Eben Weed
Editor, Publisher, Patriot & True Marbleheader

by Alexander McDonald

I think a sword was sheathed the other day.
I'll miss the flash and fire I've known so long.
An honored blade that proud men lay away
While it's still shining bright and straight and strong.

The sword was that of Eben Graves Weed and the poem in tribute to the fiery, long-time editor of The Marblehead Messenger was penned by his brother, Dan Weed. It appeared on the paper's front page three days after Eben died on January 23, 1967.

Eben Weed: the mischievous Marblehead farm boy who went on to famed Phillips Andover Academy, to Yale and Harvard, served courageously overseas in both World War I and II, and in Marblehead pursued a forty-year career as editor and eighteen years as an official of the town he loved and fought for so much.

He made newspaper publishing respectable in Marblehead.

In those years, Marblehead had no more eloquent nor fearless spokesman than Eben Weed. He was a zealot in defending the traditons of the 300-year old town, yet he was visioinary enough to recognize and accept the changes that must come with time. During his four decades of editorship, he saw the community that once had been a fishing village and then busy center of shoe manufacturing being transformed partially to a summer resort and yachting base, and then to its present status as a growing "bedroom" community.

Almost appropriately, to be witness and recorder of much of this change, Eben was born just before the turn of the century. On February 24, 1897, he was born on the old Harris Farm, off Village Street, to the town's favorite postman and poet, Wallace Dana Weed and Elizabeth Graves Weed. One of this beloved couple's five boys and two girls, Eben's local ancestry went back to farmer Daniel Weed who settled in the town in 1750. He was, then, should anyone challenge it, "a true Marbleheader."

Farmboy? Yes. At the Harris Farm and the Childs' Farm close by the present General Glover Inn where Wallace Weed soon moved his family, the farming was done by Eben Graves, the maternal uncle after whom Eben was named, and all the boys helped. On the farm his mother became an experienced gardener, buying seeds from as far away as England and France. Here the boys helped again by peddling her bouquets of flowers around town.

When it came to high school, Eben went to Marblehead High while his brother, Allan, went to Salem High. As both were skilled first-basemen and both made their school baseball teams, it happened that more than once they played against each other in school league games. (This sibling rivalry carried on in later years when Eben and Allan played on opposing teams in the North Shore Twilight League).

For reasons unrecorded, Eben's stay at Marblehead Academy on Pleasant Street, now occupied by the American Legion, was cut short, and Father Wallace had him transerred to Phillips Andover Academy, from which he himself had been graduated. At Andover, Eben continued to distinguish himself as a baseball and football player but again ran afoul of academic authority and, for the seemingly trivial offense of sneaking out after hours to by a sandwich, was dismissed from school.

It hardly mattered, for he had already decided to enlist in the Army and, if possible, to do battle overseas. This he did. He signed up with the U.S. Army Fifth Division's 20th Field Artillery and at 19 went over to France to serve the final two years of the war against the Kaiser. The war over, he stayed abroad and took pre-university studies in England.

Thus equiped, Eben returned to the U.S., studied another year at Milford Academy in Connecticut and in 1921 finally arrivd in New Haven for four undergraduate years at Yale. He worked his way through the university as a waiter and busboy. His scholastic record at Yale was adequate enough for him to win his degree in 1925, but again his athletic record was only a little shor of being phenomenal. Although weighing only 148 pounds at Yale, by 1925 he had earned 17 varsity letters in high school and college football and baseball.

After Yale, he followed the usual graduate route to New York City and found work in the advertising field. Two years of making the rounds of Manhattan offices, however, made him long for the sounds and smells and friendly people of his native town. He returned to Marblehead.

His experience in advertising had instilled in him the ambitioin to get into printing and publishing. Upon arriving back in Marblehead in 1927 he viewed with a calculating eye the operatioins of N.A. Linday & Co., job printers and publishers of The Marblehead Messenger.

The Messenger had been founded by N.A. Lindsay more than a half-centry earlier, in 1872, but was now owned and edited by Frank L. Armstrong. A thriving weekly, it had a circulation of 1,500 in a population of 6,785, which meant that nearly every family was a

Eben at his "retreat" in Maine, late in his career.

subscriber. Eben could not be blamed for hustling around among his family friends, bankers, and businessmen to borrow enough money to buy the company. On June 1, 1927, the name "Weed Publishing Co."replaced the old Lindsay title on the paper's masthead, and Eben became editor and publisher. That same masthead (the boxed space on the editorial page) had alsways included the paper's price: "Subscription $2.00 a year; invariably" to stand until years later when he increased the subscription rate to $2.50.

