La Jolla has a distinguished citizen in Walt Mason, whom
George Ade has termed “The high priest of horse sense.” A prolific writer of prose poems, Mr. Mason
has achieved international renown as the author or the “Rippling Rhymes” and is
regarded by many as America’s
best beloved bard. He removed to California from the Sunflower State,
after many years’ connection with the Emporia
Daily Gazette, and became famous while associated with that paper. In its issue of Monday, May 4, 1931, appeared
the following article:
years ago today, May 4, 1862, there was born in Columbus, Ontario, a boy who,
as he himself puts it, was the ‘fifth in a series of six sons’ of John and
Lydia (Campbell) Mason. The fifth son
was Walt Mason, known and loved in Emporia, Kansas, and throughout the United
States as the foremost interpreter in verse of the Middlewest
that has arisen—or is likely to arise.
No more than one such bard can be expected in the generations now
came to Emporia in October, 1907, driving his bay pony, ‘Billy’ hitched to a
rickety old buckboard, and carrying as the principal item of baggage what he
afterward described as a wreck of a typewriter.
He went to work on The Gazette
as editorial writer, and soon he had risen from obscurity to international
fame. His ‘Rippling Rhymes,’ printed
each day in more than two hundred American newspapers, and in scores of papers
in Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, India and Australia, are sought out
daily by millions of readers. Their
kindly philosophy, their straight-to-the-point truth, their
wide variety, appeal to an equally wide variety of readers. Their influence—wholesome, cheerful, keen,
wise—cannot be estimated. So strong a
hold has Mr. Mason’s work on the public that Who’s Who in 1931 lists him as one
of this country’s most distinguished writers.
He is intensely human, with an intuitive sympathy for those in financial
trouble or physical or mental distress.
Having known grief and trouble and hardship in many phases, he is eager
to help wherever and whenever he can.
Mason’s father, of Welsh birth, made a scanty living for his family by working
as a dyer in a woolen mill in Columbus. There he was accidentally killed when his son
Walt was but four years old. His mother,
of Scotch descent, died when he was fifteen.
He had attended a country school as he grew up, working for famers and
in the woolen mill outside school hours.
When he was nine he almost drowned, and was hauled out of the water,
unconscious, by an older brother. Ever
since his hearing has been defective, but he has overcome triumphantly what
might have been a life-long handicap to one less devoted to the work for which
he seems to have been born—the writing of verse.
death of his mother, Mr. Mason went to Port Hope, Ontario, and worked in a
hardware store for a year and a half, for two dollars and a half a week,
boarding himself. He quit this job, and
says his employer was a glad as he when he left the store. In 1880 he crossed Lake
Ontario into New York State.
There he hoed beans for a farmer on summer,
and says it was the poorest fun he ever struck.
From New York he decided to go west,
worked for a time in Ohio, then in Illinois, and finally reached St. Louis.
There he got a job in a printing establishment, and kicked a job press
through a long, hot summer. Always he
was writing verse, and one day he sent some of his stuff to The Hornet, a humorous weekly published
in St. Louis. The
Hornet printed it, and the editor wrote him a note, asking him to call at
the office. He offered Mr. Mason five
dollars a week to go into the office to write verse, read proof, sweep floors
and do whatever other work he was called upon to perform. Mr. Mason stayed with The Hornet until it failed.
He was unable to get another job in St. Louis.
Then he decided to come to Kansas.”
Here is the
story of Walt Mason’s newspaper career in Kansas
as told by him. He wrote this by request
for his birthday party in The Gazette—though
he didn’t know it was for The Gazette,
or for his birthday party.
“I began my
active newspaper work on the Atchison
Globe. I had worked on newspapers
before that, but always inside. I was
pretty deaf and it was assumed that I wouldn’t make a good reporter. But E. W. Howe happened to be hard up for
help when I applied for the job, and he thought he’d take a chance. I believe that was in 1884. The Globe was just beginning to prosper,
after long travail. There were three
daily papers in Atchison;
the others had telegraphic reports, and the Globe had boiler plate, so it
depended upon its excellence as a local paper for success. And there it shone. The way Mr. Howe and Joe Rank and I chased
around that town for news was a caution.
A Globe reporter had to work, but the editor never asked him to do
anything the editor wouldn’t do himself.
