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A COUPLE of months or so before the Goebel case was advanced to the point of prosecuting the alleged assassin and his affiliates in that gory whirligig, we turned our attentions for the time being to something in the nature of a by-piece. This was the trial for manslaughter and the triumphant acquittal of Colonel David Colson, the central figure and the hero of a flare-up marked by some mighty quick mortality. Burning powder fanned it to a red-hot climax in the lobby of the principal Frankfort hotel only a few days before the major tragedy of Goebel's undoing was to befall just around the corner, as it were. This lesser affair was not related, except distantly and collaterally, to the larger factional controversy, but dated back rather to the Spanish-American War when Colson had surrendered his seat in Congress to lead a volunteer regiment which boiled internally for the entire term of its enlistment and frequently boiled over. It did its only fighting in camp at Anniston, Alabama, making a showing there which would have boded considerable ill for the enemy in Cuba, provided the Fourth Kentucky Infantry had got that far.
First to last, the actual gunfire in this cribbed and confined hotel battle lasted less than ninety seconds; final score: Three dead, those being ex-Governor Bradley's truculent nephew, Captain Ethelbert Scott, and two bystanders accidentally slain; and four wounded, including that master marksman, the Colonel, and a Northern traveling man who, on his first trip south of the Ohio River, had arrived only that day and was having his shoes shined at the head of the steps leading down to the basement, when the impromptu duello began. So he vaulted over the stair railing and as he sprawled on the half-landing below, with a smashed ankle crumpled under him, Captain Scott, all riddled and dying on his feet as he fled, came tumbling down and fell across him, while the vengeful Colson followed on behind, with a fractured right arm dangling but with his left hand briskly throwing lead into the quivering back of his adversary. When I arrived, having heard the racketing blasts from just across the street, the traveling man was still lying there, crying out:
"My wife begged me not to come to this wild country. She begged me. And what happens? No sooner do I get here than everybody goes to shooting everybody else and then when I jump down here and break my legs they start piling dead men on top of me."
The place was a shambles: bullet pocks in the wainscotings; dribbles and dots and stippled trails of red on the tiles; separate red puddles here and there; shattered plate-glass windows. In the middle of the floor, under a bright blue raincoat and an overturned chair, was the slight body of Assistant Postmaster Demaree of Shelbyville. I happened to know him and helped to identify his remains. There were two holes through his thin breast. Scott, who inaugurated the fusillade and probably died repenting of it, had used this hapless onlooker for a living shield. Behind the clerk's desk was a deputy manager in a faint. I headed along a cross hall, seeking for scattered eyewitnesses who might be able to furnish particulars, and one of the overlooked casualties, a mountaineer lawyer named Golden, with a puncture neatly placed right between the rear buttons of his long frock coat, pulled away from a wall against which he was leaning and collapsed in my arms. He was Scott's friend and the theory was that, finding the occasion grown perilous, he had turned to retreat and Colson deftly had flung one sidewise shot and plugged him as he ran. I got Golden disposed of and came abreast of the open door of a sample room just as another uncounted victim, who had dragged himself in there, a tobacco planter named Julian from out in the county, finished bleeding to death through a severed artery in his leg. On Mr. Julian's account there was much local indignation, his being the only Democratic name on the fatalities list. It would seem that fourteen years before the event, I was being tutored but of course didn't know it for service as a correspondent on the western battle fronts of the First World War.*
Oh, yes, I almost forgot the farewell sequel to that particular day's happenings: Without notifying anyone, numbers of the colored help had gone hurriedly thence, but the remaining members of the staff succeeded in tidying up after the massacre in time for Honorable William Jennings Bryan, the Peerless Perennial, to speak there that night. It was a good speech, naturally; it being his regular one, with tremolo interpolations where he endorsed the Goebel contest, of the merits of which he knew only one side and that sketchily. After that he ran again and again for the presidency.
So far as court proceedings were concerned, this Colson interlude proved a short horse and one soon and satisfactorily curried. With it behind us, we young gentlemen of the press again could give ourselves over to the multiplying developments of the greater event. These followed swiftly, one on the heels of another and frequently overlapping.
