The Great Unwashed and the People’s Washing and Bathing Association.

A fine view of both the washing and the bathing rooms at the People's Washing and Bathing establishment.

“Cleanliness is conducive to health,” notes an entertaining and illuminating 1853 committee report, which continues,

Who can tell, but that disease was kept from our city, the last summer, in a great degree, merely by this one establishment? Thirty-eight thousand bathed there in three months. On the 28th of May, 1300 bathed in the house. These went home refreshed, after a hard day’s work. They went home clean; their skin in good condition; their spirits exhilarated, not by a three cent drink, but by a three cent or five cent cold water (or if they choose it, warm water) bath.

(An extract from pages 6-7 of the First Annual Report of the People’s Washing and Bathing Association. 1853. New York: J. W. Harrison, Book and Job Printer.)

That such a boon might now be forgotten (for who now speaks of the People’s Washing and Bathing Association?) leads one to ask from what charitable skull burst forth this wise populist reform in 1850s New-York? For, until this era (and in fact for most years beyond), despite the occasional appearance of commercial public baths in American cities as early as the late 18th century, opportunities for the urban poor to bathe generally remained out of financial reach. (Admittedly, one was not necessarily expected to bathe with any frequency in that era.)

But as indoor plumbing became more common with the upper and middle classes, and the fad for hydropathy as the cynosure of health took hold in the 1840s and 1850s, the idea of cleanliness as a necessary adjunct to healthiness took hold, until by the mid-19th century (as historian Marilyn Thornton Williams notes in her Washing “The Great Unwashed”: Public Baths in Urban America, 1840-1920), “Among the middle class anyway, personal cleanliness ranked as a mark of moral superiority and dirtiness as a sign of degradation.” Further, she notes,

[The] 1849 cholera epidemic which ravaged American cities also produced increasing demands for cleanliness and public baths. . . . In the 1840s and later, urban reformers saw the slum not only as a threat to social stability, but also as a symptom of the moral depravity of slum dwellers. Cleanliness would produce higher moral standards in the slums (Williams, pp. 14-15).

Perhaps the acme of antebellum reform organization annual report pamphlets.

Into this growing social movement stepped the People’s Washing and Bathing Association, an organization whose name might very well stand at the zenith of grandiose names that littered the firmament of antebellum reform. The association itself was the product of a reforming association, having been created in 1851 by the  New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; this specially dedicated bathing association was apparently created to rush in where the city of New York feared to tread, even in the wake of the city’s own comprehensive 1849 report of its Special Committee on Public Baths, which recommended the construction of public baths.

Thus did the People’s Washing and Bathing Association purchase land on Mott Street in 1851 and erect the fine brick building that opened to the public on June 1, 1852, where it offered public bathing and public laundry facilities to the all and sundry. This report (evidently the only issue published) is rich in detail and includes a woodcut view of the Washing and the Bathing departments, statistics, the rules of the establishment, and various endorsements of the advantages to the public weal,

Names can be given of wash-women that have earned $10 per week over all working expenses, working, on an average, less than eight hours a day. The spacious Swimming-Baths for males and females, afford capital places for Boys to learn to swim, without danger, and Girls also, to whom, in these days of disasters, the Art of Swimming may be equally necessary.

This report would seem to suggest that the baths were available in summer and winter alike (Williams claims they were open only in the summer), though Williams is likely correct that even its modest cost to sers put it out of the reach of many of the poor, and that this was largely responsible for the shuttering of this social experiment in 1861.

Suggestive too of the currents of reform, given the contemporary passage of the “Maine Law” and its perhaps evocative temperance overtones that extol the merits of water, this copy with an in inscription at the head of the front wrapper, “With the Regards of Elb. Gerry,” likely that of the grandson of the Declaration signer namesake, this Gerry (1813-1886) a member of Congress from Maine between 1849 and 1851.

This uncommon and ephemeral report has since been snatched up by a discerning institution; we leave its description for the record:

People’s Washing and Bathing Association. The First Annual Report of the People’s Washing and Bathing Association. 1853. New York: J. W. Harrison, Book and Job Printer, 1853. Original printed yellow wrappers, 20 pages. Illus. Printing flaw to the first page of text (but legible). Wrappers somewhat soiled; title page and first leaf somewhat spotted, stained and foxed; a good copy. First edition.

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The end of the world and the arrival of steam in Detroit.

An address to young men of Detroit in 1848.

The anecdote below is drawn from an address delivered in 1848, fairly well along in retirement by the Michigan Whig William Woodbridge–second governor of Michigan, friend to Lewis Cass, son-in-law to the Revolutionary poet John Trumbull–to the Detroit Young Men’s Society, a speech (per the front wrapper of the pamphlet in which it was published) “Relative to the Customs and Institutions of the early Colonists of New England”–though given Woodbridge’s thesis that the peculiar New England character had much to do with the various boons of American civilization (the local school district and township governance, to name two), it it little surprise that there is much here on Michigan as well–including that promised anecdote, on the arrival of steam in Detroit:

