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
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
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  for his raw and bitter articles in
Solid Muldoon newspaper of Ouray and Durango." Maybe that's why it went out
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
An earlier version of this article is posted