Had Goebel succumbed instantly to his wound, or even within a few hours, the situation immensely would have been simplified for those who fostered and encompassed the killing and our own labors might have been shortened. But, as I've said, he lived long enough to be declared by legislative majority the truly elected governor and he was sworn in, with the rest of his ticket and, as he sank into the shadows, with a stiffening hand he signed one official document. Immediately then his running mate, young John Crepps Wickliffe Beckham, who had been the Democratic candidate for the lieutenant-governorship, took oath as his successor; which actions, if sustained, would seem to make pretenders of Taylor and the other lately installed Statehouse incumbents and render their subsequent acts null and void. On this outcome much depended. For no sooner did the county grand jury indict a group of alleged principals and accomplices than Taylor, not to be outdone, issued blanket pardons for the whole batch, himself included, for, generously, the grand jury had shuffled him in along with those accused of promoting the murder. The State Court of Appeals by a strict party vote confirmed the General Assembly's dictum, which automatically set aside all those job-lot pardons. Accordingly the issue went up to the Supreme Court of the United States, the Republican usurpers meanwhile holding the fort at the Capitol and defying attempts to serve warrants on them, but the temporarily houseless Democratic administration doing the bulk of the functioning.
It was known that on a certain spring day the Supreme Court would pass on the appeal. I got confidential word from my managing editor that Taylor was to slip away to Louisville to await the decision on Federal property where presumably he would be immune from arrest by the local constabulary until at least the ruling was handed down. So I followed to bide with him in that parlous hour of waiting. It so happened I was the only reporter who sat in the private office of the postmaster on an upper floor of the Louisville Custom House from eleven o'clock on that morning. Our tip had been exclusive. Slipping in, I had taken note of the two city detectives at the lower front entrance; they were supposed to be ready to take him into custody at the proper moment.
It is no pretty sight to see a grown man go gelatinous from pure terror; literally to disintegrate, whilst you watch him, like so much molten jelly. Continually Taylor walked the floor, his bony arms flailing the air, the skirts of his dismal coat flapping like black distress flags, his famous underslung jaw adroop until it seemed ready to come undone and fall off, and his haggard eyes streaming. One minute he weepingly would demand to know why he, the undoubted choice of the people for the noblest office in the commonwealth, should be persecuted with threats of imprisonment, of the gallows even? The next moment, with a great beating of clenched fists on a concave chest, he would be swearing that he'd face what dire things might befall a felon's cell, a felon's fate all in defense of principle and high dignity and honor.
"I'll never run away," he quaveringly shouted at me and at the fat, stolid postmaster, as though we had accused him of such an intent. "I defy them to do their worst!"
It was now eleven fifty-five and even as he spoke his piece he fell into a racking tremor and began edging toward the door. In another instant he was gone gone by the back way, as we found out a little later, and into a closed carriage and while the flashed bulletin from Washington was coming in the ruling went against his cause and his pretensions he crossed by one of the vehicular bridges to the northern side of the Ohio where the Governor of Indiana gave him asylum and declined to honor a requisition for the fugitive's return to Kentucky jurisdiction, for which attitude he and his successor subsequently received the hearty endorsement of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had a chronic fancy for poking his nose into other people's business. Even so, I think he made more mistakes as a politician and fewer mistakes as an American than any president we've had since Andrew Jackson.
Taylor lived out the remnants of his broken life in Indianapolis and died there not so many years ago. I think yet our authorities deliberately made no honest effort to apprehend him before he quit Kentucky soil, preferring rather to turn the runaway into a contemptible figure than to run the risk of making him a possible martyr.
