The Fossils, Historians of Amateur Journalism


WHEN AN AMATEUR JOURNALIST retires from active participation in the work of amateur journalism, either through advancing years, or through loss of interest, or, more usually, through the pressure of professional or business duties, his associates, in the technical language of the institution, call him a “Fossil.” The first to make use of the word in this sense is not precisely known. Josiah Fletcher Osgood, of Boston, claims to have invented the term, and gave it to Charles H. Fowle to use. Fowle did use it in November, 1875. But J. Edson Briggs, of Washington, in the October, 1875, issue of his famous little paper, the Imp, applied the term to inactive amateurs. This seems to be the first time that the word was so used in print. It is probable that the idea occurred independently to two or more amateurs at nearly the same time. The epithet, very appealing to the mind of energetic youth, found favor at once, its use became general, and it has become an accepted part of the amateur journalist’s vocabulary.


There had been a number of attempts to perfect an organization of former amateur journalists, but all these so-called alumni associations were short-lived, until in 1904 an organization was formed with several unique features, and this has endured to the present time.


In the spring of 1904, Charles C. Heuman, publisher of the Favorite in 1870, chanced to meet Will K. Graff, who had edited the Idler, when, like Heuman, he lived in Brooklyn. Talking over old times, they agreed that a reunion of old friends in amateur journalism would be a fine thing. They immediately looked up J. Austin Fynes, formerly of Boston, but then living in New York. They had not met Fynes for over 30 years, but he was enthusiastic over the idea, as was J. Rosevelt Gleason, another Brooklyn boy, editor of the Pilot in the Seventies. Heuman, Graff and Gleason busied themselves in looking up and interesting other amateurs of olden time.


A committee was formed, with Frank J. Martin, editor of Our City Boys in 1876, as chairman, and on May 28, 1904, a reunion dinner was held at the Arena Hotel in New York City. It was attended by 46 former amateur journalists. Charles H. Young, editor in 1873 of Our Own Journal, acted as toastmaster.


During the dinner, letters suggesting a permanent organization for holding annual reunions were read from Edward A. Oldham, James M. Beck, Frank S. Arnett, William R. Murphy and others, and about midnight, at the close of the dinner, Philip Hano, who in 1876 had published the Keystone Gazette in Philadel­phia, moved that a permanent alumni organization be formed. This motion, seconded by Heuman, was unanimously carried. Young was chosen President; Will T. Scofield, former editor of Our Sanctum, Philadelphia, N.Y., Vice-President; Edwin Hadley Smith, Secretary; J. Edson Briggs, editor of the imp, in 1875 in Washington, D.C., Treasurer; and Joseph Dana Miller, editor in 1878 of the Argosy, in Jersey City, N.J., Official Editor.


A constitution committee was appointed by President Young, consisting of Frank J. Martin, Louis Kempner, Joseph Dana Miller, Charles C. Heuman and J. Rosevelt Gleason. This committee met at the Montauk Club in Brooklyn, August 31, 1904, and wrote a constitution, which is a model for brevity and sanity. The weakness of all previous attempts to organize former amateur journalists was that they included in the body ex-amateurs of all periods, thus bringing together men and boys of all ages, many of whom had never known each other in amateur journalism and whose memories of the institution were not alike. This difficulty was avoided in the organization founded in 1904 by limiting the membership to those active before 1890. This was later changed to admit those active in amateur journalism at least 30 years (ultimately 15) before the time of their admission. This ensures an overwhelming majority of the members being contemporaries.


At the dinner in 1904 Edwin B. Swift suggested that the organization be called “The Old Boys,” and Max A. Lesser moved to name it “The Amateur Alumni Association.” Because these names did not meet with favor, the matter was referred to the constitution committee. At the meeting of this committee Heuman pro­posed the name of “The Fossils,” suggested by Mr. Oldham in his letter to the dinner. Heuman’s motion, enthusiastically seconded by Gleason, was unanimously adopted. Like many other epithets given in derision, the word “Fossil” became a term of honor.


Thus The Fossils—”Amateur Editors, Authors and Printers of the Past”— dates the organization on May 28, 1904. It was duly incorporated by the State of New York in 1927. Each year since the first meeting in May, an annual banquet is held in New York, usually on the last Saturday evening in April, to exchange re­miniscences of boyhood days, and go through an informal election of officers for the ensuing year.


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