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The Black Stork: Eugenics Goes to the Movies

The Black Stork 4

From 1917 into the 1920s, Hoosier movie-goers had a chance to see one of the most controversial — and arguably infamous — silent films ever produced, The Black Stork, later renamed Are You Fit To Marry?  Identified by one film historian as among the earliest horror movies, The Black Stork was based on a real and gut-wrenching medical drama from 1915.

Billed as a “eugenics love story,” the movie’s script was authored by Chicago journalist, muckraker and theater critic Jack Lait.  Lait worked for news mogul William Randolph Hearst, the very man who inspired the lead figure in Orson Welles’ great 1941 movie Citizen Kane.  Hearst, king of American “yellow journalism,” relished controversies, which sold newspapers and theater tickets. His film company, International Film Service, produced The Black Stork.

Most Americans today have never heard the word eugenics, a once-popular scientific theory spawned by Victorian understandings of evolution and heredity in the wake of Charles Darwin.  The word eugenics comes from the Greek for “well-born” or “good stock” and refers to the social interpretation of scientific discoveries purporting to show how harmful genetic traits are passed on from parents to children — and how healthy children could be bred. Eugenics wasn’t strictly the same as science itself, but a social philosophy based on the discoveries of Darwin, the monk-botanist Gregor Mendel, and Darwin’s nephew, geneticist Francis Galton. Yet many scientists and doctors got involved with this social philosophy.

Once very mainstream, support for eugenic theories plummeted after the defeat of Hitler, its most notorious advocate. Aspects of eugenics — like the forced sterilization of repeat criminals, rapists, epileptics, the poor, and some African Americans — continued in twenty-seven American states into the 1950s and even later in a few.  The last forced sterilization in the U.S. was performed in Oregon in 1981.


U.S. Eugenics Advocacy Poster, 1926

(U.S. eugenics advocacy poster, 1926.  The authors ranked just 4% of Americans as “high-grade” and “fit” for creative work and leadership.)


Most scientists today would probably consider the social application of genetics to be outside their own realm, but that wasn’t always the case.  Indiana played an enormous role in the history of eugenics when the Hoosier State became the first to enact a compulsory sterilization law in 1907 — a law that lumped the mentally handicapped in with sex offenders, made it virtually illegal for whole classes deemed “unfit” to reproduce, segregated many of the disabled into mental hospitals, and enshrined white supremacy. Though the Indiana law was struck down in 1921, those ideas were hugely popular with many academics and activists all across the political spectrum.


Murder rankings

(American eugenic “scientists” blamed murder rates on heredity, ethnicity, and imaginary racial types like “Dinaric” and “Alpine.” “Pure Nordic,” the type idealized by Hitler, was deemed the least prone to criminal activity.  Time would prove that theory wrong.)


What’s especially disturbing is that the Indiana Eugenics Law wasn’t pushed by stereotypical white racist “hillbillies.” “Poor white” Indianapolis slum-dwellers, in fact, were very much targeted by the eugenicists of the early 20th century.  Promoters of these spurious theories included mainstream biologists, doctors, many reform-minded Progressives, women’s rights advocates, college presidents, even a few Christian ministers and Socialists. The list of widely-admired people who spoke out in favor of simplistic eugenic proposals included Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Sir Winston Churchill, Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, author Jack London, IU and Stanford University president David Starr Jordan, Alexander Graham Bell, and the civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois.  One of the only well-known anti-eugenics crusaders was Senator William Jennings Bryan, a Christian Fundamentalist who lost caste with Progressives in the 1920s for opposing the teaching of evolution.

Eugenics, however, was neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” Americans of all political stripes upheld its basic premise — the preservation of social order and the engineering of more a “humane” society.  Strong support for eugenics came from Americans concerned about the proliferation of poverty and urban crime and who sought a reason to keep certain nationalities from entering the U.S.  Eugenics did not begin to go out of favor until 1935, when scientists from the Carnegie Institute in Washington demonstrated the flimsiness of other scientists’ work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.  Yet even as eugenicists placed human reproduction on the level of horse- and livestock-breeding, the genetic abolition of any individual deemed “feeble-minded” — and the destruction of hereditary and sexually-transmitted diseases — was packaged as a positive goal, a social benefit to all, even to those who underwent involuntary sterilization and were occasionally killed.


Better Baby Contest, Indiana State Fair, 1931

(Better Baby contest, Indiana State Fair, 1931.  Eugenicists put reproduction and marriage on the level of agriculture and sought to manage human beings like a farm.  Better Baby contests began at the Iowa State Fair in 1911.)


Euthanasia was one component of eugenics.  Alongside the “positive eugenics” campaign for “Better Babies and Fitter Families,” “negative eugenics” partly revolved around the controversial view that infants born with severe disabilities should be left to die or killed outright.  In 1915, a case in Chicago plunged Americans into a heated debate about medical ethics.

That November, Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, chief surgeon at the German-American Hospital in Chicago, was faced with a tough dilemma.  A woman named Anna Bollinger had just given birth to a child, John, who suffered from severe birth defects.  John had no neck or right ear and suffered from a serious skin ailment, all judged to be the result of syphilis likely passed on by his father. Dr. Haiselden knew that he could save the child’s life through a surgical procedure.  But since he was familiar with the conditions into which Illinois’ “feeble-minded” were thrown after birth, he convinced the child’s parents to let John die at the hospital.  When the news came out that the doctor wasn’t going to perform the necessary surgery, an unknown person tried to kidnap the child and take it to another hospital.  The kidnapping attempt failed and John Bollinger died.