This vain foolishment of wholesale pardoning being satisfactorily over and done with, and the jubilating Goebelites comfortably installed in the berths left vacant by the ousted losers, I went back to Frankfort for the trial of the first of the jailed defendants, that of James Howard, one of Clay County's most facile and seasoned sharpshooters. Howard hadn't waited to be run down or be besieged. Of his own accord he came out of his mountain hiding place where he was reasonably secure from arrest and gave himself up. He was a personable chap, quite handsome and very silent. He was fairly plump, too, whereas most of our American highlanders used to be sparse-framed. He was by way of being a Democrat in a heavily Republican bailiwick. He had no grudge against Goebel; indeed he had supported him in the election six months before. Still politics makes estranged bedfellows. However, with Howard this issue was on purely a commercial basis, so the prosecution purported to show. He had been out on bail pending appeal from a murder conviction in his home district, for having emptied the contents of a repeating rifle into the body of a certain man, old and helpless, but a member of an embroiled family and therefore, by vendetta ethics, fair game. The burden of the present charge against him was that, for extinguishing Goebel, he had been promised by Taylor the Pardoner a full and free legal clearance of that annoying upcountry verdict and, on top of this, was to receive as a special inducement eleven hundred dollars in cash which had been left over from the Republican campaign fund a nourishing sum by mountain standards. It was alleged that by arrangement he came down to Frankfort on the night before the appointed date and unostentatiously had repaired to the Executive Building betimes next morning; had been made welcome and congratulated on his promptness and escorted to Secretary of State Caleb Powers' private office and there had made a choice of three rifles offered for his expert consideration; had built on a window ledge a balanced rest for his rifle by piling up gritty irony divers bound volumes of The Revised Statutes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky; had bided there, taking his ease and smoking his morning's smoke, until three men, walking abreast, turned in at the gates of the Square and came up to the middle walk; had thereupon inquired which one of the three was Goebel and, on being told it was the center figure, put his pipe aside and bored that figure through the right breast with a single cartridge, then rapidly several times discharged a revolver into the air to make plausible the theory that a number of shots had been fired, after which, according to allegation, he sedately strolled to the station and caught the next train traveling upgrade to the back districts the unhurried conception of a hired man serenely aware of having been worthy of his hire. On the strength of all this it now was proposed to unjoint his neck for him.
But Commonwealth's Attorney Bob Franklin couldn't quite cooper his staves into a doubt-proof cask. The testimony leaked, so to speak. Anyhow that was what we reporters said among ourselves. We didn't figure that the accused would be let go. That, community pique being what it was, was asking too much. We figured on a mistrial as the most likely result. So it was a jolt to all present that the jurors, having gone out to deliberate, returned in an unexpectedly short time to tell the court they found the feudist guilty as charged and fixed the penalty at death. I was stationed very close to Howard whilst the grizzled foreman read the findings. Not by the slightest quiver, nor by any change of countenance, nor by any quirk of rigidity did he betray his feelings. Only his left eye suddenly crossed. It would seem that when he was still but a coltish youngster, with no worth-while homicidal record yet accumulated, a thoroughly irritated partisan of the opposing clan had clouted him over the head with a clubbed Winchester. The reversed hammer made a permanent dent in his skull so that after that under emotional stress one set of optic nerves would go askew. Now he put his lips close to the ear of his counsel, who was himself credited with having in youth earned the right to cut a pair of notches on his own gunstock, and in the casual, almost indifferent tone with which a man might mention the weather, he remarked: "Well, now say, Jeems Andy, I didn't think those dam' fools would do that."
On a plea of prejudice, change of venue to the near-by Blue Grass town of Georgetown was granted for the ensuing trials of Powers, the alleged head and front of the murder plan; and of Youtsey, the complacent lackey boy who, prior to the shooting, did everybody's bidding and went about blithely manufacturing future evidence against himself. In a convenient court recess I took advantage of the opportunity to go southward to Savannah and get married with a compact, small personage named Miss Laura Spencer Baker, five feet-one of steadfastness, wholesomeness and spunk, who had a family tree which, for martial fruitage, made mine look in comparison like something that had sprouted down cellar, although I wasn't exactly ashamed of our own record in that regard, either. Her great-grandfather, Colonel John Baker of Middle Place on Colonel's Island just off the coast, was that courtly figure in Revolutionary lore who, having been chosen to head a squadron of his fellow planters and tidewater neighbors against the Britishers, lined up the command and removed his hat in a sweeping salute, and in this language uttered an order which was destined to become immortal: "Gentlemen of the Liberty County Guards, kindly come to attention!" Most of these recruits were kinsmen of his, after one fashion or another Stevens, Quartermains, Dorseys, Bohuns, Bacons, Bullochs President Theodore Roosevelt's mother was one of these selfsame Bullochs from the Colonial settlement about historic Old Midway Church.
