|I’m looking for Pauline Jacobson’s “Otis: Jehovah of Industrial Freedom,” which appeared in the Dec. 9, 1911, issue of the San Francisco Bulletin. It was also reprinted in “The Struggles of Organized Labor in Los Angeles.” Does anyone happen to have access to this little item? The citation, by the way, is from Grace Heilman Stimson’s “Rise of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles.” |
Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Most of the articles I have found dealing with Gen. Harrison Gray Otis were written after the 1910 bombing. Here’s a 1908 article that is shockingly positive given the current view of the old boy.
I stumbled across this article in going through James Bassett’s citations for his ill-fated book. The Argonaut was a San Francisco weekly founded in 1877 and edited by Holman from 1907 to 1924. In its early days, the magazine featured Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and Bret Harte.
Sept. 27, 1978: James Bassett dies.
am climbing Mount Bassett. It’s as if I’m halfway up and have come across the abandoned camp of an expedition that vanished many years ago while trying to conquer some snowy, fog-shrouded peak. Abandoned equipment and scattered tin cans surround the adventurers' hut. Inside, on a crude table, the last pages of the logbook describe a harrowing plight before trailing off into infinity.
Epilogue: In 1984, The Times published a bland but approved corporate history by Marshall Berges called “The Life and Times of Los Angeles,” the same title as Bassett’s ill-fated book. It, too, had a troubled history. But that’s another story.
| came across this article from the February 1928 issue of “The American Mercury” while researching the 1910 bombing of The Times. It’s a bit difficult to determine from ProQuest precisely when Louis Sherwin [Hugo Louis Sherwin Golitz] worked for The Times, but it was evidently early in his career. |
Sherwin is a skilled writer and, in keeping with the tone of H.L. Mencken’s “Mercury,” pricks the balloons of as many civic boosters, Babbitts and gods of the “booboisie” as possible. He portrays Gen. Harrison Gray Otis as the usual warlike buffoon and yet mourns the old boy: “If there had been even a mere dozen more Otises throughout the country, it would be a more agreeable place today.”
On Page 193, he also makes an interesting note of Otis’ fight over a union shop, which began in 1890:
“The demand that put the burr under his saddle was the rule that ties the competent fellow down to the pace of the blockhead. It is, as I suppose most people know, an implicit law of organized labor that, no matter how good a comrade is, he must not work so rapidly and efficiently as to throw his lazy and half-witted mates out of their jobs. This rule cripples the publishing business of America today, as it cripples other industries, and has driven more than one editor and proprietor out of the field altogether.”
By the way, the article begins with a quote from “Brann, the Iconoclast.” Those who consider Otis’ anti-union editorials to be the depth of venomous invective would do well to read a few pages. Warning: “Brann, the Iconoclast” is liberally sprinkled racist terms and the N-word. William Cowper Brann could give lessons to Andrew Breitbart, except that he and an irate reader shot each other to death in 1898. There’s something to offend just about everybody.
July 19, 1910: "Jailbird" ... "pinhead" ... A typical Times editorial about labor.
Sept. 4, 1910: San Francisco labor leaders file a libel suit against Times Editor and General Manager Gen. Harrison Gray Otis and Assistant Manager Harry Chandler. It’s a bit difficult to determine precisely which stories were cited in the suit because The Times so often used caustic language in writing about unions.
Los Angeles Times file photo
|1911: James B. McNamara’s defense team leaves the courthouse. At left, Samuel Gompers, famous head of the American Federation of Labor, is eating a snack and holding a cigar. The fellow on the right is defense attorney Joe Scott. The man second from the right is defense attorney LeCompte Davis.
The man second from the left is identified on the back of the photo as Clarence Darrow but someone crossed it out. Let’s get a closer look. I think it could be Darrow.
Los Angeles Times file photo
Looks like Clarence Darrow to me, I must say.
have been spending quite a bit of time with these men, reading the transcripts of jury selection in the trial of James B. McNamara for bombing The Times.
Remember in this era, there was no television, no radio and certainly not the Internet. The only source of news – other than rumor and gossip -- was the daily papers, the weekly papers and magazines. You might assume people read them regularly. You would be wrong.
Here’s an extract of the voir dire of prospective juror Albert C. Robinson by LeCompte Davis:
Q. What papers do you read, Mr. Robinson?
A. Well, I haven’t read any for about four months. For about four months I did not see a paper.
Q. Did you read also the statement of Mr. Chandler, the son-in-law of Colonel Otis, wherein he said that The Times had been destroyed by the enemies of industrial freedom and that no power on earth could prevent them from again assuming the position in the editorial world or in the newspaper world that they had theretofore held?
