Owen Youngman and the infamous Tribune he bought on eBay.
(“Inside Chicago Tribune,” Jan. 17, 2000)
The Chicago Tribune is having the last laugh when it comes to one of the more ignominious chapters in the newspaper’s storied history. Who can forget that infamous headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”? Certainly not the general public, and certainly not Editorial. “Fears raised by that headline are always lurking on election night,” says Editor Howard Tyner. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an editor mumbling around deadline time that he or she isn’t going to be the one to make another ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ T-shirt possible.” In fact, those very T-shirts are a hot item in Tribune Store. “Tourists seem to like it,” says store manager Dee Dee Tremont.
So while it can’t rewrite history–or headlines–the Chicago Tribune is more than willing to embrace the notorious gaffe. That is, if it could get its hands on a copy.
Enter Owen Youngman, director/planning and development, who came across the 1948 paper while surfing eBay, the Internet auction site. Curiosity piqued, Youngman checked with various sources around the Tower and confirmed the company didn’t own a copy of that edition, nor did one exist on microfilm.
“Everyone is stunned when they hear that,” Youngman says. “But you have to remember, that edition was a re-plate. We usually only film the last edition of the day–we don’t make a habit of keeping every edition of every paper.”
“If we screwed up on that scale today, would we keep an edition? Probably, but way down in a drawer somewhere,” adds Tyner. “An embarrassment like that is better enjoyed a generation or two down the line.”
Youngman figured the passage of 50+ years was enough time to let bygones be bygones. He decided to bid on a Dewey-Truman newspaper and bring it home to the Tribune. “One would come up every six to seven weeks. I got this one for $900. It’s in great shape; the pages had never been turned,” he says.
Seller Jim Boothby was amazed to discover the Chicago Tribune had placed the winning bid. “I was astounded when Owen Youngman told me the Trib didn’t have a copy of its most famous newspaper,” he says. “My father, who started out his life in Chicago as a newspaperman and is no longer with us, would be thrilled to know that the paper he saved all these years was going back to the Chicago Tribune.”
The elder Boothby correctly gauged that Dewey-Truman would prove of value. “He never saved any other edition of any other newspaper-only this one,” his son relates.
“It was wrapped carefully and protected in a box from the day it was bought.” Boothby decided to part with his copy when he became concerned about his ability to preserve it since moving to Southern California from Rockford, Ill. “It’s in such fantastic condition after having sat in my parents’ attic in Rockford for over 50 years,” he explains. “I worried about the pests in a warmer climate, specifically silverfish, which love to eat old paper.”
While Tyner still is mulling a permanent home for the new acquisition, he’s pleased to welcome back the former black sheep.
“The prominence of that particular paper, of course, lies in the wonderful photograph of a triumphant Truman holding it up; the fact that his victory was such a monumental upset; and the delicious irony for many that the mighty Republican Tribune got it wrong,” says Tyner.
Update: The Tribune acquired a second copy via the eBay route in the spring of 2002.