Baltimore Evening Sun (27 May 1911): 6.
Battle-cries of the uplifters:
- Boost Baltimore!
- Boil your drinking water!
And so we come to the Fable of the Prominent Citizen.
Once upon a time there was a Baltimorean who was a senior partner in a jobbing house doing a business of $70,000 a year. He and his partner had been schoolboys together, leaving the grammar school at the seventh grade. Then they had been stock clerks together and later on they had been drummers on the road, the one covering the whole of Georgia north of Milledgeville, and the other the whole of Georgia south of Milledgeville.
At the age of 30, each having amassed, by thrift and luck at poker, the sum of $2,500, they throw up their jobs and went into business on their own account. At the end of the first year their money was gone and they owed $3,500. But hope and hard work pulled them through, and by the time they entered their eighth year together they were doing a business of $70,000 a year, as aforesaid, and making a joint profit of $6,728, or $3,364 apiece, and rapidly gaining the character of good business men.
At this very time, it appears from the records, one of the newspapers of Baltimore was engaged in grooming a candidate for Mayor, and, as is the custom when such enterprises are on foot, sought spontaneous expressions of approval. In brief, it sent out, day after day, reporters who were instructed to find citizens who yearned for Googan, or could be induced to say that they did—if possible, citizens well known to the community, whose enconiums would influence the plain people, but if such magnificence would not talk, then anybody who would.
A young reporter, with that ghastly assignment burdening his mind, wandered down into the wholesale district and tried hard to get six interviews, for his city editor had sworn that the man who brought in less than six would be canned. He called upon 127 men—and got five. Where was the sixth to come from? Footsore and weary, the reporter stepped into a kaif on Lombard street to refresh himself with a modest mug of malt. The bartender, a gentleman named George, was an old friend. It occurred to the reporter that George might help him.
“Where,” he said to George, “can I find a sucker who wants to get his name in the paper?”
At that moment Mr. John J. Jimpkins, of Jimpkins & Slonk—none other, indeed, than our hero!—dropped in for a glass of vichy and—–
“Let me introduce you,” said George, “to Mr. Jimpkins. Mr. Jimpkins—Mr. Sneed.”
“What do you think of Googan for Mayor?” asked Mr. Sneed, proceeding at once to business.
“Well,” said Mr. Jimpkins, “I think he could be worse.”
“Can I quote you?” asked Mr. Sneed, and then he explained his mission. Mr. Jimpkins blushed—and it was a very real blush.
“I’d rather not,” he said. “I don’t like newspaper talk. I keep out of politics.”
But the insidious Mr. Sneed insisted, and Mr. Jimpkins was quickly won. Next morning the public learned, under headlines of considerable blackness, that Mr. John J. Jimpkins, head of the well-known firm of Jimpkins & Slonk, was unequivocably in favor of Googan, that he thought the election of any other man would be a public calamity, and that his opinion was fairly representative of the best conservative thought of Baltimore.
That night the word passed among the reporters that Jimpkins was easy. Next day one of them dropped in to ask him what he thought of the plan for widening Charles street to 200 feet and filling in the Centre street abyss. He said he was in favor of it—and the reporter asked him for his photograph. He could find none at home, save the large, tinted one in the dining room, which his wife refused to let him take, but he consented to sit to a photographer sent from the newspaper office. The fearful caricature produced by that photographer was duly printed, and under it appeared a legend stating that Mr. Jimpkins was one of Baltimore’s most progressive and successful young men—a man of action—a leader in all schemes for the advancement of the community—a deep thinker and a daring leader.
That, brethren, was the beginning. During the six months following no less than 38 reporters called upon Mr. Jimpkins and he was quoted in the public prints exactly 38 times. Each time he was referred to as “prominent,” “well-known,” “representative” or “leading”—sometimes all together. His portrait appeared 11 times. Formerly he had taken but one paper, and in that one he had read only the sporting news. But now he took all the Baltimore papers and searched them diligently for references to himself. Also, he set up a scrap book.
The rest of the fable must be boiled down. Jimpkins grew more and more prominent. One day a suave gentleman called upon him and asked him to prepare his biography for insertion in a book to be called “Eminent Baltimoreans.” Jimpkins fell for it—and was separated from $100. A week later the Hon. Rollo Googan, now Mayor of Baltimore, appointed him a member of a commission charged with working out a scheme for making all the streets in Baltimore run due north and south. Then came election to the Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association and appointment to a committee told off to induce The Hague Tribunal to remove from The Hague to Baltimore.
Jimpkins, by now, began to carry around a heavy load of dignity. Each winter he went to 18 banquets and wore out two dress suits. The Governor of Maryland spoke to him on the street. He was a member of 22 different commissions and 64 committees. Whenever a political campaign got under way he wrote letters to the newspapers beginning, “I feel it my duty, in the present emergency, to state clearly how I stand.” He, himself, was mentioned for the Mayoralty and actually offered a place on the Jail Board. Once he was even caricatured in a newspaper.
Finally came his crowning honor. A great Baltimore banker died—a banker so eminent and so bumptious that even Jimpkins, for all his own prominence, held him in some awe. The Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association rushed its secretary to the stricken house to claim its constitutional right to provide the honorary pallbearers. That right was allowed—and Jimpkins was appointed one of the pallbearers!
Alas, it was more than he could bear. All the way to Greenmount he acted strangely. On the way back he collapsed. A week later he died.
H. L. Mencken