The Life and Times of Percy Winterbottom
Being a Biography of the Wonderful Boy Impressionist and Creator of the “New Art.”
By Prof. Josh M.A. Long.
“Life and Times of Uncle Tommyrot,” “Days and Doings of Darius D. Sawftsawder,” “The Muse of Mary Mushandmilk,” “Chemistry for Children, or the Fairy Tales of Science,” &c., &c.
[The World (New York), September 5, 1897]
In compiling this present work the author cannot help stating at the outset that it is an honor to which he feels his poor talents inadequate. And with all due modesty, he is compelled to assert that at his hands the subject of these pages has a biographer who has fathomed the grand, gloomy and peculiar boy genius of whom he writes.
The Babyhood of Percy Winterbottom.
Percy Winterbottom, the Great, was born at Swope Corner, Pa. The exact date has been lost, but it is supposed to be either April 1, 1887, or April 1, 1837. Owing to a slight blur or blot on the fly leaf of the family Bible it could not be determined with any degree of certainty whether it was ’87 or ’37, and his father, a singularly intelligent man, could throw no light upon the subject. Suffice it is, that, while the year may be in doubt, a minor point after all, the day of the month is established beyond all question. So we can say for sure that Percy Winterbottom, the oldest boy artist in the world, first saw light upon April 1, the year mattering not. It is but right, then, that his countrymen should set aside his natal day as a national holiday.
Percy Winterbottom, when but a few weeks of age, gave evidence of that wonderful precocity in art which in a few years was to bring him the fame and riches so deservedly his due. The story that his detractors have spread about, that in his early youth his parents were at some trouble to keep him hid from the dogcatchers, is the basest of canards. It is not even worthy of denial.
The first of his immediate relatives to notice the outcroppings of genius in the child was his Aunt Matilda, who exclaimed one day, to the great surprise of his parents, “Gracious me! Look at the strange ways in which that child is drawing his breath!” This was the first sign he gave of his unique artistic talent. As an infant he drew his breath differently from other children, and later on he drew his pictures in the same strange manner, to the delight of his admirers and the confusion of his critics.
When he could scarcely walk he drew everybody’s attention, and his father burst into tears and said he saw no future in store for his son (who he intended should enter the junk business) as he was fated to be an artist. Shortly after this Percy Winterbottom took to eating at an Italian table d’hôte in the neighborhood, sometimes going without food in this manner for a week at a time. Here he became affiliated with Walter Mose, of the pre-Raphaelite school of impressionistic drawing, whose influence can be noticed upon his work to this day.
The Boyhood of Percy Winterbottom.
In the year of our Lord 1897 we find Percy Winterbottom at the zenith of his fame. Early in the year he affiliated himself with Jimmie Jones, a child journalist of brilliant promise, and together the two published that gem of juvenile journalism, Jimmie’s Paper, which at once achieved an artistic and literary success, but, owing to dissensions among the stockholders, suspended publication with its seventeenth number. Short as this space was, it was sufficient to place Percy Winterbottom head and shoulders above all the artists of the “eight-years-ago” school, so called from a peculiarity in their artistic ritual which does not permit them to see a drawing of any kind with our remarking that they “had done it eight years ago.” It is not out of place here to mention briefly the subsequent career of Jimmie Jones, with whom Percy Winterbottom was associated.
After the suspension of Jimmie’s Paper young Jones became disgusted with journalism and left it forever, beginning again at the bottom of the business ladder as a hod-carrier’s clerk, in which pleasant pursuit he is now prospering. Of the wonderful boy artist, Percy Winterbottom, little more need now be said. His pictures speak for themselves in no uncertain tones. Week by week they cause amazement and surprise in the columns of the great Comic Weekly. His half page cartoons are simply indescribable. See them for yourself. The greatest of modern masters, Munkascky, Bougereau, Carl Marr, Kenyon Cox, Sergeant and all the rest of the pairing push, unite in saying that they never saw such pictures before and that there is nothing like them, nothing with which to compare them. After this, further comment would be superfluous. Suffice it is to say that Percy Winterbottom, for the past twenty or thirty years, has been the greatest boy artist this county has ever produced. His is truly “the new art” He has his enemies; the successful always have; he has his detractors, for envy rears its hydra head where [text missing]…follow, but he stands to-day at the head of his own school and style of drawing. Percy Winterbottom, the great, inimitable, the unapproachable!
Let those among his lukewarm friends say, as many do, that Percy Winterbottom does not draw as well as he did fifteen minutes ago. The present biographer believes, and states it without fear of contradiction, that art, with a capital A, has the renaissance in that most wonderful delineator of realistic art, Percy Winterbottom, the wonderful boy artist!
