Friday, May 15, 2020

John Bartlow Martin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

On this day in 1944, the New York publishing firm Knopf released the first book by Hoosier author and noted reporter and political speechwriter John Bartlow Martin

The book, Call It North Country:The Story of Upper Michigan, received favorable reviews from the New York Times and such established midwestern periodicals as Minnesota History and the Wisconsin Magazine of History. Although it went out of print for a time, in October 1986 (the sesquicentennial of Michigan’s statehood) Wayne State University Press republished Call It North Country as part of its Great Lakes Books series, and it remains in print to this day.

In the summer of 1940 Martin, a former IndianapolisTimes reporter who had switched careers, making his living as a freelance writer in Chicago for true-crime magazines, pondered where he and his new wife, Fran, could travel for their honeymoon.

Since his boyhood in Indiana, Martin had sought relaxation through outdoor pursuits, continuing to do so as his writing career blossomed by retreating to rented cottages in northern Wisconsin on fishing expeditions. Convinced that Wisconsin had become “too civilized, too crowded with tourists, too organized,” he sought a more remote spot for time alone with his new bride. The couple decided to try Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a region that one writer described as “a wild and comparative Scandinavian tract—20,000 square miles of howling wilderness on the shores of Lake Superior.”

Although a relative newcomer, Martin, from the first, believed that he could write something about this wild country and its “magnificent waterfalls, great forests, high rough hills, long stretches of uninhabited country, abundant fish and game.” With the aid of a Chicago bookstore owner and a New York publisher, Martin, who had begun to break out of the true-crime field with “serious nonfiction” contributions to prestigious national magazine, saw his wish come to fruition with the publication on May 15, 1944, of Call It North Country.

Martin had been able to capture in his first book not only the region’s wild beauty, but the character of those who lived there—people “among the finest and friendliest on earth,” who, he said, “when they know you and like you, there is absolutely nothing they will not do for you. But this takes time, you must not push, they have to find out about you.”

During the summer of 1943, Martin, assisted by Fran, drove to the Upper Peninsula to conduct research, visiting the Marquette County Historical Society, consulting newspaper clipping files, reading books, and interviewing a number of people in the region’s logging and mining communities—lumberjacks, miners, trappers, newspapermen, saloonkeepers, local historians, police officers, shop owners, retired prostitutes, game wardens, and plain citizens, “some of them,” Martin noted, “old-timers with long memories.”

Martin realized that his work on the Upper Peninsula could be what came to later be known as social history, as it portrayed “how the American people talked, worked, and behaved.” The stories he garnered from the people he interviewed were important because nearly everybody whose recollections of the old days were “entombed” in the book were themselves entombed not long afterwards. “It wasn’t a bad idea to get them down on paper for our children,” Martin said.

With assistance from Fran, Martin spent hours reviewing proofs sent to them by the Knopf publishing firm. “Proofreading,” he wrote a friend, “is a job unfit for human consumption. I had no idea it was a big a job as it is.” The couple was also responsible for preparing the book’s index. “God! Publishers certainly get their thousand dollars worth,” Martin joked about the advance he had received from Knopf.

Martin did note that an author seeing his first book in type “probably is a kick never repeated. You sign a contract then go out and do a lot of legwork then type page after page of copy and send it in—and then nothing happens, and you begin to wonder if maybe you weren’t just sort of making it up. Then along come the proofs and bang—it’s really going to be a book after all.”

Call It North Country, which had a second printing by Knopf in July 1944, sold well for a regional book, approximately ten thousand copies, Martin estimated, and received solid reviews from major newspapers in New York and Chicago.

Martin was most pleased, however, by the book’s acceptance by the people it described and its longevity. On his many trips to the Upper Peninsula, Martin often came across old copies of his book in other people’s houses or on bookshelves in camps. These were copies that had been “almost read literally to pieces, their spines cracked, pages loose, pages pencil-marked and with coffee spilled on them, books that have really been read. That is the readership an author appreciates.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Other Hoosier Poet: William Herschell

Upon awaking one day in May 1919 at his home at 958 Tecumseh Place near Woodruff Place in Indianapolis, a longtime feature reporter for the Indianapolis News, William Herschell, trudged wearily to breakfast. Turning to his wife, Josephine, the journalist complained that he had no idea what to write about for that day’s issue.

