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

Section 1 - Page 20, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, July 3, 2012

Lee P. Loomis Writes of Days Here
Folks, Facts of 1907-25 Are Recalled

(The following article recalling former days in Muscatine was written for the centennial edition of The Muscatine Journal by Lee P. Loomis, publisher of The Mason City Globe Gazette, former managing editor and publisher of The Journal.

(By Lee P. Loomis) - Photo ~ Amidst the alarms, or it may be before this sees print the repercussions of war, The Muscatine Journal observes its one hundredth anniversary. Men and women under 50 have seen whole nations rise and fall, sometimes almost overnight, but for a whole century The Muscatine Journal has gone along the even tenor of its way, slowly progressing, sturdily keeping abreast of the developments and changes of the times and of its community but varying little in its relative position either as relates to the community it serves or to its contemporaries from that which it has occupied since the days when the weekly advent of The Bloomington Herald was an eagerly awaited milestone in the lives of the pioneer residents of the Iowa shore near the big Bend.

A long sentence that, but it covers along span. Not that life during its century has been uneventful. Hosts of memories assail us who have been a part and parcel of many or even a few of those hundred years; memories of triumphs and defeats; memories of joys and tragedies; memories of penury and relative prosperity; memories of violence and of friendship.

For The Muscatine Journal has been no will-of-the-wisp newspaper bending with each current of popular opinion, siding now here now there, as opportunism seemed to dictate. The Muscatine Journal has made mistakes – what paper hasn’t? It has been right and it has been wrong. But if there is a single recorded incident in its history where it espoused a cause or took a stand contrary to the convictions of its responsible heads as to what was right, that incident has never come to my attention.

Became Publisher in 1915.

Aside from the present staff I feel that I am perhaps closer to the entire span of a hundred years of The Muscatine Journal than any other single individual now living. This is an anniversary year for me too. Twenty-five years ago I assumed the position of publisher of The Muscatine Journal. It is true that I held this position only for a brief decade. But The Journal and its triumphs and difficulties and those of its management and staff have been much in my mind and thinking in those years which have elapsed since I ceased to be a member of the “Journal gang.”

For eight years before I became publisher I was managing editor of the old Journal and during the eighteen years of my connection with the paper I had much occasion to study its history and its background. I had not only a business and professional interest in this history but a personal and family one too.

Mahin Recalled.

My uncle, the late John Mahin (Mrs. Mahin was my mother’s sister) for fifty years WAS The Muscatine Journal. It was my privilege to know him well during the latter years of his life. In his eyes I was in a sense carrying on the work to which he had devoted a lifetime and a paper which never ceased to be the apple of his eye. I made many mistakes, some real, some in my thinking apparent only to his eyes. Yet each recurrent suggestion and criticism was greatly welcomed. I still marvel at the accuracy of his memory and knowledge. I have been absent from Muscatine now about the same length of time that John Mahin’s desk had been vacated at the period I am referring to. Scarcely a mail then but brought me a letter containing clipping or clippings from The Journal with corrections in initials or the spelling of names of old time Muscatine residents or corrections in fact of some historical reference. Except in some isolated instance I would not dare make such corrections on clippings from The Journal of today for I do not have that accurate memory of the way names are spelled, or of initials. I would be sure if I had thought that I detected an error that my memory had failed me but the old gentleman was always right. Not once did he ever make a mistake as I remember it. His advice, his counsel and above all his encyclopedic memory for facts, names and places added tremendously to whatever success I may have met with in my positions, as first editor, and then publisher of The Journal.

Names that are written large in the 25 years between John Mahin’s departure from The Journal and the 25 years beginning in 1915 when I took over the managerial reins include those of John Lee Mahin, Harold J. Mahin, Walter L. Lane and Frank D. Throop. All of these were either relatives or close personal friends of mine. John Lee Mahin’s connection with The Journal, if indeed there was any real personal connection with it other than financial interest after his father left the paper, was before my time. But much of the story of the varying fortunes of the others in the old office on Iowa avenue are to me but as events of yesterday.

Walter Lane had but lately been laid to rest in an untimely grave when in 1907 a “kid managing editor” (The Tribune, grave and elderly, called me that in print as I remember it) showed up in Muscatine and reported to Publisher Frank Throop for temporary duty while The Journal sought a new and adequate candidate for the mantle of the great John Mahin on the editorial desk. Throop wanted almost anybody else in the wide, wide world for editor but me and had frankly told the late A. W. Lee, then president of The Journal company, of his feelings.

Had Admired Hearst.

