Gilded Age Networking

John T. McCutcheon

In 1895, William Randolph Hearst purchased the struggling New York Journal. His goal was to do to New York what he did to San Francisco, journalism-wise. One-time mentor Joseph Pulitzer, was now his direct competition. Few paid attention to the brash Westerner. But this dude from the pacific slope had a vast war chest behind him.

The archives have Hearst sending for many of his key Examiner talent from San Francisco, including Davenport, sports writer Charles Dryden and “sob sister” Winifred Black. Once set up and running, Hearst went about “staffing up” in earnest by hiring away any number of talented specialists from other papers. Many however, did not succumb to the temptation of Hearst’s generous salaries.

Apparently, he also asked those in his inner circle to pump their own contacts. This included Davenport himself, as evidenced by a newly discovered letter from Davenport in the Newberry Library in Chicago. It was written to fellow cartoonist John Tinney McCutcheon (1870-1949). McCutcheon, originally from Indiana, moved to Chicago early in his career. He ended up for years as staff cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, where he became known as “The Dean of American Cartoonists.”

McCutcheon - Self-Portrait

I became aware of McCutcheon while visiting Indianapolis, Indiana to research the Smith family archives of the Indiana Historical Society for “Davenport droppings.” On the last full day there, my host and Navy buddy Mark and I drove down to Richmond, Indiana, the self-proclaimed “Home of Recorded Jazz.” The Gannett Record Company was once there, where many of the early powerhouses of jazz first waxed phonographically.

The recording studio was long gone, but the local Wayne County Historical Museum was open for business. In the front room, Mark pointed out a display of numerous cartoons from the early twentieth century. The docent introduced me to the work Mr. McCutcheon, whom I had never heard of before.

Back home in Silverton, I searched the Web for McCutcheon, a Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist, and discovered several of his collections of cartoons, downloadable from Google Books. John was much “softer” on his victims than Homer. But had that same “country boy” look and feel to his work. His “Boy in Spring” series, (including other seasons) was one of his most famous, as were his cartoons of “Bird Center” a swanky high society community of characters.

Eventually I ended up at the above-mentioned Newberry Library, final resting place of the J. T. McCutcheon family papers. As has been customary of late, I scanned through the listings for Davenport.

I found exactly one entry: “Homer Davenport – Job Offer, 1895.” I thought it odd that Homer would be asking John for a job, having just been sent to New York City. So for a nominal fee, I ordered a copy of the item. Sure enough, it’s the other way around! He was trying to get John to move over to Hearst! Below is the text of Davenport’s letter to McCutcheon, written on letterhead from the New Hoffman House (right), the “Absolutely Fire Proof” New York hotel Davenport was temporarily living in at the time:

The New Hoffman House, New York

October 25, 1895

Mr. John McCulcheon

My Dear Sir: You are no doubt surprised to see that I am in New York, but come on to the city with Mr. Hurst and will remain I suppose in this city for the next few years. I rather like it here but of course it is not Frisco. We expect to have a great paper out of the “Journal” soon.

Mr. Pruitt Share is in charge of the art dep. and among the crew are Trobridge, Weil, Anthony, Kerr and several I don’t know.

I wish you were out here. Hurst is the greatest man in the world to work for, and if you are with him once you would work for no other. He has just bought $500,000 worth of new presses among them a color press unsurpassed by any now in use.

How are all of our old friends in the different art departments? Let me hear from you at your earliest convenience. Tell me if you want to come to New York and I will see that you get work on a paper that will be the paper in short order.

Yours truly, Homer Davenport

c/o Morning Journal, Art Department

No doubt, Davenport and McCutcheon became friends while the former was working in Chicago in 1893 during the Columbian Exposition. Of the names mentioned, (Pruitt, Trobridge, Weil, Anthony and Kerr), I have found nothing yet. Possibly due to the fact of Davenport’s notoriously poor spelling, (in this letter, he opens with an”l” instead of “t” in McCutcheon’s name, and refers to the world’s greatest boss as “Mr. Hurst”).  At any rate, McCutcheon was not swayed by Homer’s offer. But he felt obliged to keep the letter!

Hoe Universal Web Press

What is notable was Davenport’s mention of the new “unsurpassed” color printing press. In William Randolph Hearst: A New Appraisal by John K. Winkler, the author relates that this new press was custom-built, and immediately after, the Journal’s circulation sky-rocketed.