Very early in the same morning, and long before my ordinary time of rising, I was startled by a violent and continued knocking at my door. Dressing myself very hastily, I went to see what terrible thing had happened. It was my old and polite acquaintance, Mons. Tremblé, living somewhere along the mouth of Huron, now ‘Clinton’ river. Scarcely allowing himself time for that courteous salutation which Frenchmen, (God bless them!) never forget; and in a condition of undisguised agitation, he burst into an exclamation that ‘the world was coming to an end!’ I thought he spoke distinctly: I thought I heard him clearly: but I could not comprehend him! ‘Plait il Monsieur?’ I said to him; and he repeated his affirmation–‘Voila la fin du monde’–he said, ‘que s’approche; et bien tot tout sera detruit!’ He was not drunk, I thought; he did not appear like a crazy man. I could not believe that I was either the one or the other; and feeling that it was my turn to be astonished, I again asked him what he said? what he meant? A third time he repeated his assertion, but in conclusion he went on the remark, that ‘now you and I see vessels driven with violence by fire through the water. Soon they will be hurled through the air also by fire. You and I may probably both live to see these things; and then all things will melt with fervent heat, and the world will be burnt up! The priests told him so–the Holy Bible says it!’ The mystery was solved, he had seen the steamboat!

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The fabulous Fütterer family and 4,000 years on stage.

The fabulous Fütterer family.

“We introduce ourselves as the two youngest of lecturers and writers of ancient history in the world today,” write Bernice and Eunice Fütterer in the spring of 1911.

They continue,

We are nine and ten years old and we are lecturing in halls or in any place which we can procure, and our subject is, ‘Four Thousand Years of History in One Hour,’ and thus we are demonstrating to the people by one of us writing on one subject while the other is talking on another; and we can write 4,000 years of history in 24 hours; and we learned this history by a new system in about three months, which system is capable of teaching any other children who will put their minds to it.

Thus supposedly do these two children introduce themselves to the world with their May 20, 1911 introduction to 4000 Years History in One Hour. By the Two Youngest Authors and Orators–Nine & Ten Years Old. Bernice and Eunice Fütterer. The Effects of a New Rapid System of Historical Juvenile Education Prepared for the International Juveniles Researchers Authors & Orators Instn. (San Francisco, 1911.)

While a good portion of the pamphlet is taken up with a recapitulation of the Old Testament history which the two Fütterer children, recent immigrants from Australia [sic, for Austria?], were evidently able to spiel forth onstage in under an hour, the real meat of the piece lies in the grandiose plans of the Fütterers mère and père, who hold their children up as the cynosure of their novel method of tuition, which they evidently planned to bestow as a boon on all children under twelve who might fall within convenient reach and who might be persuaded to attend their projected International Juvenile Ancient History Researchers–Authors and Orators Institute.

(That the system seems built on the Fütterer family’s ability to cram Old Testament lineages into the heads of their children is held up as the prophetic witness to  the biblical truth, “a child shall lead them.”)

What, for me, most encapsulates the entrepreneurial spirit of the Fütterer enterprise is their proposal for the upcoming 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco:

Moreover at the World’s Fair, San Francisco, in 1915, if Providence permits we plan to demonstrate the effects of this system with about fifty children of twelve years and under who will lecture as well as write a 4,000 years story ready for print in one hour; a feat I believe never before accomplished; and your child may be one among them; but the child to excel is he who first learns to read, write, spell, figure and obey well; such may write original letters to me in regard to ‘Worlds Fair’ proposition in Juvenilville.

Copyright records suggest that this pamphlet, despite its San Francisco imprint, was printed across the Bay in Oakland at the press of the Messiah’s advocate. Curiously, this edition of the pamphlet, likely the earliest published variation of the Fütterer system, is not found on OCLC, which notes variations on this title published in Los Angeles in 1912 and 1913, as well as later versions largely concerned with the Fütterer Patent Universal Eye-ographic Bible Atlas.

The copy of the pamphlet I have to hand is stamped in ink at the head of the title page as copy number 4142, this pamphlet being–in addition to all its evident charms–something of an artificial rarity produced for the collector’s market; as is so shrewdly noted at the end of the text,

These books are the first on record to our knowledge ever written by children; and will be numbered from 1 to 5,000, the first 100 to be sold as souvenirs at following prices: No. 1 at $50, No. 2 at $40, No. 3 at $30, No. 4 at $20, No. 5 at $15, No. 6 at $10, No. 7 at $5, No. 8 at $4, No. 9 at $3, No. 10 at $2, and from 10 to 100 at $1 each. These will be of greater value in time to come as curiosities.

In this optimistic assessment of fair market value, I am in full agreement with the enterprising Fütterer crew; the copy I sent home in the wake of my recent too-brief trip to San Francisco for the California Antiquarian Book Fair is described below and on our website. (Further interesting material continues to emerge from my parcels, those interested are directed as always to cast their eye along our concern’s New Arrivals page.)

Fütterer, Antonia Frederick. 4000 Years History in One Hour. By the Two Youngest Authors and Orators–Nine & Ten Years Old. Bernice and Eunice Fütterer. The Effects of a New Rapid System of Historical Juvenile Education Prepared for the International Juveniles Researchers Authors & Orators Instn. San Francisco: Antonia Fredck. Fütterer, Supt., 1911. Small 8vo, original gilt-printed red wrappers, [3], [1]-72, [5] pages. Illus. with a fetching halftone portrait of the Fütterer family (the two children wearing mortarboard hats). Wrappers a trifle sunned and showing a couple of scrapes; a very good copy. First edition.– $225.00

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When your fingers cease to tingle, double down, double down.

This paper wasn't sufficiently unrecorded.

