Laconia, New Hampshire
Newspaper Publisher E.J. Gallagher:
A Gracious Gentleman
By DEAN DEXTER
LACONIA, NH, September 30, 2016 – As The Citizen newspaper ceases publication after a grand 90-year run, thoughts turn to the gracious, tenacious gentleman who founded the paper, Edward John (“E.J.”) Gallagher. The paper debuted on January 4, 1926 as a four page broadsheet. There were only four pages because that’s all the type he had for a paper of that size. That first day he sold 500 copies.
Born October 23, 1890, Gallagher must have been an amazing kid. The son of two Irish immigrants, likely among the two million or so to land in this country fleeing the Great Irish Famine, the boy got off to an unsteady start. His father, James Gallagher, was a stone cutter in the Concord quarries who died when his only child was 10 months old. His mother, Julia Martin Gallagher, was left with the infant and forced to work as a housekeeper. Three years later, she remarried a man named Cassidy, another quarry man from Ireland, and raised a sizeable family, until she died at 40 in May of 1903. She had suffered two years with pulmonary tuberculosis.
Laconia Evening Citizen owner Edward J. Gallagher acted as reporter and editor when he founded his Lakes Region daily in 1926. Here he takes news from the Associated Press over the "pony wire" receiver (i.e., headset), connected to the candle-stick phone.
Likely due to his mother’s illness, at the age of 10, E.J. went to live with two prominent Concord ladies. Mrs. Caroline B. Murdock and Mrs. Lucy M. Bradley were sisters, daughter of Bible publisher Luther Roby, the subject of a sketch Gallagher wrote for the N.H. Historical Society magazine in 1949.Around this time, young Gallagher contracted intestinal tuberculosis, probably caused by ingesting low quality raw milk, and was bedridden for some four years. Home-taught by his benefactors and Catholic nuns, he never graduated from high school. When he was 15, a nurse gave him a toy typewriter.
Writes Gallagher: “With my pillow elevated a few inches, and the typewriter perched on my chest, I kept my new acquisition busy.” He tapped out a 500 word article all in capital letters, “How to Care for an Invalid,” published by The Pictorial Review, a national magazine.His doctor was so elated he suggested, “Let’s throw Ed’s medicine away and buy him a real typewriter.” A wealthy neighbor gave him $35 (over $900 in today’s money*) to buy a secondhand Remington. Eventually, Gallagher recovered, and lived another 73 years.
At 16, Gallagher started to hang around the state house with the idea of becoming a news reporter for the 1907 session. To enhance his youthful stature, he called himself the F.K. Gilpin Syndicate, writing news stories for several weeklies at fifty cents a column. Soon he was hired part-time by the Manchester Union. In four years, at age 20, plucky Ed Gallagher, would own the Concord Patriot, once edited by a legendary N.H. governor and U.S. Senator, Isaac Hill, a confidante of President Andrew Jackson.
Leon W. "Andy" Anderson, 40-year reporter and columnist for the Concord (NH) Monitor with Richard M. O'Dowd, race track executive, and Edward J. Gallagher, Laconia, N.H., newspaper publisher, at Rockingham Park race track, Salem, N.H., summer 1956. O'Dowd at age 14 was the youngest page ever to serve the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1909. Gallagher was the youngest legislative reporter in state history at 16 during the 1907 session. Photo from Anderson's book, To This Day, 300 Years of the New Hampshire Legislature, Phoenix Publishing, (1981).
When in November 1920, fire destroyed the White’s Opera House building he owned on Park Street, near the state house where the Patriot offices occupied the ground floor, Gallagher sold the paper to Jim Langley, owner of the Concord Monitor.For several years, Gallagher traveled the country for Billboard Magazine. During this period he met and married Etta Gates, a native of Indiana. He returned with his bride to Concord. They had a little girl who died in childbirth on August 31, 1915. Julia, named for his mother.
When Gallagher moved to Laconia, the Lakes Region was ripe for a daily newspaper. He purchased a press from the Portsmouth Herald and a Linotype form New York. Friend Langley brought a load of type from Concord, and Gallagher settled in to become a bank president, two-term mayor of Laconia (1937-1939), and all-round civic leader with his hand in many business and charitable enterprises, a quintessential small town publisher who loved his community if there ever was one.He was a Democrat in his politics and a member of the party’s delegation to the 1944 national convention. He served on Democratic Governor Samuel Felker’s military staff as an honorary major, 1913-1915.
When Gallagher came of age, newspapers had a long history of partisanship. There was really no attempt to present the news in a balanced or impartial manner. “As you examine newspaper files of the period, you have to remember reporting was done to suit the desires of the subscribers. Republicans bought a Republican paper, Democrats a Democrat paper,” Gallagher advised the late N.H. historian Charles Brereton. Gallagher decided to break that model when he came to Laconia.
In the July 20, 1978 Citizen story announcing his passing, the reporter writes: “In a 1975 interview, Gallagher said he chose the name “Citizen” for his newspaper because it implies “public rather than political interests…it’s a mistake to have a newspaper that keeps a town all riled up.”By the 1980s the paper reached an audited, paid circulation of over 10,000, covering much of central New Hampshire with 10 reporters.
I had the pleasure of writing on and off for Ed Gallagher’s newspaper beginning in my teenage years. Occasionally before that, as a youngster I would visit him in his office in the old building on Beacon Street. I also wanted to write for the newspapers. Framed on the wall was the front page of the first Laconia Evening Citizen, and beside it a large, dramatic black and white photo of the burning White’s Opera House. There was always a big white glue pot on his desk, and papers strewn everywhere. I never saw him without a suit and tie. He spoke softly and kindly. Once in a while on a hot day, usually in the afternoon, it was said he’d leave his office and walk around the block to Ma Ladd’s for a tall cold mug from the tap.
His front page editorials were filled with local and state history, and correspondence from readers here and there. Very few involved controversial political issues. He loved to find a local angle when big national and even international news stories broke.When Massachusetts Congressman John McCormack was speaker of the house, he would vacation summers in the Lakes Region, where he was given an office in the Laconia Post Office. He could be found there when he wasn’t down the street in Ed Gallagher’s office telling stories.
Gallagher authored several books. A collection of columns about Stilson Hutchins, founder of the Washington Post and once owner of Governor’s Island, another about a notorious Concord bank robber, and one about his friend, George Higgins Moses, an irascible and once famous U.S. Senator, who onetime edited the Concord Monitor. A fourth was finished but unpublished at his passing, and is perhaps lost, entitled: James O. Lyford Political Writer – Politicking in N.H. With a Touch of the Circus.After his death it was a pleasure to work for his late beloved daughter, Alma Gallagher Smith and her husband Larry, managing editor, who started as a cub reporter and then married the boss’s daughter, of course. Larry was a really good writer and wonderful story teller, and an exacting boss who you didn’t want to cross. Let’s say he could be very loud in the style you see in those black and white movies about newspapers. I used to call Larry and Alma the Tracy and Hepburn, the “Pat and Mike” of the Lakes Region, although I’m not sure they were very amused.
A good pair, a good paper, founded by a good man. And so “30” it is on this sad day.
Newsroom, Laconia Evening Citizen, Laconia, NH, circa 1982, equipped with Compugraphic desktops and floppy disks. From Left: John Howe, Dean Dexter (center), Mike Mortensen, and Gordon D. King (back to camera).
A version of this story appeared on Page One of the September 30, 2016 issue of The Citizen, Voice of New Hampshire's Lakes Region, "Farewell Edition."
*Estimate from Morgan Friedman online inflation calculator