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Category Archives: Politics

Philadelphia Inquirer, October 31, 1912.Whatcha got here, left to right, are quality caricatures of the three contending presidential candidates, Teddy Roosevelt (Bullmoose Party), William Howard Taft (Republican) and Woody Wilson (Democrat). Old-timey editorial cartoonists were much more observant of Halloween than ours today, and hit that holiday mark with clockwork regularity.

Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1900. The reactionary Trib was naturally agin the presidential candidacy of arch populist William Jennings Bryan, and didn’t spare the venom in its deadly caricatures of “The Great Commoner.” Bryan actually wasn’t a bad-looking chap, though the artist definitely nailed a likeness: Read More »

Grand Forks Daily Herald, November 28, 1909. I think we’ve tracked down President Taft’s missing mince mega-pie. Read More »

Los Angeles Herald, December 25, 1909. Ambiguous headline there: Could be taken to denote an unusual national security threat, or maybe a groundswell of popular support for an even stranger candidate.
Taft, of course, was the Fat President and had a sterling rep as a trencherman, so I reckon the gift was pretty well tailored to its recipient. I must look into the matter of this previous pie that went MIA at Thanksgiving.

San Francisco Call, December 20, 1908. As of a couple of weeks ago I have a literary agent, and she has me working on a book proposal for definitive study of mince pie in America. I will confess, there are moments when I say to myself “An entire book on mince pie? That’s insane!” Then I run across an item like this and I think instead, “A book on mince pie: It’s what this country needs if there is to be any hope for its future!”

The Daily Picayune, April 14, 1883. I hope the guy was hewing to the progressive western platform.

Biloxi Daily Herald, November 19, 1919. A vital sartorial tip: Never attempt to wear a barrel without suspenders. Unless you’re a showgirl working a gimmick to get a little press, at least. (Hey, does anybody know what a “picture hat” is?)

So here’s what I can tell you about the origins of the wearing-the-barrel trope qua signifier of destitution. Near as I can tell, it was born from the confluence of two prior memes. On the one hand, you’ve got the precedent of the “Drunkard’s Cloak,” which was a medieval and early-modern legal incentive against public inebriation. The association between habitual intoxication and poverty seems pretty clear, right?

The second precedent is the ascetic Greek philosopher Diogenes (circa 412-323 B.C.), who supposedly made his home in a big clay jar. “Jar” somehow got mistranslated as “barrel” in popular consciousness from the early-modern through the Victorian era. (And yes, there did used to be popular consciousness of Diogenes.) I’m guessing the guy-in-a-barrel has real early theatrical roots and takes off from there.

pockBoston Daily Journal. December 5, 1889. Tom Stoppard and Richard Powers are collaborating on an operatic libretto encompassing these items. Johnny Greenwood is signed to write the score.

Oh, just kiddin’. But the longer I stare at these old newspapers, the more I am bewitched by the cumulative insanity and variety and intellectual free-fall of these deep stacks of randomly interesting nonsense.

They put me much in mind the work of Neil Postman, whose books The Disappearance of Childhood and Amusing Ourselves to Death seemed to me very profound when I read them in my 20s. The guy’s basic theme was that print imposed rationality, but video annihilated it. That, according to Mr. Postman, was because TV equaled vaudeville and vaudeville equaled chaos. Whereas print was inherently rational.

But that’s fundamentally utopian, i.e. stupid, because vaudeville is the default condition of the human mind, regardless of prevailing medium. Am I right? I got Shakespeare and Chaucer on my side here.

P.S. I see some boffins at a Harvardian thinktank are on my side too. I would have tidied up, avoir su.

Chicago Tribune, September 16, 1916 (left) and December 24, 1895. Beautiful editorial cartoons from the Trib (click through twice for optimum magnification). The one on the left speaks for itself, I reckon. The one on the right pertains to the boundary dispute between Venezuela and Britain. Britain was preparing to kick some ass when the U.S. forcibly reasserted the Monroe Doctrine (“Nobody fucks about in South America but us”). The Brits initially said “Pshaw!” but then backed down–a watershed moment in global power politics. The profile on the target is of course John Bull. I love it that newspapers once had leeway to depict Uncle Sam as a dissolute old carny, and on Christmas Eve day no less. Imagine the ensuing uproar if it happened today.

grand rapids eve press march 22 1907Grand Rapids Evening Press, March 22, 1907. This strikes me as legislative overkill. Seems like there’d be less economic derangement and dislocation if Senator McKnight simply brought his missus to live in Little Rock full-time. Or if that would cramp his style too much, maybe the railway could build her a special rail car with a lily-white hydraulic lift.

It’s a weird thing about coverage of Jim Crow stuff in old papers–some stuff arbitrarily gets lampooned, but it’s no crazier than the stuff that doesn’t.

I wonder if there’s a hidden meaning to the billing being “referred to the department of agriculture”?