While I was sitting at my desk this morning and cataloguing, I harkened back to the one axiom to which I cling as a bookseller: research on a book or pamphlet creates value.

The bookseller takes an item and does his utmost to create as many reasons as he can to suggest the title might be worth the interest (and money) of a discerning collector or librarian. An otherwise unremarkable piece becomes, with a little historical context, suddenly emblematic of diverse cultural forces.

One of my favorite instances of this phenomenon was the digging I had to do about three years back to sell a supposed tenth edition of Adolf Glassbrenner’s Berlin wie es ist und — trinkt. Von Ad. Brennglas. “Eckensteher.” Mit einem Titelkupfer. Zehnte Auflage (New York: Wilhelm Radde, 322 Broadway, Heinrich Ludwig, Buckdrucker, 1845), an unassuming little unbound duodecimo pamphlet that included a humorous frontispiece signed “Strong.”

Much as I would have liked to have ignored the thing, I had paid a few bucks for it and it wasn’t doing me any good just sitting there, and happily a cursory bit of research suggested the pamphlet in this edition was not listed in the usual online resources like OCLC or the Library of Congress catalog. This led me of course to that bookseller’s Homeric epithet “curious and fugitive.” (The tag is a poetic dodge that allows you to avoid claiming that it’s completely unknown and unrecorded, for how can one disprove the existence of the black swan’s twin?)

The title was a bit of popular contemporary satire from Berlin that had almost certainly been published for the local immigrant market in New York, but was apparently a whimsical speculative sideline on the part of the publisher, the German-American homeopathic pharmacist (and sometime publisher of popular books) Wilhelm Radde, who was at that Broadway address and “was the agent for the Central Homœopathic Pharmacy of Leipsic” (King’s History of homoeopathy and its institutions in America, 1905). This was an early title to go out under Radde’s imprint, and he evidently catered to a market for cheap popular literature (German school books, almanacs, editions of Undine, etc.). Ludwig, the printer, appears to have published a handful of German children’s and religious books in early-mid 19th century New York. The frontispice, depicting a loafer (“eckensteher”) drowsing off his inebriation beneath a dripping downspout, is signed Strong–perhaps T. W. Strong who (to judge from Hamilton’s Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1670-1870) was active in New York at this period and who, though apparently not himself blessed with the good fortune to be German, had worked before on projects with German-Americans.

The specific market forces that had conspired to summon this little piece of cheap American publishing out of the void had some 165 years later meant that the little thing in my hand could be said to be of interest to institutions, and indeed it was; it ended up in a research library where it awaits the interest of some discerning scholar of the transatlantic cultural exchanges of the German urban immigrant, or the elasticity of contemporary medical ethics in light of the profit motive, etc. etc.

The example above of course is all by way of digression, since the piece I have in hand this morning is a single issue of a weekly newspaper issued in 1831 in Taunton, Mass., a copy of the Village Fire Fly of November 21, 1831 (pictured above, and published with the genial epigraph, “Laugh and be Fat”).

This copy came into my hands on my trip to New England last November, when I noticed a dealer had penciled something to the effect of “Story like Poe?” across the upper margin. Indeed, the unsigned tale “The Man Buried Alive,” seems as though it could have been written by Poe–it’s a vivid first person narrative of the sensations of a man presumed dead (but who is of course in a sort of trance) who is then brought back to life by grave robbing anatomists on the dissection table after the application of a galvanic charge:

When they had satisfied themselves with the galvanic phenomena, the demonstrator took the knife, and pierced my on the bosom with the point. I felt a dreadful crackling, as it were, throughout my whole frame; a convulsive shuddering instantly followed: and a shriek of horror rose from all present. The ice of death was broken up; my trance ended.

This little 4-page paper measuring barely nine inches seemed a curious place for an early appearance of a possible Poe tale (or an American Gothic tale), but who knew whether or not any copies of the Village Fire Fly still existed outside the one in my hand?  So I added it to my stack of things to buy and moved on to some other ill-informed purchase.

So after some two or three months I finally got to this niggling little problem piece and started digging. First of all, the esteemed American Antiquarian Society (perhaps the best place to start when you have an American imprint before 1876) has a complete file of the 52 published issues of the paper, so I wasn’t going to be able to sell this piece on the strength of being completely unknown. (I held out hope that I might still be able to deploy “curious and fugitive,” and after locating only online versions, I just might slap that label on.)

So that led to the questions, who was the author of this cheerful little piece of taphephobia, and was it original to the Fire Fly?

Alas, though the story bears striking parallels to Poe’s account of the supposed burial and revival in 1831 of one Edward Stapleton in London, recounted by Poe in his 1844 story, “The Premature Burial,” a little digging traces the story here published back to its first unsigned appearance in Blackwood’s Magazine as “The Buried Alive” in October, 1821, after which it was then collected in the popular Scottish author John Galt’s anonymously-published The Steam-Boat (1822). (Given its inclusion in The Steam-Boat, I would dispute the 1997 Poe Encyclopedia, which under its entry for Blackwood’s Magazine attributes the 1821 article to Poe.)