South Bend News-Times, November 18, 1915

(The South Bend News-Times called “Baby Bollinger” a martyr, but later carried advertisements for the doctor’s film.)


While the Catholic Church, one of the few vocal critics of eugenics, was the only major group to initially protest the surgeon’s decision, Haiselden was soon called before a medical ethics board in Chicago. He nearly lost his medical license, but managed to hang onto it.  Public opinion was sharply divided.  Chicago social worker and suffragette Jane Addams came out against Haiselden.  Short of the death penalty for murder, Addams said, no doctor had the right to be an unwilling person’s executioner.  “It is not for me to decide whether a child should be put to death. If it is a defective, it should be treated as such, and be taught all it can learn,” she added.

Many of Haiselden’s critics, such as Addams, pointed out that if eugenicists had had their way, they would have killed some of the great “defectives” in history, like Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevksy, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, children’s writer Edward Lear, and even the eugenicist Harry Laughlin himself — all of them epileptics.  (Biologist Laughlin, Superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor and one of the science’s greatest advocates, had suffered from epilepsy since childhood.)

Support for Dr. Haiselden, however, came from many famous social activists.  Among them was Helen Keller — advocate for the disabled, a Socialist, and a eugenics supporter (at least in 1915.) Keller, who was blind and deaf since the age of one but thrived against all odds, published her views on the Haiselden case in The New Republic. She thought that children proven to be “idiots” by a “jury of expert physicians” could and perhaps should be put to death. (Keller was an amazing woman, but it’s hard not to view her trust in the opinions of “unprejudiced” medical “experts” as naive.) Chicago lawyer and civil liberties crusader Clarence Darrow — who famously went up against eugenics critic William Jennings Bryan at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial — made no bones about his support for the surgeon: “Chloroform unfit children,” Darrow said.  “Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.” Indiana Socialist Eugene V. Debs also supported Haiselden’s decision.


Clarence Darrow    Helen Keller
(Clarence Darrow and Helen Keller supported Haiselden.)


Harry Haiselden held onto his job, but bolstered his position and kept the firestorm of public discussion brewing by starring as himself in a silent film based on the Bollinger case.  The Black Stork was produced with the help of William Randolph Heart’s International Film Service. Scriptwriter Jack Lait would go on to edit the New York Daily Mirror and write several plays and novels.

The Black Stork came to hundreds of American theaters, including many Hoosier ones.  Because public health workers and eugenicists often gave admonitory lectures before and after the movie, separate showings were offered for men and women.  Young children weren’t allowed to attend, but a South Carolina minister encouraged parents to bring their teenage children — so they could see what might come from sexual promiscuity, criminality, drinking and “race mixing.”  Some theater bills added the catchy subtitle: “The Scourge of Humanity.”


South Bend News-Times, November 9, 1917

(The Black Stork enjoyed several screenings at the Oliver Theater in South Bend.  South Bend News-Times, November 9, 1917.)


The movie’s plot was partly fictional and not entirely based on the 1915 Bollinger euthanasia case.  The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette gave its readers the basic story line, which came with an interesting twist near the end:

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 12, 1917 (1)The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 12, 1917 (2)

(The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 12, 1917.)


The “taint of the Black Stork” was obviously bad genes and heritable diseases. Haiselden’s silent film has been called one of the earliest horror movies, though its promoters billed it as educational and even romantic in nature. It fueled the eugenics movement’s fear campaign about defectives but also tackled an ethical dilemma that’s still alive today:  is it ever humane to kill a person without their permission, on the grounds that the victim is doomed to live a miserable life and be only a “burden on society”?


The Black Stork 5


Since American eugenics was definitely supported by known racists and would later be directly cited by the Nazis as inspiration for their bogus “racial science,” it’s uncomfortable to look deeper into it and realize how much turf it shares with Progressivists’ real concern for the treatment of the poor — and of mothers, some of whom would have been forced to raise severely disabled children.  The problem is that some Americans thought the best way to eradicate poverty and disease was to eradicate the poor themselves by restricting their right to pass on the human “germ plasm” to the next generation.  Eugenics and even euthanasia became, for some, a way to avoid social reforms.  “Nurture vs. nature” lost out to inescapable hereditary destiny.

The Black Stork’s title was eventually changed to Are You Fit To Marry?  It ran in theaters and roadshows well into the Roaring Twenties.  It’s hard to believe that eugenicists begged Americans to ask themselves honestly if they were “fit to marry.”  One wonders how many Americans voluntarily abstained from having children after deeming themselves “unfit”?

Ads show that the film was screened at at least three theaters in Indianapolis (including English’s Theatre on Monument Circle) as well as at movie halls in Fort Wayne, East Chicago, Whiting, Hammond, Evansville, Richmond and probably many other Hoosier towns.


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1920

(The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1920.)


The Black Stork 6


The “eugenics photo-drama” reminded Americans of the dangers that bad heredity posed not only to their own families, but to the nation.  When The Black Stork showed in Elyria, Ohio, just a few months into America’s involvement in World War I, it clearly drew from the well of fear-mongering that linked crime and disease to alcohol, immigration, prostitution and rumors about German traitors and saboteurs — all clear threats to Anglo-Saxon ideals. Eugenics and euthanasia, by “saving our nation from misery and decay,” clearly got hitched to the wagon of nationalist politics. Viewing The Black Stork, like supporting the war effort, became “a solemn duty.”


The Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), December 17, 1917

(The Chronicle-Telegram, Elyria, Ohio, December 17, 1917.)


German scientists were promoting “racial hygiene” long before the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.  Fascism’s scientists and propagandists would also draw heavily on the work of British and American eugenicists — and point out laws like Indiana’s when opponents criticized them.  Racial Hygiene, in fact, was the title of an influential textbook by Hoosier doctor Thurman B. Rice, a professor at IU-Bloomington, a colleague of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and one of the founders of IU Medical School in Indianapolis.  In April 1929, Rice wrote an editorial in the Indiana State Board of Health’s monthly bulletin, entitled “If I Were Mussolini,” where he supported compulsory sterilization of “defectives.”


Thurman B. Rice 2

(“If I Were Mussolini,” Monthly Bulletin of the Indiana State Board of Health, April 1929.)


The Black Stork wasn’t the last film about euthanasia and eugenics. In 1941, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, commissioned one of the classics of Nazi cinema, Ich klage an (I Accuse).  The plot revolves around a husband who learns that his wife has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  He gives her a drug that causes her death, then undergoes a trial for murder.  The film’s producers argued that death was not only a right but a social duty.  A tearjerker, Ich klage an was created to soften up the German public for the Nazis’ T4 euthanasia campaign, which led to the deaths of as many as 200,000 adults and children deemed a burden to the nation. (There’s some further irony that Ich klage an’s cinematic parent, The Black Stork, was based on events at Chicago’s German-American Hospital.)

The charms of eugenics bewitched Americans and Europeans for a few more decades after the Bollinger case. British writer G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic convert and a fierce opponent of eugenics, probably deserves the last word here. Chesterton called eugenics “terrorism by tenth-rate professors.”


Chesterton at Notre Dame, 1930

(G.K. Chesterton in South Bend, Indiana, October 1930, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame.  Dr. Harry Haiselden himself once gave an address to South Bend’s Fork and Knife Club in May 1916.)


In his 1922 book Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State, Chesterton quipped that society has never really had all that much to fear from the “feeble-minded.” Rather, it’s the “strong-minded” who hurt society the most.  Tearing into eugenics advocates in Britain, Germany and America, Chesterton spotlighted their frequent class prejudices — then skewered them brilliantly:

Why do not the promoters of the Feeble-Minded Bill call at the many grand houses in town and country where such nightmares notoriously are?  Why do they not knock at the door and take the bad squire away?  Why do they not ring the bell and remove the dipsomaniac prize-fighter?  I do not know;  and there is only one reason I can think of, which must remain a matter of speculation. When I was at school, the kind of boy who liked teasing half-wits was not the sort that stood up to bullies.

Dr. Harry J. Haiselden was involved in the deaths of at least three more disabled infants.  He died of a cerebral hemorrhage while on vacation in Havana, Cuba, in 1919.


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

The Rotgut Record

January 2, 1920 (2-2)

Digitized newspapers provide a rich boon to researchers on American medical history.  From quack medicine ads to stories about diseases, from under-appreciated tales of wartime doctors to a gory list of “1000 Ways to Die,” old papers are gold mines.

Alcohol, of course, is part of medical history.  Prohibition-era journalists were divided on whether America should turn off the tap.  Indiana was one of several states to preempt the Federal ban on booze. the Volstead Act of January 1920, which officially ushered in Prohibition nationwide.  As early as 1855, the Hoosier State tried out a liquor-ban.  That law was repealed in 1858.  Yet agitators kept on fighting against the bottle and the bier stein.  In 1918, Indiana officially went “dry” again.

Nineteenth-century Americans were far heavier drinkers than today, and alcohol percentages tended to be higher.  On-the-job drinking was allowed, sometimes even encouraged.  Prohibitionists might seem prim today, but attempts to abolish beer and liquor were often tied to some real public health concerns.  “Liberal” and “conservative” politics have changed over the last century.  Many, perhaps most, anti-alcohol crusaders were progressivists who also spearheaded the movement for women’s rights and child labor reform — and whose public health campaigns were frequently inspired by religious belief.  Patriot Phalanx, a Prohibition Party newspaper started by Quaker Sylvester Johnson in Indianapolis,  was a prominent mouthpiece.


Beer suicide

(Singer and comedian Ernie Hare wasn’t happy about beer’s demise.)


Unfortunately, shutting down saloons, etc., often had as much to do with racial, ethnic, and religious tension as it did with health concerns, and the whole law was primarily directed at the poor.  Indiana’s powerful Ku Klux Klan was, at least officially, anti-liquor — partly because of booze’s association with German and Irish Catholics, whose leader at the Vatican the Hoosier KKK was virtually at war with during the 1920s, over issues like public schools.  And the urban poor were very often Catholic.

One of the real perils of Prohibition was this:  heavy drinkers and alcoholics still had a huge thirst to quench.  Chronic tipplers had a few legal sources, like medicinal alcohol — and communion wine.  Yet they often had fatal recourse to intoxicating liquids that nobody, of course, would normally drink.  A fascinating if sober aspect of Prohibition lies in the story of the “beverages” they sometimes resorted to.

