Friday, April 28, 2017
Wish You Were Here, from Zim
Here's a divided-back postcard from the great Zim -- Eugene Zimmerman -- who I gather published his own postcards for a while. Leastways, the only identifying information on this card on the reverse is a logo of a walking man carrying a giant something-or-other with the letters "Z - I - M" on it. As Zim had a good entrepreneurial streak, it wouldn't surprise me that he set out on his own to make some bucks off the postcard fad.
For those young whippersnappers who don't get the joke, don't feel bad. Only great grandpa would probably know that in the bad old days a "grip" was a soft-sided suitcase, and "the grippe" was a bad cold or flu.
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Thursday, April 27, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 2 Part 1
King News by Moses Koenigsberg
Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
A Don Quixote of the West (part 1)
link to previous installment link to next installment
The rubbing out of Ben Thompson and King Fisher impelled an abrupt change in the Koenigsberg menage. The multiple killing had occurred only a block away. The shooting rattled the dishes in the kitchen. It was an exciting neighborhood, but the excitement was scarcely exhilarating. There was little at hand to nurture the tranquil spirit of family life.
Moving plans had been under consideration. They were accelerated by the saturnalia of slaying in the Crystal Palace. Soon we were installed on a six-acre farmstead a hundred yards inside the city limits. From the nearest open street, a mile south, a narrow lane had been chopped through the mesquite and cactus chaparral. On the north the tract was skirted by the crest of an arroyo, through the bed of which trickled Alazan Creek. The ravine twisted around the eastern boundary of the homestead, rearing on the opposite side an escarpment seemingly designed by nature for the nocturnal pursuits of the chaparral carnivora. To the west stretched far beyond a day’s riding a mesquite prairie as yet unruffled by the fingers of men.
Here one might rear a family remote from the vicious and vulgarizing influences of a “wide-open” sporting center. Here one avoided the obscenities of a human ferment of frontier lustiness. That there was a dearth of neighborly communion might prove as much a boon as a bane.
The nearest habitation was a mile away. It wasn’t distant enough to avert unfriendly collisions. My oldest brother, Louis, then sixteen, had hoppled his saddle-horse to graze outside the corral. It disappeared. The next day he found the pony tethered to a stake two miles north. A man with a shotgun claimed ownership. In the ensuing tussle the gun exploded.
When the ashen-faced lad came galloping home, his shirt drenched with blood, the Koenigsberg household was convulsed in panic. The fact that Louis was unscathed did not quell the alarm. He had been at grips with imminent death. Wouldn’t it be safer in the heart of the city where, even though men killed each other, they didn’t attack your own flesh and blood?
Not until my parents learned that the wounded man would recover was their anxiety allayed. Domestic routine was resumed with only occasional flurries of apprehension to quicken the pulses beyond the pitch set by the commonplace whirring of rattlesnakes and the nightly howling of packs of coyotes along the Alazan.
At daybreak, a buckboard wagon carried my father and oldest brother three miles to business in town. Dinner was served on their return in the evening. Half a mile along Alazan Creek and another mile and a half of gumbo road brought me to the Marshall Street School.
Juvenile dreams of journalism derived no point, color or vitality from this setting. Nor were they enlivened by the books I devoured with more avidity than discrimination. My first novel, Scottish Chiefs
, by Jane Porter, had sent me scampering through shelves of classic fiction. There was a wide assortment of literature, but it consisted in the main of the mid-Victorian library of a young lady. Most of the books had been selected for my older sister to assuage the crudities of pioneer isolation. Nowhere in all those pages or in any of the circumstances or conversations around me did I find anything that recalled the emblazoned figure of the young newspaper reporter in Justice Anton Adam’s court. A warmly cherished aspiration was languishing from malnutrition.
Then came my transfer to the San Pedro Avenue High School. It was a large building designed to accommodate four grammar-school classes in addition to the upper grades. Soon I heard of Otto Praeger. Pupils talked about him in whispers. He owned a real printing press. It was small enough to carry in your hands and yet capable of producing a four-page sheet. In fact, he printed a paper regularly. Among other items, it contained news of the high school. He got that news himself. He was a reporter for his own newspaper.
There are many penalties of precocity. I paid them all; but one of the major offsets was an inspiring friendship with Otto Praeger. It impressed a permanent pattern on my life. There was fuzz on his face, but none on his brain. He talked with more clarity than any of my teachers.
His sanctum and place of publication occupied a small space off the living-room in the family residence above his father’s hardware store on East Commerce Street. My first visit imparted a thrill I have never forgotten. The smell of printer’s ink titillated my nostrils with a sense both pleasant and lifting. Even today, a whiff of that pungent odor sets the memory awhirl over the intervening decades.
Otto dramatized for me the unique field of journalistic service. The story of Henry M. Stanley’s search for David Livingstone was his text. Otto set out in minute detail the newspaper background of Stanley’s exploit. He recited how, when the scientific world abandoned hope for the life of Livingstone a year after his disappearance, James Gordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald
, assigned his star correspondent, Stanley, to determine the fate of the missing explorer. He amplified the enterprise of Bennett and the daring and fortitude of Stanley. Together, they reflected only one of the heroic phases of newspaper endeavor.
Young Praeger had the passion of an evangelist, but the suasion of his enthusiasm was superfluous. He had already clinched the rivet by which my ambitions were fastened. Through journalism, we agreed, ran the path of a modern knighthood. The idea took form in a fittingly florid period fashioned from several quotations —“The printed word is the mightiest force ever clasped by human hands and a line of type may win greater succor than ten thousand lances.” That would be an appropriate inscription of dedication for a temple symbolizing the Fourth Estate. Some day, we’d see that such an edifice was built. Meanwhile a shibboleth
must be selected for paladins of the pen. We chose the instruction of Godfrey of Bouillon
—“Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the right and the good, against evil and injustice.” Often since then I have puzzled over the quaint irony of life that held the' disciple to the course the apostle afterward forsook. The newspaper lost one of its staunchest idealists when Otto Praeger’s career was diverted into governmental service.
The first practical step toward my chosen future was to become Otto’s colleague as an editor and publisher. Type and a press like his were necessary. I approached my father. The result was flabbergasting.
“What!” he exclaimed, in a spasm of mixed astonishment and pain. “A son of mine wants to be a newspaperman! You must not think of such a thing. Newspapermen are drunkards. They’re no good. You’d disgrace your family. You’d wind up in the gutter. I’ll give no money for such a purpose.”
Earnest conferences with Otto Praeger followed. He was a tower of strength. He didn’t question the sincerity of the paternal decision. He attributed it to misleading evidence. It was true that nearly all the newspapermen my father had seen were assiduous topers
. One of them, the most conspicuous editor in town, was a peripatetic exhibit of alcoholic effects.
But the tippling of newspapermen was no part of their calling, Otto reasoned. In fact, it militated against their professional success. It was merely a surrender to temptations more frequently offered to journalists than to followers of other callings. Many laymen sought favors from the press. They were prone to urge upon journalists a barroom hospitality that they withheld from others. Yielding to such blandishments betrayed a personal weakness instead of a professional flair.
Otto’s reasoning offered no solution of my financial problem. But one could not be a journalist without resourcefulness as well as perseverance. The Koenigsberg shop on Soledad Street had been succeeded by a larger establishment on West Commerce Street. A woman operating a novelty bazaar next door had on several occasions asked me to run errands. She might be willing to pay regularly for such service after school hours. An arrangement was negotiated at a dollar a week. This, with scrapings of quarters and dimes from other indulgent sources, yielded at the end of three months the price of a font of type in a printer’s rack.
Still there was no prospect of space for an operating plant so long as paternal opposition persisted. But the quest for facilities to match Otto Praeger’s publishing establishment had enlisted a powerful ally. The manager of the Maverick Printing Company on Houston Street evinced a lively interest in the forthcoming publication. He provided a nook in which I could set my own type from my own rack. The need for a press was obviated. He would have the type made up and run off on a little job "kicker" —a machine operated by pedal power.