The conclusion of the War between the States found my wife's Prussian-born but Prussia-hating grandfather, at the age of sixty-three, serving as captain of a forlorn company for home defense made up of elderly heads of households, schoolboys, convalescents, conscripts and semi-invalids. It also found her father, Marcus S. Baker impatiently awaiting his fourteenth birthday so that he too might volunteer as a musket-toting soldier, just as his five older brothers had done in '61. One of the five was already dead and another grievously maimed. But it was to the memory of her mother's young brother, Private John Frederick Krenson, that his womenfolk, in the time when I first knew them, wove their biggest garlands of white and red blossoms on Confederate Memorial Day.
Before he was eighteen, this John Frederick Krenson enlisted in the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, with the rest of "Bartow's Beardless Boys," as the local papers proudly called them. With his regiment, the Eighth Georgia, he went under fire at First Manassas and was shot through the lungs. After long nursing in Virginia he was, greatly against his will, mustered out of service as unfit for even the lightest duty and shipped home to die. He had developed tuberculosis. For months he lingered about the town a gaunt, coughing shell trying vainly to re-enlist. Finally he started north alone, tramping afoot and feeding on what scant forage he could gather. A year and a day after receiving his wound, he rejoined the survivors of his old outfit just as they were coming to grips with the Northerners in front of Richmond. Empty handed, he followed behind them on the advance. When a soldier dropped, young Krenson picked up the fallen man's gun and pushed forward into the ranks. He was disabled by a half-spent, glancing Minié ball. The injury seemed superficial but already he was perishing from weakness and exhaustion, and so he lived only a few hours. When his racked and wasted body was returned to Savannah for burial there came with it his honorable discharge. There was a stain of dried blood on the folded paper. He had carried it, in a breast pocket, into the charge and the fight.
As soon as we got into the World War my wife's young cousin and, like her, a nephew of this John Frederick Krenson the lad's name was Fred Krenson, too qualified at training camp for a commission but when he came up for his physical examination was turned down as being underweight. He asked for another chance and on the morning of the second ordeal trained for it by choking down an incredible number of ripe bananas and drinking almost enough water to cause suicide by drowning as an inside job. On the scales, he passed the test by a scant half-pound and thereupon gave the Rebel Yell for himself, dashed outdoors and put a finger down his throat and turned into a spouting human geyser with banana soufflé effects. This determined stripling went to France as a second lieutenant and on his first round of duty at the front caught trench fever and was sent back, kinked like a pretzel with rheumatism, to spend nine months on the flat of his back in a military hospital. But he was content; in him the tribal ritual had been fulfilled.
Mrs. Cobb and I are proud that in our daughter's veins and in the veins of our two grandchildren runs the strain of that stock. If anything, she's a mite prouder than I am. That Georgia stuff comes from her side of the family.
On our bridal tour we went to Washington in the merry, merry month of June when the asphalt melted to chewing gum in the streets and the draft horses wore straw hats and fell down in their tracks and the salamander in the zoo perished by a heat stroke. I think they saved the Arizona Gila monster by packing him in ice. Niagara Falls was cooler probably, but it was farther off and I didn't have passes on any railway line going that far. I ended our suffering by curtailing the honeymoon and bringing my sweetheart with me back to Georgetown and there, scrooged in beside me at the press table while I turned out running reams of copy, she followed the forward march of that most absorbing, most breath-taking of all dramatic spectacles in all the world the fight by the due credo of the law for a human life. Together for six weeks we harkened as the testimony unreeled in a bedaubed and evil scroll and the opposing legal batteries volleyed and thundered, for nearly every outstanding criminal lawyer in the state and at least one highly vocal imported mouthpiece had been retained by either the commonwealth or the defense. The summing up at the finish required upwards of a week but that was because the attorneys for one side were so busy vituperating their personal enemies on the other side that for hours on end they forgot the prisoner at the bar, young Caleb Powers.* He was a man who seemed to have some ice water in his veins. He was cold and reserved and wondrous shrewd, with an unbreakable front. Apparently he was more concerned by the embarrassment of wearing steel cuffs on his daily trips between the jail and the courthouse than by the mass of proof banking up against him proof tending to make him out as the guiding and contriving force in the conspiracy. The jurors filed in one steaming afternoon and said it would be a hanging matter and he merely glanced indifferently at them, meanwhile sniffing delicately a rosebud which a young woman in the crowd had given him. He was quite dandified and very good-looking and a widower.