“Rotgut,” cheap, low-quality, potentially toxic liquor, was a common news headline even before 1920.

Wood Alcohol

The “detox” problem — how to help out alcoholics — must have crossed the minds of Prohibitionists.  But where alcohol was banned, death began to follow in its wake.  And toxic liquor had become a global problem.

In 1914, Tsarist Russia banned the sale of alcohol except in restaurants, partly as a war measure to keep soldiers from getting drunk.  Throughout the Russian Revolution — until 1924, in fact — the ban survived.  But Russians’ sudden inability to get their famous national drink, vodka, led to many deaths.  The Jasper Weekly Courier reprinted a litany of shocking tales about the lengths to which Russians would go to get a stiff drink during World War I.  Forlorn men turned to guzzling perfume, cologne, khanza (red pepper mixed with spices and wood alcohol), and kvasok (a concoction of cider, yeast, wild hops, and snuff).  Kvasok, incidentally, is the Czech word for “sourdough.”


Jasper Weekly Courier, September 3, 1915

(Jasper Weekly Courier, September 3, 1915)


American newspapers had been advertising the dangers of wood alcohol for years.  Called methanol by chemists (not to be confused with methamphetamine), wood alcohol traditionally was produced like other spirits, through distillation.  Ancient Egyptians had figured out the process and often used the resulting spirit — called the “simplest alcohol” — in embalming the dead.  In the West, methanol was employed in a variety of industrial and other trades as a cleaner, in photography studios, and in tin and brass works.  Around 1914, barbers were using it in a lotion called bay rum.  Baltimore physician Dr. Leonard K. Hirshberg warned Americans that year about the danger of their barber causing them to lose their eyesight, since imbibing or inhaling wood alcohol could lead to blindness, even death.


Wood alcohol -- Indianapolis Star, October 19, 1914

(Indianapolis Star, October 19, 1914)


Industrially, methanol is used as a feedstock in making other chemicals.  Changed into formaldehyde, it is converted for products as diverse as paints, plastics, explosives, deicing fluid for airplanes, and copy-machine fluid.  As the automobile age dawned, methanol came to be a component of antifreeze.  Doctors as well as newspaper reporters were keen on reminding drivers and mechanics that too much exposure to the chemical, whether through breathing or touching, could cause blindness or worse.  At the time Dr. Hirshberg was writing, there was probably a lot of wood alcohol around Indianapolis and South Bend, pioneer towns of the auto industry.  Today, methanol is used as fuel in dirt trucks and Monster trucks.  It’s also the required fuel of all race cars at the Indianapolis 500, adopted as a safety feature after a deadly crash and explosion at the Hoosier track in 1964.

You can imagine the perils of chugging the stuff.  Yet back in 1903, a couple in Columbus, Indiana, drank a deadly wood alcohol toddy, either by accident or through fatal ignorance of its effects.  A year later, three artillerymen, thinking wood alcohol was a joke, died at Fort Terry in New London, Connecticut.  In Philadelphia, the proprietor of a hat-cleaning shop who used the liquid in his trade had to mix red dye in it to try to deter his employees from stealing and drinking the stuff out back.  The trick didn’t work, and he claimed “they’re used to it” now.  Suicides found it handy, too — like an 18-year-old girl in South Bend who fell in love with a high school teacher.


Wood Alcohol -- Indianapolis Star, November 12, 1910(Indianapolis Star, November 12, 1910)


Some people said that refined wood alcohol smelled like old Kentucky rye.  The toxic effects usually took a few hours to kick in, so group deaths often occurred after bottles of it were passed around among chums having a “drink orgy.”

After Congress passed the Volstead Act on January 17, 1920, the news was soon full of stories about desperate attempts to quench the literally killing thirst — and of unscrupulous efforts to profit off drinkers’ desperation.

A Brooklyn undertaker, John Romanelli, and four other men were indicted in 1920 on charges on selling wood alcohol mixed with “water, burned sugar and flavoring extracts.”   They had sold the batch for $23,000 and the resultant “whiskey” caused “scores of deaths” in New England around Christmas-time and New Years’.  In St. Paul, Minnesota, in March 1920, nine imbibers died in a 24-hour period.

Just two weeks before the new law went into effect, a Gary, Indiana, woman, Ella Curza, got a 60-day prison sentence and a $50 fine for possession of eighteen bottles of wood alcohol that she was allegedly peddling as an intoxicant.  Hammond’s Lake County Times was already covering glimmers of the story — including the sale of methanol cocktails to unwitting men and U.S. soldiers stationed in Gary during the 1919 national steel strike.


January 2, 1920

(Lake County Times, Hammond, Indiana, January 2, 1920)


January 3, 1920 (6)(Lake County Times, January 3, 1920)


By 1922, with the crackdown on hootch in full swing, the editors of the South Bend News-Times — a liberal-minded paper — issued figures on the estimated toll of wood spirits.  “Wood alcohol is now killing 260 and blinding 44 Americans a year… In Pennsylvania the known deaths due to wood alcohol poisoning last year totaled 61… Including unreported cases, wood alcohol’s death toll probably exceeds 1,500 a year.”


Wood Alcohol -- South Bend News-Times, August 29, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 29, 1922)


In New York, in the first six months of 1922 alone, 130 deaths and 22 cases of blindness were reported, a figure some officials thought “incomplete.”