But all this was contingent on the payment of costs. The manager was willing to help personally; but he could not give away any paper-stock or labor belonging to his company. Five hundred copies of each issue, of four pages, 8 1/2 x 11 inches, printed from the type I set, would cost five dollars. If my father wouldn’t supply the funds, why didn’t I solicit advertising to cover the amount?
The canvass for advertising scarcely measured up to scientific methods. But it produced results beyond the planning. Not only did it assure a cash surplus over costs, but it leavened the rigor of paternal disfavor. My father’s objection to newspapermen was limited to reporters and editors. If his son developed a penchant for business activity, such as advertising, it might prove a saving grace. My father decided to become one of my advertising patrons.
Now only one gap remained in a complete structure of newspaper operation. The editor must have a sanctum. The family abode on Alazan Creek, three miles away, was unfeasible for office purposes.
There was some unused space, approximately three feet wide and three and a half feet deep alongside the double-door entrance to the Koenigsberg store. It became a hidden recess when the doors were open. But there was no disposition to make this space available for an out-and-out editor. Considerable negotiation was required. There would be no advertisements, it was pointed out, without editorial matter to warrant publication of the paper. If the advertising solicitor’s activity depended on the functioning of an editor, opportunity should be accorded to both. The argument prevailed.
An empty packing case was converted into a usable desk, unpainted and unadorned, but with a projecting leaf on which to write, hooks and spindles for proofs and manuscripts, and drawers for bills and letters. Here were assembled the contents of The Amateur
, published in the year 1888.
The first edition appeared when I was nine years and eight months old. That the title was a misnomer was directed sharply to my attention by the Southern Amateur Press Association. I had applied for admission. A curt note of rejection apprised me that membership was not extended to publications that accepted paid advertisements.
Exclusion from amateur rating apparently whetted the editor’s pertinacity. This conclusion is warranted by an examination of the issue of December, 1888. It covered the range of a general publication. It presented, in addition to news of San Pedro Avenue High School, an analysis of the national election of die previous month, a serial fiction story from the pen of the editor, brief editorial comments on a variety of topics, some bits of humor and—grave harbinger of the militant years ahead—an expose of fortune-telling.
But the spirit of the crusader was arrested for a while by the editor’s first clash with special privilege. Tenancy of the space allotted to the sanctum inhered in the performance of certain oral covenants. One stipulated a regular task with a broom. A dispute arose with my brother, Louis, as to our respective responsibilities under this compact, and when an impasse was reached in our dispute, Louis cut the Gordian knot by picking up the furniture and office equipment of The Amateur
and dumping them, with one swoop, on the rubbish heap in the back yard.
It was a debacle. Even the presumptuousness of the editor of The Amateur
could not withstand such humiliation. All the forces and resources of journalism could not avail against this adversity. And so perished my first newspaper. There had been fifteen issues over a period of eighteen months.
Otto Praeger softened the shock with the announcement that at least I had established a record. No other boy at an age within a year of mine had ever edited a newspaper regularly produced on a printing press.
There was no time to lament the loss of operating profits, though they had been of considerable importance. Thirty-six inches of advertising at 25 cents an inch had earned a gross of $9, leaving a gain of $4 on each issue. But the hours became too full for such regrets. Every moment out of school was consumed in completing a novel, The Dune’s Chamberlain
, in a comprehensive course of reading laid out with Otto’s collaboration and in a drastic program of physical training in preparation for the hardships and hazards of real journalism.
Chapter 2 Part 2 next week link to previous installment link to next installment
Labels: King News
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Professor Yuk-Yuk's Cartooning Class
As successful as Danish cartoonist Werner ('WOW') Wejp-Olsen is around the globe, his strips distributed by syndicates in the States really tanked pretty bad (see The Maestro and Amalita
and Granny and Slowpoke
) until Professor Yuk-Yuk's Cartooning Class
started to turn around his fortunes.
Cartooning instruction features have a checkered past throughout the history of newspapers, with most being both useless as instruction and severely limited as entertainment. Wejp-Olsen definitely did not succeed in terms of teaching cartooning (find any useful cartooning instruction in the samples above and win a prize), and the entertainment was a bit sparse, too. I guess he hoped to create a fan base by offering to run the work of amateur cartoonists. How a cartoonist in Denmark could keep abreast of reader submissions in the States back in the 1990s B.E. (Before Email) is beyond me, but he always seemed to have enough submissions for the Sunday-only series.
United Feature Syndicate distributed the series from February 4 1990 to June 26 1994, an absolute infinitude compared to his prior American series.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: H.T. Elmo
Horace Theodore Elmo was born Arazio Elmo in in Manhattan, New York City on April 3, 1903, according his 1925 passport application.
In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Elmo was the sixth of seven children born to Joseph, a barber, and Josephine. His parents and five older siblings were born in Italy. The family lived at 430 East 11th Street in Manhattan.
According to the 1915 New York state census, the Elmo family resided in Brooklyn, New York at 355 Atkins Avenue.
The 1920 census recorded the Elmo family at 878 Kelly Road in the Bronx, New York. Elmo’s occupation was stock clerk in the exporting industry. His father’s birth name was Sebastian, who brought his family to America in 1900.
Information regarding Elmo’s art training has not been found. Apparently some of Elmo’s earliest cartoons appeared in 1923 issues of Judge on its Amateur Page.
A crew list said Elmo was an assistant steward on a steamship from April 5 to May 27, 1923. He was aboard the steamship Ulua when it traveled from Havana, Cuba to New York City. Elmo’s second trip to Cuba was in May 1925. The passenger list recorded Elmo on the steamship Siboney and his address as 2516 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York.
On March 4, 1925, Elmo applied for a passport so he could visit his father in Italy.
Elmo, his mother and two siblings resided in the Bronx at 30 Buchanan Place as recorded in the 1925 New York state census. Elmo’s occupation was cartoonist.
The Editor & Publisher, June 5, 1926, listed Elmo’s Little Otto daily strip which was to be syndicated by Wheeler-Nicholson. It’s unclear if the strip was ever published.
The New York, New York Marriage Index at Ancestry.com said Elmo married Martha Oliver on May 15, 1928 in Manhattan.
The couple returned from a trip to Havana, Cuba on March 3, 1929. The passenger list recorded their address as 1304 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York.
Elmo lived at 2497 Grand Avenue in the Bronx according to the 1930 census. His occupation was newspaper cartoonist. It’s not clear what happened to Elmo’s wife, Martha, but he remarried, on February 3, 1931, to Vilma A. Molnar.
Elmo drew six installments of Did You Know That for movie magazine Picture Play in these issues: November 1932; December 1932; January 1933; February 1933; April 1933; and May 1933.
The second half of the 1930s was a very productive period for Elmo as an artist and packager.
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Elmo produced several strips and panels for his syndicates Lincoln Newspaper Features and Elmo Features Syndicate: Facts You Never Knew, The Fizzle Family, Goofus Family, It’s Amazing, Puggy, Sally Snickers, Some Fun!, Tell Me, and Useless Eustace.
Other Elmo syndicate properties included Dash Dixon, Detective Riley, Laughs from Today’s News, Little Buddy, Our Puzzle Corner, Socko the Seadog, and Your Health Comes First.
Jack Kirby contributed to several of the aforementioned comics. Kirby also drew these strips for Elmo: Abdul Jones, The Black Buccaneer, Cyclone Burke and Socko the Sea Dog. So far, these four titles have not been found in any copyright catalogs.
Detective Riley, Goofus Family, and Little Buddy were listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 1, Group 2, Pamphlets, Etc., 1935, New Series, Volume 32, Number 12. Dash Dixon and Laughs from Today’s News appeared in the next volume, Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 1, Group 2, Pamphlets, etc., 1936, New Series, Volume 33, Number 1. The second number included Your Health Comes First and the third number had Facts You Never Knew.
Copyrighted in 1942 were Sally Snickers and Useless Eustace. It’s Amazing was a copyright entry in 1943.
In 1950 Elmo drew The Rhyming Romeos which was copyrighted by Famous Funnies.
