The Gazette’s origins: Entering the 20th century (1910–1919)

Local men were members of this machine gun company that saw action during World War I. The second regiment of the New York State National Guard later became the 105th U.S. Infantry. The unit saw action in France. Photos courtesy Efner History Center, Schenectady City Hall
Local men were members of this machine gun company that saw action during World War I. The second regiment of the New York State National Guard later became the 105th U.S. Infantry. The unit saw action in France. Photos courtesy Efner History Center, Schenectady City Hall

As the 20th century entered its second decade, Schenectady entered a period of political upheaval that would not prove the Gazette’s finest hour.

It began in 1911, when a preacher named George R. Lunn ran for mayor on the Socialist ticket. And won, sweeping Socialists into other offices with him. The Gazette was not at this point an enemy of Lunn, and had carried long stories excerpting his sermons. But neither had it taken his mayoral campaign seriously. It boasted the Democratic candidate, Charles Benedict, barely acknowledging Lunn.

By 1913, when Lunn sought re-election, the Democrats and Republicans had joined forces under a Citizen’s ticket to sweep the Socialists at least out of the major city offices. J. Teller Schoolcraft, that name from the early days of the Gazette, opposed Lunn for mayor.

It was one nasty campaign. The Gazette in a front-page editorial on election day said Schoolcraft was the likely winner but thundered: “This does not relieve you, if you are opposed to SOCIALISM, from voting. Every vote is needed to make the repudiation of Socialism as telling as possible. Do not rely on your neighbor to give the telling rebuke to the followers of Marx and German socialist Bebel. … Vote yourself and make certain the result. DELAY IS DANGEROUS.” Although Schoolcraft won, the fragile fusion of Democrat and Republican had fallen apart by the 1915 election, when Lunn again ran as a Socialist, this time against Democrat Henry C. Buhrmaster and Republican Horace S. Van Voast.

Again, for the Gazette, wishing did not make it so.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: The company buys its new home (1920–1929)

The paper not only backed Buhrmaster, it tried to wipe Van Voast from voter considerations and focus on Lunn. The Saturday before the election, a front-page, eight-column editorial said “Horace S. Van Voast is out of the running. WHICH SHALL IT BE – BUHRMASTER OR LUNN?” and claimed “every vote cast for Van Voast is half a vote for Lunn.”

On the following Tuesday, in another screaming editorial, the paper again dismissed Van Voast from consideration, boosted Buhrmaster and blasted Lunn. The Gazette’s plea for independent voter’s support said, “It is your vote for Buhrmaster that must lift the black cloud of Lunnism from over Schenectady.” But when the votes were counted, Lunn had won, with Van Voast second and Buhrmaster a distant third.

Lunn would leave the mayoralty in 1916 to run successfully for Congress. He received the Gazette’s endorsement in that campaign, but by then he was running not as a Socialist but as a Democrat.

When he ran again for mayor in 1919 after the Russian revolution had raised even great scares about a perceived Socialist menace – Lunn was subjected to considerable red-baiting by some opponents.

“Lunn never was and probably never will be a Democrat” said one advertisement recalling his pro-Socialist statements. But the Gazette again endorsed Lunn, who whatever his past was now clearly in the Democratic – and therefore Gazette – camp.

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Also in 1911, the local newspaper scene beyond the Gazette’s borders changed significantly.

Instead of two competitors, it faced but one: the New Union-Star, a combination of the Old Daily Union and the Evening Star. An editorial in the first Union-Star flatly declared “Schenectady cannot support two newspapers either in the evening or the morning field.” The Union-Star was still an afternoon daily, still pro-Republican. And it would last long enough to celebrate a centennial – in 1955, 100 years after the establishing of the Evening Star – to provide a competitive alternative to the Gazette, and to suffer a slow and painful decline.

Which is not to say the Gazette had begun to coast. Its competitive fervor and its search for subscribers remained strong.

