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A Short History of Hammond’s Lake County Times

It’s not cold enough in Indiana this year to get your tongue stuck to an icy flagpole.  But every holiday season, we Hoosiers are reminded that the comedy classic A Christmas Story (1983) is set in our fair state.

Though filmed in Cleveland, Ohio — where the original Ralphie Parker residence was sold on eBay in 2004, restored to its 1940 appearance, and turned into a museum — the tale is based on the semi-fictional remembrances of Hoosier writer Jean Shepherd. Born on Chicago’s South Side, Shepherd grew up just over the state line in East Chicago and Hammond, Indiana, where he graduated from high school in 1939.  After serving with the Army Signal Corps in World War II, the future author began his radio broadcast career at WJOB in Hammond before moving to Cincinnati and New York. Many of Shepherd’s stories began as on-the-air reminiscences before they appeared in Playboy.  Some would have been picked up by listeners in the Midwest.

If Ralphie’s dad, played by the late Darren McGavin, read any newspaper by the light of that short-lived leg lamp, it would probably have been the Hammond Times.  Hoosier State Chronicles will soon be uploading a long run of the Lake County Times, renamed the Times in 1933. Meanwhile, here’s a bit of its history. Who knows? It might even turn up some colorful background material on Jean Shepherd’s classic A Christmas Story.


June 12, 1920
Lake County Times, June 12, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Seventy years before Ralphie Parker came onto the scene, the young lumber port of State Line, Indiana, wasn’t producing enough news to keep a local newspaper afloat.  Most of its early settlers came from Germany and spoke and read English poorly.  The town’s success — and eventual name change — was overwhelmingly due to George H. Hammond, a Detroit butcher whose 1868 patent for refrigerated rail cars helped him rival Chicago’s great slaughterhouses. Mammoth stockyards along Lake Michigan attracted both immigrants and tourists to the greater Chicago area.  (When Rudyard Kipling visited the Windy City in 1899, he wrote a horrified description of the “disassembly line” at Philip Armour’s slaughterhouse.)  Abundant local lakes and rivers provided the ice that helped meatpacking thrive.

Yet the Hammond Packing Company’s preference for hiring German butchers and sausage-makers indirectly handicapped the development of an English-language press in northern Lake County. Most German residents of the “Hoosier Coast” got their news from thriving German-language newspapers in Chicago and Milwaukee. Even Hammond’s own Deutsche Volks-Zeitung didn’t start publishing until 1891.  It died out sometime before 1911.


Hammond Harbor
Hammond harbor during its days as a minor lumber port.

Though northwest Indiana soon became an industrial powerhouse, this was one of the last corners of the state to be settled.  In 1900, lumbermen, farmers, and engineers had barely cleared the forests and drained the swamps that defined the landscape of the Calumet region (or simply “Da Region,” in local parlance.)  Gary, whose steel mills made it Lake County’s most important city, was founded only in 1906.

The Hammond Packing Company burned down in 1901 and was never rebuilt.  Steel, railroads, and retail took over.   Ironically, the rapid development of Lake County led to “Da Region” becoming a cradle of American conservation, as nature enthusiasts and city dwellers successfully fought to save the famous Indiana Dunes — a favorite Chicago playground — from destruction.


April 17, 1920
Lake County Times, April 17, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1906, Hammond’s floundering English press got a boost when Sidmon McHie (1863-1944), a wealthy Chicago grain and stock broker, bought the struggling Hammond Times.  The enterprising McHie turned the paper around, using it to promote Lake County’s young industries and businesses.  At that time,  Calumet was fertile ground for venture capitalists like McHie.  As a 1943 tribute to him put it, the energetic owner used the paper to “get Hammond to believe in itself.”


Sidmon and Isabel McHie
Sidmon and Isabel McHie had a marriage even more colorful and tempestuous than Ralphie’s parents. U.S. Passport application, 1921.

Not content with marketing the news only to Hammond, McHie changed the paper’s name to the Lake County Times and pushed sales in Whiting, Gary, Indiana Harbor, and East Chicago. The daily’s circulation, which stood at just 137 when McHie bought it in 1906, jumped to 5,000 within a year and almost exceeded 10,000 in 1920.  As an investment scheme, McHie circulated many copies for free simply to promote the city.  By the time A Christmas Story was set in the early 1940s, the paper was reaching 130,000 readers — probably including “Old Man Parker” himself.

