The Daily Epitomist
By LOU BERNARD
There have been a lot of newspapers in the area, over the last couple of hundred years. The Express itself began in 1889. The Clinton Democrat and the Clinton Republican were from an age when publishers didn’t hide their political leanings as much, and there was even a Clinton Independent for a short while. I’ve also written repeatedly about the Clinton County Times, and the bizarre sorts of stories they liked to cover.
But I’m writing this column now, because I’ve discovered a new one. I’m actually scribbling this in a notebook to be transcribed later, because I cannot wait to introduce the Daily Epitomist to you.
I’ve found one issue of this newspaper, from April 27, 1867. Seems to be the first issue, and I’m not sure if there was ever another. I had to look up “Epitomist,” which means “One who says an epitome.” An epitome is defined as the best example of something, so I guess that clears that up.
The paper’s location was said to be at the corner of West and Mill streets, an intersection which no longer seems to exist, and I’m not sure if it ever did. The whole thing seems to be a fairly secretive underground sort of operation, very critical of the local government.
And boy, was the Daily Epitomist ever critical of the local government. It seems to have been the entire purpose of this thing, to air their somewhat radical viewpoints. The publisher was Theodore Flanigan and company, but most of the writing was done by a Hemlock Splinters, which had to be a pseudonym. Hemlock Splinters appears to have viewed himself as a combination superhero and journalist, bringing some critical questions to light.
In a full-page column on the front page, Splinters proceeded to question many city agencies and criticize some of the policies, particularly the alcohol laws. He questioned one of the local judges and the city clerk about granting the licenses, and suggested that there was an Underground Railroad operation helping a local official named Bill get from his office to the local bars and back in secret. He also questioned whether the local citizens were going to elect officials going to a specific bar in town, at the corner of Third and Pine streets.
Then Splinters got into other areas. He gave considerable space to questioning why the local police were more active than usual, and made a suggestion that it might be because of a sense of duty, or more likely because reappointments to the department were coming up.
In another entry — And I have to remind you that we’re not even past the front page yet — He had the semi-cryptic statement, “Splinters wants to know when our Methodist sister, nearly opposite the Herdic House, intends resuming her rump dances.” I have no idea what he is referring to, but I am highly amused by it.
Apparently Hemlock Splinters had been at work with other publications, as well, because on page two he mentions that one of the local people he’d criticized had offered a reward of a thousand dollars for the identity of Hemlock Splinters. Splinters himself responded by saying that for a hundred in cash, he’d supply the true names of himself, the editor, the typesetter, and the delivery guys.
All of this went on in the same vein for a total of four pages, concluding with Splinters criticizing the mayor, a local ladies’ man, and the yellow coat that a local photographer was seen wearing. The whole thing was highly entertaining to read.
As far as I can tell, the true identity of Hemlock Splinters was never revealed. It’s a mystery, and one I might work on sometime soon. I wonder if that thousand-dollar reward is still available.
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-660-4463.