The spunky stepchild: Years of fun to day of tears Covering wars or uncovering anything, irreverent cast did it quickly and well The Evening Sun sets as 85


The Evening Sun elbowed into Baltimore journalism April 18, 1910, with the brash and lively self-confidence of an eager cub in an old-time city room.

It breathes its last today, a fading echo of that fine lost time when afternoon newspapers were on the front line of the front page and big city dailies had power, energy and glamour, and city editors were played by Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart and the reporters by Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable.

The first edition of The Evening Sun - scheduled for 3 p.m., according to the horoscope on the editorial page, but actually an hour late in the pressroom - had the slapdash, insouciant impudence the paper displayed until the end.

Volume 1 Number 1 looked pretty much as if the type were set with a sieve. The front page was half advertisements and half news, but in the four news columns, 24 stories were stacked up like soup cans in a grocery.

Mark Twain was dying. Suffragettes were marching. Chinese riots continued "unquelled."

On the editorial page a young man who signed his column "M" told Evening Sun readers they were a pretty good bunch and so was Baltimore.

"Let us be glad we are Baltimoreans," M said. "Just suppose an unkind fate made us Pittsburghers."

M's column was the first appearance in The Evening Sun of Henry L. Mencken, that prickly, prejudiced literary nonpareil who helped set the tone of The Evening Sun for the next four decades.

Three days later, as Twain was dying, Mencken wrote an eloquent and acute appreciation of "Huckleberry Finn," long before academic critics recognized the novel as an American classic.

Mencken's finest quality, perhaps, was his recognition of and generosity to good writers. He helped establish the tradition of superior newspaper writing that was upheld on The Evening Sun for 85 years.

Stepchild of greatness

The Evening Sun started out pretty much a stepchild of The Sun, a late-blooming Cinderella destined to sweep up the crumbs in the afternoon. But like Cinderella, the paper often outshone and outdanced and outdid its often stuffy, frequently stolid and occasionally pretentious older stepsister.

Nobody ever accused The Evening Sun of being one of the

world's great newspapers, as The Sun used to call itself. Giving the morning paper's slogan an ironic twist, Nick Yengich, a much-lamented Evening Sun rewriteman, intoned: "The Evening Sun, one of the world's newspapers."

The evening paper became and remained a carnival of youthful vitality, if not quite buncombe; the morning, a bastion of old guard probity.

The Evening Sun was a newspaper for writers with flair and irreverence, reporters with energy and humanity and editors with skill and integrity. For a while in the 1980s it was probably the best afternoon paper in America.

"It was The Evening Sun that was having the fun," Gwinn Owens said in 1985. He was the son of Hamilton Owens, the extraordinary Evening Sun editorial page editor of the 1920s and '30s. Gwinn Owens edited the evening paper's Other Voices page in the '80s.

The founding father

It all started with the splendid Charles Henry Grasty, a beefy newspaperman with a big nose, a bristly mustache, clear, searching eyes and an impeccable reputation for integrity.

Grasty had learned his newspapering in Missouri and Kansas. He had been managing editor of the Kansas City Times when he was only 21 and Eugene Field and Frederic Remington were on the paper.

Grasty took control of The Sun in late March 1910. When he

started The Evening Sun a month later, he plunged the paper into perhaps the most vital period of newspaper history in the United States.

Grasty was an extremely social man with great personal charm. He may have launched The Evening Sun because he liked to see his stuff out on the street in the afternoon and in the hands of readers in time for dinner-time conversation at the Maryland Club.

Newspapers were reaching the heyday of their power, prestige and influence. And editors and publishers never hesitated to wield their strength. Grasty, one of the last of the great "personal" editors, used The Sunpapers in a vigorous effort to help win his friend Woodrow Wilson the Democratic nomination

that led to his election as president in 1912.

Lively from the start

The coverage was extraordinary: four to five full pages every day, cartoons and pictures, minute-by-minute bulletins and the first byline convention story by Henry L. Mencken in The Evening Sun.

Mencken covered his final convention in Philadelphia in 1948 when the Progressive Party nominated Henry Wallace for president. But by then he was writing for the morning paper.

The Evening Sun provided him with some pretty stiff competition at that 1948 convention: Price Day, Margaret Dempsey, Bradford Jacobs and Lee McCardell, all fine writers and excellent reporters.