McHie (whose first name is often misspelled Simon and even Sidney) hired Chicago sportswriter Hugh E. Keough to be the Lake County Times’ first editor.  Best known for his Chicago Tribune sports column (“In the Wake of the News”), Keough served as an official at Midwestern and Southern horse-racing tracks, whose decline led him back into newspaper work by 1906.  Keough and the witty Ring Lardner were two of Chicago’s best writers on baseball.  Keough’s tenure on the Lake County Times was short-lived, however.  He was replaced by Percy A. Parry (who had emigrated to the U.S. from Wales at age nine.)  For decades, Parry and his brothers were part of a “dynasty” of Lake County news editors.

While Gary was becoming known for its mills, Sidmon McHie and his editors on the Lake County Times helped transform Hammond into a shopping mecca for northwest Indiana.  It’s no coincidence that the plot of A Christmas Story revolves around one of Hammond’s great department stores — where the line to see a drunken Santa Claus and some evil elves “stretched all the way back to Terre Haute.”


Lake County Times, July 9, 1920
Lake County Times, July 9, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

1937 Hammond Indiana directory
Though Hammond is referred to as “Hohman” in A Christmas Story, this was an avenue named after one of the city’s German founders. 1937 Hammond City Directory.

With a stock broker and capitalist at the helm, the Lake County Times became a colorful, flamboyant paper and enjoyed strong sales. While not known for deep investigative journalism at the time, the paper does provide a window into the social issues of the 1910s and ’20s – from the scandalous rise in American divorce rates to labor struggles at Indiana’s burgeoning steel mills.  Much of its “reporting,” however, was syndicated — and wasn’t serious news, anyway.


Lake County Times, December 6, 1922
Lake County Times, December 6, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Dick -- Lake County Times, March 25, 1920
Lake County Times, March 25, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Lake County Times wasn’t especially friendly to labor movements or to socialism.  During the lead-up to America’s entry into World War I in 1917, it also joined in the vilification of Germany.  The Hammond paper helped stoke up public fears during the 1919 “Red Scare,” which involved a crackdown by U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer on anarchists, Communists, and immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, whose politics were suspect in the wake of the Russian Revolution and a wave of anarchist bomb plots.  Gary, which participated in the great steel strike of 1919 and was home to thousands of Eastern Europeans, was deeply involved in the “Red Scare.”


January 3, 1920
Lake County Times, January 3, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Lake County Times, January 16, 1920 (1)
The “Red Raids” took place just a few weeks before Prohibition came into effect nationally. Though still too early for a Red Ryder BB gun, “Red Rye” and its dangerous bootleg derivatives drove liquor underground until the law’s repeal in 1933. Lake County Times, January 16, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

November 22, 1919
Lake County Times, November 22, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

That last clip reminds us that women were at the forefront of Prohibition.  Yet even during the days of “Saharization,” the Lake County Times published colorful stories about the Jazz Age’s rejection of Victorian norms.  Divorcées, flappers, fast cars, and heartbreaks worthy of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel were often sprawled across the front page.

Publisher Sidmon McHie made national news in 1923 and again in 1935, when aspects of his own tempestuous marriage came to light. Daughter of a St. Louis multimillionaire and reportedly also a beauty queen at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Isabel Mulhall had briefly been a theater actress, got divorced, and “hastily” married Sidmon McHie in New York in 1906, when he was living at the Waldorf Astoria.  By the 1930s, however, the wealthy couple, who lived in New York and Illinois, ended up estranged.

Part of their divorce proceedings centered on a generous winter-time gift that Isabel had made to farmers near Battle Creek, Michigan, in March 1935.  But long before her flamboyant Depression-era “giveaway,” she had been generous to dogs.

In 1923, Isabel announced that she was willing her vast fortune to create a hospital for abused animals. While an earlier free animal hospital in New York City actually predated the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children by a good eight years, the American public and press unfairly lampooned Mrs. McHie as a sour old eccentric who hated human beings.


The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923

(The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, February 11, 1923.)


The Ogden Standard-Examiner was one of the few papers to treat her with any kind of fairness.  Speaking to a reporter, she told about a cruel child that had mercilessly tortured a puppy, a scene that could have come straight out of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.    As she began to think about her own mortality and draw up a will, Isabel McHie considered leaving a large bequest to a “home for incurable children.”  But if the newspapers are correct, the hideous “screechings” of an Episcopal boy’s choir in New York put an end to that — or was it the child that broke a puppy’s leg on purpose?  (The McHies had no children of their own.)


Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), May 1, 1923
Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, May 1, 1923.

Though it never came into being, rumors had it that this would have been the largest animal hospital in the world.  A provision in the will specified that McHie’s own ashes be placed next to a marble bust of herself, carved by an Italian sculptor, and that the honored bust and ashes would sit in the entrance to the animal hospital.

In return for her generosity, she got hate mail.  Letters accused Isabel McHie of being “wicked” and that the money could have done more good for humans.   Why give money to “dumb animals”?  Some critics speculated that her motives came from a desire to have “revenge on mankind.”  McHie’s response?  Animals taught humans to be more humane.  (It’s ironic, however, that some of her fortune probably derived from the prosperity of Hammond, named for a butcher.)


Lenoir News-Topic (Lenoir, NC), February 27, 1923
Lenoir News-Topic, Lenoir, North Carolina, February 27, 1923.

Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), January 16, 1923
Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, January 16, 1923.

The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923 (5)
The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923 (6) The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, February 11, 1923.

Maybe the sneering news stories had an effect on her.  Maybe it was her pending divorce suit or ill health.  Or maybe she was just tired of being rich.  In any case, in March 1935, the 60-year-old Isabel McHie decided to dispose of a large amount of her wealth — before anybody else criticized her will.

On March 20, she withdrew $175,000 of her own or her husband’s money and boarded a passenger train from Chicago’s Dearborn Street Station to Montreal.  She was also carrying about $500,000 worth of jewels with her in a bag.

Somewhere outside Battle Creek, Michigan, a conductor noticed Mrs. McHie feeding unbelievably large bills through a ventilator — in currency denominations “as high as $10,000.”  This, after all, was one of the worst years of the Great Depression, and the wealthy philanthropist was literally throwing a fortune out the window. Reporters wrote that she also tossed $100 bills into the aisle of a Pullman car.  Most of the money seems to have been recovered, but farmers along the railroad tracks in southern Michigan eagerly joined the search for anything left of the money-throwing spree.


Marshall Evening Chronicle (Marshall, Michigan), March 21, 1935
Marshall Evening Chronicle, Marshall, Michigan, March 21, 1935.

Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), March 21, 1935
Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, March 21, 1935.

Arrested as “hysterical,” Isabel McHie was taken to a hotel in Hammond, where police wanted to investigate hospital records that she tried to withhold.  She later sued the Grand Trunk Western Railway for physical assault and false imprisonment — for a million dollars. Sidmon McHie was vacationing at the mineral springs in French Lick, Indiana, when his wife started throwing money away.  Their divorce was soon finalized.  Isabel McHie died in New York City on April 25, 1939. Contrary to the belief that she hated human beings, most of her estate went to Seeing Eye, Inc., an organization that trained guide dogs for the blind.

The Hammond Times’ owner didn’t survive his ex-wife by long. Sidmon McHie owned a vast stock farm and golf course on the Kankakee River near Momence, Illinois.  His obituary notes that “McHie, despite his advanced age, insisted on driving his own automobile because he said that to employ a private chauffeur would remove a man from an essential occupation.”  (World War II was still on.)  On August 25, 1944, the 81-year-old McHie was hit by a train while driving his car.  He died five days later.  McHie’s nephew, James S. DeLaurier, took control of the Hammond Times.

The Times dropped Hammond from its name in 1967 and began representing all of northwestern Indiana.  It moved its offices to Munster in 1989. Today, the Times of Northwest Indiana is the second-largest newspaper in the state, ranking only behind the Indianapolis Star. Local editions cover Munster, Crown Point, and Valparaiso.

Hoosier State Chronicles expects to have almost two decades of the Lake County Times uploaded and searchable on our website by mid-January 2016.


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

“Koo Koo Side Lights”: George Dale vs. the Klan

Dale obit

If you enjoy today’s “farcical newspaper” The Onion, in 1922 you might have sent in two dollars for a subscription to George R. Dale’s eccentric and fascinating Muncie Post-Democrat.

While The Onion lampoons everything from politicians to microwaves to bad tippers, George Dale — Indiana’s Jazz Age version of a Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart — focused his ridicule on a powerful group famous for wearing nighties and “mother goose caps” around cornfields at night.  That group, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan, whose grip on big cities and small towns alike led to its near-domination of state politics in the 1920s.

