Frank Eames (above) sits in his study at his house along Potters Road in Elkhorn. Frank, his father, Claude, and his grandfather, Francis, served as editors of the Elkhorn Independent for the better part of a century. (Tyler Lamb Elkhorn Independent)

By Tyler Lamb

Editor

Its been said a good local newspaper keeps the community talking to itself.

For the better part of the 20th century, the Eames family kept the conversation flowing in Elkhorn.

The Elkhorn Independent was established in 1853, and is now in its 160th year of publication. In 1896, a man by the name of Francis H. Eames, from a farm in Spring Prairie, came to work on the Independent. A move that would ultimately ripple across time, and inexorably link the Eames moniker with the budding publication.

“My grandfather worked at the paper while he was attending high school in Elkhorn,” said Frank Eames, Francis’ grandson. “After high school he began to work there full-time.”

In 1912 Francis Eames became sole owner of the tiny publication and incorporated the business as F.H. Eames & Company, according to period copies of the paper.

“He continued to run the paper until the time of his death in 1918,” Frank Eames recalled. “He died at a fairly young age. In his 50s, I believe.”

 

Crossroads

At the time of Francis Eames’ death a newsman named J. Walter Strong assumed editorial duties of the Independent, according to records.

“My grandmother, who worked at the paper, continued to operate it and hired editors,” Frank Eames said. “My dad, he didn’t want to be in the newspaper business. He was an artist. He was in school at the Chicago Art Institute at the time of his father’s death.

“My grandmother went through a couple of interim editors, and in 1921 there was a guy there who had a pensity for a drink. In the Easter issue of the Elkhorn Independent, the headline read ‘Elkhorn Churches Prepare To Celebrate The Birth Of Christ,’” Frank Eames chuckled. “Now my grandmother was a religious lady and so she fired the guy on the spot and called my dad and told him he needed to come home and run the paper.”

 

Claude ‘Mud’ Eames

Claude Eames followed the wishes of his mother, and in January 1921 joined forced with his brother Clifford Eames.

For the next seven years the brothers breathed new life into the newspaper.

By the time 1928 rolled around Claude had purchased his brother’s interest in the paper and became editor of paper as well as president of the company.

“My father fell in love with the job,” Frank Eames reflected. “He really got into it. My uncle, who was a banker, always said my dad ran the newspaper with his heart, rather then his head.

“That was his philosophy,” he continued. “There were a lot of stories that were unhappy stories that the newspaper had to cover. He suffered through all of those stories, but those stories got in.”

One of the more striking stories during Claude Eames’ tenure occurred on an unsuspecting summer day in 1933.

On the night of July 19, famed Irish-American mob boss Roger Touhy was traveling near Elkhorn for unknown reasons with three of his associates. Near Bethel Church on Highway 12, their Chrysler sedan hit a rut in the road and struck a nearby telephone pole, according to Frank Eames.

A local man notified rookie officer Harry Ward of the accident. Without so much as a gun or vehicle at his disposal, Ward set out toward the scene with the assistance of a man named George Wiswell.

Ward spotted the car just outside Elkhorn and stopped it. The occupants of the vehicle initially denied knowledge of the incident; however, Ward noticed damage to the car and confronted them with it. Ward insisted the men return to the county jail until damages to the telephone pole could be assessed.

Touhy, who was operating under the assumed name of ‘Morgan,’ argued the matter but was eventually forced to ride in Wiswell’s vehicle to the county jail. Touhy’s accomplices followed behind with Ward standing on the running board of the vehicle for the duration of the trip to jail.

According to the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, Ward and Wiswell believed the men were “fishermen from Illinois.”

Touhy was held while damages could be discerned. His associates were released “and walked through the park in search of a tavern,” according to reports. While they were gone, the vehicle was searched and a cache` of weapons was ultimately revealed.

“At that time they still were not aware of who they had in their presence,” Frank Eames said. “A young guy who worked for my dad, who was hanging around the jail, called a reporter from one of the Chicago papers who he knew.

“He described these people and the guy in Chicago told him it sounded like Roger Touhy,” he continued. “They checked further and finally identified the man as Roger Touhy.”

The following day, the front-page headline in the Elkhorn Independent read “Roger Touhy, Chicago Gangster and Three of Gang Arrested by Lone Officer.”

