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The deaths of Ferd Politte and blatant journalism

The Desloge Labor Day Picnic is coming up this weekend. Most folks (even locals) don’t know it, but the Desloge Labor Day Picnic goes back a long, long time, probably more than a century. Whenever the Observer thinks of Desloge Labor Day Picnic, the Observer thinks about poor Ferd Politte and how much more insightful newspaper reporting was in the olden days.

Here’s the story.

Ferd Politte’s date to the 1915 edition of Desloge’s Labor Day picnic was Rosa George. At first, Ferd’s day was going swell. Rosa, who must have been an attractive sort, had what the old-timers called a reputation. So Ferd’s Labor Day was filled not only with fun and games, but also likely some anticipation for the post-picnic events. Unfortunately, Ferd’s holiday was completely ruined when he was shot from behind and killed. (It’s all fun and games until someone gets shot).

The September 10, 1915 edition of the Farmington Times gives its readers the gore: “Politte was shot one time, the bullet entering the back of the head near the base of the skull, emerging at the forehead, thus passing completely through the skull.”

The Farmington Times also tells us exactly who shot Politte … not who “allegedly” shot Politte. The shooter was Rosa George’s husband, Steve George, who, the Farmington Times tells us helpfully, was “a foreigner.”

Rosa George was shot also — right in the back. And she, too, was killed. Indeed, we discover a lot about Rosa George in the newspaper article — much more than we would discover from a newspaper reporting a similar incident today. For example, we find out that Rosa “had been married to him [Steve George, the shooter] about two years, but about a month ago left him.” More tellingly, we find out Rosa “had been twice married before and was reported to be a sort of notorious character.”

Wow. We don’t get that kind of insight in today’s reporting.

But there’s more. The last paragraph of the article says, “The woman, it is reported, had been instrumental in the death of three men previous through her immoral machinations.” Now that’s telling it like it is.

For the past year — ever since the national media became a big giant PR outlet for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, then Barack Obama over John McCain — we’ve heard that “journalism is dead”. It’s a fact that’s hard to deny. (The older reporting standards might have relied a bit on rumor and reputation. But so what? The old way is still better than what we have today. As long as journalism is dead, it might as well be interesting).

But back to the double murders: Steve George was immediately apprehended and placed on trial three months later in the local circuit court. According to the newspaper, George was going to plead the “Unwritten Law.” As the name implies, the “Unwritten Law” is not on the books anywhere. Instead, it is traditional belief that, regardless of what the law says, a person who discovers his or her spouse in the midst of an affair should not be held liable for flying off the proverbial handle and doing violence to the paramours. And so the accused admits to the killing, but the jurors find him not guilty anyway. (What was the verdict in Steve George’s trial? Perhaps the answer will appear in a future column).

The moral of the story is thus: If you are married and attending this year’s Desloge Labor Day Picnic, you should probably attend with your own spouse, not someone else’s. But if you absolutely must attend with another, don’t worry too much. If you’re shot at the picnic, Tuesday’s news reports likely won’t delve into your personal reputation.

The Settlement Observer is a resident of Farmington.

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