Saturday, October 4, 2008
Solid Muldoon had its Day
The Solid Muldoon, of Ouray, wasn't as durable as its name suggested, surviving as a weekly newspaper only until 1892, but its spirit will likely live on forever. The name crops up again and again in the west – recently, for example, as one of the ski runs for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics – but it had its Day.
The Solid Muldoon didn't pull its punches. A local historian, Duane A. Smith, records that Col. David Day, a Medal of Honor winner for heroism at Vicksburg, Miss., "had the distinction of having 42 libel suits pending at the same time [in 1900] for his raw and bitter articles in The Solid Muldoon newspaper of Ouray and Durango." Day was known nationwide for his caustic wit, honesty, and bitter sarcasm. His fame even spread to England, where Queen Victoria was said to have read the Muldoon for many years.
Dave Day’s outspokenness was legendary and according to his wife Victoria, “he was not afraid of the devil himself.”
“He became protector, defender, guardian, and spokesman for a generation of southwest Coloradoans. His newspaper was small, but his voice was big, and he covered the San Juans with a steady thunder that lingers to this day,” wrote John H. Monnett and Michael McGarthy in their 1987 book, Colorado Profiles: Men and Women who shaped the Centennial State.
But how did the paper get its unusual name?
The original Solid Muldoon was the name given to a mysterious "prehistoric human body" dug up near Beulah, Colo., in 1877. The 71/2-foot stone man was thought to be the "missing link" between apes and humans. "There can be no question about the genuineness of this piece of statuary," said the Denver Daily Times.
It was later revealed that George Hull, perpetrator of a previous hoax featuring the Cardiff Giant, had spent three years fashioning his second "petrified man," using mortar, rock dust, clay, plaster, ground bones, blood, and meat. He kiln-fired the figure for many days and then buried it.
A few months later, as the celebration of Colorado's year-old statehood approached, the statue was "discovered" by William Conant, who had once worked for the legendary showman P.T. Barnum. News of the find quickly spread to Denver and eventually New York.
The statue was named the Solid Muldoon after William Muldoon, a famous boxer, wrestler and strongman who had been honored in a popular song. Displayed in New York, the "body" attracted large crowds until a business associate of Hull's revealed the hoax to the New York Tribune.
Day, who had apparently met Muldoon in an earlier stint in New York, and despite the fighter never having won a bout, but never taking a dive or quitting, Day had been impressed by his tenacity.
Day, fascinated by the story and the name, called his Ouray paper the Solid Muldoon.
Rudyard Kipling, as famous in England as Whitman was in the United States, later wrote a short story titled "The Solid Muldoon," published in 1890.
Other samples of his caustic wit:
“The doctors have given up all hope of saving the year 1893 and death is expected inside of three days.” (Solid Muldoon, Dec. 29, 1893)
The Muldoon also frequently attacked local mining entrepreneur John R. Curry and others calling him among other things, “a despicable, filthy liar and whiskey bloat,” and “libel on the name of a dog” with the “conscience of Judas Iscariot” and the “appetite and feeling of a hyena without its honor.”
He also famously, a fearlessly took on the rail roads, other newspapers, state and local politicians, and ended up having to publish the paper more than once from a jail cell, according to Monnett and McCarthy.
David Day moved south from Ouray as silver market ebbed, to the more-happening town of Durango and continued on in the publishing business. The Muldoon combined operations with the Durango Herald and latter separated again and became the Durango Democrat. He continued writing almost to the end. When he died in 1914, the Democrat eulogized, “He lived and died a square man. Even his enemies respected him for his integrity.
His Son, Rod Day, took over editorship of the paper.
Of editors and publishers, historically speaking, I feel that we have it pretty good nowadays. As evidence, I offer the following account from Duane Smith’s 1992 book on the history of the Durango Herald provided to me by David Staats, the former managing editor of the southwestern Colorado daily.
“The long standing newspaper rivalry (between the Durango Democrat and Herald) thundered violently over Durango when Rod Day shot and killed the Herald’s city editor, William Wood. The incident was sparked by a series of ‘newspapers exchanges,’ ‘joshing comments’ from each about the other’s violation of prohibition,” according to Smith’s report.
“Monday morning, April 24, 1922, shortly before noon, marked the nadir of Durango’s newspaper history. The published facts depend on which paper one reads, but one or the other of the men prowled Main’s 900 block looking for his antagonist. Their meeting prompted and aggressive attack by one of them upon his rival. Day suffered a broken nose before firing, after which he entered a nearby barbershop, cleaned himself up, and surrendered. The coroner’s jury made no recommendation. Day, however was forced to stand trial in the District Court for murder; he was acquitted.”
Rod Day sold the Democrat in 1924 but helped start another rival paper in Durango in 1930.