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I Sought Napoleon, But Found Revere

Several things you never knew before are coming up, so I'd like a hush and attention. As was reported at the time, I and some student aides drove far east on the great North Shore of the St. Lawrence River, as far as Baie-Comeau, to pay our respects to Napoleon Comeau, Canada's naturalist, author, and benefactor for whom Baie-Comeau was named. He was born nearby.

Thinking we would find a quaint, quiet village where an elderly man would be sitting in the bleak northern sun to tell us what he remembered about Napoleon, we were much disappointed to find Baie-Comeau a busy city, with traffic signals, radio taxis, and a shopping center with a dominant Hudson's Bay Company store that had a window full of furs to knock your eyes out.

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A bigger disappointment came at the riverfront park, where a bronze statue of a man in a birch canoe, poised as if to go over Kakabecka Falls, turned out not to be Napoleon Comeau at all, but Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. The good colonel, we were told, had altruistically done much for the North Shore, building a paper mill and developing hydropower in the process of giving his Tribune "vertical integration." His vessels took newsprint to the Great Lakes, and the Tribune was self-sufficient. "Now just who was this man you asked about - Napoleon what?"

If you can find a copy, read Napoleon's book. Its title is "Life and Sport on the North Shore of the Lower St. Lawrence and Gulf" (1923). It's in good English, and the man never heard a word of English until he was 15. He was brought up in French and Montagnard Indian. His book and that of Joshua Slocum, who sailed around the world alone, are gems of a kind.

Henry Beston frequently said, "There is no culture west of Framingham." So to barbarians beyond the limit, it needs knowing that in cultured New England the highest compliment is to be given a Paul Revere silver bowl. The horseman, artilleryman, patriot, and silversmith is thus remembered. To be born on Beacon Hill, to attend Harvard, to support the Boston Symphony, to be called by name at the Athenaeum, to wear Ground Gripper shoes, to have an inscribed Revere bowl: These are Boston values to be given indifference. Doesn't everybody?

Yes. So we had in Boston in the wonderful days of yore a Society of Boston Veteran Journalists. I was a member, and one year I was president. I had not been accepted for my association with this newspaper, but for being a "stringer" in high school for the Post. The Christian Science Monitor was founded in 1908, and for many years, as counted in Boston, had no veterans. Members from the Globe, for example, were most numerous and they were all in their 90s. Bertha Peppard, the Protestant Church editor, was 97 and was at her desk every day.

Daniel J. O'Brien was Sunday editor of the Globe in 1954 and he invited Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune to come to Boston and address the fall (and only annual) meeting of the Boston Veteran Journalists. At that time, the Tribune had been the banner-bearer of the Isolationists, with World War II coming up, and remarks from the great Colonel McCormick on this date, Oct. 25, 1954, would have historical importance.

Nobody ever refused the Boston Veteran Journalists, who met at the historical Parker House but always referred to the hotel as "Mother Parker's Boarding House." O'Brien had the secretary, octogenarian Frank Lovering, who had been Frank Munsey's city editor on the Journal, send the notices.

I lived in Maine. Although I was mixed up in Boston's news hack business long enough to remember most of the Globe's young fry, I've never done time at a desk in the Hub. So going to a "Vets'" meeting meant to me a railroad trip and an overnight room at Mother Parker's. I sent in my return card, checking the roast beef, and made arrangements. I had Baie-Comeau in mind, mostly, and wanted to meet in person the great Colonel who was up there in Canada with paddle poised in a birch-bronze canoe.

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I GOT to Boston all right. Whenever I went there to attend a Veteran Journalists' meeting at the Parker House, I always allowed time to look at the ornamental fireplaces. They were laid up by my great-uncle, who was a master mason, both capped and lower case. And after this inspection, I went to the banquet room. I was stopped at the door by the aforesaid Danny O'Brien, who shook all the apples off my tree and said, "Boy! Am I glad to see you!"

"Perturbation seems to sit upon thy brow," quoth I. "What is amiss?"

"Twenty-three words deleted," said Danny, "Isn't coming!"

"McCormick?" I asked.

"McCormick. You're the speaker of the evening!" And this turned out to be so. Danny got a no-show telegram 10 minutes before meeting time, and was waiting for the first member to show up who looked like a substitute.

So I did. I filled in for Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, economic angel of Baie-Comeau, controversial citizen, and (that evening, anyhow) general olfactory offender at Mother Parker's. Danny O'Brien was incoherent, but I think that's what he said. I told a few stories about Satchel-Eye Dyer, and then they gave me the silver Paul Revere bowl that was meant for Colonel McCormick. He never saw it.

After my name was engraved on it, Danny sent it by Brinks to Maine. I keep it to remember by. I see I'm right; it was Oct. 25, 1954, with appreciation of the Boston Veteran Journalists.

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