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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (Sept. 1, 1918)
YOU 18, NO. 9
Down and Out at Forty-five
The Story of a "Has-Beeh" Who Cairo Back
The following article by Walt Mason, famous
throughout the nation as a wriicr and author of
proo-poems, was published in the American
Magazine, and Is reproduced In The Commoner
by courtesy of that publication. Ed.)
. On October. 12, 1907. I arrlvcdn Emporia,
Kansas (o begin at the bottom and work up.
I was forty-five years old, and my assets con
sisted of the haad-nje-downs I wore, an extra
shin. $1.35 in money, and an old pony and
buggy. I had no ambition, and no confidence in
the future; everything of that kind had been
lurked out of nae, and the only thing I was cou
pons of was a profound discouragement. The
bottom had fallen out of the planetary system,
js-oTiar as I "was concerned.
I was not the victim of the cruel world, or a
stony-hearted JMciely. I was the vjctim of my
own folly. I bad spent all the best years of my '
life with the prodigal sons, holding wassail in
wayside Inns; and when I arrived in Emporia I
was fresh from an institution in Kansas City
where pickled people have the alcohol boiled out
ot Ifeem. and arc supposed to be sent forth as
yood as new.
I began my newspaper career when I was
ntWdtylwo years old. Before that, for several
2fcr, I had been working on Kansas farms,
riaere I achieved a reputation as the worst hired
Jnd in Uie state. I had a mania for writing and
vms seU'ng down gents of thought when I should
Jltaxe been carrying males or milking cows, and
g fjnptayias farmers don't take kindly to literary
work, My one ambition was to do newspaper
wort;; and one winter day I absrcjuded from the
fajna and went to seek my fortune, I managed
19 get a job as telegraph editor of a Kansas v
ornlng jper; the work kepi me at my desk
pfcia the cock was crow3ns aloof, and when the
iljcr had gone to press the night editor, the
r ;ditor and I repaired to a little booth around
cm corner, where an un-niora! citiien sold fire-2JT-
There we sat until broad daylight, every
ndng, telling slories and quaffing the kind
JJ And t&ere I acquired a taste for conviviality
E stuck to me until my mane was gettiug
V In Uiom halcyon days roost newspaper
were partial to the flowing bowl. The young
K "Who defused to look upon the wine was con
werd effeminate, I fact, there was a super
mSaus beli-et, in newspaper offices, taa oae
wjpMf.dn1t h& a sood reporter unless he was a good
TUTer and he couldn't be a good mixer unless
,T? r5 times ready to consume his share
Iff rpnEg' There was some foundation for this
j-tery; in those grand old days when ciiv
aijusncalimeni were rrultd from the salooa-
.mrca-, aaaa caucuses ana conventions were held
,, acc rooms ox grog parlors.
WMle alios tlKorr &nrr3Tfti5 T n . . , v, ..
..- -'- - -.w-. OA.Ll 1JI1JI
? caployent. 1 drifted around the
MUj fnom one town to another. Beisg of a
I00 a3os3o 1 STe no thought io
tvflft Stature. Sufficient to the day was the exi8
.Mro &ooa, ajiereoo, ..& use i iOrfTnwa w -.
I- L.1 . K w., M,l HU
iOB whenever a. wanted one, it merer c-
m o sue mat oaaaiaons aught change and
fln"t luiTe carti if they nad. I was know
estera newi5aT)er offices. Mtf .vn ,.
I eonld always -gel enptoysuad wastha.t
5 a 'hoc- for "work" se lane- t uja i-
oy experlentie I liaxe known but one snaa
liquid ttmrn out as sands fio-nv flt- m,. j
,h jrair mound, TMs was JM, Howe of lie
Afc&feoa -HaSohe,- w wlaa 1 worka fir a -rear
msl3 aew'S3iaTfir 535rfW5 ttewsaderaa it a
a14Kans "hen I tmraexd iaj; for I wuM Ham i
jafjwrtt iUhe whole eWertel pae, azad east the
UJiBjRrapn, and srend prools, and d as s&iach as
3 naiinary people wsmW d. This is ot a
fcfta. Thine aune many dhors wh will B4r
maHTruit I .-always tallied a aw 5e iftik
glMnos tterminaiftcci a cuit .watt ifee ja
ry - a was. mn lt trana -wtojt a ew
IJSL! ffl 2ihIaiDS aaumje tt the ywanvg.
J' Jr7 S wea say mipayers as ttoJI
rJSr511 j?-'8 ek I Twstna li
K5 ttiB aaanairinir aitiwr -Kw.Tia ir.fB .
cssrts' : ia5i m sBfwuto
i.. u.u hu sag mauo. aa. a iinepa. any jweaaat Udb
I WHAT HAITKXK!) TO WAtT MASON
(Bv William Allen White, Editor of the
It was Emporia that did the business
for Walt Mason Emporia and the in-
domitable soul in him. He already did it
h'inself; but he needed the proper en-
vironment. So, perhaps, they did it to-
When he wrote for a job on the fe
"Gazette," he said that he had all the
degrees that could fie conferred upon
him by a certain institution which
claimed to cure booze-fighters, and that
ho had tried high resolves many times,
only to wake up and find the brewer's
daughter feeding his week's salary to her
favorite cat. He said he wanted before
he quit to try a dry town. Now Emporia
is a dry town. It started dry. In 1S57
that isn't a misprint for it was sixty-one
years ago, in an age when a preacher
could stew his soul in toddy without los-
ing caste Emporia in the charter of the
town company started with a prohibition
clause. It did not always hold the Rum
Fiend away. But it always bothered him
to get in. So he never wa"xed fat in
Emporia, And for a generation Emporia,
while not bone-dry, has not been moist.
