Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Last Cartoon

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivists

Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman’s last finished cartoon arrived at the offices of the Elmira Telegram on the morning of his death on March 26, 1935. 

Zim's last published cartoon, courtesy of the Horseheads Historical Society

He had begun his career as a political cartoonist in 1883 working for the satirical magazine, Puck. He jumped ship for rival publication Judge in exchange for higher pay in 1885. Judge was decidedly pro-Republican and for the next 28 years Zim made his money lampooning Democrats. Even after he retired, he continued to draw political cartoons for local and national publications.

Judge, January 28, 1899

At the time of his death, he still had a partially finished drawing of a political cartoon sitting on his easel. The drawing shows Uncle Sam being upset by the discordant stylings of Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and “Johnson.” By their nature, political cartoons are incredibly timely. If you don’t know the people in it, you won’t get the joke and, if you’re anything like my coworkers and I, you probably don’t get this one. 

Zim's last unfinished work, courtesy of the Horseheads Historical Society

Knowing the players is key. Huey Long Jr. (1893-1935), also known as “The Kingfish” was a Democratic senator and former governor from Louisiana. As part of a presidential bid, he proposed a series of radical populist plans to redistribute the nation’s wealth. He was assassinated on September 10, 1935, several months after Zim drew his cartoon.

Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) was an influential radio personality and Catholic priests whose listeners numbered upwards of 30 million. Although initially supportive of the New Deal, by 1935 he regularly railed against it and painted Roosevelt as a tool of the banks. His populist rants were anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-communist, and pro-fascist. He is widely considered the father of talk radio.

Even after an hour’s research, I could not figure out which Johnson the one in Zim’s cartoon is supposed to be. Still, I think we can make an educated guess about what Zim was getting at: populism bad. I wonder what he’d say about today’s politics.


Zim’s final cartoon and other works will be on display at the museum from April through October 2019 as part of the exhibit From Pencil to Page: Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman’s Creative Process. Come check it out!

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