The 1940 census recorded Elmo, his wife and two children, Elaine, age 7, and Horace Jr., age 2, at 3436 Corsa Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Elmo was a freelance cartoonist.
The Ayer Directory: Newspapers, Magazines and Trade Publications (1945) had this listing: “Lincoln Newspaper Features…..Comics, news features, photos…..2 W. 46th St., New York, N.Y.
Elmo provided artwork to the Casualty & Surety Journal in 1943 and 1944.
Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said Elmo produced material for DC and Marvel Comics in the 1940s and 1950s.
A Walter Winchell column, published January 29, 1955 in the Kingsport News (Tennessee), said Elmo was a cartoonist at the New York Evening Graphic.
Elmo’s daughter’s wedding was reported in a 1955 issue of Army, Navy, Air Force Journal.
Paperback book publisher, Ace Books, published these books by Elmo: Modern Casanova’s Handbook (1955); Honeymoon Humor (1956); Hollywood Humor (1957); and Mad. Ave. (1961). Elmo wrote The Golden Picture Book of Questions and Answers (1957) and co-wrote, with Nancy Fielding Hulick, Quiz Fun (1959).
Elmo passed away on October 23, 1992 in the Bronx, New York, according to the Social Security Death Index.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Monday, April 24, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Useless Eustace
I'm fascinated by H.T. Elmo
, whose main claim to fame I guess is that he gave Jack Kirby his first big break in cartooning. I'm more interested in his entrepreuneurial acumen, though. While he was syndicating grade B content to a very small list of weekly newspapers in the 1930s, he was also selling his wares to other venues. He seemed to have had a gift for selling to trade magazines, and produced strips and panel cartoons for several of those publications.
In the 1940s, he shrugged off the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate for some reason, and started the Elmo Newspaper Syndicate. This syndicate also marketed mainly to weeklies, and most of the material for this syndicate was produced by Elmo himself, often under pseudonyms, with some help later on from Ruth Roche and Jerry Iger. What's really impressive is that Elmo managed to sell the same material for decades (yes, decades!) after he produced it. This was a guy who must really have known how to sell.
was one of his flagship features of the new Elmo Features Syndicate. As far as I can tell, Elmo produced this strip from approximately 1941 to 1946. I've never seen an example in print before 1942, but the strip numbering would seem to make 1941 the logical start date, unless Elmo banked a big batch before he started syndicating. The highest numbered strip I've found is #272, giving weekly newspapers about 5 1/4 years worth of material to run.
Early on in the run, Useless Eustace
was signed 'Jackson' (through #48), though it was obviously Elmo at the helm. Elmo signed as 'Hank' Elmo for a short while, then went by his real name on the strip, thus signalling that it was one of the offerings of his syndicate of which he was most proud.
The character Useless Eustace started out as a hillbilly in the mold of Snuffy Smith, but that aspect was dropped after 40 or 50 strips, and Eustace became more of an everyman. He did join the wartime military for awhile, and was stationed in Japan after the war for a short batch of strips. I'm surprised Elmo did that, because those current events-based strips weren't resellable later. Elmo must not have been thinking ahead in those days.
After the initial run came to an apparent end in 1946, the reselling began. In many cases, syndicates trying to resell their material fall flat with very few clients. Elmo, on the other hand, seemed to be able to sell his offerings better in reprint (perhaps because he offered bargain basement prices). In the 1950s, he added a few new offerings, mostly from Jerry Iger and Ruth Roche, but all the material was continually resold well into the 1970s, when these strips must have looked awfully outdated.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
January 23 1909 -- A ragtime 'American Idol' contest was held last night. Singers and dancers competed in a number of categories, and apparently a good time was had by all. However, the proccedings did not stimulate Herriman's creative juices beyond a tableaux of caricatures.
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, April 21, 2017
Wish You Were Here, from Rose O'Neill
Not too often you're going to find a postcard featuring a photo of a cartoonist, but here's one featuring Rose O'Neill amid a selection of her Kewpie dolls.
This is actually a later card, dating from the 1950s or 60s would be my guess, and was printed for sale at the Shepherd of the Hills Farm in Branson Missouri. "Huh", you say? Well, it seems that Rose O'Neill kept a home in southern Missouri, lived her later life there, and the locals have sort of adopted her as their own.
An early attraction of Branson, now famed for it's country music theatres and buses of Q-Tip tourists, was a farm that was used as the locale of The Shepherd of the Hills
, a popular 1907 novel by Harold Bell Wright. The farm was made into a tourist attraction, and over the years has included an outdoor amphitheater, a viewing tower, farm tours, museums of Ozark life, and of course every kind of merchandise that credit cards can buy.
In the 1940s, the owners of the Farm, who were friends of O'Neill, put together an extensive collection of her Kewpie dolls and associated ephemera for display in the farm's Memorial Museum. I don't know how long the collection was housed there, but the latest description of the attraction I can find make no mention of it, so I presume it is no more.
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Thursday, April 20, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 1 Part 3
King News by Moses Koenigsberg
Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
Murder with a Carom Shot (conclusion)
link to previous installment link to next installment
pagan jubilation over Ben Thompson’s escape from the gallows gave impetus to
the inter-city vendetta. The law-abiding residents of both communities
disparaged the feud. They denounced it as a mere figment put forth by the
criminal elements in extenuation of law-breaking activities. But the quarrel
derived stature from an epic rivalry in finance. It was waged between Joseph
Nalle and George W. Brackenridge, foremost capitalist of San Antonio. Miscreants borrowed from it the
color of civic implication for stark criminality. For months, there were few
defendants in felonious-assault cases, either in San
Antonio or Austin,
who failed to plead entanglement in inter-community vengeance.
this was mere poppycock to the City Marshal of Austin,
who held himself aloof from mass movements of every sort. He was above
everything an individualist. If any gangs came from another city to vent
spleen on Austin,
he would welcome them in his own way. He made no other comment
concerning San Antonio, though he did inquire at every opportunity
about the operation of the Crystal
The only topic of conversation that engaged zest in Thompson
was the “gambling parlor” in which he had met his card-playing Waterloo. The time that he was “robbed by
those sneaking thieves,” seemed to command a larger share of his memory than
any other experience. He was avid for every detail of activity in the place. He
wanted to know “the size of the play” and the names of the players.
Mention of Joe Foster was to him like the scent of a quail
to a bird hound. It brought him to the point.
“That’s the thief that ‘rolled’
me,” Thompson would snap in a venomous burst that contrasted startlingly with
his habitual drawl. It was Foster who had repelled his charge of a crooked game
as a “cheap try at welshing.”
And Joe Foster was still alive, the active symbol of the
most devastating humiliation of Ben Thompson’s career. It was true that Billy
Simms, the other partner of Jack Harris, remained one of the owners of the Crystal Palace,
but Billy had been a protege of Ben Thompson before he moved to San Antonio and he had
preserved his friendship with his former patron through all the blistering
trials it suffered. He had promptly disavowed any share in the “gambling
parlor” imbroglio and he had made his peace with Thompson after the murder of
Jack Harris. So, the incurable canker in the soul of Ben Thompson festered anew
at every mention of Joe Foster’s activities.
Twenty months passed. March 11, 1884, arrived.
, Sheriff of Uvalde County, numbering among his
constituents the John Nance Garner who later became vice-president of
the United States, reached Austin on an official visit. He went to the
State capital to settle his accounts as sheriff and tax collector of
Fisher and Thompson were cordial friends. Each respected the other’s
Fisher was dapper and suave, with many of the manners and
some of the apparel of a Parisian boulevardier. As a member of the notorious
Bill Bruton gang, he had ranged up and down the Rio Grande, a veritable terror. Fifteen
Mexicans were assigned by unofficial count to his “private graveyard.” The
reputation thus gained for daring and marksmanship had commended him to the
cattle barons of the Southwest for the task of cleaning out the lawless
pillagers who infested the section.
Horse thieves and cattle rustlers with their cohorts had continually
raided the long stretch from Castroville to the Rio Grande. Fisher drove them out. In the
course of his campaign, several of the marauding interlopers moved too slowly
or in the wrong direction. They joined the list of “necessary fatalities” in
Fisher’s personal record.
