Mencken Day 2013

Mencken Day 2013 will be held on September 7, 2013 at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St, Baltimore, MD.


10:30 a.m. — Mencken Society annual meeting

1:30 p.m. — The 2013 Mencken Memorial Lecture — “An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted and the Miracle Drug Cocaine” by Dr. Howard Markel. Guest appearance by H. L. Mencken.

Dr. Markel is the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine and Director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and a professor of psychiatry, public health, history and pediatrics. He has been a regular contributor for National Public Radio’s Science Friday. Dr. Markel’s most recent book is An Anatomy of Addiction. Of particular interest to Menckenphiles is his book, written with Frank A. Oski, The H. L. Mencken Baby Book.

A reception and book signing will follow in the Poe Room.

The Mencken Room is open to the public from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

New exhibits: “H. L. Mencken and Dr. Louis Cheslock (1898-1981)”, “Mencken and Arthur J. Gutman: 1911-2012” and “Mencken and Anthony Turano: 1893-1991.”

Arthur J. Gutman was a collector of Menckeniana and a former Treasurer and President of the Mencken Society.

Anthony Turano, an Italian-American lawyer who practiced in Reno Nevada, made many contributions to the The American Mercury. A noteworthy contribution was his “The speech of Little Italy” which appeared in the July 1932 issue. Like Mencken, he was enchanted by language and possessed a Menckenian repository of words. “Because of my early habit of looking up every unfamiliar word in a battered copy of Webster, my vocabulary became so top-heavy that my supply of words was far in excess of my ideas.”

Mr Mencken on CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley

Mr Mencken was used to introduce the final segment of the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley for 2013-08-05. The story was about Carol Ott of Baltimore who shames owners of run-down property in the city by posting their names and photographs of their falling-down buildings on her website

The introductory part of the segment begins at approximately 17:09 and lasts about sixteen seconds. The whole story may be viewed at

The newsreader is Maurice DuBois (Scott Pelley was out on assignment).

[17:09] DuBois: “The legendary journalist H. L. Mencken wrote that his row house in Baltimore was as much a part of him as his hands and that such feelings for one’s home were more enduring there than in any other big city in America, giving Baltimore its superior charm.”

A picture of Mencken and then of the house follow. Oleg Panczenko provided the picture which he on took August 8, 2008. CBS removed the color and cropped the image.

Mr Mencken on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

Mr Mencken on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn as performed by Dr John C. “Chuck” Chalberg, professor of history at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN.

For more on Mr Mencken’s opinion of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, see “Mark Twain: Popularity Index” and “Our One Authentic Giant” in William H. Nolte, H. L. Mencken’s Smart Set Criticism (2001).

Marion Rodgers on Mencken and the Red Scare

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers will speak on Mencken’s writings concerning “The Red Scare.”

“In the deportation of radicals after the Red Scare, of April 1921, Mencken reminded his readers that “probably two-thirds of those allegedly Reds were wholly innocent, and even the guilty ones were not fairly tried.” Though by no means sharing the views of Eugene Debs, Mencken opposed the jailing of the Socialist leader, imprisoned for his Marxist views and for opposing the war. Mencken also corresponded with Emma Goldman, the deported anarchist writer known as “Red Emma.” Mencken called on the Bureau of immigration to allow her to return to America to visit her relatives and then sent the Emma Goldman Recovery Committee a check for $25.” (Rodgers, Mencken: The American Iconoclast, (NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 217 )

Where: Room 618 (Main Reading Room of the Bar Library)
Mitchell Courthouse
100 North Calvert Street
Baltimore, MD

When: April 30, 2013 (Tue), 5:00 p.m
Wine & cheese reception immediately following.

The event is free but R.S.V.P. to 410-727-0280 or reply by e-mail to

Please consider making a voluntary contribution to the Bar Library’s Honorable Harry A. Cole Self-Help Center.

Mr Mencken’s “Hatrack”, Part 1

Front cover of April 1926 American Mercury

Mailed on March 25, 1926

Eighty-seven years ago subscribers to the American Mercury were receiving the April number of the magazine little knowing that 2,943 words occupying not quite four-and-a-half pages would create an anti-censorship tempest-in-a-teapot. The banning in Boston of the article titled “Hatrack” made the front page of the Sun but was sent to pages in the mid-twenties in the newspaper of record, The New York Times. Herbert Asbury’s piece was a chapter from his forthcoming book Up From Methodism and was a reminiscence of evangelists’ efforts to protect the citizens of Farmington, Missouri (Asbury’s boyhood town in St. Francois County, 60 miles south of St. Louis) from harlots; the last part of the article described a prostitute nicknamed “Hatrack”, “a scrawny creature” who “when she stood with her arms outstretched she bore a remarkable resemblance to the tall hat-racks then in general use in our homes.”

Herbert Asbury came from a religious family: his uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather were ministers and bishops of the Methodist Church. Asbury also claimed that Francis Asbury (1745-1816), “the patriarch of American Methodism’, was the half-brother of his great-great-grandfather (though Dr John Wigger, University of Missouri-Columbia, says in his American Saint (2009) that “this is unlikely”).

Perhaps the familial strain of devoutness had exhausted itself by the time Herbert Asbury was born on September 1, 1889. He, his sister and two brothers lost the faith. In the chapter “Conclusions From a Man Gone to the Devil” in his book Up From Methodism (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), Asbury wrote that “I find myself full of contempt for the Church, and disgust for the forms of religion. To me such things are silly; I cannot understand how grown people can believe in them, or how they can repress their giggles as they listen to the ministerial platitudes and perform such mummeries as are the rule in all churches.”

His choice of profession was the antipode of the high-minded concerns of his devout forefathers: he turned to journalism and concerned himself with very low life: true crime, scandal, prostitution, mayhem, gang fights, rum-running, murder and the underworld. In 1928 his The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld was published. In 1979, film director Martin Scorsese acquired the screen rights to the book. The film Gangs of New York was released in 2002 but was so fictionalized that Asbury’s book only served as an “inspiration”. Asbury retired from writing in 1950 and died thirteen years later, on February 24, 1963, in Manhattan’s old University Hospital which stood at the corner of 20th Street and 2nd Avenue.

(To be continued)

Tour the Mencken House With Marion Rodgers

Johns Hopkins’ Odyssey Program offers two tours of the Mencken House on Saturday, April 20, 2013, conducted by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers. The course fee is $30 for either the morning or the afternoon tour. There is a $3 entrance donation to benefit the Friends of the H. L. Mencken House at the door.

Section 01 (morning): 10 a.m.-noon
Section 02 (afternoon): 1-3 p.m.

Marion Rodgers wrote Mencken: The American Iconoclast (2007) and edited H. L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series (2010) for the Library of America. Her earlier books on Mencken are Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters (1987) and a collection of Mencken’s journalism, The Impossible H L. Mencken (1991).

More details at Odyssey’s website (scroll down).

How to Drink Like a Gentleman

Mr Mencken observed that “[d]rinking with skill and taste is no more a natural art than love; either it must be learned by the onerous procĀ­ess of trial and error, or it must be taught. Plainly enough, the latter way is the better” and offered a short tutorial which appeared in Liberty magazine of January 12, 1935. The website Gawker has reproduced Mr Mencken’s essay, “How To Drink Like a Gentleman”, and we draw the attention of the ombibulous to it.

(h/t to Adam Blumenthal)