“The leap in circulation was especially noticeable when the Journal installed a markedly improved color press, a product of the combine inventive skills of George Pancoast, experts of R. Hoe & Company, and of Hearst himself … The result was that by the fall of 1896, the Journal possessed a special Hoe color press capable of printing from four to sixteen pages in color.”

McCutcheon was not the only old pal Davenport recruited. He also snagged his former Portland Oregonian colleague, columnist James J. Montague. Montague, also a poet, penned the poem When Davenport’s in Town, which was reproduced in Davenport’s 1911 autobiography, The Country Boy.

Samson or Hercules?

Hercules, Lichas and the Trust Brute

One of Davenport’s more famous characters wasn’t an actual person. It was his personification of the Corporate Trust, a monopolistic financial construct designed to get around the Sherman Anti-Trust regulations. It seems fitting that Davenport would portray the “Trust Brute” as a person, since this was shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s initial ruling that declared corporations “people” with many of the same rights and privileges as those other people composed of flesh and blood.

The first time Davenport used the Brute in a cartoon (right), he featured him in mid-fling of a smaller figure labeled “The People.” As for the inspiration, Davenport’s own account, reproduced in the 1973 book “Homer Davenport of Silverton,” says he saw a statue of Samson in St. Marks Square in Venice:

In St. Mark’s Square in Venice, seeing a flock of pigeons, I immediately sought by fair means or foul to purloin a pair. I watched them fly hither and thither, and in following them came across a statue of Samson throwing some man or other — I forgot his name — to the ground. The abnormal size of the muscles of the figure struck me at once. Turning to my wife who was with me, I said, “The Trusts.”

Far be it for me to correct the artist, but Homer was mistaken. I searched far and wide for any reference to a Sampson statue in Venice, and came up empty. I even asked several folks who were visiting to keep an eye out for him. Nothing. But the more I looked at Davenport’s cartoon, the more the big dude reminded me of Hercules, (as I recall my mythology, Sampson was known for his long hair). So I shifted my search and found this interesting statue, (above left). Not in Venice, but rather Rome.

“Hercules and Lichas” is the name of the original piece and it was carved between 1795 and 1796 by Antonio Canova (self-portrait, left – 1757-1822) who was from Venice. In Greek mythology, Lichas was Hercules’ servant, who brought a poisoned shirt from Hercules’ wife Deianira because of her jealousy, eventually killing him. While in pain, Hercules asked Lichas who gave him the robe, after which he flung him over a cliff into the ocean.

After this initial representation, Davenport modified the Brute, giving him a grass kilt, low forehead and big bushy beard, (right). The “Trust of the Day” was emblazoned across the Brute’s chest. Sometimes its the Standard Oil Trust. Other times its the Coal Trust. And sometimes multiple Brutes were shown together to signify out-of-control corporate greed.

Davenport in Stumptown

In April, The Davenport Project heads over to the Jack London Bar, the basement “speakeasy” for the Rialto Pool Room at 529 SW 4th Avenue in Portland. Each week they host the “Stumptown Stories” history lecture series. We’re set for action at 7:30 on Tuesday evening, April 24th. Come on down to hear about Homer Davenport, Late of Silverton!

Joining TDP Lecturer Gus Frederick, will be noted Silverton storyteller, Gordon Munro. Gordon has build a local cottage industry around his dynamic recreations from the stories of Silverton’s famous Country Boy.

Gordon will recount an early newspaper gig of Davenport’s for the Sunday Mercury, as it was called 1891. Known then as a “Sporting Weekly,” he pitched them the notion of sending him to New Orleans to cover the landmark middleweight boxing match on January 14, 1891 between Portlander Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey and Bob Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons pummeled Dempsey. And he went on to become the heavyweight champ as well. He and Davenport later became close friends.

Two days later on Thursday, April 26, the Jack London Bar will be hosting an event with Stumptown Comics and the Portland Mercury. The following weekend is the 9th Annual Stumptown Comics Fest, taking the Oregon Convention Center by storm. TDP will be hosting a panel discussion at that event on Saturday, April 28. Times TBA.

More details as they develop!

Homer on the Bus!

