Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Adventures of Allan Forman

Advertising card, 1890s
(New York Public Library)

Civil War General Stewart L. Woodford, also a diplomat and congressman, visited the tobacco tycoon Alexander Forman at his home on Long Island in 1880.

Forman’s 20-year old son, Allan, accompanied Woodford to the beach, where they captured enough crabs to fill a basket and started to walk home. Along the way, they were accosted by patronizing “summer people” who bought the crabs for a small fortune – 50 cents.

Several years later, Allan and Woodford met again at a private party.

“Resplendent in the whitest of linen and smoothest of evening clothes,” according to a newspaper account, Woodford recognized Forman as he strolled along.

“Glad to meet you, Allan, glad to meet you,” the General said. “Why I don’t think I’ve seen you since we were in the fish business together!”

(Thought to be an amusing story, late 19th century.)

Brooklyn Heights, 1870s;
time of Allan Forman's youth 

(New York Public Library)

Allan Forman was born right by the beach with the crabs, in a house built by his Mayflower ancestors. He grew up in a Victorian brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.

He benefited from his father’s fortune, made in the warehousing of snuff and tobacco during the Civil War. Educated at the prestigious Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, Allan started writing for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in his teens. The paper’s editor, Thomas H. Kinsella, sent him to San Francisco to cover riots incited by an Irish labor leader named Denis Kearney. The violent fury directed at Chinese immigrants ended in death and destruction, and disgusted the young reporter.

Allan went on to Williams College in Massachusetts and always made a fuss about it, although he did not graduate.  

              Back in Brooklyn, Allan’s stories appeared regularly in newspapers and journals. Now he had two important mentors: Samuel S. Conant, editor of Harper’s Weekly, along with Kinsella of the Eagle.

However, in February 1885, Conant disappeared into a nineteenth-century melodrama involving a barroom, a watch & chain, and a man resembling him who might have taken a train to Florida.

Part of a search party, Allan scrambled around the beach at Coney Island, looking desperately for Conant and interviewing the proprietor of the Ocean House hotel where the editor might have been seen last.  

S. S. Conant never turned up.

But Allan continued to develop a nice style. Here’s the opening of an article entitled “The New York Crook”:

Not long ago I chanced to meet a lawyer somewhat prominent in a certain class of criminal case. After a few moments’ chat, I invited him to the theatre.

“No, I have to see a client of mine. Come with me and I’ll show you a new phase of life. I’ll introduce you to the ‘crooks.’”

The lawyer’s invitation chimed in with my lazy mood, and, hailing a passing hansom, we were whirled to our destination . . .

And here he is writing about dinner in Chinatown:

“Come and dine with me,” was the cheering invitation extended to me by a jolly New York lawyer of Bohemian tendencies. But I knew my man, and was aware of his penchant for mousing into all sorts of out-of-the-way quarters of the city where he fairly reveled in dirt and mystery and strange viands, so I lit another cigarette and lazily drawled, “Where?”

Illustration for Allan's story about Chinatown

Already well-known in the world of the New York press, Allan really arrived when he took the helm of the first magazine devoted to journalism, The Journalist. The weekly was a few years old when he became editor in 1886.

At the time, press clubs had been established in most major U.S. cities. But reporters, publishers, and illustrators missed having a publication dedicated to their profession. The Journalist didn’t always fit the bill because Forman published whatever struck his fancy, but he would lead it for 22 years.

Unfortunately, too, he was for sale – as scandals revealed in 1891 and 1905.  

It turned out that Allan had deals with the New York Life Insurance Company and the Mutual Life Insurance Company. He offered himself as a “press specialist.” For a fee, he used his influence to place flattering stories about the companies in newspapers around the country.

He might praise old management over new management, discredit newspaper investigations into corporate corruption, or “spin” bad news. In fact, Allan may have been the true father of public relations.

Allan shills for Mutual Life Insurance (1890s)

Despite the bad publicity about Allan’s subterfuge, he carried on. However, the prestigious Lotos Club kicked him out for violating house rules and endangering others, so perhaps he was upset about something.