Muncie and neighboring towns like Marion, Elwood, Fairmount and New Castle were once a stronghold of the Klan.  Warding off physical assaults and threats on his life, Dale fought in the belly of the beast, bravely using humor to expose a group that lured in tens of thousands of Hoosiers, many from the middle class, under the banner of “100% Americanism.”


November 9, 1923
Muncie Post-Democrat, November 9, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

December 15, 1922
Dale ridiculed Klan recruitment in the Muncie Post-Democrat, December 15, 1922. The “ten bucks” was for a Klan robe, which made millions of dollars for the Klan’s hierarchy.

Hoosier State Chronicles, in cooperation with Ball State University Libraries’ Digital Media Repository, is proud to bring a long run of Dale’s Muncie Post-Democrat online, from 1921 through 1950. Here’s a brief bio of the man whose war on the Klan is still little-known outside Muncie, where he served as mayor from 1930 to 1935.  We’re including some of his best comic barbs here, lobbed at the not-so-Invisible Empire.

In 1930, a writer named W.A.S. Douglas wrote a long piece in The American Mercury, a magazine edited by the acerbic literary critic H.L. Mencken.  (Mencken was a famous enemy of the Klan, though his own views bordered on anti-Semitism.)  Douglas recalled that he first met George Dale during the 1925 trial of D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Klan in Indiana and many other Northern states.  Though Stephenson was indicted for the kidnap, rape and murder of an Indianapolis stenographer, a crime that involved her near-cannibalization while he was raping her, since the trial was held in Klan-dominated Noblesville, the Klansman seemed confident that his political machine could get him off the hook.  Stephenson, still in his thirties, was their “Old Man.”


Stephenson and Jackson
D.C. Stephenson and Indiana’s Klansman governor, Ed Jackson.

“There were Klansmen all around [Stephenson],” Douglas wrote about the courtroom in Hamilton County, “at the counsel-table, in the jury box, in the audience, and guarding the doors of the courtroom.  All were brothers in the secret bond.”  Then Stephenson looked over and saw a “shabby little old man,” scribbling with a pencil while casting a look that seemed to bore “right into his brain.”

This was George Dale, “a white-haired little man, well into his sixties and with the seat worn out of his pants — a man who had become a joke all over the state because alone, broke, and kicked from pillar to post, he dared to fight. . .”


George R. Dale and Family
George R. Dale and family, circa 1925.

Born in 1867 in Monticello, Indiana, Dale — son of a Civil War veteran — was orphaned by age 18.  He moved to Hartford City around 1885, where he worked for an uncle who owned the town’s first electric power plant.  In his twenties, Dale founded the Hartford City Times, then the Montpelier Call.  He married Lena Mohler in 1900 and the couple had seven children.  Around 1920, the Dales came to Muncie on the eve of the Klan’s takeover there.

In a study conducted by Hoosier-born sociologist Robert Staughton Lynd and his wife Helen, Muncie became the first American town to ever be systematically dissected on a sociologist’s “operating table.”  The Lynds chose Muncie mostly for its averageness.  Their 1929 book Middletown wasn’t flattering.  Nor was the description that W.A.S. Douglas left:  “I well remember this Indiana city when it weltered in starkness; when it tucked its tail between its legs and ran from the sound and the smell of cowshed-perfumed klansmen…”

Douglas’ stereotype wasn’t totally accurate.  Muncie wasn’t all Klan.  And the most influential Klansmen weren’t farmers.  Klan influence was strong in big cities, too, with large membership in Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, where D.C. Stephenson turned out his own newspaper, The Fiery CrossAnd in the ’20s, the Klan had more support in the Midwest than in the Deep South.


Klansman at Union Station
“Klansman at Union Station,” Indiana, circa 1930. Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.

Klan ideology in the ’20s also differed from its focus during the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s. While never friendly to African Americans, the “second wave” of the Klan was mostly interested in halting immigration, undermining perceived Catholic and Jewish influence in American politics and schools, enforcing Prohibition, and protecting the “purity of American womanhood.”  A new religious movement, Protestant fundamentalism, also fueled the Klan’s rise, with ideologues hijacking religion to stir up nativism.  It’s no coincidence that 1925 was the year both of Stephenson’s trial in Indiana and the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

George Dale and others went to work documenting the hypocrisy of the Klan’s basic principles — from “100% Americanism” to a ludicrous KKK resolution passed in Muncie proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a white Protestant native-born American and not a Jew.