Day later became editor-in-chief of The Sunpapers; Brad Jacobs, editorial-page editor of The Evening Sun, McCardell, the city editor and then assistant managing editor of the evening paper. Margaret Dempsey married an Evening Sun reporter named James McManus, who later made something of a name for himself on ABC News as Jim McKay.

Grasty was a superb newsman - a eulogist called him "the ablest all-round newspaperman in America." But, he was also a prodigious spender who unnerved his backers. The Sunpapers never made money under his direction. By 1914, the losses were hemorrhaging and Grasty's partners bought him out. He took a trip to Europe.

In his day, The Evening Sun, The Sun and almost every other newspaper in the United States were edited and published by affluent white men, preferably American-born Christians, for an audience of affluent, right-thinking white men, with a decorous nod now and then toward a few of their wives.

Baltimore was, after all, and despite later amnesia on the subject, a segregated Southern city. All of white Baltimore was forbidden to blacks: schools, stores, hotels and restaurants praised by Mencken, tennis courts. Jews were restricted from neighborhoods like Roland Park and Guilford by real estate covenants that were really enforced. Italians, Greeks, Ukrainians, Russians, Poles were unwelcome, too, unless they were delivering coal or selling produce.

Philip Heisler, managing editor of The Evening Sun for three decades after World War II, hired the first Jewish reporter on The Sunpapers, in the 1950s. In the middle 1960s, he hired the first black to work in the city room of either the evening or the morning paper - a copy editor named Chet Hampton, fully qualified and widely experienced. He later worked on the Washington Post.

Divorce and new identity

The evening paper remained a kind of late edition of The Sun until the autumn of 1920 when the celebrated "divorce" dinners were held and the evening paper acquired an independent identity.

Paul Patterson, who embodied a rare and extraordinary combination of business acumen and journalistic skill and experience, had become president of the A.S. Abell Co. Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I.

Patterson already had worked a decade in Chicago - on the Tribune, Inter-Ocean and Examiner - when he came east to be White House correspondent for the Evening Star in Washington and ultimately general manager of the Washington Times, no relation to the current paper.

Grasty hired him in 1911 to be managing editor of The Evening Sun. He sat down next to Mencken, and a friendship began that has influenced The Sunpapers to this day.

Mencken had been a great pal of Harry C. Black, one of the two sons of Crawford Black, one of the major owners of The Sunpapers after Grasty left. Harry Black had encouraged Mencken to write his incomparable "Free Lance" column, which ran on The Evening Sun editorial page until 1915.

Even before Patterson became president of the company, he and Mencken and Harry Black met night after night in a series of conversations remarkable in American newspaper history: an owner, a CEO and a working journalist hacking out what they thought the fundamental principles of the papers should be.

They eventually brought forth a 23-page "White Paper" that stressed independence, honesty, fairness and complete news coverage.

Thirty years later, Patterson was nearing retirement, but he remained dedicated to his principles and keenly, fiercely protective of them. Heisler remembered him vividly.

"He was a great guy," Heisler said. "Patterson was a news man!

"Patterson read every damn word of the newspaper every day, the news columns. And he knew what was in 'em."

Heisler would work for The Sunpapers 40 years himself, 30 as managing editor of The Evening Sun under four presidents, Patterson, William F. Schmick Sr., William F. Schmick Jr. and Donald Patterson, Paul's son.

Patterson hired Hamilton Owens as editor of The Evening Sun in 1922.

"His title was editor," Gwinn Owens recalled, "not editor of the editorial page. And I would get the impression he was more active in the overall operation of the paper than the editorial page editors are today."

Hamilton Owens, too, came to The Evening Sun with a decade of newspaper experience. He was born here, graduated from Johns Hopkins University and got his first newspaper job on the Baltimore News when J. Edwin Murphy was city editor. He came over to The Evening Sun with Mr. Murphy, who became managing editor after the divorce from the morning paper.

"Somehow," Gwinn Owens said, "I have the feeling the whole business was simpler. I don't think there were as many layers of hierarchy as you have now. You had the feeling the board and president had great faith in their editors. And editors were pretty much left alone to do what they wanted."

In the years between the two World Wars, Hamilton Owens assembled a group of editorial writers and columnists second to none in the country.

He had Mencken, of course, and R.P. Harriss, who had been on the staff of the Paris Herald Tribune and who later wrote splendid pieces as critic-at-large on the News American; Frank F. Beirne, the creator and perpetrator of Christopher Billopp, the philosophic purveyor of every day life along "The Rolling Road," and the author of "The Amiable Baltimoreans" - still the most graceful history of the city; Gerald W. Johnson, perhaps the quintessential New Deal liberal, who had an independent national reputation; and Philip M. Wagner, Owens' protege and a vigorous, forceful writer who became perhaps even more renowned as a seminal American vintner and proprietor of Boordy Vineyards.

