Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Happy Anniversary

This is one of 1122 articles in my book Now and Then Again, The Way We Were and the Way We Are, second edition. The book is available from Amazon for $20.95 print and $9.95 Kindle and also as an ebook from Apple, Kobo, and Scribd for $9.95. It's fixed format so it's better with a tablet, laptop, or computer. There are more articles from the book on another blog here. And there is a book preview website.

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

Here's an anniversary you'll want to celebrate: the installation of the first parking meter 85 years ago. Park-O-Meter No. 1 was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 16, 1935.

Cars would park all day, or even for weeks, stifling downtown business and the city fathers asked Carl Magee, editor of the Oklahoma City News, to help find a solution. Magee invented the parking meter to solve the problem.
Despite opposition, stores saw an increase in business as the meters forced a turnover of cars (at a nickel an hour) and parking meters quickly spread through the city.

Carleton Magee left his law practice of 17 years in Oklahoma City in 1919, moving to Albuquerque, hoping the drier climate would help his wife's lung problems. He had always dreamed of owning a newspaper and he bought the Albuquerque Morning Journal, the state's largest newspaper, from U.S. Senator Albert Fall.

Magee began investigating political corruption in New Mexico. There was a lot to investigate. He began by exposing the diversion of funds from the state Land Office to Fall's campaign.

Fall angrily threatened to break him. Five previous editors had been threat-ened and silenced, but Magee kept investigating corruption in spite of physical threats.

In 1921, Fall resigned his Senate seat to become Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding. Magee found out that Fall was spending large amounts of money to improve his New Mexico ranch. His investigation ultimately led to uncovering the Teapot Dome scandal, the sensation of the era, in which Fall was convicted in 1929 of accepting bribes from oil executives in exchange for leases on the U.S. Naval Petroleum Re-serves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and Elk Hills, California.

Due to Fall's pressure, the newspaper's banks called notes and refused to renew Magee's loans, forcing the sale of the paper. Magee promptly founded another paper, Magee's Independent, a weekly, in 1922. Within a year the name was changed to the New Mexico State Tribune and it became a daily paper.

Magee continued to investigate political corruption, angering powerful Republican leaders in San Miguel County. A district judge, David Leahy, ordered Magee to stand trial on a trumped up libel charge against a New Mexico Supreme Court justice. Even though the justice testified for Magee that he had not been libeled, Leahy ordered a directed guilty verdict and sentenced Magee to prison.

But New Mexico governor James. F. Hinkle, a Democrat, immediately pardon-ed Magee and set aside his conviction and sentence. Then Leahy found Magee in contempt of court for violating his order not to write about the trial and for calling the judge "corrupt" in print and sentenced him to a year in prison and a stiff fine. Again, the governor immediately pardoned Magee and set aside the sentence and fine.

In 1923, the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain bought the New Mexico State Tribune, keeping Magee as editor.

In 1925, while Magee was being interviewed by another paper in a hotel lobby, Judge Leahy stormed in, knocked Magee down and kicked him, breaking several ribs. Lying on the floor, Magee pulled a revolver he carried and fired two shots. One shot hit Leahy in the arm, but the other killed a bystander. Magee was tried and acquitted of manslaughter but was haunted by it the rest of his life.

In 1927, Scripps-Howard transferred Magee to Oklahoma City as editor of the Oklahoma City News. Carl Magee died in Oklahoma City in 1946 at 73.

Today, Park-O-Meter No. 1 is on display in the Statehood Gallery of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Copyright © Joseph Mirsky 2020

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