Unsure of what to do, Herschell picked up his typewriter and traveled out of town, finally ending his sojourn in the countryside at Brandywine Creek in Greenfield, Indiana. At the creek he spied an older man fishing while sitting on a log. When the reporter commented on the area’s beauty, the fisherman responded, “I can’t complain, after all God’s been pretty good to Indiana, ain’t he?”
The offhand remark on this lonely stretch of water inspired Herschell to write his masterpiece, “Ain’t God Good to Indiana?” The poem proved popular with not only with Hoosiers (the work is inscribed on a bronze plaque in the rotunda of the Indiana Statehouse), but with readers from around the country who clamored for copies. The demand grew so great that Herschell’s wife had to issue special printed facsimiles of the poem.

During his career at the News, which started in 1902 and ended with his death at age sixty-six in 1939, Herschell contributed countless poems and feature articles for the newspaper’s Saturday edition. In addition, his World War I song “Long Boy” contributed the doughboy refrain, “Goodbye Ma! Goodbye Pa! Goodbye mule with your old heehaw!” to the nation’s vocabulary. Herschell, a close companion of famed Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley, worked in a corner of the newspaper’s ninth floor that came to be known as the Idle Ward. Along with Herschell, other members of that delightful company included cartoonists Gaar Williams and Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, creator of the renowned cracker-barrel philosopher Abe Martin. The three men were all quite productive when it came to producing copy and illustrations, but they seemed idle to other newspaper employees because they always seemed to be able to find time to discuss and gossip about the issues of the day.
Born in Spencer, Indiana, on November 17, 1873, Herschell was the eldest of six children born to Scottish immigrants John and Martha (Leitch) Herschell. Trained as a blacksmith in his native Scotland, John worked for the Indianapolis and Vincennes Railroad and later served as foreman for a quarry near Spencer that supplied limestone for the state capitol in Indianapolis. One of William’s earliest memories involved his father sitting by lamplight to recite to his family the poems of Robert Burns. John’s work with the Evansville, Rockport, and Eastern Railroad took him and his family to a succession of communities in southwestern Indiana, including Rockport, Evansville, Huntingburg, and Princeton.
Although at best an unfocused student, Herschell did display some of the writing talent he later used during his newspaper career. While in the Huntingburg school system he was falsely accused of running away with the teacher’s pet dog. An unabashed Herschell penned the following in reply: “Teacher says I stole his dog / But why should I steal Jim, / When teachers with me all day long / And I can look at him?” Herschell’s talent for thumbing his nose at the school’s authorities proved to be his undoing.
As a seventh grader, Herschell, already a solid supporter of the Republican Party, played hooky from school to carry in a political parade a banner that proclaimed, “A Vote for [Grover] Cleveland Means Souphouses.”  The school’s principal found out about Herschell’s truancy—and political persuasion—and expelled him from school, noting, “Inasmuch as William Herschell had gone into politics he could not possibly wish further education.”
With the assistance of his father, Herschell found work as an apprentice railroad machinist. In 1894 when Eugene Debs’s American Railway Union told its members to refuse to handle Pullman cars in support of striking workers at the Pullman plants in Illinois, Herschell allied himself closely with the union cause. With the strike’s failure, Herschell found himself out of a job. Leaving the Hoosier State, Herschell toiled at a succession of jobs, including stints in Chicago, Buffalo, and Canada. Returning to the United States, he worked at an electric-light plant in North Tonawanda, New York. He eventually found his way back to his native state, where he worked as a night machinist for the Monon Railroad.
On a visit to his family in Princeton in 1896, Herschell met James McCormick, who just three years before had started the Princeton Evening News, an independent Republican Party daily. McCormick offered Herschell a job, telling him, “I’ll give you $9 a week, if you can get it.” Herschell did not discover what his editor had meant until the end of his first week at the newspaper. After everyone else on the paper had received his wages, there remained only four dollars left for Herschell.