March 28, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan didn’t invent nativism.  Waves of immigrants like the Germans, Irish, Italians and Eastern European Jews all suffered the slander of earlier settlers. Anti-Semitism came into the mix whenever Jews joined labor unions, the Socialist Party, and supported the Russian Revolution.  (D.C. Stephenson himself, however, had briefly been a Socialist in Oklahoma.)

When Dale turned the spotlight on anti-Catholicism, he had to deal with fears going back decades, all the way back to the Reformation and the roots of the war in Northern Ireland.  As late as the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, many Americans feared that Catholics would take over American politics and schools, then hand the country over to the Pope.

Dale thought the Northern Irish roots of bigotry worth pointing out, especially when it turned out that a busy anti-Catholic editor had taken a long time to get American citizenship, something prized by the Klan.


April 11, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, April 11, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles. Dale noticed that many professional anti-Catholics, like the editor of the The American Citizen, had serious moral failings.

When Dale took jabs at the shady goings-on in Newark, Ohio he was criticizing his own town on the sly.  It’s hard to say how truthful Dale’s “reportage” was, but his satire cut to the bone.


May 16, 1924 (2)
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Muncie Post-Democrat, May 4, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Helen Jackson -- January 4, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, January 4, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles. Anti-Catholicism was probably stronger in parts of the Midwest than in the Deep South. At the height of Klan influence in 1928, Al Smith, the first Catholic and Italian-American to run for president on a major party ticket, carried six states in the Deep South.  He won just two in the North and none in the West, losing to Herbert Hoover.

When it came to mocking the thousands of women who got involved with the KKK, conventions regarding the treatment of “ladies” didn’t hold him back.  Dale even used two prominent “Camelias” — as the Women of the Ku Klux Klan were known — as journalistic target practice. One was the infamous Helen Jackson (mentioned above), a bogus “escaped nun” who helped spread Klan propaganda around the Midwest.  Jackson, daughter of Polish immigrants, had actually been a teenage prostitute who was sent to a Catholic reform school for “wayward” girls in Detroit.  In fairness, her experience there was probably harsh, but her stories of escaping from a convent — stories she told in a book called Convent Cruelties — drew on generations of anti-Catholic fiction and folklore.


Fiery Cross 12-08-1922-3
The Fiery Cross, December 8, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In the 1920s, Helen Jackson and a sidekick “ex-priest” — a French-Canadian Holiness preacher, L.J. King — gave lectures in American auditoriums and churches, where they mocked Catholic religious practices, spread fear about priestly tortures and Vatican takeover of the U.S., and incited riots, some of them deadly.  Jackson and King were busy stirring up religious hatred in Indiana just before the crucial 1924 election, when Hoosiers put a Klansman, Ed Jackson — no relation to Helen — in the governor’s seat.

Dale lampooned her as just another fraudulent “Koo Koo klucker” interested in profiting off the sale of hate.  He was eager to announce her arrival in Muncie in November 1922, when he could debunk her.  The “ex-nun” Helen Jackson actually visited Muncie several times, causing so much trouble there that she eventually got kicked even by Muncie’s Klan-friendly police.  Her companion, L.J. King, was also well-known to cops.  When he started charging extra admission rates for “men’s only” lectures — where he made lurid allegations about sex in confessionals — a few towns, like Phoenix, drove him out for insulting women and for spreading “verbal filth.” George Dale, who was not Catholic, relished the rumor that King had once had links to  an “Indian medicine show” and that his mother in Canada thought “he had always been a bad boy.”  Jackson and King were on the road throughout the 1920s, critical operatives of the Klan.


Helen Jackson -- November 10, 1922
Muncie Post-Democrat, November 10, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

May 16, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

A favorite target for Dale, however, was the influential Hoosier Quaker minister Daisy Douglass Barr, who headed the women’s auxiliary of the KKK.  Barr had once been a well-known reformer in central Indiana, espousing Prohibition, shutting down red-light districts, and reforming prostitutes.  Well-meaning reformers like her often had their dark side, however, as the history of the Indiana Women’s Prison illustrates.  In theory, Klan rhetoric supported “womanly purity” and the banning of booze though a plethora of sex abusers, bootleggers, and rapists joined the rank and file of the Klan, including Stephenson, its leader.  (W.S.A. Douglass referred to Indiana’s Grand Dragon as a “booze-soaked printer.”)