I had acquired a stealthy but real admiration for that brand of journalism then chiefly exploited by the rising Mr. Hearst and then known to most others in the profession as “yellow” and this Mr. Throop felt, unfitted me for a desk position on a paper in a staid, conservative city like Muscatine. I also had my misgivings because I had been told by others of the younger generation in the Lee organization that the selection of Throop to succeed Walter Lane as publisher had been a serious mistake and that Ed Dreier, the advertising manager, was the real coming top man on the paper. For a month I kept my room at Ottumwa, where I had been employed and to which paper I knew I could return. Finally I faced Frank.

    “When are you going to get a managing editor?”
    “I’ve got one,” said Frank.
    “When does he come?” I next asked.
    “He’s here.”
    “Where is he?” I wanted to know.
    “I’m talking to him”

And that was that. I went to work for Frank Throop and in his position as vice-president of the Lee Syndicate I am still working for him, and a better boss or a better friend no man was ever lucky enough to have.

Staff Was Young.

I came to Muscatine from the city desk at Ottumwa. I had no experience as a real newspaper executive. As a managing editor I left much to be desired. But it was a great crowd I had to work with. All of us were kids – Throop, the publisher barely thirty; Dreier the advertising manager and myself even younger. “The kid management” The Tribune called it. Short on experience, short on ability a good many intimated, we had a surplus of one commodity that goes a long way in the newspaper business. We had enthusiasm, gobs of it.

Mr. Lee wanted to make money. But news was the great concern of Frank Throop and myself. And boy, what a newspaper (as I recall it) we put out. But the truth was we had to. Over on The Tribune, conservatively operated as a morning paper by the Van Lent brothers, there was the greatest reporter I have ever known. At that time he couldn’t write well, though in later years he became a really great descriptive writer. While working in Los Angeles he wrote the most graphic description of an earthquake that I ever read. But in the days of which I speak – and I suppose throughout his life he had the greatest nose for news that it has ever been my fortune to come in contact with. He was uncanny. Luck, intuition and hard work together could not explain some of his exploits. No one familiar with the details of newspaper making in those days doubts to whom I refer. I mean of course the late Arthur Wilhelm.

Could “Smell” News

Many is the night I sat around the old Journal editorial room upstairs on Iowa avenue and had Art come in. Actually he would sniff. “There’s a big story around this town, Lee. I can smell it.” Maybe he already had his lead on the story but whether or no I always dreaded to look at The Tribune the next morning. For nine times out of ten Art’s story would be there, spattered all over the front page and so written no matter when the event had occurred, to make it look like The Journal had been scooped. Those were the days. We had no money. (I got $18.00 a week for being managing editor, editorial writer and telegraph editor combines.) But what a whale of a lot of fun! I’d gladly trade my mahogany office chair and desk, my private office, and my salary (if my wife would let me) for that old paste-stuck, knife-scarred desk and that battered typewriter and my eighteen bucks a week if I might have the fun and the enthusiasm and the joy of working that I had then.

I wish I had the time and space to tell of many of Wilhelm’s exploits but must content myself with the simplest reference to the time he announced the drowning of a Muscatine resident in the old gravel pit before the man’s family or the police knew the victim was anything more than unexplainedly absent from home. When The Journal went to press that afternoon we bitterly assailed the yellow reporter who with no foundation in fact had written such a sensational story, causing great grief and anguish to a loving family simply to make a reporter’s holiday. But the next morning they dragged the gravel pit and found the unfortunate man’s body. A month later when my chagrin let me talk about it, I asked Art “How in the --- did you know that body was in the gravel pit?”

“Lee,” he said, “I followed him every step of the way after he left Huttig’s and that was the only place he could be.” Don’t ask me. I never knew. But he was right. He nearly always was right.

Not that The Tribune got all the scoops. Balm and surcease for many a gaping wound came out of the murder at Fairport of the Van Winkles by a man named Jones. We scooped the old Tribune on the murder, on the capture two years later of the murderer and finally on Jones’ suicide in his cell at the county jail.

I have not attempted to touch upon many of the most important happenings in the history of The Journal during the century long story of its life. These things I am sure will be chronicled in other articles in this edition; things like the bombing of the home of Editor John Mahin, the Journal’s many contributions to growth and development of Muscatine; the consolidation with The Tribune; the building of its new building; the paper’s efforts for peace and understanding in times of industrial strife.

Personal Tragedy Recalled.

I have not even touched upon the most tragic moment of all the years of my connection with The Journal – that morning when I came down to the new building and found that I had allowed our new press, of which I was inordinately proud, to be installed in the building before the windows were all in and the combination of this fact together with a very rainy, foggy night had overnight turned that gleaming engine of polished steel into a rust covered hulk. If I, like the Journal, live to be a hundred I shall never forget that day.

And if the day above referred to was the most tragic day in my long connection with The Journal I think the day which gave me the most satisfaction was one just a little more than fifteen years ago, when from Mason City, I sent a certain telegram to Clyde Rabedeaux, now the publisher of The Journal, then its advertising manager.

