I recently got a reference question that required some real detective work and creative thinking. In the end, the mystery remained – but maybe you can help solve it.
This mystery centered on an image of a political cartoon found online. No original source information accompanied the image online, so a researcher needed help identifying where it came from. Most newspapers in the Serial & Government Publication Division are organized by title, date, and publication location. It can be tricky to find something when one of those key details is missing.
To start this search, all I had was the image of the cartoon. The cartoon featured President Herbert Hoover handing a screaming baby to the soon-to-be President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with the caption “It’s His Baby Now.” Based on the image alone, I guessed that the cartoon was published in the early months of 1933 leading up to FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933.
A lot of newspaper content is searchable in databases, but most often images are not indexed. Searching by keywords does not bring up images, although sometimes captions might be included. I did a few searches across some of the Library’s subscription newspaper databases for the cartoon caption just in case, but had no luck.
My first real hope was to trace the cartoon to a citation online using the context of where it was used on the internet. In image search results, the cartoon pops up in association with other results on the stock market crash and the Great Depression.
Out of three sources that came up involving multiple cartoons on the stock market and the Great Depression, only one had full citations identifying where the cartoons came from. Sadly, the baby cartoon was not included on the list. One source cited the cartoon as “original source unknown.” Another cited the source as a blog post in 2009, which in turn did not give a citation for the cartoon. Another dead end was a reference to a high school’s project to create a database of FDR cartoons from the FDR Library. However, the site seems to now be defunct and I could not find access to it.
Going back to the cartoon, I looked for more clues. Artists often sign their artwork, so I looked for a signature and hoped I’d be able to make out what it said. (Some signatures are very fancy scribbles and hard to read.) The first image I looked at was of poor quality and I couldn’t read the name in the bottom right corner.
I looked through several versions of the cartoon to find a better image quality. A stroke of luck and there was the name legible in all-caps: GREGG.
A great piece of information! But I still didn’t know if it was a first name or last name. I added this new detail to my search, searching for “gregg political cartoons.” Maybe I could find more cartoons with the same signature or similar drawing style that could in turn lead to a newspaper title.
The first two results of the new search both referenced a Paul Gregg. Although the references involved two different newspapers (the Denver Post and the Atlanta Journal) the signatures and cartoon styles looked similar to the original cartoon. There was also an L.C. Gregg for the Atlanta Constitution that seemed to fit the time period, but that signature did not match the others.
Following the trail of Paul Gregg, one of the results was an online catalog record from the Denver Public Library. The record described a scrapbook collection of Gregg’s World War II cartoons drawn for the Denver Post. Could this be the work of the same cartoonist Gregg? The record’s subject headings state that Gregg lived from 1876-1949 – another piece of information that could help my search. That definitely placed Gregg in my estimated time period and boded well for my search!
When I added the name “Paul” to my search, I knew I’d found him!
The top result was an online article from the Denver Post dated October 15, 2017 that commemorated Paul Gregg and his 47 years of drawing for the Post from 1902 to 1949. Starting out as a cartoonist, Gregg also painted oil paintings of western scenes – covered wagons, deer in the forest, prairie sunsets. These illustrations graced the cover of the Post’s Sunday magazine for as long as Gregg worked at the Post. It was touching to learn about this artist and his devotion to the paper and the great outdoors. Searching around for more on Gregg led me to History Colorado where you can search their online collections for “paul gregg” to view photographs of him, his cabin and lake, and snapshots of many of his colorful oil paintings.
Momentarily distracted by beautiful paintings, my next step was to find access to the Denver Post in order to check the January, February, and early March issues of 1933. Alas, my search would creak to a halt. The Library of Congress has microfilm of the Denver Post – but only starting in 1940! I also checked for digital access in subscription databases – but that only starts in 1988!
Disappointed but undeterred, I checked the Directory of U.S. Newspapers to help me identify other institutions that do have holdings from 1933. I wanted to refer the researcher who started this mystery quest to other possible avenues to continue the search. The institutions that seemed to have the most promise were the Colorado Historical Society (now called History Colorado) and the Denver Public Library.
In a last effort, I checked the reference books in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room for any items that would contain information on the Denver Post, Colorado newspapers, and Colorado cartoonists. Maybe there was more information on Gregg. Maybe they featured some of his work. Maybe they would even have the FDR cartoon! (I was feeling a little desperate at this point.)
Two books I found in the reference collection were Thunder in the Rockies: The Incredible Denver Post by Bill Hosokawa (1976), a formal history of the newspapers, and So the People May Know by Lawrence Martin (1950), a commemorative retrospective on the newspaper on the occasion of opening a new printing plant building. The history book includes many images of newspaper pages and photographs. Many of Gregg’s cartoons are featured on the front page of the Post with his simple GREGG signature legible in the corner – but not the FDR cartoon. The commemorative book is heavily illustrated and has a special feature on Gregg (who passed away the year before the book was published), but it does not include the cartoon in question.
Just for fun, I took a look in Chronicling America* and searched for “Paul Gregg” in the Colorado papers. He is mentioned several times in his capacity as an outdoorsman and cartoonist for the Post. There was also some interesting drama about a lake he claimed to control and how he charged the public a dollar a day for boat access.
So the mystery remains. You could say that the moral of this story is to always include citations for items you use for research or presentations. In the meantime, if you happen to look up the Denver Post microfilm from 1933, let me know if you find the answer. Till then, I’ll be here at my desk working on the next mystery.
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*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.