Editor's note: This is Part 5 of a series about a famous Arkansas Gazette reporter, Joe Wirges, who ran for office in 1922.
Part 1: arkansasonline.com/718joe.
Part 2: arkansasonline.com/725joe.
Part 3: arkansasonline.com/81joe.
Part 4: arkansasonline.com/88joe.
A century ago today, Arkansas Democrats cast their votes in a hotly disputed primary election. This was our ol' buddy Joe "Gazette" Wirges' big day as a supposed politico.
The heat stemmed from a frigid and rainy day months before, April 4, 1922: During a municipal election with very low turnout, a johnny-come-lately (and highly mercantile) Little Rock klavern of the Ku Klux Klan got up a write-in campaign to oust incumbent alderman E.L. Younger.
But Younger was the Democratic nominee; and his only apparent offense was merely being a member of the Catholic faith.
Bear with me, Dear Reader, fun stuff lies ahead after we plow this dusty background.
Before April 4, the 1920s-era Klan claimed to be above politics. Little Rock ministers promoted it as a new, family-friendly club with sing-alongs and parades for decent folk worried about crime and trollops.
But voting against one's own party nominee not only appeared to be a sort of politicking, it violated rules, and opposition rose up. Anti-Klan Democrats declared that faithless voters' future ballots should be cast into the outer darkness. But a meeting of the Pulaski County central committee concluded that, no, the Klan voters could not be barred from the Aug. 8 primaries because a statute of limitations had run out.
After this meeting, the score seemed to stand at Klan 1, anti-Klan zero. However, as the Arkansas Democrat reported Aug. 6, something else happened at the meeting: A subcommittee tasked with assigning the election monitors called "judges" and the clerks, called "clerks," had appointed anti-Klan Democrats to almost every post.
The stage was set for protests and shenanigans. But they were mild.
On primary day, in Younger's home precinct, Little Rock's Fifth Ward, precinct judges challenged 75 out of 171 ballots. The judges questioned everyone who came in as to whether they voted against Younger on April 4. The Democrat reported:
If the reply was they had not, the voters were asked, "Will you sign an affidavit to that effect?" If they refused to sign the affidavit the ballot was placed in an envelope and the voter advised that his vote would be challenged.
In Ward Seven, judges tore up the ballot of James A. Comer, grand cyclops of the Klan at Little Rock, after Comer refused to sign an affidavit. He left promising to take them to court.
In another precinct, Homer Adkins, happy to be the Klan candidate for sheriff, personally prevented a man from voting because he looked to Adkins to be a Black person, even though he was carrying a white person's poll tax receipt.
At all precincts, Klan and anti-Klan pickets handed out lists of their preferred candidates. Some pickets wore a kind of camouflage — pro-Klan ribbons and also anti-Klan ribbons. And some of the lists listed Klan candidates as anti-Klan and vice versa.
Two people were arrested for scattering political litter.
So, it was that kind of a day. But in the pages of the Arkansas Gazette, the so-called campaign of police beat reporter Joe Wirges announced plans for his inaugural celebration. Here is that story, more and less verbatim:
INAUGURAL FETE PLANNED
“On account of rain and high water on the streets yesterday, the parade and picnic the boys were planning for Joe (Gazette) Wirges, candidate for constable of Big Rock Township, was called off. Options on the principal attractions were retained, however, and they will be rung into a program along in January when Joe's inaugural party is pulled off.
“Plans for the inaugural hoedown already are under way, and while it is too early to announce anything, the Wirges Committee on Arrangements is framing up the affair on the general outlines of the coronation of Louis the Golden, emperor of France, with a few details borrowed from the San Francisco World's Fair and the East Indian Durbar [see arkansasonline.com/88durbar/].
“There will be a banquet, also; something in the nature of Belshazzar's feast [arkansasonline.com/88feast] with the jazzier features omitted. The boys on the headquarters staff figured on giving a rehearsal banquet last night, but it was discovered that they all have meal tickets at different restaurants, and the restaurant proprietors refused to honor each other's tickets. In as much as last night was three days distant from pay day, anything in the nature of a cash-payment banquet was out of the question.
ADVICE TO REPEATERS
"However, that shouldn't keep anyone from beating it to the polls this morning and casting a ballot or so for Mr. Wirges. The legal adviser on the Wirges staff puts it out that persons desiring to vote more than once for Mr. Wirges should not do so under the same name. In case of a contest that would look bad, and in preparation for such contingencies, a large supply of selected aliases has been laid in, and it will be issued on application.
"Persons who are going to be busy on election day should begin at the bottom of the list when they start voting. The printers have got the constable's office clear down at the end of the list, and there's nothing in the Australian ballot that says it can't be voted Chinese fashion — from the bottom up [see arkansasonline.com/88secret].
"Mr. Wirges expresses deep regret that the parade was called off yesterday. You might say that it is a deep-seated regret. Joe spent the early morning hours before the fatal rain came up learning to ride his horse. Some of the staff that clocked the two over the course gave the newspaper decision to Joe, but any return bout likely would be won by the horse.
"Another casualty of the parade was Whistling Jim [arkansasonline.com/88jim/]. Jim and his horse and buggy showed up bright and early all set for the big doings and parked himself at a strategic point along Main Street where he could join in between President Mitterrand of France and Mr. and Mrs. King George of England.
"After a while the law came along and wanted to know if Jim was homesteading on that location, and subsequent conversation was between Jim and [Municipal Judge Harry Hale]. Jim had, as a matter of fact, exceeded the Main Street parking time, about an hour and a half, but when he told the reason he was dismissed.
ODDS ON JOE
"The Wirges Campaign Committee gives the popular candidate a majority of between 14,000 and 18,000. Two months ago it would have been possible in some quarters to have gotten even money on whether there was such a person as Joe (Gazette) Wirges. Joe now is listed as the odds-on favorite, and the best the bookmakers are offering is one to three, win, show or place.
"Cables from the Paris Bourse at closing yesterday said that Joe was selling on a heavy bull market, 96 points up since the opening. The pari mutuels at Epsom Downs, England, won't take any Joe money; and in Vienna, offers of 687 million kronen to a dime are offered on the favorite, which is about six to one.
"The special wire to Wirges headquarters at noon stated that a fellow in Petrograd had offered a $2 bet on Joe, and the Russian government's printing department has turned down all other work so it can get out enough rubles to cover."
[Gallery not showing up? Click here to see photos: arkansasonline.com/81fun]
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Celia here: All that fun boiled down to defeat Aug. 8, as Joe "Gazette" Wirges placed second to the Klan-favored candidate, Tom Brown. It was Brown 4,466; Wirges 3,465.