The words echoed soundly for the editor of a start-up Madison County newspaper at the end of its first four months of publication: “If the people…want a spineless, wishy-washy, jellyfish-like newspaper, then I came to the wrong town.”
After the past week of national attention, these words might logically have been uttered by Brian Timpone, publisher of the Madison County Record. However, these words find their real attribution with a 19-year-old future Illinois Senator by the name of Paul Simon, reflecting on his first four month’s ownership of the Troy Tribune newspaper.
This 1948 journalistic manifesto from Simon to the small community of Troy leads an insightful and entertaining compilation of Simon editorials recently collected, edited, and published by Darrell Hampsten of Troy.
“People should read Paul Simon in his own words,” says Hamspten, who has packaged the columns in a book sharing the title of Simon’s original columns: Trojan Thoughts.
Hampsten, a 37-year-old former newspaper reporter for the same Troy newspaper, began thinking about publishing a book of Paul Simon’s columns while pulling 50-year-old news and editorial items for a This Week in History section in 1998.
“Everyone knows Paul Simon as the friendly bow-tie guy from Illinois,” says Hampsten, referring to perceptions cemented during Simon’s presidential run in 1988. However, Hampsten says that Simon’s fundamental beliefs are evident in even his earliest newspaper writings.
In the columns presented in Trojan Thoughts, Simon preaches his deep religious convictions, having been raised the son of a Lutheran minister. The future Democratic Senator asserts a strong interest in politics, ironically anchored by his membership with the Young Republicans at Dana College. Sometimes Simon’s progressive thinking reached beyond the comfort zone of the local community.
In an Oct. 14, 1948 editorial, Simon writes:
"In this column two weeks from today the Tribune plans to take a stand for certain political candidates on the national, state, and county level. This is going to be done despite some criticism which may be voiced.
Two criticisms which have been heard about the Tribune are that it is a 'Democratic rag' and that it has 'too much religion.'
On the first count, we do not plead guilty of having a 'Democratic rag.' It so happens that I consider myself a Republican, but taking a stand behind any one party, right or wrong, hardly seems the proper thing to do.
On the charge that the Tribune has 'too much religion,' we can only say that perhaps a little more religion would do all of us some good, myself included. On the other hand, we don’t want to make the Tribune a newspaper which pushes any certain church or some unimportant doctrines.
If the people of Troy area want a spineless, wishy-washy, jelly-fish-like newspaper, then I came to the wrong town.
But I’m quite sure that’s not what you want."
“His principles stayed the same, even as his issues changed,” said Hampsten. “Above all, he stood for honesty, integrity and open government,” says Hampsten.
Hampsten says by the early 1950s Simon would utilize his editorial forum to expose gambling corruption and to call for the resignation of several Madison County politicians. While the columns presented in Trojan Thoughts pre-date Simon’s famous calls for an end to corruption and vice, the editorials do demonstrate a fascinating historical look into the 1948 Truman-Dewey Presidential race, including Simon’s Tribune endorsements.
Many parts of the compilation provide random interactions between Simon and city leaders from Troy’s past, while other parts chronicle the episodes of the nation’s youngest newspaper editor finding his way in a new business and in a new community. Long-tenured Madison County residents will fondly remember many of the people mentioned in the editorials, while younger readers will recognize names that now adorn schools and buildings in Troy.
Hampsten says a trip to the State Fair this past summer has helped to propel his project forward, bringing several media interviews and endless stories from fans of the late Senator. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who worked briefly for Senator Simon in 1986, recently sent Hampsten a note to say she enjoyed reading Trojan Thoughts because it reminded her of how deeply Simon believed in the things for which he fought.
The 82-page book is available for $5 each at Hampsten’s studio, Picture Perfect Photography, located in Troy on 710A South Main Street. Orders by phone or e-mail ($10 each, includes shipping charge) can be made to PaulSimonBook@aol.com or (618) 667-0100.