George Dale despised Daisy Barr, who lived in Indianapolis for years but was influential in Muncie politics and in her native Grant County next door.  Dale put some of his best comic language to work to help take down Barr.  Mocking the Klan’s absurd titles, he called her the “Quakeress Fakeress,” “Daisy Doodle Barr,” “champion Kluxerino of Indiana,” and “prize gold digger of the Klan.”


December 7, 1923
Muncie Post-Democrat, December 7, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Women of the KKK — known as “Camelias” or “Kamelias” — attend a funeral in Muncie, circa 1923. They flew the Stars & Stripes, not the Confederate flag. Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.

Investigations eventually exposed the Reverend Barr’s greed.  The influential Quaker minister had pocketed a fortune from the sale of Klan robes to women.  George Dale was quick to argue that the business of the KKK’s leadership, in fact, was just that — a business, one that fleeced “suckers” out of their “boob money.”  Members got “nighties” in return.


June 6, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, June 6, 1924. “Hi” was Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans of Atlanta.

March 28, 1924 (5)
Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat wasn’t making millions from his poetry.  Nor did exposing the “Ku Klux Quaker” or anybody else help ensure his personal safety.   Yet in spite of death threats made against him and his family — with Klansmen shooting at him and attacking his home — Dale had the courage to continue publishing the names of Klansfolk in Ohio and Indiana as soon as he got his hands on membership lists.  For all their parading through the streets, many members still wanted their involvement with the Invisible Empire kept secret — including gubernatorial candidate Ed Jackson himself.  When the extent of Daisy Barr’s business with the Klan came out, she was forced to step down as chaplain of the Indiana War Mothers.


May 2, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 2, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

May 9, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 9, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

June 13, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, June 13, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

George Dale’s campaign against the KKK was part of a national movement to discredit it.  Newspapers and religious leaders led the campaign.  While religion had played a disturbing role in fueling the Klan’s growth, it also played a major role in debunking it.  Over the next few decades, the opposition of Protestant ministers like Reinhold Niebuhr — not to mention Martin Luther King — helped erode support for the Klan, though the organization survives.

In 1923, Catholic members of the Indianapolis police force did their own part, breaking into a Klan office on College Avenue, stealing a membership list, and publishing it in Tolerance, an anti-KKK paper in Chicago.  (In light of the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, the activist group Anonymous is doing something similar, hacking websites and publishing the personal details, addresses and Twitter handles of suspected ISIS extremists.)   Other Hoosier newspapers, including the Indiana Jewish Chronicle, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Indiana Catholic & Record, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times all attacked the misinformation and bigotry spouted by the Klan.  D.C. Stephenson’s murder trial, which exposed the organization’s hypocrisy at its worst, also helped debunk the Klan credo.

Even in Muncie, the tide had begun to turn.  Embattled and fearing for his life in the mid-1920s, George R. Dale won the 1929 mayor’s race. His first action was to fire the forty-two members of the Muncie police force.

An indictment for violating Prohibition laws in 1932 overshadowed Dale’s mayoral career.  When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt repealed Prohibition soon after coming into office, he issued Dale a presidential pardon on Christmas Eve 1933.

The editor’s journalistic battle for civil decency had taken a toll on his health and finances.  He had also gone blind in one eye.  Yet Dale was at work at a typewriter right up to the moment of his death.  Surrounded by his family, and having just typed out one last editorial, George Dale died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 27, 1936, at his home in Muncie.


Dale obit 2
Muncie Post-Democrat, March 27, 1936. Hoosier State Chronicles.

 

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

73 Years of The Jewish Post

Jewish Post, May 8, 1936 (3)
Jewish Post, May 8, 1936. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hoosier State Chronicles has just uploaded over 3,500 issues of The Jewish Post, a historic weekly (now biweekly) published Indianapolis since 1933.  Here’s a bit of the paper’s history — and of Jewish journalism in the Midwest.

While the center of American Jewish culture has always been identified as New York, the Ohio Valley saw the birth of one of the first Jewish-run periodicals in the U.S.  This was Cincinnati’s The Israelite.

Founded in July 1854, and today printed under the title The American Israelite, this paper is the oldest surviving Jewish news organ in the country.  After the London Jewish Chronicle, begun in 1841, it is the second oldest in the world.  Cincinnati’s The Israelite was the brain child of pioneer Austrian rabbi Dr. Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900), who was also one of the founders of Hebrew Union College, the oldest Jewish seminary in the Americas.  During World War II, HUC attracted one of the great Jewish theologians and Civil Rights leaders, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who called the Midwest home for a few years while serving on the school’s faculty.


