Tag Archives: immigrants

“No Imported Patriots”: James Whitcomb Riley, the Irish, and the Klan

Riley stamp 1940

For most Americans, the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley is no longer a household name.  He’s mostly remembered for “Little Orphant Annie,” an 1885 poem about an Indiana girl who warns children against misbehaving, scaring them with the refrain: “The gobble-uns’ll get you Ef you don’t watch out!”

Riley died a hundred years ago this July.  When President Woodrow Wilson got the news at the White House, he is said to have broken down in tears, then sent an express telegram to the poet’s family in Indianapolis.  As Riley’s body lay in state at the Indiana Capitol in July 1916, thirty-five thousand people filed past.  American children, who adored the old man, were devastated.  The press overflowed with eulogies.  Novelist Booth Tarkington, another once-famous Hoosier name in American letters, eulogized Riley in the Indiana Daily Times, calling him “the first and foremost distinctively American poet, and at the time of his death… the greatest American.”  The New York Sun mourned: “The Hoosier Poet blew heart bubbles… In his verses Indiana spoke to the world.”  And the Philadelphia Inquirer noted: “There is no doubt that he was the most popular poet of this generation in America… If there is a child today that is not regaled with ‘Orphant Annie’ that child is to be pitied.”


Riley and Children

(Riley with children and a puppy, circa 1915.  Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis was named in his honor.)


Though Riley was mostly known for his folksy childhood lyrics, he was also a civic-minded poet, fierce in his defense of the downtrodden.

In 1898, during one of those periodic battles over immigration that heat up American politics and pour scorn on newcomers, the “Poet of Childhood” grappled with anti-Irish prejudice — though it wasn’t personally directed against him. Riley, whose own grandparents came from Ireland to Pennsylvania before moving to the Midwest, defended the valor and patriotism of the “Sons of Erin” who fought in the Civil War and Mexican War.  In so doing, he took aim at the religious and ethnic hostility of nativist groups like the American Protective Association, a cousin of the Ku Klux Klan.

In many ways, the Irish, especially Irish Catholics, were the Syrian refugees of the 1800s, frequently misunderstood and feared as disruptors of society.  Long before the Civil War, American nativists like the Know-Nothings had been actively exploiting fears about the Irish and “Rome,” alien forces ready to undermine American democracy and Anglo-Saxon values.  Though some of those fears may sound downright bizarre today, Irish immigrants were often mired in poverty, violence and alcoholism, facts that scared their neighbors. While the brutal living conditions of many Irish were no myth, catastrophic events like the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s were partly to blame.  With their situation made worse by the greed of landowners and brutal utilitarian social theories, many of Ireland’s sons and daughters were reduced to sub-human conditions. Millions  went overseas or found themselves driven into the arms of death.

The Irish had been targeted by some of the worst 19th-century science and philosophy.  Racialized by other whites during the early days of Darwinism, the “native” Irish in particular were type-cast as little better than apes, doomed by biology itself to crime, degradation and — some theorists hoped — gradual extinction.  One famous drawing compares the “Anglo-Saxon” features of English nurse Florence Nightingale to the ape-like face of “Bridget McBruiser” across the Irish Channel.

That drawing, however, was an American drawing, published in Samuel R. Wells’ New Physiognomy (New York, 1866).  Wells was one of the foremost American phrenologists of his time, studying “character” as he imagined it to be written on the human face and skull.  It took decades for the science of head bumps and nose shapes to be debunked as nonsense, but the fallout proved catastrophic for many immigrants.


Contrasted Faces

(Books like Wells’ New Physiognomy gave rise to even more damaging scientific theories about racial types — strange fantasies that fed the growth of American eugenics, the Second Ku Klux Klan, and even Progressivism.  Wells also authored books about farm animals, gardening and witchcraft.)


Bad science and hyper-patriotic conspiracy theories were the target of one of James Whitcomb Riley’s lesser-known poems, “Brother Jonathan Lectures His Adopted.”  That poem appeared in Songs of Two Peoples, an 1898 collection set partly in New England, partly in Ireland.

Originally written in broad New England dialect, “Brother Jonathan” recounts the anti-Catholic ravings of a recent Northern Irish immigrant voting for “the fust time” at a small-town polling booth in America. Jonathan showed himself an eager campaigner against foreign influence, “tearin’ up an’ deown’ on platforms,” lashing out at Rome’s priests who “eat heretics at feasts” — dark tales from European history carried by folklore and immigrant ships into American election booths well into the 1960s and even beyond. Catholics, Jonathan warns, were gearing up to crush the American public school system and democracy.  He gets a stinging rebuke from the embodiment of Uncle Sam, “His Adopted.”


Brother Jonathan

(Songs of Two Peoples, Boston, 1898.  Like Brother Jonathan, many popular anti-Catholic lecturers who touted Americanism a hundred years ago were recent immigrants or not even citizens.  Several wrote books that were later promoted by the Klan.)


Though Riley’s poem is set just after the Civil War, it spoke to the issues of 1898, when America’s generously open door did bring many problems. Yet the looming figure of “Brother Jonathan” was still fresh decades later when George R. Dale, the brave editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat, reprinted it as part of his long battle against the powerful Hoosier Klan.  Sadly, the fear-mongering of the 1880s and 1920s remains a factor in American politics today — in ways that are, as always, frightening to consider.

In 1924, Dale found Riley’s poem as apt as ever.  Dale was at the start of a practically one-man battle against the KKK in his town, using humor to transform the Muncie Post-Democrat into a rollicking 1920s version of The Onion.  Though Dale faced routine death threats and assaults from Klansmen, the Muncie editor bravely tore into chauvinism at a time when the Klan was as much against new waves of Eastern and Southern European immigration as it was opposed to African Americans coming up from the South.  Dale slightly abbreviated Riley’s poem — missing the fact that Brother Jonathan was an immigrant himself and had brought Old World animosities across the Atlantic, a prelude to the Irish “Troubles.”


