Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Carlton Cole Magee

Carlton Cole Magee and his parking meterMy brother sent me a story today about a piece of New Mexican history I wanted to share with you.

Carl Magee was a successful Tulsa lawyer who moved to Albuquerque in 1920 for his wife's health. He bought the Albuquerque Morning Journal from a group that included Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, and set about becoming a newspaper editor. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Magee:

played the newspaper "game" the way he played poker--hard and on the level. A famous crusader for freedom of the press in the Southwest, he was no reformer. He just wanted the cards unmarked and dealt from the top.

He had been a Republican when he moved to New Mexico, but became a Democrat within six months. He lambasted the Republican state machine in New Mexico, and was frequently threatened by his Republican opponents, including Secretary Fall. By 1922, he was forced to sell the paper, but used the proceeds to found Magee's Weekly, and then took over the New Mexican State Tribune.

He then used his bully pulpit to attack Secretary Fall for corruption, resulting in the uncovering of the famous Teapot Dome scandal. Teapot Dome was an oil field on public land in Wyoming. In 1921, President Harding, by executive order, shifted control of the field from the Navy to the Department of the Interior. The following year, Interior Secretary Fall leased the field to Harry Sinclair without competitive bidding. When Fall retired in 1923, Sinclair "lent" him a large amount of interest-free money.

Again according to the Times, "Magee was one of the first to raise the question of why Harry Sinclair's special train should spend many days on the railroad siding near the expansive Three Rivers (NM) ranch home" of Secretary Fall. And, according to a 1939 Time Magazine article, "it was a Magee telegram to Senator Thomas James Walsh concerning Fall's finances that made Teapot Dome a criminal case."

The US Senate pursued an investigation of both Fall and Sinclair, resulting in eventual prison sentences for both.

Magee, meanwhile, also attacked several judges for corruption, and was brought to trial twice for libel (once for each of two judges). In the first trial, the allegedly libeled judge presided over the trial and convicted Magee--but he was pardoned by the Governor. In the second trial, the judge directed the jury to convict, but they voted to acquit. In 1925, one of these judges physically assaulted Magee in a hotel lobby. Magee shot the judge in the arm, but also killed an innocent bystander in the process. He was again acquitted in this third trial.

And, oh yes, Carl Magee invented the parking meter! You'll be able to read this and other fabulous stories of inventions in the fourth book to be authored by my brother, Rick Beyer, The Greatest Science! Stories Never Told, which should be available in a bookstore near you by October 2009.

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of Carl Magee (and his parking meter!) courtesy of the Find a Grave website.

Sources for information in this post include Magee's obituary in the New York Times on February 2, 1946, and a March 20, 1939 article in Time Magazine entitled "Fireless Firebrand".