John L.B. Soule was the editor of the Terre Haute Express back in the 50’s, and one day in ’51, if I remember right, he and Dick Thompson were conversing in the former’s sanctum. Thompson had just finished advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country and was praising his talents as a writer.

“‘Why, John,’ he said, ‘you could write an article that would be attributed to Horace Greeley if you tried.’

“‘No, I couldn’t,’ responded Mr. Soule, modestly, ‘I’ll bet I couldn’t.’

“‘I’ll bet a barrel of flour you can if you’ll promise to try your best, the flour to go to some deserving poor person.’

“‘All right. I’ll try,’ responded Soule.

“He did try, writing a column editorial on the subject of discussion—the opportunities offered to young men by the west. He started in by saying that Horace Greeley could never have given a young man better advice than that contained in the words, ‘Go West, young man.’

“Of course, the advice wasn’t quoted from Greeley, merely compared to what he might have said. But in a few weeks the exchanges began coming into the Express office with the epigram reprinted and accredited to Greeley almost universally. So wide a circulation did it obtain that at last the New York Tribune came out editorially, reprinted the Express article, and said in a foot note:

“‘The expression of this sentiment has been attributed to the editor of the Tribune erroneously. But so heartily does he concur in the advice it gives that he endorses most heartily the epigrammatic advice of the Terre Haute Express and joins in saying, ‘Go west, young man, go west.'”

Though the story shook the foundations of the slogan’s attribution to Greeley, even on the surface the Chicago Mail piece is doubtful.  Why would Dick Thompson — no literary man — have to get J.B.L. Soule (a graduate of Phillips Exeter and Bowdoin College and one of the best writers in Terre Haute) to get over his modesty? The story also makes Thompson out to be a patriarch giving advice to the young.  In fact, he was only six years older than Soule.  It’s hard to imagine Thompson acting the father figure and “advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country” while they sat in a “sanctum” in Terre Haute — which was the West in 1851.  Soule, from Maine, had already come farther than Thompson, from Virginia.  And he kept on going.


Greenfield Daily Reporter

(Greenfield Daily Reporter, Greenfield, Indiana, October 16, 1939)


The bigger problem is that there’s only a few surviving copies of the Terre Haute Express from 1851, and nobody has ever actually found the exact phrase “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country” in its pages — or in any of Horace Greeley’s extensive writings.  It would be understandable if the “old-timer” of the Chicago Mail or Richard W. Thompson got the date wrong after forty years. But researchers who have scoured all extant copies of the Terre Haute papers and Horace Greeley’s works have never found a single trace of the famous slogan in its exact wording.

Editor Soule got mentioned in East Coast papers at least once:  the Cambridge Chronicle (Cambridge, Massachusetts) lauded his wit in September 1854.  So it’s plausible that a “Go west” column by him could have made it back East from Terre Haute.  If so, it hasn’t shown up.

The exact phrase probably never got written down at all, but entered popular memory as short-hand for Greeley’s exhortations to migrate.  Iowa Congressman Josiah B. Grinnell, a Vermont expatriate, used to be identified as the “young man” whom Greeley urged to get out of New York City and go west in 1853.  But Grinnell himself debunked claims that he got that advice from Greeley in a letter.  Even the oral advice Greeley gave Grinnell wasn’t the precise phrase we remember him for.  Instead, he said “Go West; this is not the place for a young man.”

Wherever the phrase originated, as late as 1871, a year before his death, Greeley was still urging New Englanders and down-and-out men tired of Washington, D.C.’s bad food and high prices to hit the western trails.  The editor himself, however, mostly stuck close to the Big Apple — though he did venture out in the summertime to his Chappaqua Farm in ritzy Westchester County, New York.  Almost at the big city’s edge, Greeley played the Hudson Valley pioneer.

Greeley at Chappaqua Farm, 1869

( Horace Greeley at Chappaqua Farm in New York, 1869.)

Going Back to 1812

Microscope

Over the last week, we’ve uploaded another 22,409 pages!

This is a lot of great new content from Indiana territorial and early statehood days!  But we’ve also ventured later into the twentieth century with the Evansville Argus, Greencastle Daily Banner, and Greencastle Banner Times!

Here’s a list of hyperlinked titles from the recent upload:

As always, happy searching!

 

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