So, the reunion of Ben Thompson and King Fisher did not make
the social columns of the Austin Statesman. It was, however, the subject of
animated gossip in other quarters. This was an ominous massing of
potentialities for sudden tragedy. Still, there was no show of public agitation
until the pair were seen boarding a train for San Antonio.
there was real alarm. Thompson and Fisher together
represented a merger of lethal facilities calculated to make the heart
peace-lover skip several beats even in an amiable social gathering. On a
bound for San Antonio
the combination spelled the certainty of dire consequences. Hadn’t word
repeatedly that Thompson would be mobbed if he ever again set foot in
the Alamo city? Even if the danger of a public uprising were
exaggerated, was it possible that the mere presence of Ben Thompson in
San Antonio, accompanied
by one of the most widely known killers of the time, would fail to
critical outburst of violence?
The good citizens of Austin
were deeply disturbed. They owed a duty to law and order. Telegrams of warning
were flashed to police officials and to important friends in San Antonio. Then, in chagrin and foreboding,
Austin sat back
to await the inevitable.
The ride to San
Antonio—the trip required three hours—was a grotesque
gambol. Thompson behaved like a schoolboy on a spree. His boisterous pranks
kept the passengers in trepid turmoil. The chief butt of his antics was the
Negro porter. Thompson slashed the darkey’s cap into droll shapes and forced
him to march through the train wearing each ludicrous design. Indiscriminate
badinage, frequent swigs at a whiskey bottle and gruff whoops to startle
cowering travelers alternated with rougher capers.
Two tight-lipped men swung aboard the train before it
halted. They sought out the conductor. Evidently he gave them good news
because, when the Southwestern Flyer drew up at the station, they waved “the
high sign”—the O. K. notice—to several waiting watchers. These were scouts
detailed to report the arrival of Thompson, to trail him and to keep police
headquarters advised of his actions.
The train conductor felt Thompson’s visit was not hostile.
The City Marshal of Austin, he explained, was merely accompanying King Fisher
to a performance of Lady Audley’s Secret
at the Turner Hall Opera House on Houston Street. The
play had been performed in the Austin Opera House the night before. As city
marshal, Thompson collected the license fee exacted from theatrical troupes,
and in the course of official duty he had met Ada Gray, the star.
He wanted to see the performance again and he wanted to
present King Fisher to the leading lady. Perhaps he was flipping a sly jest at
providence when he insisted that history would be incomplete without a meeting
between the Beau Brummell of gunmen and the exquisite lady of the theatre.
Thompson and Fisher did attend the play.
Each step they took was under the keenest
surveillance. A dozen armed men, most of them sworn in for the occasion as
special policemen or deputy sheriffs, had been stationed at carefully selected
points converging on the Crystal
Palace. Everyone of them
was a crack shot. Neither the source nor the nature of their instructions was
divulged. It was afterward charged that more than half the
members of this grim platoon were inside the Crystal Palace
before Thompson and Fisher left the Turner Hall Opera House.
King Fisher never met Ada Gray. The omission was not fortuitous.
It could have been explained by Tom Howard, manager of the opera house.
Thompson and Fisher made frequent excursions from the auditorium to the
adjoining bar. Howard was always at hand. Proposals for a back-stage visit were
skilfully shunted off. It was with a sense of supreme deliverance that Howard
bade the two men goodnight at the close of the performance.
One block south across the St. Mary’s Street bridge brought
the swaggering pair to Commerce
Street. Two blocks farther west was the Crystal Palace. Between St. Mary’s Street and Main Plaza
were several saloons. As Thompson and Fisher made their way past, a figure
detached itself from the bunch of loiterers in front of each resort and,
stepping into the street behind the passing twain, wigwagged a signal.
Billy Simms was standing in front of the Crystal Palace.
He greeted both Thompson and Fisher with the cordiality of a pleasantly
astonished friend. The trio entered the saloon. John Dyer, the same bartender
who had served Thompson on the tragic evening twenty months before, was again
on duty. He exchanged grins with Ben. Thompson’s smile was tauntingly flippant.
Dyer’s was plainly wry and nerve-taut.
Simms sparkled with persiflage. Dyer knew he was “putting on
a play” and tried to help. His misplaced snickers of applause would have
challenged the attention of an alert observer; but Thompson and Fisher seemed
to have laid aside their characteristic vigilance.
Simms was unable to persuade the pair to join him on a jaunt
“across the creek.” It was his purpose to lure them away from the arsenal of death-loaded
malice in which they were dallying. “Across the creek” was the vernacular
designation of the red-light district that lay west of San Pedro Creek. Simms believed he had offered the most
alluring diversion he could conceive for the delectation of these visitors.
It was with real despair that he finally yielded to
Thompson’s insistence on “seeing the show from the balcony.” Simms led the way
upstairs, carefully threading a course as far as possible from that part of the
house in which Joe Foster sat.
The Crystal Palace—which had come to be better known as Jack
Harris’ Vaudeville—was of the conventional pattern of the variety theatres or
honkytonks of that era. The lower part of the auditorium lay on a level with
the downstairs bar. The orchestra or pit was filled with folding chairs cleated
to movable planks. When the show closed, these seats and boards were slapped together
and stacked on each side of the hall with the same celerity and precision that
attends the striking of a circus tent. The operation uncovered a dance floor.
Overhead, on either side of the auditorium, stretching from the
proscenium to the balcony balustrade, was a row of boxes with curtains
adjustable at the will of the occupants. One could remain in complete seclusion
in these draped stalls. In fact, they were engaged chiefly for pursuits that in
more modern circles would have been described as petting parties. They were
designed to facilitate the exercise of feminine suasion toward wine consumption.
On the night of March 11, 1884, not one woman was in any of these boxes.
None of the occupants was visible to Ben Thompson or King
Fisher from their positions in the balcony. But details as minute as Fisher’s
tiny watch-fob or the cleft in Thompson’s chin were plainly discernible to
anyone peering from behind the curtains. And each box was occupied.
The female members of the theatre staff were hired as
actresses. Between turns on the stage they moved among the audience in short
skirts and red stockings. It was their chore to capture the attention of
sociable patrons and to intimate with more or less subtlety their readiness to
accept a drink.
To many a callow rambler from the cattle ranges, these approaches
were roseate bids to romance. A smitten cowhand “rode the herd hard” in the
gilded hour of conquest and his tipple mounted quickly from beer to wine. With
each drink the waiter handed the girl a brass check, token of her sales
commission. There was no pretense of concealment. Yet this crude routine of
commercialism seemed only to fan the flare of flirtation. In such moments, the
curtained boxes were most desirable. Nevertheless, on this night they were
rigorously forbidden to the “drink hustlers.”
Jacobo Coy had joined the party when Simms ushered Thompson
and Fisher into the balcony. Still a member of the police force, he had become
an attache of the Crystal
Palace by special
license. He stood at Thompson’s right.
Waiters moved back and forth serving whiskey to Thompson and
Fisher. The point of snapping nerves was at hand for Simms when Ben finally
decided to accept the invitation for “a run across the creek.” The party moved
toward the head of the staircase leading downstairs. Halfway, Thompson halted.
“I want to see Joe Foster before I go,” he announced.
Instantly Simms abandoned his pose of nonchalance.
“Don’t do that, Ben,” he pleaded with genuine anguish in his
voice. “It’s crazy. You know Joe doesn’t want to talk to you. He sent you word
to keep away from him. Let us get out of here without trouble.”
The depth of Simms’s anxiety was dramatized by the simple
word “us.” It linked him with Ben in a crisis involving his own partner.
Thompson was unmoved. “To hell with all that,” he growled.
“I want to shake hands with Joe. I want to make up with him. Where is he?” And
craning his neck, he sighted Foster near the front row of the balcony.
“Hello, Joe!” he called.
Foster arose. Adjusting his pince-nez he made his way toward
the man who had hailed him, puckering his eyes intently as he approached.
