18 August 2009

Jocund Days of Sandy Griswold - A Premier Sports Writer

In a room above lower Broadway Street in New York city during 1874, Sandy Griswold wrote steadily with his pencil pushing across the paper, word after intent word. He started at 4 p.m and continued until 10:30 a.m. the following day to finish a 30,000 western story called Border Fugitives. It was sold for $100 and subsequently read by many enthusiasts of the genre.

The release of this dime novel of the "Wild West," was a distinctive and unique effort for a writing career started many years earlier, and which went westward to eventually become a distinct legacy for the sports and history in Nebraska.

Samuel Girard Veals Griswold was born in Marion, Ohio in February 1849. The family had a newspaper tradition in the state, as his grand-father was founder of the Ohio State Journal, and his father was once owner and publisher of the Lancaster Gazette. Sandy was writing sketches at fifteen and in his early twenties, moved to the nation's publishing capitol on the east coast. He put his pencil to work for the New York Sun in 1873, then soon at the New York Weekly, when he also started writing the dime novels.

The Frontier Fugitives: A Tale of the Minnesota Massacre was also published in 1874. Titles were written to excite the reader with a vivid portrayal of the still wild, western frontier: The Lost Hunter, Along the Mohawk, A Tale of 1877, or The Rival Tribes of the Desert: A Wild Tale of Arizona and Wild Man of the Plains. In the 1870s, Griswold produced more than 65 dime novels. Some of the stories were reissued with new titles, 10-15 years later.

[column sketch of Sandy Griswold]

Sandy Griswold, dime novel writer and sporting editor for decades in Nebraska. This image was used to illustrate some of his weekly columns in the Sunday newspaper.

Being proficient and prolific with words, kept Griswold in a newspaper career. One of his first big assignment's was the Sullivan and Ryan boxing pugilistic bout of 1882. He was city editor for the Toledo Commercial and sporting editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer before arriving at Omaha in 1886.

His writing for the papers of the River City started with The Bee in 1886. During a railroad stop-over in the city, he visited the paper's office. On a challenge he wrote the "first real baseball story ever printed in Omaha." He became sporting editor, being the first in the Midwest to present a box score of a baseball game.

In the fall of 1887, The Bee featured a story on the nature of the outdoors: "One Day in the Country. The Pretty Legend of the Indian Plums. A Visit to Horseshoe Lake. A Picturesque Place - an Attractive Retreat for Rest and Recreation - Duck Hunting and Fishing." It vividly portrays when Griswold and a companion had "an excursion of exploration to overlook the prospects for fall duck shooting" at the lake, north along the Missouri River. "The blue vault was of that tender transparent tint through which we seem to penetrate into the unbounded depths," he wrote about the early morning, Sunday sky.

The area around Omaha had untamed lakes with wild fowl, prairie for the prairie chicken, timber and forest, brush lands for quail, and wet low-meadow, home of the indomitable jack-snipe. A multitude of other birds dwelled in the diverse habitats. Wild game was so abundant, especially fowl and prairie-chickens, it was sold as food in historic downtown stores.

In May of 1898, Griswold moved to a desk at The World-Herald, where he was sporting editor, columnist and feature writer. Nearly every Sunday he had the "Forest, Field and Stream" column. There was often also a feature story, some with installments spanning several issues. During his tenure as sporting editor, he managed "Questions Answered by the Oracle," where readers submitted questions about sport-related topics, with suitable answers provided. During the later years, his column was titled "Leaves from the Notebook of an Old Nature Student." The first paragraph of most columns were adorned with a decorative sketch of a scene with the letter of the first word. Sport reports and columns were done for other days of the week.

Some of his favorite topics were the game birds upland plover, prairie chicken and jack-snipe. He enjoyed writing about habits of the robin, the flicker or celebratory yellowhammer, diminutive warblers, the forlorn bluebird, the bluejay and other birds about the state's fields and woods. The colorful and showy spring flowers in the forest's of Florence were eloquently detailed in prose, the words faithfully set in type columns for the reader's of the coming edition of the newspaper.

He wrote on occasion about the "frowsy" coyote. His stories include details about "Old Limpy" and "Old Black Snout," two of the infamous gray wolves of the Sand Hills. The "legendary" Elkhorn was the place for a December day's ramble over woods and fields. Griswold enjoyed watching the bird-life of Turner Park, across the boulevard from his home near 30th and Dewey Street.

Among his favorite places for a duck shoot were the "ghostly" Sand Hills. At the Merganzer Hunt Club, owned by Charles Metz, owner of the Omaha brewery, Griswold went on spring and fall hunts at the Three Springs Lake north of Cody. His first trip to the "Lugenbeel marshes" was in 1893.

The club members also journeyed to the wetlands along Lake creek at the northern edge of the sandhills in on the southern edge of South Dakota. An Indian of the Pine Ridge tribal reserve showed some hunters "Lake Creek's haunted hole."