When the ocean liner Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, the Gazette noted “Relatives and Friends of Survivors Here,” from the young stenographer “overjoyed to learn that his fiancée … was safe” to the “pathetic case” of a man who had saved money so that his mother and sister could come to America from England, only to have booked their passage on the ill-fated Titanic.

And once again, the Gazette touted public interest in its coverage. “From early morning until long after midnight the telephones at the Gazette office were constantly ringing, and hundreds of people sought the latest news of the disaster,” a story said.

As was its practice, the Gazette placed bulletins in the window of the State Street offices. And it sniped at a competitor: “What was called an extra was placed on sale here yesterday morning by an Albany paper, and in it the statement was made that many lives had been lost,” the Gazette said. It could have had no advice to that effect as there were no dispatches indicating a loss of life until early last night.”

A look at the Gazette of 1914 would find a number of features meant to improve its competitive position.

There was “Where to Get the Gazette When You Travel,” a list of places where the paper was sold in Albany, Atlantic City, Chicago, Philadelphia – even Salt Lake City and San Francisco.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: The company buys its new home (1920–1929)

A front-page box would note the exclusive news that appeared in the previous day’s Gazette. “To Keep Posted,” it claimed, “Read the Gazette.”

And there was the “Department of Investment Advice,” where readers could submit questions either for public answer or in confidential reply. “If you have funds for investment, let us know; we will offer suggestions of securities that in our opinion are adaptable and sound. If you have already made unprofitable investments, tell us. Perhaps we can show you a way to minimize your loss. We shall, at least, we believe, save you from risky speculation.”

Plus 1914 brought what appears to be the first regularly appearing comic strip in the Gazette, the domestic adventures of one “Roger Bean.” The first strip, which ran in the classified pages, is a now-incomprehensible (and virtually unreadable) account labeled “Roger in the Path of the Deadly Tango.” But it would prove highly durable, appearing in the Gazette until mid-1934 when it gave way to “Dixie Dugna.”

Consolidation of comics on a single page did not come to the Gazette until January 1934 when the paper presented “Frank Merriwell at Yale,” “Muggs McGinnis,” “Brick Bradford,” “Etta Kett,” “high Pressure Pete,” “Big Sister” and “Minute Movies.” (“Roger Bean” finished its run where it had begun, in the classified pages).

In late 1916, it appears that Gerardus Smith lost interest in the Gazette. He would turn 60 the following year and it may be that he was preparing for retirement. In any case, he turned most of his stock over to his sister, Ellen, and brother, Everett; shares held by Smith’s daughters, Eleanor Green and Anna Hume, were also transferred to Ellen Smith.

Ellen is little remembered by the surviving family members. David Hume recalled her primarily as “a little old lady who stayed home and clipped coupons.” Why she was suddenly given this windfall is unclear, as is why she transferred the shares back to Gerardus two  years later.

Another indicator of Gerardus Smith’s withdrawal from the paper is that in February 1917, A.N. Liecty became president of the Daily Gazette Co., according to the newspaper’s own listings, as well as continuing as manager of the company. Smith still held a title in the company – as treasurer – but had no financial interest other than through shares in his wife Mary’s name from 1917 until 1918. Gerardus Smith then reacquired the shares owned by Everett and Ellen Smith but his involvement in the paper appears to have been peripheral, and Liecty remained present of the company.

The end of the decade also saw another generation of Gazette leadership into the world. In 1914 Anna Cady Smith, the other daughter of Gerardus Smith, Married John Edmund Norris Hume, who was working his way up the ladder at the General Electric Co.

Although Hume would remain outside the Gazette operation, his family would play a role. Eleanor and John Green were childless, so it would be left to the Humes to continue the ownership line. John E.N. Hume Jr. who would become editor of the Gazette and the fifth president of the Daily Gazette Co., was born in September 1915. David C. Hume, who would become business manager and the sixth president, followed in 1919.

Between those two birthdays, the world had changed.

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You have to remember again what kind of world existed even as World War I loomed. Despite disasters, despite the political turmoil in the city, there was a collective naivete that appeared from time to time in the Gazette.

