Pictures and words (17-02)


The new arrival this week is a bound volume of The Illustrated American magazine from the second half of 1894, with a couple issues touching upon the Debs-led Pullman boycott by the American Railway Union. The drawing above “Leaving the Works at Pullman,” is possibly not quite book-worthy, although a cover painting of Grover Cleveland in the uniform of the Commander-in-Chief is possibly worth using as his representative portrait. (Don’t anybody tell Donald Trump that there is such a thing as a Commander-in-Chief’s uniform — with epaulettes and a sash, no less! — otherwise he’ll be living the dream, strutting around like a South American dictator!) There’s another lurid painting “suggested by the strike” of federal troops with sidearms drawn on top of a train being moved through strikers that’s pretty obviously pure fantasy. The jury is still out on using that one… Bottom line is the bourgeois press absolutely torched Debs and the ARU for impeding commerce with their sympathy strike/boycott of trains pulling Pullman cars. I’ve yet to see a news magazine of the period that didn’t take the most hostile tone imaginable. He was a pariah to the ruling class before he ever was a socialist.

97-debsportrait-sm I found a great portrait of Debs from 1897 via his Wikipedia article. The image traces back to the Library of Congress, which is good news… The resolution of the LOC scan is not terrible, but also not the best (it looks great on screen, but preparing for the press requires much higher resolution). With pre-1900 portraits of Debs at a premium, it is good to find a beauty that is free and clear to use. This image will run in volume 2 since the first volume cuts off in 1896, assuming the resolution is up to snuff. It’s borderline… I tried to con the Library of Congress into a “re-do” of the scan with some heavy-duty resolution. They said, “Sure, just pay us fifty bucks plus expenses and we’ll do it for you”… Costs and benefits…

04c-debs-culverportrait-sm Ironically, about an hour after I typed the above I just had an eBay purchase roll in, a reprint news glossy by Culver Pictures, seemingly shot by the same photographer but taken about one pace to the left so that Debs’ left ear isn’t showing and with a completely different treatment given to the background. At first I thought it was from the same photo session since Debs was wearing the same shirt and tie. Once you put them side by side, you can see it was shot several years later, since the forehead wrinkles are more pronounced and the bags under the eyes a little deeper. The Culver glossy is a second generation of the original news photo so there is no date on the back, sadly. I’m not an expert on Debs’ receding hairline at this point, but I’d peg the new image as circa 1904. Resolution is no problem on the later image, but since it’s a worn second generation glossy it has been a bit of a bear to clear up dust and artifacts. Nothing that a couple hours of Photoshop can’t fix…

 Database entry of Debs works has been the main task of the week, with light at the end of the tunnel being seen at last. The total listing of articles, speeches, and editorials blew right through the 3,500 mark, with only the 1884, 1885, and 1886 volumes of Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine remaining to be entered into the master list. Then some cleaning and a little restructuring and it will be done — ready for new additions as we find hem. If Debs was active for about 50 years, a total of 3,900 articles, speeches, and editorials (a reasonable estimate) would work out to 1.5 per week for every single week of his adult life. That’s a bunch. Of all these, fewer than 150 have ever been reprinted in book form before (and these by no means having been selected by relative importance) — which is the very definition of the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.”


 I discovered that the National Archives and Records Administration in Chicago is holding a file containing 10 linear inches of material relating to Debs’ 1918 Canton Speech and his conviction under the grossly misnamed “Espionage Act” for speaking out against the imperialist world war. There are at least three associated photos (one appears above), court records, and probably stenographic reports of several of Debs’ speeches (the DoJ was tracking him with stenographers, set on making an example of him). I’ve made initial queries for this material, which fits chronologically into volume 4, to be published several years down the road. I’m sure it’s gonna cost a shit-ton to photocopy all that stuff if it’s not already scanned up — 10 linear inches probably works out to be 1500 or 2000 pages. What do they get, a buck a page? Oh, well, plenty of time between now and then to fundraise!

About carrite

Independent scholar from Corvallis, Oregon with a strong interest in early 20th century political history.
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