Category : McDougall’s This Is The Life

Walt McDougall’s This is the Life: Chapter 15 Part 2

This is the Life!

by 

Walt McDougall

Chapter Fifteen (Part 2) – Along the Cool Sequestered Vale of Life

[McDougall is talking about his World War I service, and the cartoons about camp life he was syndicating]

I had some moments of indecision; I knew that if I wished, I could go abroad with the 314th [Infantry Regiment], but I could not see how the cartoons could continue to be produced or, if made, how they could be shipped regularly from the battle front. I decided to remain and accompany the next regiment, for we all thought the war would last for some years and that boys now at school would eventually occupy our places in camp.

When Col. Darrah, who had been made a brigadier general in May, informed me that the camp would entrain next day, I felt a sudden repentance but it was too late now. I began to be showered with souvenirs; everything that could not be taken as luggage was presented to me, desks, chairs, clocks, electric fans, boots, shoes, window curtains, rugs, hot-water bags, riding pants, coats, hats, pipes, until I had to set a room apart for my collection.

On July 14th I saw the camp empty, regiment by regiment, with feelings unlike any I had ever experienced. I said good-by to the 314th with the emotions of a father, ashamed to permit the tears to show, yet loath to desert my post. I had come to know hundreds of the boys in every part of the camp, from addressing them in the huts and sketching among them, umpiring ball games and the like, and I was constantly hailed by cheery voices as the lines filed past burdened with their packs. Even at the last minute I weakened and jumped on the train and went to Philadelphia with the regiment.

Returning, I found the camp deserted, a new M. P. sentry held me up as I unlocked my door, and I made him bring his sergeant, who then brought a new colonel, who had that afternoon marched in.

Although I lived with the boys of this regiment five months and became intimate with many of them, I can recall no more than, say, twenty names of those rooming immediately about me. They differed in many ways from the lads of the 314th; some of them had, in fact, been in France for months, and were marked by army influences. They were all of them tougher and more profane, played stud poker all night, many of them, and attended petting parties en masse in the Baltimore hotels, aye, even invited the austere and highly moral cartoonist to accompany them! The majority of them were Southerners, with a sprinkling of Pennsylvanians and Jerseymen. I am ashamed to confess that I have even forgotten the number of this regiment, the colonel of which was named Boyd.

Several weeks in the hospital with the gout was part of my midsummer experience when the thermometer went up to 106 and remained there for a few days. It was my first experience in a hospital. I was tested, gauged, analyzed, X-rayed, tapped and assayed before I graduated and received a certificate of 96 per cent healthfulness, and at that they overlooked my dandruff!

Having evolved a scheme whereby the camp could raise pigs and consume the enormous quantities of waste food which contractors removed daily by the trainload, I laid it before General Kuhn, who was now commanding. It made a great impression upon him. I then presented a plan for obtaining the pigs by means of an extensive publicity campaign with the slogan “Buy a Pig for the Army!” as the motive power. This also he found highly acceptable and forthwith we began to plan, but while we were preparing the campaign the War Department renewed all the contracts for garbage and left us disconsolate.

Another scheme, to widen the little creek running through the camp, for which I went so far as to persuade John Wanamaker to contribute the cement for a swimming pool, was also acceptable to everybody except the medical officers, and the boys were obliged to continue bathing in a narrow creek on the outskirts.

In September I wrote a song called “The Kitchen Cop,” which had the elements of popularity, and a band-leader named Bogolski composed the music for it. We did everything leisurely in those days, for we thought the war would last for years and there was no need of hurry. When we talked to New York music publishers about it after the Armistice, they only wanted to know why we had not brought it in July.

In that chill September we first began to perceive that the Germans were on the run, by October we were convinced that the days of the World War were numbered. Then came a horror that put all thought of battle, conquest, drill or furloughs out of mind. The influenza was known to be prevalent in many of the big cities, but it excited little alarm among our medicos until it fell upon us with fury. I caught it at once, but mildly, and being a devout acetanilid addict, I conquered it in a day, but it seems the medical men fancied aspirin as a cure! In a few days it was raging.

Men died with amazing suddenness, the disease turning into pneumonia in seventy-five per cent of the cases in a day or two, the heating plants of the hospital were not perfected, the supply of nurses deficient and the quality mediocre, while the weather was unseasonably cold.

Only two men in our house died, those being the only two who went to the hospital, none of the others being seriously inconvenienced. One of our captains, whom I found with a temperature at 6 o’clock and dosed, was sleeping and perspiring at midnight, and when I went to see him at eight next morning I found that he had taken a cold bath and gone out riding!

For days little was done except combat the plague. My typewriter, one of two in the regiment, was constantly in use recording the names of the stricken. Dead men were carried to the mortuary section at the rate of one every eight minutes. Here four or five embalmers labored desperately to cope with the situation. The bodies were dressed in new uniforms and laid out in tents, a new tent going up at intervals; one structure with shelves about its sides was used as a sort of mortuary, and here the bodies, black and white, were laid on the shelves like marble statues. It was an especially pitiable spectacle because all of these men were young, athletic and well-built, and with not a mark of disease upon them. Now and then there hurried up two bearers gruffly crying “Gangway!” youngsters who a few days before had never seen a corpse, bringing another silent form, already accustomed to their grim burdens.

Even the rollicking all-night poker-players and our student-officers who had been abroad and known the ardent touch of the cootie, the misery of the trenches, the grisly horrors of the hospitals, lost their devil-may-care jauntiness in the presence of the unseen specter. The camp was quarantined, no visitors were permitted, and but a few were allowed to leave. Our mess officer, Stoops, having died, I was asked to do the purchasing for the officer’s mess, and here my trolley park experience came in handy. I found so many delectable bargains in the Baltimore market that I was unanimously elected Regimental Buyer and continued to serve in that capacity until the Armistice.

Had the Armistice Day demonstration been left out of my experience of a lifetime, I would have missed a phase of public feeling and expression that becomes visible only at very rare intervals. I dimly recall the rejoicings on the night of the victory at Gettysburg, since which time much foreign blood has been poured into the national veins, which blood is not of the cold Puritan strain but a fluid far more susceptible to emotion. Yet, under the influence of such a mingling of relief, exultation and alcoholic stimulant as prevailed for a few hours that day, perhaps the most Nordic of circulations would have been fired to a sort of frenzy.

I happened to be in Baltimore when the city went wild and for a time was the center of one of those maelstrom-like manifestations of regard for any man in uniform which was the principal characteristic of the outbreak. I am willing to certify that I was hugged and kissed in more ways, at more varied angles and at more varied temperatures than in the whole course of a life by no means devoid of osculation. I lost all my buttons and my hat in the melee and, oddest of all, on the train back to camp, I found in my coat pocket a woman’s bead purse containing nine dollars and twenty-six cents and a wedding ring! I advertised for the owner, and in a day or two she turned up, proved ownership, and went away rejoicing. She was a young colored woman!

She claimed that her pocket had been picked and professed no knowledge of the manner in which her purse had been transferred to my pocket, but a remark she made was enlightening. “Land’s sake!” she exclaimed. “Anything kin happen any time in Baltimo’, but that day people suah was silly!”

After the Armistice I was appointed on a commission to go to Russia, but while preparing for the journey, received word that the Soviet government had declared war on the United States. I know not what has become of this declaration; I have never heard it referred to since. Everything was off and I packed up my numerous belongings and went to Goshen, N.Y., for Thanksgiving Day. Here I discovered very quickly that my recent experiences had prepared me for the serenity and comfort of a form of existence which I had caricatured and ridiculed all my days. I now had no gout but I harbored three kinds of insomnia, my appetite was a mere phantom, I was becoming deaf, was smoking too much, and addiction to the army flapjack had at last developed symptoms of indigestion which indicated that the time for reform had arrived.

I contemplated with real relief the rest of my days occupied in the study of the habits of the land tortoise, the woodchuck and the potato bug, the painting of watercolors and the breeding of Rhode Island Reds. Yet even here I was not safe; I encountered an old chum, once a World reporter, who had started a paper, the Herald, in Middletown, a few miles distant, and I listened to his siren song. This was Thomas Pendell, now of Washingtonville, N.Y., whose faith in country newspapers is literally unbounded, having owned some two dozens of them; and having certain untested theories regarding such publications myself, it was not long before I was interested in the enterprise. Ere many days I was publishing a daily column called “The Observation Car,” which was proving a godsend to the editors of papers throughout the State and from which they were freely borrowing without credit, and I had projected a comic series to be centered in Middletown, when another turn of the wheel occurred.

I received a telegram from Judge Linn Arnold, the proprietor of the Knickerbocker Press, Albany, informing me that there would be a page at my service or cartoons and comments in his projected weekly, the Constitution, at a handsome salary. I had already seen an advertisement and some fulsome compliments, in the Editor and Publisher, of this periodical, which contemplated an attack upon “Invisible Government” and the rectification of State politics generally, and it seemed to me an opening that was not to be neglected. Arnold told me that he had just bought the Utica Globe and asked me to meet him there next noon.

Arriving in Utica, I met the owner of the Globe, an old acquaintance for whom I had made pictures thirty-five years ago, and he informed me that the Judge had suggested buying the paper but that was as far as he had progressed.

