Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 1 - Page 17, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, July 3, 2012

Daughter Writes of Mahin’s Life
Community Betterment a Watchword

(Note – The following article, giving an insight into the daily life of John Mahin, veteran editor of The Journal, and into earlier years in Muscatine, was written for the centennial edition of The Journal by Mrs. J. Warren Alford of East Orange, N. J., the former Florence Mahin, a daughter of Mr. Mahin.)

By Mrs. J. Warren Alford. - A hundred years since The Muscatine Journal was established in 1840 – And you who are carrying on now, are taking time in your busy lives to glance back over those years and inquire about your predecessors. There are files in your office containing records and dates. You have access to them, but, you ask yourselves:

“What kind of a man was this John Mahin, who for 50 years edited this newspaper.” And you write to me, his daughter, asking for an article recalling something of my life in Muscatine and of my father’s activities as I remember them.

In my possession is the original receipt dated March 4, 1853 for the purchase of The Journal. It states: “Received of Jacob Mahin and Son, the sum of five hundred dollars, for the office of The Muscatine Journal this day the fourth of Mrch 1853. (Signed) Noah McCormick.”

As my father was born on Dec. 8, 1833 he was not quite 20 years old but he became editor and for 50 years, until Jan. 15, 1903, when he retired, he held that office.

In June 1876 I appeared upon the scene, so all that happened before was told me. I remember it in fragments. As a child, I can recall, the fascination of watching the men set type when I was allowed the delight of visiting The Journal office. The men sat on high stools, before tables containing the type. Different letters of the alphabet were in small compartments and with incredible rapidity their fingers took these tiny letters and put them together, oddly it seemed, upside down and backwards. But when the type was set up and the huge sheets of paper emerged from the printing press it was all quite plain and could be read very easily.

Studied at Night.

“Your father set type in this office when he was a little boy,” they told me. How proud I felt that he could do that. He was an apprentice at 13 to the Bloomington Herald. His duties consisted of making fires, inking the press and carrying the weekly issue to the town subscribers. He told us that when he set the words in type, and did not know their meaning he looked the definition up in the dictionary. He liked Latin words best and studied at night to get the education he longed for in the library in our home with book shelves on the walls to the ceiling, the encyclopedia was nearest my father’s desk. His eagerness for knowledge was always characteristic. I suppose all editor’s children grow up on facts.

We scarcely dared make a statement unless it had been proven. Anything published must be true, we thoroughly understood, unless the word ‘alleged’ preceded the statement or it was placed between quotation marks.

My father was not a young man when I began to know him – he was 43 years old when I was born. He had edited the newspaper through the years of the Civil war publishing an evening and morning edition. He had been a member of the state legislature. He was known throughout the state as a fearless advocate of principle. Right and wrong wre clearly defined paths to travel – one must have convictions and adhere to them. ‘For the betterment of the community’ was a sentence I became acquainted with early in my life. Both my father and my mother used that phrase frequently.

Children Aided Father.

Reforms, politics, civic affairs and religion – we heard them discussed with mutual interest. Each day our family life centered upon the big event of the paper – going to press – which was about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. At noon, when we gathered for lunch, our father’s pockets bulged with copy to correct. Sometimes it was distributed to my older brother and sister to hold. Proud was I when I too was considered able to do that. The news was so exciting. That hour between morning and afternoon sessions of school brought world events to us even before they appeared in The Journal – we had no radios then.

I well remember the day the new Linotype was installed and the men discontinued setting the type by hand. It was marvelous to see the machine accomplish all that work. Many improvements came to the office but the editorial desk remained unchanged. You with your flat top desks cleared for action and with your cabinet files would marvel t the disorder of the high cabinet type desk which he used, with clippings pasted here and there. But he knew exactly where everything was which he wanted and could produce it instantly.

Was Student of The Bible.

He read the Bible with keen enjoyment and had many commentaries of the Bible. He said history, romance, poetry were all there, as well as spiritual guidance. He was for many years superintendent of the Sunday school and leader of the Bible class in the Methodist church, but in the prayer meetings when ‘Brother Mahin’ was called upon to lead in prayer a certain timidity would overcome him. It was usually my mother’s lovely voice we heard instead of father’s as he, kneeling beside her, would grasp her hand say, ‘My dear, you do it.’

With his children and in his home his gentle affection dominated. No severe punishments were ever given but his firm voice saying “Daughter you deserve a reprimand,” was enough to make me mend my ways with sincere repentance.