At that moment, Thompson stood in the unobstructed vision of
everyone in the theatre. Foster came almost within arm’s length of Ben before
he recognized him. Coy moved closer to Thompson. Simms stepped back a pace.
Fisher, standing beside Ben, seemed mildly amused. Neither noted that, except
for Jacobo Coy, they were alone in the center of a space that a second before
had been crowded.
Every eye in the balcony was riveted on that spot. There was
none to detect the moving of the curtains in the boxes.
“Joe,” Thompson spoke in a tone of obviously affected
friendliness, “I want to shake hands with you.”
Foster appeared cool and in complete mastery of himself. He
answered in a firm voice: “Ben, I have told you that there is room enough in the world
for both of us without our paths crossing and I will not shake hands with you.”
Thompson seemed to consider this for a moment. “Then come
and take a drink with me,” he said, with an awkward effort at a smile.
“No,” Foster answered, “I will not drink with you, either.”
“Then take this!”
A revolver was in Thompson’s hand before the last word left his
lips. It was a feat of legerdemain, but Jacobo Coy moved with almost equal
quickness. A dozen other men, with tightened nerves, had been waiting for hours
for that fateful instant. They acted as if by common command.
A fan of ribbed flame swept across the auditorium. A dozen
bolts of fire resounded as one blast.
Thompson and Fisher went down as if felled by a single
cleaver. Foster, though struck first, toppled a second later.
Fisher’s left leg crumpled under him and his head lay across
Thompson’s chest. The desperado dandy died with empty hands.
Though Jacobo Coy had grabbed Thompson’s gun arm, he did not
save Joe Foster’s life. Ben fired one shot. His aim was deflected by Coy’s
tackle, but the bullet found fatal lodgment.
The triple tragedy passed into the legends of the Southwest,
more frequently the theme of bitterly disputed details than the subject of
righteous review. There were many to deplore the passing of King Fisher as
sheer assassination. Uvalde
County seethed with
indignation over the ambuscade of its most picturesque citizen.
It was pointed out that before the fusillade had ceased to
echo, City Marshal Shardein rushed into the theatre at the head of a police
squad. Why, it was asked, did he happen to be waiting in front of the Crystal Palace with so large a force of men? How
did he explain the smoking revolvers he saw in the hands of Jacobo Coy and
Billy Simms? Why, when he took charge, did he permit all save a few selected
witnesses to disappear?
Why was no autopsy held? Was the omission designed to hide
the fact that Thompson had been riddled with seventeen bullets, that Fisher’s
body showed a dozen mortal wounds, that both men had been shot through the left
eye and that a half-dollar would have covered two punctures in Thompson’s heart?
Weren’t the theatre boxes reserved for men armed with carbines,
asked the partisans of King Fisher? Didn’t all the circumstances prove that
it was an ambush organized with such thoroughness that each man had been
assigned the very spot on the victims’ heads and bodies at which to fire?
All these questions were disposed of by a brief editorial in
the San Antonio Express. It served as the community’s answer to the critics of
that day and of the years that followed. It appeared in the issue of March 12,
1884. It was headed: “A Good Night’s Work.”
It was the journalistic practice to play down stories of
lawless violence. Reviewers of a succeeding generation would have found
abundant warrant for charging the newspapers of that period with truckling to
the advertiser. They represented “the vested interests”—the business circles and
property-owners. They demanded a “soft pedal on desperadoism.”
All this was to preserve the bait for tourists and new
settlers. Newcomers would not flock to a region where popping guns and slashing
knives were the fashion. They must be coaxed with alluring pictures of the
romantic hospitality of a people flourishing in a plenitude of nature. So,
there was great applause for the advertiser’s arguments against newspaper
emphasis of those incidents that “retarded substantial growth.” And if the
publisher, in response, was more paternalistic than journalistic, it must be
said in his behalf that his readers, in the main, approved his policy.
Perhaps there was a prevalence of editorial strabismus
might be traced to overstudy of the advertiser’s meretricious philosophy.
Adequate publicity would have incited public measures for sterner law
enforcement. The repression of news contributed contrary effects. It was
generally interpreted as reflecting a common acceptance of a policy of laissez
faire. Thus, while the journalist substituted the role of the promoter for his
duty as a publisher and salved his professional conscience with the spurious
anodyne of “greater public service,” the gun and the knife of the desperado had
continued to flash hourly contempt of the law. The press of the day, muffling
its columns, muffed one of its greatest opportunities to serve the very
purpose for which they were blunderingly muffled.
A condensed account of the murder of Jack Harris was presented
by the San Antonio Express on the morning after the tragedy. It was relegated
to the back page. In sharp contrast, several months later, was the Express’
extended description of Austin’s
delirious jamboree welcoming Ben Thompson home. It apppeared on the first page
under a “top head.”
No episode of several years had commanded such keen public attention
as the wiping out of Ben Thompson and King Fisher. It was not the mere killing
of two adventurers. It was a massacre of desperadoism. Full newspaper pages
would have been devoured by avid readers. But on the day after the spectacular
slaughter, the San Antonio Express dismissed the epic story with less than a column
on the last page. The heading was: "Jack Harris Revenged.” And the Express was
then, as it has continued to be through succeeding generations, the foremost morning
paper of the section, with a faithful devotion to its readers’ interests.
While the classic chapter of news bestirred only a modicum
of professional enterprise, it yielded to me the first inspiration for
journalism. I sensed the call during the inquest conducted by Justice Anton
Again resting on my father’s shoulder, I sat in the window
opening from the patio into Justice Adam’s courtroom. The scene was quite
unlike the picture presented at the arraignment of Ben Thompson for Jack
Harris’ murder. Afterward, it was explained that the permission for my presence
was a sentimental concession to my share in that evening twenty months before.
There was a good deal of confusion to me in the fact that
while the solemn proceedings concerned the same man, it was the nature of his
absence that occasioned them. But I understood clearly that I was never again
to see the big fellow who gave a whole bunch of bananas to the boy that had
escaped a thrashing.
The men in the courtroom seemed altogether different. It was
more than the change from gaslight to sunshine. These men., though very grave,
were not at all nervous. They were extremely quiet, as if eager not to miss a
word spoken by each of the men who swore to tell the truth.
As the procession of witnesses moved in and out of the chair
to which they were led, a young man in a loose white shirt, with sandy hair
and a wee yellow mustache, asked their names, where they lived, how old they
were and what they did for a living; and he wrote it all down. He was scarcely
more than a boy, but he seemed to be the only person in the courtroom with work
Justice Adam told each witness when he might leave his
chair, but it was the blond young man who asked them to repeat words and
sentences. There was another man who put questions to the witnesses, but no one
except the boy with the little mustache seemed to have the right to stop what
was going on whenever he wanted to.
It was very puzzling. How could a young fellow, only half
the age of anyone else in the room, be so important?
“That’s John R. Lunsford,” my father explained. “He’s a newspaper
reporter. He works on the Light."
There was never again any doubt in my mind as to what I
would be when I grew up. Other boys could dream of being policemen, circus
clowns, drum majors, firemen, broncho-busters, Indian scouts, street-car
conductors and even calliope players; but all those seemed foolish beside a
Years later, when Lunsford was a star on a metropolitan newspaper
staff of which I was city editor, I learned the real inwardness of his
extraordinary activity that day in the courtroom in Veramendi Alley. Justice
Anton Adam had no clerical staff. Ordinarily, he acted as his own clerk,
transcribing in script such minutes as he deemed necessary. But the inquest into
the killing of Ben Thompson and King Fisher was fraught with so many political
and other complications that he wanted a more comprehensive record than his
own memory might assure. Lunsford was present to report the hearing for his
newspaper. Justice Adam delegated him to set down the testimony for the
So, it was the functioning of a recording clerk instead of a
newspaper reporter that captivated my juvenile enthusiasm for journalism.
Labels: King News
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Tradin' Paint
When it comes to sports, if it doesn't involve nine innings and a lot of spitting, you've pretty much lost me. Auto racing I find particularly sleep-inducing. It's like watching afternoon rush hour, except in an oval instead of a straight line. The occasional punctuation of a horrendous crash fails to win me over -- as exciting as it may be, watching it makes me feel like one of those rubber-necking morons who have to slow down for a long loving look at the scene of a car accident on the road.