I hastened to Albany to find Arnold was absent making speeches advocating his own election to the U.S. Senate! The circulation manager, Belden Crowe, who had been brought from an inland town two weeks before, knew little of the Judge’s intentions beyond what a few hurried consultations had produced, but he was busy getting ready to produce a big paper. I was charged with organizing an art department.

Two weeks later Arnold showed up, nervous and excited. He announced that he had bought a well-known Broadway hotel to use as the Constitution‘s office, and he promptly installed me in the bridal chamber thereof, the room which Tim Sullivan had always occupied when in Albany, and before we had concluded our talk he informed me that he, Linn Arnold, would unquestionably be the Republican candidate for President within three years!

I guessed that the stress of his speech-making had caused the Judge to yield to alcohol, but within a week it became evident to those who saw him frequently that something far more serious ailed him. He took Judge Woodward and myself to Troy in his car, left us at a club there and returned without us, bought automobiles indiscriminately and then quarreled bitterly with me on State Street, accusing me of aiding his enemies and following him about the country taking notes. Then he sued some two hundred well-known men throughout the State and a number of newspapers for criminal libel.

This would have been a master stroke of advertising because it created nationwide comment, but it was merely a phase of the dementia which had finally brought low a fairly able intellect. In another week he was dead and the bubble had burst.

During the subsequent proceedings I came often in contact with Ex.-Gov. Martin Glynn of the Albany Times-Union. He was a little, fat and extremely vain man, greatly inflated over the financial success his sheet was enjoying, due to the general decay of the other older papers in town and the remarkable ability of two or three exceptionally capable managers and editors. He never for an instant forgot that he had been for a time, owing to the indictment of Bill Sulzer, the governor of the state, and he never permitted anybody else to forget it. He had attained much notoriety by the speech he delivered in the Democratic National Convention of 1916, the refrain of which was “He kept us out of war.”

I made a number of cartoons for the Times-Union during my stay in Albany, boarding the while with the wholly delightful Crowe family, Mrs. Crowe being one of those amiable housewives, rare and precious, who believe in satisfying an appetite for pies and doughnuts when it manifests itself.

My stay was prolonged by the discovery, made in the wonderful State Library, that there is no history extant of Major General Alexander McDougall of Revolutionary fame. He was the “First man to suffer in the cause of American Liberty,” foremost of the Liberty Boys, author of the “Call to Liberty” which opened the Revolutionary era, first New York general, succeeded Arnold at West Point when Washington asked in despair: “Whom can we trust now?” first Secretary of the Navy, first President of New York Society of the Cincinnati and the first president of the first bank of New York.

A pretty good record, yet only brief notices in the encyclopedias are all that the scholar can turn to, to learn his history! Researches disclosed an amount of historical material, original documents and letters from Washington, Clinton, Hamilton, Lafayette, Putnam and others, besides 1300 letters in the N.Y. Historical Society’s possession, all unedited with the exception of Hugh Hastings’s “Clinton Letters,” that made the temptation to try to write such a history irresistible. It actually seemed that it would be easy!

I spent more than eight months at the task. Summer came and went, and another winter. I became acquainted with a large number of delightful persons in Albany, the very home of home-brew and old Dutch cooking—if you know where to seek for it. It was spring when I returned to Goshen with a mass of notes, maps and pictures for the history, and also much material for an Indian romance. As yet, neither of these works is completed. I am afraid Brisbane’s airy prediction that “my versatility would be my ruin” was based upon a weakness discernible to the sharp-eyed. Time was when keeping two or three jobs aloft like a juggler was sport —now each one seems to be a life work that needs scrupulous care.

There are certain cities to which I go periodically to participate pictorially in stirring municipal elections; each of these melees, instead of being the little ruckus of yore, now assumes genuine importance; last autumn, when, in New Bedford, our upright and impeccable party was beaten to a pulp, it seemed to me that I was losing my grip and ought to retire to the Home for Senile Cartoonists. Yet, after all, if a man of sixty-seven persists in doing the things he did at forty-seven, he must be content to take a few knock-outs, and I fancy those which I have taken within the last few years have hurt me less than if I had received them in early life.

I do not know why we are here nor where we go from here, nor has my experience equipped me with wisdom enough to guide others. I find that every one of my old friends refuses to confess that he has been in various ways just as weak and selfish, as blind and obstinate, as I have been and has made as many mistakes, but all confess to minor errors.

The one quite common error of sacrificing Health and Strength for money or a boss I have not committed, for I have lost no opportunity for play as I went along instead of waiting until I had leisure for it, and because I played diligently I am still virile and joyous and so much ahead of the game.

I behold in Nature, in Science, in men and women, beauties that formerly were invisible to me, and it is probable that with this growth of insight a decade or two more will refine and mellow me into a worthwhile citizen of Connecticut.

I own a shingled cottage on the Niantic River at Waterford, Conn. There is a labyrinth of ideal woodland, about five acres, and a white sand-beach, through which the sea scents wind day and night; much of it is a tangle of tall ferns, sumac, and wild grape massed and draped about great oaks, hickories and walnuts, in which pheasants and rabbits dwell secure; kingfishers and fish hawks ply freely along my water front, where the long clam breeds almost unmolested of man; pallid birches gleam against the ruddy brown of cedars and ancient apple trees planted perhaps two centuries since by the Niantic Indians, giant gray boulders are scattered in the meadow rue and goldenrod like woodland altars. Repose and Beauty abide here at Fern Lane, working miracles; only the cool salt breeze and the myriad birds know the secret of this home of laziness, levity and sleep where the collar is taboo and Etiquette is ignored. Sensations, emotions, thrills, passions, even tragedies may enter into the wild woodland life about me, but they touch me not. Only the iceman, the grocer and the bootlegger ever penetrate to the gray shingled house barely visible from the road.

Only Memory, now and then, stirred by a lovely sunset, an unwonted fragrance or faint far-away music, touches the heartstrings gently betimes, but at sixty-seven one is indurated; a sense of beauty remains, even of humor or pity, but no longer do the passions rule the mind. A touch of stiffness following a five-mile row or ride hints at approaching senility, but what of it? I have lived, played, feasted, adventured, worked and loved. Now, with nothing of moment accomplished in an extremely busy lifetime, I take my ease with paints and books and plan a wildwood garden to shelter every kind of rare shy growth that my botanist friends can bring me.

If a man cannot reform here, he is past reforming.

T H E   E N D 
Walt McDougall took his own life at age 80, on or about March 4 1938. His AP-distributed obituary, short and inaccurate, is reproduced here.

Walt McDougall’s This is the Life: Chapter 15 Part 1

This is the Life!

by 

Walt McDougall

Chapter Fifteen (Part 1) – Along the Cool Sequestered Vale of Life

I had been appointed two or three years before, under the Migratory Bird Act, Game Protector of Florida, an office then having no particular powers or duties and practically nothing to do except make a monthly report about nothing at all, although, of course, it has grown in dignity and importance since. Much of my spare time was spent each winter in observing the increase of the protected birds. White egrets, hitherto approaching extinction, rapidly increased until they were to be seen frequently in our most urban sections, and also the sea cows became quite common, in fact more plentiful than the real cow, which is rather rare in Florida. Shortly after hostilities began in France, I encountered some badly wounded Canadian officers who had been sent South to recuperate, and often took them out boating. From them one day I learned about “camouflage” as practiced in the European armies. The prospect of this novel application of paint to warfare excited me immensely; I seemed to glimpse an opening whereby many aged artists could be of service to their country.

When the United States went into the conflict, McClure’s Syndicate announced in a sudden panic that it was evident that the newspapers were likely to be compelled to shut down on all colored pages and similar forms of extravagance. Such rumors were flying in every direction. I wrote suggesting that we close down for a period. Really, there was no suppression of such features, and the consumption of paper greatly increased.

However, I was idle, and compulsory idleness soon became a burden unbearable. In July I went to Washington instead of to Greenport, L.I., as usual, to preach camouflage to an incredulous and derisive lot of official dumb-bells who thought I was trying to introduce a new brand of French cheese. I was dubbed “Camouflage Walt” in the Press Club. I wrote a couple of page stories for the Post that helped to make the word familiar, but alas, the reputation for humor is ruinous to any serious purpose; I got a few laughs but no consideration, although seven hundred French and English artists were even then engaged in developing the new defensive art. General Joe Kuhn, head of the War College, assured me it “was mere frills and piffle.”

Incidentally, while thus engaged, I wrote an illustrated page entitled the “Seven Sutherland Sisters of the Senate,” of which I have always been proud, an expose of the Prohibition Senators, who, singularly enough, were all of a type and all ludicrous, not to mention their other weaknesses. This story was extensively syndicated, I learned later, by the Wet interests. Had they retained me earlier, I am persuaded that a few more similar bombs would have beaten off the Anti-Saloon League and so strengthened the rum-soaked vertebra of Congress that life would be a far different thing in this country today.