It was a period when the Gazette could editorialize against “street corner ‘mashers’ and rowdies … who make it unpleasant for pedestrians passing along.” When the Cohoes police department would decide only to have married men as patrolmen, since bachelors tended to be “sheiks.”

And it was a time of seemingly limitless possibility. As Congress considered a declaration of war against Germany in 1917, the Gazette ran inspirational poems and editorials assuming war was at hand.

It recommended that its readers start gardens because “war will take away from the farms a number of men.” It noted that “All over the city the American flag is being displayed …The number should be increased.” And it said the American people are “excelled by none physically, or mentally. While Americans have not been trained for war, their intelligence readily makes them soldiers of the greatest efficiency in a minimum of time.”

With the rest of the nation it held its breath – and the presses – while Congress debated and voted on a declaration of war.

The Gazette, after all, was still a competitive animal. Noting its wait for the vote, the paper said other papers had predicted the vote’s outcome, but only the Gazette actually had it. “Furthermore, the news was in its regular and only edition. Every reader had it. The public was not under the necessity of buying an extra to learn what had been done.” While the war was waged in Europe, it was a local story for newspapers all over the country.

The Gazette was no exception. For the Great War it started the “Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund,” which raised money to buy smokes for soldiers overseas. (It would do likewise in World War II).

The Gazette would devote considerable space to news about men fighting overseas, a process that would be turned into a “serviceman’s page” in World War II.

It reprinted letters from soldiers: “I wish you could see some of the air battles. It is wonderful to see some of those observation balloons burnup. One day we broken (sic) even with them. They got three and we got three. The next day we got one and they didn’t get any. Ha! Ha!”

It mourned the community’s loss. “Allen Dies on Field of Glory,” said one headline. It kept the battle cry loud, saying over photos of four young men, “Four Madigan Brothers Are in Different Branches of Service and Determined to Get Kaiser. And it kept an eye on the home front, covering in one story the activities of the G.E. Women’s Club (“military drill … classes in French, weekly meetings for war relief sewing and Red Cross work”).

The Gazette too had men at war. Among them: Isador “Izzy” Schwartz, who had come to Gazette in June 1915, then went off in 1917 to fight in the Argonne Forest, Chateau-Thierry and St. Mihiel. After a stint with the occupying forces in Germany, he returned to the Gazette in 1919 – and remained there as a pressman until his death in 1970.

Just as the Gazette had awaited word of the start of war, so it paused for the conclusion of peace talks.

On Monday, Nov. 11, 1918, the front page proclaimed: “Armistice Terms Have Been Signed,’ Is Announced by the State Department, Washington 2:50 This Morning.”

Along with stories about the armistice, it included a note: “Not premature. The Gazette is pleased to print this morning, in its regular issue, the first authentic news of the signing of the armistice with Germany. … Gazette readers may accept the news as beyond the realm of denial.”

When its edition was ready to hit the streets, the Gazette notified the fire department that the armistice had been signed. The paper reported the next day that the department “immediately ‘let off steam,’ as it were, by taking joy rides through the streets in the fire apparatus at full speed, and with sirens shrieking. This, combined with the uproar from bells and whistles everywhere, aroused the people.”

The punch line: “Newspapers were in demand.”

The Gazette and its extended family of readers rejoiced, and the Gazette made clear that it felt the celebration was at least partly its doing. That same post-armistice story began: “From the time the Gazette announced early yesterday morning to Schenectadians that the armistice had been signed, until midnight yesterday, citizens of all stations in life participated in the greatest celebration that has ever taken place in the city.”

The teens were not over, but there’s a sense in the papers from that day of a triumph that would not easily be surpassed.

The nation, and the community, had problems on the horizon from Prohibition to Depression to another World War and beyond. In 1920, the Gazette would lose its founding father. Radio was coming and the next decade would see experiments with another new device: television.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: The company buys its new home (1920–1929)

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