Hats Off to Larry Ho: Saint Paul Poet and Politician
Laurence “Larry Ho” Hodgson (1874–1937) was a unique combination of poet and politician, a prolific writer who produced thousands of poetic and prose works. But he was also an active participant in politics, serving in a variety of roles for the Democratic Party. He grew up in Hastings, Minnesota, and after completing high school he was hired by a newspaper and worked his way up.
Around 1895 he left for the big city, working for a time at the Minneapolis Times, where he received his nickname. While signing his first feature article, the pencil broke as he was writing the first “o.” The city editor was looking on and said, “Better let it go at that ‘Larry Ho.’”
Why did Larry Ho come to Saint Paul? He once said that after reading that a woman in the city “had hit upon the happy scheme of turning her flapjacks by putting popcorn in the batter,” he decided it “was a pretty good town for a shiftless man to move to.”
Around 1901 he began working at the St. Paul Globe. By 1903 he had a column called “Cabbages and Kings” that appeared daily in the Dispatch. He also served as a sports editor, a literary editor, and then an editorial writer. He became a sought-after public speaker.
In 1907 the political aspect of his life kicked in when he become secretary for Minnesota’s Speaker of the House. He then served in Governor Lind’s administration and later became secretary to Democratic mayor Winn Powers, in office from 1914 to 1916. The next mayor, a Republican, retained Hodgson.
Even when involved in politics, Larry Ho continued writing. He wrote a prose poem, “The American Flag,” for Memorial Day in 1918. It appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines and is estimated to have been reprinted several million times. A few of its stanzas included:
“It is no fabric of silk or bunting—no mere beautiful cloth woven by human hands. It is a living thing, pulsing with the throbbing ardors of humanity, glowing with the fervor of immortal hopes, leaping out ecstasies of life and dream.”
He never received money for this or any of his other writings, saying, “I don’t like to commercialize my verse writing. It is in the nature of recreation. . . . If it gives pleasure to others, I take satisfaction in making this small contribution to their happiness.”
When there was an open Saint Paul mayoral seat, Larry Ho decided to run. He defended himself against suggestions of inexperience. He said, “The charge against me is that if I write poetry, I must, of necessity, know little about business. However, inasmuch as my poetry is not very good . . . I do not think it should be held against me as a major offense.”
Hodgson was elected by a large majority and eventually served four terms—from 1920 to 1924 and 1926 through 1930. He even ran for Minnesota Governor on the Democratic ticket, losing but making a decent showing. After leaving office he returned to newspaper work. His home at 1039 Van Slyke had a library of 7,500 books and a third of them were mysteries.
￼￼Over the years he wrote for Maclean’s, Scribner’s, and other national magazines. Larry Ho’s poems were uplifting and often religious, with titles like “Love,” “Friendship,” “Memories,” and “Redemption.” Some were whimsical, such as: “Your lips to mine, love/Germ mixed with germ;/ Oh what a thrill as/They wiggle and squirm.” There was also a risqué offering about Nina Clifford’s brothel. When it was torn down, he wrote in part: “No longer do gay lights their welcome convey/Inviting the wayfarer in/To choose from the bevy, his favorite lay/To dally a while and sin.”
Hodgson’s lasting popularity was evident after his 1937 death when he lay in state in the city and county courthouse. Soon after, his son published a book called Howdy Folks: Selections from the Writings, Verse and Speeches of Larry Ho. A Saint Paul group called the “Larry Ho Memorial Association” visited his Hastings grave every year on his birthday. As late as 1956 they came, said prayers, recited his poems, and had a dinner. There is a Larry Ho Drive in the Battle Creek neighborhood. In 1940 the city dedicated a ball field in Como Park to Hodgson. A memorial plaque near the picnic pavilions there includes his poem “Ambition” that could easily serve as an epitaph: “I’d like to live so humanly/That in some after year/A comrade happily may say/‘He left the roses here.’”