When Walt Mason came here the town
was fairly dry. Alcohol formed no part
of the town's conscious thought. No one
invited him to drink. He heard no
talk of drink; he saw no one drink-
ing, and to get liquor he would have
had to associate with loafers and plug-
uglies. So Walt Mason in a dry town.
having plenty of work to do, did it well. ,
And the town stood by and cheered iiim.
Ten thousand people became his friends.
They are his friends today. When he
comes down-town every morning at half
past seven and he nerer Taries the time
Sve minutes he walks with the clerks
and storekeepers of Commercial Street.
When he goes home at eight-thirty to
grind out his day's grist, he meets the
professional men coming to their ofiices.
They all gTeet him, jolly with him, pass
the time of day. and. like ''the sailors and
the fisher men" who . consorted with
"Omer" when he "smote his bloomin'
lyre," these Emporians. a few weeks
X' later, see old gibes, odd quirks of speech,
human foibles, and queer twists and "
Suras of human nature "turn up again
and keep it quiet," even as the shep-
herds and the market girls did three
thousand years ago for Homer. Walt
Mason is the Homer o modern America
and particularly of Middle-Western Ame-
nca, tie America of the countrv town
West he found his -feet and restored his &
soul here nn Emporia. And the town is
0 J. o M. And they are glad
" flh: trftnSr all about it. If you
1 ffr re $o see a doting parent, wme
g to Umpona and start the talk on Walt
I 5!i0n sj' ia T office, in av .
-1 S?5" ,1T?d UUxtT stories
t SJSSnPttrfa has about
Jatt Mason, and they are all true for
tfcey are all good. e' Jor J
Jhe wwda giwe nae the laalf of Ms kin
i sss sf a s
niusv mi) ie 5,f? ?,ot a sndden
dn I te apSTot JteSS " siWw!
wake up some fine morning in a liven- slaW
to find that my raiment was in the pawnsW
and I couldn't remember whether it was Wedno
day or the Chinese New Year. es
In November of one immemorial vear I wa
seated in a beautifully furnished editorial room
the star man of a great and growing newspaper'
The managing editor thought so much of my
work, and was so convinced that I had reformed
for good, that he had fitted up this sumptuous
office for my exclusive use. I was honored and
petted in every possible way. In the following
February I was shoveling snow off the sidewalks
in an Iowa town, to get the price of a feed and
I will give a concrete instance of this sort of
experience: I blew into Denver, one cold day,
shivering in a suit that would have been con
sidered too gauzy in Florida. I was penniless and
hungry and, as I had been sleeping in box cars
for two nights, I looked like something left ove:
from a rummage sale. I went to the office of the
Denver 'Newi" and found John Arkins, who was
the editor and proprietor. He knew my reputa
tion, and considered me so amusing he laughed
for an hour before handing over five dollars.
Then he told me I could contribute at space rates
if I wished.
I was simply overflowing with good resolu
tions. At last I had seen the error of my wayr,
and was going to abandon the husk., and the
swine. "Never again," said I, in ringing tones.
I got me a humble hall room in a cheap boarding
house, and a pad of paper and a pencil, and
wrote a column or two of highly moral para
graphs. The "News." printed them next morning,
and another batch next day, and in a -.eek they
formed a feature that Denver was talking about.
I had letters of approval from clergymen and
merchant princes, and invitations to everything.
One day Mr. Arkins called me int.) iis private
office for a heart-to-heart la":. First, he gave
me an order for a suit of jJies, no prica limit
set, and explained that this was a present Thea
he told me that my stuff promised to b& of value
-to the paper, and if I would beliav? myself and
abandon that conduct which had made my name
a hissing in newspaper ofiices frori Dau to Beer
sheba, my future was assured. The "News" did
n't quarel cover wages wljen it -found something
it wanted. I assured "Mr. Arkias, wit'i lears in
my eyes, that my good resolutions werl Hkf th1
laws of the Medes and the Persiauj, and also had
a strong fam'ly resemblance to the Ro k of Gib
raltar. Thrones might crumble and dynasties
crash, but my resolutions would rise triumphant
above the wreck of matter.
"Go and get your suit of clolhes," said Hr.
Arkins. "and come around to-morrov ready fcr
I went forth and got the suit of clothe? I
don't remember what happened after that. Two
or three days later I woke up at Ogdci. L tali,
and T nave never known why I wen: ikere. or
how I got there.
This was the sort of life I led for many years.
If one is young, and has a sense of humor, suth
upNs and downs don't matter. Bui one cannot al
ways be young, and a sense of humor becomes
frayed along the edges after a while.
Conditions were changing in newspaper oSicss
and I was so busy I didn't notice it. The old
superstition that a reporter should be a good
mixer, and hence a competent drinker, had died
the death. A red nose was no longer a recom
mendation when one applied for a job in a news
paper office. So, when, at the ripe age of forty
five, I found myself in that bleaching institution
at Kansas City, I slowly realized that I was worse
than down and out. I was a back number, a has
been. And I no longer had the resiliency of
youth. I was feeling very old and humble and
I wrote to editors everywhere, describing ntf
circumstances, and offering to work for any old
wage that would assure me a place to sleep and
a meal ticket, I went to a daily newspaper in
Kausas City and offered to write the whole edi
torial page for twelve dollars a week. But there
was nothing doing. Mv reputation for unreli
ability was against me. Those were sickening
ays, when every mail brought replies frm
editors, explaining why they couldn't gie me
work, kindly trying to let me down easy There
seeiued to be no place for me anywhere.
Then one weary day I picked up an old niap
sme and read an article by William Allen White.
It was a good article, so full of humor and ktoj
liness that I thought lie ws a man who might
understand. So 1 wrote to him, asking if ,,a
couldn't give me some little fob on his nws"
(Continued on page 1-2.)
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