That being said, I think that Geof Brooks' comic strip Tradin' Paint
, subject matter aside, is quite an impressive accomplishment. Brooks was a big-time NASCAR fan who also loved to cartoon, so he quite reasonably sought to combine those two passions. His first taste of success in drawing racing toons was when they began to be accepted by Winston Cup Scene
, a weekly newsmagazine of the sport. He came up with the character of Leadfoot McRae, a hapless NASCAR driver, and quickly developed a following.
Not thinking that the national syndicates would be interested in his concept because the NASCAR fan base is primarily in the southeast US, in 1995 he decided to try self-syndicating Leadfoot (
the strip's title at the time). He garnered about six subscribing papers, but more importantly his strip was noticed by a Universal Press Syndicate salesman, who was impressed.
Universal Press Syndicate saw that interest in NASCAR was exploding across the country, so they felt the strip was worth trying nationally. Brooks was signed up to produced one daily-style strip and a Sunday per week. The daily-style strip was intended to be a fit for a newspaper's weekly NASCAR page, a round-up of the week's racing that was a pretty common sports section feature. About thirteen papers, predictably mostly in the Southeast, picked up the offering which debuted sometime in February 1997. A few biggies were in the mix -- the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
and Knoxville News-Sentinel
With NASCAR fever at its height in the late 1990s, the sign-up was probably less than either creator or syndicate had hoped. What the problem was I don't know, but maybe newspaper editors felt that NASCAR interest was a fad that would shortly subside, or maybe they didn't want to make space in their Sunday comics sections for a strip with a niche audience. In any case, after two years Brooks and the syndicate decided to wave the checkered flag on the career of Leadfoot McRae.
PS: If anyone can supply specific start and end dates for Leadfoot
or Tradin' Paint
, I'd love to hear from you.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Faith Burrows
Faith Burrows was born in Dayton, Ohio, on November 17, 1904, according to her death certificate at Ancestry.com.
In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Burrows was the only child of Ohio native Earl and “Eveline”, a Canadian. They lived at 231 North William Street in Dayton. Her father was a machinist at the National Cash Register company.
According to the 1920 census, the Burrows remained in Dayton but at a different address, 1125 Fourth Street.
Burrows graduated from Steele High School in 1922. For three consecutive school years, she was a member of the Ellen H. Richards Society. Burrows’ death certificate said she had two years of college. Information regarding Burrows’ art training has not been found.
Dayton city directories from 1922 to 1928 listed Burrows and her mother, Evelyn, at 836 North Linwood. The 1924 directory said Burrows was a librarian at the Dayton Daily News.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio), May 8, 1925, printed a photograph of Burrows with her pet lion cub and said:
Members of the Dayton Lions’ Club were astonished when Miss Faith Burrows appeared at the meeting with her pet, a lion cub.
Club members asserted that Miss Burrows, a Dayton girl, appeared to be qualified not only to join their organization but also the Lion Tamers’ Club, to judge by the behavior of the cub, which acted more like a playful kitten.
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Burrows drew the Ritzy Rosey panel for the O’Dell Newspaper Service, from 1927 to July 1927. The Fourth Estate, July 23, 1927, reported the panel’s new owner.
Rights to “Ritzy Rosey,” a one-column daily cartoon by Faith Burrow [sic], featuring also a smart description of modes and fashions, have been purchased by King Features Syndicate, Inc. “Ritzy Rosey” will be released August 1.
In the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, March 6, 1928, King Features filed a trademark application for Ritzy Rosey.
Ser. No. 260,279. King Features Syndicate, Inc., New York, N. Y. Filed Jan. 18, 1928.
The November 6, 1928 issue of the Gazette said King Features filed a trademark application for Ritzy Rosalie, apparently a replacement for Ritzy Rosey.
Particular description of goods.— Newspaper Cartoons. Claims use since Aug. 1, 1927.
Ser. No. 272,408. King Features Syndicate, Inc., New York, N.Y. Filed Sept. 14, 1928.
American Newspaper Comics said Burrows started a new series, Flapper Filosofy, for King Features. This panel ran from 1929 to 1935. The panel was included in a 1934 Canadian Patent Office Record.
For Newspaper Section. Claims use since June 4, 1928.
Around 1929, Burrows married Jerrold A. Swank. The 1930 census said the couple resided in Dayton on Grand Avenue. Burrows’ (Faith B. Swank) occupation was newspaper cartoonist and writer, and her husband was a telegraph transmission man who was also involved in radio. The 1930 city directory listed their address as 729 Grand Avenue.
Editor & Publisher, January 30, 1932, listed Beautyettes by Aldine Swank. American Newspaper Comics said the artist’s name was a Burrows pseudonym. I suspect Aldine was the middle name of her husband.
The 1940 census recorded no occupation for Burrows who had no work in 1939. Her husband was a radio broadcasting engineer. Their home was Harrison, Ohio at 89 Nottingham Road.
In the late 1940s, Burrows’ husband formed Swank Films Incorporated. The Billboard, April 30, 1949, had this listing:
Swank Films, Inc.
A similar listing appeared in the 1949 Broadcasting Yearbook.
19 W. 4th., Dayton 2, O.
Jerrold A Swank, Pres.
The 1959 Dayton city directory listed Burrows as vice-president of Swank Films. Her husband was president and treasurer.
Burrows passed away April 11, 1997, at a long-term care facility in Washington Court House, Ohio. The Social Security Death Index said she had been a resident of St. Louis, Missouri. Her husband died in 1984.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Monday, April 17, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Flapper Filosofy
Once panels like Girligags
and Flapper Fanny
had proven that the combination of pretty girl drawings and sassy gags was gold with newspaper readers, every syndicate had to have one. King Features got into the race with Flapper Filosofy
by Faith Burrows
, which debuted on January 28 1929. Ms. Burrows was already producing another panel for King, titled variously Ritzy Rosie
and Ritzy Rosalie
, which looked like a flapper gag panel, but was actually concerned with beauty and fashion advice*.
1929 was way too late to find many open newspaper spots for a flapper panel, as most papers already had one that they liked. Though Burrows' take on the genre was perfectly fine, with nice drawings and decent gags, her panel languished in obscurity, never attracting a large number of subscribers. King Features has generally been a syndicate where a new feature is given every possible chance, though, and the panel was produced until February 15 1936, quite a long run considering the small client list.
* there's some possibility that Ritzy Rosie
and Flapper Filosofy
might have been melded into a single feature circa 1930-31, as late in the run of the former it changes over to gags. I haven't found a decent run of the two features in that era, though, to compare side by side and answer the question.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
January 22 1909 -- About as racist as imaginable, this sort of flippant and contemptuous treatment of black-on-black crime was pretty standard newspaper fodder in the day.
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, April 14, 2017
Wish You Were Here, from Percy Crosby
Here's another early Percy Crosby production, a divided back card with no maker info, with art that I'm kinda surprised he would want to sign. Interesting thing is that this card has weirdly colored lettering, just like this other Crosby card
I ran awhile back. Almost seems like a code, but WIGSODUSDILSOUOFOD means nothing to me other than maybe the sound of a sneezing fit.
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Thursday, April 13, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 1 Part 2
King News by Moses Koenigsberg
Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
Murder with a Carom Shot (continued)
link to previous installment link to next installment
Justice of the Peace Anton Adam was ready at every moment of
the night or day to tie a nuptial knot, preside over a mortuary inquest, make
out a bail bond, conduct a misdemeanor trial or perform any of the varied
functions for which he was competent “under the authority vested in him by the
Commonwealth of Texas.”
As if chopped out of a square block, his five feet of height
was matched by his breadth. Each contour of his face harmonized with his
figure. The chin and jaws suggested the handiwork of a woodsman with a dull
adze. One gentle brown eye, disdaining the preoccupations of its mate, gazed
steadily beyond those present. It might have been the orb of a dreamer in rapt
contemplation of mystic realms. The other eye was startlingly different in
color and behavior. A bright marine blue, it seemed driven by a tremendous diligence
in never-ceasing scrutiny of all visible minutiae. Few persons sought to trace
in Justice Adam’s countenance any hint of his thoughts. It was no more
revealing on the bench than in a poker game.