I had left Muscatine without any of the staff, save Clyde alone, knowing my destination. We were meeting the then owners of The Mason City Globe-Gazette in a conference, which might or might not result in our taking over the management of that paper. If we took it over I knew also that it meant promotion for Clyde and other members of the staff who had worked so long and faithfully with me in Muscatine. Not even Mrs. Rabedeaux knew what was in the air. At noon on March 31st, 1925, I wrote and sent a telegram to Clyde, advising him that the deal had gone through, that we had taken over The Globe-Gazette management and one of the happiest minutes of my life was when I addressed that telegram to “Clyde Rabedeaux, publisher of the Muscatine Journal.” It was the beginning of his management of the Journal . . . and what a swell job he and those associated with him have done!

Oddest Incident Noted.

The oddest incident of my life in Muscatine came the morning after the election in 1916. The Tribune, the democratic paper had naturally enough been an ardent supporter of President Wilson. The Journal, republican in politics, had of course been strong for Hughes. My readers (if any by this time) will recall the closeness of that election, how early reports from the east indicated a sweeping victory for Hughes and only when the surprising results from some western and far western states began coming in did Wilson’s election become likely. At the Tribune the early results were a blow to the expectations of The Tribune’s editor. Discouraged and shaken they put the returns at hand into type, made up the paper early, called it a night and went to bed.

Over at The Journal it was a different story. Jubilantly they read the returns from the east, eagerly they wanted more of the same, and so they kept the wires open and though convinced like The Tribune of Hughes’ election, they wanted to support it with all available details. And then the trend of the returns began to change. Western returns was amazing. Finally doubt assailed The Journal editors. Then they had to wait on to see.

And so it happened that Muscatine rubbed its eyes the following morning when election extras of the democratic Tribune admitted sadly the election of Hughes, while similar extras of the republican Journal grudgingly announced the probably election of Wilson. The town laughed its head off but the democratic Tribune was too elated by the results to care while the republican Journal was too disappointed to get much satisfaction out of its superior service.

Grateful to Friends.

I find that I have overlooked the most important thing in connection with my association with The Journal. It was the friendship and kindnesses that came to me from the people of Muscatine, city and county, and particularly the friendship of, as I fondly and confidently believe, all the men and women who worked on The Journal with me during eighteen long and strenuous years. I shall never forget my overwhelming astonishment at the he messages of regret and congratulation that came to me from literally hundreds when I moved from Muscatine to what was regarded as a greater opportunity. I knew I did not deserve even a small part of the many nice things that were said at that time but I was humbly grateful for them. It was something like being privileged to read your own obituary. So many, many people helped me and forgave my mistakes when I was a new and awkward editor; so many did the same thing again when eight years later I became a new and even more awkward and unaccustomed publisher; so many wished me a flattering Godspeed when I was sent to a new field of endeavor, that I have debts of gratitude to Muscatine folks that I can never repay. Perhaps a few of you would like to know that I am grateful, that I still remember with a muttered “God bless ‘em:” I am and I do.

For many, many reasons I am glad that I was permitted to work in my chosen occupation in Muscatine. Gratitude for hosts of friendships is one of these; association with many able and earnest newspaper workers is another; but I am most grateful of all, for the opportunity that it gave me on two occasions to pay tribute to those to whom it was due. At one time as publisher of The Journal and at a much later one as a former publisher of the paper it was my privilege to print n their old home town a final word of appraisal of the lives and services of two people to whom, I shall always believe, the modern Muscatine owes more than it will ever realize – John and Anna Mahin.

Tribute to Founders.

The Muscatine Journal has had a great hundred years. But if we who came afterward could not have builded a satisfactory superstructure upon the honest, sturdy foundation bequeathed to us by such predecessors we would have been in truth but shoddy craftsmen. In closing as in beginning be it written The Muscatine Journal of today keeps pace with The Muscatine Journal of the past in the integrity of its being, in the service of its community, and in the respect and confidence of its fellow citizens.

Stewards of a great tradition, a great heritage have all been who served The Journal in responsible position during these later years. And none have been more faithful then Clyde Rabadeaux its present publisher or Walter Russell its present editor, who this day present the modern Journal to reflect all that the Journal of days gone by has been.

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What is believed to be the first time the title “Hawkeye,” as applied to Iowa, appeared in print on March 24, 1838. It was in the Ft. Madison Patriot, founded by John H. Edwards who wrote in an editorial: “If a division of the territory is effected we propose that Iowans take the cognomen of Hawkeye. Our etomology can then be more definitely traced than can be that of the Wolverene, Sucker, Gopher, Etc., and we shall rescue from oblivion a memento, at least, of the name of the old Chief Blackhawk.”

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