William F. Kirk
|William F. Kirk|
|Born||William Frederick Kirk
April 29, 1877
|Died||March 25, 1927
Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Although born in Mankato, Kirk spent most of his childhood in Chippewa Falls. He graduated from high school there and began his career in journalism on a local paper. His humor column, “Fleeting Fancies”, was a popular feature in the Chippewa Falls Herald and later in the Milwaukee Sentinel. It brought him to the attention of metropolitan dailies and was the name of his first book, published in 1904. Kirk's lyrics drew comparisons with those of other poets, whose work he sometimes parodied: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Eugene Field and James Whitcomb Riley.
A longtime newspaperman, Kirk got his start at press outlets in Chippewa Falls and Milwaukee. In 1905 he signed a contract with the Hearst organization and moved to New York, where he was employed at two of William Randolph Hearst's papers: the New York American and the New York Evening Journal. After returning to Chippewa Falls in 1918, he continued working as a nationally syndicated columnist.
For eighteen years Kirk was distributed by the International Features Syndicate and reached a national audience as he wrote on subjects as diverse as baseball, temperance, women's suffrage and divorce. His pieces were seen in everything from "The Smart Set" to trade union publications. He was widely known for the features "Little Bobbie's Pa" and "The Manicure Lady".
Recent works on baseball's deadball era have had numerous examples of Kirk’s sports writing. One can, for instance, read his account of Fred Merkle's infamous blunder  or his rhyming tribute to the Flying Dutchman, Honus Wagner. The Unforgettable Season by Gordon H. Fleming recounts the 1908 National League pennant race through contemporary press coverage by Kirk and others. In 1911 Kirk published a collection of baseball ballads called Right Off The Bat.
Failing health caused his early retirement, and after an illness of many months he died of cancer in 1927.
The Norsk Nightingale
William F. Kirk is especially remembered for his Scandinavian dialect poetry, written for a daily column and later published in book form. His byline, “The Norsk Nightingale”, was a familiar sight in newspapers across the country. His first collection of dialect verse, The Norsk Nightingale, presented a Norwegian lumberjack from the Upper Midwest. It was his most popular book with sixteen editions printed over a period of thirty-five years. At the time of its publication one reviewer wrote: “Novelty and freshness, and no little ingenuity as a parodist, salute us in this volume of dialect verse hailing from the haunts of the lumberjack or, more locally, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, where dwell so many neo-Americans of Scandinavian birth.” 
Kirk's ethnic poetry put forth the notion that Scandinavian-Americans were good-natured but a little slow. This humorous stereotype had been employed in the 1890s by the playwright Gus Heege in such theatrical works as “Ole Olson” and “Yon Yonson”.
Scandinavian dialect humor took other forms: vaudeville sketches, joke books, movies, records and sheet music. In quick succession Tin Pan Alley published “Hello Wisconsin”, “Holy Yumpin Yiminy” and “Scandinavia" (Sing Dose Song And Make Dose Music). The popular recording artists Eleonora and Ethel Olson were known for their warm depictions of immigrant life in such stories as “The Old Sogning Woman” and “A Norwegian Woman Using the Telephone”.
El Brendel, Yogi Yorgesson, Stan Boreson and countless others have followed in Kirk’s footsteps, and there is still a receptive audience — especially among Scandinavian-Americans — for tales of lumberjacks and sergeants with more heart than brain.
Books by William F. Kirk
- Fleeting Fancies 1904
- The Norsk Nightingale 1905
- Right Off The Bat 1911
- Songs Of Sergeant Swanson 1918
- Out Of The Current 1923
- The Harp Of Fate 1925
Songs by William F. Kirk
- Steve William F. Kirk and Harry von Tilzer 1910
- I'm Going Down To Beat My Wife William F. Kirk and Harry von Tilzer c. 1910
- Flirt lyrics by Edward Madden and William F. Kirk, music by Henri Bereny 1911
- Little White Rose Of Mine William F. Kirk and Robert Matthews 1911
- Consolation William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1917
- Flag Of My Heart William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1917
- The Other Love William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1917
- The Rainbow Of Love William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1917
- The Harbor Of Dreams William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1918
- A Sunset Song William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1918
- Glory Land William F. Kirk and Gustave Ferrari 1919
- Red Rose Of Love, Bloom Again William F. Kirk and J. Stanton Gladwin 1920
- Speak For Yureself, Yohn William F. Kirk and Henry S. Sawyer 1922
- "Flirt" was in the Broadway musical Little Boy Blue.
- "Flag Of My Heart" was recorded by Reinald Werrenrath for Victor Records.
- "The Rainbow Of Love" was recorded by John McCormack for Victor Records.
- New York Times March 26, 1927.
- The Syracuse Post-Standard June 17, 1905.
- Johnny Kling: A Baseball Biography by Gil Bogen, (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006) pp. 249 - 250.
- Ironwood Daily Globe March 25, 1927.
- The San Francisco Call September 1, 1913.
- The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball edited by John Thorn, (New York: Galahad Books, 1997) p. 497.
- Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball's Flying Dutchman by Arthur D. Hittner, (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996).
- The Unforgettable Season by Gordon H. Fleming, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981).
- Right off the Bat by William F. Kirk, (New York: G.W. Dillingham, 1911).
- Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune April 05, 1927.
- The Norsk Nightingale by William F. Kirk, (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1905).
- The Critic and Literary World (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905) p. 384.
- Songs of Sergeant Swanson by William F. Kirk, (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1918).
- Theatre History Studies edited by Rhona Justice-Malloy, (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 2008). Volume 28, pp. 71 - 82.
- Approaches to the American Musical by Robert Lawson-Peebles, (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996.) pp. 55 - 71.
- Yust for Fun by Eleonora and Ethel Olson, (Minneapolis: Eggs Press, 1979).
- So Ole says to Lena: Folk Humor of the Upper Midwest by James P. Leary, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001).
Historic American Newspapers
- William F. Kirk
- The Norsk Nightingale: dialect verse
- Little Bobbie's Pa: humorous prose series
- The Manicure Lady: humorous prose series
Articles and photos
- "America's Newest Humorist" in The National Magazine 1904
- Advertisement for "The Norsk Nightingale" in The Publishers Weekly 1905
- Advertisement for "Little Bobbie's Pa" in The Fourth Estate 1915
- Eau Claire Leader 1920
- Photo of William F. Kirk 1927
- William F. Kirk obituary 1927
- William F. Kirk in Volume One Magazine 2010
Books by William F. Kirk
- Fleeting Fancies at the Internet Archive.
- The Norsk Nightingale at the Internet Archive.
- Right Off The Bat at the Internet Archive.
- Songs Of Sergeant Swanson at the Internet Archive.
The Norsk Nightingale
Kirk sheet music
- "Steve" at Indiana University.
- "Flirt" at the University of Maine.
- "Little White Rose Of Mine" at York University.
Other sheet music
- "Scandinavia" at Indiana University.
- "Holy Yumpin Yiminy" at Duke University.
- "Hello Wisconsin" at Johns Hopkins University.
William F. Kirk lyrics and parodies at the Internet Archive
Streaming audio at the Library of Congress
Streaming audio at LibriVox
- Streaming audio at the Internet Archive