The Israelite, September 16, 1859
The Israelite, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 15, 1859.

Jewist Post, July 16, 1937 (4)
The Jewish Post, July 16, 1937. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Before 1900, small towns in the Midwest and South were often home to much larger Jewish communities than today.  Even seemingly far-flung rural places like Woodville, Mississippi; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Harlan, Kentucky, had sizable Jewish populations.  With the plantation economy of the South closely tied to the shipment of products up and down the rivers between New Orleans and the Midwest, Jewish merchants settled all over the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.  Though most Jews later left for opportunities in cities, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life has documented the fascinating history of Jews in small-town America.

Some settled in Indiana.  One of the first European Jews to come here was Louis (Ludwig) Dembitz, an immigrant from Prussian Poland who practiced law in the thriving river town of Madison, Indiana, around 1850.  When the great Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth visited Madison in 1852, Dembitz translated his speech (given in German).  He later edited a German-language newspaper in Louisville, the Beobachter am Ohio.  Louis Dembitz was also the uncle of Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jew to serve on the Supreme Court.  Brandeis, who died in 1941, changed his middle name from David to Dembitz to honor him.  In 1855, the judge’s parents were married at a now-defunct synagogue in Madison, Indiana.


Weekly Reveille (Vevay, Indiana), August 11, 1853
Weekly Reveille, Vevay, Indiana, August 11, 1853.

Even tiny towns like Ligonier in Noble County occasionally had small Jewish populations early on in their history.  One of the first Jews in the Wabash Valley was the Vincennes trader Samuel Judah (1798-1869).  Descended from a family of Spanish Jews who moved to Canada and New York, Judah bought land in Terre Haute in the 1820s and went into politics.  In 1840-41, he served as Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives.

Before Chicago grew into a huge metropolis after the Civil War and before trains eclipsed river traffic, life in the Midwest was largely focused on the Ohio Valley.  Indianapolis’ Jewish Post, in fact, began in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1930.

Expanded and printed in several different state editions, this paper was created by long-time owner and editor Gabriel Murrel Cohen (1908-2007).  Born in Louisville, Cohen earned a Bachelor’s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1930 — the same year he went home to Kentucky to start The Jewish Post at age 22.  Though Cohen moved his editorial offices moved to Indianapolis in 1935, he kept a printing office in Louisville into the 1940s and often carried ads for businesses in “Falls City.”

Advertised as “A Journal for Indiana Jewry,” in fact for years this was really a bi-state paper.


Gabriel Murrel Cohen
Kentucky-born, North Carolina-educated Gabriel Murrel Cohen moved the Jewish Post to Indianapolis in 1935, when he was 27. He died in 2007.

Jewish Post, September 14, 1939 (2)
The Jewish Post, September 14, 1939. Hoosier State Chronicles. This issue celebrated the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. “Falls City” was one of the Ohio Valley’s most popular brews from the end of Prohibition in 1933 until the original brewery closed down in 1978.

The year 1933 was a momentous one for beginning a Jewish newspaper in the Midwest.  The state had only recently been freed up from the grip of the powerful Ku Klux Klan, which dominated Hoosier politics until about 1927.  In a battle spearheaded by newspapers like the Indianapolis Times — which urged Hoosiers to remember that “Indiana is not Russia” — the Klan had just fallen from power when the first issue of The Jewish Post came out.  A decade earlier, the KKK’s mouthpiece, The Fiery Cross, was printed in the Century Building, under the editorship of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson — a professional anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, racist, and one of the most powerful men in America.  A mainstream organization in the Twenties, the KKK touted “100% Americanism,” Protestantism, anti-immigrant attitudes, and female purity, as well as the federal prohibition of alcohol.

Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition in 1933, the year The Jewish Post was first printed under the editorship of Leonard Rothschild.  In late 1935, Gabriel Cohen’s Spokesman Company bought Rothschild out.  Originally based at 505 West Washington Street, the editorial offices briefly moved to the East Side by 1936, when Cohen was based at 2101 East Washington Street in a building that later housed the dingy California Nite Club.  Cohen and his staff were back downtown in 1937, operating in the Majestic Building and Meridian Life Building.


Jewish Post, March 1933
The Jewish Post, March 1933. Hoosier State Chronicles.

While the new 4-page paper carried local news of Jewish interest from Indiana, Kentucky and the U.S., during the 1930s and 1940s its front pages focused on the rise of Nazism in Germany and the plight of European Jews.