Subsequently, a series of exposes about the insurance business appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, The World.  A legislative committee (counseled by future Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes) delved into the workings of the big companies. Allan did not testify, but one of his colleagues said that Forman earned $1 to $2 per line for six 250-word stories which editorialized in the guise of news.*

Frontispiece, 1889 issue of The Journalist

Once again, Forman remained untarnished. But he must have been running low on cash.

In 1896, he brought a suit to have his father declared insane after his mother refused to give money to one of Allan’s creditors. Justice Osborne of the Brooklyn Supreme Court accepted the testimony of two doctors: the elder Forman was competent to manage his own affairs.  

Then Allan’s first wife, Florence, divorced him, so he went off to Egypt for two years and left The Journalist in the hands of Marguerita Hamm, a pioneering woman reporter married to the jolly lawyer who lured him to dinner in Chinatown.

Allan had always loved the theater and occasionally wrote for The Dramatic Times. He liked to hang around backstage and gather gossip. In 1900 he remarried to a Swedish actress with the incomparable name of Xesia Yrsa Zephavia Carlstedt.

To be continued.

*Ultimately, revelations about political slush funds and investing for self-gain led to significant regulation of the insurance industry. By the way, wouldn't counseling a legislative committee on an investigation into corporations disqualify a Supreme Court candidate today?!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Chinatown / Kishineff

Street Scene (Hester Street) by George Luks, 1905
(Brooklyn Museum)

May 28, 1903 – Carnegie Hall is packed. The headliners include:

former President Cleveland,

New York City Mayor Seth Low,

former U.S. Senator and Union General, Carl Schurz,

and Dr. Jacob Schurman, president of Cornell University and former ambassador to Germany.

Not a celebrity in sight.

They have gathered to condemn a pogrom against Jews that occurred April 20-23 in a village called Kishineff in Bessarabia, a region to the east of present-day Romania.

A pogrom meant the destruction of an entire community, sometimes led by the local population and sometimes by the Cossacks, marauders who answered to the Czar. Homes and stores would be smashed and nearly everyone tortured or killed. During the late nineteenth century, these massacres occurred with greater frequency. Russian Jews became desperate to go to America. By 1903, they already crowded the tenements on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Survivors with dead children following Kishineff Pogrom

At the Carnegie Hall meeting, Grover Cleveland received a standing ovation for his remarks:

              The wholesale murder of inoffensive, defenseless men, women and children . . .
gives rise to a distressing fear that even the enlightenment of the twentieth century has neither destroyed nor subdued the barbarity of human nature, nor wholly redeemed the civilized world from “man’s inhumanity to man.”

 The headline in the New York Times stated:

 Great Mass Meeting Denounces
the Kishineff Outrages.

During the coming months, Kishineff stayed in the headlines. Meetings were standing-room-only and thousands of dollars were raised for Russian Jews. 

This 1904 illustration depicts President Theodore Roosevelt
telling the Czar to stop the persecution of Jews.

Yet even before the Carnegie Hall rally, an unlikely event occurred.

The Chinese community in New York City sponsored a play at the Chinatown Theater with all proceeds going to the aid of the Kishineff survivors. The benefit was the brainchild of two businessmen who had anglicized their names: Joseph Singleton (Chew Mon Sing) and Guy Maine (Yee Kai Man).  

On the evening of May 10, Guy Maine welcomed the audience to the theater on Doyers Street: “There should be a strong bond between the Jews and the Chinese for both have been persecuted.”

In response, noted the Times, the author Herman Rosenthal 

. . . told of what had been done in getting up the benefit performance by the members of the Chinese Reform Association, and said that if they had shown so much generosity and goodwill toward the Jews the latter’s indebtedness to them was very considerable, and the philanthropy of the Chinaman should never be forgotten.

The mutual goodwill of the immigrant groups had been nurtured by their proximity to each other in the jumble of downtown Manhattan.

And the goodwill persisted.

