The Press: Cleveland Centenarian

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On a U.S. lecture tour Winston Churchill in Cleveland once paid this compliment to that city's oldest and richest newspaper: "I think," said he, "that by all odds the Plain Dealer has the best newspaper name of any in the world." He referred, of course, to the Plain Dealer's name literally, not to its rating among world newspapers.

This week the Plain Dealer received far fancier compliments than Churchill's. To celebrate its looth birthday appeared a 402-page history of the Plain Dealer (Knopf; $4), by its longtime chief editorial writer, 65-year-old Archer H. Shaw. A labored labor of love, it added valuable history of one of the most famed U.S. newspapers. Like most such histories—and like the Plain Dealer itself—Author Shaw's book is dullest in the most recent decades.

In 1929 the Plain Dealer turned down an offer of $20,000,000 from International Paper & Power Co., had laughed at an offer of $10,000,000 from the Van Sweringens in 1921. Cleveland's only morning paper since 1917—the ill-fated Times (1922-27) scarcely counted—the Plain Dealer owns the evening News and Cleveland's only Sunday paper. Only the Scripps Press (p.m.) among all the erstwhile Plain Dealer competitors lived to tell the tale.

Founder Joseph William Gray was a testy little Jeffersonian who declared in the first scrawny issue of the Plain Dealer that "the stupid fool who cannot, in this age of thrilling events, 'throw some fire into his writings ought to throw his writings into the fire.' " Cleveland was then a mudhole of 6,000 population and six newspapers, including the Eagle-Eyed News Catcher. Editor Gray put his fire into nose-thumbing rhetoric, got himself sued by Horace Greeley, denounced by Charles Dickens (then touring the U.S. like "a peevish cockney traveling without his breakfast"). Bigger fame came to the Plain Dealer when its "Commercial Editor," Charles Farrar Brown, started a humorous column signed "Artemus Ward." Editor Gray died at 48, torturously, of having an eye put out by his son's cap pistol.

In the Civil War Gray's nephew by marriage, John Stephenson, turned the Plain Dealer into a roaring copperhead sheet. The small remains were expensively pieced together by red-bearded William Wirt Armstrong, who supported Andrew Johnson, fought the 14th and 15th Amendments, opposed woman suffrage on the grounds that it would turn them into "political swagerees, with a love of wine, whiskey and lager beer."

In 1885 the Plain Dealer was sold to Liberty Emery Holden, an ex-schoolteacher who had cleaned up in Cleveland real estate and Utah silver-lead mines. A versifying New Englander, Holden first tried his hand at editing the Plain Dealer himself. A shrewd investor, when he discovered his shortcomings as editor he looked around for a genius to run the paper for him.

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