Yet The Jewish Post didn’t  only announce the perils of anti-Semitism overseas and at home.  The paper also affirmed Jewish identity in Indianapolis and helped Hoosiers get to know themselves and their neighbors better.

A regular feature in early issues of The Jewish Post was a series of biographies of prominent — and promising — Indiana Jews.  The paper typically ran these profiles ran every week.  One focused on Ed Rose, a 20-year-old staff writer on the Indiana Daily Student at IU-Bloomington, in July 1937.


Jewish Post, July 16, 1937
The Jewish Post, July 23, 1937. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jewish Post, August 20, 1937 (2)
The Jewish Post, August 20, 1937. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jewish Post, August 20, 1937
The Jewish Post, August 20, 1937. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1937, Gabriel Cohen also serialized “A History of the Jews of Indianapolis” by Harry Dale, a story that begins in 1856, when fourteen men began looking for a site for a Jewish cemetery.  Split between several local congregations, these officially separate burial grounds are known colloquially as “Kelly Street” and located just off South Meridian in a part of the Old Southside that was once heavily German, with some Hungarian, Polish, Russian and Greek households among them.


Jewish Post, August 13, 1937
The Jewish Post, August 13, 1937. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Gabriel Cohen’s Jewish Post also gave attention to the development of Zionism, the effort to set up a homeland for Jews.  After World War II, that place turned out to be Israel, but Zionists once considered spots as far away as Saskatchewan and South America, as well.

Over the years, The Jewish Post took up the cause of interfaith  unity.  In its early days, it also covered the concern loss of Jewish identity in the face not just of the Holocaust, but of Americanization.  Cohen’s paper ran occasional articles that document both the evolution of American Jewish identity and the struggle of Jews to stay true to their historic roots.

One interesting example came with the extremely rare production of a Yiddish play in Indianapolis.  In March 1934, Maurice Schwartz, father of the “Golden Age of Yiddish Theater,” performed on stage at English’s on Monument Circle downtown.  Schwartz was a Ukrainian-born actor raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  In 1918, he founded the Yiddish Art Theatre  At English’s Theater, Schwartz played a lead role in the Yoshe Kalb, which told the story of a Hasidic mystic.  Before Schwartz’s death in 1960, he went on to work with a struggling young Jewish actor named Leonard Nimoy, who came from a Ukrainian Jewish family in Boston spoke Yiddish fluently.  The man who played Star Trek’s Mr. Spock remembered Schwartz as his “theatrical father.”


Jewish Post, May 11, 1934
Jewish Post, May 11, 1934. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jewish Post, May 15, 1936
Jewish Post, May 15, 1936. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jewish Post, May 15, 1936 (2)
Jewish Post, May 15, 1936. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Indianapolis didn’t have the only Jewish newspaper in the Midwest in those years.  An even earlier paper, Chicago’s The Sentinel, dated back to 1911.  In 1921, Milwaukee saw the birth of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (digitized on Newspapers.com).  The Ohio Jewish Chronicle began in Columbus in 1922, followed by the Detroit Jewish News in 1942 and the St. Louis Jewish Light in 1947.

In 1948, Gabriel Cohen expanded his paper nationally.  In addition to the original Indiana edition, he ran a special Missouri edition from 1948 until 1992.  Along with its Indiana edition, the National Jewish Post & Opinion is still in print today.


Jewish Post, June 18, 1937 (2)
Shapiro’s has long been the cornerstone of Indianapolis delicatessens, though it’s the last of the Jewish businesses of the Old Southside. The Jewish Post, June 18, 1937. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jewish Post, November 2, 1962
The Jewish Post, November 2, 1962. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Based on West 86th Street in Indianapolis, the newspaper is now a biweekly.  In addition to its longstanding commitment to interfaith dialogue, The Jewish Post & Opinion defines its mission as “To support Israel and to fight anti-Semitism. To heal and repair the world (tikkun olam). To protect, promote, and preserve time-honored Jewish values such as ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

In cooperation with IUPUI’s Center for Digital Scholarship and the staff of The Jewish Post & Opinion, Hoosier State Chronicles has brought 73 years of this historic journal’s Indiana edition online — from the very first issue in 1933 all the way up through 2005.


Jewish Post, November 9, 2005 (3)
The Jewish Post & Opinion, November 9, 2005. Hoosier State Chronicles. 

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.

“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 appeared.

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.