by Paul R. Spitzzeri
A trio of 1880s and 1890s Christmas season issues of Life magazine have appeared on this blog lately, providing some notable Yuletide content from the later Victorian era. As noted in those posts, Life appeared in 1883 as a weekly focused heavily on literary content, humor, and current events.
One of its contemporaries and competitors was Judge, launched two years prior by three men who were previously associated with another popular magazine called Puck. Cartoonist James Wales, embroiled in conflict with the editor of Puck, struck out on his own and was joined by writer and artist Livingston Hopkins. After a few years of struggle in competition with Puck, Wales sold out to William J. Arkell.
Arkell lured two of Puck‘s deep reservoir of talent to bring cartoonists Eugene Zimmerman and Bernard Gillam to Judge, but also tapped a groundspring of support in the Republican Party to boost the magazine’s reach and appeal. As the 20th century dawned, the magazine continued to grow in readership and, by the mid-1910s, it surpassed Puck in stature (its longtime rival soon went under).
In 1922, the still popular and influential magazine merged with an even-older publication, Leslie’s Weekly, established as a newspaper in 1855, and it appropriated from the Declaration of Independence the motto “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today’s highlighted object from the museum’s holdings is the 15 December 1922 issue of Judge, the front cover of which has the subtitle of “Do Your Christmas Smiling Early.” Like many magazines of the era, there is a wide range of content, including short stories, poetry, humor, sports (golf and football, specifically), entertainment (including the latest film from comedy king Harold Lloyd), current affairs, and an editorial section. Naturally, because of our focus here in mid-December on the holiday season, we’ll look at the Christmas material in the issue.
Unfortunately, a couple of pages happen to have been carefully removed from the magazine, so most of a short story called “Santa Claus & Co.” is missing, but it looks to have been a tale about a young man needing money for a watch for his true love, so he purchased cheap goods at the “twenty-five cent store” (our equivalent of the dollar store) and then sold them by advertisement in the local newspaper.
For the sports feature of noted journalist Heywood Brown, he wrote of his decision to select two All-American football teams, one of “the best we have seen” in person and the other comprised of players given accolades for their gridiron glory in newspapers, discussed with Broun by friends “and such like.” A cartoon shows the sportswriter dressed as Santa Claus and readying to put footballs labeled “All-American” in eleven stockings hanging from a shelf.
Speaking of cartoons and drawings, the front cover illustration by Orson Lowell is a particularly interesting one showing an au naturel Adam and Eve and many of their friends from the animal kingdom frolicking next to a fire in the Garden of Eden and is titled “The Original Christmas Eve.” Another, with the caption “Circus time for father” shows the head of the household leaping through a Christmas wreath held by his family while a passel of bills tumble from his pockets. Along the same line is a cartoon depicting Santa throwing a raft of bills at a man knocked asunder by what is captioned a “Weather Forecast—Heavy snowstorm.”
A cartoon shows Santa Claus holding his sack of gifts by a Christmas tree in a container in a living room as a young man, with family members sitting nearby, blurts out “Hullo, Dad! When did you join the Salvation Army?” Another example featuring St. Nick shows him with his head sticking out of a fireplace and saying to the homeowner, “I got stuck in your darn old chimney,” to which the resident rejoined, “Well, this is a stucco house!”
A fine drawing in color shows two well-dressed women walking down a street with a “five-and-dime” store nearby and one of them remarking “that reminds me, I’ve forgotten to buy Dad’s present.” A full page one titled “The Month That Father ‘Goes South,'” shows a flustered gent at the center of a December calendar.
Among the jokes for each day is the one for the first day of the month showing the man with bundles of packages and a caption reading “Shop Early And Avoid The Advice.” After other vignettes showed such historical events as the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine (the 2nd), Washington’s crossing of the Delaware “for no reason” (the 8th), and the birth of Nero, Roman emperor and “violinist” (the 15th), the 18th had “Gift Suggestion: Buy a L’il ‘Gat’ For The Wife” with a cartoon of a pistol tucked into a Christmas stocking.
The 23rd included a gift suggestion for the father, being, evidently, a scooter and, on the 26th, the day after a “Merry Merry X-Mas,” came “Indigestion” and a sickly look on father’s face. At the end of the month, on the 30th, is a the face of a black man and the caption “Siki Exponent of the Manly Art.” This refers to “Battling Siki,” the ring name for a Senegalese-born boxer said to have been born Baye Phal or Louis M’Barick Fall.
The fighter, who turned professional in 1912 at just 15, had an undistinguished record before joining the French Army during World War I, where he won medals for his distinguished action in battle. Returning to the ring, he fought nearly fifty bouts between 1918 and 1922, winning all but two (with one draw).
In September 1922, he faced off against light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier, one of the great gladiators of the era. Carpentier won the early rounds, but, in the sixth, after Siki knocked the champion down for the count, but the referee ruled it was an intention trip and gave the fight to Carpentier. After a near riot, the ringside judges reversed the call and awarded the fight to Siki, the first boxing champion from Africa.
Siki then lost a disputed decision, allegedly because of racism, to an Irish fighter on St. Patrick’s Day 1923 and his penchant for the high life added to his rapid decline as a boxer. A record of 8-15-1, arrests for drunkenness and fighting, and other tragedies ensued and Siki, on 15 December 1925, was found shot to death on a New York street, a sad end to a remarkable story.
Concluding this post is another stunning piece of content including an editorial statement and accompanying cartoon. The statement is titled “Who’s Hooded in America?” and concerns a topic followed closely by Leslie’s Weekly before the two periodicals merged: the reemergence in the public spotlight of the Ku Klux Klan and Leslie‘s editorial calls “for legislation to make public the membership” of that racist organization.
For Judge, the effort was “a logical, sensible and constitutional method of attack upon an organization as un-American as the Inquisition.” It declared that there should be no organization formed in the country that did not publicly provide its membership list and that secrecy “should be considered as prima facie evidence that the objects of the organization are illegitimate or criminal.” Moreover, “masks, too, should be abolished, or their wearers licensed and tagged like automobiles to insure their responsibility to the public.”
Concluding this remarkable editorial, the magazine added “all this is simply social prophylaxis.” Its precedent is the Pure Food and Drugs Act. Every man who claims a content of 100 per cent. Americanism should be so labeled.”
More striking is the full-page drawing on the facing page, titled “Their Christmas Tree” and showing a mob of KKK members with one shaking a fist at a lynched black man hanging from a massive dark tree. It’s a startling and powerful representation nearly a century after its publication, but also particularly stark in its appearance at the Christmas season.
Amid the general festivities of the holiday season, this editorial and, especially, this drawing are especially sobering—somewhat akin, perhaps, to this Christmas season’s manger scene at a Claremont Methodist church depicting Joseph, Mary and the Christ child in separate cages in reference to what happened with many emigrants at the border with Mexico earlier this year.