"Sunset in the sand hills! A golden light, as if transmitted through the windows of topaz, kindles a gentle slope upon the eastern borders of the Lake Creek marshlands; one sweep of yellowing verdure covers the remainder of the scene," Griswold wrote in November 1898. The hunters tents were in the foreground at a primitive camp in the wild lands of the northern sandhills. Transportation at the time was a steady, horse-drawn wagon that slowly rolled across the sand dunes.

He went hunting at the prominent lake district south of Valentine, enjoying a hunt with son Gerard in 1903. He stayed several times at the Hackberry Ducking and Fishing Club, where George Brandeis, "the dry goods prince," and brewer Albert Krug, were among the members, all which were Omaha business men. Twice he enjoyed a hunt on the Gentry ranch northwest of Whitman. Miles Maryott, the prominent naturalist and artist of Oshkosh, was part of the hunting party in a fall 1925 excursion to the lakes nestled among the hills of northern Garden county.

Griswold used fine words representative of a rich working vocabulary; jocund for one, with synonyms of gay, merry, jovial lively or mirthful. He'd write, for example, "Jocund days" to start a sentence of his dialogues with the reader. His first story from Horseshoe Lake used "revivifying." In 1893 he wrote about "farinaceous seeds" eaten by the upland plover. He talked about the "phantasmagoria of the past" when he wrote about "scenes that make the blood tingle" in January 1905. A spring 1910 outing near Brownlee was a "saturnalia of joy." His descriptive story dialogues poetically conveyed the nature of a hunting excursion or a walk afield where nature was something to just enjoy.

A notebook with pencil-written notes was obviously an essential part of notable outings by Griswold. He wrote in the summer of 1905: "A camp diary need not be prolific or detailed. The briefest mention and barest record will be sufficient to revive recollections of forest, field and stream incidents, to snatch one up from the surroundings of every-day life and transport them back to the old ducking days."

Some of his most notable adventures were recalled again and again in columns of the Sunday World-Herald. He consistently recalled events of the forlorn days hunting seasonal fowl on Prairie Creek near Clark's, along the fabled old Platte river. Hunting sandhill cranes and missing a shot at the rare and majestic whooping crane were subjects recalled from his treasured notebooks. The disappearance of the prairie pigeon was described in reminiscences.

During the years Griswold also contributed occasional sporting notes from Nebraska to Forest and Stream, a weekly outdoors journal. His writing was very popular.

The Wild Man of the Plains, a "story of the mysterious wild west" dime novel, was reprinted by the Sunday World-Herald starting in February 1910, and then weekly for several issues. The paper called it a story of novel and thrilling interest. Sketches to portray the story events were part of the newspaper version.

In April 1910, Griswold was at the Hanna ranch on Big Creek on a hunting trip. A prairie fire burned 25 miles from in Thomas county up to the Brownlee country. The ranch men went to help, while Griswold went to the "little prairie hamlet" to watch the "bedlam" and assist where possible. He wrote an exciting news account of the "demon fire" that jumped the North Loup river and threatened people and buildings until a shift in the wind's direction blew the fire past.

Nebraska's land changed drastically during the years Griswold did his writing. His lament was for the dramatic reduction in wild habitats and their flora and fauna. He was a champion for ways to protect birds, including an end to market hunting and spring hunting seasons. Many Forest, Field and Stream columns promoted game laws to help wildlife conservation.

In 1922 a profile of Griswold, then 73, was written for the eastern journal, Editor and Publisher. The story listed "big scraps" in the boxing ring from 1889 to 1904 for which Griswold had filed reports with detailed and distinctive blow-by-blow action. "Throughout the section covered by Omaha newspapers, Sandy's dope, his nature stories and his opinions on all kinds of sports, both indoor and outdoor, are sought by thousands of readers," said the article's author, Basil G. Rudd. "By means of the written word, he has established a personal journalism on the sports page like unto that which characterize some of the great editorial writers of a few decades ago." Griswold was a "virile, poetic, kindly, picturesque and prolific sportsman and sports writer," the article said.

Carter Lake - also known through the years as Horse-shoe Lake, Cut-off Lake - was created as a wildlife refuge in 1924, due to its regular use by migrating wild fowl. The city of Omaha passed a resolution calling it the "Sandy Griswold bird sanctuary." Griswold and a companion had enjoyed this lake decades earlier. During the years, different outdoor recreation resorts were established to take advantage of the lake. The water's value to bird-life continued to a greater or lesser degrees during the ongoing changes of the area.

[newspaper image as farewell to Sandy Griswold]

Goodbye, Sandy!

