Thursday, August 07, 2008

Homer Davenport Days

It isn't every day that hundreds of people turn out for a day honoring an editorial cartoonist, particularly a mostly-forgotten cartoonist born in the 19th century.

Above: these athletic young women perform energetically in this year's Homer Davenport Days, an annual event held in Silverton, OR honoring editorial cartoonist Homer Davenport. I'm sure he would have admired their lithe forms.

Yes, the whole town of Silverton has a parade in honor of cartoonist Homer Davenport (1867-1912) and hundreds turn out according to this article in the Statesman-Journal. There's even a (non-rights grabbing) cartoon contest. The winners are here.

Homer is from Silverton and, despite roaming the world and working in both San Francisco and New York, he remained quite attached and sentimental about the small town.

When he was little, Homer had a bout with smallpox and his face remained scarred by the disease. His Mom died young, a victim of that same smallpox epidemic. Her dying words to Homer's Dad were "... my prophecy … my dream … [is] my little son will be a cartoonist. Give him every opportunity" according to a wonderful bio by Walt Curtis here.

Small town boy Homer was sent to San Francisco in 1892 by his Dad, to study art formally and get a job. Despite being scoffed at by the staff at the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner for his home-spun, unschooled style, Homer stayed on. Story has it that Hearst and Davenport became like brothers. Hard to believe that someone like Hearst would get on famously with a kid from the sticks, but there it is. His provocative cartoons were liked by both the people and Hearst. In his day, Davenport was, in the tradition of the great editorial cartoonists, like the Jon Stewart of the day.

He was perhaps responsible, maybe in an Oprah-supports-Obama way, for championing Teddy Roosevelt for President. Hearst did not approve of Roosevelt and the story goes that he and Davenport had a parting of the ways about it. (Especially since Hearst himself was trying to get nominated for the Democratic presidential bid.)

Homer was making $25,000 a year, and his work was syndicated nationally.

Davenport died at the height of his popularity. He and Hearst had patched up their friendship, and, despite illness, Davenport was rallying. After Hearst sent him to interview survivors from the Titanic, he drew a seminal cartoon of a hand reaching out from the water to pull the ship down.

From the bio by Walt Curtis:

"He suffered a nervous collapse, and was convalescing at the home of Mrs. Cochran… well known in mediumistic circles as ASSONATH NEYPA. [Homer believed in Spiritualism.] At the end, the eight doctors in attendance couldn't save him from pneumonia. He died on May 2, 1912 at 45. Was fatalism at work? Every element in his life was coming together. Yet suddenly Davenport is dead, one year after his father's demise almost to the day."

It was touching to run across the short news article about this festival out West, held in the town that Homer Davenport was, according to his biographers, always homesick for. The drawings endured, the prophecy of Mom came true, people remembered.


Robert Gidley said...

Mike--how could you talk about Davenport days and leave out the couch races!

Yes, they race couches (or Davenports) down main street as one of the highlights of Davenport Days. The couches are modified slightly with the addition of wheels and steering (since stock couches are awkward to maneuver). It's a hoot to see.

Apparently, this is done solely because of the coincidence of Homer's last name.

Curiously, at the Davenport Days festival, there's way more emphasis put on the fact that he was the first person to import Arabian horses. The cartoons are kind of a side attraction and you have to go hunting to find them.

Also, at the height of Davenport's fame, he angered the New York legislature to the point where they wanted to outlaw political cartoons.

Davenport Days is kind of a big deal in the Salem area. Every year the Satesman-Journal runs articles and usually a couple of pictures.

Mike Lynch said...

At first, Robert, I thought you were pulling my leg. But now I see that there is such a thing as Davenport races and I was remiss not to even notice that. Noe I dearly want to go and see that!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert;

Great write-up on Homer Days! Having been involved with it since its inception in 1981, we in Silverton hold a special place in our hearts for Homer. And contrary to what one of the commenters said, CARTOONS are indeed a big part of the festival, as we have sponsored an International Cartoon Contest for years, (I ran it for five). You also might be interested in my 2006 annotated re-issue of Homer's "coffee table" book of some of his best material, done during his Hearst years. The book, simply titled "CARTOONS BY DAVEPORT" is a must for anyone interested in graphics of the Gilded age.


Gus Frederick
Silverton, OR

ps You will note that Walt uses the same picture I do. I actually own the original, from which I scanned, and "Gaussian blurred" the background for use as a Homer Days Poster several years ago.