Future Hollywood comedic actor Charles Butterworth, who was a reporter in his hometown of South Bend in 1922, penned a story about a certain medical claim:  that alcohol-related deaths were actually higher after the Volstead Act came into effect than before.  The St. Joseph County Coroner, Dr. C.L. Crumpacker, and other local medical men thought this statement was preposterous, however:


Wood Alcohol -- South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1922

Wood Alcohol -- South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1922 (2)

(South Bend News Times, July 2, 1922)


Prohibition clearly failed and would be lifted by Franklin Roosevelt in December 1933.  Yet as one latter-day journalist, Pulitzer Prize-winner Deborah Blum, has discovered, the U.S. government — faced with the continuing thirst that led some Americans to crime and the more ignorant to varnish and perfume — decided to try out a different tactic.

Just before Christmas 1926, Federal agents deliberately began poisoning alcohols typically utilized by bootleggers.  In an attempt to deter the public — even scare them into staying dry — the Feds essentially turned almost all alcohol into undrinkable “industrial” alcohol.  Bootleggers tried to re-distill what the government had actively poisoned, which led to the deaths of (by some estimates) 10,000 people, deaths indirectly caused by the government’s “poisoning program.”

Blum, who has taught journalism at MIT and the University of Wisconsin and is a columnist for the New York Times, is no conspiracy theorist.  This is real history.   In 2010, Blum authored The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York — a book made into a PBS/American Experience documentary in 2014.


PBS(Courtesy Penguin Books/PBS.)


Lake County Times, January 15, 1920(Lake County Times, January 15, 1920)

The Swimsuit Civil War

South Bend News Times June 15 1914

Summer heat wave?  One-hundred and one years ago in the Windy City, you’d have to tough it out, ladies — wind or no wind.  Because you’re living in “the most  censored city in the United States.”

Actually, while Chicago, Illinois, pioneered many forms of public censorship — legislators there passed the first movie censorship law in America in 1907 — the swimsuit civil war was a widespread American phenomenon.  Yet even as newspapers like the Chicago Daily Tribune protested wartime censorship in Parisonly French over the phone, s’il vous plait! (the paper called this “a form of censorship that was hard on Americans”) — as well as government ownership of telegraph wires in the United States, police officers on Chicago’s Lake Michigan beaches were on the prowl.

This newspaper clip appeared on June 15, 1914, in the South Bend News-Times in South Bend, Indiana.  It referred to a new “Paris bathing suit” that had been called immodest over in Chicago.  Police officers were enforcing strict codes on the length of skirts allowed on Chicago public beaches.  Obviously these fashions are hardly risqué to us today.  It also seems like the Hoosier paper, by boldly publishing an image of the offending bathing suit on page 2, had different views altogether about ladies’ swimwear from the folks in charge over in the big city.

As Ragtime fashion took hold, America’s testy swimwear situation continued well into the 1920s.  Yet it’s an interesting fact that many officers who served in urban swimwear patrols were women.  This fabulous photo, taken on a Chicago beach in April 1922, speaks volumes about the complex fashion dilemmas that have always caused an uproar in America.  The figure in the straw hat, wearing pants and a jacket and hauling off two offending bathers, is a woman.  A generation earlier, in such an outfit, she herself might have been hauled off as a public offender and a threat to decency:


Swimwear Civil War -- Chicago 1920s

(Mashable: 1920s: The Swimwear Police)


The South Bend News-Times was a fairly modern paper.  Its editors had a great sense of humor, and as they followed the fashion trends of the World War I era into the Jazz Age, they often took the side of the “modern girl.”   Though the late Victorian Age — and what Mark Twain satirized as the Gilded Age, a time period he thought incredibly corrupt — could be far racier than it usually gets credit for, the News-Times offers some pretty good documentation of American public opinion as social mores began to change faster than ever.

The News-Times stands out for one other reason:  it had a regular women’s page and was one of the first Hoosier newspapers to publish an abundance of photographs — a tactic largely intended to drive up sales.  (The News-Times often struggled to stay in business and folded for good in 1938.)

On August 15, 1920, in the section “Camera News,” the editors printed this photo of San Francisco police “claiming war” on the one-piece bathing suit out West.  “The girls insist that they are both sensible and artistic,” the caption read, “but the police are hard-hearted.”  It’s hard not to believe the editors in South Bend sided with the bathers.


SB News Times - Camera News - August 15, 1920

(South Bend News-Times, August 15, 1920)


Back in 1913, the News-Times published a photo of Mrs. Charles Lanning of Burlington, New Jersey.  This case was more sobering.

In September 1913, Lanning was beaten by a mob on the Jersey Shore for wearing a “short vivid purple affair.”  The caption reads: “An extreme slit on one side of the skirt is what started the trouble.”  The New York Times carried the further information that Mrs. Lanning, who was married to a hotel proprietor, “was beset by 200 men at Atlantic City.”  Lifeguards managed to break through the crowd and get her away from the “rowdies” who had pelted her unconscious with sand and apparently with their fists, too.  The crowd then followed her to the hospital “to get another glimpse at the suit.”  When she got out of the hospital, some of her assailants were still standing there and Mrs. Lanning fainted.