Sandy Goes

"I am ready to go at the tap of the gong" were characteristic words of Sandy G.V. Griswold, who not many days later passed to the beyond. Somehow, we had not thought of Sandy as an "old man" of 80 years. Of course he was not the writer he was in his prime, but his quick movements and his old impetuous way, his natty slouch hat or cap, his "cracks" at the world about him, marked a man who in many ways seemed destined never to grow old. And his zest for his daily task in "Sandy's Dope," his undimmed enthusiasm for the out of doors, kept him writing of "forest, field and stream" right to the end. On his sickbed he was dreaming of April days to come and in his mental wanderings returned frequently to the thought that he must hurry his copy into the composing room for the afternoon newspaper. In the hours of his illness he said with dismay to a caller, "Why, until last week, I was bursting with life and health, not conscious of the burdens of years, coming suddenly and smack into this bed."

Sandy's work days of considerably over a half century were to him mostly pleasant days. Beginning as a newspaper man in Cincinnati, writing fiction for New York weeklies than much in vogue, coming west, to locate accidentally in Omaha, he ever took a boyish delight in life. He won his first laurels as a writer of baseball news, his articles for many years being a feature of this newspaper. He was an authority on many branches of sports and his figure was as familiar at the ringside for a half century as that of any man in the sport world. But the work that he loved the best and which therefore reflected the best that was in him as a writer was his newspaper department in the Sunday World-Herald descriptive of the out of doors. He was not a hunter who went out merely to kill. His ventures into the fields and woods of the lake country and the plains were grand tours in which he was enthralled by the charms of nature in her wild and untamable moods and environments. he loved the wild flowers, the flags, the sedge along the lake shores, the crisp early morning light and the glory of the sunset sky. It was his experienced observation with the enthusiasm that was undimmed even into his later years, which, transmuted into his descriptive stories of field and stream, made them appeal to the hearts of thousands of newspaper readers. Although he was an authority, with few if any equals, on the out of doors in the middle west, he was not ambitious to write a book about it. His contributions to out of door magazines were much sought, but all too rarely attempted. He was a newspaper man writing for his day until his eyes failed and finally closed.

Impetuous, quick tempered, with a bluff exterior which ill concealed a kindly heart, Sandy was a man's man. He was a fighter, a man with seams in his armor, but a royal figure in the circle of his comrades who were many and notable in the years long gone. "Hard boiled" he seemed to many, but he was sensitive as a girl to his friends, grieving deeply as they fell around him while he moved on to the goal of eighty years of human life. We are reminded now of his farewell, printed in The World-Herald, to W.D. Townsend, a pal on many hunting trips, on which he said:

"Many golden days did we spend together, in the fragrant stubble after quail, on the river where the black bass leapt, and on the sunlit marsh where the ducks were, and that little sprite - richest rosewood in color - and the bird we both loved above all else - the jack. 'Skeape!' There he goes now, Billy, over the faded flags; can you hear him where you are - for you don't seem more than across the slough from me, this glorious wintry morning? Yes, I can wait - we all can - in time we will hail the hallo of the boatman, and then we will know what you know."
April 22, 1929. Omaha World-Herald editorial.

Laws in the 1920s rigidly restricted the pursuit of game, but sporting was still important. Migratory flights of fowl were dramatically changed - Griswold considered bird migration a big mystery - but there were still times for going afield. In his latter years, many of his columns were about the yellowhammer, junco, martin, fox sparrow and vesper sparrow, the blue jay and other bird life common to the parks and places with some wild character around Omaha.

In April 1928, Griswold wrote some recollections - "taking a long glance backward" - about his more than a half century as a sportsman writer. He was starting his 33rd year "on the good old World-Herald," he wrote in "Leaves From the Notebook of an Old Nature Student," the name of his Sunday column. He expressed lament for days with times that were gone forever - a glorious morning of long ago, when prairie chicken were abundant on the prairies about Omaha. There had been times when antelope and deer were abundant. He remembered magnificent mornings at a wild blue lake with a myriad of flying ducks and other fowl. His notebooks kept the details for so many experiences among the land, watching fowl and other wildlife. The memories were later wrought in words issued by the newspaper.

In one of his final series, newspaper writer Griswold scribed several installments of a recent outing with the "Boy" to the lingering wildness along Big Pappio creek, west of Omaha.

A last fowl hunt for the endurable sportsman was a final duck shoot in the sand hills for ten days in the fall of 1928. "Camp Gumaer" was among the lakes in northern Garden county. His story "Off in the Oshkosh Hills With the Lordly Canvasback" started in the paper the first Sunday of November, 1928 and continued for some weeks until the end of the fowlers times. In his characteristic style of describing each day's doings, a number of weekly installments described the times and events during the ten-day outing. In pursuit of ducks, they traveled among Black Lake, the Herman Ranch, Maverick Lake, Canvasback Lake and Wolf Lake, near Pawlet.

