Guerdon Holden - Forest City Publishing

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Guerdon Holden
Guerdon Holden

Guerdon Holden was a man who did not enjoy the status into which he was born, to whom the money in itself meant nothing, who took little interest in the business side of the “Plain Dealer,” and who was at heart a frustrated editor. He wanted more than anything to be useful.

Guerdon and his twin sister, Gertrude Holden, were born on December 9, 1881. They were the youngest of eight children of Liberty and Delia Holden.

At an early age, Guerdon developed an intense interest in languages and paleontology. He spoke Greek and German fluently. When he accompanied his parents on a European trip when he was eight, he took along for light reading a large book entitled “The Sedimentary Deposits of Cretaceous Time.”

He attended University School and Worcester Academy in Massachusetts and later graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1904 and a member of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa,

While at Harvard, Guerdon became interested in Egyptology. He traveled widely and wanted to pursue further study abroad and likely would have been a brilliant researcher or professor, but his father insisted that he become a lawyer. He unwillingly attended law school and passed the Ohio bar exam. For two years, he worked for the prominent law firm of Kline, Tolles, Hogsett & Ginn but quit and never practiced law again.

Guerdon married Elinor Chase on June 3, 1911, in Springfield, Illinois. Elinor was born on December 1, 1875, in New Hampshire. There were no children. Elinor died on January 31, 1938, and was buried in Lake View Cemetery.

The Plain Dealer provided Guerdon with an office and gave him the title of secretary-treasurer. His corporate duties were routine, yet he faithfully attended board meetings and did what the decision-makers decreed. He freely expressed his opinions at the editorial writers’ daily meeting, but he had no real responsibility. Although the decision-makers paid little attention to him, they would have saved themselves a lot of money if they had, for he possessed uncanny common sense.

For example, Guerdon strongly opposed moving the entire Forest City operations to the Cleveland News building site on East 18th Street. “It will cost an abnormal lot of money to wrap a new building around the News building,” he predicted. “If we must move from East 6th Street and Superior, we ought to buy property on the lakefront, next to the railroad tracks and near the docks, where employees could easily move large paper rolls just a short distance into the plant. There we should put up an entirely new building. If we move to East 18th Street, it will be too small within ten years.”

News interested him tremendously. He would spend hours in the Associated Pressroom watching the news come in over the machines. If a hot story came clattering in, he would rip the paper out of the machine and race in with it to the editorial writers.

An avid reader, Holden, seemed to retain everything he read. The editorial writers were often astounded by his quoting from classical selections and whole poems by many of the world’s great poets.

Guerdon was deeply interested in the scholarly study of languages, having gathered and studied a mass of material for a book on languages. People knew him to possess a profound memory that enabled him, for example, to recite in Greek or Latin at great length.

Mr. Holden served as a trustee of the Natural History Museum, and since 1911 had been a member of the geology section at Harvard University.  Over three years starting in 1929, he gave the Natural History Museum $15,000 to broaden the geology department’s work.

Art likewise interested him. He served as a trustee of the Cleveland School of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1936, he gave four alabaster canopic jars, which dated from the 12th Egyptian dynasty. With his four sisters, Mr. Holden presented the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1929, “The Holy Family With St. Margaret and St. John,” a Florentine painting by Filippino Lippi, described at the time as the most significant single painting ever presented to the museum.

While some people liked golf, Holden liked graphs. He was statistically minded and a wizard with figures. Perhaps his chief hobby was making statistical chars. He figured the results of elections before they happened and supported his beliefs with elaborate charts. He spent election nights in the newsroom, checking the actual results with the way he had predicted them, and, most often,  discovered he was correct.

Guerdon was an ardent baseball fan, and with little to do at the office, he attended many Cleveland Indians games along the third-base line at League Park. He knew by heart the batting averages of all the Cleveland players and most of the other teams’ leading hitters. He spent afternoons watching the Western Union sports ticker and later listening to radio broadcasts of the games.

Guerdon made a regular round of the bars at the Hollenden and Statler hotels, often finishing the Union Club day. Even though he was rich himself, he disliked everything about being a rich man. His clothes were not fashionable and looked like discards.

Memberships included the Chamber of Commerce, plus Country, Harvard, Union, and University clubs.

Guerdon Holden was a frustrated, lonely man. He knew he had undeveloped talents that would have given him more satisfaction than the routine his father decreed for him. He was a generous man, known to over-tip. He was a gentleman of the old school and the soul of courtesy who had the habit of prefacing almost any remark with, “May I say…”

For years, he supported a large retinue of servants at Loch Hame. Ultimately, however, he decided it was absurd to maintain a staff of sixteen for only himself and his wife. His discomfort living in the house became even more significant when his first wife, Elinor, died, and his second wife, Anne, did not meet with the approval of his niece, Emery May Norweb, who lived next door.  Finally, when most of his staff had retired, he and his wife decided to move to her farm in Virginia and dispose of Loch Hame.

Guerdon became seriously ill, and Anne took him to their summer home near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where he and Anne had spent more time. His health continued to fail, and he died there on December 17, 1959, at age 78 and was buried in Lake View Cemetery.