James Whitcomb Riley -- April 25, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, April 25, 1924.  The A.P.A. was the American Protective Association, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic secret society founded in Iowa in 1887.  It had a membership of over two million in the 1890s and was a forerunner of the Second Klan. A.P.A.-affiliated newspapers like The Menace and The Yellow Jacket landed on millions of American doorsteps.)


Though many Irish immigrants were racists themselves, stirring up some of the worst race riots of the 1800s, George Dale found an ally in both history and the Catholic Church.  Virtually every issue of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson’s Klan paper The Fiery Cross contained attacks on the church, sharpest during the Indiana gubernatorial election of 1924, the year Dale reprinted “Brother Jonathan” in Muncie.  It’s not surprising that, since they were long targeted by nativists, Catholics became a major force in undermining the Klan and helped hobble half-baked social and medical theories like eugenics. (The barely-concealed “science” of white supremacy, eugenics had deep roots in Indiana.  That history isn’t over yet:  an alternative band called The IshmaeLites recently made an interesting album about the days of the 1907 Indiana sterilization law, released by Weirdo Records in 2009.)

While Riley was of Irish descent, he wasn’t Catholic himself — in fact he wasn’t much of a church-goer at all.  Yet Riley knew plenty of immigrants: they were his neighbors in Lockerbie, an Indianapolis neighborhood first called “Germantown” and settled partly by refugees from Europe’s 1848 revolutions.

But even Riley’s support had a dark irony in it.  A frequent visitor at his house in Lockerbie was Indiana Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. The son of French immigrants, Debs was a champion of the working class but often hostile to the new wave of immigration, which he thought undermined American labor and played into the hands of big business.  Debs may have been right about the effect of cheap labor on the American workers’ movement, but history repeated itself in a sad way when even the great Socialist leader made disparaging remarks in 1891 about Chinese and “Dagos” (Italians). They “fatten on garbage,” Debs said, live “more like a savage or a wild beast,” and “are able to underbid an American workingman.”  It took years for Debs to temper those views, as even the Socialist Party succumbed to nativism and fear of the “degraded foreigner.”


Riley house

(Riley’s house in Indianapolis around 1960.   During the gloomy days of urban renewal, the Lockerbie neighborhood fell into bad shape, but fortunately its decline was turned around by the 1990s. The green ivy that once covered the poet’s house, though, is long gone.)

“Gary Camel Caravan Alarms”

In the wake of one presidential hopeful’s recent call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., we thought it appropriate to share a humorous anecdote about Muslim immigrants in Hoosier history. This story also evokes a mostly-forgotten episode that saw Chicago’s great film companies use the Indiana Dunes as a stand-in for Mexico and the Sahara Desert.

The story came out in both the Gary Daily Tribune and Chicago Record-Tribune.  In the summer of 1910, if we can trust the Chicago reporter, some Muslim steel workers shouted excitedly, and maybe even suffered a bit of homesickness when the following scene played out in the streets of the new town of Gary.


Gary Camel Caravan -- Chicago Record-Herald, June 14, 1910

(Chicago Record-Tribune, June 14, 1910.)


The Gary Daily Tribune had a different take:

Gary Daily Tribune June 13, 1910 (4)

Gary Daily Tribune June 13, 1910 (6)(Gary Daily Tribune, June 13, 1910.)


In the early days of the silent movie industry, Chicago’s Essanay Studios predominated.  Not until the 1920s did the big film producers relocate to Hollywood.  Founded in 1907, Essenay’s headquarters were located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. While best known for producing a series of fourteen Charlie Chaplin comedies in 1915 (The Tramp is the most famous), the company also turned out a few American movie “firsts” — including the first American Sherlock Holmes movie (1916) and the first American film version of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol (1908).  This producer of silent films also scored hits with actor Francis X. Bushman (1883-1966), once hailed as “the handsomest man in the world.”  One website calls him the “Brad Pitt of his day.”


bushman -- ben-hur 2jpg

(Bushman played the corrupt Roman tribune Messala in director Fred Niblo’s 1925 adaptation of another Middle Eastern tale with Hoosier connections.  Ben-Hur, A Tale of the Christ was based on the 1880 novel by Indiana author Lew Wallace, who served as U.S. Minister to Turkey from 1881-1884.)


Chicago’s own sand dunes had mostly been destroyed by 1910, though just a hundred years earlier, they had been the scene of the dramatic beheading of frontier Hoosier soldier and Indian agent William Wells.  (Wells, a white captive from Kentucky after whom Wells County was later named, was killed on the beach during the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812.)  With the growing city looming up on Lake Michigan’s western shore, historic films set in exotic or far-away places had to be filmed across the lake in Indiana.  In spite of its proximity to Chicago, swampy northwest Indiana was the last part of the state to be settled and was still largely undeveloped in 1900.

Some of the films Essenay at least partially shot in the area that became Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore include one called Lost in the Desert.  That movie seems to have gotten lost itself, but it was apparently part of a series of films by American actor William V. Mong.  (Two of his earlier films are entitled Lost in the Jungle and Lost in the Arctic.)

According to an article in The Times of Northwest Indiana, Mong played a “British officer who escapes from Bedouin bandits and wanders aimlessly in the desert until the cavalry rescues him. . .”

In a strange tale of life imitating art, [Mong] became lost in the Dunes after he fell asleep under a tree and the crew left without him. Mong was made up for his role, his clothing in tatters and a leopard skin covering his shoulders.

When he awoke, Mong couldn’t find his way out of the Dunes and was forced to spend the night, suffering from a lack of water and tormented by mosquitoes.

The next morning a trapper from the village of Crisman, making his way through the marshes, was startled to see a ragged, unkempt, half-naked man with long hair and a beard.  The strange figure was stumbling through the sand, carrying a club.  At times it paused, tried to shout, then moaned inarticulately, and went on his way.  The frightened trapper hurried back to Crisman to tell what he had seen. A sheriff’s posse tracked down and rescued the lost man about sunset.