"I think The Evening Sun was better known nationally then than any time before or since," Gwin Owens said. "The editorial page was very much quoted around the country in the late '20s and '30s. Robin Harriss claimed it was the most quoted in the country."

Hamilton Owens became editor of the morning paper in 1938, then editor-in-chief of The Sunpapers in 1943. He retired in 1956.

Mencken filled in on the editorial page briefly - while Philip Wagner got saddled up as the worthy successor. He slashed away like a berserker in the camps of Christendom. He dumped the book page, changed typography and published his famous page of 1,000,000 dots, each dot alleged to represent a federal job holder.

Mr. Wagner took over the editorial page next, followed by Newton Aiken and A.D. Emmart.

"Dol Emmart was in a special category, a brilliant guy," Gwinn Owens said. "He was one of the most learned men I ever knew."

But he was not a forceful editor. The first strong editor after

Hamilton Owens in The Evening Sun succession was Bradford Jacobs. And Ray Jenkins, next in line, brought his own thoughtful and sensitive independence to the editorial page. Sarah Engram would be the last director of The Evening Sun editorial page.

Home from the war

The reporters and editors who came of age in the '20s and '30s often shared the experience of World War I.

"These fellows were just out of the Army, watching for their first job or resuming where they left off," said John Ward, that debonair paragon of Baltimore journalism who came to work on The Sun in 1920. He left after a few months, worked briefly for a competitor, came to The Evening Sun in 1923 and stayed until 1979 after several decades as financial editor. He's 97 now and lives in a Portland, Ore., retirement home.

"It was a very interesting gang to be with," Ward said. "Jim Cain was one of them."

James M. Cain, the Annapolis-born author of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Double Indemnity," "Mildred Pierce" and about a dozen other novels, wrote labor pieces for The Evening Sun in the early '20s.

"That was a time of effervescence if you ever heard of one," Ward said.

A couple of generations of younger reporters on The Evening Sun knew of Ward only as financial editor, but he had started on the street like almost everyone else.

"Street reporting, district stuff," he said. "That's how you learned the city, learned the job."

Ward recalled May 6, 1937, as "the most dramatic day I ever had in newspapers." His partner in the events of that day was Ben H. Miller, one of those fine journeyman newspaper craftsmen whose bylines are even more ephemeral than yesterday's newspaper.

"We were sitting there batting the breeze about 5 or 6 o'clock in the afternoon, Ward remembered. "One of the copy boys handed me a piece of paper saying 'Hindenburg down in flames at Lakehurst.' I said: 'Benny, looks like we got work to do.'

"Within two hours, we got out two extra editions," Ward said. "It was a very dramatic thing, of course, for us and for the paper."

Ben Miller later covered defense production in World War II. He was killed in an airplane crash while touring war plants. They named a Liberty ship after him.

The Sunpapers mobilized a new generation of reporters and editors with World War II. Their ideas and ideals would color journalism in Baltimore and across America until the turbulent reconsiderations of the '60s. And for the first time, newspaper women got off the women's pages.

"When I came in 1943," said Grace Darin, a talented newspaper woman, repository of anecdote and story, and sometime historian of The Evening Sun, "another gal and I came on the same day. We were the first women on the copy desk."

They had just graduated from Columbia Journalism School. The other woman didn't last long. Darin stayed another 3 decades. She was a meticulous and patient copy editor.

"Margaret Dempsey was on the women's page at the time. She's now Margaret McManus. And a gal named Sally Wilson, who works on a paper in Sarasota [Fla.]. And then there was Carol Wharton, who did a lot of state beat things. Hope Pantell came about that time.

"During the war years, the women were really carrying the thing. The men were all either 4-Fs or doddering old. The ones they did hire, who were young, were grabbed by the draft as they lowered the physical requirements."

Women came and went, Darin said.

"Lots of names no one really remembered," she said. "And after the war, they stopped hiring them again. They cut back very much on hiring women except for women's page jobs."

A strong copy desk

Darin stayed on and for many years was the only woman on the copy desk. Perhaps for 20 years, she said - "a long, long time."

