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HOME > Biographical > A Book About Myself > CHAPTER XXV
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 Things interesting, contrasts nearly as sharp and as well calculated to cause one to on the wonder, the beauty, the , the , the cruelty and the rank favoritism of life, were daily if not hourly put before me. Now it would be some such murder as this or a social scandal of some kind, often of a gross and revolting character, in some ultra-respectable neighborhood, or a suicide of peculiarly sad or grim character. Or, again, it would be a fine piece of chicane, as when a certain “board-and-feed” stable owner of the west end, about to lose his property because of poor business and anxious to save himself by securing the insurance, set fire to the stable and destroyed seventeen healthy horses as well as one stable attendant and “got away with it,” legally anyhow. His plan had probably been to save the horses and the man, but the plan miscarried. I gathered as much from him when I interviewed him. I put some questions at him but could get no admissions on which to base a charge. He was a shrewd, calculating, commercial type, vigorous and semi-savage. He me and I had to write the fire up as a sad accident, aiding him to get his insurance, the while I was convinced that he was guilty, a hard-hearted scoundrel.  
Another thing that I sensed very clearly at this time was the fact that the average newspaper reporter was a far better detective in his way than the official detective, and not nearly so well paid. The average so-called “headquarters man,” was a thing, as low in his ideas and methods as the lowest criminal he was set to trap. The criminal was at least shrewd and dynamic enough to plot and execute a crime, whereas the detective had no brains at all, merely a low kind of cunning. Often red-headed, , with big hands and feet, store clothes, squeaky shoes—why does such a picture of the detective come back to me? Pop-eyed, with a ridiculous air of mystery and in matters requiring neither, dirty, offensive, fish-eyed and merciless, the detectives floundered about in different cases without a grain of humor; whereas the average reporter was, by contrast anyhow, intelligent or shrewd, cleanly nearly always, if at times a little slouchy, inclined to drink and sport perhaps but , often gentlemanly, a fascinating story-teller, a keen psychologist (nearly always one of the best), frequently well read, humorous, sympathetic, amusing or gloomy as the case might be, but generally to be relied upon in such emergencies for truly skillful work. Naturally there was some enmity between the two, a contempt on the part of the newspaper man for the detective, a fear and dislike and secret on the part of the detective. The reporter would go on a mystifying case and as a rule, given time enough, would solve it, whereas the police detectives would be tramping about often trailing the reporters, reading the newspapers to discover what had been discovered, and then, when the work had been done and the true clew furnished, would step forward at the grand moment to do the arresting and get their pictures and names in the papers. The detectives were constantly playing into the hands of the police reporters in unimportant matters during periods between great cases, doing them little favors, them in small cases, in order that when a big case came along they might have favors done unto them. The most important of all these favors, of course, was that of seeing that their names were mentioned in the papers as being engaged in solving a mystery or having done thus and so, when in all likelihood some newspaper man had done it.
Sometimes the tip as to where the criminal was likely to be found would be furnished by the papers and later credited to the police. Sometimes the newspaper men would the police, sometimes flatter them, but always they were seeking to make the police aid them to get various necessary things done, and not always succeeding. Sometimes the police were hand-in-glove with certain or evil-doers, and you could all but prove it, but until you did so, and sometimes , they were stubborn and would defy you and the papers. But not for long. They loved too much; offer them sufficient publicity, and they would act. It was nearly always my experience that the newspapers, which meant the reporters of course plus an efficient city editor and possibly a managing editor, would be the first to worm out the of any given case and then point an almost unerring finger at the criminal; then the police or detectives would come in and do the arresting and get the credit.
Another thing that impressed me greatly at this time was the character of newspaper work, which, in its personal significance to me, cannot be too much emphasized. As I have said, one day it would be a crime of a or character that would arrest and compel me to think, and the same day, within the hour perhaps, it would be a lecturer or religionist with some finespun theory of life, some theosophist like Annie Besant, who in passing through St. Louis on a lecture tour would be at one of the best hotels, usually the Southern, talking transmigration and Nirvana. Again, it would be some or of a low order—a spiritualist, let us say, of the Eva Fay stripe, or a mindreader like , or a third-rate religionist like the Reverend Sam Jones, who was then in his preaching unadulterated hell, or the arrival of a prize-fighter-actor like John L. Sullivan, then only recently defeated by Corbett, or a novelist of the quack order, such as Hall Caine.
And there were individuals, including such excellent lecturers as Henry Watterson and Henry M. Stanley, or a musician like Paderewski, or a scientist of the of Nikola Tesla. I was sent to interview my share of these, to get their views on something—anything or nothing really, for my city editor, Mr. Mitchell, seemed at times a little cloudy as to their significance, and certainly I had no clear insight into What most of them stood for. I wondered, guessed, made vague stabs at what I thought they represented, and in the main took them seriously enough. My favorite question was What did they think of life, its meaning, since this was uppermost in my mind at the time, and I think I asked it of every one of them, from John L. Sullivan to Annie Besant. And what a jangle of ! What a noble burst of ideas! Annie Besant, in a room at the Southern delicately with flowers, arrayed in a cool silken gray dress, informed me that the age was material, that wealth and show were an illusion based on nothing at all (I wrote that down without understanding what she meant), that the Hindu Swamis had long since solved all this seeming mystery of living, Madame Blavatsky being the most recent and the greatest apostle of wisdom in this matter, and that the great thing to do in this world or the next was to improve oneself spiritually and so eventually to Nirvana, nothingness—a word I had to look up afterward. (When I told Dick Wood about her he seemed greatly impressed and said: “Oh, there’s more to that stuff than you think, Dreiser. You’re just not up on all that yet. These mystics see more than we think they do,” and he looked very wise.)
And Henry Watterson—imagine me at the age of twenty-one trying to interview him when he was in the heyday of his fame and mental powers! Short, stocky, with a , slightly gray hair, gruff and simple in his manner and secure in his fame (he had just the preceding summer said that Cleveland, Democratic candidate of the hour and later elected, was certain to “walk up an to a slaughter-house and an open grave,” and had of course seen his prediction fail), he was convinced that the country was in bad hands, not likely to go to the “demnition bow-wows” as yet but in for a bad corporation-materialistic spell. And when I asked him what he thought of life——
“My son, when you get as old as I am you probably won’t think so much of it, and you won’t be to blame. It’s good enough in its way, but it’s a damned business. You may say that Henry Watterson said that if you like. Do the best you can, and don’t crowd the other fellow too hard, and you’ll come out as well as anybody, I suppose.”
And then John L. Sullivan, raw, red-faced, big-fisted, broad-shouldered, drunken, with waistcoat and tie, and rings and pins set with enormous diamonds and rubies—what an impression he made! Surrounded by local sports and politicians of the most and degraded character (he was a great favorite with them), he seemed to me, sitting in his at the Lindell, to be the of the humorously gross and vigorous and material. Cigar boxes, buckets, decanters, beer bottles, overcoats, collars and shirts littered the floor, and lolling back in the midst of it all in ease and his very great self, a sort of prizefighting J. P. Morgan.
“Aw, haw! haw! haw!” I can hear him even now when I asked him my favorite question about life, his plans, the value of exercise (!), etc. “He wants to know about exercise! You’re all right, young fella, kinda slim, but you’ll do. Sit down and have some champagne. Have a cigar. Give ‘im some cigars, George. These young newspaper men are all all right to me. I’m for ’em. Exercise? What I think? Haw! haw! Write any damned thing yuh please, young fella, and say that John L. Sullivan said............
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