Frank McKinny (Kin) Hubbard · 1967
By Kerry L. Hubartt
Kin Hubbard, creator of Abe Martin, was actually named Frank McKinney Hubbard, but his mother called him Kinney, and he was known as Kin throughout his life.
Kin was the last of six children born to Thomas and Sarah Jane on September 1, 1868, in Bellefontaine, Ohio. His brothers and sisters, in order of birth, were Ed, Horace, Josephine, Ada and Tom.
Kin’s father published the Bellefontaine Examiner, a staunch Democratic newspaper, which had been in the Hubbard family since 1830. The influence of the newspaper and that of the first circus he saw at age five endured as two of his strongest loves. Little Kin often entertained neighbors with cut-outs of their silhouettes and all kinds of animals. As he grew he went to every circus that came to town, even staging his own shows.
Kin quit school before finishing seventh grade, because it seemed to offer no future. So he took a job in a paint shop. Later, modifying his desire to head a circus, he did odd jobs at the newly-built Grand Opera House, where he got to see the shows for free and dreamed of leading a dramatic of minstrel troupe.
When he was sixteen he had his first pictures published in the Examiner. His first was a woodcut of the 1884 Republican nominees for president and vice president. He was regarded as a natural born artist, but that didn’t sidetrack him from his theatrical ambitions. And he and a companion originated a home town talent minstrel show. Kin even participated in blackface song and dance routines.
When Grover Cleveland was elected president in 1884, Kin’s ardently Democratic father was appointed postmaster at Bellefontaine. Kin had a job as apprentice photographer while also learning to set type at the Examiner. But his father gave him a job as a clerk at the general delivery window of the post office where he remained employed for four years. To bide the time he penciled comic sketches or caricatures right on the envelopes of letters to confirm the addresses. It was during that time at the post office that he began making observations and remarks in the Abe Martin vein.
But Kin became bored with the post office and took up briefly with a banjo-playing medicine panhandler as a silhouette artist to help hold the crowds. Kin’s sister Josie (Josephine) offered to pay his tuition and board to attend the Jefferson School of Art in Detroit, Michigan. He went for barely a week, becoming discouraged drawing ears, but he stayed in Detroit for several months.
So it was back to Bellefontaine in the spring and back to the post office job and more minstrel shows. But his brother Ed discouraged Kin’s vaudevillian pursuits and his romantic notions that he was “destined to be a big figure in the theatrical world.”
Kin had written a letter to a friend in Indianapolis describing one of his home talent shows. And in the margins he included several thumb-nail sketches, some painted with watercolor. His friend showed the sketches to John H. Holliday, owner and editor of the Indianapolis News. Holliday said the paper could use such a clever artist, and Kin’s friend wrote him back that he should seek out a job with the News.
Kin left for Indianapolis in 1891, asked Holliday for a job as a newspaper artist, and went to work for twelve dollars a week. As a cub reporter he covered police assignments, fires and other events to which he could apply his sketching ability.
His first picture for the News was a portrait of a minister, which was a tracing of his photograph scratched in isinglass. Daily papers had to use sketches transferred into print through a long and complicated process of engraving at that time.
Kin stayed three years at the News, always dressing as much like an actor as he could and attending all the local playhouses on his newspaper pass. He didn’t feel he was progressing as a newspaper artist, but he was storing away much theatrical knowledge.
At the end of three years the News hired a new managing editor, who began requiring of Kin artistic talents he — a natural artist (“one with no knowledge of drawing”) — didn’t possess.
While on vacation he received a letter from the new managing editor saying the News would be hiring a “real” artist able to draw anything. So Kin left the News, returning home to Ohio, and presented a grand minstrel show for the K. of P. Lodge.
That fall, 1894, Kin Hubbard packed up samples of his newspaper work and headed south. He ended up taking tickets at a wagon exhibit at the Atlanta Exposition in Georgia. And he drove a bread wagon that winter in Chattanooga, Tennessee. That lasted two weeks, and he headed for home.
But Kin stopped in Cincinnati, Ohio and dropped by the Tribune, a new morning paper. He worked there till the paper consolidated with the Commercial at which time he “was turned adrift.” By then in his twenties, Kin presided at a Cincinnati amusement park turnstile all summer before returning to Bellefontaine in the autumn and staging another minstrel show.
Not long afterward, Hubbard accepted a job with the Mansfield News (Ohio). Later he visited Cleveland and then went back home. And he presented another show, which received sharp criticism from the dramatic editor of a village weekly. Some other remarks at home made the point to Kin “…that it was about time for me to get into something for good.”
Next he accepted an offer from the Indianapolis Sun for fifteen dollars a week. After two years, in 1901, the News offered him another job, “…and there I stayed,” he said later. Kin remained with the News until the day he died. There he began by doing small comics and caricatures signed “Hub.” He also attended all political conventions, even national, and occasionally toured Indiana with political celebrities.