After a briefened interim then, they fetched up the little Oriental-looking Youtsey for judgment by his peers. Here was a sight to evoke your pity, no matter what your sentiments might be this poor weakling who had been the cat's-paw for desperate, bloody-minded men and who now was their beleaguered scapegoat, twisting and wriggling like a mink with a snare on its leg.
When Youtsey's trial was perhaps a third done, and fall coming along, the judge fixed a date on which, following the local procedure, the prisoner, the jurors and one lawyer from either side would go to Frankfort in a body to view the scene of the crime and the surroundings. I knew the regular Frankfort correspondent of our paper would cover the Frankfort end, and I desired greatly to steal a holiday and take my "Miss Laura" up to Cincinnati for a day. I went to see Judge Cantrill, and Judge Cantrill told me that after the return from Frankfort, court would probably not reconvene, since it would be late in the afternoon when the party got back. So I felt perfectly safe in slipping away with the new Mrs. Cobb.
The day at Cincinnati stretched into a day and a night. Mary Mannering, a gracious lady who afterward became our very dear friend and was then at the height of her career as an emotional actress, was playing a dramatized version of the most popular novel of the hour at one of the theaters and, since I had this assurance that nothing would be happening at Georgetown, we decided to stay over, see the play, and catch an early train which would land us where we belonged in time for the opening of court. When we reached the station the next morning, I bought a paper. It was the Enquirer. In those days the Enquirer ran to large, deep, single-column headlines. I took one look at the last column of the first page and my knees knocked together.
Under a Georgetown date line I read that, unexpectedly, an adjourned night session of the trial had been arranged. About ten o'clock, Arthur Goebel, the younger brother of the murdered governor, had taken the stand as a witness and had proceeded to tell for the first time in any court of a detailed confession of the crime and the conspiracy, as related to him by Youtsey four months before in Frankfort jail on the day of Youtsey's arrest a confession of which no one on earth, with the exception of a few persons in Arthur Goebel's confidence, had any knowledge. Even to the newspapermen it had come as an absolute surprise. But this wasn't all. As Arthur Goebel, acting out the scene in the jail with minute detail, reached the point where he began, word for word, to repeat Youtsey's admissions, Youtsey leaped to his feet, screaming out that Goebel was not dead and all the devils in hell couldn't kill him, and then, as the court officers jumped forward to overpower him, fell on the floor writhing about and frothing at the mouth, finally going off into a seeming cataleptic stupor and lying like one dead. It was good acting but here was somebody acting for his very life. Youtsey's young wife had gone into hysterics at the sight of her ostensibly frenzied husband fighting with the officers and being held down and manacled. Several women had fainted. In a stampede to get out, a number of persons had been crushed at the second-floor doors and on the narrow twisty stairs. And then, while that wily malingerer Youtsey, mute and pretending unconsciousness, played 'possum on a cot alongside the witness stand, with his shoe-button eyes set in his head and his chained hands crossed on his breast, Arthur Goebel who had not moved once during all the uproar, went calmly on with his amazing, totally unexpected testimony.
All that had happened at Georgetown the night before with a new reporter on one of his biggest assignments ninety miles away in Cincinnati, Ohio. Because the hour had been so late and the wires so crowded, the story in the morning paper was little more than a series of jerky bulletins; but my paper, the Louisville Post, was an afternoon paper, and I knew the editor would be expecting a complete account of the whole thing, testimony and all, for the first edition, going to press at 11:10. The routine A.P. account wouldn't do. This stuff must be translated according to the editorial policy the Post was pursuing.
The train was one of those things misnamed an accommodation train, which meant that it stopped at all stations and hesitated in between. I walked the aisle of our car in a condition which fluctuated between a fever and a chill. It seemed to me that only slow, fat old ladies got off and only slow, debilitated old gentlemen got on.
Like a contemplative caterpillar, the train dawdled across the autumnal-tinted landscape. It crawled and crept, it stammered and faltered. It was due at Georgetown at 10:30. Following the usual custom, it was late. It was ten minutes after eleven when the locomotive whistled for the stop. As we ambled into the station, a newly married newspaper reporter, basely deserting his bride of a summer, leaped off the rear platform, ripped up the cindered right of way with his toes and knees, gathered himself up and tore through Main Street toward the Western Union as fast as a moderately long pair of legs would carry him. I was slim and limber and very agile those times. As I fell panting in at the open door of the telegraph office, the manager looked up, startled.