I went up to New York, having sold a poster and a magazine cover and feeling opulent, and with my usual luck was returning from a nocturnal sail with some friends when the “Black Tom” explosion went off. A low-lying mist along the western shore of the North River made it impossible to see just where the disaster had occurred, but we turned and ran for Jersey City. We spent nearly two hours, warned off now and then by police boats, but we procured much valuable news and about twenty cans of even more valuable gasoline that came floating along. At one time we were passing a drifting burning ship loaded with such cans and, it appeared, ammunition also, when our engine stalled. Simultaneously the ship began a barrage that was perilous but picturesque; two or three missiles—rivets or bullets—struck the engine with ringing reverberations, and burning cans of gasoline or oil described arcs of fire over us before we induced the engine to respond to our feverish coaxing. It was no place for a valuable motor boat.

It was a very enjoyable experience and did much to dispel a feeling that had lately affected me that I was past all the milestones of excitement, but when I was safe in my hotel chamber at three a.m. and discovered a couple of holes burned in the back of my Palm Beach suit, my elation vanished.

I spent the summer in Barnegat Bay, fishing and trying to write a novel, although Freddie Duneka had assured me that for one of my disposition that was an impossible task, but Fred knew only the kind of novels Harper’s made, not my kind.

That winter in Florida was filled with spasmodic preparations for an old-fashioned war, with red pants and blue coats, gilt shoulder straps, gilt swords and ostrich feathers. Having received a military education, as per the advertisement of the Newark Military Academy, I was in the foreground for a brigadier general’s stars but I waved them away. However, I was active in the promotion of a local artillery company, with a rapid-firing gun, and induced one millionaire to promise to pay for it. It was soon learned that the Government had discarded Civil War methods for some of the simpler tricks which the War College had picked up, so while we waited for developments we harried suspected German sympathizers until it became unhealthy for them to express their feelings.

I went back to Washington again in May. Within two weeks I was listening to suggestions that I was just the kind of an old fox that was needed in the Department of Justice to cope with my vast experience and erudition against the horde of Prussian, Austrian, Bulgarian, Rumanian and Hungarian barons, baronesses, counts and the like who, it was alleged, infested all our best hotels and watering places looking for plans of forts, warships and defenses, blowing up bridges and docks and destroying the morale of workmen. In truth, the worst of these were in the foreign embassies and, in many cases, probably, in the Department of Justice itself.

It seemed to me that here was a chance to gain an insight into Romance that was not to be neglected. Adventure was here if it existed at all; every aspect lured me. In a week I received notice from one Bruce Bielaski, Chief Investigator, an ex-baseball-player, and one of Ring Lardner’s most precious types, to consult him. This gentleman, not being a conversationalist, whatever else he was, had little to say to me and soon informed me that the custom was to place a proposed agent on trial for three months, as it were, but he confessed that he thought that, being a well-known cartoonist and above suspicion, I might be useful. He then told me to go to Philadelphia at once and report.

“To whom?” I asked, startled by the lack of ceremony. “To whoever is in charge at the office in the Federal Building.” I had no other instructions. No cub reporter ever had a briefer send-off from a crusty editor. There was something intriguing in its informality and vacuity.

At the Federal Building in Philadelphia I met the agent in charge, a dark, surly-looking man named Garbagino, of Italian descent, about 32 years old, who, when I introduced myself, regarded me with evident disfavor but who grunted out that he had been advised by wire of my coming. He gave me his private telephone number but not a word of instruction beyond advising me to put up at the old Colonnade Hotel on Chestnut Street. All the instruction which I and another man just appointed, Hendricks, also an old newspaper man, ever received in the art and mystery of investigating came from hints picked up in the office from two well-disposed agents.

Little need be said about this degrading and disappointing experience. Having gone through it, I am glad that I added it to my fund, but had I been warned, nothing would have tempted me to risk it. I was promptly disillusionized. There was not enough Romance in the repellent task to brighten its sordid and depressing details or blind one to its degrading humiliations. No one, of course, was aware of my sinister occupation, but I was haunted by a conviction that my countenance revealed my constant sense of disgrace. I was, we all were, merely policemen without the uniform and club.

The other men, with the exception of Hendricks, were very ardent, prone to make arrests on the least suspicion, unable to exercise restraint or reflection, mostly engaged in the pursuit of smuggled Chinese or Mann Law evaders up to the time of the war; several had a slight smattering of law, but mostly they had extreme difficulty in putting their daily reports into English. There was an Austrian, soon proved to be aiding the enemy, two wops, and all but one were backwoods boys and looked it. They one and all affected a lofty scorn of “Secret Service Men.” These are attached to the Treasury Department and have nothing to do but hunt up counterfeiters and guard the President.

I became intimate with two of the old hands, so to speak, and it was long after most of them had, in another administration, walked the plank that I learned my unexplained sudden advent had aroused the suspicion of Garbagino and two of his closest friends that I had been sent up from Washington to spy upon the office. And, in fact, one of these intimates was there for that very purpose.

Adventures I had, of course, some comical, others pathetic, and it must be confessed that I gained an insight into this mysterious and powerful branch of our democratic form of government that the ordinary citizen cannot gain, but it was not worth gaining at the expense of a feeling that all humanity is crooked and venal. It was an experience that taught me more of the despicable side of humanity than all my newspaper life had done.

It was essentially a political institution. No real investigation was ever done to my knowledge apart from that brought about my informants’ letters; even an anonymous letter was acted upon if sufficiently virulent. Now and then a slinking creature crept in to confide something to Garbagino or one of the others, and the atmosphere of the office was always one of blended mystery and bunk that was amusing to an old observer. No matter how puerile or ridiculous, every investigation had to be reported, three copies made, and mailed to Washington nightly. What tons of these half-baked transcriptions must be stored away in Washington may be imagined!

I was aware of Garbagino’s antipathy from the outset by a quite obvious endeavor to disgust me with the work. When I came upon anything of genuine importance, as I did once or twice, he promptly took it to himself, and he chose the most unpleasant and painful of the tasks for Hendricks and myself, and the riskiest, for he was a good deal of a rabbit. I am not aware that he ever participated in anything that held the least risk. Yet one night he was set upon and badly beaten up by unknown miscreants, to everybody’s unbounded delight.

There was no system, nor ability to create one, in the Department when the war came to immensely extend its work. When the draft began, that occupied most of our endeavors. I had, among other things, a list of 765 names of draft evaders whom I was supposed to find! Our pay was always nearly a month in arrears. I had to lend money to several fellow agents a day or two before Christmas because their $8 per diem and expenses was not forthcoming.

Congress, in its wisdom, assuming that all Department men are crooks, has so tied them up with checks and regulations that not a cent can be spent unless certified, yet we were permitted by the same sapient regulations to pay out any sum we pleased “for confidential information” without stating what it was!

My probationary period had passed and I was contemplating, with some uneasiness, certain means of extricating myself from the unpleasing dilemma, when my commission, duly signed and photographed, arrived. That very day, by some queer and never explained mix-up, I received by wire a notice from Chief Bielaski that the Philadelphia agent in charge had decided that I would not make a good investigator. For once in my life I had, it seems, been really fired, at one end, yet I had just been confirmed in my office!

I did not seek to solve the mystery, but I kept the signed commission as a souvenir. I said farewell to the boys and went over to the office of the Philadelphia Press, then edited by Alden March, and suggested to him an idea that had been forming for some weeks. This was a daily humorous cartoon on camp life based on actual observation. He approved it and agreed to do the cuts and the syndicating. The next task was to gain the approval of the Government for this novelty, but when I took the scheme to George Creel, in charge of the National Bureau of Information, he quickly convinced me that I had thought of something that would go through. Creel was an old-time comrade dating back almost to the Bohemians about whom I have had so much to say, hence he had no difficulty in recognizing a new idea. I then went and saw Secretary Tumulty in order to gain the approbation of the President. A minute’s talk with him, although the President was absent, led me to believe that Creel had already explained my plan, for Tumulty called up the War Department and then sent me over to see the Assistant Secretary. Doors opened before me as if by magic, and in less than a half-hour all had been arranged. It was arranged that I should go to Camp Meade or any other camp, occupy officer’s quarters, and mess with some regiment to be selected by the general in charge.

I went out and bought a rug, blankets and other essentials, and next day went to Camp Meade with a note to General Nicholson, a man of about my own age, who escorted me to the 314th Infantry Regiment. Here he turned me over to Col. Thomas W. Darrah, a charming, cultured and able officer without any nonsense, who selected a room for me in the quarters and then took me in to mess.

I have always, I suppose, been a little hard-boiled and callous, but as I sat studying the faces of the hundred and twenty-eight young men down both sides of the long table, something within me which hitherto had been quiescent stirred. Here I saw visible the true unalloyed patriotism, moved by ideals alone, altogether untouched and unconscious of the thousand motives that actually had brought us into the conflict. Clean, earnest, capable, devoted and cheerful, singing “Put your head down, Fritzie Boy,” at every chance, not yet hardened or seared by the poisonous breath of army life, I felt a sickening revulsion at the thought of such cannon fodder.