SB News Times - September 12, 1913

(Mrs. Charles Lanning was assaulted on the Jersey Shore in 1913. South Bend News-Times, September 12, 1913)


American bathing suit ordinances, of course, met plenty of resistance.  In March 1922, Norma Mayo, a 17-year-old girl living on Long Island, was already getting ready to  commit civil disobedience the next summer against a New York judge, who had barely let her off the hook the previous summer for wearing an illegal swimsuit on the beach.  Fittingly, the Norma Mayo clip appeared right next to an article about Mohandas Gandhi, “chief leader of the Indian non-conformists” against British control of his country.


SB News Times - March 19, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, March 19, 1922.)


Here’s a few more colorful stories from the annals of Hoosier State Chronicles about the Battle of the Beaches.  Enjoy.   And remember, suits may be getting smaller, but we’re a-growin’.

Woman’s Sports Change Fashion” (December 4, 1921)

Statuesque Dancer Won Health By Dancing in Bathing Suit on Shore” (November 27, 1921)

Hawaiian Solons Debate Bathing Suit Legislation” (May 1, 1921)

With Hands and Feet Bound She Swam 600 Yards Across a River” (August 11, 1913)

Whether There Shall Be A Double Standard of Bathing Suits. . .” I’ll (July 29, 1913)


SB News Times - September 7 1921(South Bend News-Times, September 7, 1921)


John Dillinger -- Bathing Suits - 1934

Betty Nelson and Rosella Nelson, dressed in bathing suits, view the body of Indianapolis gangster John Dillinger, aged 32, at the Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois.  Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, July 22, 1934 — the height of the summer bathing season.  (Chicago Tribune historical photo.)

OK, now TAKE TWO:

John Dillinger -- Bathing Suits - 1934 (2)

(Chicago Tribune historical photo.)


Bathing Beauty - UNT

(She likes newspapers!  University of North Texas Libraries/Austin Public Library.)

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

“Green to be Conspicuous”: Celebrating the Irish in Hoosier Newspapers, 1837-1922

notre dame civil war rev pp cooney

Hoosier State Chronicles honors St. Patrick’s Day with this toast to the “sons and daughters of Erin.”

One of the earliest newspaper references to Hoosiers celebrating Ireland and its patron saint appeared on April 1, 1837, in the Vincennes Western Sun.  On March 17, a “large company” got together at “Mr. Jewel’s Ball Room” in Vincennes.  A writer (probably not the paper’s publisher Elihu Stout, who was notoriously pro-slavery and anti-immigrant), wrote that “The utmost harmony and good feeling prevailed;  Irishmen, descendants of Irishmen, persons from different nations and all parties, united to do honor to the Illustrious Bishop and Saint of the Emerald Isle.”

A list of toasts drunk in Ireland’s honor took up about half of the front page of the Western Sun that April 1.   One toast reads touchingly:  to “Ireland, the Land of Love and Beauty.”

In the spirit of republicanism, Patrick Doran, who had immigrated from Ireland to Boston in 1799 at age fifteen and moved to Vincennes in 1836, just a year before he served as toastmaster at Jewel’s Ball Room, offered a tribute to “The human family.  No distinction on account of clime or soil.”

Though anti-Catholic feeling in America was strong, hostility was less in Vincennes, an old French town and the cradle of Catholicism in Indiana.  The Vincennes group toasted Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell, father of Catholic Emancipation, which restored civil rights to Catholics in Britain and Ireland.  “May his efforts to throw off the galling yoke of Britain be so crowned with success, that the sight of an English hireling may be as rare as that of the Snake or Toad in our favored land.”

VWS 1837-04-01 St Patricks Day Toasts (5)

For all their occasional hypocrisy regarding slavery in the U.S. itself, early Indiana papers almost always took the side of oppressed nations, especially if they were fighting against Great Britain.  Ireland’s long struggle for independence, accomplished only in 1921, was one of the major subjects in American newspapers in the 1800s.  Hoosier papers, such as the Indiana State Sentinel and the Evansville Daily Journal, enthusiastically supported the idealistic and underequipped Irish revolutionaries who launched rebellion after rebellion against Britain, including a major one in 1848.

When the Famine struck Ireland in the mid-1840s, and starvation and emigration cut its population in half, the U.S. began to teem with emigrants and exiled revolutionaries fleeing death and persecution in the Emerald Isle.  Hoosier papers were naturally drawn into the hot political debates surrounding Ireland’s fate and the great Irish exodus to America.

Indiana was a top destination for the Irish in the 1830s and ’40s.  One of the major engineering projects of the day, the construction of the Wabash & Erie Canal, which promised to link Evansville to Lake Erie, required an enormous amount of labor.  Thousands of Irish workers dug miles of canal ditches through pestilential marshes and helped drain off ancient wetlands, drastically altering the Hoosier landscape.  The Indiana Journal and other papers drew Irish workers here with advertisements of wages and cheap land.

2000 laborers wanted 2

Often paid in whiskey, Irish laborers frequently succumbed to alcoholism, yellow fever, and malaria along the disease-ridden canal.  Scottish foremen called “jiggers” often dispensed whiskey in ladles from buckets — perhaps not an altogether bad health move, since whiskey, unlike water, was distilled and not so laden with bacteria.  Its long-term effects, however, were of course deadly.

