Popular lore would have you believe it’s the Spokane Chronicle that’s responsible for the mispronunciation of “Spokane” every year on national TV when Gonzaga makes it deep in the NCAA Tournament.
The story goes that the trio of men largely credited with the settling and establishment of Spokane – James Glover, J.J. Browne and A.M. Cannon – fought a public campaign to tack the “e” on the end of the town’s name, at the time Spokane (or Spokan) Falls. They fought that war on the pages of the newspaper they founded, the weekly Spokane Chronicle. Its first edition was published June 29, 1881. Their competition was the Spokan Times and its editor, Francis Cook.
It was the Chronicle in May 1952, by then an evening daily owned by the same company that published The Spokesman-Review, that cast doubt on this theory, citing the work of C.S. Kingston, a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Washington University.
Kingston found that Cannon armed himself in a physical dispute with Cook, but it had nothing to do with a silent “e.”
“There really was such an attack, but it was the result of differences of opinion regarding the handling of municipal affairs rather than over the spelling of the name of the town,” Kingston told the paper.
Kingston’s conclusion, a bucket of cold water on what historians might call “a fact too good to check,” was based on the contemporary accounts in both papers. There was no mention of a spelling squabble, but plenty of banter about where a new bridge should be placed in the booming railroad town and the location of its first school building.
Still, the story proved alluring. Five years after Kingston’s assertion, Fred Clemens included the tale in his 1957 book, “Washington: Northwest Frontier.” It was published in the keepsake edition of the Chronicle in July 1992, shortly before the paper ceased publication after 111 years.
The true story of the Chronicle, which lasted from that first four-page edition in 1881 that announced the arrival of the Northern Pacific railway in Spokane, to August 1992, is intertwined with its sister publication, The Spokesman-Review, and competition between the two. It’s also a story of buttercups and criminals, cute babies and roving afternoon paperboys.
Railroads, fires and the Cowles purchase
The railroad had arrived in Spokane.
“Saturday was a red-letter day for the people of Spokane Falls, the event being the arrival at our depot of the first passenger train of the Northern Pacific railway,” the account in the June 29, 1881, edition of the Chronicle read.
That was the big story in the first issue of the newspaper, but it didn’t make the front page. Three of its columns were devoted to ads pitching painting services, a druggist and wholesale whiskey, with the rest a poetic ode to the land that Glover had purchased eight years prior.
“In locating town-sites, Nature as Engineer and Architect, performed her most perfect work at Spokane Falls,” gushes an account on its front page, with no mention of the Indigenous people who had lived and fished the river for centuries.
Glover, Cannon and Browne didn’t own the paper for long. It changed hands multiple times before being bought in 1883 by the missionary H.T. Cowley , who had decided to switch occupations “after suffering a permanent injury to his leg in a fall from his horse,” according to the 1952 book by Ralph Dyar, “News for an Empire,” a history of Spokane newspapers and the Cowles family, who have published The Spokesman-Review for 130 years.
Six years after Cowley’s purchase, the Chronicle would be forced to publish in a tent amid the smoldering rubble of downtown.
“I wandered through the ruins to the site of The Chronicle office,” former editor Walter B. Willcox, who led the Chronicle for a little less than a year, told the paper in 1936. “Everything seemed destroyed.”
The 1889 conflagration claimed about 30 city blocks, including the downtown office of the now daily Chronicle, with damages estimated in the millions. Willcox encountered the paper’s foreman, a man named McCarter, in the rubble.
“What are you going to do Mac?” Willcox remembered asking the man.
“I’ll get out a paper, if you can provide some copy,” the foreman responded.
The paper that day cost 75 cents. The usual price was a nickel.
Six years later, then-publisher of The Spokesman-Review, William H. Cowles, bought the Chronicle, and with it a new press and the exclusive rights to publish dispatches from the Associated Press within 60 miles of town, according to Dyar’s account. The papers would be run independently by the same company for the next 86 years.
Babies and buttercups
Mrs. C.F. Elkenbary declared 12-month-old Kenneth Edward Moore to be “a mighty cute little fellow” in February 1926.
So cute, in fact, that Moore was selected from among 483 entries as the Chronicle’s “Baby Spokane,” the first of dozens of infants to receive the honor until the contest was discontinued in 1968.
The Chronicle pursued the news with its own staff independent of The Spokesman-Review, under several editors that included long-tenured leaders Henry Rising, 1894 to 1939, and Howard Cleavinger, 1947 to 1975.