[Obviously the profile of Percy Winterbottom was a work of fanciful fiction. Even the author’s name, Prof. Josh M.A. Long, was a fabrication. Josh isn’t short for Joshua; it’s the slang word meaning to kid or joke. Say the name quickly: josh ’em along. So, who was Josh M.A. Long? Don’t ask! The World revealed the name of man behind Winterbottom on December 22, 1897 on page 14. The paper printed quotes from a number of writers, humorists, artists and cartoonists who praised its creation, Father Puncherbocker.
George A. Beckenbaugh (Percy Winterbottom)
“I like the idea of blending Mr. Punch with Father Knickerbocker very well, because it cannot fail to amuse New Yorkers and at the same time make the English feel proud.”
George A. Beckenbaugh was born in Maryland in June 1866, according to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. In the 1870 census he was the third of four children born to George and Mary; his father was a farmer. No address was listed so the nearest post office was given, Fair View, Maryland. Ten years later, the family, with two more children, lived in Conococheague, Maryland. Beckenbaugh’s father had remarried and was a census enumerator who counted his own family.
Nothing is known of Beckenbaugh’s education and when he moved to New York City. His writings appeared in print as early as October 20, 1895 in the Wheeling Register (West Virginia). On December 6, 1896, The World published Jimmie’s Papers (Volume 1, Number 1) in its Comic Weekly, which may have been Percy Winterbottom’s debut. Beckenbaugh was listed in both the 1898 and 1899 Trow’s New York City Directory at the address, 60 West 92nd Street. The Dallas Morning News published an interview with Beckenbaugh on April 9, 1899; excerpts from “A Humorist Dissected”:
Did you ever make the acquaintance of a professional humorist? If you have had that pleasure you know something of what a sad and serious business it is to write original jokes or grind out humorous matter for the current periodicals. Judging by the appearance of the average professional humorist, it is a business that makes a man lantern-jawed and stoop-shouldered, that obliterates from his countenance even the shadow of a smile, that casts a funereal gloom over his life and makes him muggy, miserable and melancholy. To learn something about this strange and interesting mortal, with a view to imparting to the public such information regarding him as they wish to know, I called on George A. Beckenbaugh, the humorist, whose works over his own name and under the pseudonym of Percy Winterbottom are so well known to newspaper readers….
“Would you mind telling about your methods of working?”
“I have no particular method. In the first place, I task myself every day. That is, I lay out certain work, and determine to do it before I go to bed again. I know the nature of matter that most papers care for, and I try to please them. That is, with regard to subjects. I writes sketches for one, verses for another and send picture suggestions to another; next week I reverse the scheme, and so keep on. No, I do not write five jokes a year. I long ago found that a joke is nothing less than the nucleus of a story; so I weave all ideas into stories and poems.
“How did I begin to write humor? Well, I began it by writing pathos. The two are closely allied: if a writer excels at one, he excels at the other. It is the pathos in life that appeals to me. I never thought a clown funny. I have been collecting data for a couple of plays, and hope to take up play-writing in a little while.”
In 1900 Beckenbaugh resided in Manhattan at 138 West 21st Street; his occupation was journalist. In the same year, his book, Cotton Tails, was published. The Inland Educator, June 1900, published this review:
“A book of fun, bearing on the board cover the picture of a rabbit wearing checked trousers and sitting on a toadstool…Within are forty-eight full pages of comical pen and ink drawings of animal life, with as many clever verses in large type on the opposite pages. Those who are familiar with the work of the author, George A. Beckenbaugh, will know that they may expect here a collection of drawings grotesque and ridiculous on the one side and yet satirically suggestive of certain animal traits which belong to some members of the human family.”
Beckenbaugh passed away a year later. The Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) printed a death notice on February 26, 1901.
BECKENBAUGH—George A. Beckenbaugh, on February 25, 1901, in Harrisburg, Penn., at the home of his brother, E.L. Beckenbaugh, aged thirty-five years [sic: technically he was 34, being born in June 1866].
Funeral on Thursday at 2 o’clock from E.L. Beckenbaugh’s residence. Private. Harrisburg cemetery.
The 1870 census listed Edgar who was four years older. The Sun Almanac for 1902, a supplement to the The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) newspaper dated January 11, 1902, noted Beckenbaugh’s passing. On page 166, in the General Obituary Record, it listed, “Beckenbaugh, Geo. F., 40, humorous writer. Harrisburg, Pa., Feb. 26.” The middle initial, age and date were incorrect but the “humorous writer” description was right on the mark.]