Bert Griswold: Talented man with a warm heart He was a civic leader and strong advocate for Fort Wayne.
Bert J. Griswold is best known today as the author of early 1900s history books about Fort Wayne and its residents, but that was just one of many contributions he made to his adopted home.
Born Oct. 13, 1873, in Osage, Iowa, Griswold grew up to become a skilled artist and illustrator. He took those skills into the newspaper field, where he worked as a cartoonist, first for newspapers in Iowa and then for what is now the Tribune Star in Terre Haute and the Indianapolis Star, it says in his biography in the book “Builders of Greater Fort Wayne,” which he was working to complete when he died March 8, 1927. (The book, however, carries a publication date of 1926.)
Griswold came to Fort Wayne in 1902 to work as a cartoonist for the Fort Wayne Daily News, and stayed there nine years, a newspaper report about his death said. He then held the same job for about three years at the Fort Wayne Sentinel. The two papers later merged to form today’s The News-Sentinel.
As a cartoonist, he wielded great civic and political influence, the biography said. But his drawing had “a good nature and wit about it which robbed his cartoons of their sting without lessening their force,” the “Builders of Greater Fort Wayne” biography said.
In 1914, Griswold left the Sentinel and started his own Progressive Advertising agency, the newspaper story about his death said.
At the ad agency, he showed great versatility in serving clients’ many needs, the biography said. Friends reportedly said of him, “‘He is a man who, when given anything to do, does it a little better than could anybody else.'”
He became fascinated with Fort Wayne history and dove into researching and telling it, both through books and talks he gave to community groups.
He also was extremely active in local civic groups and events, including playing Santa Claus for community children, performing in local theater and writing the historical portion of the pageant “The Glorious Gateway of the West,” the centerpiece of Fort Wayne’s celebration of Indiana’s centennial in 1916. The centennial theatrical extravaganza, which was presented at Reservoir Park, included 1,000 local people in the production, said John Beatty, a genealogy librarian at the Genealogy Center at the downtown Allen County Public Library.
Beatty said Griswold strongly advocated for the City Beautiful movement, which promoted the use of parks and features to make city’s more attractive and inviting.
Griswold also was the first recipient of the local Optimists Club’s Civic Award for service to the city, the story on his death said. Shortly before he died, he had helped host a statewide Rotary Club convention in Fort Wayne, and event for which he did much of the planning. Rotary members attending had elected him as a delegate to an upcoming Rotary International convention in Belgium.
“He was beloved in the community,” Beatty said.
He also was a humble man, reports said.
Several days before his death, a reporter asked him what will happen to all of the good community work he had been doing if he died. Someone else will step up and take on that role, Griswold said.
“In my newspaper experience, I’ve checked up on how long it takes for a man’s loss to a community to be forgotten,” he told the reporter. “By my check, it takes just about two weeks. So I say, two weeks after I’m gone, I won’t even be a subject of conversation.”
If he couldn’t do something a person wanted, he also never felt ashamed to tell the person the task was beyond his ability, a newspaper report on his funeral said.
Griswold reportedly had health problems, the newspaper story about his death said. He had been hospitalized the previous summer for treatment of bladder and kidney disease.
He died of double pneumonia – pneumonia in both lungs – at age 53, the newspaper story said. His wife, Louise Norton Griswold, whom he had married in 1901 in Iowa, died about two years later on Feb. 8, 1929. Both are buried in Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne.
Griswold’s funeral took place at Plymouth Congregational Church downtown on Berry Street, where he had been an active member and Sunday school teacher. People filled the sanctuary for the funeral service, and many more stood outside the church during the ceremony, the newspaper report said.
He was eulogized as a man with a “warm, sympathetic heart” and “one of Indiana’s greatest thinkers.” <br>
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After the death of Bert J. Griswold, his widow reportedly gave the Allen County Public Library many of the photos, drawings and materials he used to publish his history books on Fort Wayne.
To view the collection online, go to www.acpl.lib.in.us/home/research/eresources/community-album, and scroll down to the link for the “Bert J. Griswold Collection of Fort Wayne History.”