by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Those familiar with early 20th century Los Angeles journalism may know the names of Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, William Randolph Hearst of the Los Angeles Examiner and perhaps someone like Edwin T. Earl, owner of the Los Angeles Express.
Almost certainly completely unknown, but certainly a colorful character among media figures in the City of Angels during the first third or so of the century was Sam T. Clover, who worked with a variety of print media outlets after coming to Los Angeles just after the turn of the century.
Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the 4 May 1929 edition of Clover’s Los Angeles Saturday Night, a magazine of general interest that he published with the assistance of his wife, Mabel Hitt, from 1920 until 1934. While there are some items of note in the publication, Clover’s story is quite fascinating and forms the bulk of this post.
Samuel Travers Clover was born in 1859 in Bromley, a suburb in Middlesex County southeast of London, where his father, John, was a baker and his mother, Esther Greayer bore six children, of which Samuel was the second eldest, by the 1870s. At the beginning of his teen years, in 1873, the Clovers migrated to America and settled in Oregon, Illinois, a town west of Chicago.
By 1878, the young man was involved with a publication called Echoes of the Board, affiliated with the Chicago Board of Trade, and a member of the Garden City Amateur Journalists Club in Chicago. Two years later, in the 1880 federal census, the 19-year old was listed as a bookkeeper rooming with a family in the Windy City, but that year Clover set out on a world trip spanning sixteen months and about 40,000 miles of travel with a grubstake of just $50. He stated he earned his keep as a sailor, clerk, laborer, and performer in a circus during his travels.
Returning to Chicago with ten more dollars than he had when he started his tour, Clover secured a job as a reporter with the Chicago Times. After marrying Mabel Hitt in 1884, however, Clover set out for the Dakota Territory and worked for several newspapers, including the Sioux Falls Leader and was co-owner of a paper that specialized in humor called the Dakota Bell.
During his years in the Dakotas, Clover began to publish poetry and some of his work wound up being reprinted in papers in the Midwest and, on occasion, further afield in the country. He also published his first book, a collection of his verse titled Zephyrs from Dakota.
For a time, he thought becoming British consul in Chicago was his ticket to success, but denied that honor, he returned to the Windy City and took up employment as a special reporter and correspondent for the Chicago Herald. Clover made something of a name covering the well-known Johnson County War involving vigilantism in Wyoming, leading one historian of that event to label the young reporter’s work as full of “scurrility, bias, and shameless distortion” because of his exaggeration and stretching of facts.
In June 1893, he became editor of the Chicago Evening Post and held that position through the end of the century. In the meantime, he published a few additional books. One that garnered much attention was a fictional account, Winning His Star: Paul Travers’ Adventures, based on his world trip and which was given its title through a readers’ contest. He followed that with On Special Assignment: Being the Further Adventures of Paul Travers and, in 1900, Glimpses Across the Sea, more stories based on his travels.
Although he published an article in the famed Saturday Evening Post in 1899 titled “Things in Which Chicago is the Greatest”, Clover resigned his post with the Chicago Evening Post and left in summer 1901 to work on a book and write magazine articles. Clover and family, however, migrated west to Los Angeles where he became managing editor of the Earl’s Express.
A dinner was held in late September to welcome the transplant to the city and his new job, with guests including Charles D. Willard of the paper and a major booster of Los Angeles through his work with the city’s Chamber of Commerce; long-time local journalists Benjamin C. Truman and William A. Spalding, and Harry Chandler of the Times, which quickly became a bitter enemy of Clover as the two papers fought for a valuable city printing contract.
Clover, however, gained a reputation as a talented and successful editor of the Express, though within a few years he launched his own sheet, the Los Angeles Evening News. He used his paper as a platform to contest the issuing of bonds to finance the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which put him as a distinct outlier in this project of considerable civic pride. Though the Evening News soon failed, perhaps because its proprietor lost a $17,500 libel suit brought against him by a superior court judge, Clover still had some admirers and soon rebounded.
In 1908, he took over the management of The Los Angeles Graphic, operating that sheet for eight years, while also acquiring the Pasadena Daily News, though the latter did not survive long. In June 1916, he purchased the Evening Journal of Richmond, Virginia and relocated to the former capital of the Confederacy, remaining there for about four years.
During Clover’s time on the East Coast, his son Greayer became a pilot in the American Aviator Corps and served in France during World War I, losing his life in 1918. In his honor, an airport in Santa Monica was named Clover Field by the Army in 1922. After the airport was acquired by the City of Santa Monica a few years later, it was rechristened Santa Monica Airport and retains that name, though it is scheduled to be closed in 2028. A Clover Park and Cloverfield Boulevard, however, still exist in the city.
After his brief sojourn in Virginia, Clover came back to Los Angeles in 1920 to launch his last major publishing endeavor, Los Angeles Saturday Night, of which he was editor for two years before acquiring the publication. Among the regular features were ones on music, theater, sports, commercial and business activity, with a general boosting of greater Los Angeles for a clientele that was well-off, with advertisements reflecting the intended reach of audience. He also had several women writers contribute, including his wife, and he advocated some progressive views on women serving in political offices.
Though Clover did try to merge the paper with the long-standing San Francisco Argonaut, he found intense resistance in the Bay Area metropolis to associating with Los Angeles and he gave up the idea after less than a year. Yet, he carried on with Los Angeles Saturday Night, even well into the Great Depression.
There was also a Saturday Night Publishing Company that issued another volume of Clover’s poetry, The Mounted Muse, and Other Cadences, in 1928; published a few years later two poetry volumes by featured writers from the publication; and, in 1932, released Clover’s biography, A Pioneer Heritage, of his friend G. Allan Hancock, developer of the La Brea area of Los Angeles, and which included material on Hancock’s surveyor father, Henry, and his mother’s father, pioneer California winemaker Agoston Haraszthy. Just before his death, Clover published a book on King Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard based on a journal given to him while in Virginia that was purported to be from a great-granddaughter of Howard’s sister.
In April 1934, shortly after being involved in a car accident and a few days after the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary, Mabel Clover died in bed of a heart attack. Just a month and a half later, Sam Clover was at work at his desk when he succumbed to a heart attack, dying at the age of 74.
Sam T. Clover lived a remarkable and varied life in England, Illinois, Los Angeles (with a few years residence on a farm in Arcadia), and Virginia. He was a talented writer, an investigative reporter, a world traveler, a poet, a bibliophile, and more. Though he’s forgotten now, he should be remembered as one of the more notable and colorful journalists in Los Angeles during the first decades of the 20th century.