“The Beginning of the Slump” (E39)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, September 3, 1927
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


Guy Fawkes takes stock of the calm that descended upon the New York papers in the days following the flashpoint execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. The author expresses admiration for the purity and elegance of the “pre-war” layout (8 discrete one-column heads) which graces the front page of The Times, whenever that paper finds itself with nothing to say.

There had certainly been plenty to say earlier in August, and Benchley had read every word of it with ever-deepening disenchantment. The humorist had played an unusually active role in the public furor surrounding the fate of the railroaded Italian immigrants. Abandoning his customary observer’s stance, RB had returned to Massachusetts in order to offer testimony against Judge Webster Thayer’s conduct while presiding over this celebrated miscarriage of justice. All to no effect, of course, and The Times edition for August 23rd, 1927 had carried the following headline across the entire width of the front page: “Sacco and Vanzetti Put To Death Early This Morning: Governor Fuller Rejects Last-Minute Please For Delay After A Day of Legal Moves and Demonstration.”

Taking a last look back at this defining defeat for roaring twenties liberals and radicals alike, Fawkes applauds the Times’ unusually fair-minded coverage of the affair’s dire denouement. Meanwhile, in The World, Benchley’s fellow Vicious Circler Heywood Broun found his column contradicted at every turn by the copy that surrounded it, due to the paper’s cowardly capitulation to the supposedly neutral Lowell Report, which rubber stamped the preordained exoneration of Judge Thayer. Broun and The World would soon part ways. But Benchley singles out The Sun’s piece of Thayer theatre for particular censure, citing comments praising the judge’s gentlemanly conduct and refusal to engage in controversy with the “persons [i.e. Robert Benchley] who have most maliciously assailed him.” Satire of the first order, RB asserts.

In the article’s second page, Fawkes examines the kinds of stories that were apt to find their way into 1927 newspapers whenever the state found itself temporarily deprived of opportunities to engage in red-baiting show trials and judicial murder – notably, picture laden spreads on young female competitors at the Caledonian Games and other rural contests involving farm implements. Oh yes, and the Herald Tribune saw fit to sound an utterly unnecessary front page alarm when President Coolidge spent a little bit longer than usual on a fishing trip and found himself without an overcoat as the evening cool fell upon Lake Yellowstone.

Favourite Moment:
As if this were not enough news for one day, The World, in the same issue and even on the very next page, gives us a two-column photograph of Miss Helen Barnaby, of North Danville, NH, who is the champion woman scythe-swinger and, “until a day or so ago” [that would make it about August 23 – ED.] “the champion mower of New Hampshire.”

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