Se even though we’ve figured out the story is a reprint and is not even American, we can at least salvage some comfort that Poe scholars nearly all seem to agree that the anecdote behind the Stapleton story was indeed lifted straight from this story and amplified by Poe. Also, passing reference in a couple of sources suggests the Galt version had in fact been in circulation among American periodicals in the 1820s and 1830s. Poe does not seem to have acknowledged the debt to Galt’s version, and in fact pokes fun of the story in passing in his satirical “The Psyche Zenobia (How to Write a Blackwood Article).” But the story was circulating through the American system and feeding the sources that inspired some of Poe’s macabre masterpieces; Poe’s genius was to take something coursing through the culture and transform it into art.

Of the Village Fire Fly, AAS notes that it ran to 52 weekly numbers through April 16, 1832, and per an 1883 history of Bristol County, the paper was published out of the offices of the Advocate. Besides the macabre story, the 4-page sheet includes humorous squibs (“Why is a cook like a barber?”) and public notices.

All of this research to catalogue a minor byway in American literature recalls Mark Twain’s assessment of the prose style of James Fenimore Cooper,

Style may be likened to an army, the author to its general, the book to the campaign. Some authors proportion an attacking force to the strength or weakness, the importance or unimportance, of the object to be attacked; but Cooper doesn’t. It doesn’t make any difference to Cooper whether the object of attack is a hundred thousand men or a cow; he hurls his entire force against it. He comes thundering down with all his battalions at his back, cavalry in the van, artillery on the flanks, infantry massed in the middle, forty bands braying, a thousand banners streaming in the wind; and whether the object be an army or a cow you will see him come marching sublimely in, at the end of the engagement, bearing the more preferable fragments of the victim patiently on his shoulders, to the stopping-place.

Has the act of researching this piece, with my flags flying and forty bands braying, really added value? Have I disproved my fundamental axiom? Indeed, what I had bought in hopes of being a possible unrecorded piece of Poe (or at least Poe-iana) turned out to be something somewhat less than a unique Gothic snowflake. But as colleague Kenneth Mallory pointed out in an earlier thread on social media today (where I had essentially complained that this piece wasn’t sufficiently unrecorded), the discussion and complaint was “probably the most attention it’s ever gotten.” And indeed, my hope is that the weird confluence of social forces that brought the paper to this point will make the title of interest to somebody else willing to pay for the minor delights and disappointments encountered in the cataloguing of it.

(You may see the final product of the cataloguing here.)

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Isaac Newton and the follies of “gravity.”

Startling Geographic Discovery. After the most patient, impartial, and exhaustive research, the Earth is found to be not a Sun-supported and revolving Globe at all . . . So utterly false and physically impossible is the popular or accepted theory proved to be, that a Premium of £1,000 (One Thousand Pounds) is promised for any public and practical defence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Device of “gravitation” theory . . . Croydon: The Zetetic Society, [ca. 1880?].

Thus trumpeted forth this challenge from Croydon, a small broadside that stands as an ephemeral puzzle piece in the pseudo-scientific career of a similarly puzzling monomaniac, John Hampden (1819-1891), long considered perhaps the foremost public face of the 19th century British flat-earth movement.

Hampden had a peculiar genius for becoming embroiled in controversy, a genius well suited for a Zetetic evangelist in search of publicity, and he had long waged a war of pamphlets, journals, and various challenges from his Croydon location. His best known entanglement came after the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace accepted a challenge (given variously as £100, £500, or £1000) to disprove the Bedford Level experiment, a test originally carried out along the Old Bedford River in Norfolk by the Flat Earth Society president Samuel Birley Rowbotham, who purported to show that the mast of a boat rowing away from him remained visible for six miles–thus suggesting to the rational mind that the earth is not curved.

Hampden had offered a wager (similar to the one issued via this broadside) that Rowbotham’s results could be duplicated, and thus prove that the earth is flat. Wallace–who was also a trained surveyor and at that period somewhat hard up for cash–perhaps foolishly took Hampden up on the offer.

Wallace of course won the wager but made a lasting enemy of Hampden, who persecuted Wallace over the next two decades. As Wallace recounts in his memoir My life: a record of events and opinions (1905),

One day about this time we happened to have several friends with us, and as we were at luncheon, I was called to see a gentleman at the door. I went, and there was Hampden! I was so taken aback that my only idea was to get rid of him as soon as possible, but I afterwards much regretted that I did not ask him in, give him luncheon, and introduce him as the man who devoted his life to converting the world into the belief that the earth was flat. We should at least have had some amusement; and to let him say what he had to say to a lot of intelligent people might have done him good. But such ‘happy thoughts’ come too late. He had come really to see where I lived, and as our cottage and garden at Godalming, though quite small, were very pretty, he was able to say afterwards that I (the thief, etc.) was living in luxury, while he, the martyr to true science, was in poverty. . . . And this man was educated at Oxford University! Seldom has so much boldness of assertion and force of invective been combined with such gross ignorance. . . . The two law suits, the four prosecutions for libel, the payments and costs of the settlement, amounted to considerably more than the £500 I received from Hampden [the balance of the stakes Hampden withheld, alleging fraud], besides which I bore all the costs of the week’s experiments, and between fifteen and twenty years of continued persecution—a tolerably severe punishment for what I did not at the time recognize as an ethical lapse.

That Hampden, entangled as he was in various libel suits and campaigns of harassment against Wallace, would come forward with another monetary challenge suggests the depths of his conviction.