The article delved into all aspects of the story and at one point quoted a Chicago officer who expressed his astonishment that Ward was able to bring a man known as “The Terrible” to jail without so much as gun on his person.

“Brother, you are sure lucky you didn’t get popped,” the officer was quoted as stating.

For his part, Claude Eames, known as Mud by most locals, found solace in crafting the ornate political cartoons that ran in the Independent each week.

“My father was able to fulfill his love of art with his editorial cartoons,” Frank Eames said. “I think he was probably the only weekly editor in the country who was drawing his own political cartoons for the front page.

“The way it worked was our family usually got together on Sunday nights and my dad would sound out on what the hot subject of the day,” he continued. “Most of the time that is where he got the idea for that week’s cartoon. He labored long and hard over getting the ideas, but when he sat down to do it he would have it done in short order.”

By 1952 the city, already known as the Christmas Card Town, gained further prominence from a March of Time documentary about Elkhorn.

One of the stars of the program included Claude Eames, shown making rounds across the city in search of news or information for his column.

As the 1950s drew to a close, Claude Eames began handing over more responsibility to his son, Frank.

 

Above, one of Claude ‘Mud’ Eames’ countless political cartoons, which appeared in the Elkhorn Independent’s January 2, 1969 edition.

 

Changing of the guard

A third-generation newspaperman, Frank Eames took over operations of the Elkhorn Independent in 1960.

“This was something I always wanted to do,” said Frank Eames who began his career as a sports writer for the Independent.

“My dad was still active with the paper when he turned the reigns over to me,” he continued. “He still contributed the cartoons.”

As editor, Frank Eames quickly placed his indelible fingerprints on the paper. The first of which was hiring on a young visionary by the name of Herb Moering to work as the paper’s photographer.

Prior to Moering’s arrival photographic elements within the Independent were few and far between Frank Eames admits. All that quickly changed.

“I hired a guy who was a photography fanatic by the name of Herb Moering,” Frank Eames said. “Up to the time he came to the paper the only camera we had was an old Polaroid hand camera. Herb said that was ridiculous for a newspaper so we built a dark room and got him a new camera.

“The issues from 1960 until 1987 were just filed with pictures,” he added.

As time progressed, so did the technology associated with the printing operations. A shift from Linotype printing, which was the backbone of the newspaper industry from the late 1800s until the early 1960s, to offset printing stands out foremost in Frank Eames’ mind.

“One of the more remarkable changes in the industry during my time was up until the 1960s we printed the paper right in a building downtown,” he said. “It was called a letter press operation. The printing is done right from the Linotype metal.

“At that time everyone was printing their papers that way,” Frank Eames continued. “Offset printing was a relatively new thing, and an editor in Burlington conceived the idea of all the papers getting together and building a printing plant with an offset press. So we did that in the early 1960s. It was the first of its kind in the state.”

By the mid 1980s Steve Jobs and his Macintosh 1 would once again revolutionize the way Frank Eames did business.

“The advent of the Macintosh computer in the 1980s changed everything,” he mused. “When the mouse and the Macintosh computer came along I first saw them displayed at a newspaper convention and I thought ‘I’ve got to have that.’

“We were the third newspaper to switch our typesetting to Macintosh,” he continued. “It was really an exciting time.”

The technological nerve center of the Independent was changing and so too was its standing amongst its peers.

Under Frank Eames’ careful direction the Independent collected five awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association from 1974 until 1984. Most of which came in categories relating to page design and photos.

In 1987, after 27 year at the helm of the Independent, Frank Eames retired and sold the family business.

When asked to reflect on his tenure, Frank Eames said he simply tried to emulate the example set by his father.

“I tried to run it the same way my father would have run it,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved to see what I had written in print.

“Somebody once said seeing what you’ve written in print is like getting your back scratched. If you get a byline it was Raquel Welch who was doing the scratching.”

 

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1 Comment

  1. Bill Stoflet says:

    Frank,
    We loved this article! Did your father do a cartoon on Touhy? Would love to see it. Our grandson is doing a project on newspaper political cartoons and we are forwarding this to him. He is hoping to have these political cartoons exhibited in various museums across the country. Hope all is well with you.
    Bill Stoflet