The young editor announced on the front page what The Messenger henceforth would indubitably stand for. He printed in large type: "We lean to three isms and three only: We are for God, for Country and for Marblehead". For the same front page, his brother Dan wrote a poem memorializing the anniversary that day of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a news article told of Charles Lindbergh's return to the States from his historic solo flight across the Atlantic and another told of the charge of Judge Thayer of the Supreme Judicial Court to the jury which resulted in the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Messenger readers had not long to learn of the editorial mettle of their new editor. In his second issue Eben, in a front page editorial, upbraided the whole town and the Finance Committee for turning down a town meeting article appropriating $1,000 for Fourth of July fireworks. After reviewing Marblehead's surpassing record in the War of Independence, he described the negative vote as "a disgrace of disinterest and of misguided economy". Such editorials and his sometimes angry railing at Town Meetings against various articles being proposed gave him a reputation for bing "crotchety" but those close to him knew this to be indeed a misnomer.

Nor did he look "crotchety". Eben was a slight man but with the wiry build of an athlete. His face was square, the nose rather prominent and he had piercing blue eyes. He was no Ivy Leaguer in looks, nor did he look like the farmer. He looked like, well, a Marbleheader.

In another early editorial Eben urged townsmen not to vote against Presidential candidate Al Smith, Governor of New York, just because he was a Catholic. The Messenger itself, however, was for Herbert Hoover and it was not surprising that on November the GOP canditate swept the strongly Republican town by 3,387 to 1,287 over Smith.

Besides Eben, two others of the Weed family were contributing to the popularity of the weekly paper. His father, Wallace Dana Weed, the avuncular postman who, after studying at Andover, had gone on breifly to Amherst College, contributed indefatigably to The Mesenger verses of poetry about town anniversaries, legends and topical events. The poems were of truly high literary merit and many have since been collected and published. Brother Dan wrote a popular column of town trivia under the pseudonym "Josh Jokem". Articles on old Marblehead by historians Roads, Tutt, Putnam, Robinson andothers, also made popular reading.

The etching for the Marblehead Messenger nameplate was done by Childe Hassan, famed Boston artist
whose works are part of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery Of Art.

Working as a bookkeeper for the company, as she had for Eben's predecessor, Frank Armstrong, was an attractive young graduate of Marblehead High. Eben was more than interested in her. A courtship began and the following year he and Dorothy Stone were married, beginning a happy partnership which was blessed eventually with two daughters, and in years later several grandchildren. Dorthy continued for some time at The Mssenger, part of a staff that, under Eben, worked more as members of a family than as company employees.

Evelyn F. Marraffa, high schoool classmate of Dorothy Stone, joined The Messenger ostensibly as proof reader, but in the subsequent 18 years at the plant became, if needed, typsetter, folding machine, and stencilling operator, bookkeeper and secretary. "Eben", she recalls, "dictated much of this editorial work which was most articulate, he just never could spell. Always, for instance, he would spell 'waste' as 'waist' and there were so many other words he couldn't handle."

Others in The Messenger "family" at the time included old Marbleheaders such as Ben Lindsay, pressman and descendant of the paper's founder; Walter Blackler, also a pressman, whose ancestor of the same name had commanded the barge which bore General Washington over the Delaware for the Battle of Trenton; Harold Peach, typesetter, and over the next four decades, a procession of young and old craftsmen who went on to greater or lesser careers.

After the panic on Wall Street in 1929 and when the spreading depression during Hoover's administration finally and severely reached Marblehead in the early thirties, Eben Weed experessed some of his disenchantment with the Republicans he had supported. In a front page editorial in April, 1932, he unloaded thusly: "About everything and everyone has been subjected in the last year or two to a process of

Eben and friend on Washington Street.

debunking , a sort of deflation which must invariably take place after the blooming of an abnormal period of prosperity. Perhaps the biggest flat tire of them all was ex-President Coolidge. What a halo of bologna encircled that man during his presidential term! He was an economic genius, the ideal businessman in the presidential chair, but what a flat tire today! Next to him comes President Hoover and Secretary of the Treasury Mellon. Today these two are not as flat as Cal, but very little wind is left in them. President Hoover is an ordinary jay faced with a stupendous problem, Mellon like a lttle boy who tried to build a skyscaper on a foundation of sand."

Like other businessmen at the time, Eben had good cause to lament what the recent years had done to him. "The depression nearly ruined me," he told a friend. "I saw about $60,000 worth of printing orders vanish overnight. I had to work like a crazy man for ten years to put the business back on its feet." Which was, in a way, an admission that the Roosevelt years, despite the NRA, did help the Weed Publishing company recoup its depression losses.