Hampden published a number of pamphlets in support of his ideas, including the intriguing Outbreak of Rabies at the Greenwich Observatory: The Professors Frantic–Astronomy Doomed (Croydon: John Hampden, 1890), a work mentioned in the bibliography of Christine Garwood’s Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea (2007) but otherwise unlocated in the British Library catalog, on Copac, or on OCLC. (One might choose to interpret its scarcity as emblematic of the soundness of Hampden’s ideas, though certainly he best represents a certain strain of thought deserving at least some study.)

This broadside has since been reserved for an institution, but the description remains:

[Hampden, John]. Startling Geographic Discovery. After the most patient, impartial, and exhaustive research, the Earth is found to be not a Sun-supported and revolving Globe at all . . . So utterly false and physically impossible is the popular or accepted theory proved to be, that a Premium of £1,000 (One Thousand Pounds) is promised for any public and practical defence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Device of “gravitation” theory . . . Croydon: The Zetetic Society, [ca. 1880?]. First edition. Broadside, approx. 11.25 x 8.5 inches. A trifle chipped along an old fold; some dust-soiling; in very good condition.

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Finis coronat opus; or, some further well-known authors and their works written after death.

The Paris Review blog notes a recent feature on five books dictated from beyond the grave, with the remark, “Dead Mark Twain was especially prolific,” which is true enough as it goes–though certainly Twain was not the only restless author to seek creative outlet from beyond the veil. Certainly, O. Henry, one of Twain’s latter day rivals in the realm of popular fiction and no stranger to writing for easy money, must have decided that the success of Jap Herron had proven the market could absorb fresh material even when the author found himself where moth and rust could no longer corrupt his royalties, since the in the following year he produced (with the apparent help of Valta Parma) My Tussle with the Devil and Other Stories by O. Henry’s Ghost (New York 1918).

While Parma may have been spoofing this minor spiritualist literary craze, other authors maintained their seriousness of purpose. The same year O. Henry published his putative collection, the medium Sarah Taylor Shatford pulled out her own Ouija board and established contact with William Shakespeare himself. An original work by Shakespeare of course deserves wider circulation, and Shatford published on his behalf the quite credibly-titled Shakespeare’s Revelations by Shakespeare’s Spirit: Through the medium of his pen Sarah Shatford Taylor dictated exactly as herein found. No illiteracies, no obliterations, chargeable to the Medium. My hand and seal hereon. W. S. In spirit (New York: Torch Press, 1919). As the Bard himself therein notes,

To pettifoggers who declaim and spume at length a mess of balderdash to befuddle the seeker of truth, proclaiming no advance where worlds divide, I say, who spell through her these lines, Avaunt dissembler: you who know the truth and lie to shield your muggy braincells under a cloak of Science, you fool not any but yourself.

I would suggest that the only contemporary rival for eccentricity in Shakespeare studies that this title might find is Phillip Samuels’ Man v’ Ape in the Play of Ear-Ce-Rammed (Boston: Samuels-Bacon, ‘sam ls-ot, 1933), in which Samuels deploys a numeric cipher on the text of Hamlet to prove that Francis Bacon had prophesied the coming of Philip Samuels as the incarnation of Jehovah who will lead the Jews to an independent state in Palestine–though as this falls outside the scope of this survey, I mention it only in passing.

Of course, other great poets seem content with the obscurity of death and venture forth only to do a favor for a fellow student of the muse. Poet George Cathcart Bronson published in 1920 his 73-page epic poem Flow’r-of-the-Mist; in a coup any publicist might envy, Bronson managed to include in this slim volume favorable notices from two champions of the craft, with a few commendatory words from the deceased poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, as well as both a foreword and an afterword from that champion of the vernacular himself, Dante–who notes in part “This is such a statement as should preface your ‘Mist Flower’; says this one writing: Mist Flower Now!”

But the literary realm is not the only one to have produced notable posthumous authors. C. A. Dawson Scott published Is This Wilson? with the reputable house Dutton in 1929, and among the messages dictated to her by the late President Woodrow Wilson was his assurance that even after death, he “has a good time, so he says, and is delighted to have got rid of an ailing body and to be able to go on in pursuit of knowledge without the impediment of flesh.”

Forceful statesmen of course had always been impatient with the arbitrary separation of the planes. George Washington delivers a message in Abraham P. Pierce’s The Revelator (Bangor, Maine, 1857) and Pierce–who had been a dragoon in the Mexican War–vouches for its authenticity as characteristic of a military genius like Washington. And while it isn’t a literary contribution, it is worth remembering that the Great Emancipator himself chose to reveal himself posthumously in a photo snapped by the famed spirit photographer William Mumler.

But aside from some additional scattered works from dead Methodist bishops who have changed their tune on Spiritualism (Gilbert Haven’s posthumous Immortality Demonstrated. Appeals to Methodists, Springfield, Mass.: Star Publishing Co., 1890) or scientists who underwent a similar change of heart after their demise and now can offer proof of a sort (Michael Faraday’s Dissolution or Physical Death, and How Spirit Chemists Produce Materialization, also Star Publishing, 1887), perhaps the greatest collection of writings from great authors and statesmen from beyond the grave was collected by the forgotten genius, Estonian nobleman Louis, baron de Guldenstubbe.

The estimable Baron Guldenstubbe.