Irish laborers brought some Old World rivalries to America, leading to the little-known “Indiana Irish Wars” of the mid-1830s.  Gangs that probably had their roots in longstanding disputes back in Ireland divided off into “Corkonians” and “Fardowns.” Fights erupted that threatened to destroy the canal.  The Hoosier “Irish wars” took place mostly around Logansport and Lagro in northern Indiana.

Irish workers eventually saw the result of their backbreaking work abandoned after just a couple of decades, as railroads eclipsed the canal and turned it into a worthless ditch not long after the end of the Civil War.


canal ruins riley in

(Wabash & Erie Canal ruins near Riley in Vigo County.   Photo by www.americancanals.org.)


In a lecture in 1890, Indiana State Geologist John Collett shared a fascinating anecdote from natural history that he had learned from the surveyor Perrin Kent.  Kent helped lay out part of the Wabash & Erie Canal near Williamsport in Warren County in the 1830s.  As the he told Collett, during the heyday of canal construction he ran across some “Irishmen working in the swamp” along the Wabash River.  The Irish had discovered the fossilized bones of a mastodon.  The surveyor watched as they “extracted the marrow, which had changed to adipocere”  — “grave wax” formed from fatty tissues — and used it as grease for their boots.  Perhaps the Irish had been doing this for generations with bones found in the rural peat bogs of Ireland.  (Before 1883, there used to be a cranberry marsh in Medina Township, Warren County, where settlers harvested cranberries before the swamp was drained.  From 1957 to 1972, the Milburn Peat Company of Chicago harvested peat from what was left of the old cranberry bog.)

At a time when a major American political party, the “Know-Nothings,” thrived on anti-immigrant attitudes, some Hoosiers were openly against the Irish influx.  Yet nativism was never as bad here as in the East Coast cities, where ethnic riots often broke out. (One of the worst was the bloody 1849 Astor Place Riot in New York City, sparked by a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.)  Though the Know-Nothings were the most outspoken opponents of non-Anglo-Saxon immigration, the Whig Party, which disappeared from American politics during the 1860s, was often notoriously “nativist.”

The Indiana State Sentinel, published in Indianapolis, often called the Whigs out for their anti-Irish attitudes.  The paper lampooned Indianapolis resident Nicholas McCarty, failed Whig candidate for Congress in 1847 and for Governor of Indiana in 1852, for changing his mind on immigration, allegedly to curry votes.  The State Sentinel satirized McCarty on July 15, 1847, in an article called “Quite Altered.”

indiana state sentinel -- july 15 1847

Antebellum Midwestern papers, frequently run by European political refugees, were huge supporters of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, which tried to topple the old monarchies.  “Young Ireland” was a major revolutionary movement led in part by a man who later played a critical role in the American Civil War.

Thomas Francis Meagher, best known in the U.S. as the commander of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade (decimated at Antietam and Gettysburg), was one of the world’s most famous revolutionaries in 1848.  Born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1823, Meagher came from the oppressed Catholic majority.  Educated by Jesuits in England, where he learned to speak with an upperclass English accent that his supporters sometimes hated him for, Meagher almost entered the Austrian army but got involved in Irish politics during the dark days of the Famine.  As one of the leaders of the failed 1848 rebellion, he was nearly sentenced to death by a judge, but received a mercy verdict and was deported for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), at that time a British penal colony at the far end of the world.


thomas_francis_magher

(Meagher, deported from Ireland to Tasmania, escaped to America and came to Indiana in 1852 and 1858.)


Papers in Indiana and Ohio avidly followed Meagher’s fate and were thrilled to report in early 1852 that he had escaped from Tasmania on an American whaling vessel and made a surprise appearance in New York City that May.  On June 3, the Indiana Legislature gathered in a committee of “friends of Ireland” headed by James Henry Lane of Lawrenceburg.  (Lane soon became the fiery U.S. Senator from Kansas and one of the major fighters in the guerrilla warfare that laid “Bleeding Kansas” waste from 1854 to 1861.)  “Jim” Lane’s committee invited Meagher to Indiana and resolved to show solidarity with “the glorious cause for which he was branded and exiled as a felon.”  A public letter from Hoosier legislators addressed to the Irish rebel in New York proclaimed “We love Ireland” and congratulates him on his “almost miraculous escape from the myrmidons of British oppression.”

Meagher came west in 1852, but didn’t make it to Indianapolis.  He may have stopped in Evansville, since he was in Louisville on December 20 and left for St. Louis on the steamboat Pike the next day.  Meagher made another trip to the Midwest in 1858.  At 8 o’clock at night on February 19, he gave a speech at the Universalist Church in Terre Haute.  His subject:  “St. Patrick’s Day and National Anniversaries.”  Admission to hear the famous Irish patriot was 25 cents. (The Universalist Church once sat at the corner of 4th & Ohio Streets near the old Vigo County Courthouse. )  Sadly, no transcript or any further mention of Meagher’s talk was published in Terre Haute papers.


tf meager - terre haute daily union 18 feb 1858 (2)

(Terre Haute Daily Union, February 18, 1858.)