The trapper might have been even more scared if he’d come across Mong in the costume he wore in a 1921 film adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  Mong appeared as the wizard Merlin.

A similar film was made in the Dunes in June 1910, Lost in the Soudan, by the Selig Polyscope Company.  This was definitely the film that brought an unusual camel caravan parading through the streets of Gary, Indiana — to great acclaim from a segment of the town’s Muslim steelworkers.  Lost in the Soudan starred the great cowboy actor Tom Mix, an early predecessor of John Wayne.


Dunes camels

(Filmmakers on the set of Lost in the Soudan, partly filmed in the dunes near Miller Beach, Indiana, in the summer of 1910.  Other films made there include The Fall of Montezuma, set during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, and The Plum Tree, a tale of the Mexican Revolution. The Plum Tree used a regiment of the Illinois National Guard, who impersonated “Revolutionists” and “Federals” in a pitched battle filmed in an Indiana ravine.)


Theodore Roosevelt riding a Camel, Khartoum, Sudan

(Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, left, riding a camel in Egypt or the Sudan, 1910.  The man riding the other camel is the English-Austrian soldier, General Rudolf Carl von Slatin, who publicly converted to Islam to win the support of his soldiers.)


We take the Chicago Record-Herald’s statement on faith that the crowd who encountered a film company’s camel caravan in Gary in 1910 were actually Muslim.  While some of the first immigrants ever to come over the Atlantic were Muslim — including an estimated 15-30% of the slaves carried here from Africa — the great wave of voluntary Muslim immigration to the U.S. didn’t really begin until just before World War I.

Yet according to a recent history of Islam in America,  Bosnian Muslims had settled in Chicago and Gary, Indiana, by 1906, and they may have been the group that shouted “Allah! R-r-r-uum!” at the movie camels on Broadway in Gary.  In the 1910s, Bosnians were also working in the copper mines around Butte, Montana, in and played a role in the labor struggles there. In 1906, Bosnian Muslims established a Dzemijetul Hajrije (Benevolent Society) in Chicago to provide mutual aid and help pay for funerals and healthcare.  That society soon had a branch in Gary.  By 2007, it was estimated that three-quarters of Bosnian Muslims in the U.S. lived in the Chicago-Milwaukee-Gary area.

As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Muslim immigration picked up after 1918.  It’s an interesting fact that one of the first mosques and Muslim cemeteries in the U.S. was founded by Syrian Muslims in Ross, North Dakota, in 1929.  (Ross, a town in North Dakota’s remote Badlands, had a population of just 97 in 2010, though those numbers were much higher a hundred years ago.)  Another mosque was soon built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1934.  Contrary to popular images, the Midwest has long been one of the cradles of Islam in America, with large numbers of Muslims, for example, settling around the auto factories of Dearborn, Michigan.

Several hundred thousand Middle Eastern Christians, mostly from Syria and Lebanon, also came to the U.S. in those years.  (Famous Syrian Americans include former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, tech wizard Steve Jobs, filmmaker Terrence Malick, and actor F. Murray Abraham, who played composer Antonio Salieri in Miloš Forman’s Amadeus.)

As for camels in the U.S., their history, too, goes back farther than you might think.

In a 1909 article in Popular Science Monthly, Walter Fleming, who taught at Louisiana State University, claimed that the Spanish had brought camels to Cuba for work in mines and that the English had unsuccessfully tried out the use of dromedaries in Virginia in 1701. Fleming wrote that the English also gave camels a go in Jamaica, but the beasts were rendered useless when their feet got infested by Caribbean “chiggers” — a bug well-known to anybody who has hiked around grassy Hoosier fields in the summer.

In the wake of the Mexican War, the U.S. Army experimented with a short-lived camel corps in the 1850s.  During Franklin Pierce’s administration, the War Department — then headed by Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis — tried out the practicability of using camels in the arid Southwest, which prior to exploration Americans still thought of as mostly a barren, useless desert.  Under the command of U.S. Admiral David Dixon Porter, who had previously served in the Mexican Navy, the navy vessel USS Supply sailed to the Mediterranean and picked up thirty-three camels in North Africa, Turkey, Malta and Greece.


Camel corps 2

(An awful drawing from the Report of the U.S. Secretary of War, 1857, showing the transport of Middle Eastern camels on a ship bound for Texas.)


Jefferson Davis

(U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis helped start the Camel Corps.  The experiment led to the arrival of a group of Muslim caretakers for the camels.)


Jefferson Davis had seen Texas and the Southwest himself as a colonel in the Mexican War.  Fleming wrote:

Davis, late colonel of the Mississippi Rifles, made extensive studies in regard to the different breeds of the animal, its habitat, the proper care of it, and its adaptability to the arid plains of Texas, New Mexico and California. . . In March, 1851, he proposed to insert in the army appropriation bill an amendment providing the sum of $30,000 for the purchase of fifty camels, the hire of ten Arabs, and other expenses. In support of his measure he made a speech reviewing the history of the camel as a servant of man and explaining the need for the animals in the west.

According to a correspondent for the Times-Picayune, “three Arabs and two Turks” landed with the USS Supply in New Orleans in 1856. They traveled with the camels on to Matagorda Bay, Texas, and beyond “to attend to their wants.”  Some sources claim these men were actually Greek.


Raftsman's Journal, July 2, 1856

(Raftsman’s Journal, Clearfield, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1856.)


These Middle Eastern dromedaries were used in the Federal government’s war against the Mormons in Utah in the 1850s.  While they came to be well-liked by some soldiers, the advent of train transportation made them impractical.  The U.S. Army tried using camels to carry the mail between New Mexico Territory and California during the Civil War, though the camels were based primarily out of Camp Verde in the Texas Hill Country.