I was the only old man within sight except General Nicholson, who was learning to smoke cigarettes because he would not concede, he said, that the girls could do what he couldn’t. In a week I was “Pop” to the whole regiment, but I was secretly exultant when I discovered that I was able to teach dozens of those dapper lads how to sit a horse or shoot a pistol. I induced Annie Oakley to come down with old Frank Butler, her husband, and show the entire camp how to shoot coins in the air, and she gave a wonderful exhibition. I have only seen one other person do it.

Little by little I receded, as all in the camp were receding, from the outer world; at first frequent visits to Baltimore or Washington seemed necessary, but within two weeks I began to feel myself a part of the forty thousand youngsters surrounding me, and as I became intimate with one after the other of the boys of the 314th, not only officers but the men, I found my connection with the outside world weakening. The winter had been very severe, the thermometer often below zero, the whole plain a foot under ice at times, and not a man knew how the furnace worked or how to subdue its occasional rebellions. This problem solved, we were cozy enough. The matter of rising at 6 a.m., equally painful to officers and men, in my own case was not compulsory if I were willing to forego my breakfast, which I usually was. A lifelong habit of working at night had practically made sleep impossible before two in the morning, but it was not long before I had won the heart of our genial cook, late a coal miner from Pennsylvania, and thereafter there was food for the cartoonist, secreted from the ravening maws of the K. P. against my belated rising.

Terrific sand storms swept the camp occasionally, magnificent reproductions of the best the Sahara ever supplied; we ate sand, smoked sand, slept in it; as the weather warmed, gay flocks of Baltimore girls pervaded the entire area every Sunday and gave the camp the aspect of a city, grass grew in spots, and trees overlooked by the original desecraters burst into bloom. The summer was as hot as the winter had been cold, and the mosquitoes came ravenous; here, again, red tape had delayed action and there were no mosquito screens. In violation of the regulations I went to Baltimore, bought yards of netting, and screened the entire building. Three weeks later came the official screens. We designed and erected a log-cabin regimental clubhouse, with a great chimney and a dance-floor that would have cost a civilian perhaps twenty thousand dollars, of wood so green that it sprouted like potatoes.

I wrote a novel of camp life entitled “Soldier Blood” but showed it only to two publishers before I learned that war stuff was taboo, and I consigned it to cold storage.

In July came stirring rumors that soon grew into certainty as swell tailors descended on the camp to outfit the officers for real warfare abroad. Some of the prices almost killed the boys who were unused to the Fifth Avenue hold-up game, two hundred dollars for an alleged waterproofed trench overcoat, fifty for a pair of riding trousers, but exquisitely made garments all and splendid for the parade and the military ball.

Walt McDougall’s This is the Life: Chapter 14 Part 2

This is the Life!

by 

Walt McDougall

Chapter Fourteen (Part 2) – It’s a Long Lane that has No Turning

If anything out of the ordinary happens to the average dumb-bell, it’s a miracle; if it happens twice to a scientist, it’s a queer coincidence; if it happens thrice to a philosopher, it’s a Law of Nature. Now, being dumb-bell, scientist and philosopher, I came to the conclusion that my experience of the newspaper game, as it is called, was about what happens to all of its players who are not crooks or rabbits, and I did as most of them do, tried something else.
I rented an office on Broad Street and established an advertising business under the cheeky title of “The Brain Shop,” which very likely scared away as much business as it brought. Then there came to me a partner, whereby hangs a tragic tale. A well-known local politician, Clayton Erb, who had been Insurance Commissioner, a man of very wide acquaintance, offered to buy a half-interest in the Brain Shop, a proposition that was very acceptable inasmuch as it would relieve me of the outside work.

I thus became a sort of advertising counsel to several corporations, for one of which I produced a monthly colored comic paper of four pages [I believe McDougall is referring to the publication Giggles here — Allan], several department stores and merchants, and in order to provide an outlet for my still exuberant energy, for I was only fifty years old, and still devoid of wisdom teeth, I started a little weekly called Sketches that sold about 2,400 every week right in the business section, handled by newsboys alone. I am now inclined to suspect that this would eventually have been my most profitable and pleasing means of support. Incidentally, I made a few cartoons for the Telegraph.

Late one Summer day Erb came into the office and said: “I will hand you a check for three thousand five hundred dollars in the morning. I am hurrying for my train now and can’t stop. I am going to get a divorce from my wife and we will settle the matter tonight.”

He lived out of town on a fair-sized estate called “Red Gables” from which the tragedy took its name. Next morning, as I entered the train at Pleasantville, somebody remarked: “That was awful about Clayton Erb, wasn’t it?” I asked what he meant, and he handed me the morning paper. Erb had been killed by his wife as he rose from the dinner table. The trial attracted widespread attention, but Mrs. Erb was acquitted.


During this period I syndicated the “Log of the Ark by Japheth,” which was widely accepted but holding strictly to the literal Biblical narrative it seemed incongruous to prolong it for a much greater period than the duration of Noah’s maritime adventure, as any Fundamentalist will admit. When Roosevelt went on his hunting trip in Africa, I produced a series called “Teddy in Africa” that also widely syndicated, but it was not long before many newspapers hinted that some of their readers were indignant at my absurd or sarcastic depiction of their hero, and recognizing gradually that any form of caricature or criticism whatever of Roosevelt would be equally obnoxious, I began to ease up and finally ceased my efforts. This is what has always made the syndicating of political cartoons unprofitable; the protesting readers are always so much noisier than the others that the editors become alarmed at their din.

Next year a number of prominent Republicans induced me to start McDougall’s Magazine, a publication designed to muckrake the muckraking magazines, for one thing, and, I presume, to rehabilitate the Republican Party in the estimation of the Best People. Hampton’s Magazine, capitalized for millions, started that year, and spent, I heard, $60,000 a month, but it lasted only a few weeks longer than mine. I made the cover designs, cartoons, illustrations, wrote a serial entitled “The Golden Fleece,” dealing with conditions in Atlantic City, where we sold ten thousand copies every month, made advertising cuts and everything except the poetry, in spite of which the periodical lasted ten months. It might have survived longer had I not been stricken by a severe attack of gout which laid me low, incapable of movement, for ten weeks or so. When I recovered, the damage was done. Many of those who signed up to take stock in the enterprise reneged and I was broke.

It was my first failure in health and in business, but I was still young. I have observed that the more senile of my old comrades are those who have clung like barnacles to one job, and that the ones who have been fired the oftenest are the most resilient, as if hustling for the meal-ticket keeps the glands in action.

I arrived in New York with eleven dollars in my pocket. Two friends who were awaiting me at the station took me out to dinner and afterward announced that we were booked for a poker game at the house of another old comrade, an opulent Wall Street broker. When I informed them of the state of my finances, they laughed the care-free laugh of those who live by their wits, and said my credit would be good.

I won $94 that night, and something assured me that old Father Knickerbocker’s spirit was hovering over his prodigal son who had repented and returned to the old home town. In all my years in Philadelphia I had never won $94 in one night, nor in many nights. The next day I went to the office of the Globe and suggested a daily column entitled “Look Who’s Here,” in which the most notable of hotel arrivals should be pictured and written up in the style of the little country newspaper. Wright, the editor, enthused over the idea and agreed to pay me $100 weekly for the stuff.

I had singularly good fortune in having as subjects some notable arrivals, among them the Shah of Persia’s brother (or brother-in-law—I’ve forgotten which), but, best of all, Sorolla, the foremost painter of the day, a genial, unassuming, stoutish and bearded genius who posed for me and in a long interview, his first in the country, gave me an opportunity of introducing him to the newspaper-reading public, which does not know a painter from a kalsominer.

He sold a half-million dollars’ worth of pictures during one month, and I am convinced that it was all due to my boosting, but of course I may be in error.

At the end of the second week Mr. Wright told me that the owner of the Globe, a Wall Street man named Searles, had become alarmed over my contributions, thinking them largely fakes inasmuch as he could not credit me with a general acquaintance large enough nor the luck nor the ability to bag so many interesting subjects every week and he was afraid of libel suits! So the feature expired and nobody has ever had the nerve or industry to revive it.

I had already planned and now set to work to make six sample pages of a front-page comic, “Hank the Hermit,” which on completion I submitted to the World, which was known to be in need of a new feature, but although “Hank” was approved by those in charge of the supplement, I now discovered that Mr. Ralph Pulitzer cherished a personal antipathy to me. His brother Joe told me that Ralph “did not like my style.”

I formed a connection with the Western Newspaper Syndicate, managed by Charles Mar, who had been with the American, and in a short time “Hank” was booming, being used by many of the best papers of the country. Later, when it was earning perhaps $500 weekly, the World was again in distress owing to the desertion of their main attraction, George McManus, creator of “Bringing up Father,” to the American. Pulitzer had another opportunity to avail himself of the feature, as my partners were very unsatisfactory to me, but I was to witness another instance of a business man allowing his personal feelings to influence him in a business deal.

While “Hank the Hermit” was getting into his stride, for these features take time to establish themselves, I issued, through the American Press Association, a tri-weekly feature called “The Outlet,” a quarter-page package of cartoon, verse, wise-cracks and a strip, “Gink and Boob,” which was acceptable to about a hundred papers and which certainly was work enough for two men at least. When “Hank” was placed under the management of the McClure Syndicate and his prosperity became assured, I dropped “The Outlet” and went to Florida to recuperate. Henceforth for years I spent eight or nine months in the year at Rockledge, Fla.