A few months after returning to the News Kin met Josephine Jackson. He married her on October 12, 1905, and his salary of thirty dollars per week raised to thirty-five.
Abe Martin, the rustic country fellow with the homespun with and wisdom, developed out of a group of pictures Kin sketched during the Roosevelt-Parker campaign in 1904. The first Abe Martin panel appeared in the News on Saturday, December 17. The new feature, which included a one-column drawing and two unrelated sentences of rustic philosophy, became a regular part of the back page of the News for 25 years.
In the Christmas season of 1906 Kin published his first book of Abe Martin selections, a venture which continued annually until 1929. A second book in 1907 was so profitable that it afforded the Hubbards a lot in suburban Irvington.
Kin and Josephine welcomed their first child, Thomas E., into the family in 1907. They finished building their Irvington house and moved in by 1909. By then they already had their second child, Jane Virginia. Kin’s greatest hobby by then, besides circuses and hunting mushrooms in the spring, was taking care of his yard and garden. Sightseers at the Hubbard home, even neighbors, thought Kin was the gardener.
Hubbard sold his Abe Martin work to a syndicate in 1910, and that expanded the comical country sage to newspapers in over 200 cities. It also expanded Kin’s wealth. Although having made thousands of drawings and many more thousands of accompanying Martinisms, Kin became furious with his wife for once giving his occupation to the city directory as “author and artist.”
“I’m neither,” he told her. “I’m a newspaper writer.”
Kin still did caricatures from political conventions and the opening sessions of state legislatures, but mostly he produced just his Abe Martin features and nothing else. Eventually he was moved from the “Idle Ward” area of the newsroom, where he chatted and joked with fellow journalists, to a private office. Although his salary equaled that of the general manager and his work didn’t require a great amount of office time, Kin elected to keep regular hours. He liked the office atmosphere.
He spent much of his time after his deadline had been met concocting tricks and practical jokes. Life was never dull in the News office, but Kin’s idle time became a problem. So he began “Short Furrows,” a series of essays designed for a half to two-thirds of a column which was syndicated to Sunday papers. Kin also began similar pieces for magazines.
Kin loved to read biographies. But he wouldn’t read modern novels because of a trend toward sex and profanity. The extent of his religion tended toward a simple faith in a higher power. And he believed the greatest sin to be ingratitude, something he was rarely guilty of. He never forgot the debts he owed to George Ade and Hilton U. Brown. Ade’s magazine article in 1910 helped launch Abe Martin’s fame on a national scale. Brown encouraged Kin early while city editor of the News.
Tragedy struck Kin’s life on Decoration Day, 1919, with the death of his baby son, Kin, Jr., who had been born in the spring of 1918. The one-year-old child was killed when the Hubbard car went off the road due to a mechanical failure and plunged into a creek near Indianapolis. The News omitted the Abe Martin panel the next day, making reference to the tragedy. Two years later another son died at birth.
Kin spurned public appearances, especially in the role of Abe Martin. He felt the “quaint, Brown County sage,” belonged only in the newspaper column. His one exception was the reading of an essay to some Indianapolis businessmen in 1926. He was so nervous he vowed never to do it again. A significant public appearance, however, occurred while attending the Ziegfield Follies in New York in 1923. Kin was introduced from the audience by Will Rogers, and the crowd exploded with a lingering standing ovation — a tribute to the popularity of Abe Martin.
Hubbard had a new house built on Meridian Street, which was completed in the fall of 1929. Two years earlier Kin had been warned of a heart ailment at an annual inspection by the doctor. But he ignored it, alarming his wife with regular activities in the yard. He admonished her never to even hint that he might have an ailment at all.
Kin, Josephine and their children spent a picturesque Christmas in their new home in 1930. They took a nost
algic drive by their old Irvington home. And Kin commented before retiring for the night that it had been “…the happiest Christmas I ever knew.”
The next morning, rising at 4:30 a.m., Kin Hubbard complained about not feeling well. He warmly recalled the day before as the happiest day of his life. And when he got out of bed to walk to a chair he collapsed to the floor with a heart attack. A few minutes later he was dead — December 26; age 62.
The flags flew at half mast at both City Hall and the State House in Indianapolis. The News ran a front page, three-column headline on Kin’s death on the day he died with a long tribute story and a two-column portrait. On the back page were three Abe Martin drawings prepared by Kin for use Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Friday being the day after Christmas. Hubbard’s death prompted tributes by cartoonists and editorial writers all over the country.
Will Rogers said the next day, “No man in our generation was within a mile of him.”
The front page obituary in the News concluded by saying that Kin’s thoughts and sayings had been published for 26 years. “But the brilliant, extemporaneous remarks of Frank McKinney Hubbard not only are lost to the world, but have come to an end.”
Kin Hubbard-Abe Martin:
Kin Hubbard’s fame was only as great as the fame of Abe Martin. Hubbard’s own recollection was that Abe Martin was first used on the day after Theodore Roosevelt’s election to the presidency on November 9, 1904. But it was actually, according to the Indianapolis News, December 31 before Abe actually took his permanent place on top of the column on the back page wrestling with a mule.
On February 3, 1905, Abe Martin announced, “I’m goin’ ter move ter Brown County tomorrow.” Kin selected Brown County as Abe’s home because of its rugged setting and isolation from modern communication and transportation. But Hubbard had never himself really visited Brown County until taking an auto trip there in 1914.
Abe Martin was a scarecrow-like figure with a black coat, wide striped pants, a hat and a cigar. He was a rudely-sketched character usually drawn sitting on a barbed-wire fence or leaning on a mailbox or sign post. And he would often be reading a newspaper with some clever headline visible. Of Hubbard’s nearly 10,000 sketches, never once was one repeated for the daily newspaper.
The Abe Martin feature through its 25 years also required some 20,000 lines of rustic witticism. Each drawing included two such sentences of Abe Martin observations. For example, “Woman’s work is never done. Ther’s allus some place on her face she’s missed.”
Others: “I hate to eat by a feller that holds his arms like a snare drummer.”
“Some fellers git credit fer bein’ conservative when ther only stupid.”
“Nobuddy kin be as agreeable as a uninvited guest.”
“If ther’s any literary ability in a feller, gittin’ fired out of a good fover’ment job’ll bring it out.”
Hubbard compiled some of his works from his News file to publish his first annual Abe Martin book, entitled Abe Martin, Brown County, Indiana, near Christmas in 1906. He continued publishing a total of 25 such books every year until 1929, the last being Abe Martin’s Town Pump.
Along with Abe, Hubbard created another dozen primary characters plus at least as many subsidiaries — all with names as humorous as possible (like Tilford Moots, Lafe Bud, Wes Whipple and Pony Mopps), but most originating from real names.
Kin’s drawings and comments were due in the News composing room by 9 a.m. each day. The drawings he had done at least one week ahead, but he always waited till the last minute to complete his witticisms of the day, hoping for a better idea to come to him. He never used any suggestions offered to him from others, he maintained, despite continually receiving many.
In 1910, when Kin sold his daily feature to a syndicate, Abe Martin vaulted to national stardom. A News subscriber in London even wrote Hubbard of his delight with the feature. Abe appeared in over 300 newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. Kin later created “Short Furrows” for Sunday papers. His magazine submissions began at about the same time, but he never accepted a magazine order unless the editor assigned a subject. Kin said, “I can’t think what to write about.”
The humor of Abe Martin, though its production ceased with Hubbard’s death, has never died. Even today the hit-the-nail-on-the-head witticisms of the slouching country philosopher of Brown County strike home. In his day Hubbard’s Abe Martin philosophy was compared to contemporaries Josh Billings and Artemus Ward.
Kin made his drawings in the office from memory, never using sketches or notes. His daily Abe Martin quotes delighted the country by simply reporting in country Hoosier dialect and crude drawings the human situation. Kin had a way of exposing the main point without offending those to whom it applied.
Hubbard left little biographical material. But he did write a short synopsis of his life for Ohio writer, Fred C. Kelly, who compiled a colorful biography in 1952.
Kin was editor-in-chief of a detailed and graphic volume entitled A Book of Indiana, published in 1929. The 694-page book includes many pages of Indiana history. But its primary content is comprised of brief biographies and photographs of people important in Indiana history.
Kin’s own picture and biography are included in the volume along with an adjoining page given to John Whitcom Riley’s poem, “To: Kin Hubbard, the Father of His Countryman, Abe Martin.” A 1906 composition, Riley’s poem was also included in Hubbard’s very first Abe Martin book as he and the Hoosier Poet were close friends. A Book of Indiana has decorative golden border designs on every page with Abe Martin slouched on a barbed-wire fence gracing the top. An entry early in the reference work about Indiana industries is bylined with Abe Martin’s name.
Brown County State Park:
Certainly the enduring wit of Abe Martin was Kin Hubbard’s greatest contribution to journalism as well as to America’s (particularly Indiana’s) humor. But the respect and love for Hubbard by his fellow Hoosiers resulted in a posthumous contribution in the formation of Brown County State Park.
In Hubbard’s memory the State of Indiana acquired 13,000 acres for the park in order to preserve the “wild beauty” of the Brown County of Abe Martin. At the heart of the park is the Abe Martin Lodge, which is surrounded by twenty guest cabins named after some of Kin’s other well-known characters.
The Brown County State Park near Nashville was dedicated on Kin Hubbard Ridge in May, 1932.
Kin Hubbard, a native of Ohio, was enshrined in the Ohio Journalism Hall of Fame in October, 1939, by Ohio State University.