The spunky stepchild: Years of fun to day of tears Covering wars or uncovering anything, irreverent cast did it quickly and well The Evening Sun sets as 85

September 15, 1995|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff Writer

The Evening Sun elbowed into Baltimore journalism April 18, 1910, with the brash and lively self-confidence of an eager cub in an old-time city room.

It breathes its last today, a fading echo of that fine lost time when afternoon newspapers were on the front line of the front page and big city dailies had power, energy and glamour, and city editors were played by Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart and the reporters by Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable.

The first edition of The Evening Sun - scheduled for 3 p.m., according to the horoscope on the editorial page, but actually an hour late in the pressroom - had the slapdash, insouciant impudence the paper displayed until the end.

Volume 1 Number 1 looked pretty much as if the type were set with a sieve. The front page was half advertisements and half news, but in the four news columns, 24 stories were stacked up like soup cans in a grocery.

Mark Twain was dying. Suffragettes were marching. Chinese riots continued "unquelled."

On the editorial page a young man who signed his column "M" told Evening Sun readers they were a pretty good bunch and so was Baltimore.

"Let us be glad we are Baltimoreans," M said. "Just suppose an unkind fate made us Pittsburghers."

M's column was the first appearance in The Evening Sun of Henry L. Mencken, that prickly, prejudiced literary nonpareil who helped set the tone of The Evening Sun for the next four decades.

Three days later, as Twain was dying, Mencken wrote an eloquent and acute appreciation of "Huckleberry Finn," long before academic critics recognized the novel as an American classic.

Mencken's finest quality, perhaps, was his recognition of and generosity to good writers. He helped establish the tradition of superior newspaper writing that was upheld on The Evening Sun for 85 years.

Stepchild of greatness

The Evening Sun started out pretty much a stepchild of The Sun, a late-blooming Cinderella destined to sweep up the crumbs in the afternoon. But like Cinderella, the paper often outshone and outdanced and outdid its often stuffy, frequently stolid and occasionally pretentious older stepsister.

Nobody ever accused The Evening Sun of being one of the

world's great newspapers, as The Sun used to call itself. Giving the morning paper's slogan an ironic twist, Nick Yengich, a much-lamented Evening Sun rewriteman, intoned: "The Evening Sun, one of the world's newspapers."

The evening paper became and remained a carnival of youthful vitality, if not quite buncombe; the morning, a bastion of old guard probity.

The Evening Sun was a newspaper for writers with flair and irreverence, reporters with energy and humanity and editors with skill and integrity. For a while in the 1980s it was probably the best afternoon paper in America.

"It was The Evening Sun that was having the fun," Gwinn Owens said in 1985. He was the son of Hamilton Owens, the extraordinary Evening Sun editorial page editor of the 1920s and '30s. Gwinn Owens edited the evening paper's Other Voices page in the '80s.

The founding father

It all started with the splendid Charles Henry Grasty, a beefy newspaperman with a big nose, a bristly mustache, clear, searching eyes and an impeccable reputation for integrity.

Grasty had learned his newspapering in Missouri and Kansas. He had been managing editor of the Kansas City Times when he was only 21 and Eugene Field and Frederic Remington were on the paper.

Grasty took control of The Sun in late March 1910. When he

started The Evening Sun a month later, he plunged the paper into perhaps the most vital period of newspaper history in the United States.

Grasty was an extremely social man with great personal charm. He may have launched The Evening Sun because he liked to see his stuff out on the street in the afternoon and in the hands of readers in time for dinner-time conversation at the Maryland Club.

Newspapers were reaching the heyday of their power, prestige and influence. And editors and publishers never hesitated to wield their strength. Grasty, one of the last of the great "personal" editors, used The Sunpapers in a vigorous effort to help win his friend Woodrow Wilson the Democratic nomination

that led to his election as president in 1912.

Lively from the start

The coverage was extraordinary: four to five full pages every day, cartoons and pictures, minute-by-minute bulletins and the first byline convention story by Henry L. Mencken in The Evening Sun.

Mencken covered his final convention in Philadelphia in 1948 when the Progressive Party nominated Henry Wallace for president. But by then he was writing for the morning paper.

The Evening Sun provided him with some pretty stiff competition at that 1948 convention: Price Day, Margaret Dempsey, Bradford Jacobs and Lee McCardell, all fine writers and excellent reporters.

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