Week after week there never seemed to be enough funds to pay Herschell his full salary. On one occasion, McCormick even had to borrow brown wrapping paper from a local butcher to publish his afternoon newspaper. An editorial dedicated the issue as “A Souvenir Edition to Our Creditors.” To supplement his meager income, Herschell served as the Princeton correspondent for several larger newspapers, including the Indianapolis News. Herschell sometimes used his money from other publications to buy enough newsprint for McCormick to print his paper.
Although McCormick and Herschell became close friends, the publisher did not stand in his protégé’s way when, in 1898, Herschell received a job offer from the Evansville Journal. Before Herschell left for his new duties, he found waiting for him in the newspaper’s editorial office a gold watch—a going-away present from McCormick. Later, Herschell dedicated his 1922 book Howdy All: And Other Care-Free Rhymes to McCormick, noting that the editor taught him it was “easier to swing a pencil than a hammer.”

A year after starting at the Evansville newspaper, Herschell left to join the staff of the Indianapolis Press as a police reporter. With the folding of the Press after only sixteen months, Herschell moved to the Terre Haute Tribune. He returned to Indianapolis in 1902 for a position with the Indianapolis Journal. Herschell’s work at the Journal soon caught the attention of Dick Herrick, secretary to Indianapolis News editor Hilton U.Brown. Herrick told his boss that Herschell was “full of fun, can write rhymes and can make the dullest story read like a novel. He belongs here and ought to make a top feature man.” Taking his secretary’s advice, Brown hired Herschell in April 1902, beginning the reporter’s thirty-seven-year association with the newspaper.
In his early years on the News, Herschell served as a police and court reporter and won the lasting respect of the Indianapolis police department. At slack times, members of the department and local media conducted mock trials at an old bicycle barn. Conducted by the newspapermen, these trials often concluded with the officers having to pay a cigar or two in fines. Herschell presided over the proceedings as judge. His wife, Josephine, who also worked at the News, noted that her husband acted like “a regular roughneck when he came home at night after hanging around the police station all day. But he changed a lot after he became a feature writer.” Josephine also noted that her husband used to jokingly scold a clock that he had been given as a boy, especially when he arrived home later than he had told her to expect him. “We had a lovely life together,” she said.
In 1911 News editor Richard Smith, impressed with Herschell’s poetry, assigned him to write poems and feature articles for the newspaper’s Saturday edition. Herschell’s poems about such staples of city life as policemen, firemen, street urchins, and other characters appeared in a series titled “Songs of the City Streets.” Later, his paeans to rural life were highlighted in the series “Ballads of the Byways.”

A fellow News employee noted that Herschell was a true democrat, a friend to everyone from bank presidents to truckers, and a person who could “rub elbows with prominent men at some important banquet, and the next day revel in a picnic at [Indianapolis’s] Douglass park.” The poetry Herschell wrote for the newspaper was collected and published in a number of books during his lifetime, including Songs of the Streets and Byways (1915), The Kid Has Gone to the Colors and Other Verse (1917), The Smile Bringer and Other Bits of Cheer (1919), Meet the Folks (1924), and Hitch and Come In (1928). A posthumous collection, Song of the Morning and Other Poems, which was put together by his widow, appeared in 1940.
Known simply as Bill to his friends inside and outside the newspaper, Herschell won the esteem of readers through his simple verses, flavored as they were with the dialect style pioneered so successfully by Riley. “There was no dullness where he was and there were no dead lines in what he wrote,” Brown said of Herschell, who became well known for his laugh, described by Brown as a “musical roar” and which “preceded him wherever he appeared.”

Profiling Herschell for a biographical pamphlet produced by the News in 1926, B. Wallace Lewis described him as looking “more like the manager of a successful retail store than a poet. He is big, with the kind of bigness that goes clear through. A round head, hair trimmed close, joins to a massive trunk with a powerful neck. The hands that once wielded a machinist’s hammer are strong and grip yours as if they meant it.” 
With America’s entry into World War I, the subject of Herschell’s writing began to turn more and more to wartime matters. He produced for the News such poems as “The Service Flag” and “The Kid Has Gone to the Colors.” His most successful effort, however, came after he spent time at Indianapolis’s Fort Benjamin Harrison, which then served as an officers’ training camp. Herschell became close friends with the camp’s commander, Major General Edwin F. Glenn. The two men often spent a part of each morning discussing news about the war and what was going on at the camp. During one meeting on May 18, 1917, Glenn asked Herschell to use his talents to write a war song. “These boys out here,” Glenn said, “are sick of singing about ‘Mother Dear’ and ‘Broken Hearts’ and ‘Gentle Eyes of Blue.’ Give us something that will keep down homesickness, the curse of an army camp.”