I acquired a sort of tireless dog-trot while on that job, and have never
been able to get rid of it. Even now in
my old age I go about three times as fast as I should and have to stop and lean
against a tree now and then. Mr. Howe
was the most industrious man I ever knew.
He had recently been recognized as a great writer, his ‘Story of a Country Town’ having recently been discovered by
the critics, and honors and emoluments were rolling in on him, but he never
slackened his activity on the Globe. He
would chase around town after local items all day and then go home and work
half the night on the book he was writing.
He published several after the success of ‘The Country Town.’ I recall the ‘The Mystery of the Locks,’ ‘A
Moonlight Boy’ and ‘An Antemortem Statement.’ They were good but overshadowed by the
success of his masterpiece. We had some
rather amusing tricks on the Globe. One
was to quote people exactly as they spoke.
One day a marble dealer said to me ‘You might mention in the paper that
my brother, a Presbyterian minister from Manhattan,
is visiting with us. He has black
whiskers about a foot long and looks like the devil.’ I sent in this item just as he gave it, and
the next morning he was around threatening bloodshed.
a good many distinguished men in Atchison
in those days but the shadows have enshrouded them all except John J.
Ingalls. He is among the immortals, not
because of his efforts as a statesman, but because of a little sonnet labeled ‘Opportunity’ and an essay on grass, and another on
catfish aristocracy. I always thought it
a lucky day when I met him in Atchison. Anything he said made a story, and he talked
in epigrams, even when discussing the weather.
He was greatly feared in the arena of debate; he had wonderful command
of excoriating language, but when he met a humble obscure reporter in his home
town he was affability itself … .
from Atchison to the State Journal at
Lincoln, Nebraska, and was connected with that paper and papers in Omaha for a
long time. Nebraska was swarming with big men in those
days; many of them seemed to have achieved imperishable fame, and now their
names have no significance, except to a few old relics like myself. Who remembers Senator Van Wyck
of Nebraska? He was one of the original insurgents, and
bulked as largely as Borah and Norris, and when he made a speech the police had
to handle the crowds. …
Sterling Morton frequently came to Lincoln
and I made several attempts to interview him, with indifferent results. He was a stately, dignified gentleman,
without any warmth or humor in his make-up.
He invented Arbor Day and held all the basic patents, and probably drew
generous royalties, but there is no basis for the idea that he invented tree
“It was in
Lincoln that I became quite intimately acquainted with a young attorney named
William J. Bryan, who was attracting some attention as an orator. When I first knew him he hadn’t advanced very
far. I wrote a number of paragraphs
about William, and he never forgot the fact as long as he lived, and was always
ready to do me a kindness. When he was a
young man he was as handsome as Apollo and it was a pleasure to look at him. I have read much about him since his death,
but none of the writers have done justice to his kindness and loyalty.
time I ate corned beef and cabbage with Charles G. Dawes in Cameron’s beanery
in Lincoln. He was ‘Charlie’ then, and had no idea what
he would live to make Helen Maria and the underslung
pipe famous. ‘Jack’ Pershing was then
military instructor in the university and I remember him as a lithe, active
young man, straight as a proverbial ramrod, and full of pep. A few weeks ago I had a kind letter from him,
recalling the old days when we were neighbors in Lincoln.
“Lincoln is the seat of the State University,
and the Journal office was frequented by many students, looking for some little
work that would help them out on their meal tickets. Among these students was an attractive girl
from Red Cloud who had contributed a few little articles which displayed much
talent. There was an old dead town, Brownsville, on the Missouri River,
which had figured prominently in the early history of the state and had turned
out several famous citizens. It occurred
to the managing editor that a story about Brownsville
would make a good Sunday feature, and he invited the Red Cloud girl to tackle
the job. She went down there with her
fountain pen and wrote a story that made the whole state sit up. It was remarkably fine piece of work and the
story may be found in countless Nebraska
scrapbooks, even to this day. The Red
Cloud girl was Willa Cather, now one of the world’s foremost novelists, and
this was the beginning of her career.
“I was in Omaha, working on the World-Herald, side by side with Mrs. Peattie, another of several best sellers, when, in 1892, a
new evening paper was establish in Washington, D. C. Mr. Bryan, who had and exaggerated idea of my
ability as a writer, went around the publishers and got me a job as editorial paragrapher and columnist.