Lincoln’s war secretary Edwin Stanton ordered the beasts to be auctioned off in September 1863, yet sixty-six of them were still in army possession at war’s end.  A few had fallen into the hands of Confederates during a raid on Camp Verde.  One camel was said to have been at Vicksburg, Mississippi — in Jeff Davis’ home state — when that town was under siege in 1863.

Walter Fleming also reports that in the 1870s, miners were using some of the ex-army camels to transport salt and cord-wood between California and Nevada silver mines.  Others figured into a popular camel race in Sacramento just after the Civil War.  Like those who remained in Texas, however, these may have been interbred with commercially-imported animals brought in at a later date by speculators in San Francisco who thought the animals would prove popular in mining, logging, and perhaps even agriculture.  By 1910, however, the only industries that found camels especially useful were the Ringling Brothers Circus and Chicago’s film industry.


Ukiah Daily Journal (Ukiah, CA), May 9, 1968

(Ukiah Daily Journal, Ukiah, California, May 9, 1968.)


Most of the beasts brought over from the Mediterranean aboard the USS Supply — or their descendants — had apparently vanished by the early 1890s, when the last of them was reported to have been seen in Arizona.  That one might have been shot.  In fact, strange, scary stories had begun to circulate about the creatures.

By 1890, “ghost camels” had entered the folklore of the desert Southwest.  At least one of these tales about the feral descendants of Jefferson Davis’ Army Camel Corps followed an old trajectory of Irish and American folklore.  The humped creature carried around a headless rider.  In another version, the devilish-looking beast carried the full skeleton of a rider who had died atop its back.   Still another tale involved a Southwestern camel that was seen eating a bear.

News reports about the survival of these wandering dromedaries, believed to have been the abandoned beasts of the Army Camel Corps, kept on coming in.  In April 1934, one alleged survivor who had been taken to the Los Angeles Zoo was crippled by paralysis and had to be put down by zookeepers there.  Another siting of a “ghost camel” occurred near the ghost town of Douglas, Texas, in 1941. Newspapers were still syndicating these stories in 1968. Smithsonian Magazine even saw fit to re-tell a bit of the story earlier this year.


Anderson Herald (Anderson, IN), April 18, 1968

(Anderson Herald, Anderson, Indiana, April 18, 1968.)


The legend of the “Red Ghost,” in fact, lives on as an “Arizona oddity.”  Likewise, the tomb of Hadji Ali.  A Greek-Syrian born in 1828, Hadji Ali converted from Christianity to Islam, performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and was living in Algeria working for the French Army when the USS Supply came looking for camels.  Hadji Ali joined the U.S. Army service, coming to California as a camel tender in 1857, later becoming an American citizen in Arizona Territory in 1880.  He worked as a scout and mule packer for the army and participated in the campaign against Apache chief Geronimo.

Nicknamed “Hi Jolly” by neighbors who couldn’t pronounce his name, Ali prospected for minerals on the edge of the Mojave Desert near the Colorado River until his death at Quartzsite, Arizona, in 1902. Following his death, the fascinating pyramid that marks his grave site — erected by fond locals — became one of the roadside attractions of the Grand Canyon State.


Hadji Ali and Bride, Tucson

(Hadji Ali, alias “Hi Jolly,” and his bride Gertrudis Serna in Tucson, Arizona, 1880.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

The Anarchist Soup Plot

La Grande Observer (La Grande, OR), November 23, 1916You like alphabet soup?  Well, if an anarchist chef prepared it, you’d better take your spoon and dig out these letters first:  A-R-S-E-N-I-C.

One of the weirdest but ultimately funniest stories ever to spill out of the annals of Midwestern crime is the tale of a bumbling European anarchist named “Jean Crones” who, at a banquet in Chicago in 1916, attempted to assassinate the city’s Roman Catholic archbishop, the Governor of Illinois, and three-hundred priests, bankers, and city officials — not with bullets, but with bouillon.  The “soup poison plot” belongs in any encyclopedia of infamy but is also a fascinating glimpse into one of American labor’s most turbulent decades.  Yet few have ever heard of it.  As part of our ongoing series on hoaxes, hysteria and rumors in the news, Hoosier State Chronicles wants to resurrect this old, mostly forgotten story.

When modern anarchism came to the U.S. in the late 1800s,  it was closely tied to the struggles of German, Italian, and East European immigrants.  While hurling bombs and bullets was probably ill-considered, the social problems these immigrants faced were dire.  Anarchism’s philosophical roots, however, were among Europe’s elite.  (One early proponent of anarchy was the British philosopher William Godwin, husband of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the father of Frankenstein‘s author, Mary Shelley.)  Iron-fisted reactions to Europe’s 19th-century revolutions spurred philosophers and workers to declare that “Property is Theft” and to strive for the abolition of all governments, including democracies. Because anarchists promoted ideas like “free love” (which critics confused with promiscuity), state and church authorities tried to wipe it out — for obvious reasons.

While few anarchists ever committed acts of murder and mayhem, extremists occasionally wreaked havoc on American cities and police forces.  By the time of World War I, headlines about real and mythical anarchist bomb plots were common news.

Since most anarchists immigrated from countries with state religions, their animosity toward priestly authority was no surprise.  During the Russian Revolution and on into the 1920s and ’30s, radicals in Russia, Mexico and Spain launched all-out wars on religion — desecrating churches and even “executing” statues of Jesus, not to mention priests and nuns, who often suffered especially macabre fates.

Yet if Chicago’s anarchists had wanted to assassinate any powerful “prince of the Church” in 1916, the worst choice was probably George Mundelein.


George Mundelein, circa 1916(Archbishop, later Cardinal, George W. Mundelein in 1916.)


