Before we dig into today’s fun topic — how Arkansas Gazette cop-beaten reporter Joe Wirges’ colleagues mocked his candidacy for Big Rock Constable in 1922 — we need to scratch some background needed.
First, know that this is issue #3 in a series of old news columns. For basics on the “Joe Gazette” Wirges, see arkansasonline.com/718joe. For fellow humor, see arkansasonline.com/725joe.
Second, remember this: A commercial version of the Ku Klux Klan had settled in Little Rock, where ministers, businessmen, doctors, dentists, and city officials eager to be seen as “for” the ban and “against” battered women and burglaries. gladly joined the club.
Members of this new Klan had dues to pay, uniforms to buy, and goofy titles to aspire to; and because support was trickling down from Sunday schools, parading down the street in a pointed hat-mask seemed respectable, but not for everyone.
As Kenneth C. Barnes recounts in that admirable book I keep whipping around – “The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas” (University of Arkansas Press, 2021) – anti-Klan groups have also seen the day. They sprouted faster in July 1922 after the Klan outfit in Little Rock announced a slate of approved candidates for each position in the Democratic primaries.
In opposition, a “Citizens’ Committee” made up of lawyers and businessmen has pledged to “combat racial hatred and religious sectarianism” as well as secrecy in politics. Nothing is ever simple in Arkansas politics, and so anti-Klan sentiment also came from Democrats who doubted the Little Rock Klan manager’s dedication to white supremacy.
Oscar Winn, a one-armed lawyer who was running for prosecutor, tried to have the Klan candidates excluded from the primaries. He failed; but the Citizens Committee published its own (much shorter) list of anti-Klan candidates.
One more thing: On July 27, 1922, the League of Women Voters held a well-attended picnic with speeches at the White City amusement park (see arkansasonline.com/725uca/).
And now we’re ready to read about the anti-Klan contender for Constable of Big Rock Township: our man Joe Gazette. More or less verbatim, here are the “news” of the Wirges campaign for July 27:
CANDIDATE WIRGES IS READY FOR SPEECH
Joe (Gazette) Wirges … announced yesterday that, weather and national affairs permitting, he himself and personally would speak today in defense of his campaign. Joe has chosen White City as the place where he will spread the news, and the fateful hour will be at that moment in the afternoon when Joe manages to crash amidst the eloquence of other candidates for high functions.
Joe has his speech all memorized and everything. This discourse is the cat’s pajamas. It represents the best thinking of all his campaign staff and is built along the strong and simple lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Since Joe is somewhat addicted to conversational reverse English, Heinie Loesch, his campaign manager, ordered the speech written backwards. Joe learned it that way, and the result will be that when he starts speaking it, he’ll do it right.
As a special concession to his admirers, Mr. Wirges consented to the publication of part of his address. Those of its constituents like desire can also learn it and repeat it with it in a sort of litany effect. Or, if desired, it can be used as a community song to the tune of “Oh, the Bullfrog on the Bank”, or a similar appealing folk tune.
[Hear a version of “The Bulldog on the Bank” sung by the late Jack David Angus Ogilvy at arkansasonline.com/725frog.]
The opening of Joe’s speech, as currently written, reads: “Gentle and ladies men: My name is constable of Big Rock Township, and I am a candidate for Joe (Gazette) Wirges . I will support your appreciation”, and so on.
It doesn’t read as well as it does in print, but Joe speaks right to left in a way, so it should come out fine in the end.
The speech, after asserting the biological fact that our hero was born at a remarkably young age, goes on to recount his early struggles; how by strict enforcement since he was so small he was exempt from the one foot on the ground rule he has progressed further and further until now he proudly wears the crown of semi champion title -amateur balk-line pool shooter .
Don’t miss the speech. Remember the day and date. White City, tomorrow afternoon. Attendants will pass among you distributing the words and the music; and strong men will be there to entertain any man who might be irritated by the performance.
[Gallery not showing? Click here to see photos: arkansasonline.com/725pix/]
Late last night, Director Loesch reported to headquarters staff that the candidate was beginning to falter in his speech. Joe seemed suspicious of someone trying to trick him.
Manager Loesch said coldly that if Joe fails in his duty to his constituency at White City today, he might as well continue to miss. It’s all the race he will have to do. So if Joe doesn’t show up behind the speakers’ table with the pitcher of water on it this afternoon, don’t insult him. He called them – all there is.
Celia here again. We have a list of suspects for the mischievous author(s) of the Wirges campaign stories. In “A History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More” (see arkansasonline.com/725fred), Fred Allsopp lists the 1922 Gazette newsroom staff:
Clyde Dew, night editor; Fletcher Chenault, City Editor; William A. Wilson, state news editor; Charles T. Davis, special writer; Claire A. Ritter, Telegraph Editor; Henry Loesch, sportswriter; Miss Nell Cotnam, “Company Editor”; LC Milstead, drama editor and editor; Miss Jean Hatley, North Little Rock reporter and editor of The Woman’s Page; Joe Wiges, police reporter; WM Burns, school reporter; Allen James, Ed Bowers and Mose W. Taggart, general reporters; Dickison Brugman, editor of News of Other Days.
My main suspects for the Wirges reports are Chenault, a bon vivant at the born mansion; Heinie Loesch; and CT Davis.
We know who wrote our next piece: Davis, the editorial page poet. Here is his July 20, 1922 column, Ramblin’ Aroun’:
SAM’L PEPYS: HIS DIARY
Rise early and ride with Frederick, Baron Hotze; and I ride one of his feisty cob’s which tries, at times, to hold me to my ear, but we manage to do a steeple chase across the country easily, though we both lament that in the end he doesn’t may there be no hot port posset to take off the stiffness. At the Marion Armes where I break the fast with good heart in good company, and in the rue J. Wirges, whom I meet, tell me that he stands before the hustings for constable of my bailiwick and say my good offices and I tell him I will write a piece in the diary for him which, memo: I have to do. To the publishers where MF Chenault, newcomer to the South Downs, tell me that bourbon can be bought in Louisiana at half a pound a pint plus the surgeon’s prescription of four bobs. Nothing more to do at the publishers, so home and in bed where I read more in Mr. Wells his outline of history, including what I have read in the past twelve months and forgotten.
[Read the diary actually kept in 17th-century London by Samuel Pepys: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/]
Next week: “Gazette” Joe Insists He’s No Myth; and the Arkansaw Hillbillies Orchestra
‘Until then, I remain yours & etc. to email:
Gallery: Joe Wirges for Constable 1922