The Optimist: Baseball Themes in Bert J. Griswold's Fort Wayne Editorial Cartoons

By Baas, Christopher | Nine, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

The Optimist: Baseball Themes in Bert J. Griswold's Fort Wayne Editorial Cartoons


Baas, Christopher, Nine


In Bert J. Griswold's entire journalistic career he never admitted to being a baseball fan, but surely he was. As a daily cartoonist for two Fort Wayne, Indiana, newspapers, he routinely incorporated images of baseball into his work to help explain much broader and, in some respects, more important issues. His illustrations display a keen understanding of the game's role in early twentieth-century culture and show us, nearly a century later, that the game was an integral part of citizens' lives in a midsize industrial Midwestern city.

Born in 1873 in Osage, Iowa, Griswold started his career at his hometown newspaper. Following stints in Waterloo, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis, he finally settled at the Fort Wayne News in 1902. "As a cartoonist," his biography reads, "he exercised great and political civic influence, for while pursuing his work with great vigor and success there was a good nature and a wit about it which robbed his cartoons of their sting without lessening their force." (1) Cartoons Magazine explained how other papers often copied his cartoons and editors found his illustrations "far ahead of [Harper's Weekly's] Thomas Nast" and "worthy of [Chicago Tribune's John T.] McCutcheon at his best." (2) After three years with the Fort Wayne Sentinel, Griswold retired from cartooning in 1915 and ran his own advertising agency until his death in 1927. He also published a variety of books, including the Griswold-Phelps Handbook and Guide to Ft. Wayne, Indiana (1913), which presented perhaps the first printed history of Fort Wayne baseball. His monumental Pictorial History of Fort Wayne (1917) and Builders of Greater Fort Wayne (1926) remain staples of local historical research.

When Griswold arrived in Fort Wayne, the city already had a rich baseball history. In the 1871 National Association, Fort Wayne fielded the Kekiongas, a venture that lasted less than a full season. In 1883, the city hosted the first game played under lights involving at least one professional team. The local paper thought the technology better suited for horse racing than "ball tossing." (3) The "World Championship" was also decided that year in Fort Wayne at the neutral Swinney Park when Chicago defeated Providence. But for Bert Griswold, baseball meant the Fort Wayne Bilikens of the Central League, a league that, depending on the year, hosted teams from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The city won pennants in 1903, 1904, and 1912.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Griswold's cartoons were typically the lone graphic on the paper's cover, printed just below the banner in the sea of headlines that characterized early twentieth-century reporting. He was most talented at caricaturing public figures, commonly drawn with large heads on undersized bodies. Griswold often portrayed the city as a beautiful brunette, and hayseeds illustrated activities deemed uncivilized. Griswold's "dingbat"--a cartoonist's trademark mascot used to communicate additional editorial commentary, which perhaps even acted as Griswold's voice in some cases--was a wide-eyed, floppy-eared rabbit whose name has been lost to history. The cartoonist was effective at communicating emotion through the expressions of his subjects; joy, anger, guilt, melancholy, and, as we shall see, optimism and enthusiasm. The sample of cartoons presented here appeared in the Fort Wayne Sentinel and Fort Wayne News between 1909 and 1914. They are grouped into three themes: cartoons using the national pastime to communicate social and political opinions; cartoons editorializing the behavior of baseball players and fans; and cartoons illustrating baseball fans' commitment, devotion, and passion for the game.

BASEBALL CARTOONS COMMUNICATING SOCIAL AND POLITICAL OPINIONS

Like many small midwestern cities during the early twentieth century, Fort Wayne experienced unplanned industrial and population growth that filled its factories with transplanted workers, congested streets, and polluted air and water. …

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