The magistrate was seated under the single gaslight in the
tiny courtroom when the posse with Ben Thompson deployed in Veramendi Alley.
The desk behind which Anton Adam sat, his back against the east wall, was so
scarred and battered that its mere aspect offered a rowdy taunt to the majesty
of the law. The only other furniture was two benches and an assortment of camp
stools and kitchen chairs.
Fully forty perspiring men squeezed into the smoke-filled
room behind Ben Thompson and his police guard. Among them were several friends
of the prisoner, including Lee Tarleton, a lawyer hurriedly fetched by Ben’s
brother, Bill, who had been for several years a resident of San Antonio. From outside, through Veramendi
Alley, came the sullen murmur of the waiting crowd. All the adjacent streets
were now choked with a surging mass of men, their stern faces more ominous than
Policemen and county peace officers, with drawn revolvers,
blocked off both ends of Veramendi Alley, the two strategic points that
commanded the only open routes to Justice Adam’s courtroom. The cell-like
chamber in which Ben Thompson awaited arraignment was also accessible through a
window that opened from the north wall into a patio shared by the residents of
the block. For a mob to reach that patio, however, would have entailed breaking
through one or more of the houses surrounding it; and thus far there was no
hint of such an extremity.
It was into one of these buildings that I was led by the
policeman detailed by Marshal Shardein to restore me to my father. Perhaps a
painful scene would have followed the reunion were it not for the salving
influence of official attention touched by the policeman’s genial humor.
Instead of the thrashing that ordinarily would have attended a similar set of
circumstances, there was an animated discussion of what I had seen and heard on
In a few moments, excited neighbors were questioning me, and
presently the party repaired to the patio for more comfortable conversation.
Then I saw Ben Thompson the second time. He was seated beside the window
opening into Anton Adam’s court.
I never understood my parent’s indulgence on that occasion,
but it required little wheedling to have a table moved from his shop to a point
at which, though outside the building, we joined the spectators of Justice
Adam’s courtroom, actually nearer to the magistrate himself than most of the
persons inside. My father’s elbows rested on the windowsill. Standing on the
table, I leaned over his shoulder.
Ben Thompson was whispering with Lee Tarleton and another
Marshal Shardein was in close conference with Jacobo Coy and
several other officers.
The prosecution was in a dilemma. Coy’s canvass of the evidence
had yielded a unique problem. There was no question about the corollary facts. It was generally
known that a bitter enmity had subsisted for months between Thompson and the
proprietors of the gambling parlor over which Joe Foster officiated in the Crystal Palace. Thompson had openly charged that
he was fleeced out of a large sum of cash in a monte game. He had been heard
repeatedly to threaten to “clean out the joint.” He had visited the Crystal Palace earlier that day and demanded to
see Jack Harris.
In mid-afternoon, Coy, learning that Thompson had announced
an intention to return and “get” Harris, sought out several of his friends. A
program was arranged to keep Ben engaged in other parts of town until he could
be persuaded to return to Austin,
eighty miles north. At sundown, a messenger brought word that Thompson had
disappeared from a poker game in a resort “across the creek,” eluded his
friends and supposedly gone on a rampage. It was then that Coy took up his
vigil under the shadows of San Fernando Cathedral.
Thompson slipped through the loungers in front of the Crystal Palace shortly after seven o’clock.
Stepping to the bar, he ordered a pint of champagne. Barney Mitchell, a
habitue, greeted, “Howdy, Ben!” and was out of the front door before Thompson
could respond, leaving him alone with John Dyer, the bartender.
No patron ever received prompter or politer service.
Thompson quaffed the wine as if it were water.
“Now give me your best Havana
see-gar,” he ordered.
Dyer was pushing forward a box of cigars when Thompson
demanded, “Hasn’t that bastard, Harris, come down yet?”
According to Dyer’s circumstantial account to Coy, repeated
later on the witness stand, he answered, “I’ll go look for Mr. Harris.”
“Well, tell him we’ll settle for these drinks in my private
office in hell.”
Thompson sauntered toward the street while Dyer climbed to
the upper floor. There he reported to Harris that the blustering visitor from Austin awaited him below.
Harris came slowly downstairs. Perhaps until that moment he had hoped to avoid
a meeting with Thompson. He peeped through the three-inch aperture between one
of the swinging fiber doors and the wall on which it hinged. Billy Simms was in
front talking with Thompson. Everybody else had vanished. Simms was trying to
mollify his old friend, Ben.
The ticket office, a tiny enclosure the inside of which was
open to view from all parts of the saloon, stood back of the swinging fiber
doors. When incomers entered, they continued straight north to the bar or
turned west to the ticket window. Dyer, again behind the bar, had an
uninterrupted vision of everything inside tile main entrance. He saw Harris
walk into the ticket office and pick up a double-barreled shotgun. He saw Simms
step back into the saloon.
It was possible for Thompson and Simms to glimpse each other
through the space between the two swinging doors and Dyer heard them exchanging
words. Thompson on the sidewalk was invisible to Harris, and Harris in the
ticket office was completely out of Thompson’s sight.
“Why don’t you make that yellow-bellied bastard come out and
fight?” Thompson yelled to Simms.
Harris laid the shotgun in the crook of his left arm and
braced himself against a chair. The barrel projected across the opening through
which he had peeped a moment before. The muzzle pointed due east. A line drawn
from the triggers straight south would have passed through Thompson’s chest a
dozen feet away.
Alongside Harris stood an iron pillar, twin of another
column on the opposite side of the fiber doors, both serving as props of the
upper story. They were round and smooth, each eight inches in diameter.
Measurements taken afterward showed that Harris stood a full foot north and
west of the iron shaft nearest to him.
“Why doesn’t that stinking coyote come out?” Thompson
called. “Is that him behind the door with a shotgun?”
“Yes, you dirty -----,
I’m here,” Harris answered.
A revolver-shot crashed. Harris slumped down. The shotgun,
undischarged, slipped from his arm. Another pistol blast came while he lay
crumpled on the floor. That bullet was never traced.
Simms and Dyer helped Harris upstairs. A lead slug had
pierced his chest, rupturing die right lung. Death came before the doctor.
“There won’t be any dispute about these things,” Jacobo Coy
told his police confreres, “but what’s a jury going to do when Ben’s lawyers
prove that there was no straight line between his gun and any part of Jack
Harris’ body? Won’t they have a lot of fun showing that you can’t curve a
pistol-shot like a baseball pitcher curves his throw? I know what happened, but
a smart lawyer could make my testimony sound like a joke. They’d laugh me out
“What do you mean ?” asked Shardein.
“Ben killed Harris with a carom shot,” was the answer. “He
couldn’t have done it any other way. He laid his sight through the crack in the
door against the iron post so that the bullet would carom off into Harris’
body. I’ve taken all the measurements and marked all the positions with chalk
lines. I found a sliver of lead on the iron shaft where the bullet glanced
off. And Dyer swears he doesn’t know whether the shots were fired over the
doors, through die opening between them or through a crack on one side.”
A sharp rap on the magistrate’s desk halted the whispered
“A prima facie
case has been presented and the defendant
will be held for the action of the grand jury,” Justice Adam announced. “No
arguments will be heard at this time. It would be foolish to consider any
question now except the safe conduct of the prisoner to the proper place of
“In view of the circumstances plain to all present, the
court expects the fullest cooperation of all within the hearing of my voice.
Certain arrangements have been made. Those not charged with their execution
will, immediately upon the adjournment of court, file outside in an orderly
manner and refrain from any comment of any kind among themselves or to others
until such time as their intelligence indicates that the need for silence has
passed. Until court is adjourned you will remain quietly in your present
Two mounted policemen were dispatched for a cab. There was
no secrecy about their errand. In fact, they made a good deal of fuss over it.