No newspaper ever had a more promising beginning. The majority of the men on the editorial
staff were stars, several of them being famous, and several others were to
become famous. I never saw so many
gifted men in one enterprise, and I felt like a blacksmith in such a
company. But they were all kind to me,
and made me feel at home, and I got along quite well. Never did a newspaper begin business with
more flattering prospects. The paper was
bright, aggressive and newsy and made a hit with the first issue. The advertisers were liberal, and the
circulation climbed every day. Then came ’93 with its famous panic, and gloom settled on everything. The banks quit paying depositors until they
got good and ready, you couldn’t borrow fifty cents on a house and lot, and
people who had been opulent were trying to pawn their hats. Naturally a new paper had no chance in such a
cataclysm. I saw the end approaching,
and while I had the price I decided to get back to Nebraska, which I did.
was working on the Washington
paper James G. Blaine died and the managing editor told me to write an
obituary. I went to work and had it
written in half an hour. It caused much
comment, and among those who wrote in, expressing appreciation, were members of
family. A day or two after the
editorial appeared the managing editor summoned me. He was quite excited and said, ‘You are
greatly honored. Mrs. Frances Hodgson
Burnett has sent word that she would be pleased to see the author of the Blaine eulogy; she will
expect you at her home at four o’clock tomorrow.’ Mrs. Burnett, author of ‘Little Lord
Fauntleroy’ and other famous books, had a wonderful
prestige in Washington. She was a sort of empress dowager there. As the managing editor explained, such an
invitation from her was a royal command.
She was always eager to encourage budding talent, and it was like being
knighted by the king to be summoned to her mansion. The next day I started for her home, going at
my old Atchison Globe dog-trot, and was all in a lather of sweat when I reached
her door. I had imagined her as a
comfortable old lady, living in a vine-covered cottage with a couple of cats
and a canary, and was surprised to find that she lived in a palatial house with
a retinue of servants in regimentals.
There I saw my first butler, except for the stuffed butlers in the
museums. I was ushered into a large room
where there were many men and women in fine attire. Mrs. Burnett greeted me kindly and pretended
she didn’t see how I was sweating. She
tried heroically to set me at my ease, and after some pleasant conversation,
invited me to read the eulogy to the assembled guests. I was so scared and rattle I couldn’t do so,
and she handed the clipping to a young man with beautiful mahogany-colored
whiskers, who read it with much feeling.
The folks came up and congratulated me and I did some more sweating, fell
over a chair, got my feet tangled up in a rug, and finally made a rush for the
door, dodged the butler and got away.
The young man with the beautiful whiskers has long been a famous
novelist. He has published two best sellers and is truly
time I had an interview more to my taste.
I had a long heart-to-heart talk with John L. Sullivan, who had been one
of my heroes for years. Before leaving Washington I had the honor of colliding with David B.
Hill, the great man of New York. I was going around a corner in a useless
hurry and slammed up against him. I
gathered up his hat and cane and began apologizing, saying I would pay for any
damage to his headlights and radiator.
He didn’t say anything but the coldly malevolent glance he gave me still
sends a shiver down my spine when I think of it.”
In 1893 Mr.
Mason was married to Miss Ella Foss at Wooster,
Ohio. In 1921 they moved to La Jolla, California,
and here they have since resided in their beautiful home by the sea. A few years ago Mrs. Mason took up pottery and
she is never happier than when modeling clay into beautiful shapes and
figures. Mr. and Mrs. Mason have a
daughter, Mary, whom they adopted while living in Emporia and who is the pride and joy of her
foster-parents. She was graduated from The
Bishop’s School, a college preparatory institution at La Jolla, and also took a
course in a business college at San Diego.
A member of
the editorial staff of the Emporia
Gazette recently said of Mr. Mason:
“He sees in trivial and insignificant happening the making of a story or
a rhyme, and forthwith makes it. His
copy is a delight to editors, printers and proofreaders. Always his reading has been extensive, and he
knows so much about out-of –the-way and queer and peculiar things and peoples
and countries as to seem almost uncanny.