As he crossed the parade ground on his way to return to the office, Herschell spied a company of tall soldiers passing by, which gave him the inspiration to write about the army’s “long boys.” Driving back to downtown Indianapolis, he began to formulate the song’s words and sang them to News photographer Paul Schideler. Charles Dennis, who worked just a few desks down from Herschell at the newspaper, remembered the day the reporter came back from Fort Harrison to work on the song “with pursed lips and corrugated brow, his blue eyes in a fine frenzy rolling.”

After seeing Herschell finish his writing, Dennis slipped into a chair next to the poet to view and hear the result. “As he voiced the verses the workers in this hive of industry gathered about him,” said Dennis. “Other workers from various parts of the building came in. He was obliged to sing it over and over again and though his throat became raw and raucous he kept his good humor through seventeen recalls, and the curtain went down amid the most appreciative applause.”
The next day, Herschell submitted his work, titled “Long Boy,” for Glenn’s review. The general took an immediate liking to the song, especially the chorus line “I may not know what th’ war’s about, / But you bet, by gosh, I’ll soon find out.” Several members of Glenn’s staff also expressed their satisfaction with the song, and the general asked Herschell to find someone to set the words to music so his troops could sing it on parade.

Herschell responded by turning the lyrics over to Bradley Walker, an Indianapolis composer, who produced the music for the song. Just a week later, the troops at Fort Harrison sang “Long Boy” as they passed in review before Ohio governor James M. Cox. The song became an instant success, selling more than a million copies. Wabash College honored Herschell for his war verse by awarding him an honorary degree.
Herschell died on December 2, 1939, at his Indianapolis home. His last words to his wife were: “I’ll whip it yet, Jo.” Reminiscing about Herschell’s life, the newspaper he served for so many years said that he had been a part of Indianapolis as much as the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument. “He loved writing,” said the News, “he loved to compose his sincere verse, but most of all he loved people. Otherwise he could not have written so inspiringly of their lives.”

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Fatal Cocktail: Charles W. Fairbanks and Theodore Roosevelt