The Evening Sun developed a virtual dynasty of excellent and idiosyncratic copy editors, including Mike Adamovitch, the irascible descendant of Russian nobility; Wally Reid, a cigar-chomping repository of arcane knowledge; Fred Judd, an unreconstructed WWII submariner; and George Hanst, one of the finest newsmen of his generation, a talented reporter and an unparalleled deskman renowned for his acumen, accuracy and just plain command of the English language.

During World War II, overseas correspondents generally were shared by both papers. They were Sunpapers war correspondents. But most of what Lee McCardell wrote ran in The Evening Sun, as did many of Price Day's stories. Phil Heisler covered the war in the Pacific for The Evening Sun, and so did Robert Cochrane, who later was program director at WMAR-TV. Philip Potter and Thomas O'Neill appeared in The Evening Sun. Lila H. Thomson, Howard Norton and Ben H. Miller filed from Washington.

"Lee wrote great war things," Darin said. "Ernie Pyle was the fashionable writer of that period, but McCardell, I thought, was much, much better.

"Lee McCardell gave me, just sitting on the copy desk, more of a feeling of what it was like to be there in the trenches than I got from anybody else."

"Every sick, every wounded man, every hungry child was a new wound to Lee McCardell."

Price Day started on The Sunpapers on the rewrite desk of The Evening Sun. He had been a free-lance writer in Florida, published in Collier's, Redbook and Saturday Evening Post. But when the war started, his markets dried up.

Price Day went overseas as a war correspondent, stayed on in the postwar years, won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of India, came back to be editor of The Sun,then editor-in-chief of The Sun papers.

Phil Heisler covered the Navy in the Far East. He reported on the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

By World War II, The Evening Sun had acquired the look it would pretty much have for the next 30 or 35 years: eight columns straight up and down with lots of gray type and a couple of murky pictures.

But, between the fall of France and the fall of Japan, the papers projected a breathless urgency that you feel today when you read them preserved on microfilm.

They deployed an amazing arsenal of flashes, bulletins, replates, remakes, extras, maps, graphs, diagrams and mandatory eight-column streamers - big, bold, black and blaring.

"I think we had eight editions," Grace Darin said. "You didn't change just one or two stories. They redid the whole paper. Reporters were running out writing new leads on local stories. AP was sending six, seven, eight new leads on a story. And we made every single one! By the end of the day, you couldn't recognize it as the same paper."

Miles Wolff was managing editor and made up Page One. Harold Lutz, his assistant, laid out pages two, three and four, and they were often full of news. Vern Sherwin; George Trisik, the news editor; and Pete Weisheit, a slot man, moved copy.

Paul Broderick, whom the next generation of reporters would know as a city editor of Olympian calm, was shifted to news from sports during World War II. He had come on The Evening Sun as a cub sports reporter in 1925 in the same week Paul Menton became sports editor.

"I would say Menton was a very good editor," Broderick said. "Very progressive, and he was popular. But, he was not a very smooth writer. His writing was sort of awkward, I'd say."

The unholy trinity

Menton; Jesse Linthicum, sports editor of The Sun; and Roger Pippin of the News were a somewhat unholy trinity who ran Baltimore sports coverage for more than three decades.

"Neil Swanson pulled me out of sports," Broderick said. "He took over when Murphy died. Lee McCardell had gone off to war and I took over McCardell's desk."

Ed Young was city editor - and many consider him the best editor ever on either paper.

"Ed Young was beloved and creative, imaginative, and sometimes difficult," Darin said.

When McCardell returned from overseas, he became editor of The Evening Sun. Young moved to the morning paper. Heisler became managing editor in 1949. Broderick took over from McCardell in the '50s. McCardell moved to The Sun's Rome bureau. He came back to The Evening Sun later as assistant to Heisler.

Quite a strong staff worked for them: William Manchester, who would become the biographer of the Kennedys, Krupps and MacArthur, wrote features. Louis Rukeyser and David Culhane, who became television journalists, worked rewrite, then covered government beats.

Manchester was very good, Broderick said, but slow.

"He couldn't spell, either. He was a lousy speller. I remember one day he turned in some copy and it was dreadful. I mean the writing was all right but the spelling...

"So, I went down to him and said, 'Bill, where the hell did you learn to spell?'

"He said, 'I know it's bad, but I'm not going to worry about that as long as you're up there.'"

