Friday, January 30, 2009

Get The LEAD Out

Today one of the great tales of American journalism passes from history into legend; a victim, it seems, of lead poisoning.

First, a little back story. This case is, tangentially, part of the Leopold & Loeb mythos. If you don't remember the story, these Nietzsche reading intellectuals may have been America's first famous "Thrill Killers" and they murdered a 14 year old boy named Bobby Franks. At their trial, Clarence Darrow defended them by pleading guilty, but arguing for a life sentence. (It's more complex than that, but the issues are nuanced, and not the point of this article.)

On January 28, 1936 Richard Loeb was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate. The inmate, James Day, alleged that Loeb had pestered him for some time with "abnormal proposals." They got into a fight in a classroom and Day stabbed Loeb dozens of times and slit his throat. He pleaded self-defense.

And according to the stories I've heard, and which at the time of this writing are still on the Wikipedia page, Chicago newsman Ed Lahey gave us the story with this wittiest of leads:
"Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition."

Witty, to be sure.

Thinking it would be pretty cool to have this article for a bit of office decoration, I started searching for a scan of it on the Internet. Weirdly, while I could find lots of references to it anecdotally, I couldn't find any direct links. But, I thought, why would there be? We know Ed Lahey wrote it and we know the date of the death of Richard Loeb - so it's not like it takes a lot of trouble to hunt down the article. It says right there in the lead "today ended his sentence" so it has to be written on the day of Loeb's death.

So I decided to go scan it myself. Only to my chagrin, the Chicago Daily News went out of business back in 1977. No problem, I'll just find a microfilm copy here in Georgia. Only I couldn't. So I had to use the Inter-Library-Loan system, put in a request, wait a long time, and huzzah! Today they called with the microfilm.

Guess what? I ran into one other small problem getting my wall-art. There is no such sentence in any of the Loeb coverage!

That's right. I scanned the day of the murder, and all the rest of the days available on that reel which took me almost through the week.

I did print a crossword for myself, plus a historical article where the Nazis proclaimed that Einstein's work was "Jew Science" and they would come up with their own Aryan physics. (Nazis are idiots.) And I printed out the Radio schedule which is amusingly similar to a TV guide. Isn't that quaint?

An article perpetuating this apocryphal story is sourced for the Wikipedia entry. I'll reach out to Dr. Ink and let him know (one "Doctor" to another).

And if you want to learn a lot more about Loeb (and Leopold), I found this article by Marilyn Bardsley to be quite interesting.

But sorry, Journalist fans. Ed Lahey did not write that famous lead - at least not in the Chicago Daily News at the time of the murder of Loeb. For the benefit of all who are interested, I present the scans of the pertinent articles for your own perusal. (These are all partials, and are shared here under fair-use doctrine strictly to demonstrate the falsity of this legend, not to rob the defunct Chicago Daily News of lucrative blog-ad revenue.)

(Warning: This is a 16 MB download - the scans were too grainy to make good jpgs - but you can zoom in and see all the details at this resolution - and they're in a PDF.)

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