‘The noteworthy things I have done receive scant notice’

“If the South had 40 editors like W. O. Saunders, ” H. L. Mencken wrote, “it could be rid of most of its problems in five years.”

Saunders put out the weekly Elizabeth City Independent from 1908 until 1937. He exposed corruption and bigotry with great courage, but he attracted more attention with his rambunctious humor. A typical editorial page filler reported deadplan that a local political boss had been spotted “in the courthouse with his hands in his own pockets.”

The Independent’s fame and circulation extended nationwide, thanks to such pranks as a full-page satire on a New Deal privy project and Saunders’ pajama-clad stroll down Fifth Avenue in advocacy of more sensible hot-weather clothing. (When a New York reporter asked him how he felt, he admitted, “Like a damn fool.”)

“The truly noteworthy things I have done receive scant notice….” Saunders once lamented. “But when I walk out on the streets in pajamas on a sweltering summer day or print a satire on new-fangled backhouses, the whole country gives me a big hand.”

 

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