Robert Wesley Criswell
(1850 – August 3, 1905) was an American humorist, journalist, and newspaper editor. He was known for his popular essays and books under the pen name Grandfather Lickshingle
. After working at newspapers in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, he joined the New York World
, and later became editor of the New Yorker
newspaper. In 1905 he was arrested for criminal libel after publishing an article allegedly impugning Alice Roosevelt
, daughter of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt
. While awaiting trial for libel, and also under suspicion of defrauding subscribers, he was struck by a New York City subway train in an apparent suicide.
Early life and career
Criswell's first newspaper work was writing occasional sketches for the Cincinnati Commercial
. Later he was employed as local editor of the Independent
, published at East Brady, Pennsylvania
. From East Brady he went to Cincinnati and worked a year for The Cincinnati Enquirer
writing political letters from Indiana and reporting on the Indiana legislature. While at Indianapolis he accepted an offer to come to Oil City, Pennsylvania
and edit the Oil City Derrick
, assuming editorship in 1877, also establishing the publishing firm Boyle & Criswell which published the Derrick
A feature of his work on the Derrick
was a humor department, which was quoted widely internationally. He again returned to Cincinnati, to take a position on the staff of the Enquirer
, afterward succeeding to the managing editorship of that paper, which position he held for five years. Criswell was editor of the Petroleum World
, and his last newspaper connection in the oil country was as one of the proprietors of the Derrick
under the firm name of Boyle & Criswell. He published two books of humor: The New Shakspeare,
and Grandfather Lickshingle and Other Sketches
In 1878, he married Alice McCreary, a niece of former Kentucky Governor James B. McCreary
New York career and death
1890 promotion for "Grandfather Lickshingle" columns
He later worked for the New York Daily Graphic
and by 1890, Criswell had joined the staff of the New York World
In 1904, Criswell became editor of The New Yorker
a weekly newspaper established 3 years earlier.
On June 21, 1905, Criswell published an article titled "An Insult to Alice Roosevelt" which alleged President Roosevelt's daughter Alice
was being utilized by Ohio congressman Nicholas Longworth
to advance his career, and that Longworth introduced Roosevelt to unsavory persons, including racetrack bookmakers
and Kentucky representative Joseph L. Rhinock
, who had reportedly been indicted for stealing $50 from a man. A criminal libel suit was filed by Rhinock against Criswell and The New Yorker
, and Criswell was arrested on July 11. Criswell claimed that the article was written by a trusted Cincinnati correspondent who had viewed Rhinock's indictment. Criswell was released on $1,000 bail, with a trial set for September.
On August 3, 1905, Criswell, "evidently under stress of great excitement", ran down the steps of the 72nd Street subway station, ran alongside a train, jumped in front of the cars, and was killed instantly. After his death, it was revealed Criswell and New Yorker
publisher Robert A. Irving were suspected of engaging in fraud: Assistant District Attorney Paul Krotel stated Criswell and Irving had collected $6,500 from subscribers for a book to be called America's Foremost Families
, but upon review of accounting, no money had been spent on production, and no evidence was presented that any part of the book had been written. Krotel said Criswell "was very nervous and scared the last time he was here, and I am not greatly surprised to hear of his death".
After Criswell's death, Irving was jailed for the same libel suit.
Criswell's death was formally declared a suicide by the coroner after two witnesses testified that Criswell flung himself in front of an approaching train and then deliberately laid his head and hands on the rail.
The libel suit resumed in October.
The New Yorker
was defunct by January, 1906, when all that remained "above ground or out of jail" was a desk and chair.
Criswell's body was said to be taken to Aurora, Indiana
, for burial.
- The New Shakspeare and Other Travesties. New York: American News Company. 1882.
- Grandfather Lickshingle and Other Sketches. J. W. Lovell. 1883.
- ^ Two contemporary biographies written during Criswell's life state Criswell's birthplace as Clarion County, while a 2013 book states Criswell was born and raised in Aurora, Indiana. 
- ^ The Chickering Classical and Scientific Institute was a "select school for boys" that operated in Cincinnati from 1855 to 1866.
- ^ Not to be confused with modern-day New Yorker, which was founded in 1925 and is still in print.
- ^ a b Awad, Jenny (2013). Legendary Locals of Aurora, Indiana. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4671-0057-1.
- ^ Shotwell, John B. (1902). A History of the Schools of Cincinnati. Cincinnati: The School Life Company. p. 546.
- ^ Sloane, David E. E. (1987). American Humor Magazines and Comic Periodicals. Greenwood Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-313-23956-4.
- ^ Mott, Frank Luther (1957). A History of American Magazines. Harvard University Press. p. 86.
- ^ "Kentuckian Files Suit for Libel". The San Francisco Call. 12 July 1905. p. 1.
- ^ "Dies Under the Wheels of a Train". The San Francisco Call. 4 August 1905. p. 1.
- ^ "Noted Writer Kills Himself". Los Angeles Herald. 4 August 1905. p. 1.
- ^ "Criswell Involved in Graft". The San Francisco Call. 5 August 1905. p. 1.
- ^ "New York Publisher Jailed for Libel". The San Francisco Call. 11 August 1905. p. 2.
- ^ "Declare Editor a Suicide". New-York Tribune. 14 October 1905. p. 9.
- ^ "The Libel Suit Resumed". The Evening Statesman. Walla Walla, Washington. 16 October 1905. p. 1.
- ^ "The New Yorker Gone Up. A Desk, a Chair, and the Title All That's Left of the Paper" (PDF). The New York Times. 4 January 1906. p. 5.
- ^ "Criswell's Death was Half Expected" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 August 1905. p. 12.
Last edited on 4 April 2021, at 04:09
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