"Where in thunder you been?" he demanded. "Looky here I got about a thousand messages for you from your shop already this morning," and he held up a sheaf of little yellow envelopes.
"What did you do?" gasped a despairing voice which I recognized as slightly resembling my own.
"Well," said the manager with appalling deliberation, "I couldn't find you and I couldn't find any of the other boys that had time to help out all of them too busy with their own stuff. And your folks calling for copy from you every half minute and not getting a smidgen."
"So, not knowing what else to do and feeling that something had oughter be done, I took a chance. I went up to the hotel and got a dupe of Clarence Walker's transcript of what happened last night, and about three-quarters of an hour ago I put it on the wire. It was sort of long over four thousand words, I guess; but I couldn't think of anything else."
"Let me see it, quick."
"Too late now," drawled the manager. "Bancroft's just feeding the last part in over your leased wire."
I ran around behind the screen and scooped up the pile of typewritten sheets which lay just under the operator's elbow. I ran my eyes through one page, through another, part way through a third, and my heart, which had been a cast-iron hitching post down in the pit of my stomach, jumped back in my chest where it belonged and turned into a vital organ again. Songbirds began chirping in the cage of my ribs. The sunshine was as molten gold. For it was a great story that had gone into the shop. Done in the methodical style of the official court stenographer it was all there the oaths, the screams, the inarticulate cries, the shouted orders of the judge, the well-counterfeited but obviously artificial ravings of Youtsey, the damning account of young Arthur Goebel everything and told so it made a more graphic picture of the scene than any written-out, adjective-laden account could possibly have been.
I went back and found little Mrs. Cobb and resumed normal breathing. Later in the day, I got a telegram of congratulations from my managing editor. With a two-hundred-word introduction, written in the shop, the stenographic narrative had run in the paper exactly as it came in over the wire. And it had been the talk of the town. So far as anybody in Louisville knew, no paper had ever before covered such a story in such a way. The admiring managing editor wondered how I ever came to think of it. To the day of his death he was still wondering, I reckon. Because he certainly never found out from me.
Hence it was thus and so that I qualified for the task of covering the Thaw trial which for so many roundabout paragraphs I've been stealing up on. But in the intervening years a considerable amount of water was to pass over the mill wheel. To be, for the moment, chronological about it, I stayed with the Post another year and worked up to a salary of eighteen dollars a week, plus what small cash perquisites I could glean by sending condensations of pilfered A.P. telegrams to various small dailies over the state. Then I went back to Paducah, to become the editor of the same afternoon paper upon which I'd cut my reportorial milk teeth; was to have a child born, to my abiding joy, while having plenty of grief with my job, for we got out six week-day numbers and a pretentious Sunday edition and a weekly issue and I toiled about eighteen hours a day except when I toiled longer. I never fell down but there were times when literally I went to sleep standing up and many a night I staggered from fatigue like a drunken man. I stood it until 1904; was to give up this man-killing labor then and go to New York and after certain small vicissitudes, break into the game as they played it there; was to serve a year and a half on the Evening Sun and for the Evening Sun to help cover Theodore Roosevelt's personally supervised peace conference between the Japanese and the Russians at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and write a series of perfectly inconsequential articles on the local color and the side views of the proceedings and the parties most prominently present; as a result of the publication and the syndication of these articles was to get a considerable raise in wages and offers from other papers. I picked the Evening World it offered the most and sweated between decks in Chapin's slave ship until I got my chance to use the facility with a running-and-jumping lead pencil which I had acquired in Kentucky. That would be when the Thaw case broke on a steamy summer evening before the eyes of a typically smart first-night audience at the opening of a musical comedy featuring Billy Rock and Maude Fulton, the prize dancing team of that era, on a new roof garden atop of Madison Square Garden which was the architectural masterpiece of the brutally murdered Stanford White it stood as his monument until it was taken down. It herewith is conceded, I take it, that for purposes of immediate and abiding notoriety, the Thaw story got off to a fairly good start.
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