Two or three stories that I had written for my own ill-fated magazine I sold in New York, “The Criminal’s Hat,” which I am now attempting to dramatize, “Pikers Afloat,” a novelette, and “The Last Contest,” which the American Magazine published in 1912, illustrated by George Wright, and then in 1914 republished, illustrated by Ruyterdal, which was an extraordinary proceeding, for which Orville Wright wrote a commendation. For this tale I invented the launching and landing stage for airplanes on ships, which has been adopted, but as yet I have received no royalties for the invention. The story caused H. G. Wells in his “Predictions” to seriously assert that airplanes would not be used in warfare for fifty years!

Life now moved easily and uneventfully for several years, a big tuna, tarpon or devilfish being something to talk about for days, and a passing automobile with children wanting to see “Hank and his Animals,” tourists from every State of the Union passing down the Lincoln Highway, becoming a pleasing interruption to the day’s work. In the Spring of 1915, instigated by McClure’s, now under the ownership of C. C. Brainard, who had once been a World reporter, I began a daily series, a strip, entitled “Absent-minded Abner,” which was subscribed to by some seventy-five important papers, among them the Evening Sun, New York, which was very satisfactory, to me, at least.

It is generally supposed by the cartooning fraternity that each Presidential candidate selects his cartoonist just as he does his manager. As a matter of fact he does once in many years. Usually he does not know a cartoonist exists. The able publicity manager, of either party, takes care of the picking, not of one but many alleged cartoonists, who go on the payrolls of the party and help to swell the bills. In 1904 Davenport was chosen by Roosevelt, making one cartoon, “He Is Good Enough for Me!” among others, that doubtless affected many votes, but he had much difficulty in getting paid the money promised him.

In 1911 I began to flirt with Gov. Wilson and prepare his mind for a vigorous assertion of his rights to have a hand-picked artist, but I found very quickly that cartooning was a branch that he had totally neglected. He seemed quite unaware of the importance or the extent of this means of influencing public opinion, nor was he particularly disposed to learn anything about it. Several times that summer I went to Sea Girt, and also corresponded with the Governor, finding him apparently entirely disposed to place the matter of National Cartooning in my experienced hands.

About a month before the Baltimore Convention I endeavored to screw him down to a decision, having a sort of suspicion that having marooned Harvey, Inglis, Measday, Jim Smith and most of his original workers, he intended to have nothing to do with any of the men who had done so much for his political advancement. The following letter, written after the matter had been discussed often, shows how little real impression my arguments had upon what he called his “one-track mind,” being, in fact, pure piffle, although I did not perceive it at the time.

State of New Jersey
Executive Department
May 7th 1912

My dear Mr. McDougall:
I need not tell you how sincerely I appreciate your letter of April twenty-fifth and must ask your indulgence for not having replied sooner.

I am a very barren fellow in ideas as to how I could avail myself of the services of a cartoonist. I am sure that your mind is more fertile than my own in such a matter. I am equally certain that there will be unrivaled opportunities in the approaching campaign for the use of wits.

I should esteem it a real pleasure to have a talk with you, as you suggest. I am expecting to be in my office here on Friday forenoon next and Monday forenoon next. I wonder if it would be possible for you to run down.

Sincerely yours,
Woodrow Wilson.

A few days later I went to Trenton, meeting the Governor on the trolley car and going to his office with him, where we talked for two hours. I found it quite impossible to get a definite statement from him, and it was long afterward that I learned that he hesitated mainly because I had been affiliated with a Republican paper for ten years or so and he was afraid I was politically unsound. Politics was so serious a matter to him, and he was actually at the time in such a nervous state, that even one or two jests of mine were taken up with intense gravity. One of these, that Bill Sulzer seemed to be really his most formidable adversary, actually seemed, incredible as it may appear, to perturb him visibly. In sooth, that day he was plainly depressed and quite lacking in his usual buoyancy. I left him, however, persuaded that everything was all right.

I went to the Baltimore Convention, luckily being able to rent a little house just within the police lines which came in handy for some of my friends. It was the usual sleepless, confusing, harrowing series of scraps. One day I met Harry Walker, Bryan’s manager, who dropped a few words that electrified me. I had secured the promise of Champ Clark, Gov. Lowden and others to select me as cartoonist, but I had not considered William J. I immediately asked Walker where he was, and was told that he was in his room.

I found him talking with a man, a stranger, and, dismissing him, he took me into the bathroom, where he at once signified his willingness to use my services. He dropped a significant remark in doing so which led me to think that he had hopes of beating Woodrow. “I am only wondering,” he said, “whether we can afford to pay your prices!” The next day he abandoned his opposition, however, and Wilson was nominated.

Not long afterward I discovered that Charley Macauley of the World had persuaded Wilson to accept his valuable services, but nothing was said to me about the matter. I did make an “animated” cartoon for the motion-picture branch of the publicity department under Robert Wooley, which took me two months to complete and was widely circulated.

One day I received a telephone message from Bob Davis, informing me that his boss, Frank Munsey, had just bought the Press and wanted to hire me as his cartoonist. He asked me to come down at once. I found Mr. Munsey in his office in the Flatiron Building, seated on a sort of dais, and he greeted me amiably, stating that he wanted me to make a daily cartoon for which he would pay the sum of one hundred dollars weekly. By this time a hundred dollars for a New York cartoonist was a mere trifle and comic-page men were getting four times that sum. I explained to him that much water had run under the bridge since I received a hundred dollars per week, but that I would make him a daily cartoon for that sum.

“I will want all of your time!” he said suddenly.

When I confided to him that I had two quite successful syndicate features in hand and could not, it was evident, drop them for the insignificant, even paltry sum of a hundred dollars, he snapped out: “Well, I’m taking chances on you! You’ve been identified with comic stuff for several years and your effectiveness as a cartoonist may be impaired.” He was evidently quite piqued, and in spite of Bob’s nervous signals to placate him, I retorted, very truthfully: “I’m the one who is taking chances. You have never made a success yet of any newspaper you ever tackled.”

I cannot remember the details of the exceedingly animated and delightful conversation. I recall reminding him of the numerous occasions during the last five years when I had been arrested for libel in Philadelphia, but as we both lost our tempers the things we said were of no importance, but I enjoyed it more than anything that had happened to me in years. Bob Davis’s distress and horror were simply delightful. My shocking lack of veneration for his boss agonized him. I never imagined Mr. Munsey was so human, and I think the old boy secretly enjoyed the experience, for I doubt if he ever had anybody stand up to him and talk back since he got on Easy Street. Finally, as I walked out, he uttered the last word: “I’ll never have a cartoonist on a paper of mine!” He may have considered it a sort of promise, for as far as I am aware, he has never employed one. He fired Bill Rogers as soon as he bought the Herald, and no better man for that paper ever lived.

In nineteen-twenty-three I met him in the corridor of the Herald and he greeted me pleasantly. I said to him: “Mr. Munsey, it seems to me you need a good cartoonist pretty bad!” He smiled and replied: “You come and see me when newsprint gets cheaper.” That he has, however, persisted in his silly obsession the following proves:

THE NEW YORK HERALD
280 Broadway
New York,
January 28,1924.

Walt McDougall,
Braemoor, Goshen, N.Y.

My dear McDougall: Mr. Munsey is still disinclined to put a cartoon in the Herald. He simply does not want cartoons in the Herald, and he owns the paper.

Very truly yours,
C. M. Lincoln.

One of the funny things about objections of offended owners who sternly refuse to use the work of men who have disgruntled them is that such men can sell anything that is valuable to their papers by simply using a nom de plume. I have had innumerable pictures printed under various names at one time and another merely to avoid subjecting Ralph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst or Frank Munsey to an attack of cardiac trouble. Many another man has had the same experience.

Walt McDougall’s This is the Life: Chapter 14 Part 1

This is the Life!

by 

Walt McDougall

Chapter Fourteen (Part 1) – It’s a Long Lane that has No Turning

The distinguishing difference between an employer and an employee is that the former is not expected to keep his personal output up to the maximum when he grows old. As years increase, the employer relaxes more and more, taking up golf as his arteries harden and devoting most of his efforts to seeing that his blood pressure is normal, but the hired man must continue to produce in standard quantity or take the gate. The insatiable greed of proprietors and managers to extract to the last drop the divine essence of talent or genius every day blinds them to the fact that speeding up honest-to-God genius always results in a lessened output, but few there be who can resist the ignoble urge to squeeze out another column, another picture, another poem from the willing worker. Sometimes even a suspicion that an employee is weakening will cause an employer to undervalue him.

A curious jealousy is at times discernible in certain proprietors when a worker makes a marked success; I have often noted an eagerness to prevent or check anticipated conceit or self-appreciation in such, all of which, of course, is merely the evidence of an instinctive fear of having to increase the stipend. All employers love the humble toiler who imagines his job is the only one on earth, just as they dread and suspect him who sits lightly on the perch, knowing that his wings will carry him anywhere.

