‘The Wooden Indian’s Story’

Don Marquis' "The Wooden Indian's Story"Another forgotten bit of silliness:

In January 1910, Don was settling into his first solid newspaper job in New York City after weeks of frustration. He had arrived from Atlanta barely a month earlier (on Thanksgiving day) and assumed that one of the big New York dailies would instantly recognize his talent, if not his name. He had been a big deal down in Atlanta, after all: associate editor of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus’s Magazine and an up-and-coming poet published in a dozen other magazines with national readership.

But New York was unimpressed. An expected offer from the Herald never came, and a tryout at the Tribune ended bitterly. So did a brief stint at one of the news services there. Desperate for work, Don submitted freelance pieces to all sorts of publications, including a poem poking fun at recent events that appeared in the February 1910 issue of Mother Earth, an anarchist magazine edited by Emma Goldman.

By January, however, things were looking up. A friend had helped Don get a job on the rewrite desk of the New York American, Hearst’s morning daily, and its editors agreed to pay him extra for additional light fare that they ran on a feature page — with Don’s byline.

“The Wooden Indian’s Story” is one of those pieces. Like much of Don’s later work, humor is a veneer on news of the day — in this case revelations of breakfast cereals being routinely adulterated with sawdust filler. The poem ran in the American on January 17, 1910, and was then syndicated to newspapers across the United States via Hearst’s news service. Don’s friends in the South got a chance to read it when the poem appeared January 22, 1910, in the Atlanta Georgian and News (the source of the image here). Continue Reading →

Happy Birthday Don Marquis!


Don Marquis in Atlanta, circa 1903

Happy birthday Don Marquis!

July 29, 2011, is the 133rd anniversary of Don’s birth. He entered the world in Walnut, Illinois, the eighth and youngest child of Dr. James S. and Elizabeth (Whitmore) Marquis.

Growing up in “a little town with muddy streets” on the Illinois prairie, 100 miles west of Chicago, Don spent his childhood fishing when he could, tending the family garden when he had to, and reading every book he could get his hands on. He worked brief stints as a chicken plucker, canal digger, sewing machine salesman, schoolteacher and weekly newspaper editor (and printer) before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1900 to take a job with the Census Bureau. He drifted into big-city newspaper work as a part-time reporter for the Washington Times.

After an exceptionally brief editing job at the Philadelphia North American — it’s unclear whether he was fired or just supremely unhappy — Don moved to Atlanta in 1902 to take a job at the Atlanta News and then the Atlanta Journal as editorial writer.

Don was a popular newspaperman in Atlanta, and his carousings with sportswriter Grantland Rice and columnist Frank L. Stanton were literally the stuff of legends (more on that another day). In 1907 he was recruited by Joel Chandler Harris to join a new publishing venture, Uncle Remus’s Magazine, as associate editor, and his star never stopped rising. But there’s another reason why Don always talked fondly of Atlanta: That’s where he met and married Reina Melcher, a freelance writer at Uncle Remus’s. She was the great love of his life.

Don and Reina moved to New York City in 1909 without a job but with plenty of enthusiasm, and in 1912 — after more than a year at the Brooklyn Eagle and his first book, “Danny’s Own Story,” getting strong reviews — he joined The Evening Sun, where his daily column, The Sun dial, debuted a year later to instant acclaim. Archy the cockroach made his first appearance in print on March 29, 1916, and the rest, as they say, is history. Happy birthday Don!