Mundelein was born into a poor working-class immigrant neighborhood, Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in 1872 and grew up in tenement housing.  Son of a German father and Irish mother, his dual ethnic heritage was a major reason why, in 1915, the young Bishop of Brooklyn was chosen to head Chicago’s archdiocese, which was teeming both with diversity and ethnic conflict, even among fellow Catholics.  At age 43, Mundelein was the youngest American archbishop.  Over the years, the head of Chicago’s Catholics turned out to be a major pro-labor voice, an important ally of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and a staunch enemy of Nazism and anti-Semitism — including that of Father Charles Coughlin, a controversial American priest whose radio show in Detroit often attacked Jews and bankers.  A friend of the Catholic Labor Movement, Mundelein reiterated to American Catholics that “Our place is beside the workingman.”

George Mundelein, then, was a strange target for an aspiring assassin’s vial of poison on February 12, 1916.   The scene of the crime:  Chicago’s prestigious University Club.


South Bend News-Times, February 12, 1916(South Bend News-Times, February 12, 1916.)


Dining Room, University Club of Chicago, 1909

(Dining room of the University Club, 1909.)


Coming to honor both Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Mundelein’s installment as archbishop, about three-hundred guests attended — from Illinois Governor Edward F. Dunne and ex-Governor Charles Deneen to Chicago’s ex-Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr.  The other guests were mostly Catholic priests from all over the U.S.

As Chicago’s health commissioner, city police investigators, and a chemist from the University of Chicago later determined, someone had slipped enough arsenic into a pot of chicken bouillon to kill two-hundred people or more.  Various accounts were floated around of how the University Club avoided becoming the scene of what would have been Chicago’s worst mass murder — worse even than the crimes of the “arch-fiend” H.H. Holmes back in the 1890s.

One version was that a “miracle” occurred.  Ninety-six unexpected guests came at the last minute, prompting kitchen staff to resort to a time-honored remedy:  watering down the soup.  Yet the real disaster was averted by slow eaters.  As Monsignor Evers, pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in New York, told the Chicago Daily Tribune, some guests were “so engrossed in conversation” that they missed out on the soup altogether or only ate a spoonful or two.  By that time, their neighbors were starting to have stomach cramps.


Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916

(Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916)


With many diners complaining of sudden pains, a doctor at the banquet suspected the animal fat used to prepare the soup stock must have gone sour — normal food-poisoning, that is.  He went back to the kitchen and quickly prepared an “emetic of mustard” to induce vomiting.  It’s unappetizing to consider, but the elegant dining room must have become a surreally disgusting scene — yet the doctor’s speedy remedy probably saved many lives.  Scores were sickened, some violently, but only one guest, Father John O’Hara of Brooklyn, died.  Although Archbishop Mundelein was unaffected by the lethal soup, Chicago kept him under a guard of 150 mounted police and detectives for the next few days.


Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916 (2)

(Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916)


The foiled murder plot was quickly traced to a certain “Jean Crones,” assistant chef at the University Club, who was said to be about 30 years old.  Crones “often inveighed” against social inequality, said the Club’s officials.  When police raided his apartment, the “souper anarchist” was gone, but investigators discovered a stash of anarchist literature (“a library of hatred”), a chemical laboratory, and all the evidence of poison they needed to go after him.

As the manhunt spread out, Jean Crones — or someone masquerading as him — began to tease the police with flippant letters, taunting them for being unable to find him.  These letters and other baffling clues began to pour in from all parts of the country.  As the story made national news the next day, a hotel in Binghamton, New York, reluctantly announced it was confident that Crones had once been their assistant chef.  “Crones was remembered by his fellow workers here as a dabbler in chemistry and photography. . . One day the whim seized him to have his own likeness snapped, and he had one of his kitchen comrades aim the camera.”  The resulting photo and an artist’s sketch were plastered over many American newspapers.

What happened next turned into a comedy of errors that went on for years.


Scranton Republican, February 21, 1916

(Scranton Republican, February 21, 1916.)


During the run-up to World War I, when the loyalty of German-Americans was constantly under suspicion, unfounded reports came in that Crones was a German immigrant and a saboteur and spy for the Kaiser.  Other reports had it that he was French or Italian.  A biography of the celebrated anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti claims that “Jean Crones” was actually an Italian named Nestor Dondoglio. The Chicago Police Department officially called off its search for the mysterious fugitive in 1919.  But Dondoglio evaded police until 1932, when he died on a farm in Connecticut where an Italian family had given him shelter.

Whoever he was, for several years after the failed “soup plot,” Jean Crones became a sort of bogeyman stalking America from sea to shining sea.  Soup-poisoner spottings occurred all over:  in rural Mt. Airy and Oxford, North Carolina;  the mining town of Leadville, Colorado; and towns so obscure, they weren’t even spelled right in newspapers (like Spalding, Nebraska, and Moberly, Missouri.) Crones — or a clever prankster, or a team of anarchists — harassed the police from New York City to Portland, Oregon.  A chef from Iowa City was arrested simply because he looked like the photograph taken in Binghamton, as was a chef from Chicago while passing through Springfield, Ohio.

Maclay Hoyne, Illinois State Attorney, surmised that the “poison souper” invented the so-called “McKinney-Finn powders,” which Hoyne declared “was given by waiters to non-tipping patrons in local hotels and cafes.”

Most of the so-called “appearances” of Jean Crones, however, are probably imaginary — or even deliberate hoaxes.  Some cases sound like the police might have used the poison-soup scare as an excuse to terrorize workers.  Others had more comic twists.


South Bend News-Times, November 25, 1916

(South Bend News-Times, November 25, 1916)


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 25, 1916

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 25, 1916)


Wilimington Morning Star, February 2, 1916

(Wilmington Morning Star, February 2, 1916)


Logansport Pharos-Tribune, February 24, 1916

(A watchman in Logansport, Indiana, spotted the “poison souper” at a railroad crossing there less than two weeks after the crime — as did hundreds of other Americans. Logansport Pharos-Tribune, February 24, 1916.)


