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Manitoba History: Cool Things in the Collection: Chapel Board: In Reverse and Backwards

by Sheilla Jones
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 70, Fall 2012

The Winnipeg Press Club chapel board was a gift from retired Los Angeles Examiner editor Jim Richardson in 1958. He was the keynote speaker for the Press Club’s 70th anniversary dinner. It stands 32 inches high, with a mirror on one side to reflect the backwards and reverse type familiar to newspaper people who worked in the days of lead type.
Source: Winnipeg Press Club

The Winnipeg Press Club “chapel board” is a curious object that recalls a time in printing when publications were crafted by monks. The board has a list of the names of Press Club presidents on one side, printed backwards in reverse type, with a mirror set at 75 degrees to more easily read the names.

The chapel board was a gift designed by James H. Richardson, the long-time managing editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, and presented to the Press Club in 1958. It carried the inscription “Every man is the sum of his words” to remind reporters of their duty in the tough job of journalism.

Richardson knew quite a lot about how difficult a reporter’s job could be. Young Jimmie had been expelled from Kelvin High School in 1912, and his father promptly arranged a job interview for him with Col. G.C. Porter, [1] the scowling editor of the Winnipeg Telegram. As Richardson later recalled, Porter tried his best to discourage him.

“Look, kid,” the Colonel had said, according to Richardson, studying the butt of a frayed cigar, “this is no business for a nice young boy. It’s a tough hard business, and it’s dirty too. You work hard and you work long and you never make any money. You never get to live as other people do. You’ll get to know cops and thieves and pimps and whores by their first names. You see things that are better unseen and get to know things that are better unknown. I say you work hard and you work long and never make any money and you grow old and tired and sad and wind up wondering what the hell happened to you.” [2]

Richardson was not to be dissuaded. He had retired from the Examiner and was in Winnipeg in 1958 as the keynote speaker for the Press Club’s 70th anniversary dinner [3] and 25th anniversary of Beer and Skits.

Printed backwards and reversed, the Winnipeg Press Club logo, with the inscription below reading “This chapel board presented by James H. Richardson to honor past presidents of the Winnipeg Press Club.”
Source: Winnipeg Press Club

In a report on the chapel board in 1980, WPC archivist Eric Wells noted that Richardson’s 1954 biography, For the Life of Me, “confirmed his notoriety as a hell-raiser. He was the subject of considerable interest at the time for his stories on American gangsters. Richardson carried the sobriquet of ‘The Last of the Terrible Men’, which suggested the days of rambunctious journalism were gone for good.” [4]

The chapel board was a gift of appreciation from Richardson. “It carries the names of all the presidents,” wrote Wells, “cast in reverse type as was the common newspaper practice when all persons working on the news could read backwards and upside down—an accomplishment long since extinct. That’s why the mirror was added to the board.”

The term “chapel board” has a very long history. It dates back to medieval times when monks in monasteries prepared texts, and their workroom was called a chapel. A 1683 text on the business of printing states that “Every Printing-house is by the Custom of Time out of mind, called a Chappel; and all the Workmen that belong to it are Members of the Chappel : and the Oldest Freeman is Father of the Chappel.” [5]

The name stuck. The inscription on the Press Club’s chapel board disappeared a long time ago. “Alas,” said Wells, “Jim Richardson’s inscription disappeared in the renovation of the board. It read: ‘Every man is the sum of his words’ which he intended as guidance to aspiring reporters, and a judgment on others who had gone astray. The dictum was adapted from Cervantes who used the noun ‘works’ and the aphorism was adjusted to newspapering in Richardson’s rewrite.”

The two plaques near the top read:

Retired City Editor, Los Angeles Examiner Jim Richardson returned to Winnipeg to officially complete 46 years of newspaper service where he started in 1912 on the Winnipeg Telegram as sports writer. On April 25th, 1958, Richardson, “The Last of the Terrible Men” was guest of honor at the 70th anniversary of the Winnipeg Press Club and the 25th Silver Jubilee edition of the club’s Beer and Skits.

The plaques below list the Press Club presidents, backwards and in reverse, starting from 1922. This list was updated in 1976. The plaque at the bottom of the board gives a thumbnail history of the Press Club, as best it was understood in 1958.

James Hugh “Jim” Richardson (1894–1963) was the chain-smoking, curmudgeonly editor for the Los Angeles Examiner when, in 1958, he returned to Winnipeg for the Press Club’s 70th anniversary. In 1912, he started a 46-year career in the news business after being expelled from Kelvin High School and getting a job at the Winnipeg Telegram.
Source: University of Winnipeg, Western Canada Pictorial Index, #39662.

Notes

1. WPC Yearbook / Beer & Skits Program 1958, page 26.

2. James H. Richardson, For the Life of Me: The Autobiography of a Great Newspaperman, Putnam, as quoted in the WPC Beer & Skits Program 1958, page 26.

3. In 1958, the Press Club still believed it had started in 1888 with the big reunion of Winnipeg’s newspaper men. It wasn’t until much later that the club discovered it had started a year earlier in 1887.

4. Eric Wells, 17 February 1980, “Chapel Board”, WPC Archives.

5. Joseph Moxon, 1683, Mechanick Exercises: Or, the Doctrine of Handiworks, Applied to the Art of Printing, London, page 356.

Page revised: 27 November 2017

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