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 jwbennett@barlib.org

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 proc­ess 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)

The 2013 Mencken Graveside Memorial Service

The eighth Mencken Graveside Memorial Service will again be conducted by Oleg Panczenko.

When: Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Where: Mencken Family Gravesite, Loudon Park Cemetery, 3620 Wilkens Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21229

Mr Mencken’s grave is in Lot W 224 North Half, Space 4, N 39° 16.693′ W 76° 40.683′ (39.278217°, -76.678050°). Google Maps and the Garmin nüvi (at least my model) are aware of the roads within Loudon Park. Directional signs will be posted.

Click here for a map.

After the brief memorial service attendees are invited to the Spirits West Country Club, 2601 Wilkens Avenue (cor Millington Ave), Baltimore, MD 21223, not far from St Benedict’s Church.

Arthur J. Gutman, 1911-2012

Arthur Gutman, March, 1995

Arthur J. Gutman, president of the Mencken Society from 1979 to 1999 and former Vice President of Warfield-Dorsey Insurance passed away Monday evening, November 26, 2012.

He was interred at the Oheb Shalom Congregation Cemetery, 6130 O’Donnell Street, Baltimore, on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 2 PM.

Mencken Society Election Year Tee Shirts

Show your sympathies with a handsome garment suitable for wearing both before and after the Elections. The Mencken Society’s handsome tee shirt shows the Society’s logo on the front and “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people” on the back.

Mencken tee shirts are $20 (which includes sales tax) each plus $5.00 shipping and handling for the first shirt and $2.50 s/h for the second and subsequent shirts. Please note that at this time we can only accept checks. All proceeds go to the Enoch Pratt Library for the Mencken Room.

Send your remittance, the number of shirts you are ordering, size(s) (S, M, L. XL) and payment to

The Mencken Society
Mencken Tee Shirt
POB 16218
Baltimore, MD 21210-0218

Charles Fecher to be Honored 2012-10-20

“The Baltimore City Historical Society is honoring the late Charles Fecher at its annual  Mayor’s Reception on October 20, 2012 at Mount Calvary Church, 816 N. Eutaw Street [cor Madison Ave.], from 12 to 2:30 p.m., tickets are $20.00 and may be purchased at the door. Fecher was a distinguished Mencken scholar and editor of the Mencken diaries. For information call 410-625-4828.”

What: Mayor’s Reception Honoring Charles Fecher
When: October 20, 2012 12-2:30 PM
Where: Mount Calvary Church816 N. Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD