BJI History Part 2 — How It All Began on Nov. 8, 1913

by Bob Johnson 0


Although the daily newspapers of the early 1900s in Chicago routinely included bowling coverage, it was never enough for Dave Luby and his tenpin pals. They yearned for a periodical they could call their own.

They knew that several bowling papers had been published in New York, a bowling hot spot since the 1700s. The German-language weekly, Deutsch-Americanische Kegel Zeitung, launched in 1890, was probably the first bowling publication in America. The United Bowling Clubs began distributing Gut Holtz (good wood) in 1893. After those failed, a weekly publication called Bowlers Journal was issued sporadically from New York’s Spellman Building.

Many local periodicals sprouted over the next few decades. Baltimore bowlers got their fix from the Bowlers’ Guide. A combination bowling and gambling paper called the Casino Journal was published in Easton, Pa.

Meanwhile, out of the wilds in Chicago, John Hemmer published a paper called Bowling Journal. Since Chicago bowling officials were constantly at odds with their colleagues “out east,” Hemmer’s mission was to project the “western” point of view.

Hemmer soon found himself in deep trouble with officialdom when writer Harry Fisher wrote an exposé, blasting A.L. Langtry for taking a $1,000 fee to promote the 1905 American Bowling Congress Tournament in Milwaukee. Hemmer hung on for a few years, but finally went bust.

Although he had no experience in journalism whatsoever, Dave Luby decided in 1913 to start his own bowling magazine. The old salesman (he was then 56) made the rounds of Chicago centers, badgering alley owners for ads. Since he attended every league and tournament of consequence, assembling the copy was the easy part.

His first edition rolled off the presses on Nov. 8, 1913. Well printed and neatly laid out, the original copy survives today, its pages only slightly yellowed by the decades.

A Brunswick ad occupies the last page. The back cover of every single issue since then has featured Brunswick.

In his first editorial, Dave set down the policy that has guided the magazine to this day: “To boost bowling games, collect news and present it to the world.”

Vol. 1, No. 1 bulged with interesting stories. Luby wrote a stern editorial supporting a campaign to outlaw the dodo ball. ABC Secretary A.L. Langtry rapped bowlers and officials who refused to read the “dry stuff” in the ABC rules. Frank Pasdeloup, president of the Chicago Bowling Assn., implored delinquent alley owners to have their lanes measured.

There was lots of baseball news, too. After all, Dave was a long-time fan and an enthusiastic officer of the Old-timers Baseball Assn.

• Dave’s Bowlers Journal began as an 8-page locally-focused weekly, but by 1914 an entire page was devoted to “Out of Town News” from such faraway places as Omaha and Minneapolis.

We can imagine Dave’s teen-aged sons — Mort and Forry — bustling around the company offices over the Live Stock Press, delivering magazines and accompanying their father to the alleys as he continued to test his skills amongst the best bowlers in Chicago.

Then along came World War I, and the two boys were off to France with the 122nd Field Artillery to battle the hated Hun. Mort came back from the war on June 14, 1919, unscarred and full of raunchy stories. But Forry had inhaled a lungful of German mustard gas. He survived for several years, even bowling in leagues and tournaments, but finally succumbed in his early 20s.

By 1924, old Dave Luby was ailing. The Jan. 24 edition of Bowlers Journal that year included a long retrospective issued “from his sickbed.”

“The boys have asked me to dictate an article on the highlights of bowling matches I have seen,” he said. “That’s a mighty big assignment for a fellow propped up in bed...” He went on to recount some of his rollicking adventures with “Count” John Gengler and other storied characters.

When Dave died at 68 on Nov. 20, 1925, none of the published accounts indicated what finally killed him. But there were hints. “Mr. Luby’s death came after a lingering illness which he bore with fortitude,” said one obituary.

“Mr. Luby was more than an enthusiast,” said the farewell story in Billiards Magazine.

“His heart and soul were wrapped up in the game, and it is safe to say that no man has done more for its advancement.”

The obit went on and on with lists of his awards and achievements. He had been an officer of just about every bowling organization extant.

But my favorite story about Dave Luby’s passion for bowling came from my late uncle, Mark Sheridan.

“Dave once asked me to drive him to his dentist,” Mark recalled. “I asked him if the guy was a good dentist.”

“I’m not sure,” Dave responded, “but he’s a pretty damn good bowler.”

That was recommendation enough for Dave.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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