For a time, ten or twelve years or so, Pulitzer was never troubled by such fears. Hearst, I think, was never embarrassed by them at all, but Bennett, Wanamaker and Munsey were always deeply concerned lest some of their people should get the swelled head. When the “Rambillicus Book” appeared, the department stores of Philadelphia and Chicago made counter displays of it, but Wanamaker ordered his book department to keep them out of sight for fear that I might become too prosperous. I have known men who would spend hours devising methods of keeping too efficient aids from contracting the notion that they ought to be partners.

This desire to squeeze out profits, or at least to even up expenses, brought most of the big papers into the syndicate business. Among the most successful, for a period, was the North American. I did one series entitled “Fatty Felix” for four or five years that was sold to papers from the Atlantic to the Pacific until it grew too heavy a burden for me, owing to the fact that I had unwisely adopted a scheme that called for five or six characters in each picture instead of two or three, as the modern stripper does. Rudolph Dirks in his “Katzenjammer Kids” made the same error, but not being obliged to do any other work, he has been enabled to carry the weekly burden triumphantly for some twenty-eight years with an unimpaired intellect and astonishing variety. 

As time went on, other means were found of decreasing the overhead. I was invited to enter the syndicate myself. A deal was made between the N.A., Riley and Britton, Frank Baum and myself to produce a “Wizard of Oz” page weekly, Baum stipulating to furnish ideas, but he almost totally failed to produce, having no pictorial talent. In this page first appeared the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. Instead of salary I received a percentage which reached a little over a thousand dollars per month, but when the inevitable business disputes began I went back to my original arrangement.

Then came one Joseph B. Bowles, from Chicago, who had syndicated Bryan’s trip around the world. He proposed to put “Peck’s Bad Boy” into the colored comic pages. An arrangement was entered into with him on similar terms. I at once found it quite impossible to use Peck’s Boy, mainly because he was not of the type suitable for this sort of page, as well as because Gov. Peck’s humor was not pictorial, but I made the page in my own way, creating a new type of healthy-minded boy instead of Peck’s degenerate literary offspring, and it was one of this series that brought Jackie Coogan into the “movies.”

Bowles was a small, nervous half-portion of a man and deeply religious. I was in consequence somewhat suspicious of him, but I reflected that if Ed Van Valkenburg had not shied at him I need not. The N.A. had more at stake than I had. Bowles came to my house as I was giving a little dinner to some of Atlantic City’s political pillars. He arrived in a big crimson (hired) car, an imposing entrance, as automobiles were still rare and impressive, and I invited him to join us. Quite suddenly, in a pause of the table talk, Bowles said to that bunch of hard-boiled operators, in a high shrill voice: “I do not see how you gentlemen can go through your daily lives without the help of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

A gas bomb exploding on the table would have created no greater sensation, but in another moment the gang concluded that the mean-looking little man must be an entertainer, and all burst into hearty laughter at a unique form of Chicago humor.

This “Peck’s Bad Boy” series ran for over a year, and I then abandoned it.

There came to us Charles Nelan, one of those accidental products which confound all theories and perplex the philosophers. A grocery clerk in Ohio, he gained a small prize offered for a cartoon by a local newspaper, and in course of time actually attained to the position of cartoonist on the New York Herald. He was a big, stolid fellow, but with a knack of making the conventional cartoon, such as Uncle Sam weighing the annual grain crop or Father Knickerbocker hoisting the flag on City Hall. He was receiving $150 weekly, when Reick one day told him that unless he got out with the boys, saw some real life, and got a wiggle on, he would fire him. Charley consulted his friends, who advised him to throw a scare into Billy by a threat of resigning, but to his horror the resignation was accepted.

He took a position with the North American at $65 a week, forty-five of which he probably saved, and died, with a goodly fortune in the bank, of tuberculosis some ten years later.

For a time he worked in my sumptuous office, but the Turkish rugs and imported water colors oppressed him, and finally Wanamaker placed him in a less gorgeous workroom. T. B. used to send me every week all the Paris papers, usually translating many of the jokes in a small, neat handwriting. One day Nelan carted these to his home, and when I asked for an explanation of the unusual proceeding, for he knew not a word of French, he replied with much heat: “I want you to understand I’m as much of a humorist as you are!”

One day Sutherland, the editor, brought in Pearson, owner of the London Mail and other papers, then looking into American journalistic methods, and we had a long and very interesting conversation, mainly upon the subject of Ernst Haeckel’s “Riddle of the Universe,” a work that requires considerable biological training to properly appreciate, and I was delighted and amazed at the great editor’s grasp of the subject, in view of the enormous drafts upon his time and energy. Nelan scratched away at his drawing, probably not comprehending a word of the talk, but during a pause he suddenly wheeled around and in an earnest, almost solemn tone, said:

“Well, all I’ve got to say is that if a man has a good home and a good wife he oughter be happy.”

“Ham” Marshall was another character who gave distinction to the staff. Ham was one of the few remaining Bohemians of the old times. Carelessly dressed, even seedy at times, he was a gifted and erudite man. Always with a volume of Italian poetry in his pocket, homely to painfulness, yet fascinating to women, he made a sort of specialty of testing each boarding house in a street until he had occupied them all, thereby acquiring an immense acquaintanceship. Once with a friend in New York, I met him along about midnight and he invited us up to the room which he was occupying with a man whose name I have forgotten. There he soon produced a faro-bank outfit, and in a few minutes we were busy gambling. When in the small hours my friend and I were cleaned out and prepared for departure, Ham accompanied us downstairs. At the door, with every evidence of deep gratitude, he shook hands and said: “My God, Walt, I am mighty glad you dropped in! We were worrying over how we were going to pay our rent today, but now everything is all right.”

When he had a difference with Van Valkenburg and resigned, he almost threw the boss into a state of coma by producing a bank book with some thousands to his credit.

I bought a house in Pleasantville, N.J., a suburb of Atlantic City, in 1907, devoting a portion of my time to pheasants and Plymouth Rock Chickens. Within two years I was an authority in the poultry journals and a judge at the chicken shows! Merit is always recognized. My farm was on the water’s edge, and upon it was an ancient “kitchen midden” or prehistoric shell heap replete with neolithic stone implements; the hotels of the summer resort were amethyst against the horizon four miles distant across Absecon Bay. When I sold this place to a Salt Lake man, there were 2,300 chickens, 700 pheasants, 86 turkeys, uncounted guinea hens, 75 mallard ducks, eleven Llewellyn setters, one cat, one horse and one cow on the six-acre demesne which had been christened “Windy Top.” The necessity of keeping up with the schedule of syndicated comic stuff largely inhibited going to conventions, flooded districts, country fairs and baseball games as of yore; the daily cartoon usually went up to Philadelphia by the train conductors, and I led the life of a portly English squire. I received a hundred pair of quail from the State Game Commission and broadcasted them on my estate, where they throve to the benefit of gunners next autumn.

The differences between the city administration and the virile North American had grown so pronounced as to be almost savage. The Mayor, Reyburn, a somewhat eccentric and anomalous individual, by his marked peculiarities gave Van and his editors many opportunities for sharp and bitter comment; his habit of prowling about at night and attending banquets where he spoke in language so incoherent and wild as to create the belief that he was intoxicated, afforded me the chance for a series entitled “The Reyburn Nights Entertainment,” which I, at least, enjoyed exceedingly.

Van Valkenburg was arrested, charged with libel, about every fortnight. About once a month I was caught in the net, but we were invariably victorious and went right back and did worse things to them. When Van and Arthur McEwen really tried to be scurrilous and vitriolic, the output was simply sizzling, and if Mayor Reyburn was not crazy, as he accused us of hinting, it was only because he had a stronger mentality than anybody suspected, for we drove him almost frantic. Even if the paper won no political victories, it established a reputation for high moral aims, vehement rectitude, militant municipal purity and general uprightness never exceeded by any purely commercial-and-political outfit ever seen in Pennsylvania. When, however, in 1911 I think it was, they succeeded in winning one contest and elected Mayor Blankenburg, Van, like a mere politician, promptly installed his Brother Fred, in one of the fattest offices in the City Hall.

One of the humorous things, and one that sheds a light upon human frailty, which has always inordinately interested me, happened about this time, when Sarah Bernhardt was making her last (guaranteed) farewell performance in America, at the period when the managerial hogs compelled her to appear in a circus tent. Her manager wrote to a friend of mine, a Chestnut Street confectioner of note, that the great tragedienne would exchange an autographed testimonial to the excellence of his wares for a specified sum. On his declining, the sum was materially reduced, the offer now coming from some far Western city, and just before Sarah sailed she came down to five pounds of chocolate f.o.b. the steamer at Jersey City!

At the Buffalo Exposition, Julian Hawthorne and I were the first to take a ride in the Loop-the-Loop, that day completed and opened to the public; the next year, in a carriage driven out Market Street to test the first wireless apparatus ever devised; that same year, to ride at twenty-five miles an hour on the beach at Atlantic City, and a year later, with Cressy doing a mile in 37 seconds, which quite satisfied my greed for speed, never very pronounced; at the Jamestown exhibition I had my first ride in a dirigible, in 1907, a funny little object motored by a 12-horse-power Mianus marine engine but quite practicable and very enjoyable.

