LIMA — The media got it wrong.
As the days dwindled before the November 1911 elections, the Republican-Gazette predicted the election of Republican mayoral candidate John W. Rowlands was “now certain” because the newspaper had successfully refuted the “campaign cunard” that Rowlands more than a decade earlier had said $1.50 a day was enough wage for any man. The rival Times-Democrat just as confidently touted Democratic candidate Dwight Goodyear, “a business man of the highest integrity; a councilman whose record is without flaw …”
The Lima Daily News on Nov. 5, 1911, however, called for “a tightened race,” adding that “where a week ago landslides were used as a term, today politicians and friends of the two candidates speak of hundreds.”
There was a third candidate, though Lima’s newspaper seldom mentioned him until Election Day.
“The birds that have been warbling in the trees on the outskirts of town, now and then flitting down into the business district, where he who would, might hear, are today singing in loud tones the refrain that ‘dirty politics’ have been given a severe rebuke,” the Daily News fairly warbled itself on Nov. 8, 1911. “Corbin N. Shook, 45 years of age, born and raised in the City of Lima, against whom not a word of criticism was spoken, is elected by the Voice of the People, Mayor of the City of Lima.”
Shook was a Socialist who ran a printing business behind his Washington Street home and spent less than $25 on the campaign. Shook, the Daily News wrote, “was elected not so much because he was a Socialist, but because he was a man against whom the party press had not hurled invective, censure, sarcasm or abuse …”
America in 1911 was in a reforming mood. The nation had developed a taste for political reform and social activism, a “Progressive Era” that lasted from the 1890s to the 1920s. The Socialist Party, with a platform that included a guaranteed minimum wage, tax reform and protection for child and female labor, was tailor made for the times. No fewer than 25 Ohio cities elected Socialists to public offices in 1911.
Socialism took root in Lima as early as 1903. “There was a meeting held last night without a great deal of ostentation but one which is declared to be only preliminary to others which will follow in the interest of the socialist labor party,” the Times-Democrat wrote on Aug. 24, 1903, noting that “enthusiasm was stirred up by an advocate of socialism, who recently made a speech on the Public Square …” In early October 1911, Socialist Party standard bearer Eugene Debs spoke to about 800 party members at Memorial Hall.
Shook, who was born in Lima Aug. 10, 1866, and had worked as a typographer in Lima and Chicago before running a newspaper in Jackson Center, had joined the Socialist Party about six years before his run for mayor. He returned to Lima in 1904 to run his printing shop. According to a 1984 story in The Lima News, “The candidate did not seek his party’s nomination and was absent from the meeting at which his name was selected to run for office. Shook held no party office at the time.”
On learning of his victory, Shook told the Republican-Gazette, “I have no platform and no promises, and I may add that I had no campaign expenses except the printing of a few cards. I did not ask anyone to vote for me and made no campaign except to meet people when asked by my friends to do so.”
Lima’s Socialist leader, Samuel Kleinberger, who it was rumored would become Shook’s adviser, was gleeful. Kleinberger wrote in the Republican-Gazette on Nov. 9, 1911, that the results showed the voters “of this city as well as this nation are deserting the ranks of the old parties because they remain dormant to progressive reforms and continue in the old rut infested with political corruption and sordid political schemers who are the stool pigeons of special interest and are in politics for revenue only.”
After a quick trip to Chicago, where he visited a daughter, and Milwaukee, where he visited that city’s Socialist mayor, Shook got down to business. On Dec. 6, 1911, he named Frank E. Harman as “his chief lieutenant,” according to the News. Harman, a Lima furniture dealer, was a Republican.
Shook’s bipartisan streak did not sit well with the local Socialist Party. And, when he repudiated a letter of resignation signed before the election and intended to ensure he adhered to party principles, the local Socialist party kicked him out.
Shook, however, still considered himself a Socialist, albeit one with strong law-and-order leanings. Reminiscing in a story in the Aug. 9, 1958, edition of the Lima Citizen, a 92-year-old Shook boasted that he and his safety director, Edwin Blank, “cleaned up that saloon crowd to a fare thee well.”
“My safety director and I brought anyone in who was caught selling after hours and fined them $100 right on the spot,” Shook told the Citizen. “One fellow paid 10 of those fines and another paid 13 before they realized we meant business.”
Shook also tried to put out the lights in Lima’s “red light district” on North Central Avenue. On June 18, 1912, the News reported, “The lid came down with a bang last night when Mayor Shook ordered the two remaining resorts in the Red Light district closed and abandoned.”
His crackdown extended to dance halls (he upheld a ban on the tango at a Hover Park dance hall and refused a permit for another on the grounds “the dances given were objectionable”), unlicensed dogs and fireworks on the Fourth of July. On June 26, 1912, after Shook promised to uphold a fireworks ban, the News noted, “Allen County’s metropolis will be as quiet as a country cemetery on the nation’s birthday.”
At other times, Shook’s Socialist side came through. When Lima Locomotive Works officials asked the city to abandon a portion of Third Street for factory expansion, Shook on Sept. 12, 1912, told the News, “I am opposed to the giving of anything to corporations.” And, on Aug. 24, 1912, when some complained a red flag flying over the Public Square announcing “a monster mass meeting” of Socialists was “a symbol of anarchy,” Shook replied, “The red flag is an emblem of brotherhood, in which I am a firm believer.”
Shook’s administration also was dogged by controversy. Shook and Blank were accused of nepotism for giving their children jobs with the city. When Blank was accused of ruining the police department with his policies, Shook clamped down on newspaper access to City Hall. A headline from Sept. 6, 1912, predicted the move would prove popular “since the public may be prevented from smelling more police stench.”
Shook was even taken to task for his war on the saloons. Scott Wilkins, the Socialist mayor of St. Marys, lashed out at Shook in a Sept. 8, 1912, speech in the northeast corner of the Public Square, the Daily News reported. Wilkin said Shook’s “system of assessing fines and costs against weak men who become sufficiently addicted to the abuse of intoxicating drink” merely worked “an additional hardship on innocent and suffering wives.”
As the November 1913 city elections neared, Shook, described as “the ostracized socialist,” filed as an independent. “I will depend on my two years’ record for re-election,” Shook told the Daily News on Aug. 18, 1913. The Socialist candidate, E.O. McPheron, speaking at a rally in the Public Square on Aug. 24, 1913, called Shook “the traitor who has betrayed our interests into the hands of the capitalist class.”
Shook finished second to Democrat Theodore Robb, while McPheron finished a distant fourth. Shook, who was reinstated in the local Socialist party in 1919, made several more unsuccessful runs for mayor. He was elected to one term as city commissioner in 1925 during Lima’s experiment with a city manager form of government.
Shook died May 6, 1960, at the age of 93.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.