Charles Chapin

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Chapin rarely smiled, and still more rarely showed any real pleasure. But once, after his coverage had led to the arrest of a murderer, an associate found him cheerily rubbing his hands together, and asked why he was so happy. “Why shouldn’t I be happy?” Chapin wanted to know. “I’ve started a man on his way to the electric chair.” When a reporter brought in the famous photograph taken the instant a would-be assassin’s bullet struck Mayor Gaynor, Chapin was truly ecstatic. “Blood all over him!” be beamed. “And exclusive, too!”

For all his brutality, Chapin was good enough to get away with firing Pulitzer’s own son. Under his chilly rule, the World gained in circulation and retained its pre-eminence among the Manhattan dailies. But Chapin was in trouble. Somewhere on his way up, he had developed a love of luxury. “I had visions of a mansion on the Avenue, a home in the country, a yacht… and a pair of suspenders for each pair of trousers.”

He made bad investments; when they failed in 1918, he shot his wife. He had wished, he said, to spare her the ordeal of fending for herself after he could no longer support her.

Chapin made no effort to escape, nor to defend himself. He was sick of it all, he said, and wanted to go to the electric chair as quickly as possible. Eventually, however, he reconciled himself to spending the rest of his days in Sing Sing, where he edited the prison newspaper. He died in 1930.

The reporters who had survived his reign on the World marked his passing, and told each other they had never been surprised that their boss had figured in a murder. They were only surprised he wasn’t the victim.