Media History: Guns “Rip Like Hell, Evening Whirl Will Sell”


The late Ben Thomas was a St. Louis institution with his weekly newspaper, the St. Louis Evening Whirl, says The Believer magazine. His editorial predilections ran toward lovers' quarrels gone homicidal, preachers who spent their free time pursuing sex, and 1970s heroin dealers who ruled over the housing projects. He often used poetry. He once wrote, “Guns will roar and rip like hell, And how the Evening Whirl will sell.”

The Evening Whirl had a singular design: mug shots, both profile and obverse, were wainscoted two deep below the headlines. Pictures of the perps, Thomas knew, sold newspapers. The faces were almost always black. Eight columns of triple-decker tombstones declaimed the week's crimes and scandals, usually involving a killing, a cutting, a robbery, a rape, or some piece of local gossip. The lead story of nearly every edition was annexed with verse, built of four-line stanzas rhymed a-b-a-b. Thomas’s persona in print was that of a hanging judge; he thought of his paper as a public service. At its peak in the 1970s it had newsstand sales of 50,000. Thomas relied not on advertising but on circulation, and at a time when black business success came rarely, people referred to the editor as a “black millionaire.”


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