Eben had told his wife Dorothy soon after their marriage that he would personally stay away from politics as it might interfere with his editorial judgement on The Messenger. But his vexation with the way school affairs were being run in town prompted him finally to throw his hat into the ring. He decided to run for election to the School Committee. In February 1935, he announced his candidacy, noting that while at Yale he had for two years taken special courses at the university's Graduate School of Eduacation. Yet , in the same issue of The Messenger, he assailed the new salary raises announced for Marblehead teachers, thereby defying the town's powerful school lobby.

A friend asked Eben if he would like him to organize a "bullet" campaign for him. "What do you mean?" Eben asked. "We'd call upon your many friends and members of your family to cast only one ballot for you for School committee, none for the other candidates," it was explained. "That sounds to me like cheating," Eben replied, shortly. The matter was dropped. But he won the election with 1,259 votes, going into office with Chester Parker, another politcal newcomer. During his three-year term, Eben became watchdog of the public treasury, a role that did not promote the adulation of scool officials, but won him a new following among taxpayers.

When World War II broke out, Eben carried on with The Messenger during the first of the conflict, but the stirrings of patriotism that tradionally seem to grip Marblehead men impelled him to apply to the U.S. Navy for the chance to serve. The Navy was hesitant about signing on this middle-aged editor but possibly out of respect for the town's impressive background in naval affairs, finally awarded him a reserve officer's commission.

Following the usual officers' training, Eben was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet's minesweeper force. By the time the Allied Forces were ready for the invaision of Europe, Lieutenant Weed was commander of one of the minesweepers leading the right wing to the invasioin on D-Day. The mission was highly successful although when most of the job was done, one of the mines Eben's craft had cleared blew up and took away part of the ship's stern. He was able to bring the crippled minesweeper back to Southhampon and for him the war was virtually over.

Dorothy Weed had kept The Messenger going full pace until Eben's return to the editorship in May, 1945. He then printed a touching tribute entitiled "The Home Folks". "Now that peace is here, " he wrote, "there will be many articles extolling the deeds of our soldiers and sailors. To my way of thinking, something should be

Eben sits comfortably at his desk backdropped by his signature cause, perhaps now lost, touting the fact of Marblehead's place in history. Before him is the Town Report of 1946.

said for the home follks." And he told of the sacrifices, the loneliness, losses and deprivations of local families through the war, concluding "I hope the solidiers and sailors of Marbleheard will not take all the glory." Coming from one nearly lost in combat, it seemed high tribte indeed.

Again, in an August editorial that year, he wrote in anticipation of what was to become The Marshal Plan for U.S. aid to stricken nations. "The U.S. people, " he wrote, "have to change their way of thinking. The idea that we are so wealthy and that it is impossible ever to give away a substantial part of our wealth must be discarded. We must work to free India and China and every nation that wants to be freed. If we are honest and sincere about this it can truly be said we are entering an age when the welfare of man will reach heights which seemed impossible when Wilson first dreamed the idea." Thus spoke the "crotchety" smallltown editor from Marblehead.

But Eben was his irascible editorial self again a few weeks later when he assailed the medical profession of Marblehead for refusing to make house calls. "With the exception of Dr. Stanley Hopkins," he wrote, "the town is infested with medical specialists who refuse to take house calls. We know they are competent in their fields but to pry them out for an average call is a task something like the raising of the Normandy."

By 1947 Eben was ready for another dip into politics, this time his goal a seat on the Board of Selectmen. Running on a platform that called for a new hospital to replace the old and obsolete Mary Alley Hospital on Franklin Street, and for a slow down on town zoning, he won the fifth place on the five-man board.

The new hospital issue had for long been a priority issue with Eben. But he had his own ideas on the subject. When, years earlier, the Goldthwaite family had offered free to the town the old Devereux Mansion and three acres of land for a new hospital, Eben fought the idea, claiming quite properly that he handsome wooden building would be a firetrap for patients. The project was rejected. His own proposal later that the Lydia Pinkham stone castle out on the Neck, Carcssone, be obtained as a hospital site, was soudly defeated. But he continued to campaign for a new hospital and finally the town voted the $675,000 necessary for the present Mary Alley Hospital that was completed in 1954. (One can imagine the editorial explosions that would erupt were Eben Weed running The Messenger today and heard of present plans to phase out the Mary Alley!).