TDP and The Bus ProjectFor a week this April, Oregon’s premier progressive grassroots activist organization, The Bus Project features Rebooting Democracy, a week-long democracy festival, in Portland. Rebooting Democracy will draw hundreds of young leaders from around the state for a series of workshops, presentations, scavenger hunts, film screenings and more in order to create a more engaged and educated generation, with the action taking place April 16 through 22, at various venues throughout Portland.

The Davenport Project is pleased and honored to join The Bus Project from 2:35 to 3:45 on Saturday, April 21, at The Backspace Cafe for a panel discussion titled: “Drawing Attention: Politics & Comics.”

The speakers include Jason Leivian, owner of Floating World Comics; Gus Frederick, lecturer for The Davenport Project; Tyler Chin-Tanner, local comics author/artist (“American Terrorist”) and Breena Wiederhoeft, local comics author/artist (“The Picket Line” & “Easel Ain’t Easy”). The panel will be moderated by Sarah Mirk of the Portland Mercury. A mini-exhibit entitled “Occupy Davenport” will feature a sampling of Davenport’s work for folks to check out.

Update: A successful panel! Quite a fun and varied line-up! The biggest success was when I nabbed the gnarly dude attempting to walk out the door with The Davenport Project’s DSLR. He offered no resistance, which would have been futile anyway, and quickly slithered out the door. Would have put a real crimp in the Davenport project if he had been successful…

After the drama, the panel continued. Tyler gave me a copy of his book, in exchange for a copy of the upcoming second edition of “Cartoons by Davenport.” An advance pre-release “Authors Proof” is in production and should be ready for show & tell at the Jack London Bar this coming Tuesday.

Davenport at GeerCrest

The Davenport Project EventThe GeerCrest Farm family invites you to join us at GeerCrest Farm on April 7 at 6:00 pm, for our Spring Farm Dinner. Guests will experience a seasonal, 4-course feast made from farm fresh fare, skillfully paired with regional organic wines, and prepared with love by the GeerCrest Farm family. This evening is an occasion to taste the local flavors of the growing season, while supporting GeerCrest Farm in the company of your friends and neighbors.

For this dinner program, we will be featuring a talk by GeerCrest Board member and Davenport Project lecturer Gus Frederick, on the life and times of Oregon Cartoonist Homer Davenport, as well as the contributions to pioneer Oregon by his Geer and Davenport relatives.

GeerCrest Farm began as a homestead in 1848 by Mary and Ralph Geer. Through the last Century and a half, the land has remained a working farm and has been handed down through successive generations of the Geer Family. Recognizing the tremendous legacy the land and historic farmhouse hold, including sanctuary to Homer Davenport, the W.R. Hearst Political Cartoonist, a group of volunteers formed to preserve the farm and way of life.

Today, GeerCrest Farm & Historical Society’s mission is to live and teach agrarian culture, encouraging people to rely on each other and cooperate with nature to provide a livelihood for themselves. GeerCrest invites students of every age to visit the farm and learn farming skills including caring for goats, sheep, pigs, horses and chickens as well vegetable and fruit culture, cheese-making, canning, and much more. Students stay for the day on field trips, the week as part of school curriculum and summer farm stays, or a weekend up to several months as a farm family member.

Help support GeerCrest’s Legacy of Education, Preservation and Agrarian Culture today by reserving your tickets. The dinner is $60 per plate, and includes local libations. The event is limited to 30 folks, so reserve your seat at the table today by registering Online at the GeerCrest site, or by calling GeerCrest Farm at 503-873-3406.

Homer’s Watch Stolen!

Homer's Watch

Homer's Watch

Between February 4 and March 17, 2012, someone stole from the Silverton Country Museum the gold Elgin pocket-watch that once belonged to Oregon Cartoonist Homer Davenport. It was removed from it’s locked case, along with a silver Hamilton watch that once belonged to William “Mack” McGinnis, former head of the Silverton Red Sox semi-pro baseball team.

The watch is a gold Elgin with a white face and Roman numerals, and “Elgin Natl. Watch Co.” on the face. The back of the watch is engraved with an Arabian horse’s head in the center of a floral and ribbon design. Patent date is Feb. 19, 1884.