At the moment the hack arrived, the courtroom crowd was
emptying into the narrow street. The squat figure of Justice Anton Adam was
conspicuous. Immediately behind him, a group moved into a huddle, apparently
surrounding and screening someone. The magistrate paused a moment as if
presenting himself for observation. Then he stepped into the cab. The compact
bunch of men following him gathered around a door of the vehicle. Suddenly,
three of them were thrust inside. The movement was so swift and abrupt that
even the mounted policemen at hand could not have identified the trio.
The courtroom light went out and a constable appeared in the
entrance, slowly closing the door and then turning the lock. The cabman lashed
his horse. Eight mounted policemen set off, two on either side in Indian file,
two ahead and two behind.
A shout, starting at the corner of Veramendi Alley and Acequia Street,
rolled through the neighborhood: “They’re taking Thompson away!”
Justice Anton Adam stuck his head through the open cab
window. “Disperse! Go home! Respect the law!” he roared.
Perhaps the nine galloping horses alone would have forced a
path through the weltering crowds; but the grisly visage of Anton Adam, drawing
added austerity from his hoarse shouting, left no doubt of the sortie’s
success. Men fell backward in real alarm.
The cab and its escort whirled south on Acequia Street, across Main Plaza
and then turned eastward on Market
Street. It was a mystifying move. Every man in the
mob had believed the cab was carrying Ben Thompson to the county jail; but that
building lay in the opposite direction. What, they asked, did this mean? Was
the killer being hurried to a friendly refuge?
Shouts of mixed perplexity and resentment arose. The horde
that had filled the contiguous streets broke into knots and small groups moving
eastward, less in purposeful chase than in befuddled quest. The mob was
Ben Thompson was not in the cab with Anton Adam. The instant
the lamp in the tiny courtroom was extinguished, the prisoner, in the hands of
four policemen, made his way through the window into the tomb-like darkness of
the patio. By the light of a small lantern, he was taken into the living-room
that lay behind the Koenigsberg shop on Soledad Street. There, with hushed
voices, Thompson and the four policemen sat while my father busied himself
among the shelves in front. I spent the interval examining my five companions.
Thompson showed evidence of impatience. He had been an
intent listener while Justice Adam was explaining the plan to outwit the mob.
He had sneered at the detail of climbing through a window, but he offered no
objection when the moment for action arrived. Now the vigil in the back room
obviously irked him. He asked for a drink of whiskey. No one had a flask.
He urged that one of the policemen do a bit of
reconnoitering. It would afford opportunity to pick up a pint of liquor. The
officers were companionable but not obliging. Then Thompson had an inspiration.
“Why don’t one of you get something for the kid?” he asked. “I’ll pay for a
bunch of bananas if you’ll get it for him.”
That thought found receptiveness. Anyhow, each of the men in
the room was eager to know what had been happening outside. Two of the
officers, in mufti
, strolled through the shop into Soledad Street. Ten minutes later they were
back with a bunch of bananas. No one offered me a counsel of moderation. That
is why my recollection of Ben Thompson, though poignant, has been vastly more
visceral than mnemonic.
A knock at fhe front door was followed by the entrance of a
deputy sheriff. “The coast’s clear,” he announced. “The crowd’s scattered.”
The four policemen and the deputy sheriff led Thompson to
the Houston Street
side of the patio, where egress had been meanwhile arranged. Two cabs waited
outside. In ten more minutes, the City Marshal of Austin was safely lodged in
the Bexar County jail. There he remained for
months until his trial for murder.
The records of Bexar
County show that the
prosecutors of Ben Thompson exercised every precaution against being “laughed
out of court.” Details indicating that the fatal bullet was a carom shot were
scrupulously withheld from the testimony at the inquest over the body of Jack
Harris, at the preliminary hearing of Thompson before Justice Anton Adam and at
his long-drawn-out trial before Judge George H. Noonan. Apparently, the police
dread of ridicule affected the presentation of their case. At all events, Ben
Thompson was finally acquitted of the murder of Jack Harris.
His exoneration supplied abundant tinder for a feud between
two cities. The acquittal was cited by his Austin
friends to emphasize the harshness of the treatment Ben had suffered in San Antonio. Now that
this man’s innocence was certified by a jury of his peers, it was shocking to
recall “how he had been held for hours before the dangling noose of a mad mob.”
No mollifying effect flowed from the ruse by which the
police had spirited Thompson through the throngs gathered around the
neighborhood of Justice Anton Adam’s court. On the contrary, indignation in Austin was sharpened by
the fact that such a stratagem had been necessary.
When Thompson returned to Austin after his formal acquittal, he was
greeted as a conquering hero. The International & Great Northern Railroad
depot was festooned in flowers and decorated with banners and enormous placards
acclaiming the valorous city
marshal. Thompson was carried from the train on the
shoulders of clamorous admirers to a waiting carriage. Then the horses were
unhitched from the vehicle. Ropes were commandeered to attach to the shafts so
that a long line of shouting citizens might pull the carriage through the main
street to the great granite capitol building. Confetti wasn’t in style at the
time. Instead, 45-calibre Colt revolvers echoed in salvos while bands blared,
whooping horsemen dashed to and fro, bibulous orators vied in panegyrics and
the capital city of Texas
turned itself loose in a wild celebration.
“Austin has neglected one
tribute to Ben Thompson,” wrote a wag in a San Antonio newspaper of that week. “It
should erect a bronze monument to commemorate his invention of ‘the forced loan
The quip epitomized one of the outstanding traditions of the
Southwest. It was linked with as large a share of Thompson's infamy as his
reputation for killing. The story attributed to him the origination of a
practice afterward adopted with varying degrees of finesse by other
The technique was best exemplified by an account of its
first presentation to Joseph Nalle
, the wealthiest man in Austin. Thompson devoted the night before
that historic occasion to one of his many losing bouts at table stakes poker.
“Frozen out,” he exhausted all his resources for borrowing. Daylight found him
seated on the front step of Nalle’s banking house, reeking with liquor, his
head between his hands, his elbows on his knees, the embodiment of melancholy.
Nalle always rose before dawn. His first stop of the day was
at his bank before any of the employees arrived. It was with considerable
misgiving that he discovered Thompson on the doorstep.
“Howdy, Ben?” the banker greeted. “Is there anything wrong?”
Thompson got slowly to his feet, rolled a pair of bloodshot
eyes and mumbled in tragic tones: “Good morning, Mr. Nalle. I’m terribly
“Sorry for what, Ben ? What’s happened ?”
“Well, you see, Mr. Nalle,” drawled Thompson, “I know you’re
my friend and I’ve come to you because I want to keep out of trouble. I never
get into trouble unless I’m worried and I’ve never been so much worried as I am
now. You know I never shot a man in my life except after I got into a nervous
spasm from worry.
When I get worried my head gets all churned up. It feels as
if it were splitting and then something happens inside of me and I don’t know
what I’m doing. I guess it’s a sort of a fit. That’s the only time I get into
my scrapes. And it feels like one of those times now.”
Nalle would have been delighted to thrust a city’s width between
him and his visitor; but that was impossible. To dash into the bank seemed
futile. Thompson might suffer a seizure before Nalle could open the door.
“What are you worried about?” the banker parleyed.
“That’s kind of funny, you asking me,” Thompson responded.
“I thought you knew I never worried about anything except
money. I just can’t stand owing anybody anything and I’ve got myself into a bad
There was real relief in Nalle’s voice when he said, “Come
on in, Ben, and let’s see what we can do about it.”
Of course, the imminence of one of Thompson’s fits was not
lessened indoors. It must have weighed heavily on the consciousness of the
banker because Nalle acted promptly and effectively in applying the preventive
treatment Ben prescribed.
And that was how Ben Thompson got his first loan from Joseph
Nalle. It was $5,000. Thompson insisted on executing a promissory note and on
receiving in return a memorandum signed by Nalle indicating the amount and the
due date. This document not only served to quash any taint of extortion, but it
also supplied a formal record of the Ben Thompson system of forced loans.
Chapter 1, Part 3 next week link to previous installment link to next installment
Labels: King News