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Letter to Walt Whitman:

Jimplecute, Tombstone Epitaph,
Flume and the Solid Muldoon

By Eric Shackle

Among the far-west newspapers have been, or are, The Fairplay Flume (Colorado), The Solid Muldoon, of Ouray, The Tombstone Epitaph, of Nevada, The Jimplecute, of Texas, and The Bazoo, of Missouri. - Walt Whitman, in November Boughs (1888).

Dear Ex-Editor Walt - You will be pleased to learn that three of those five newspapers are still alive and kicking today, and their strange names are still amusing thousands of readers.

The Fairplay Flume has undergone more than a dozen changes to its masthead over the years. One of them was sub-titled The Paper With A Mission and Without A Muzzle. Today the sub-title is The Park County Republican's Fairplay Flume. It's a weekly publication, staffed by four women (general manager, editor, production manager and advertising representative) and one man, staff writer Peter Stone, who, you'll be delighted to learn, Walt, has published a collection of poems, Mirrors in a Prism.

Editor Robin Kepple says "We understand The Flume acquired its name due to the vast amount of mining in Fairplay and Park County. A flume, as you probably know, is designed to channel water, logs, etc. from one place to another. In Fairplay's case, a flume was used to channel rocks, minerals and tailings from one place to another in the endless pursuit of gold.

"Some folks believe the name Flume was selected because the newspaper helps 'channel' information. I am not certain if this is really the reason for the name or not."

The Flume is now printed not in Fairplay, but in the nearby town of Bailey, which is also the home of the strangely-named Id-Ra-Ha-Je summer camps. That's shorthand for I'd Rather Have Jesus.

The Solid Muldoon, of Ouray, Colorado (pronounced you-ray) wasn't as durable as the name suggested, and, sadly, is no longer published. However, its name will soon make the headlines again, as one of the ski runs for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics is also called Solid Muldoon. The newspaper didn't pull its punches. A local historian records that "David Day, a Medal of Honor winner for heroism at Vicksburg, had the distinction of having 42 libel suits pending at the same time [1900] for his raw and bitter articles in The Solid Muldoon newspaper of Ouray and Durango." Maybe that's why it went out of business.

The original Solid Muldoon was the name given to a mysterious "prehistoric human body" dug up near Beulah, Colorado, in 1877. The seven-and-a-half foot stone man was thought to be the "missing link" between apes and humans. "There can be no question about the genuineness of this piece of statuary" said the Denver Daily Times.

It was later revealed that George Hull, perpetrator of a previous hoax featuring the Cardiff Giant, had spent three years fashioning his second "petrified man", using mortar, rock dust, clay, plaster, ground bones, blood and meat. He kiln-fired the figure for many days and then buried it.

A few months later, as the celebration of Colorado's year-old statehood approached, the statue was "discovered" by William Conant, who had once worked for the legendary showman P.T. Barnum. News of the find quickly spread to Pueblo, Denver, and eventually to New York.

The statue was named the Solid Muldoon after William Muldoon, a famous wrestler and strongman who had been honored in a popular song. Displayed in New York, it attracted large crowds until an unpaid business associate of Hull revealed the hoax to the New York Tribune, and the statue was seen no more. Muldoon was chairman of the New York State Boxing Commission from 1921 to 1923.

Rudyard Kipling, a ballad and prose writer as famous in England as you, Walt, were in the United States, wrote a piece entitled The Solid Muldoon, one of seven short stories in his book The Soldiers Three, published in 1890.

Next newspaper on your list is Nevada's world-famous Tombstone Epitaph, founded on the Southwestern frontier on May 1, 1880 by John P. Clum, who claimed in the first issue "No Tombstone is complete without an Epitaph." Souvenir editions detailing the O.K. Corral shootout can be bought from the Tombstone Epitaph Corp, whose shop displays old type cases and the original printing press.

A Nevada historian wrote "Clum was the quintessential frontier administrator. As an Indian agent, he dealt with great Apaches warriors like Geronimo and Naiche, son of Cochise. As mayor and editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, Clum had much to do in helping to foment the high levels of tension in Tombstone. After the street fight and subsequent trial, Clum learned he was on a 'deathlist' made up by the cowboy gang. In December 1881, Clum narrowly escaped what he considered an assassination attempt when highwaymen attempted to rob the stagecoach he was in. Clum was a life-long friend of Wyatt Earp and was one of Earp's pallbearers at his funeral."

