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CSotD: Looking back 100 years (personal privilege)

I’m rising to a point of personal privilege today, because my father was born March 28, 1921, in Ironwood, Michigan, which deserves some fanfare at least at my house, and so here’s the local paper his father might have read in the waiting room at the hospital.

The Supreme Court had just ruled that money made by investments came under the income tax law, Cardinal Gibbons had died and there were two stories about people being harmed by moonshine, suggesting that the Ironwood Daily Globe was a “dry” paper in those days of Prohibition, since “wet” papers didn’t put such stories on Page One.


What the Globe was not was a great repository of comics, because these are the only two in that eight-sheet journal.

However, my grandfather was getting a look at Gasoline Alley somewhere, because my father, having been born a mere six weeks after Walt discovered a foundling on his doorstep …

… was referred to as “Skeezix” as a wee lad.

So here are some more comics my grandfather might have found in the newspapers scattered around the waiting room, a century ago:

Freckles began as a little kid and grew until he was a teenager, at which point he stopped aging and the strip focused on high school hijinks. Meanwhile, Pop Momand’s strip did, indeed, originate that phrase.


A different “Doings of the Duffs” here than the one in the Globe, and that’s not unusual in a time when strips were mailed out, though it was ideal for editors to keep story arcs intact. Still, they ran when they ran and you’ll note there is no date in the margin.


Case in point being Everett True, a very popular comic but looking back in the files often shows a variety of episodes running in different papers on the same date.

Note that the point of the gag in this one, despite the stereotype of the Chinese laundry and the laundryman’s stereotyped accent, is the fellow’s handwriting, which is apparently harder to read than ideograms.

It’s still stereotypical racism, but on a relatively benign level, depending on the “other” rather than mocking it.

But then there’s this:

The joke here is that this little kid is a pretty good pitcher and perhaps they should sign him. Taken for granted is that the “African Dodger” is an established carnival game.

I don’t know whether it’s more horrifying that the game existed at all, or that newspaper readers would accept it as normal and focus on the joke of a team signing little kids.

By the way, if that team wanted to expand their roster, they could have tapped a whole other stream of talent, given that Rube Foster had formed the National Negro League just the year before, turning black baseball from a collection of barnstormers into a formal major league.

And, hey, speaking of a century, Major League Baseball just noticed them.


Back to the topic of timeliness, I found these four strips mounted together, but they could have run on separate days. There’s some social commentary in these, starting with a sly reference to drinking bootleg hooch, touching on the modern woman and ending with a reference to presidential politics.


These sorts of office comedy and domestic humor are far more common, but, then they’re much more common on the funny pages today, if a little smoother in pacing and presentation.


Cap Stubbs was a very popular strip, one of the few in that era drawn by a woman, Edwina Dumm. It was only three years old at this stage, but would last another 45 years, perhaps because of its pacing and presentation, which seem ahead of its time.


Also popular were what you might call the “slice of life” panels, this one by H.T. Webster, who was not only a leader in this genre but created the character “Caspar Milquetoast.”


This particular piece by Dwig (Clare Victor Dwiggins) is a little hard to figure out, unless he’s simply magnetising their jackknife blades. Alan Holtz has more on Dwig, who did some fine work.


Mutt and Jeff is another case in which you can go through papers of a particular date and find two or three different strips. I note that Bud Fisher has put a number in the bottom left hand corner, but no date.

I’d also note that the strip had week-long story arcs, but not a lot of continuity; I don’t recall Mutt being an attorney again. And, BTW, the A. stands for “Augustus.”


You might think the war was over, three years after the Armistice, but the drawn-out arguments over reparations, and Germany’s unwillingness to admit defeat, were still going on, although this Magnus Kettner cartoon suggests that we were coming to some sort of closure.

On the other hand, if you wonder why the Allies went for absolute finality a generation later, there’s your answer.


Issues of federal spending are nothing new, but President Harding was, having been sworn in just three weeks earlier under the old electoral calendar. W.C. Morris, a staunch Republican himself, was apparently hopeful that Uncle Sam would listen to the new guy.


Morris also decries the amount spent on weaponry in light of a significant post-war effort towards disarmament. (Spoiler: It didn’t catch on.)


Yes, people played golf in those days, and cartoonists drew gags about it. The game “shinny” referenced at top right is street hockey, which certainly would put some wear-and-tear on a golf club. And note the center piece: He wasn’t going to let Prohibition spoil the game.


Wood Cowan turns his fancy from golf to baseball with this collection of optimistic predictions, and the spoiler is that the season ended in a “subway series,” pitting the NY Giants against the Yankees, the latter making their first appearance in the World Series. They didn’t actually need a subway, since both teams played at the Polo Grounds.

There were 16 teams in the Major Leagues, and Cowan appears to only be including the likely winners, since this is a mish-mash of American and National league teams. (Not sure which “New York” team he’s depicting, but he got’em both by luck.)


Anyway, happy birthday, Dad. We miss you.

And thanks for starting me down this road. (Yeah, that’s me on the right.)




Community Comments

#1 Denny Lien
@ 6:56 am

” (Not sure which “New York” team he’s depicting, but he got’em both by luck.)”

In 1921, there were also two teams each in Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia, so the ten cities named are actually “representing” fiveteen of the sixteen MLB cities at the time. Brooklyn seems to be the only missing (maybe it’s crouched down hiding out of view behind “New York”?).

#2 mark johnson
@ 10:27 am

Ironwood Mich? So you got some “Yooper” in you.

My Dad (dob 6-6-20) also identified with Skeezix which made working for 35 yrs 2 blocks from a railroad car diner ( Franks Diner -Kenosha) all the more fun for me

#3 Mary McNeil
@ 3:17 pm

Great post ! Thanks for sharing thoughts of your Dad !

#4 Mike Peterson
@ 4:23 pm

Pretty sure Anne took us all to Frank’s at the last Cartooning Festival. Not sure I’d want to be that close every day at work — I have enough trouble maintaining my youthful figure.

But I wouldn’t mind another visit. I miss Kenosha!

#5 Mark B
@ 4:34 pm

I’m guessing that “Chinese” laundryman is really Japanese if he has problems with “Ls” where an “R” should be. :)

#6 Solon Manney
@ 5:47 pm

Comic strip art has changed. I think of some of today’s artists’ more spare, simplistic cartooning style as having been pioneered by Punch’s Fougasse (Kenneth Bird). Why not mention his work in a future post?

#7 Brad Walker
@ 7:59 pm

Mark B, the stereotype is, Chinese replace “Rs” with “Ls”, and Japanese, “Ls” with “Rs.” When I was in Japan I noted some businesses went out of their way to use “L” in their name, just to seem foreign, cf. the burger chain Lotteria.

#8 Tara Gallagher
@ 12:17 am

I note the “Donner wetter” exclamation in the Magnus Kettner cartoon. Meaning “thunderstorms” it was, at least in some populations, a fairly strong exclamation. My husband has said that as a boy he got in trouble for saying it in front of his Pennsylvania Dutch grandfather (who he had, of course, learned it from)

#9 Bob Harris
@ 6:10 am

Thanks for these. The joke in the Wellington panel is that the victim is soon to be pelted by a professional pitcher instead of a little boy. That was the schtick for this feature — some misfortune happening, and the victim unaware that it was about to get much worse.

I’d read about that carnival game before. I continue to cringe every time I see a reference to it. Thanks for posting a link to the Popular Mechanics article.

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