Christmas in Salome, Arizona 1925

Happy Holidays to all!

This illustration of “Our Christmas Tree (unsigned but possibly by Claude G. Putnam)* appeared in The Salome Sun in 1925. No one imagined it would be Dick Wick Hall’s last Christmas (see prior post).  Dick added the following thoughts using  the sporadic upper case letters that became his signature and some deliberately questionable grammar:  “Christmas comes pretty near getting by here without noticing us much Much and Vice Versa and Nobody remembered it was Christmas Day until December 25, which happened to be Christmas day – even if we didn’t think of it . . .Archie Bald Doveface reminded us of it.… He also said Folks out here ought to Respect Christmas because Christ come from the desert – but Scar Face Scroggs says if he did he sure had Sense Enough to Leave it; all of which I don’t pretend to Argue About. . . . You can’t very well have a Tree out here where there ain’t nothing much but greasewood and sagebrush, so we compromised by using the Big Cactus near our Office and everybody had a Good Time excepting Happy Jack Aagaard, who volunteered to act as Santa Claus and had to climb up to Light the Candles and Get the Presents while the Reptyle Kid played A Hot Time on the Harmonica . . . The Frog got more Presents than anybody, including a Canteen of Water and a Bath Tub.”

If Dick Wick Hall were alive today you can be sure he would have fun writing posts about ways to improve life in what is now La Paz County (and used to be Yuma County), about the challenges of Golf in the Desert, the adventures of his Frog, the trouble with Easterners and promoting his latest business venture; many posts would poke fun at Society Ladies. And, as Dick was buried near this very same Saguaro, we will end the year on December 31 with a few observations about his ghost and his legacy–with some more insights from Tom Masson who thought Dick never really died. And he has a point about that.

Next month we will follow the Hall family to Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach, California where Jane kept on writing and made quite a success of it . So let’s give Dick the last word and see what he had to say about California: “Folks who have Never Been to California, or those who have Been There Once and can’t get back again, they all Dream of it – a good deal like Women who have Never Had any Pink Silk Undies, or those who Have Had Them and can’t get any more. California, in many ways, Is a good deal like Pink Silk Undies. It Takes Money to live in or Explore the Wonders and Beauties of California –and that is what a Lot of us are Working for –the Money to get either into California  or Pink Silk Undies – and Dreaming of the Good Times we will have When We Get There.”*

*From The Salome Sun. Putnam was the illustrator for the syndicated version of the Sun and for some of Dick’s stories.

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“A Genius Passed Away”

Encouraged by her father’s success with his now syndicated Salome Sun, and his stories in the The Saturday Evening Post, “little Jane” kept on scribbling. During the fall and winter of 1925–1926, more of her poems were published, and her biography of a little colt told from his point of view came out in the Los Angeles Times on December 3, 1925. Jane had high standards for herself and those around her. In a new red leather diary for 1926, she gave herself marching orders for the year:” 1. Don’t be so saucy to Daddy; 2. Be more conciderate. [sic]; 3. Don’t primp so much. 4. Help mother more.”

Within a few months, Jane’s efforts attracted notice outside Salome. On a fortuitous Friday in late March,* the Yuma Morning Sun proclaimed in a small headline on its front page: “ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD SALOME GIRL IS WRITER OF FAIRYTALE WITH MOST IMPRESSIVE MORAL; SHOWS GENIUS.” “Up in Salome—made famous by Dick Wick Hall–,” the editorial comment began, “where the desert is just a little bit more desert than anywhere else in Arizona, there seems to be something in the air that produces a peculiar type of genius.” Jane’s composition followed. “How My Wish Was Granted” is a first-person tale of a melancholy little girl who has gone swimming in a small cove. Suddenly, the voice of a mermaid barely three inches high, interrupts her thoughts. The mermaid grants her one wish, and a mere twelve seconds to decide what it will be. The girl does not ask for anything extravagant but for a wreath of coral just like the one the mermaid has in her “dark lustrous hair.” The mermaid is so pleased at this modest request that she adds the gift of perfect happiness to the wreath. The little girl admits, ” . . .the heavy sense of depression that I had for the last few days left me, suddenly, and I felt perfectly happy.”

But the mood in the Hall household had changed by the beginning of April. Dick Wick Hall had gone to Los Angeles for some tooth extractions and run up against severe complications. On April 13, he typed a note to his wife from the Hotel Hayward. He was desperately homesick; his eyes brimmed with tears when he found a rose that Daysie had left in his bag and a sweet note from Jane in his typewriter. The next day, Dick’s doctors discovered that he had acute kidney disease. Jane, her mother, her thirteen-year-old brother, Dickie, as well as her uncle, Ernie,** were at his bedside at the small Angeles Hospital when Dick Wick Hall died on Wednesday, April 28, at about one in the afternoon.

