Gladys Arne and her friend Emma Raphael, both in their early 20s, set out from a Davenport dock to begin a Mississippi River adventure early the morning of Aug. 15, 1920.
Arne was a reporter and Raphael the circulation manager for the Davenport Democrat & Leader daily newspaper. The pair set out in a leaky, utilitarian johnboat they bought for $14 and christened “Emmy Jane.”
A pennant declaring “St. Louis or Bust” flew from the boat’s mizzenmast, announcing their destination.
On their way down river, they stopped in Fort Madison.
The deputy warden at the state penitentiary there took an interest in the young women’s trek and assigned someone to give them a tour of the facility. As the tour progressed, Arne told the guide she believed the prison’s story was one of “possibilities gone wrong, ability misdirected.”
Her guide then told Arne he was a prison inmate. When the tour finished, Arne tried to ask the man why he was behind bars, but she became tongue-tied.
Sensing her request, the man said he wouldn’t talk about it, but added, “In the short time that I have been here, I have proved that I can be trusted. I have this position and more liberty than almost any other on the grounds.”
As the women left, Arne asked the deputy warden what the guide’s offense was. The warden gave her an enigmatic smile and said, “Murder. He’s here for life.”
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After four weeks on the river, Arne and Raphael ended their journey in St. Louis on Sept. 10. They sold the now-renamed “Dauntless Emmy Jane” for $25, all equipment thrown in, and headed for home. Arne wrote a story about the trip for the Davenport newspaper.
Arne was born in Chapin in north-central Iowa in 1894. She moved to Cedar Rapids with her family in 1911 and attended Coe College, where she studied art under the guidance of artist Marvin Cone. After she graduated in 1917, she taught for a year and then became a reporter at the Davenport paper.
The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette ran Arne’s story about her Mississippi River adventure on Oct. 16, 1920. But then, Arne had moved to Detroit for an advertising job.
Her stay in Detroit was short-lived when The Gazette hired her as a reporter and feature writer in 1921.
During the 1920s, Arne undoubtedly crossed paths with another Cedar Rapids resident, Grant Wood, before he became a famous artist.
She was listed as an entertainer for the 1925 “Nights on Montmartre” at the Art Gallery, a night that included Wood among the artists and decorators. .
Identified as the “star feature writer of the Evening Gazette,” Arne was picked to be locked in a safe to be opened by an escape artist. Wood was one a member of the Garlic social club, and they sent flowers and condolences to Arne before her performance.
On to NYC
In 1927, Arne moved to New York City to write features for the now-defunct New York Telegram.
In one story, she noted one of differences between New York and Iowa: “My old train-riding habit persists of peering from windows to watch the telephone poles, fences, cows, windmills, red barns and other items of the rustic landscape rush past. I gazed from the subway with eager, subconscious anticipation — out into the beautiful, onrushing dark.”
She had been at her new job a little more than a month when she met James Holton, the paper’s real estate editor. Three weeks later, the two were married at the city’s landmark “Church Around the Corner,” officially known as the Church of the Transfiguration.
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“Mr. Holton is one of New York’s best known newspaper men, having begun his career with the Brooklyn Eagle. He served 25 months overseas during the World War, took part in many important offensives and was wounded at Belleau Wood,” the Davenport Democrat & Leader reported. He was considered a military expert.
The Holtons also were good at playing bridge, winning many tournaments in Brooklyn. where Gladys taught classes in the card game.
James Holton died at his office at the Real Estate Weekly in New York in 1971. Gladys Holton survived him by six years, dying Jan. 1, 1977, at age 82.
Over the years, the former reporter continued to paint and had works exhibited in Brooklyn Heights and in the Marvin Cone Alumni Collection at Coe. Her niece, Virginia Black, and her husband, Percy Black, donated some of her paintings to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 1993.