Guldenstubbe,  realizing from his first tentative experiments with spirit writing that establishing the authorship of most spirit messages was problematic at best, hit upon the idea of depositing paper and pens at the feet of statues and the tombs of historical figures around Paris; his efforts were rewarded by hundreds of responses–all appropriate to the monument selected and (to further bolster Guldenstubbe’s arguments) all written in the native language of the subject in question. He collected his responses in Pneumatologie Positive et Experimentale. La Realite des Esprits et le Phenomene Merveilleux de leur Ecriture Directe (Paris, 1857), a splendid little volume that includes 15 folding plates of lithograph facsimiles of spirit writing collected by Guldenstubbe, boasting examples from such figures as Caesar, Cervantes, and Juvenal, as well as magic symbols and Greek inscriptions collected at the feet of classic statues.

This quick survey has of course been composed in haste and cobbled together with such examples as I’ve had to hand over the years. I have left aside nearly completely such sub-genres as the question of interplanetary travel via spiritual means, as with Sarah Weiss’s account Journeys to the Planet Mars; or, Our Mission to Ento (Mars) (New York, 1903 & Rochester, 1905) and this genre’s descent through such earlier Swedenborgian-inspired titles as Mrs. Thomazine Elizabeth Wilkins’ delightful little children’s book Lessons for Children of the New Church (Boston, 1837) in which she teaches her Sunday school charges that the inhabitants of Jupiter “have a peculiar way of walking. They bend forward, and spread out their hands, almost like persons swimming, and appear to help themselves along with their hands. Their houses are low, and constructed of wood; but within they are coated over with bark, of a pale blue color.”

One suspects of course that the horrors of the Great War had awakened interest in communication with the dead (see for instance A. Conan Doyle) but the subject of course is a rich one and speaks to our uneasy fascination with creativity and death and that lovely and undervalued literary quality we might know as wackiness. Though easy enough to dismiss out of hand, perhaps it is best to remember this note from H. H. Furness (with my added emphasis) in the report of the famed Seybert Commission investigation of Spiritualism published in 1887, where he concludes that although “I have been thus thwarted at every turn in my investigations of Spiritualism, and found fraud where I had looked for honesty, and emptiness where I had hoped for fulness, I cannot think it right to pass a verdict, universal in its application.

Updated to add: I had forgotten the pseudonymous author of They Didn’t Believe Me! The Story of a Miracle Voice by Jessica (New York: Pageant Press, 1958), whose variation on the themes above was the fact that in 1937 she was suddenly blessed with the ability to channel the voice of the departed Dame Nellie Melba. Once this blessing had been bestowed, she was of course obliged to begin her wearisome round of correspondence and visits to musical authorities, psychic researchers and various clergymen, newspaper editors and academics to press her claims in the face of near universal skepticism. The author was also subject to dark premonitions;she recounts one instance of an attempt to warn a musical colleague of imminent danger:

I spoke to her secretary on the phone. She was very antagonistic and said Miss Moore [opera singer Grace Moore] was in Europe, and ‘weren’t we all in danger all the time?’ She also confessed that all those letters written over a period of years had never reached Miss Moore.

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Independence Hall and the tables of Monte Carlo.

A curious souvenir of an education supported by a fling at the tables.

I’ve recently picked up this moderately curious framed receipt dated April 2, 1901, for the deposit of 1546 (and 85/100) Francs, payable on the Fourth Street National Bank for the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, with a signed autograph note by John P. B. Sinkler on the verso explaining the keepsake’s significance in the Philadelphia architect’s career.

(The double-sided contemporary gilt frame includes an attached matching pentagon-shaped mirrored shadow box displaying what appears to be a mounted 1791 French 12 denier coin.)

Sinkler’s note on the verso of the slip reads,

Receipt for cash sent home by me from my winnings at Monte Carlo where I went with my uncle Robert C. H. Brock. I won about $1600.00 on limited venture of a few dollars and as a result of my gains I stayed in Paris for a year to study architecture. I sent home the amount shown on this receipt for my first investment in securities. John P. B. Sinkler.

Sinkler–an 1898 graduate of Penn with a B.S. in Architecture–did indeed supplement his undergraduate training with study at the École des Beaux-Arts, though it appears that such biographical notes as are easily available make no mention that this training was funded by a fortuitous turn at the tables. Sinkler was back in Philadelphia and taking on projects as early as 1902; the longtime partnership of Bissell & Sinkler was established in 1906, interrupted only by Sinkler’s stints as City Architect for Philadelphia. (His fairly well-known Germantown Town Hall is a nice example of a Beaux-Arts design.) That a member of a prominent Philadelphia family like the Sinklers would have this hanging up somewhere like the dollar bill above a diner cash register has a certain sentimental charm.

But one of the things I find most curious about this piece is that Sinkler was also involved at an early date in the restoration and preservation efforts around Independence Hall. That the city of Benjamin Franklin–who was instrumental of course in securing French financial support for the American Revolution–would eventually find its revolutionary heritage preserved in part, however indirectly, by another infusion French funds has a certain pleasing symmetry.

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The American muse revived.

I have been remiss in posting anything on the September 29th American Antiquarian Society symposium “Poetry & Print in Early America,” held in celebration of the publication of the long anticipated successor to Wegelin’s Early American Poetry, the fruit of years of work from Roger Stoddard (the compiler) and David Whitesell (the editor),  A Bibliographical Description of Books and Pamphlets of American Verse Printed from 1610 through 1820 (University Park, Penna., Published by the Pennsylvania State University Press for the Bibliographical Society of America, 2012, xx, 809, [1] pages, $179.95, available here).