Within a few days of his apparent escape from Chicago, the phantom assassin or his clever doppelgänger was out on the West Coast, teasing Chicago police at a distance, sending his own fingerprints by mail, and threatening to kill “some bishop” out in Oregon:

Fort Wayne Daily News, February 23, 1916 (2)

(Fort Wayne Daily News, February 23, 1916.)


On St. Patrick’s Day that March, Chicago Catholics were still jittery enough that the Irish Fellowship Club had to appoint an official food taster for its annual banquet.  He tasted every dish for over an hour.

Prank-minded Americans were probably just having some fun with the police and the press.  By the summer of 1916, the spate of “J.C.” sightings was still pouring in:

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 23, 1916

(Chicago Daily Tribune, July 23, 1916.)


Chicago Daily Tribune, May 14, 1916

(Chicago Daily Tribune, May 14, 1916.)


Two of the most hilarious and unlikely sightings occurred on the East Coast.  In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that May, locals were convinced that Crones had become a nun:

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI), May 15, 1916(Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, May 15, 1916.)


Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 15, 1916

(Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 15, 1916.)


And in Luzon, New York, an undercover sleuth wearing false hair and whiskers was arrested by a town cop, who was confident that he had nabbed the elusive Crones.  The man turned out to be a 26-year-old private eye from New York City who was investigating a theft of $250 from the Hygienic Brush Company.  In spite of his legitimate alibi, county prosecutors charged the man with “masquerading.”

Middletown Times-Press (Middletown, NY), February 28, 1916

(Middletown Times-Press, Middletown, NY, February 28, 1916.)


The real Jean Crones never surfaced.  Yet the fictional specter he evoked — that of the violent, supposedly illiterate immigrant bent on destroying American institutions and lives — took on a frightening reality of its own at a time when immigrant loyalty was suspect.  It is often forgotten that the Communist witch hunts inaugurated by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s were preceded by a more substantial “Red Scare” after World War I.  Italian anarchists detonated bombs in Washington, D.C., in 1919 — an attack that nearly killed Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — and possibly carried out the 1920 Wall Street attack, which killed 30 people.  The reaction threatened to close America’s doors to immigrants.

Like most Catholics, Archbishop Mundelein was a staunch supporter of immigration.  He blew off threats of assassination by anarchists and the hostility of anti-Catholics, saying:  “I have come to Chicago to help and bless its people all I can, and I think this is the best way to disarm prejudice.”

A fiery and brilliant editorial in the Kentucky Irish American, a pro-immigrant paper published in Louisville, conjures up the fear that the figure of “Jean Crones” actually created among “nativists.”  For immigration’s enemies, the anarchist threat was reason enough for Congress to all but close down Ellis Island.  Ironically, the Hans Schmidt mentioned in this editorial was a German-American Catholic priest convicted of murder and sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing on February 18, 1916, just a week after the anarchist soup plot in Chicago.

Kentucky Irish American (Louisville, KY), April 15, 1916 (1)Kentucky Irish American (Louisville, KY), April 15, 1916 (2)

(Kentucky Irish American, April 15, 1916.)


Cardinal Mundelein — the target of one of those rare immigrants who turned to violence — spent the next few decades speaking out on behalf of the working poor.  Perhaps the shocking event at the start of his days as leader of Chicago’s Catholics brought home the need for justice in his city and elsewhere.

He died quietly in his sleep in October 1939, an honored — and honorable — man.

Mundelein's Body, 1939 (2)

(Mundelein during his funeral mass, Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago, October 4, 1939.  An impressive Chicago Tribune photo gallery celebrates his life.)


Mundelein 1(Cardinal Mundelein in 1933.)

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, March 8, 1920

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

America’s First Shot

Alexander Arch SB News Times September 9 1919 (2)

A century ago, American journalism was buzzing with news of the First World War, which the United States had still not entered.  Though jingoistic newspapermen and politicians of different stripes eventually swayed public opinion toward support for the “war against Kaiser Bill,” in 1915 sending American soldiers to Europe was still controversial.

Across the country, but especially in states with a large number of German-American voters, there was opposition to entering the war.  Isolationists and Socialists were of a similar mind, though often for different reasons.  Wisconsin’s Progressive U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette spoke out passionately against U.S. involvement, earning the ire of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who delivered a speech in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1917 where he called the senator a “shadow Hun” — the pejorative nickname for German soldiers.  Roosevelt toured the Upper Midwest to lash out at U.S. Representative Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota and North Dakota’s Senator Asle Gronna, both of whom later cast their votes against making a declaration of war.  (Lundeen was later accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and investigated by the FBI.)

Indiana’s own native son, Socialist presidential candidate and labor leader Eugene V. Debs, also spoke out against what he saw as America’s own involvement in militarism.  In 1918, on charges of sedition, President Wilson imprisoned Debs for his vocal opposition to the military draft during a speech in Canton, Ohio.

(If you’re a Newspapers.com subscriber, one of the more fascinating and hilarious journals from the World War I era is The Fool-Killera satirical “newspaper” published in the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina, by James Larkin Pearson.  Pearson later became the Tar Heel State’s Poet Laureate.)


Fool Killer June 1 1916

(Lampooning the war-hawks “Toothadore Specksvelt” and Woodrow “Woodpile” in the June 1916 issue of his eccentric Fool Killer, James Larkin Pearson perfected the art of satire in this early forerunner of The Onion.)


Hoosier history is full of strange ironies.  One of them is this:  early on the morning of October 23, 1917, in the Luneville sector of eastern France, the first American soldier to fire an artillery shot against the “Huns” was a 24-year-old sergeant from South Bend, Alexander Arch,  a Hungarian.

Honored in newspapers in 1917 and again in 1919, after he returned from Europe and appeared in a parade with General Pershing, Arch was an emigrant from Sopron, on Hungary’s western border with Austria.  When he was born in 1894, his birth village was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which as an American soldier he was now at war with.