He stores in his mind all he reads and his deafness in this respect is
an asset. He is not disturbed by noise
and confusion but can read straight through a riot without losing a line. For many years he wrote his syndicate stuff
in The Gazette office to the
accompaniment of typewriters, job presses, news presses, linotype machines and
the numberless weird and jarring noises that infest a newspaper office, and was
not troubled thereby.
is a prolific writer, writing with ease and sureness on hundreds of
subjects. In the past quarter of a
century he has written scores of magazine articles for foremost publications in
the United States. He has turned out thousands of the prose
poems that appear in the dailies and still writes these for large
clientele. His books are: ‘Uncle Walt,’
published in 1910; ‘Walt Mason’s Business Prose Poems,’ 1911; ‘Rippling
Rhymes,’ 1913; ‘Horse Sense,’ 1915; ‘Terse Verse,’ 1917; and ‘Walt Mason His
Book,’ 1918. Ill health the past few
years has compelled him to slow up on the writing game but he maintains the
same interest in the world and its doings.”
following are a few of the tributes that have been paid to Walt Mason by famous
admirers of his ‘Rippling Rhymes.’
be sorry to miss his verse, modestly masking as prose, a single day out of
six. The reader already knows our
unfeigned affection for this poet, and we need not renew our protest. What we must say is that this work (play,
rather—joyful frolic, blithe, exercise of the soul!) seems not to have lost its
freshness after a succession of say two or three thousand days. But this is the least wonder of it. The wisdom, the kindness, the unswerving right-mindedness,
is always there, with the beauty which comes of these and a true sense of
life.” –William Dean Howells in Harpers Magazine.
Mason’s little sermonettes in rhyme are gospels, and
they are going about doing good.” – Robert J.
millions of people are cheered year by year as they turn every day to these
Three strong talents have given Walt Mason his standing. First, originality of expression; he imitates
no one, and his word combinations are positively unique and generally immensely
funny. Second, he has common sense and
does not go off at a tangent about any fad, ism or creed; his creed is the
wisdom of the people. Third, he
sometimes reveals fine, strong, manly sentiment of the first order. Read ‘The Journey’ or ‘The Eyes of Lincoln,’
and the real poet- not the rhyme maker-will appear to you. Walt Mason is the poet laureate of American
democracy.” –William Allen White
burbles and gurgles like a Kansas
creek where the bullheads gambol. Walt
Whitman wrote poetry that did not rhyme; Walt Mason writes prose that does. Walt Mason is a big man who does thing so
simply that we say ‘anybody can write like that.’ Suppose you try it. It is beautiful to find a man who has been
will licked but who has no kick coming. It is a great thing to reform the world and
never let the world know it.” –Elbert Hubbard.
Mr. Mason’s own favorite ‘Rippling Rhyme’ is entitled:
THE LITTLE GREENT
green tents where the soldiers sleep, and the sunbeams play and the women weep,
are covered with flowers today; and between the tents walk the weary few, who
were young and stalwart in ‘sixty-two, when they went to the war away. The little green tents are built of sod, and
they are not long, and they are not broad, but the soldiers have lots of room;
and the sod is part of the land they saved, when the flag of enemy darkly
waved, the symbol of dole and doom. The
little green tent is a divine thing; the little green tent is a country’s
shrine, where patriots kneel and pray; and the brave men left, so old, so few,
were young and stalwart in ‘sixty-two, when they went to the war away!
The following is also considered by many as one of the
finest examples of his muse:
THE EYES OF LINCOLN
that were patient and tender, sad eyes that were steadfast and true, and warm
with the unchanging splendor of courage no ills could subdue! Eyes dark with the dread of
the morrow, and woe for the day that was gone, the sleepless companions of
sorrow, the watcher that witness the dawn. Eyes tired from the clamor
and goading, and dim from the stress of the years, and hallowed by pain and
foreboding, and strained by repression of tears. Sad eyes that were wearied and blighted by
visions of sieges and wars, now watch o’er a country united form the luminous
slopes of the stars!
By: Michele Y. Larsen on March 18, 2012.
of the South Vol. II,
by John Steven McGroarty, Pages
171-181, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles,
© 2012 Michele
GOLDEN NUGGET'S SAN DIEGO
GOLDEN NUGGET INDEX