The McGinnis watch has a white face with bold, black numbers. It’s engraved on the back with a deer head inside of a heart and floral border. The initials W.L.McG are engraved between the deer’s antlers. A brown shoelace with knotted ends is attached to the top.

Mack's Watch

Mack's Watch

Mack’s watch was given to McGinnis in 1923. Descendents of his family donated the item to the Silverton Country Historical Society in 2010.

The Davenport watch was donated that same year by relatives of the political cartoonist, who died in 1912. The watch had been locked away in a safety deposit box for upward of 60 years before the Silverton Country Museum became its caretaker, said Hutton, who was dreading the phone call she would have to make to Davenport’s niece.

If anyone has any details, please or information, please contact the Silverton Police Department at 503-873-5326.

Casey in the Dark


TDP Event - Seven Brides TaproomFor the next “Dining in the Dark” Forth Sunday Candle lit Dinner at the Seven Brides Taproom in Silverton, The Davenport Project’s chief lecturer will give a recitation of the classic American poem, “Casey at the Bat.” If time and the audience permits, we may offer up the Garrison Keillor “Road Game” version as well.

Davenport, a longtime baseball aficionado since his teen years in Silverton, was a close personal friend to Albert Spalding, the sporting goods magnate. He hired Davenport to illustrate his 1911 baseball history book, “America’s Favorite Game” with 17 cartoons, including an homage to “Casey” and the orator that first made it famous, De Wolf Hopper.

The poem was made famous by the late 19th century comedian De Wolf Hopper, who made “Casey” his signature piece. Like Davenport, Hopper is relatively unknown today. His son Bill Hopper on the other hand, is fondly remembered on re-runs of Perry Mason, as the private detective Paul Drake. Below is the back story of Casey, from the Baseball Almanac Website.

Casey at the Bat - illustration by Davenport

"Casey at the Bat" illustration by Homer Davenport for A.G. Spalding's book, "America's Favorite Game."

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer

It all started in 1885 when George Hearst decided to run for state senator in California. To self-promote his brand of politics, Hearst purchased the San Francisco Examiner. At the completion of the election, Hearst gave the newspaper to his son, William Randolph Hearst.

William, who had experience editing the Harvard Lampoon while at Harvard College, took to California three Lampoon staff members. One of those three was Ernest L. Thayer who signed his humorous Lampoon articles with the pen name Phin.

De Wolf HopperIn the June 3, 1888 issue of The Examiner, Phin appeared as the author of the poem we all know as Casey at the Bat. The poem received very little attention and a few weeks later it was partially republished in the New York Sun, though the author was now known as Anon.

A New Yorker named Archibald Gunter clipped out the poem and saved it as a reference item for a future novel. Weeks later Gunter found another interesting article describing an upcoming performance at the Wallack Theatre by comedian De Wolf Hopper – who was also his personal friend, (illustration right, by Davenport). The August 1888 show, exact date is unknown, had members from the New York and Chicago ball clubs in the audience and the clipping now had a clear and obvious use.

Gunter shared Casey at the Bat with Hopper and the perfomance was nothing short of legendary. Baseball Almanac is pleased to present the single most famous baseball poem ever written.

“Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy its sombre story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat.”
– Albert Spalding

Click to hear De Wolf Hopper recite Casey at the Bat.

The Hoosier Connections

In the William H. Smith Archives Room

A successful research “fishing expedition” in Indianapolis at the W.H. Smith Memorial Library of the Indiana Historical Society. Mr. Paul Brockman, Director of Manuscripts and Visual Collections, got me pointed in the right direction. I spent last Friday in the research room pouring through letters, scrapbooks and photos from the collections of William Henry Smith, first cousin to T.W. Davenport, and Smith’s nephew, Charles Warren Fairbanks.

Besides being directly related to the Davenport clan, Mr. Smith and Mr. Fairbanks, were both were quite prominent in their own right. Smith was a founding partner of the Associated Press, and Fairbanks a prominent Indiana politician, and eventually Vice President under Theodore Roosevelt. Digging through the archives, I found three pictures of T.W. Davenport (one listed as “unidentified”), a picture of Homer’s Ma Flora and his sister Orla at the age of seven.

I also found a mention in a letter to W.H. Smith from his brother Charles Warren Smith (their nephew’s namesake), while he was in San Francisco in 1891. He mentions that Homer is “…in town attending art school in preparation to work on The Examiner.”