In 1908 I again appeared for a few weeks in vaudeville, doing my newspaper pictorial work, as did Winsor McCay, in the dressing room of the theater, in a talk entitled “The Mystery of the Female Shape,” the assumption being that the feminine attire of certain periods implied a similar anatomical construction. The only notable thing about the proceeding was the revival of the old song “Silver Threads among the Gold,” which I had dug up to accompany the picture portraying the female form of the ’70’s and which has continued to be popular.

As part of my education in the Wilkes-Barre park* I had learned the word “graft,” then signifying the particular form of chicanery practiced by the outdoor show men, fair-workers and the like, such as cane-racks, fishponds, wheels of fortune, and one momentous day in the N.A. office when we were discussing the need of a new and non-libelous word as a substitute for boodle, spoils, rake-off, etc., I suggested this perfectly good and little-used synonym. The suggestion was applauded and we started the campaign with a picture of a sort of hideous prehistoric animal similar to the Rambillicus. It was immediately adopted all over the country, caused our opponents unheard-of misery, and is now in the dictionary. This alone should make me famous; many a man is in “Who’s Who” for far less, yet that inestimable publication, for no discernible reason at all, dropped me out in 1916 after harboring my record since it started business. However, as it rejects Jim Corbett, my fellow author, I have no right to complain.

It was about this time that I wrote a story about double-yolked eggs that I meditated hatching into double-barreled hens but only procured two-headed roosters, and somebody copied it that afternoon and sold it to Von Hamm, editor of the N.Y. World, causing him extreme mortification and obliging him to apologize to the Philadelphia sheet that had these nifty up-to-date ideas.

I have mentioned that my contract was for a five-day week, leaving my Saturdays and Sundays free for scientific pursuits, painting and other recreation, but out of pure good nature and an interest in the paper’s welfare, I had continued to make a cartoon on Saturday for the city editor, James Benn, one of Van’s political creatures.

One day in 1908 I was called upon to preside over a banquet given by all the cartoonists of the land to Mark Twain at Delmonico’s, which was a notable event, for which I left the data at the office for an inside story, which did not appear although all the other Philadelphia papers gave much space to the event.

On Monday I was informed that Mr. Benn, who had about as much to do with my affairs as Archbishop Ryan, had ordered the cashier to deduct twenty-five dollars from my salary because I had failed to furnish the Saturday cartoon. I repaired to Van Valkenburg’s room, where I found Mr. Barclay Warburton, the owner of the Telegraph, with Van, and I made a vigorous and pointed protest against the action of Benn. He began winking rapidly. I made him admit that the proposal of a five-day week was his own, and said that unless the palpable outrage was rectified I would consider myself discharged. Poor Van tried to sit upon two stools, much to Warburton’s amusement, and the upshot was that I withdrew in a huff, followed by Warburton, who asked me to promise him that if I left I would come to the Telegraph.

Van, of course, found it impossible, for unknown reasons, which may be guessed, to turn down Benn, and I did not return, but a week later he sent for me to ask me, pathetically, if I were going to put him in a hole with all these syndicate contracts for my work at stake. Yet he did not offer to soothe my offended dignity by a recognition of my rights. In disgust I told him that I would do a comic page every week for one hundred dollars until his contracts expired. This agreement I kept, but did not renew it, nor, I may mention, did many of the N.A.‘s customers renew theirs. Herbert Johnson took up the daily cartooning most efficiently, and with Bradford‘s humorous daily strip to console their readers I suppose my departure was quite unnoted, but one delightfully satisfying reflection remains permanently with me: from that day the circulation of the North American began to drop until it became merely a third-class also-ran instead of the foremost paper in Pennsylvania, and recently, in his old age, Van Valkenburg forsook it, and it fell into the hands of Cyrus H. K. Curtis and ceased to be.

* McDougall never names the amusement park which he operated. We know that it was in Wilkes-Barre, and that he referred to it as a “trolley park”, which generally means that the park was situated on a (customer delivering) trolley line. The park that best fits that description is the Sans Souci Park, which was in business from about 1880 to 1970.

Walt McDougall’s This is the Life: Chapter 13 Part 2

This is the Life!

by 

Walt McDougall

Chapter Thirteen (Part 2) – A New One is Born Every Minute


With [Philadelphia North American owner Thomas Wanamaker’s] amazing capacity for details and a commercial acumen akin to genius, he would permit a petty incident to blind him to his own interests, and make hasty decisions that [North American editor] Van [Valkenburg]was obliged to readjust. This was illustrated in my own case. He had himself employed me, and five years later, when all of the other imported talent had deserted, I imagined myself his one ewe lamb. One election night, as we were awaiting the returns, he asked me why I preferred to live in Atlantic City, and when I had given my reasons he sniffed in contempt and said that if I would come to Philadelphia he would give me rooms in his own apartment.
I laughed, thinking the suggestion a mere whim, and said that to an outdoor man like myself it would be like putting a ball and chain on me. I explained that my boating, shooting and fishing in early morning hours were the antidote to eyestrain incident to working on glaring cardboard, which, according to the famous Doctor George Gould, had caused my gout. Instead of receiving my excuse in his usual scoffing manner, he walked away, and I knew I had offended him. I was never again to see him in the flesh, for his search for a cure kept him away until next spring, when I received the following curious epistle from him:
April the Nineteenth 1905


Dear Mr. McDougall:
I write you this out of a spirit of friendship and kindness without the knowledge of anyone.


I think that the wisest thing you could do would be to send your resignation as a member of the North American staff to Mr. Van Valkenburg, or propose to him that he pay you space for whatever the paper buys. I know that dissatisfaction with your services has been increasing monthly for the last two years until it is believed in the office that either you are too sick to work or that you are so well that you are fishing and anything you send up from your seashore retreat is an act of pure condescension on your part.


I therefore thought it would be an act of kindness on my part, and I wish you would put that construction on it, if you were to send in your resignation at this time, which would perhaps make the long Summer in front of us easier for you, and I am,


Yours very sincerely,
Thomas B. Wanamaker.
Instead of hurrying to him and falling on my knees for mercy, as he had fully expected, I at once wrote him thanking him for his kindness and saying that I wished to draw further upon his friendship by asking him to write me a testimonial to the effect that for five years I had turned out a daily cartoon, also two and a half pages weekly of comic-supplement stuff which he had contracted to supply to divers papers at a profit of two thousand dollars monthly (he had forgotten all about this in his heat), a full-page weekly fairy tale for children, also widely syndicated, as well as countless illustrations and articles.
He did not answer my letter, but left it among his papers, where it finally came to Van Valkenburg’s notice. I did not resign but took the train for Wilkes-Barre, where I remained six months engaged in nursing an infant trolley park and regenerating a much abused eyesight. I had become entangled in this enterprise through my interest in a young inventor of a roller coaster of great monetary prospects and, having formed a company, rented land and erected many buildings, was not averse to undertaking the management of the enterprise although I knew no more about an open-air show than I did of Hebrew logarithms.
It rained for sixty days out of the ninety of the season, but in so far as keeping ahead of the sheriff was concerned, I managed to pull it through successfully. One might write a volume on my experience. I there became well acquainted with John Mitchell, the labor leader, a man of high character and immense influence, as unspoiled and ingenuous as a boy. We contemplated collaborating on a book, but he conceived the queer notion that it would be taking advantage of his leadership of 150,000 workmen. I launched into journalism one of its brightest ornaments, a young lawyer named Frank Ward O’Malley, who was threatened with a pulmonary trouble and whom I induced to come out to the park and help me with a weekly advertising sheet. Some of his contributions to our Park News were so clever that New York papers copied them, and later he was captured by the Sun. He was a slim, handsome, vivacious fellow with all of the outward marks of genius as I had learned to recognize them in a long course of study.
At the end of August I returned to Philadelphia, meeting Felix Isman, the realtor and author, just outside the station. Excitedly he demanded where I had been hiding. When I explained he took me by the arm and led me up into an office in which sat Senator Boies Penrose, Boss Jim McNichol, Senator Vare, David Lane and one or two others, all declared enemies of the North American. I held up my hands and said: “I am not heeled! Don’t shoot!”
“Are you going back to the N.A.?” demanded Penrose without prefatory remark.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’ve got to earn a living.”
“What’ll you take to stay down in Atlantic City until after election?” he asked in his plaintive nasal whine.
“It’s a mighty expensive place, as McNichol can tell you. He knows it costs about five hundred a week to live there,” I replied jocularly, never expecting my reply to be taken otherwise.
“How will that suit you?” Penrose asked McNichol, the city’s boss, and as Jim nodded, the Senator reached for his check book and, chuckling, said: “After this you can spit your venom into the ocean and not through the N.A.
Dazed, I took his check for fifteen hundred dollars, and after a brief chat, during which nothing more was said about this shameful prostitution, as Van Valkenburg termed it when he learned of it, and which I admit would have been a correct definition had I been bribed by the unconscionable Democratic bosses, I took my train for home, where I remained listening to the voices of the waves for ten or eleven placid weeks. This was my only contact with practical politics, although campaigning with Van had afforded me glimpses of doings the practicality of which were evident, and this was in the nature of a life-saver, for I was down almost to my last dollar when these unscrupulous tempters beguiled me.
After the election, wherein the Wanamaker forces were beaten to a jelly, I strolled into the N.A. office.
“Where on earth have you been?” demanded Van, winking nervously.
“Running my old trolley park into the ground,” I replied.
He fumbled in a drawer, drew out my answer to Wanamaker’s letter, and asked: “What does that mean?”
“Just what it says. It’s plain enough,” I said.
“I found it among T. B.’s papers,” he explained. “I don’t think, however, that he intended me to see it.”
I happened to have Wanamaker’s letter in my pocketbook and produced it. After reading it, Van said: “Well, T. B. hired you and, it seems, he fired you. I guess he didn’t know you were loaded. Now I’ll hire you!”
I resumed relations, with an increase of fifty dollars a week in salary and a five-day week, which, to me, was a sufficient answer to T. B.’s curt and kindly epistle and repaid me for six months of financing an outdoor show, nursing lost babies, running a baseball team, and listening to the band spiel out “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” and “Everybody Works but Father” four times an hour from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily.
I stayed this time for four years.
In 1903 the “Rambillicus Book” was published with gratifying success. It was a collection of the “Fairy Tales for Children” which had appeared weekly in the N.A. and a number of other papers, in which an undercurrent of humor, intended solely for grown-ups, was injected. I named my first motor boat the Rambillicus and became a devotee of the gas engine and grease. Gasoline cost five cents per gallon, and half of the fuel was dissipated by the “vaporizer,” as the primitive carburetor was called; her speed was nine miles an hour, but the demon that is in every gas engine made vigilance the price of pleasure. Angelic patience and ingenuity were required by every motor-boat sailor, hence the pursuit was fascinating. I once brought my craft home with the aid of a hairpin as a tripper-spring. Selden, who controlled the American rights of the gas engine, lived near me; he more than once assured me that his royalty of five dollars per engine did not pay his rent, yet within a few years he was a millionaire.