And the staff would include guys like Peter Young, who moved to Life magazine; and Richard Pollak, who went to Newsweek, then ran his own journalism review; Charles R. Eisendrath, who became a Time man; Bruce Winters, who became editor of the Van Nuys Daily News in California; John Goodspeed, the brilliant columnist who wrote Mr. Peep's Diary and coined "Baltimorese"; and Walter Ward, an assistant city editor who went on to become a restaurant chain entrepreneur.

Broderick was the last Evening Sun city editor whose roots lay in the old-time "Front Page" newspapering of J. Edwin Murphy and the newsmen of the '20s. Broderick valued speed, accuracy and reliability. He liked a turn of phrase. And he loved bank robberies, murders and the elevation of cardinals.

But, the old newspaper routine of courthouse, statehouse and police was being pressured from a dozen different directions, including from within. By the end of the '60s, it would, for all practical purposes, be replaced by a new journalism.

"In my time, the late '30s and early '40s," Heisler said, "newspapering was quite a bit different from what it is today. A cardinal rule was objectivity."

"We believed we could be objective and were proud of it and made a fetish of objectivity," he said. "Newspapers were very proud of their independence, and proud of being neither for nor against - anything, really. The goal was to present the facts to the public as fairly and as clearly as you can.

"The emphasis was on news," he said.

But even editors of Heisler's generation came to question that "objectivity."

"I think the big change in newspapers came with the Martin Luther King campaigns for Negro rights," Heisler said. "I think an awful lot of editors in the country said, 'Look, here is this horrible situation. The way Negroes are being treated, how they were being treated. We didn't do anything about it, and we should have been. We should have been yelling about it.'

"And I guess that was a pretty good criticism.

"I think that started the thing of becoming less objective, of more campaigning in the news columns and taking more adversarial positions. That started the whole thing. There was a very definite change."

Revision was past due. Two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, Baltimore erupted.

"I remember sitting in my office on the fifth floor looking out. It was in the back there, and at one time I saw five fires. You could see smoke in five different places at one time," Heisler said.

Heisler was looking at the Gay Street corridor.

"Then they put a curfew in and put the National Guard out and everyone had to be off the street by 6 o'clock.

"I drove all the way up Charles Street. Didn't pass another automobile, saw absolutely no one on the street, except a couple of soldiers on the street corners," Heisler said. "And all the houses had the lights on inside. You didn't see anybody.

Baltimore was irrevocably changed. And Baltimore journalism changed with it.

Heisler's next city editor, Phil Evans, was younger, imaginative and creative. He began the process of opening up The Evening " Sun to new ideas, leads, even typography and makeup that continued under the even younger newsmen who followed: Ernie Imhoff, Bob Keller, Bill Hawkins.

Then came the Pulitzers

News and newspapering were redefined. Newspapers began covering and reporting broader trends, cultural and sociological changes, writing more dramatic stories.

In 1979, The Evening Sun won its first Pulitzer with a brilliant, minute-by-minute account of a brain surgeon at work by Jon Franklin, the bearded, rumpled science writer. Six years later Franklin repeated with another Pulitzer, for explanatory feature writing.

The Evening Sun became focused even more closely on Baltimore under Jack Lemmon, the managing editor who followed Heisler, and Reg Murphy, the first Sunpapers president to come from outside the company since Paul Patterson.

But even in a paper full of wide-measure type, full-color pictures and action graphics, the old impudence and irreverence survived.

The Evening Sun continued to be able to irritate time servers, stuffed shirts and pecksniffs, annoy pompous mayors and celebrate guys and dolls characters like Harry the Horse, Mr. Diz and Photo Lewis. And it sometimes found the troubled heart of this aging, battered and idiosyncratic city.

But The Evening Sun remained a hopelessly urban newspaper, the paper of the Baltimore of streetcars and blue-collar jobs, of summer nights without air-conditioning, of front stoops and screened porches, the Orioles and the Colts in Memorial Stadium, hand-built vacation shores on the Middle River or Rivera Beach, 24-hour barber shops, steam baths and bookies on The Block, steamed crabs and National Boh.

The old paper that headlined bank jobs and double murders with eight-column streamers always did seem a little gawky in suburban shopping malls - like the homely girl of Mr. Mencken's epitaph.

So some of us will mark the passing of The Evening Sun today trying to please his ghost with a wink of the eye.

If only, perhaps, to blink away a tear.

Portions of this article by Carl Schoettler, an Evening Su reporter for more than three decades, appeared on the occasion of The Evening Sun's 75th anniversary.

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