The local edition of the Epitaph is now a weekly, published by students of the University of Arizona Department of Journalism. Its sub-title reads: 116 Years In The Town Too Tough To Die * No Tombstone Is Complete Without Its Epitaph.

The May 5, 2000 issue featured a report by Adriana DePoint which said: "As Tombstone Vigilantes, politicians and local business owners paraded through the downtown streets, a young girl and a middle-aged woman quietly rode bicycles in the parade honoring Tombstone legend Nellie Cashman. Both women wore delicate signs decorated with colorful flowers, which read, 'Honoring the Irish angel of the mining camp, Nellie Cashman.'

"Just around the corner from the parade at Fifth and Toughnut Streets is the Nellie Cashman restaurant, which locals often refer to as 'Nellie's.' The antique-laden eating establishment offers the old - a Doc Holiday sausage patty - with a hint of the new, a veggie burger."

The Texas daily, the Jefferson Jimplecute, revels in a name which might well have been coined by your English contemporaries, Lewis Carroll, of Jabberwocky fame, or Charles Dickens, who invented such marvelous names as Chuzzlewit and Scrooge.

No doubt your interest in newspapers, Walt, stems from the day in 1846 when you became editor of New York's Brooklyn Eagle at the age of 27. Two years later you were fired because of your interest in Free Soil politics.

As you know, the Free-Soil Party was launched in 1848 to combat extension of slavery into the vast area won by the U.S. in the Mexican War. It nominated former President Martin van Buren on the platform "free soil, free speech, free labor and free men." It failed to win a single State, but split the Democrat Cass's vote enough to elect Taylor, a Whig, and laid the ground for the new Republican party.

A century ago, on December 30, 1900, your old paper, which sold 50,000 copies on Sundays, invited its readers to behold the new century. "Things Will Be So Different a Hundred Years Hence," a headline predicted. Writers prophesied that electricity would replace steam power, motorized vehicles would remove garbage, women would gain voting rights, a tunnel would link Manhattan, x-rays and airplanes would operate.

One writer marveled at "the knowledge of the nineteenth century, which has listened to the wonderful whisper of the telephone, which has heard the dead speak from the phonograph and seen the carbon burn indestructible in the electric globe . . . " The paper foresaw universal telephone service, mechanized transportation, home offices, electronic versions of newspapers, collegiate ice hockey, and even the rise of the suburbs -- an inevitable result of expanded electrical service, the paper said.

A front-page article predicted that liquid air -- air compressed and cooled until it liquefied -- would provide power cheap enough to end poverty. Another suggested the weapons of war might ultimately be reduced to shotguns and tomahawks. But the Eagle failed to anticipate men landing on the moon 69 years later.

Nor did the paper foresee its own demise. On March 16, 1955, the Eagle landed for the last time. Its presses stopped for ever, after a prolonged strike. Another publication bearing the name has operated for the last two years, focusing on real estate and neighborhood news.

Another daily, Newsday, was established in Long Island in 1940 by Alicia Patterson, who, by a strange coincidence, had also been fired from a newspaper, by her father, Joseph Medill Patterson, founder of the New York Daily News, whom she failed to impress as a reporter.

Her third husband, millionaire Harry Frank Guggenheim, decided to buy her a newspaper of her own. In early 1940, he purchased the equipment of the defunct Nassau Daily Journal and took over the lease for its empty plant, in a converted automobile showroom in Hempstead. The first issue of Newsday sold 16,000 to 17,000 copies in Nassau County. Today the newspaper is America's largest regional newspaper, and eighth over all.

The last newspaper you named in your book, the Missouri Bazoo, seems to have sunk without trace, Walt. If you can find some way to send us an e(thereal)-mail, please let us know what became of it.

Copyright 2000-2002   Eric Shackle   Story first posted May  2000

An earlier version of this article is posted at http://www.twenj.com/ouraymuldoon.htm

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