Lost and (Almost) Found: An Orphan Political Cartoon

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.

Image from a newspaper comic strip titled Hawkshaw the Detective. The image depicts Hawkshaw, clad in deer stalker hat and smoking a pipe, bent over looking at the crowd through a magnifying glass. A word bubble from his mouth says Hist!

Hawkshaw the Detective. Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1918.

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.

Political cartoon showing the new President Franklin Roosevelt opening a door to previous President Herbert Hoover. Hoover is depositing a basket with a flailing baby in at the doorstep. Exclamations come from the basket including bank problems, unemployment, war debts, budget, and farm problems. The caption of the cartoon is 'it's his baby now'.

The orphan political cartoon. Cropped from online by the author of the blog December 2022.

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.

Screenshot of a google search bar with the words 'it's his baby now political cartoon' in the search. The results for images show several thumbnails of the baby political cartoon appearing on several different websites.

Screenshot taken from Google Image search results December 2022.

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.

A detailed image from the baby political cartoon depicting artist's signature in the lower right corner. The image is very pixelated and illegible.

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 detailed image from the baby political cartoon depicting artist's signature in the lower right corner. This image is from a different source of the cartoon and is much clearer. The artist's name can be read in printed capital letters.

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.

Screenshot taken of google search page with 'gregg political cartoons' in the search bar. Results show several thumbnails of images, two of which are black and white illustrations, four of which are colored illustrations. Two website results read 'world war two done in cartoons by Paul Gregg of the Denver Post' and 'Paul Gregg political cartoon original art Atlanta Journal'.

Screenshot taken from Google search results December 2022.

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.

Double page spread from the book 'So the People May Know'. The left page is a full page illustration of one of Paul Gregg's colorful oil paintings depicting a forest scene, a forest fire burning in the background, and a doe and fawn in the forest. The right page shows the text of the book and in the large margin is a black and white illustration of Gregg's head and shoulders with paintbrushes and paints.

Illustration of Paul Gregg commemorating his many years of cartoons and art for the Post. Oil painting by Paul Gregg. Pg. 34 and 35 of So the People May Know by Laurence Martin.

Portion of a short newspaper announcement about Paul E. Gregg and wife visiting the Meeker hotel.

The Meeker Herald (Meeker, CO), September 9, 1905.

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.

Newspaper photograph of a woman, head and shoulders, glancing to the right of the camera. She has short hair and is wearing a houndstooth deer stalker cap on an angle over her right eye.an engl

A lady of mystery in the gravure section of the Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), March 26, 1933.

 

Click here to subscribe to Headlines & Heroes and stay up to date on latest news from history.

Follow Chronicling America on Twitter @ChronAmLOC

*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.

8 Comments

  1. Sheila A Smith
    December 15, 2022 at 11:58 am

    This was a fascinating educational blog. I enjoy political cartoons and the one you searched could be redone with images of Biden and Trump!
    I will be sharing, thank you.

  2. Thomas Holbrook
    December 15, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks–most interesting, as always.

  3. Ed Lanfranco
    December 15, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    Great research work. I love stories from the bloodhound librarian perspective. And as I have to keep reminding myself, it’s ok to go down the rabbit hole, just don’t get stuck there!

    • Joanna Colclough
      December 15, 2022 at 12:27 pm

      Absolutely. I ended up finding a lot of other sources on Gregg’s work, but it wasn’t necessary relevant to my goal of finding access to the actual newspaper!

  4. David B Holcomb
    December 25, 2022 at 11:59 am

    I have the answer if you wish and can send an image if you contact me.

  5. David B Holcomb
    December 26, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    I hope you got my comment submited here as I have the answer.

  6. Joanna Colclough
    January 4, 2023 at 7:25 am

    Thank you David! GenealogyBank has some content for the Denver Post and the cartoon appears on pg. 20 of March 4, 1933. Case closed!

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.