Walt Mason.There are few people today who have not, at some time or other, heard of Walt Mason. For the benefit of those few it might be well to explain that Walt Mason, familiarly known as "Uncle Walt," is the Emporia, Kan., poet whose inimitable wit has brought him National reputation. William Allen White, editor of the Emporia "Gazette," some years ago called Mr. Mason the "Poet Laureate of American Democracy," and admirers of Mr. Mason's work have voiced their approval of the title. While Walt Mason has restricted himself almost wholly to the writing of prose poems, he has done considerable other newspaper writing. For a time he was connected with the Washington D. C., "News." His book, called "Uncle Walt's Book," and, his "Rhymes of the Range" were published several years ago and are still in great demand. Asked, a short time ago, to write a sketch of himself for the Detroit "News-Tribune," Mr. Mason, though very busy, responded promptly. What he had to say regarding himself follows:
"I was born at Columbus, Ontario, May 4, 1862. My parents were poor. I was the fifth of a series of six sons. My father was a dyer in a woolen mill, and was accidentally killed in that establishment when I was four years old. He was Welsh and my mother of Scotch descent. My mother was fond of books and poetry and old songs, and knew many of the latter. She died when I was fifteen years old. Meanwhile, during my childhood, I had been going to a country school, and working for farmers, and also in the woolen mill. After my mother's death I went to Port Hope, Ontario, and worked in a hardware store for a year and a half, drawing the princely salary of two and a half dollars a week and boarding myself. When I was nine or ten years old I was nearly drowned, and was hauled out of the water, unconscious, by an older brother. I have had defective hearing ever since, and it is probably due to this that I never became a merchant prince. Anyhow, I was not a success in a hardware store, and when I told my employer I was going to leave he said it was the proudest and happiest moment of his life. Having severed my diplomatic relations with the hardware man, I crossed Lake Ontario, in 1880, going to New York State, where I hoed beans for a summer. It was the poorest fun I ever struck. The soil was stony, and the hoe was dull, and the sun was as hot as blazes, and there didn't seem to be any sense in hoeing beans, anyhow. From New York I took my way westward, arm in arm with the star of empire. I stopped a while in Ohio, then in Illinois, and finally reached St. Louis, where I went to work in a printing establishment and 'kicked' a job press through the hottest summer ever invented. There was a humorous weekly, called the 'Hornet,' in St. Louis, and I sent some stuff to it. The 'Hornet' printed it, and the editor wrote to me and asked me to call. He offered me five dollars a week to go to work in the office, writing gems of thought, reading proofs, sweeping the floors, and otherwise making myself useful. I took the job and remained with the 'Hornet' until it went broke. Not being able to get another job in St. Louis, I went to Kansas and worked around the State for three years as a hired man. Disgusted with that sort of work, and being ambitious to get into newspaper business, I managed to get a job with the Leavenworth 'Times.' Later I became a reporter on the Atchison 'Globe,' and there learned a great deal that was useful to me. From that time forward I was chasing myself all over the country, and was connected with newspapers in a dozen cities, but always had the idea that the next town would be a little better, and kept moving around. I was mixing up farming with newspaper work in Nebraska for a good many years, and making a failure of both. It took me a good while to discover that pigs and poetry won't mix. When I did find it out I came to Kansas, and went to work for William Allen White, writing stuff for the editorial page of the Emporia 'Gazette.' The 'Gazette' always printed on its first page an item of local news with a border around it, called a star head. One day the city editor was shy of a necessary item, and asked me to write something to fill that space. I wrote a little prose rhyme, advising people to go to church next day, which was Sunday. The prose rhyme attracted some attention, and on Monday I wrote another one, and a third on Tuesday, and so on, and the star-head rhyme became a feature of the 'Gazette.' Thus originated the prose poem."
Walt Mason's prose poems are widely circulated throughout the United States and Canada. As an example of his work the following, entitled, "The Funeral," is given:
"When I have slipped my tether, and left this vale of tears, to see what sort of weather they have in other spheres, I want no costly casket with silver trappings bound; just put me in a basket and chuck me underground. Death would be far more jolly and pleasant every way, but for the idle folly of making big display. It takes a roll unending to make a graveyard spread, and all the fuss and spending don't help the man who's dead. 'Twere best to keep the stivers safe hidden in a tub, to comfort the survivors and buy them duds and grub. I know that it would grind me when on the other shore, if those I left behind me had wolves before the door; if I looked down and found them, immersed in tears and woe, with creditors around them all howling for the dough. So when I up and trundle down to the sunless sea, let no one blow a bundle to pay for planting me. I'll slumber just as sweetly in some old basswood box as though trussed up completely with silver screws and locks."
Mr. Mason was married in 1893 to Ella Foss, of Wooster, Ohio, and lives in Emporia's finest residence district.Pages 325-327 from a supplemental volume of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed October 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM196. It is a single volume 3.
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