Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Chicago Tribune Publisher Joseph Medill’s Last Words.

Joseph Medill served as editor-in-chief for the Chicago Tribune for forty-four years.

Joseph Medill
In 1864, Joseph Medill left the Tribune editorship for political activity, which occupied him for the next ten years. He was appointed by President Grant to the first Civil Service Commission. In 1870, he was elected as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional convention. After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, Medill was elected mayor of Chicago as candidate of the temporary "Fireproof Reform Party[1]," serving for two years until 1873. As mayor, Medill gained more power for the mayor's office, he created Chicago's first public library, enforced blue laws, and reformed the police and fire departments.

On March 16, 1899 Medill knew he was dying. The custom of his day was to take down the last words of prominent people. (When Groucho Marx was dying, he let out one last quip: “This is no way to live!”) That explains Medill’s actions on this day.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Medill called his attending physician over to his bedside. Then he told the doctor: “My last words shall be–‘What is the news?'” After that, Medill spoke no more. Within ten minutes he was dead.

Medill's last words was printed in the Saturday March 25, 1899 Chicago Tribune. In fact, the entire page 13 was titled "Joseph Medill. Opinions of the Press Concerning Him."

Now that’s what you call dedication to your craft. As Medill was approaching his death, he’s thinking about what will be catchy in the next day’s paper. Notice that he announces “My last words shall be...” Old Joe wanted to make sure the doctor knew what was coming after that, and would remember the words, and would pass them on. He remained a newsman until the very end.

Today you’ll find Joseph Medill’s last words quoted in numerous places. Just like he wanted them to be. Medill is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

[1] The disaster of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the fact that it was widely blamed on the cheap wooden buildings that enabled working-class families to afford homeownership in large numbers, prompted the organization of a Fireproof Reform Party led by Joseph Medill, the Republican editor of the Chicago Tribune. Medill and his party were dedicated to the passage of a fire limit ordinance that would ban wood construction in Chicago. This effort failed, but the reformers were defeated in 1873 because of another disastrous policy: they renewed the temperance effort by enforcing Sunday closing of taverns. A pro-liquor People's Party, led by the North Side German Republican Anton Hesing (publisher of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung ), won control of the city council and elected Harvey Colvin as mayor.

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