The last story written by Sandy for the Sunday World-Herald was left unfinished. A sketch of the writer with some little aspects of nature, stylized with the capital letter R were used to start the first paragraph of the last weekly column on February 3, 1929. At the end of his World-Herald legacy of decades was the sentence - "It was plumb dark before we went in to hash," - the final words of his story of the last outing after ducks for a lifetime of a man with such a multitude of experience in so many different sports.

On Saturday evening, April 20, 1929, the local edition covered the death of Griswold that morning at his house on Dewey Street, when 80 years of age. A picture of him covering a baseball game was on the front page with the headline: "His Pencil Won Him Fame as Dime-Novelist, Prose Poet of the Out-of-Doors and Dean of Sports Writers." A photo montage of the man with renowned sporting figures was on the front page of the Sport's section.

The Sunday World-Herald sports section featured a sketch with a caption that simply said "Goodbye, Sandy!" as Griswold, shown with his rod and gun, was passing to a glorious sporting world depicted with broad skies with flocks of birds over the river, hills and woods. A fond farewell from three figures in the foreground are the myriad of sportsmen, boxers and ball players that this sporting editor knew during a career of more than 50 years. The Sportolog had other reminiscences of a distinguished career.

Friends packed the chapel at the Griswold funeral on Monday as reported in the Omaha World-Herald. "It was peculiarly fitting that the funeral should be held on Arbor Day," said the article. The Omaha Bee story said more than 200 people "paid tribute" to Griswold.

Bishop George Beecher - Griswold was a "close friend" - gave a "touching eulogy." More than 50 bouquets and sprays of flowers decorated the casket. Beecher commented, according to the OWH article:

"His path was marked by smile and good cheer. ... God judges men by their motives. It is a pleasure for me to bear witness to the high quality of Sandy's mind, and the purity of his motives.

"Nobody who loves birds, the trees and the streams is unacquainted with God. Sandy, by nature, had a love of beauty, a passion for the harmony of nature and its lullabys. His was an artistic soul, and the products of his pen were never lacking in the spirit of high ideals.

"So long as men are men there will be a love of sports. But it is men like Sandy who carry into the sports wholesomeness and cleanliness."

There was also a special tribute to the writer, placed upon his desk at the newspaper: "And while the services were in progress, Sandy's desk at The World-Herald office was adorned by a single beauty rose, sent by 'An Old Pal," together with instructions that the rose be placed on the desk. Such a flower was often to be seen on the desk during Sandy's lifetime."

Burial was at the historic Prospect Hill Cemetery in Omaha, where his marker had a simple inscription - 30 -, the journalistic lingo for end of story. The family plot, off the crest of a hill-top, has a broad view of the bluffs and flats of the Missouri River valley to the east.

Sandy's Creed

"The love of nature born in me has had plenty of time for evolution. The ways and habits, cries and calls of the folk of the woods and fields, were my heritage, a part of my childhood, my whole early training. What I liked most was to be alone in the woods or open fields listening to their ceaseless voices, and the silent whisperings of my soul.

"Rod and gun have been my boon companions in the years that have past, but the greater pleasure has been the communion with God's creatures enjoyed with open heart and hand. In this glorious state of ours, Nebraska, and in those round about it, this companionship has been most wonderful.

"To hunt and fish are still my pleasure, but greater than these, is to seek, find cherish and protect them all — the birds, the beasts, the flowers, the trees and creatures of the waters. These are OUR heritage, which now I pray I may help pass on to those who follow."

Sandy Griswold was gone but not forgotten because of the fans of his notable newspaper legacy. Some Omaha sportsmen afterwards worked to establish a lasting memorial to a comrade of the outdoors. A bird sanctuary at Carter Lake was first recognized by an Omaha city ordinance. Prominent town men George Brandeis and Thomas Kimball, were on a committee of 50 folk that raised funds to place a memorial monument or marker in the city park now at the former Missouri River oxbow.

The people wanted to remember "Sandy's Creed." A tribute in the April 1930 Sunday magazine told the story of Griswold's "pot shot" of 11 geese from two shots of his trusty Parker doubled-barreled shotgun. Eugene Mayfield told the incident from fowl hunt on the Platte river near Clarks in the early 1880s. It was written to remember nationally famous Sandy Griswold, one of "America's finest sportsmen" and a pioneer in writing about nature, birds and other outdoor wonders of Nebraska.

This man may have been forgotten, but his legend is unsurpassed and denotes a myriad of reminiscences, so many recollections and such a vast array of history that his unsurpassed work is a pinnacle for a writer from Nebraska.

Griswold had two sons, including Gerard Coburn that worked at The World-Herald, and Rev. Latta Griswold. At Prospect Hill Cemetery, Griswold's widow, Gundie Coburn Griswold was buried in December 1940, two days after her 70th birthday. Katherine Griswold had been buried when 6 days old in October 1898.

No comments:

Post a Comment