By Gary Herrity
Special to the Herald
One of the biggest characters in Clinton at the turn of the 20th Century was a journalist by the name of Dan Winget. Winget was an outgoing fellow, well-known about town as a fun-loving individual who’d had an extremely interesting life, even though he had lived in quiet Clinton, Iowa. He was historically most famous for being a close friend of Buffalo Bill Cody. Winget wrote several books and worked for many of our local newspapers. At one time, there were seven! Besides the Clinton Herald, founded in 1860 by Lillian Russell’s father, Charles Leonard, there were: The Pungent Bee, a gossip paper; The Age; and Winget’s paper, The Merry War, the Mirror, and the Advertiser across from the Herald. Later, it is said that he wrote for the Clinton Herald.
The last competitor of the Clinton Herald was the Advertiser, and we’ll read more about that paper in future columns. These were the newspaper days Mark Twain wrote about in his short story, “Journalism in Tennessee.” It was a time when competing newspaper editors called each other nasty names and argued back and forth through the pages of their newspapers. Truth and facts had little bearing on journalism of the 1800’s! The culmination of Twain’s story even had the editors and adversaries of the two newspapers having a gun fight in the press room of one of the papers!
But such was not the case in the romantic escapades of D.H. “Dan” Winget, who lived circa 1875 to 1933. He wrote Love and a Limousine in 1911. a copy of which was recently loaned to me by Bob Dierks of Albany. It’s Dan’s own quaint story about a group of young people going on an overland trip in an Apperson electric automobile, hauling a broken-down gasoline-powered auto along with it. Yes, electric automobiles were quite popular back then. A Clinton priest, Father McLaughlin, received a gift of an electric car from his parishioners about that same time. However, as more powerful gas engines became available, the electrics were lost to history until making a rather recent resurgence with the “hybrids” now being developed.
The Winget auto trip was from Chicago to Philadelphia, and on around the east coast. The story is told through press clippings and personal letters. This was in a day when everyone on a trip would write back to relatives with the details of almost every moment of a trip. They would, at the very least, send a penny postcard a few times per week. In addition, they might also keep a diary. Writing was a normal daily task for all educated people in the country. Every hotel had a writing room complete with desks, stationery, pens, and ink wells. This correspondence was the e-mail of its day.
During the course of this great trip that Dan and his friend took, the roads are described as excellent! … at a time when highways west of the Mississippi were almost nonexistent, (this was before the 20’s and the Lincoln Highway!) It seemed to have been a leisurely trek, and while the group of young men and women socialized throughout the trip’s days and nights, love bloomed between Fred and Helen. They later married, and one fine day several months later, Dan Winget got a note from the newly-married couple who happen to be staying in the bridal suite at The Lafayette Hotel.
They asked Dan and his wife to get all their young friends together for a party. The host couple did that, and amidst the many entertainments which they arranged during the following week, was attendance at what was probably Buffalo Bill’s last “Wild West Show.” (People stayed for long periods when visiting or honeymooning). Buffalo Bill had been doing them for several decades following his career with the railroad shooting buffalo. His shows were very entertaining and, as-advertised, “wild”. They included shootings, Indians, chase scenes, stagecoaches, arrows, lassoes and all the accoutrements of later cowboy films! They were done live for the entertainment of huge crowds, in tents…like a circus, which were also very common and popular.
Since Bill Cody and Dan Winget were such good friends, (and Buffalo Bill was a native of nearby LeClaire, Iowa), it made perfect sense to culminate his career here in Clinton, Iowa. Additionally, Winget arranged to take the wedding entourage backstage afterward, to meet the legendary showman. Buffalo Bill enjoyed himself so much that he stayed and talked for quite awhile, and he learned that Fred and Helen were newlyweds, and he also learned that Fred’s middle name was “Cody.” So, he spontaneously offered to put them up at a favorite hotel near his ranch in Cody, Wyoming. He telegraphed ahead to his sister, with explicit instructions that included the warning, “Fred has only counterfeit money, so don’t take any of it from him!” … his way of indicating that that part of the honeymoon was on him!
The romantic, leisurely times depicted in this book, Love and a Limousine, evoke a quaint period just after the Victorian Age and Gay Nineties, when everything is just starting to pick up speed -- what with automobiles, telephones, trolley cars, fast trains, increased freedom for women, and newfangled electric lights bringing about abundant night life. It shows that there was still a great deal of respect for women, along with corresponding moral niceties and social rules. But at the same time, harbingers of the next decade, “the Roaring Twenties”, also lurked. We shall hear more about Mr. Winget in the days ahead.