Eben ran for re-election as Selectman in 1948 and, typically, at Town Meeting the very week before the balloting, arose to propose lowering the slaries of all town employees. "I realize," he told the meeting, "that what I'm saying might lose me the election next week." It didn't. Again he placed fifth in the race, edging out Richard Rockett who had been chairman of the board during Eben's term the previous year.

It was probably such challenges as that of the State Board of Education about the site for Marblehead's proposed new Junior High School that kept Eben's combative spirits up. The state board demanded that the site include at least seven acres of land. On The Messenger's front page he roared: "Only a jackass or someone connnected with the State Board of Educarion, evidently synonomous phrases, would, looking upon Marblehead's geographic characteristics, suggest such a thing."

And when in March, 1952, Dr. Henry Stebbins, chairman of the town Board of Health, annnounced that a Salem man had been appointed Marblehead's health agent his wrath was unbounded. This was just three days before Dr. Stebbins was up for re-election. Stalking to the home of Thomas A. Jordon, Eben insited that friend Tommy oppose the board chairman as a write-in candidate the following Monday. Somewhat dazedly, Jordon agreed and ran his sticker campaign over the weekend. In the biggest upset in the town's political history, he defeated the doctor-chairman, 2,535 votes to 1,543. Thus began Tommy Jordan's long and varied politcal career.

Always interested in waterfront affairts and writing with some authority becasue of his three years' naval service, Eben was an early proponent of the idea of a breakwater for Marblehead Harbor and in addition, a town pier off Crocker Park. When club yachtsmen failed to rally in support, this ignited Eben's ready ire. A front page editorial in 1952 assailed them: "When our yachtsmen get into their whites and loll around their clubs they do look like the cat's whiskers. But I don't know of any group hereabouts which has acted with so little intelligence and foresight." Nevertheless, it was the voters as a whole who voted the breakwater idea down at Town Meeting a few years later.

In 1953 Eben's role as watch dog for the taxpayer was recognized by the Board of Selectmen with his appointment to the powerful town Finance Committee, a post he held until his death fourteen years later.

The remaining years were not easy ones. Eben appeared daily at The Messenger office but at luchtime, on doctor's orders, retired to his nearby Washingotn Street home for a rest in bed. Refreshed, he would return to the office for some afternoon work and then, almost inevitably, and evening meeting. These years a constant companion was his friendly spaniel, "pepsi". The dog, too, was getting on and it is told that Eben cancelled a winter trip to Florida to remain by the side of "Pepsi" during the old pet's final days.

So much for sentiment. The obverse side of Eben's nature erupted again full force shortly afterward when a local landlord rented the house behind the Weed place to a group of young sports who proceeded to keep the nights alive for the neighborhood with noisy revelry. Complaints to the owner, Ambrose Brown, who can be named because Eben named him in his front page editorial, were disregarded "I planned to call Mr. Brown a rent-hog," he wrote, "but changed it to rent-hungry. There is no similarity between Mr. Brown and a hog, although I have never seen him down on all fours."

More balanced writing Eben reserved for literary work that he was doing at home. The first of these was a biography he was writing of General John Glover. He abandoned this project but did complete his long historical novel called "Red on Black". This told of the Abolitionist days in which appeared Marblehead characters such as the daughters of maligned Skipper Flud Ireson (a distant ancester of Eben) and Wiliam Lloyd Garrison, Wentworth Higginson, John Brown and others.

That long labor completed, Eben turned more and more to his new love, painting. Using oils and "canvasses" made from the cardboard crates in which newsprint deliveries arrived, Eben painted scores of scenes, much in the primitive style of his late friend J. O. J. Frost. Most of the scenes were of Marblehead but there were many, too, of the camp in Maine, on Mousam Lake, near Sanford, to which Eben and Dorothy made weekend retreats.

But the end was near. A few weeks befoe Christmas, 1966, Eben went to the hospital for a cancer operation. He survived the operation and was back home for the holidays. In January, 1967, he suffered a stroke and died on the 23rd of that month.

He had been no churchgoer. Private services were held at Nichols Funeral Home, followed by cremation. The ashes lie beside a simple stone at Waterside Cemetery, not far from the pillar marking the graves of his early Weed ancestors.

On his gravestone:

"A Spirit Passes, But a Star is Born."
There lies Eben Graves Weed, Editor and Patriot.

The grave of Eben Weed. In a serene corner of Waterside Cemetery stands this simple marker.
40 years of Messengers, a legacy of tenacious reporting and editing, along with a life of service to the Town of Marblehead have marked Eben's place in the legend of Marblehead, undeniably.