Monday, December 21, 2009

St. Nick's Newsboys Shine In Library's Photos

One Of Detroit's Finest Plays St. Nick For Motown's Newsboys, 1931.
(All Photos Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library's Virtual Motor City Collection, Wayne State University.)

Wayne State University's Walter P. Reuther Library has got the scoop on a holiday story straight out of "The Dead End Kids." Motor City angels with dirty faces--former newsboys-- make good but can't forget the old neighborhood. Every Christmas they go back to the same mean street corners where they once shouted "Extra! Extra!" and raise enough cash to stuff the empty stockings of every Detroit kiddie full of gifts. Sounds like something straight of a 30's Warner Brothers gangster movie, but pictures don't lie. The Library's Virtual Motor City Collection, an online digital photo archive, proves this tale is the genuine article.

The 1914 Illustration That Inspired A Taxman To Found A Christmas Charity.
(Drawing Courtesy of The Detroit News.)

The "Old Newsboys" have been making the holidays brighter for needy Detroit kids since 1914, and the tradition shows no signs of stopping. A kind-hearted tax collector (I know, but this really IS a true story.) sees one struggling family too many. Then, while reading his morning paper, he spots a Burt Thomas drawing that tugs at the old heartstrings: A wealthy gentleman weighed down by an armload of Christmas bounty strolls along with the ghost of "the boy he used to be." That's right: this dapper gent began his days as a humble newsboy.

Boy Scouts And Cops Make Christmas Bright For Detroit's Dead End Kids, 1937.

James J. Brady, no doubt known as "Diamond Jim", was the taxman with a heart of gold. His childhood chum just happened to be Detroit News' Managing Editor E.J.Pipp. (The man was, of course, a real pip--and honest, I'm not making any of this up.) Mr. Pipp had ties to the Detroit Newsboys Association--aka "The Old Newsboys," former street corner hawkers turned successful businessmen, professionals, and politicians. When Gentleman Jim approached Mr. Pipp with a yen to start a Christmas charity, the editor knew his army of one-time newsboys would be the perfect foot soldiers.

"Old Newsboys" Hit The Streets For The Motor City's Needy Kiddies, Circa 1920.

At Brady and Pipp's behest, those first Christmas newsboys hit their old stomping ground, raising cash by selling papers on the same cold corners they worked as kids. Gifts were purchased and delivered to needy tykes by local Boy Scouts and kindly cops. The Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund of Detroit was born, complete with the slogan: "No Kiddie Without a Christmas." That 1914 fund drive raised $2,274. (Equal to just over a cool 50K today.) Many of Detroit's movers and shakers remember the days they got gifts because they were on the Newsboy's list rather than St. Nick's: United Auto Workers Vice President Ernie Lofton told The Detroit News: "In my neighborhood, the only times you were happy to see a cop at the door was on Christmas Eve!"

Thomas May's 1906 Illustration Was Designed To Spoil A Selfish Christmas.
(Drawing Courtesy Of The Detroit News.)

Way back in 1906 Motown artist Thomas May set out to create a newspaper illustration that would "spoil Christmas for every man and woman in Detroit who had remembered only themselves." His drawing of a little girl sobbing over her empty stocking became the emblem for the Old Newsboys Fund in 1923. Sadly, even in 2009, only the charity's fund raising brings a happy holiday to many of the Motor City's kids. According to Crain's Detroit Business, one out of every three Detroit public schoolchildren will receive a Newsboy's holiday gift box this year. Considering Rust Belt's still dire need for Christmas charity, it just might be time for Warner Brothers to breathe some life back into The Dead End Kids.

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