Just one term short of his graduation from Harvard, William Randolph Hearst was killed in a traffic accident. He was son of George Hearst, the mining engineer who had made his millions in California during the Gold Rush and investments afterward. While the death of an industrialist’s son is historically little more than tabloid pop culture, William was given a headline, three-page obituary in the San Francisco Examiner, a newspaper the elder Hearst had purchased (though rumor holds he won in a poker game) in 1880. From the glowing report the “would that it were” speculations of Hearst’s survival in the obituary painted a young man who would rise to lead his nation out of corruption and into a bright new age of liberty and enlightenment.
According to eye-witnesses, however, Hearst seemed to be more of a trouble-maker than a golden boy. He played pranks through his youth and was a notorious frustration to his teachers. While attending Harvard, he gifted several professors (specifically ones he did not like) with chamber pots made of gold featuring engravings of their names. The impropriety toward faculty called Hearst into a behavioral review, but, after much deliberation and supposed bribery, Hearst was allowed to continue his schooling. While wandering drunkenly through Cambridge, Mass, with friends, he halted to vomit into a public trash can, then stumbled into the street where he was struck by a car, dying shortly thereafter of injuries.
George Hearst went on to serve as US Senator from California until his death in 1891. The famous Examiner, which Hearst had used to fuel his political campaigns, folded shortly afterward. His wife Phoebe Apperson Hearst, now widowed and childless, turned his great fortunes and investments toward charities following her faith of Baha’i. She followed her husband in dead in 1919 during the influenza epidemic, but her many philanthropic agencies continue to today.
Of course, as life goes on with so many deaths, life continued without William Randolph. The United States continued expansionism but never slid back into its barbaric ways of imperialistic invasion. In 1898, after an accidental explosion of the USS Maine nearly caused war between the US and Spain, the investigative journalistic talents of Joseph Pulitzer were nationally recognized and stand as one of the hallmarks of American journalism, known worldwide for its precision and fairness as well as its expense.
During the debates of the criminalization of marijuana in the 1930s, solid scientific study based in this journalism overcame anti-Hispanic suspicions and industrial influence. Marijuana was to remain legal, though routinely cautioned against by the Surgeon General much like alcohol and cigarettes. Suggestion of banning marijuana returned in the 1950s and ‘60s, but was generally met with Vice-President Nixon’s opinion, “We don’t want another Prohibition.”
While refraining from international war, the US did, however, broker a treaty between Spain and Cuba, freeing it and several other colonies such as Puerto Rico and the Philippines by making loans based on bonds sponsored by the newly found nations. Rather than a costly military empire, the United States would build a commonwealth of economically tied satellites, a strategy accelerated by the Cold War into a worldwide influence that some pundits describe as the “American Empire” and others as the “Pax Americana.”
In reality, William Randolph Hearst was expelled from Harvard after the golden chamber pot incident. His father gave him the San Francisco Examiner as something to do, and Hearst leaped into creating his publishing empire. A populist, Hearst reduced the price of his papers to one cent and used exciting, often “yellow” journalism to move copies. He would employ many of America’s greatest writers such as Jack London and Mark Twain and become deeply invested in politics, later being instrumental in activities such as expansionism, Free Silver, and the criminalization of marijuana. His life, including his decades-long involvement with actress Marion Davies, would be inspiration for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, a film Hearst would refuse to advertise in his papers. Through Hearst’s influence, Citizen Kane would be booed at the Oscars and not gain recognition for another two decades, long after Hearst’s death in 1951.