Arch’s parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1899, their children following in 1903, when Alexander was eight.  (They may have Anglicized their names.  His father appears on the 1910 U.S. census as “Steve Arch,” probably István in Hungarian.  Arch might have been spelled “Arcs” or “Arcz”.)  Steve Arch worked as a clerk at George Toth’s bookstore in South Bend.  Alexander’s mother, Theresa, died in 1910.


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (2)

(Arch with his Hungarian relatives at 239 N. Sadie Street.  South Bend News-Times, September 29, 1919.)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (1)

(The photo appeared on the front page of the paper during the infamous Omaha Race Riot in Nebraska.)


In 1910, when he was 16 years old, Alexander Arch was employed at the Oliver Chilled Plough Works, one of South Bend’s major industries.  After Our Lady of Hungary Catholic Church was founded in 1916, the family were parishioners there.  Before heading to Europe, Arch was briefly stationed on the Mexican border during General John Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

A 1919 News-Times article on South Bend’s efforts to get the cannon that fired the first American artillery shell in World War I included this clip from Stars and Stripes, the official publication of the U.S. Expeditionary Force:

The first American artillery shot of the war was fired at five minutes after 6 o’clock the morning of Oct. 23, 1917, from a position about 400 meters east of Bathlemont, in the Luneville sector.

A French 75, dragged by the hands of American artillerymen over 800 meters of rough roads on a pitch black night, roared America’s artillery prelude at daybreak.  A heavy fog flashed into flame, a shrapnel shell coursed over the woods and valleys of Meurthe-et-Moselle, crossed a boundary line and fell somewhere in Lorraine.

Battery C of the sixth field artillery is so positive that this shell was America’s first shot that it has just prepared a sworn statement signed by an officer and four enlisted men who were in on the event, telling all the circumstances leading up to it.  The statement reveals, incidentally, that the original shell casing is now in Chicago, and that 18 other casings of that first morning’s firing were distributed among Pres’t Wilson, Gen. Pershing, Gen. Sibert, then commanding the first division, and others.

The gun is now at the United States Military Academy at West Point with other newly transported war trophies.   Before it left France, though, it had fired 20,000 rounds in action, and none of the gun crew serving it had been wounded.

The firing of the first shot was ceremonial, according to the signed statement, each man in the gun crew performing some task.  One soldier set the sights, another the elevation of the range, another the angle of site and another cut the fuse.  Twenty men were gathered about the gun when the command “Fire!” was given.  Because of the fog it was impossible to observe the effect of the first shot, but at 7 a.m., when the fog lifted, the firing was directed from an observation post to Haut Rioville farm in No-Man’s Land.

Sgt. Arch was chief of the gun crew, and at least one other man, Corporal Lewis Varady, a fellow Hungarian, also came from South Bend.

America’s direct involvement in World War I lasted barely a year and Arch was back in the U.S. in mid-1919.  In September, “Thunderous cheers followed by loud applause greeted Sgt. Alexander Arch, South Bend’s history maker, upon his visit to the House of Representatives. . .”  Arch and Varady received a three-minute standing ovation before heading on to Camp Zachary Taylor near Louisville, Kentucky, but not before receiving a triumphal welcome home in Indiana.

After the acclaimed veteran was mustered out of the army at Camp Taylor, he worked as a machinist and auto worker, probably at the Studebaker plant.  Arch married Julia Rebics in 1924 and the couple had four children.  He died in 1979.


Alexander Arch September 17 1919


During a victory parade in 1919, the Hoosier soldier was literally “profiled” in The Washington Times.  The newspaper thought he had a heroic face and a good jaw line, and used his experience as an exhortation to rise and shine, since “there are a good many victories won before breakfast”:

Alexander Arch Washington Times September 17 1919 (3)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 28 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 28, 1919.)


The News-Times had some of the best illustrators in Hoosier journalism.  Here are some other historic ads, cartoons, and flashy martial cries — most of it blatantly Germanophobic — published in the South Bend paper around the fateful year 1918.

SB News Times September 26 1918 (3)


SB News Times September 26 1918 (6)


SB News Times May 9 1918


SB News Times September 26 1918 (5)


SB News Times September 28 1918 (1)


SB News Times Sept 9 1917


Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

A Short History of the South Bend News-Times

sbnt 2

Hoosier State Chronicles is bringing about 50,000 pages of the South Bend News-Times online.  Here’s a short history of one of northern Indiana’s greatest papers.

The News-Times was formed on June 2, 1913, from a merger between the South Bend Times and the short-lived South Bend News.

The Times had been in operation under several names since it was founded in 1881 by editor Henry A. Peed (1846-1905).  Peed had his start in southern Indiana.  A graduate of Franklin College and a major in the Civil War, around 1870 he was editing the Martin County Herald in the small town of Dover Hill near Loogootee.  After coming to South Bend to found the pro-Democrat Times, Peed quickly sold out to John B. Stoll and moved to Saline County, Missouri, where he became editor of the Sweet Springs Herald.

John Stoll (1843-1926) was a true “rags to riches” American success story.  Born in Württemberg, Germany, Stoll came from a well-off landowning family.  His luck changed, however.  His father drowned in the Nurg River when Stoll was a child and his mother lost most of their property after her remarriage.

By 1853, Stoll’s mother decided to go to America with her 10-year-old son.  The two emigrated to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where they lived in poverty.  She died two years later.  Stoll barely spoke any English at all.  Orphaned in a foreign country at age 12, he struggled to survive by working as a pin boy in a bowling alley and peddling peppermints, pins, and needles on the streets of Harrisburg.

Fortunately, the teenage peddler quickly found a wealthy benefactor who encouraged him to go into the printer’s trade.  Stoll’s benefactor was no less than Margaret Brua Cameron, wife of General Simon Cameron, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.  Like John Stoll, Simon Cameron had been orphaned at age nine.  He apprenticed to a printer at the Northumberland Gazette in about 1808 and went on to become the State Printer of Pennsylvania in the 1820s.  Cameron succeeded in politics, though he was famous mostly for his corruption.  After serving as U.S. Senator, he became Lincoln’s first Secretary of War and briefly U.S. Minister to Russia.