There was no question about where Dick would be buried. On Sunday, May 2, eight leather-skinned pallbearers carried his casket to a modest garden near the office in Salome where Dick and his daughter had worked so diligently for much of her childhood. And there he would lie for generations to come next to a tall Saguaro. In the coming months, friends erected a small obelisk out of quartz and other local stone for a man whose quirky characters, sage advice and wry humor had given them a reason to smile. The town of Salome still celebrates “Dick Wick Hall Days” every autumn. And Jane Hall – whose journey had just begun – paid homage to the most important man in her life in the way she knew best.

To Daddy

When the blossom graced the cactus
And the fields were sweet with hay,
When the birds were singing in the trees,
A genius passed away.

In the joyous month of April
Just two days from merry May,
A man who made the whole world laugh,
My father, passed away.

Of all the mortals in this world,
Our Lord has picked the best,
For on the 28th of April
My Daddy went to Rest.

*March 26, 1926 to be exact.

**Ernest Hall, Dick’s younger brother, was Arizona’s third Secretary of State and occasional acting governor between 1921 and 1923.

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How Did Salome Become Famous?

Thomas Lansing Masson (1866-1934)  Mentor to the Hall Family

In this age of social networking and instant access to information, it’s hard to imagine life 90 years ago when it took a lot of patience and more than a little luck to put a tiny town like Salome, Arizona, on the national map. That’s what happened when “The Salome Sun” came across the desk of editor, author and humorist Tom Masson. Born in Connecticut, he lived in New Jersey and worked in New York for most of his life. That didn’t discourage him from helping out a maverick in Arizona who poked fun of all forms of pretension in his desert news sheet. Masson’s enthusiasm gave everyone in Dick Wick Hall’s family hope – including little Jane – at a time when their chips were down. And what nobody knew until now – I certainly didn’t until I found some letters he wrote to Dick’s wife Daysie – was that Tom Masson became a spiritual mentor to the Halls even after Dick was no longer on this Earth in the material sense (as Masson would put it).

Dick’s lucky break came at some point in 1922 when a literary-minded traveler, Karl Harriman, stopped in Salome and picked up some copies of the mimeographed “Sun.” He mentioned Dick Wick Hall to Masson who had just become the editor of the “Short Turns and Encores” humor pages in The Saturday Evening Post. Masson came to The Post after twenty-nine years as Literary Editor and then Managing Editor of Life –the general interest magazine that Charles Dana Gibson took over when Masson went to The Post– not the photo journalism magazine Henry Luce launched in 1936. By then, Masson had written several stories, articles and books; he was something of a sage. In Tom Masson’s Book of Wit and Humor (1927) he recounted how he “got the Salome Sun man” for his column.

Harriman, then editor of The Red Book, told Masson about his recent trip to Arizona one night over dinner in New York City. He said, “There’s a fellow out there who has a frog that has never had a drink, although he seven years old.’” (Actually, the frog had never had a swim and could not have survived in Salome without a drink.) Masson was as intrigued as Harriman had been by the tales of Dick Wick Hall and his quirky little hamlet. He wrote to Dick, who before too long, (and after more than one request according to Dick), sent him a pile of his work.

“As soon as his humor was featured in the Short Turns page,” Masson wrote, “he was approached by a lot of magazines and is now – well, almost a national character.” Dick’s first contribution to the “Short Turns” page came out on August 12, 1922. That fall, excerpts of varying length from “The Salome Sun” appeared every week but, because Dick was preoccupied with his mines, only two appeared in 1923. Fourteen excerpts turned up in 1924 and three in 1925. Dick often signed these nuggets of desert humor and philosophy “Dick Wick Hall, Editor and Garage Owner.” According to Dick, The Post paid him $.25 a word “to copy and run” the segments from “The Salome Sun.”

Pretty soon Dick’s luck got even better. In the Twenties, readers everywhere clamored for good fiction and for a mere five cents they could have a lot of it on slick coated high-quality pages. In 1925, under long time editor George H. Lorimer, The Saturday Evening Post was one of the top mass-circulation magazines in the United States with more than two and three-quarter million readers. The welcome publicity for Salome increased once The Post accepted Dick’s short stories. The first of these, “Salome – Where the Green Grass Grew,” came out on January 3, 1925. He was paid well and in good company in the mid-twenties Post which featured authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, and William Faulkner, to name a few.

Masson also gave himself credit for energizing Dick’s and Daysie’s marriage: “One of the funniest things he [Dick] ever wrote was a private letter to me in which he said that his wife somehow never seemed to have much respect for him, but the day his stuff came out in The Post [sic] she said that after all she guessed he did have brains. I know that Dick won’t mind my telling this, because I happen to know that they’re both crazy about each other.”

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