The Noble family arrived at the Railroad Depot in Kennebunk in 1878 eager to begin their first summer vacation at Kennebunkport. Ham Littlefield’s stagecoach was waiting at the station to carry them to the Ocean Bluff Hotel. Twelve-year-old Francis Noble was drawn instantly into Kennebunkport village. The sights, sounds, and smells of the ships being built at the Crawford and Perkins shipyard were far more enticing to him than the fashionable society his parents favored at Cape Arundel.
Master Noble attended his father’s prep school. George Washington Copp Noble was the founder of the exclusive Noble Greenough school that prepared the boys of Boston’s aristocracy for a Harvard education. As expected, in 1884, Francis entered Harvard. He made the acquaintance there of William Randolph Hearst, the business manager for the struggling Harvard Lampoon. Hearst was less than serious about academics and was soon expelled from Harvard for having personalized chamber pots delivered to each of his professors, but he continued his work on The Lampoon with Francis Noble.
Upon graduation in 1888, Francis Lister Hawks Noble received an urgent plea to join the staff of Hearst’s first Newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner. Eventually, Noble would rise to the position of Managing Editor at The Examiner. Hearst acquired The New York Journal in 1895 and Francis became the Journal’s Sunday Editor. Sunday Editorships under Hearst at The Chicago American and then New York World followed. Moving back to Boston, Francis worked for The Boston Evening Transcript, Boston Herald, and Boston Daily Globe, all the while, summering at his beloved Kennebunkport. At the age of 46, he retired from the Newspaper business and came to live in Kennebunkport year-round. He did not, however, retire his bold opinions or his engaging writing style.
After much cajoling by his friends Booth Tarkington, Kenneth Roberts, and Kennebunkport artist, Louis D. Norton, Francis Lister Hawks Noble became the editor of the Kennebunkport summer newspaper Turn O’ the Tide in 1923. He made some controversial changes to the style of the weekly society report. His connections in the business gave him access to some of the most creative pens of the day. Poetry by Dorothy Parker, cartoons by cartoonist Frederick Opper and sketches by Louis Norton and Abbott Graves graced its pages.
Noble’s editorials were well written but expressed opinions that were not always popular with the social set. “Not everyone benefits from church,” announced he. Francis publicly objected to being told what he could and could not drink during Prohibition. “Flappers,” he wrote, “are young and lovely and older less lovely people such as myself, should not feel threatened by their exuberance.” By the end of the summer of 1923, Francis grew weary of ruffled feathers and complaints. The final issue of the season was full of letters to the editor from his friends hoping that he would stay on as editor of the paper. In the same issue, Noble wrote a farewell editorial to his readers. I paraphrase: We did our best, though our best was flawed, to chronicle the things you did, whether or not you did them well. We gave you the thrill of seeing your name in print so you could send copies to all your friends.”
Francis Noble and Louis Norton remained great friends. Both having been born into the exclusivity of aristocracy only to reject it in adulthood, they shared a kinship and supported each other in projects to benefit all residents of the Town of Kennebunkport. Through the efforts of Francis Noble, the children’s room was added to the Louis T Graves Library. Norton’s contribution was to paint a series of storybook mural panels around the top of all the walls. When Louis D. Norton painted the dining room historical murals at Judge Luques house it was Francis Noble who wrote about them in glowing terms in an article for the Boston Globe.
The Kennebunkport Historical Society is offering tours of those murals as part of our Prelude celebration and I am hosting a Louis D. Norton exhibit this Prelude at the Pasco Center. I hope to meet some of you in person!