Everything seemed perfect at the Indianapolis home of Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks on Memorial Day in May 1907. Fairbanks’ palatial Meridian Street residence had been decorated for a visit from the Rough Rider himself, President Theodore Roosevelt, who was in the city to help dedicate a statue at the Marion County Courthouse honoring Hoosier General Henry W. Lawton.
A luncheon on the president’s behalf, featuring a menu that included planked whitefish and broiled spring chicken, was nearly ready to start when Mrs. John N. Carey, busy helping Fairbanks’ wife, Cornelia, with the preparations, notice that something was missing—the cocktails. According to an account in the Indianapolis News, Carey, a friend of the Fairbanks family, “immediately telephoned to the Columbia Club for forty of the necessary dinner openers.” Indianapolis mayor Charles A. Bookwalter volunteered the use of his automobile, and the drinks, described by the reporter covering the event as “amber Manhattans,” arrived in time for the guests to enjoy.
A teetotaler and Methodist, Fairbanks may not have drunk any liquor himself at the meal, but he bore the brunt of nationwide newspaper attacks on his character when they learned of the cocktail incident. The “cocktail affair,” and Roosevelt’s cool feelings toward his one-time running mate, combined to work against Fairbanks in his attempt to capture the 1908 GOP presidential nomination. Nicknamed Buttermilk Charlie for his advocacy of buttermilk instead of hard liquor, Fairbanks had a brand-new moniker after the Roosevelt affair—Cocktail Charlie. The tall, stern, conservative Hoosier politician, said one high Methodist official, had been “crucified by a cocktail.”
Like his early political opponent Benjamin Harrison, Fairbanks was an Ohio native, born in that state on May 11, 1852. Fairbanks was one of the few politicians who could say truthfully say that he had been born in a log cabin, a house owned by his farmer father. A graduate of the Cleveland Law College, Fairbanks became a successful attorney, establishing a practice in Indianapolis and earning a fortune representing a number of railroads. He also became a powerful force in the Indiana Republican Party, winning election by the Indiana General Assembly to a seat in the U.S. Senate.
In 1904 Fairbanks received the GOP nomination as vice president, running with the progressive-minded Roosevelt on the national ticket. Although the two men were never friends—Roosevelt even called Fairbanks a “reactionary machine politician”—their coolness toward one another did not damage their chances at the polls. The Republican ticket swamped Democratic candidate Alton B. Parker by more than 2.5 million votes. Hearing about the overwhelming GOP election returns, a pleased Roosevelt exclaimed, “How they are voting for me! How they are voting for me!”
After the excitement of a landslide election victory, Fairbanks settled down into the drudgery of being vice president. Although Roosevelt had once advocated increasing the office’s power and responsibility, he made no such changes. During his four years in office, Fairbanks played little or no role in the Roosevelt administration. On one occasion Roosevelt, irritated by the tinkling sound made by a White House chandelier, turned to his butler and said: “Take it to the vice president. He needs something to keep him awake.”
The tension between the two Republicans was put aside for the moment when Roosevelt agreed to travel to Indianapolis to help dedicate a statue honoring Hoosier hero Lawton, a Spanish-American War general later killed fighting insurgents opposed to America’s control of the Philippines. Arriving at Union State shortly before 11:00 a.m. on Memorial Day, the president journeyed to the Fairbanks home at 1522 North Meridian Street to be the guest of honor at what he called “a big political lunch.” The guest list for the occasion included such prominent names as James Whitcomb Riley, Meredith Nicholson, William Dudley Foulke, and Albert Beveridge.
The forty guests were divided into two parties, one hosted by Fairbanks in the dining room, and the second, headed by U.S. Senator James Hemenway, in the library. In describing the sumptuous affair to its readers, the Indianapolis News included a last-minute item that received nationwide attention. It read: “Just a few minutes before time to open the dining-room doors a panic resulted from the discovery that the cocktails had been overlooked, the caterer having failed to provide them.” With Carey and Bookwalter’s aid, the drinks were secured from the Columbia Club and when the guests “filed into the dining room the amber Manhattans stood in long rows, one before each plate.”
The nation’s media turned Fairbanks’s serving of cocktails to his guests into a major controversy. The incident was first brought up as an issue by the Patriot Phalanx, a weekly Indianapolis prohibitionist newspaper. The Phalanx interviewed several reporters who witnessed the lunch and claimed that along with the Manhattans, wine also graced the table. One reporter claimed that the “waiters did not allow any of the glasses to remain empty, but kept filling them up from the bottles.” The article on the luncheon received additional coverage in such newspapers as the New York World and Indianapolis Sun. Many newspapers used the incident to make fun of Fairbanks.
The president expressed surprise about the uproar caused by the incident. In his memoirs, Indiana politician James Watson told about a visit he made to see Roosevelt during the controversy. Watson, a Methodist himself, quoted the president as saying: “You Methodists out in Indiana are a great lot. I drank a cocktail out at Vice-President Fairbanks’s home, whereupon all the members of your church landed on that gentleman and almost rode him out of the organization. That treatment was so uncalled for that, if it were not altogether ludicrous and preposterous, I would say it was simply outrageous.”
Although the negative publicity he received from the “cocktail affair” did not in itself cost Fairbanks the Republic nomination for president in 1908, the added strain the incident put on his already shaky relations with Roosevelt did not help his campaign. Instead of his vice president, Roosevelt supported the candidacy of William Howard Taft, who had served as his secretary of war.
Fairbanks’ failure to capture the 1908 GOP presidential nomination did not end his political career. In 1916 he was again the Republican’s choice as vice president. Fairbanks and Charles Evans Hughes, however, lost the race to incumbent President Woodrow Wilson and his Hoosier running mate, Thomas Marshall. After his death on June 4, 1918, Fairbanks’s name would probably have been left in history’s dustbin were it not for a central Alaska town’s decision to name itself after the vice president.
Even when Fairbanks is remembered it is often not for his political stature, but rather for his physical stature. Naming Fairbanks one of Indiana’s two greatest senators in 1957 for a selection committee choosing the U.S. Senate’s five most distinguished senators of all time, former President Harry Truman could only give this rationale for the honor bestowed on Fairbanks: “It is said that the mirror in the Vice President’s office, which once belonged to Dolly Madison, is placed at its present height so that Vice President Fairbanks could see to comb his hair.”