And several items from the Fairbanks scrapbooks about Homer’s attendance at a swanky dinner he and Mrs. Fairbanks were holding for President Theodore Roosevelt. The dinner was held on December 19, 1908. This was just seven days after Homer had sent a letter to Fairbanks informing him that he and Daisy had been separated for two years, and they would no longer be attending any social events together. Apparently Homer went by himself! Another news item, from the New York City Club Fellow dated December 23 on the next page references Homer’s attendance, with a rather “snarky” comment at the end:

“Mr. Homer Davenport, one of the esteemed guests of the dinner recently tendered the President and Mrs. Roosevelt by Vice-President and Mrs. Fairbanks, managed to get in a few words as to the desirability of the Arabian stallion for long-distance stunts in the Army. Homer has a quaint way of going about the thing. What will the rake-off be, Homer?”

I did manage to get a brief video statement from Mr. Brockman, as well as some great cut-aways from the top of the “Indianapolis Circle” Civil War monument, as well as Vice President and Mrs. Fairbanks’ memorial in the near-by Crown Hill Cemetery.

I also realized that Homer had included an image of his famous cousin the front of his 1898 book “Cartoons,” in the background of the picture entitled “An Interview with Senator Hanna,” (right). Fairbanks was a U.S. Senator at the time.

The next day, my host and Navy Buddy Mark drove us both to Richmond, Indiana to visit the location of the famous Starr Piano  and Gennett Record Company, “Birthplace of Recorded Jazz.” No Davenport connection, but relevant to the history of antique phonographics.

All in all a quick but delightful visit! Thanks again to my Hoosier hosts, Mark and Kirsten Fredericks, (plural – no relation).

First TDP Event a Success!

Seven Brides BrewingSilverton, OR: The Seven Brides Taproom in Silverton, Oregon hosted the first official event of The Davenport Project. On Sunday evening, January 29, The Taproom presented it’s first “Dining in the Dark” special evening.

“Several months back, Silverton experienced a power outage that lasted several hours;” explained Seven Brides owner Jeff DeSantis. “We had candles and a gas grill, so we made the best of the situation, and folks loved it! So we decided to make a monthly special out of it!” he added.

During the evening, the electric lights were turned off in favor of candles, oil lamps and lanterns, imparting a sense of “Homer days” from the 1800s onto this heritage dining experience.

Photo by Fred ParkinsonInto this mix, Gus Frederick from The Davenport Project presented a dynamic reading of “Homer Davenport – By his Father.” Written in 1899 for the magazine, “Oregon Native Son,” by Timothy W. Davenport, Homer’s father, it offered an interesting glimpse into the minds of both Davenports, the younger and the elder.

1899 was midway through Homer’s all too short career, which spanned just two decades. T.W. recounts Homer’s early years with recollections of growing up in Silverton, his mother’s influence as well as the cult of myth that had already started to grow up around Homer’s meteoric rise to fame. This was a year after the publication of Homer Davenport’s first book, “Cartoons by Davenport” and a year before his next, “The Dollar or the Man?”

Photo by Fred Parkinson

Frederick reads T.W. Davenport

Frederick paced his presentation with a musical interlude prior to and midway through the reading, provided by period music originally released on shellac analog audio disks, (78rpm records), played back on Frederick’s Orthophonic Victrola acoustic gramophone.

For the first quarter century of recorded music, gramophones and phonographs used spring-wound motors and a hollow “tonearm,” that reproduced the music mechanically without electricity.

Analog audio disks for the evening included “Moving Pictures at Pumpkin Center” by Cal Stewart (COL 78466/A1797); “Palestina” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (VIC 18717-B); “Stars & Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa (VIC 35709-A) and more! Special thanks to the Wolverine Antique Music Society, (WAMS) for use of the Hardware and Software for the evening…

Stay tuned for additional events, coming up in the months to come. We will be taking The Davenport Project on the road to the Jack London Pub in Portland as part of they’re growing history lecture series. And coming early April, will be our “Davenport Dinner on the Farm” to be held at Homer’s Grandparent’s donation land claim and Marion County heritage center, GeerCrest Farm and Historical Society. Seating will be limited! Details to follow…