That night of May 11, 1893, when dynamite destroyed our home, with two others, his concern for his family was his particular distress. “If they wanted my life,” he said, “they had ample opportunity. If they wanted to destroy my property, they could have done that, but to attempt to kill my family and those others was diabolical.”

He was law abiding and his editorials praising the efforts of the governor of the state to enforce the prohibitory law partly caused the disaster. As no lives were lost among those endangered, he felt that Providence had protected us.

Memories of Muscatine.

There is not space to describe the memories of my life in Muscatine. I often wonder if the young people enjoy the pleasures of the Mississippi river as much as we did. Do they skate, do they have camping parties, do they go out in rowboats and after rowing upstream, do they tie the boats together and drift down, singing, as we did? Do they have picnics? Have some of you forgotten the five-mile drive which took all afternoon, driving leisurely, to make the circle? In winter do they coast down Second street hill and climb up Third street, dragging the bobsleds and then meet in some home to warm up with hot oyster stew or hot chocolate?

Uncles Visited Frequently.

In our home two young uncles were frequent visitors – Frank W. Mahin, my father’s youngest brother, who owned and edited the Clinton, Ia., Daily Herald, and my mother’s youngest brother, Alfred W. Lee, who owned and edited The Ottumwa Courier. Both had learned, in The Musctine Journal, the newspaper business. Frank Mahin became United States consul abroad and Alfred Lee formed a syndicate of newspapers. It was to that syndicate my father sold The Muscatine Journal in 1903 when he retired and went with my mother to Evanston, Ill., to live, near the family of their oldest son, John Lee Mahin, established in the advertising business in Chicago.

Mr. Lee and his wife and little daughter were traveling abroad when fatal illness overcame him. It was at the home of Frank Mahin, then United States consul at Nottingham, England, that he died July 15, 1907. His death was untimely – he was about 50 years old, but so well hd he arranged his affairs, so deeply had he won the esteem of his associates, that his plans have been successfully carried on.

It had been the hope of John Mahin to write a history of Iowa after his retirement, but the material he had collected was destroyed by fire in the apartment building in Evanston, Ill., where they were living. I happened to be visiting there at the time and saw the anguish my father felt over the loss of what could never be replaced.

He read many histories of Iowa and would jot on the margins of the pages corrections of supplementary information. Those years, when he became a spectator of that arena of newspaper life in which he had been so active, were very pleasant ones for him. He enjoyed his old age and would copy sentiments expressive of that one I quote from memory, possibly inaccurately, “If contemplation be among our pleasures, the quiet of the setting sun may surpass in charm the noonday heat.”

Followed News Closely.

His interest in world events continued to the end. Seated at his desk after his death on July 24, 1919, I found there clippings which he had made only a few days before, referring to the first trans-Atlantic flight and the national law for prohibition – big events in those days – the World war was over – the young soldiers had come home after the armistice.

He went so peacefully into his New Adventure, so calm in his faith, I could only repeat to myself Alfred Tennyson’s “Crossing of the Bar,”

“Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.”

When he was laid to rest in the cemetery in Muscatine, the burial plot having been the site at one time of his father’s log cabin which he bought when that section was laid out for the cemetery, we all accompanied him, my mother bereaved after 54 years of his companionship; my brother, John Lee Mahin, now dead 10 years, my sister Mabel, dead for nearly three years, and my youngest brother, Harold, now living in Los Angeles, Calif.

He was laid beside the little daughter, Ella, who died in infancy.

Such a legacy he left to us – the honor, the esteem shown his memory by those who were really the sons and daughters of his contemporaries – he had “fought the good fight, he had kept the Faith.” Walking through a memorial playground with my little grandson he wanted me to read the inscription on a monument dedicated to the soldiers. It was:

    “We have kept the Faith."
    His instant question was “What was the Faith and where did they keep it?”
    “In the hearts of the people,” I told him. “Their courage won such trust, it would live that way forever.”
    You who are carrying on as successors are taking with you, into each day’s activities the faith of those who have preceded you maintaining the high ideals they held for “betterment of community.”

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Pleaning Machine - We have heretofore inadvertently neglected to notice Messrs. A. B. and S. E. Hill’s steam planning mill, on First street, near the bluff. This machine will prepare from five to seven thousand feet of flooring per day. Such machines as this are greatly calculated to accelerate building operations and in a place like this they are almost indispensable. We think we hazard in saying that a manufactory of this kind adds more to the real wealth and prosperity of a community than a half-dozen mercantile establishments. Success to the Messers. Hill. – Sept. 8, 1852.

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