Mount Forests Rube Allyn led a remarkable life in U.S.

Among the notable people who grew up in Wellington County was a fellow named Rubert Royce Allen.

He was born in 1867. His parents, Alex and Ann Allen, were Irish immigrants. The family, with young Rubert and two sisters, eventually settled in Mount Forest, where Alex found employment at his trade as a shoemaker.

Young Rubert Allen spent most of his childhood and youth in Mount Forest. As he grew older he became restless. Bored with school, he sometimes got himself in trouble as a practical joker and mimic. He was able to intimidate many adults with his self-assurance and confidence in himself, reinforced by his natural ability with the English language. He was attracted to the printed word, and learned the rudiments of typesetting and printing as an apprentice in the office of the Mount Forest Representative.

Rubert had no desire to stay in Mount Forest, which he considered culturally backward and unstimulating. He left home for Philadelphia, where he enrolled in the National School of Oratory, run by James E. Murdock, who had been a famous actor in the 1860s and 1870s. Allen became a favourite student of the old man, who was then in his 70s. Allen graduated from that school in 1888, and then attended a drama school in New York.

Still restless, Allen moved to the midwest, travelling for a few years as a performer under the name of Rube Allyn, a moniker he soon adopted permanently. His performances were based on his familiarity with accents and his ability to imitate various famous personalities. For a year he was a featured performer on the Chautauqua circuit, teamed with headliners John Whitcomb Riley and Bill Nye. With his stage persona as a rural hayseed he spun outrageous and humorous stories, often without any preparation.

When not on the stage, Rube plied his trade as a typesetter and printer. Over time he eventually covered much of the United States on his travels, though he would sometimes pause on his travels for a year or more.

The first time he grew weary of the stage he took over a newspaper, the Daily Times, of Crookston, North Dakota, in the eastern part of the state near Grand Forks, an area rich in Canadian immigrants.

That venture lasted into the early years of the 20th century. Over that time Allyn built on what he had learned at the Mount Forest Representative regarding the editing and publishing of a paper. His one weakness was his inability to avoid satire and pointed comments in his news stories, which sometimes were not appreciated by readers.

Tired of the routine of the newspaper and its meagre profits, he took to the road again as a performer about 1901, mostly in the south. His act by then had become old fashioned, but his performances still drew audiences in the southern states. Occasionally he would join a cast for a Shakespeare play, filling his roll with exaggerated mannerisms and flowery oratory.

Over the years Allyn became increasingly eccentric. He wore his hair long, and bore a resemblance to his fellow Irishman, Oscar Wilde, in appearance, mannerisms, and wit. He had frequent bad moods and a fierce temper when anyone disagreed with him. He seldom bathed, and never wore socks.

In 1906, a tour landed him in Florida, then in the midst of a boom. Everything about the place appealed to him, and he decided to stay. He settled in Sarasota, on the west coast of the state to the south of Tampa. From that base he continued to ply his trade as an itinerant printer, while occasionally offering his stage show to the paying public.

In 1912, he decided to return permanently to his former vocation when he started a newspaper, the Sarasota Sun. By then he was long married, and he and his wife reconciled again: they had separated several times over the previous 15 years.

Allyn’s new paper appeared in January 1913, competing with an existing paper. The printing office was a shack he built on the end of a dock. His Sun carried the banner, “Every Saturday, the best we know how.” His son, Robert, took on the duties of typesetter and linotype operator – he had probably picked up his skills as a boy when his father published the Grand Forks Daily Times.

Rube Allyn put out a lively paper, but could not resist employing satire in many stories and poking fun at political figures. He was particularly fond of gossip and social items. He was pointedly harsh on European leaders and their conduct during World War I.

The paper had more success in attracting readers than advertisers. In fact, revenue declined when advertisers became annoyed at some of the material Allyn published. One night in 1916, with the bailiff closing in, Allyn sawed off the end of the dock supporting the office, dropped it onto a raft, and towed it across the bay. Part way there the top-heavy load shifted and dropped into the water. He was able to salvage some of the equipment, but most was lost or badly damaged.

A few days later Allyn hopped onto a northbound train, and found work in a shipyard in Philadelphia. When the shipyard laid off many of its workers at the end of the war, Allyn returned to Florida, settling in Siesta Key, across the bay from Sarasota.

There he got his hands on some second-hand printing equipment, and he began publishing the Florida Fisherman in 1920, appealing to the hordes of tourists visiting the state.

On January 7, 1921, Allyn was arrested for the brutal bludgeoning murder of Harry Higel, a respected community leader and three-term mayor of Sarasota. The case created a sensation. An unruly lynch mob formed outside the jail, intent on breaking Allyn loose and hanging him.

Authorities managed to move their prisoner to an out-of-town hoosegow. Allyn maintained his innocence, and evidence was circumstantial. Allyn and the victim had a long history of antagonism, and a footprint near the body matched those of a pair of shoes owned by Allyn.

The prisoner, held without bail, cooled is heels in his cell for four months before the case came before a grand jury. After a short deliberation, the jury ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial. On his release Allyn moved to a small agricultural town called Ruskin, to the north of Sarasota.

Rube Allyn by this time was 55, and decided to lead a quieter life. He continued to publish the Florida Fisherman, and became an advocate for wildlife conservation.

He was also active in the Isaac Walton League, the first mass-membership environmental organization group in North America.

Rube Allyn died in 1947 after a brief illness, after living the last year of his life quietly, publishing his magazine and evading his creditors. He was survived by his long-suffering wife, his two sons, and a sister in Mount Forest.

During the early years of his career the Mount Forest newspapers had carried occasional reports of his activities. The Confederate published a full obituary a few weeks after his death.

His son, Rube Allyn Jr., followed his father as an expert on fishing after a stint in the U.S. Navy. He wrote a fishing column for the St. Petersburg Times, and then a series of books on the subject.

In his writing the obvious influence of his father is sometimes evident: Rube Junior found it difficult to resist venturing into exaggeration and satire.

In time Rube Jr. gave up newspaper work, and started a publishing business he called Great Outdoors, producing books on Florida natural life, fishing, and history.


Stephen Thorning