The Un-charming Side of Nostalgia

This editorial cartoon rescued from microfilm was originally published in the August 20, 1909, Indianapolis News. The unintended message is only understood in retrospect from the post-civil rights movement of the 1960's. Today it illustrates a dark time in America where racial prejudice was on open, vibrant display. The charm of a simpler age can seem idyllic until it is truly investigated, examined, and understood.
The prevailing attitude of racism ran deep and it was a rare case when someone in the "white majority" presented any sense that those of other races were their equals and entitled to simple respect as human beings. Often in researching early motorsport, I encounter such boldfaced statements of prejudice as simple fact in the most widely respected, mainstream publications available at the time. To recognize that fact, such articles and artwork were on the front pages of major daily newspapers - as this subject was. They are truly sobering, and an important reality check on who and what we are as a society, and how we have to be on guard against the sick ego that drives humans to abuse others in an attempt to assert their "superiority" and feel good about themselves.
Now, for the intended message. This cartoon was a commentary on the shocking developments during the tragic first auto racing event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The previous day, August 19, driver William Bourque after his fatal accident during the first day of auto racing at the Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayBourque and his riding mechanic, Harry Holcomb, who also perished in the accident went down in history as the first fatalities at the storied Speedway. The car was a Knox Automobile Company entry. The men had scored a victory in the third race of the day, a five-mile sprint.
The artist could not have known it at the time, but the worst was yet to come two days later on the final day of the race meet. The single most destructive race was the final event of the entire three days, the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy which was scheduled for 300 miles but was called off at 235 miles with Jackson Automobile Company driver Leigh Lynch in the lead. The big accident occurred when the National Motor Vehicle Company racer driven by Charlie Merz blew a tire, crashed through the fencing lining the course and catapulted into the crowd. Riding Mechanic Kellum lost his life as did spectators West and Jolliff.

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