Booksellers love hearing about moderately hidden contributions, viz. those of Richard Allen.

I might claim I held off on my account of the symposium until I had my copy of the bibliography in hand–and the big cinder block of a thing arrived today in my post office box, to great excitement on my part–except that my claim would be but a fig leaf to my sloth. I could easily have written something about the weekend, which I attended as a flag-waving member of the book trade, long ere this, as the symposium was a delight and the talks provided useful and curious knowledge for even this non-scholarly tradesman. (Indeed, the bookseller most esteems useful knowledge–at worst we can be like a bibliographical Nathan Bedford Forrest, concerned only with who got there the firstest with the mostest.)

Anyway, friend and colleague Robert Fraker gave a graceful talk on his unparalleled collection of minor American verse, “Stomach for Them All,” which was an apt summary of the attractions of his long-time pursuit of the Columbian muse, and an account that had (and should he deliver it again, will have) most booksellers and thoughtful librarians nodding in agreement.

I additionally squirreled away nuggets on (say) Richard Allen and the development of print culture with hymns as a legitimizing aspect of the early African Methodist Episcopal church, or the practice of the early Moravian church in America to have its various members sing their hymns together, each in their native tongue–the end result of which must have been a no doubt glorious Babel into which to wander were a notional 18th traveler to stumble into a worship service in Bethlehem, Penna.

(You can find the program for the weekend here, and I will refrain from summaries of the various talks–entertaining all–to instead fall back on that laconic and even moderately stoned refrain more commonly associated I think with fans of jam bands: You had to be there, man. Aside from the intellectual merits of the program, the whole thing seemed like a bibliophilic homecoming weekend–I managed to have at least brief conversations with such friends and colleagues and fellow-travelers as Stuart Bennett, John Crichton, Cheryl Needle, Dan DeSimone, Teri Osborn, Jeremy Dibbel, and Jim Green, as well as a chance to meet various curators at AAS with whom I had done business over the years.)

A bargain even at $42 per pound.

I haven’t yet had a chance to dig too deeply into my copy of Stoddard & Whitesell, so can’t provide anything like a conscientious review, though I was immediately taken with this remark from Stoddard in his prefatory “Poet and Printer in Colonial and Federal America: Some Bibliographical Perspectives” (republished here from the AAS Proceedings, 1982), where he notes of his early approach to this project,

Finally, I read from cover to cover the most influential texts that any student of American culture can use: Joseph Sabin’s Bibliotheca Americana, Charles Evans’s American bibliography, and the continuation of Evans by Ralph Shaw and Richard Shoemaker.

From my imperfect memory, I would hazard a guess that this would be somewhere between 80 and 90 volumes of bibliographical check-lists. Reading this, a typical bookseller realizes the scope of the intellectual energy behind a truly useful bibliography, and like the widow of Scripture the best he might hope is that his offerings to institutions might someday be a welcome mite in the compilation of future bibliographical endeavors. But even after a cursory examination, I have no doubts that I will enjoy this magnificent doorstop of a book; simply opening the volume at random I stumble across a nice run of Benjamin Allen’s various publications from the year 1814 and am immediately awash with the bookseller’s sentimental desire to possess a copy of Urania, or The true use of poesy (New-York, 1814) and to pencil on its front free endpaper, “Stoddard & Whitesell 1049.”

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Back Alley Librarians meet-up FAQ

1. Who are the Back Alley Librarians? We are a group that meets infrequently and at irregular intervals in Ann Arbor to discuss (more or less) books and ephemera as material objects. Or, in the words of our founding member and animating spirit B. Tozier,

Our goal is the affable consideration of what the heck makes books and smalls and ephemera and material culture and old signifying things of interest: not necessarily the objects, the fineness or oldness, not even necessarily the contents, but that ineffable whatever-it-is that makes one want to know more about the why-story of the thing. We won’t do organized speeches or anything so direct; we just chat and point and repeatedly say, “You know, that reminds me of something.”

2. Do you have to be a librarian to join in? No, you do not. We welcome all fellow travelers in Buchwissenschaft regardless of their diplomatic portfolio. The name “Back Alley Librarians” was thrown out as a descriptive term for our group in a moment of heedless jest and, for want of a better, seems to have stuck.

3. Do you meet in a back alley? Again, as with most esoteric pursuits, we should be understood to be speaking allegorically. Often we meet at Workantile, a co-working space in downtown Ann Arbor. For our next meeting (Sept. 22, 2012, 7pm) we will be meeting at Garrett Scott, Bookseller.

4. What might I see at one of these meetings? You will see some smart and genial people. You will see a small sideboard bearing up a selection of snacks and beverages. You may see extracted leaves from an atlas of the Holy Land. You might see a handy 19th century advertising pamphlet for voltaic suspensory belts designed to alleviate male debility. Perhaps you will see a series of picture postcards from 1907 that were intended to be sold for the support of a man with a broken neck. Maybe you will see a book entitled Ptomaine: The Story of Food Poisoning, or a series of woodblock matrices depicting such wonders as communal parlors for the distribution of nutritive gases. Maybe you will bring something over which we might all exclaim in awe and wonder.

5. Should I let somebody know I plan to attend one of these meet-ups? If you’re not already on the Back Alley Librarian email list and haven’t yet sent a note to Tozier, please send a note to garrett [at] bibliophagist [dot] com and let Garrett know you plan to attend. We would also be happy to add you to our mailing list. Or you can just show up.

