Irish protest cartoonist's nod to NJ Hall of Fame

December 13, 2011 - 8:35 PM

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Some New Jerseyans want the name of a political cartoonist who created the images of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam scratched from the state Hall of Fame's list of nominees because he also drew unflattering caricatures of the Irish.

Thomas Nast, who died in 1902, is one of 50 nominees to the state Hall of Fame, which already includes Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicholson.

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, who is Irish-American, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians said Nast's name should be erased from consideration because of two derogatory cartoons he completed in the 19th century.

One from 1871, called "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things," depicts a drunken Irishman lighting a powder keg.

DeAngelo said in a letter to the Hall of Fame dated Monday he was "deeply troubled" by Nast's nomination.

"I do not believe that his works represent the people of New Jersey from all cultural backgrounds in an appropriate or respectful manner," said DeAngelo, a Democrat. "We should not be honoring any individual who contributed to the popularization of bigotry and prejudice in our country."

Hall of Fame spokesman Don Jay Smith said the Board of Commissioners has decided to leave the issue to state residents, whose online votes determine who gets in.

Gov. Chris Christie said he had no authority to interfere.

"With the decision to remove Thomas Nast from the 2012 ballot in the hands of the Hall's Board of Commissioners, the only way to make my opinion known is at the ballot box, and I encourage you to join me," Christie said in a letter. "By casting our ballots, we can choose the New Jerseyans we believe deserve a place in our Hall of Fame to represent our great state."

Voting takes place through the new year at www.njhalloffame.org.

Smith said he did extensive research the first time questions about Nast's nomination arose three years ago, even contacting Mcculloch Hall in Morristown, which holds a large collection of Nast's drawings.

Smith said some misconstrue the context in which Nast's drawings were created. Political corruption was a frequent target of his biting cartoons, and he saw the Irish as supporters of the corrupt enterprises, Smith said.

"Cartoonists are inflammatory," he said. "They make their living offending people."

Nast is also credited with creating two enduring political symbols: the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey.

If history is any guide, the Hibernians have little to worry about: Nast has failed to make the cut in three previous nominations to the Hall.