Governor Pennypacker issued a vehement broadside against cartoonists that year; a fiery message to the Legislature, in which he savagely anathematized all and sun-dry cartoonists as pestilential evils, and advocated that they “be drawn and quartered,” was widely published, and a bill was introduced in the Legislature by Assemblyman Fred. Pusey, prohibiting “the depicting of men in an inhuman manner or as birds or animals.” Whereupon I made a whole page of portraits in which every prominent official from the Governor down was portrayed as a vegetable, some of the portraits being exceedingly felicitous, and the bill died a natural death from ridicule [actually, it apparently passed into law, but was never enforced – Allan]. Pennypacker, a scholarly old soul, slow to wrath, but devoted to Quay, was much disappointed over the result, as well as angered at being depicted as a beet, and he always refused to acknowledge my courteous salute thereafter on the street.

Two Sundays later, chugging down the “Thorofare,” as the waterway back of Atlantic City is termed, I saw a man and a boy standing dejectedly on a wharf. Slowing down, I accosted them to find that they had been disappointed in connecting with a boat in which to go fishing, or some such misfortune, and I suggested that they go with me. This was agreed to with avidity, and for the rest of a perfect day we fished and chatted to our mutual edification, for he was an agreeable, intelligent companion. It was only on our return that my guest asked my name and, after a stare of astonishment, revealed that he was Assemblyman Pusey, whom we had been cartooning vigorously for some time. Such little adventures add spice to a dull life.

The Clover Club was at the beginning of its decadence at this time, having lost much of its spontaneous brilliancy through the passing away of its cleverest, most irreverent members. I had attended its unique dinners from that remote period when they were held at Boldt’s Sea Girt Hotel at Spring Lake. They were meetings of bons vivants, intolerant of twaddle, buncombe and bull, but to an orator who succeeded in passing through an initial barrage of annoying, disconcerting interruptions without succumbing, they were all that could be desired. I have witnessed many comical and some depressing instances of self-important dignitaries losing their tempers under the studied affronts of the members, which, it must be confessed, became, in time, rather stereotyped, as, for instance, in the reply to a nervous speaker who asks: “What shall I talk about?” which was: “Talk about a minute,” and which, after twenty or thirty years’ wear, is still as sharp as an Indian arrowhead.
One night Grover Cleveland resented one of these flippant sallies so strongly that much diplomacy was needed to prevent his departure, but he never had any sense of humor. Most speakers were warned beforehand that they would run the gauntlet of a rather banal form of wit, and stiffened themselves for the ordeal. I well remember Col. Pat Donan of Dakota, a picturesque and admirable character, launching into a stream of liquid eloquence in a voice like a silver bell and carrying the gang of charmed scoffers, in an ecstasy of speechless rapture, clear to his peroration without an interruption, but he was the only man who ever got away with it, I think.
With the years the Clover Club grew tamer—but the wine improved with age—and the terrapin smaller. There were fewer guests of distinction and more conviviality as the members, grown more staid, less cruel, came to depend on themselves for their amusement. I recall one gay night when Charles M. Schwab, Lieut. Gov. McClain and myself stood in the alcove of the Bellevue-Stratford banquet hall and sang a ballad in a manner that drew tears from nearly all eyes, and discovered when we had finished that the gallery was filled with hilarious ladies. I have never sung in public since, but Schwab and McClain are still addicted to the vice under certain conditions.

Another club there was called the Terrapin, of ancient lineage, originating in Revolutionary officers and perpetuated by their male descendants, at which the Madeira was always the oldest obtainable and only four guests were invited. I ventured to suggest Elbert Hubbard, who happened to be in town, and was deputed to invite him. Old Hughie Dougherty, the minstrel, was also invited, and he proved a bonanza of humor. Hubbard’s talk was flat and pointless in comparison, and he left after he had spoken but sent a bill next day of $150 for his services.
No city on earth was as bibulous as Philadelphia before the World War, nor was vice more rampant anywhere, I think, or more profitable to its officials. Even Atlantic City, governed by a gang of gamblers and saloon-keepers, was a kindergarten compared with the City of Brotherly Love, beside being far cooler in Summer. I had a large cottage on Arctic Avenue, near Rodman Wanamaker’s house, to which for six or seven years superheated friends flocked for comfort and rest. Had I kept a visitors’ book, it would show some notable names.
Ex-President Cleveland came for two days of the most remarkable yellow-leg shooting we ever had, T. B. and Van, McEwen, Pillsbury the chess-player, old John L. Sullivan, reformed and bone-dry, Victoria Vesta, John Sousa, Campanini, John Kelly, Hawthorne, Dave Warfield, Gov. Bill Bunn, Frank Baum, Gov. John Tener, and so on. In the Winter of ’04 I encountered in Washington a Baron Von Sternberg, who was one of the Kaiser’s physicians, and later resumed his acquaintance in Atlantic City. I surmised that this German nobleman, alert, suave, refined, was here for special purposes of state, but foreign espionage of that sort was common enough and nobody thought anything about it.

One night after dinner we were discussing the character of his Imperial Majesty, whom I had observed closely when I went abroad with the Wild West show, and whom Doctor Von Sternberg did not seem to hold in special veneration, and I remarked that I desired but one thing from the German monarch and that was one of his brown dachshunds, which he never gave to any but his own relations.

“Why don’t you ask him for one?” queried Von Sternberg. This aroused some laughter, and he explained that a king is like God and cannot be offended by any request—indeed, is pleased with that form of homage. He assured me that at least I would receive a reply to my prayer.

Anxious to test his statement, but utterly without any expectation of any result, I wrote a letter in my best handwriting, couched in the form dictated by the doctor and upon expensive stationery, and dropped it in the letter box.
On the 27th of August I received the following:
Berlin, W.G.
Potsdammerstr. 22
the seventyn’ the August 1904


Sir.


Accordingly to your request of the twenty-first of February his Majesty the Emperor has condescended to favor you occasionally with a young dachshund of the royal kennel breed.


You will be informed as soon as the right pup will be found.


Your devoted
Baron Heintze.
Ober Yagermeister.

I was even more elated than astonished. I mentally pictured that imperial hound with his beautiful brown streamline body, wriggling down the gangplank of the steamer, already the first dog in the land, with every newspaper camera trained upon him and his picture in every Sunday supplement from New York to Los Angeles, but alas, instead of an “occasional” pup appearing, days, months and years passed, whole generations of dogs were born, but I never saw my promised dachshund. Whether Kaiser Bill forgot about it or some low-down human hound poisoned his mind against me or Baron Heintze double-crossed both of us and sold my pup, may never be known, for William and I have not corresponded since. Now I don’t care, as the dachshund is quite out of style, but at times the memory rankles and the old sore is inflamed.
That same Spring started the Clamshell Check on its voyage around the world. This was a clamshell picked up on the beach, drawn upon the Marine Trust Co. of Atlantic City, and paid to my friend Leonard D. Alger by that bank, much to his amazement. The bank, appreciating its advertising value, encased it in rosewood and velvet and exhibited it in their window, after which it journeyed from city to city through the U.S., Canada, India and Australia. This little sample of pen-and-ink work served to give me repute in the world of finance and has more than once helped to get a check cashed for me in a strange place where my looks might have been against me.

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