6. Where is Garrett Scott, Bookseller, located? In the rear of 1924 Packard, Ann Arbor (between Coler and Jorn) about three blocks south of Stadium Blvd. We are behind Morgan & York, Cake Nouveau, and Oz’s Music. Here’s a map. Park in back and look for the friendly steel door. If the night is chilly you might want to bring a sweater–the shop in previous incarnations served as a garage, as an empty bottle warehouse, and as a distribution point for a covert organization of raw milk commandos. Insulation has never been our overriding concern.

7. Morgan & York? Don’t you mean the old Big 10 Party Store? Yes, fine, you are a hard core old-time townie. We look forward to seeing you in any event.

8. What should I do if you didn’t answer my frequently-asked question? Feel free to shoot a note to Garrett Scott (garrett [at] bibliophagist [dot] com) or give the shop a call, (734) 741-8605.

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True bookseller tales of the weird and supernatural.

With most of the crowd I run with on a daily basis, the attractions of the book or pamphlet as a physical object are, as with most truths, held to be self-evident. For those who don’t quite get it, I offer this case study.

Imagine you’re a nine-year-old boy in a moderately cosmopolitan downstate Illinois college town and prior to a long road trip (The one time you went to Minnesota? The annual summer trip to Lake Michigan?) your mom surprises you with a small stack of comic books to read in the car. You’re not much of a comic book reader–your tastes run more toward crime-solving kids and your weirdly obsessive fascination with reference books and your need to memorize lists of U.S. presidents and major league batting averages–but hey, who are you to say no to free comic books?

You remember now how your mom had that sort of genial but fundamentally muddled half-grasp on your tastes and interests that most well-intentioned but inherently remote grown-ups do, so you know she probably got you a couple of funny ones–Archie, Richie Rich–and maybe a Spider-Man, though chances are just as good she got you a D.C. superhero comic, and this despite the lengthy explanations you have given her for why, even as a casual comic reader, the Marvel superheros are clearly superior to the D.C. stable, the whole fundamental misunderstanding setting you up really with intimations of the basic unknowability of interior lives. But anyway, you don’t really remember specifically what comics she got you.

Except for one.

It was the subtitle that got to you once you started thinking about it.

Note the creepy subtitle.

For whatever reason, your mom thought you and your tender nine-year-old sensibilities might like this chipper little collection of stories that included such gems as “When will I die AGAIN?” (a man who comes back from the dead after a hit-and-run accident lies paralyzed and confined to an oxygen tent in a hospital and ends up blowing himself up to kill a mob hit man), or “When Phantoms stalked the Wolf-Pack,” in which a sadistic U-boat captain is dragged to the deep by the seaweed-wreathed ghosts of the Lusitania. (Note the historical details and the fact that this was said to be a true story!)

But for the kid who at the age of nine has clear opinions on the relative merits of the Monroe administration contra that of John Quincy Adams (sure, you appreciate the whole Era of Good Feelings but your opinions are colored by your impressions of Adams the man, who from what you understand literally dropped dead on the floor of the House of Representatives while arguing against slavery, with like cartoon x-shapes for his postmortem eyes and perhaps some Tom and Jerry-style birds circling his head–which frankly until this comic book was put into your hands is pretty much how you pictured what a dead person might look like–which endears Adams greatly to you, as a little duly indoctrinated citizen of the Land of Lincoln)–anyway, for a kid with an interest in presidential history, it’s “The Specter Screamed–KILL” that makes a real impression on you.

The shot of Czolgosz was creepy enough; be glad I'm not showing you the spectral McKinley.

OK, even those of you who don’t sit around recreationally swapping presidential anecdotes probably remember the story of how Teddy Roosevelt was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee and got plugged in the chest by a would-be assassin but that, because the manuscript of his speech slowed the bullet, TR went on to deliver his campaign speech? “The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best,” said TR. But the supernatural kicker–and, as the subtitle to the comic book notes, true story here–did you know that John Schrank, the man who fired the gun, did so because he was haunted by the ghost of William McKinley, who urged vengeance for his own assassination?

Presidential ghosts urging murder.

So to say that you–the little amateur historian already carting around all the basic fears and tics endemic to nine-year-old kids plus maybe a few extra, like don’t even get you started on barking dogs–are freaked out is maybe an understatement. But instead of just throwing the thing away, this comic book becomes weirdly fascinating and repulsive, and you are forced to add another step to your already somewhat elaborate bedtime rituals (brushing your teeth, laying out tomorrow’s clothes, making sure the closet door is completely shut) because now you have to check your roll-top desk every night to make sure this comic book is in the desk, face-down, and that the roll top is tightly, emphatically down.

I will additionally note that after nearly 35 years, you’ll notice that you’re still carting around this piece of ephemeral throwaway semi-literature (you found it out in your garage last week) and it still conjures up a specific time and place and mood, and maybe perversely it also conjures up the security and structure that comes from being a nine-year-old kid lucky enough to grow up in a house with a loving family and a decent bunch of friends. Your Rosebud is creepy and it has a pretty good track record of giving you nightmares but you’re OK with that.

So you’ve got an ephemeral physical object that happens to be a text, and its associations unfold in a complicated emotional way redolent of love and death!

And that, fundamentally, is what keeps me in business.

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