“The first impression was that he was kind of a good old uncle,” Doug Floyd, who started at the Chronicle in 1969 as a general assignment reporter, said of Cleavinger. “But he was a hardcore journalist.”
Working under Cleavinger was Ron Broom, who also penned a column called “Putting it Lightly” for the paper’s opinion page. His son, Dave Broom, remembered the stuffy office where his father would file on multiple deadlines throughout the day, pausing for lunch briefly from a vending machine in the building constructed in 1928 next to the Review Tower.
“In summertime the windows would be open,” the younger Broom remembered. “There’d be paperweights all over the place to keep things from flying away.”
Circulation competition was fierce between the two next-door publications, even though several staff members said the public didn’t believe it based on the unified ownership of the papers.
Bob Conrad, a schoolteacher, kept multiple copies of his evening Chronicle throughout the years. It was a habit instilled in him by one of his own teachers, to hang on to keepsakes of history. Headlines included the election of John F. Kennedy, the death of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the successful launch of the space capsule carrying astronaut “Gus” Grissom in 1961.
“I personally think it was the time of day,” Conrad said of his decision to subscribe to the Chronicle, instead of The Spokesman-Review. “In the morning, a lot of people are getting up to go to work. They don’t have time to read the paper.”
Others said they continued to choose the Chronicle because of the personalities on its pages. In addition to Broom’s humor column, the opinion page also featured the musings of Myrtle Gaylord, who wrote for the Chronicle for 20 years until her death in 1960. A popular annual feature of her column “Glimpses” was the hunt for the region’s first buttercup of the new year, which the columnist appeared to have first requested in December 1944.
“Wonder if anyone has found a buttercup yet?” Gaylord wrote in that Dec. 29, 1944, column, noting the warming temperatures. “If so, it’s worth $1 in Gold Savings Stamps at the Chronicle office. I mean, the first one brought in in 1945 will be worth that much.
“There are no second, third or fourth prizes,” Gaylord continued. “But look at the fun you’ll have looking for buttercups in the snow.”
Meanwhile, the editorial staff of the Chronicle had its own notables. Among them was Jack Geraghty, who served as a Spokane County commissioner while employed by the paper and later as Spokane’s mayor.
As for the young Kenneth Moore? It wasn’t his last appearance in the Chronicle after earning the title of most attractive baby in 1926. He judged the contest himself 39 years later, in 1965.
Combining newsrooms and ceasing publication
After a decade of covering schools and crime for the Spokane Chronicle, Bill Morlin found himself part of a newsroom combined in 1983 with The Spokesman-Review .
“It was a bit awkward,” said Morlin. “There were two reporters for every beat.”
Publisher William H. Cowles III announced the combination of the newsrooms, the first mingling of the staffs, on Aug. 31, 1982, as a way to ensure more readers were seeing the professionalism of the two staffs.
“It is ironic, and wasteful, that the best efforts of one newspaper or the other – especially the enterprise stories produced by the city reporting staffs – are never seen by the readers of the other newspaper,” Cowles said at the time.
Daily circulation for both papers had crept to about even. But Chronicle reporters and staff had the feeling at the time that more effort and resources were being put into the success of the morning Spokesman-Review than the afternoon Chronicle, which had seen its numbers dwindle.
“The Chronicle was sort of viewed as the stepchildren in the marriage,” Morlin said. “The Review was the flagship paper.”
The announcement came a few years after the departure of managing editor Gordon Coe, whose son, Kevin, had been charged and was later convicted of being the South Hill rapist. Gordon Coe removed himself from coverage of the case and soon retired from the Chronicle after a 43-year career. His replacement was Curt Pierson, who served in the role of managing editor from 1981 to 1986.
The merger brought about the combination of the editorial pages, which may have hastened the paper’s end, Floyd said. Chronicle circulation in March 1987 had fallen to 35,600, down from its high of nearly 72,000 in 1966.
“It got to the point where we were basically running the same editorials. We just changed the type face, the fonts. It was the same identical content,” Floyd said.
By the beginning of 1992, circulation had fallen further to less than 20,000. In June, after 111 years of continuous publication, it was announced the Chronicle would end July 31.
“The time has come to say that the best possible product is one morning newspaper,” W. Stacey Cowles, current publisher of The Spokesman-Review, told subscribers.
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