Robinson isn’t an exception. In fact, he’s fairly typical – more typical than I expected. Judging by what I have read so far (600 pages and counting), newspapers were not the powerful influence on public opinion that we often think they were.
Isn’t this a great cover? I love the lettering.
|I’m going through the transcripts of jury selection in the McNamara trial, which is dull, tedious, fascinating work. It’s difficult to convey the experience of having a 1911 typewritten manuscript – old and somewhat fragile -- next to a digitized 1911 magazine displayed on my laptop. Put them side by side and a century disappears, collapsing time in a way that I never expected. |
I’m about halfway through the first of four volumes of transcripts and I have discovered that in questioning prospective jurors, defense attorney Clarence Darrow usually asks whether they have seen the August 1911 issue of McClure’s Magazine. That year, McClure’s published a series of stories about detective William J. Burns, who investigated the explosion, and the story in this issue focused on The Times bombing. So far, only one juror said he was a McClure’s subscriber, but he didn’t like detective stories so he didn’t read the article.
Harvey J. O’Higgins’ story in McClure’s is straightforward and a pretty good read, although I would have to fact-check it before relying on it very much. Burns gets ample opportunity to brag about himself, but he gives a fairly interesting account of investigating a large number of bombings, culminating in the McNamara case. These days, Burns is often described as a fairly unsavory character, but at the time this story was published, "Never-Fail Burns" was often called America’s Sherlock Holmes (though not “pale and penetrating” as Holmes was).
Burns’ 1913 book “The Masked War,” published after the McNamaras were sent to prison, is a bit more sensational. For example, it has a rather suspicious account of bribing a fortune teller in Chicago to feed false information to the wife of Ortie McManigal, one of the figures in the bombing. There’s none of that in the McClure’s article. It’s strictly detective work. If you like police procedural stories, you’ll enjoy this.
The 1911 issues of McClure’s are here. [Warning: The pdf is 89 megabytes.]
Behold the war machine of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis! A 1910 Franklin Model H landaulet!
Virtually no one who writes about The Times and Gen. Harrison Gray Otis can resist referring to a cannon mounted on his car. Otis is “the man you love to hate” of Los Angeles history, and what could be more delicious than the armor-plated Otis-mobile with its fearsome artillery piece.
Sorry. It was an auto horn. Honk!
At right, a May 21, 1910, article in The Times describes the custom Franklin. Curiously enough, although Otis wasn’t a shy man, The Times was coy about who owned the new vehicle.
It’s a bit difficult to tell from the photo, but the front of the car (which was air-cooled and had no radiator) resembled a large cannon – at least according to The Times. The bronze car horn was meant to emphasize this military appearance. Here’s a modern photo of a Franklin, which shows the rounded hood and front grille. And yes, it looks a bit like a cannon.
Let’s roll backward through a few examples and see who got it wrong. Ready?
"Otis began tooling around town in an armored car with machine guns mounted on the hood," "Before the Storm," Rick Perlstein, 2009. [Ooh! Machine guns! I like this one!]
“... Harrison Gray Otis "patrolled the streets in his private limousine with a cannon mounted on the hood," “Dominion From Sea to Sea” by Bruce Cummings, 2009.
[Update] "He mounted a cannon on the hood of his limousine and made sure his chauffeur was prepared to repel, at his command, any enemy attacks," "American Lightning," Howard Blum, 2008.
“...to emphasize his truculence, he later had a small, functional cannon installed on the hood of his Packard touring car,” "American Urban Politics in a Global Age," by Paul Kantor and Dennis R. Judd, 2008. [A Packard? Oops!]
"Otis took to riding around Los Angeles in a huge touring car with a cannon mounted on it," "The Powers That Be," David Halberstam, 1979. [Not the late David Halberstam! Nooooo!].
[Updated Aug. 27, 2010: "Otis toured the city with a small cannon mounted on his car," "Thinking Big," Robert Gottlieb and Irene Wolf, 1977.]
"While Harrison Gray Otis patrolled the streets in his private limousine with a cannon mounted on the hood…," California Historical Quarterly, 1976.
Let’s skip a bit. I think we’re getting close to the roots here.
The story of the cannon appears in Morrow Mayo’s 1933 book “Los Angeles,” “Otis had a small cannon mounted on his automobile and went dashing about like a general at the front.”
And we find it in Louis Adamic’s 1931 book, “Dynamite,” “… while fighting the unions, he mounted a small cannon on the hood of his automobile!”
If anyone finds an earlier example, please send it along.
Note: The mystery isn’t over. The “prominent citizen” who bought the car had this inscribed on it: 1G. 1B. 1R. Cal. SSA. GV WYB. Any guesses?