Helped by the Camerons, John Stoll managed to buy his first newspaper – the Johnstown Independent Observer – at age 17.  That paper failed due to rising prices during the Civil War.  Stoll married Mary Snyder and in 1865 moved with her parents to Noble County, Indiana, where he helped establish the Ligonier National Banner, a major Democratic journal in the Midwest.


john b. stoll

Newspaperman, Indiana politician, and German-American John B. Stoll


Stoll went on to found the Press Association of Northern Indiana in 1881 and the Times Printing Company of South Bend in 1882, which took over daily printing of the South Bend Daily Times in 1883.  The Times took on Stoll’s character as editor.  A historian of the Indiana Democratic Party and of St. Joseph County, and one of Indiana’s most prominent Germans, Stoll eventually sold the Times to the News-Times Printing Company in August 1911.

This new company was headed by Gabriel R. Summers, who had also published the News from 1908 until merging it with the Times on June 2, 1913.

Summers was born in 1857 in New Carlisle, Indiana, and graduated from the University of Notre Dame at age 16.  The son of an Irish farmer, he went into farming and sold agricultural implements in South Bend and Walkerton.  In the 1890s, Summers entered the pharmaceutical business, eventually heading the Vanderhoof Medicine Company.  He served as Indiana state senator and was a prominent South Bend businessman.  Reportedly a millionaire from his pharmaceutical investments, he died in August 1920.  His son-in-law, 23-year-old Joseph M. Stephenson, took over as owner of the paper.


sb news-times building 2

sb news-times building 1


Editors of the News-Times included John H. Zuver (1913-21), Boyd Gurley (1921-1926), Joseph M. Stephenson (1926-27 and 1933-38), Sidney B. Whipple, McCready Huston, and Fred Mills.  Boyd Gurley moved on to The Indianapolis Times.  He was that paper’s editor when it received a Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for helping to undermine the Indiana branch of the Ku Klux Klan under its powerful Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson.  A Progressive, Gurley attended the funeral of labor leader Mother Jones in 1930.

A 1921 advertisement in Printer’s Ink states that the News-Times publishes “morning, evening, and Sunday editions” and “blankets the territory with 17,000 daily and 18,000 Sunday circulation.”  (South Bend in 1921 had a population of about 70,000 people.)  To increase profit, the paper tried to appeal to merchants, since the city was “the shopping center for Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan.”  A 1921 ad in Editor & Publisher announces that the paper carried 8.6 million lines of advertising in 1920.


joseph m. stephenson 2

News-Times editor Joseph M. Stephenson was featured in a mock version of the paperpublished in a 1922 booklet promoting the city’s commerce and industry, South Bend, World Famed.


The News-Times began as a twice-daily publication but became a daily in 1927.  Although it reached the peak of its circulation in 1937 during the closing years of the Great Depression, the paper was haunted by financial difficulties and went out of business on December 27, 1938.  Its last issue includes a note from Stephenson stating that it had been published at a loss since 1931.

American comedic actor Charles Butterworth (1896-1946) worked as a News-Times reporter after graduating from Notre Dame.  Butterworth was allegedly fired for reporting the fictitious death of a prominent South Bend citizen.  He went on to work as a journalist in Chicago and New York before heading to Hollywood.  (Butterworth’s high-school graduation photo appeared in the News-Times on June 17, 1917.)


charles butterworth 2

  charles butterworth 3

Actor and erstwhile News-Times reporter Charles Butterworth (pictured at left with Una Merkel in The Night is Young, 1935) was a graduate of South Bend High School and the University of Notre Dame.


The paper and its immediate predecessors also helped launch the career of the great American sports columnist and short-story writer Ring Lardner and author and cartoonist J.P. McEvoy, best known as the creator of the Dixie Dugan comic strip, popular in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Raised in nearby Niles, Michigan, Lardner had one of his first newspaper jobs reporting for the Times.  Though he moved on to the Chicago Tribune, in 1921 he reminisced humorously:

“When I was one of the best reporters on the Times (the other one was Harvey Peters), my last daily assignment, between baseball seasons, was to call up every doctor in South Bend, find out who was sick and why, and write long or short pieces about same, depending on the prominence of the invalids and the nature of their ailments.  If nobody was sick, I was through for the day.  So when and if the News-Times runs my obituary and can think of no other laudatory comment on my all too brief South Bend career, it can at least say with truth, ‘He always wished everybody well.'”


ring lardner south bend news-times   ring lardnerRing Lardner, comic sports writer, had one of his first jobs writing for the News-Times.


The News-Times enjoyed a “high-spirited competition” with its rival, the South Bend Tribune, as the two papers tried to outdo each other in local news coverage.  The News-Times was popular with South Bend’s large Eastern European community, remarkable considering that the city had numerous papers in Hungarian and Polish for many years.  As early as 1914, the News-Times carried a special column, “News of Interest to Polish Citizens.”

Many of South Bend’s Hungarians and Poles had come here to work in the burgeoning auto industry, as the city was home to the Studebaker and Oliver factories.  (It was also home to Notre Dame, the greatest Catholic university in America.)  Hungarians, like Germans, were under suspicion during World War I, when their homeland still formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In the closing year of the war, the News-Times reported on a possible American Hungarian Loyalty League opening up in South Bend.


first hungarian born in indiana

“Menyhart Nagy drives the carriage in front of 317 Chapin St., South Bend, carrying Ernest ‘Hank’ Kovach, the first Hungarian born in Indiana.  The photo was taken in 1909.  Nagy and his wife owned Nagy’s Place, a bar and restaurant on Kendall Street in South Bend. They opened every morning at 6 to serve Studebaker and Oliver employees.” (South Bend Tribune file photo)


south bend news-times july 18 1913

Studebaker Vehicle Works, South Bend, Indiana.  News-Times, July 18, 1913.