Meagher became an American citizen and went on to become the editor of two anti-British newspapers in New York City:  the weekly Irish News and (with fellow rebel John Mitchel, who supported the Confederacy) the Citizen.  He went to Costa Rica just before the Civil War to explore the possibility of Irish immigration there.  Though he had previously supported the South, in 1861 Meagher helped recruit the 69th New York Regiment, the core of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade, a fighting body made up mostly but not entirely of Irish volunteers.  Under Brigadier General Meagher’s command, the Irish Brigade bore the brunt of fighting along Bloody Lane at Antietam and was almost entirely wiped out at Gettysburg.  Today, a huge monument to Meagher and the Irish volunteers — most of whom were from New York but with many Hoosiers among them — stands next to the lookout tower on the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Meagher survived the war, went west as Territorial Governor of Montana, and drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton in 1867 when he fell off a steamboat.


thomas francis meagher

(Rebel Thomas F. Meagher was leader of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade.)

69 new york infantry fort corcoran 1861

(A Catholic priest leads a prayer with the 69th New York at Fort Corcoran in northern Virginia in 1861.)


One of the notable “Hoosier Irish” who served with distinction in the Civil War was Father William Corby (1833-1897), a Holy Cross priest from Notre Dame and an army chaplain attached to the Irish Brigade.  Before the mostly Catholic Irish brigade went into battle on the second day of Gettysburg, Corby famously gave the unit absolution from their sins.  Pictured here in 1862 with two other priests who served in the Union Army, Corby went on to become the president of the University of Notre Dame and wrote a bestselling memoir of his experiences in the war.


corby 2

(Father William Corby of Notre Dame, seated at right, with two other priests [seated center and standing left], in 1862.)


corby news times

(A tribute to Corby appeared in the South Bend News-Times on the fifty-ninth anniversary of Gettysburg in 1922.)


The Hoosier State had an “Irish Regiment” of its own.  Father Peter P. Cooney, born in County Roscommon, Ireland, and a priest at Notre Dame, was with the 35th Indiana Infantry as it went into Georgia with Sherman.  Father Cooney was featured in a report on the Atlanta campaign published in the Daily State Sentinel on August 27, 1864.

For all their occasional hostility to the Irish (who were frequently considered an “inferior race” in the nineteenth century), American papers often celebrated Irish wit and humor.  In 1883, the Jasper Weekly Courier printed a tale about an elderly Irish woman who showed up at a railroad station just a few seconds too late.  Trying to sprint down the platform to catch her train, “she of course came to a halt, when she began to abuse the unaccommodating engine, adding with a ‘nate’ brogue: ‘Faugh! The great black ugly lump!  When she gets as old as me, she won’t run so quick!”

One more interesting story that made it into the papers is worth  sharing.  On St. Patrick’s “Eve”, 1892, sky watchers saw a strange event in several parts of the Midwest.

On March 18, the Indianapolis Journal reported the remarkable atmospheric occurrence.  A white cross was hovering around the moon.

For two or three days, in parts of Illinois, the superstitious people have been brought almost to the verge of insanity by curious phenomenal displays that have found their way into the heavens without any apparent business there and without having, so it seems, been heralded by either the Weather Bureau or scientific gentlemen in general.  The phenomena has assumed various forms and to the different classes of people who have been sightseers has spoken a various language.

white cross - indianapolis journal 18 march 1892 2

During the past twenty-four hours the papers have contained dispatches from Bloomington and Springfield, Illinois, Fort Dodge, Iowa, and other cities, describing in hectic terms phantasmagoric spectacles seldom before seen except in “hyper-borean” regions.  If these dispatches are to be believed, in some cases the empyreal display has been cut bias, in others diagonal, and at all times conveying a mundane idea that the sprites of the heavens, robed in regal costumes of variegated colors, were enjoying a ball masque on the “milky way.”

It remained for Luna, however, to confer her choicest favor upon Indianapolis and vicinity upon St. Patrick’s night.  At 11:30 o’clock last night, when the moon was at her best, she appeared in the center of a perfectly formed and perfectly visible cross of milky whiteness.  This wonderful display was visible for about thirty minutes, when it gradually merged into a sort of a hazy pale.  Such a phenomenal display is attributed entirely to atmospheric conditions.  Why the moon should appear in the center of a cross on St. Patrick’s day, however, is something that the atmosphere does not explain.

If the cross had been green, the “Sons of Erin” would have had extra cause to “jollify”:

st patricks day 2

green to be conspicuous


debs

Volunteers at a  booth on Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute, Indiana, around 1922 support freeing Terre Haute native Eugene V. Debs from jail.  Five-time Socialist candidate for the U.S. presidency, Debs was imprisoned by the Wilson administration during World War I for opposing the military draft.  The sign reads “Ireland is Free — Why Not Debs?  Help Bring Debs Home for Christmas.”  (Martin Collection, Indiana Historical Society.)

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.

10,000 more pages of the South Bend News-Times added

We recently ingested another 10,000 pages of the South Bend News-Times from November 1919 through May 1921.  That brings our total to 1,930 issues, or 30,000 pages of the South Bend newspaper from 1913-1922.  Over the next two months, we’ll upload another 20,000 South Bend pages which will fill in the current gap from October 1915 to December 1917, and finish digitizing the title through 1922.

One story you can find in the recently uploaded pages is about the death of University of Notre Dame football legend George Gipp.

 

’60s African-American Newspaper To Be Digitized

The St. Joseph County Public Library and Indiana University at South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center recently received a LSTA grant from the Indiana State Library to create a digital St. Joseph County African American History Collection.

Among the items to be digitized are issues of the Reformer from 1967-71.  The Reformer documented South Bend’s African-American community at the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

You can read more about this story from the South Bend Tribune.