Chinese Theater, 5-7 Doyers Street in Chinatown
(circa 1900)
In December 1905, the Chinese Empire Reform Association again held a benefit for Russian Jews and raised $1,000. A company of 40 Chinese performed a play called King David at Miner’s Bowery Theater. Two congressmen, two judges, and the borough president were in the audience. The actors spoke Chinese, which didn’t seem to interfere with anyone’s enjoyment.

King David, a tragedy, was written by an English vicar named R. C. Fillingham.

“In the intervals between the acts a company of Chinese soldiers gave drill exercises on the stage,” reported the Times.

That in itself is a curious story.

A few years earlier, George McVicker, a major in the N. Y. State National Guard, began training about 150 Chinese men in the attic space of the Oriental Club, a gathering-place for businessmen, on Mott Street. They used rifles with bayonets and dressed in U. S. Army-style uniforms.   

One explanation for the drills was that the Empress Dowager of China, who had seized power in 1865 and ruthlessly disposed of her son and her nephew, ordered the training so as to improve and modernize her Imperial Army.

In fact, the training was initiated by the Chinese Empire Reform Association, which sought to overthrow the Empress and the Qing Dynasty. The 1911 Xinhai Revolution, which led to the formation of the Republic of China, owed some small success to the work of the association.    

Incidentally, Joseph Singleton and Guy Maine –who initiated the benefits on behalf of the Russian Jews – led the New York City chapter of the Chinese Empire Reform Association. In 1908, they brought Sun Yat Sen to the United States where he embarked on a nationwide speaking tour.

There’s a good parallel here: the Chinese who hoped to vanquish the imperial ruler of the nation from which they emigrated, and the Jews who fled Russia to escape the imperial rule of the Czar.

The closeness of immigrant communities would not necessarily lead to warm feelings; often it culminated in violence and fierce prejudice.

Somehow that didn’t happen here.

Untitled photograph by Walker Evans:
Bowery clothing store owned by Moe Levy, who 
was very friendly with Chinese merchants. 

*Alternative spelling is Kishinev.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Blue Pencil Bohemia

Ashcan School painter George B. Luks sketched dinner
at Maria's restaurant in Greenwich Village, 1890s.

In the 1890s, Maria’s restaurant on MacDougal Street drew quite a crowd.

Maria herself presided over the kitchen. While she cooked and served, men and women toasted each other, recited poetry, sang, teased, and argued as they milled around large tables.

At Maria’s, a meal of soup and spaghetti, roasted meat, salad, fruit, cheese, coffee, and Chianti could be had for fifty cents.

That’s where Ernest Jarrold – a newspaperman also known as Mickey Finn – often was goaded into singing “Slattery’s Baby.” Like much of Jarrold’s output, the song mocked Irish immigrants:

 Oh, I’m sorry to shtate I’m in trouble of late,
              From Slattery as well as the childer;
              He tries all the while me patience to rile
              An’ me poor broken heart to bewilder. . .

A gentleman named Henry Collins Brown saw the performance and recalled it years later.

              At first I was surprised to find Henry hanging out in Greenwich Village. Somehow, the founder of the Museum of the City of New York didn’t seem like a good fit for raucous dinners.  Indeed, in his many books about the history of New York City, the Scottish immigrant could be a bit pretentious.

But Brown was foremost a social observer. His chronicles of nineteenth-century city life are remarkably detailed, whether he is describing the long-gone Vanderbilt mansions or the hole-in-the-wall arrangements that conveyed drinks to theater-goers. And it seems that he dove into every pocket and corner of late-nineteenth century Manhattan.

The scene at Maria’s restaurant, dubbed “Bohemian” by Brown and others, rolled merrily along gathering artists and storytellers. Soon enough, it attracted uptown swells who hoped to be fashionably edgy. When Maria’s moved to Fourteenth Street, everyone followed. Intent on preserving their fun and exclusivity, the artists and writers established The Pleiades Club which met weekly at the restaurant.*

After a while, the lawyer and poet William E. S. Fales broke off to start The Blue Pencil Club. He located it in lower Manhattan near Newspaper Row, and invited the bawdy Mickey Finn and other journalists and illustrators to come along.

Among club members, the cartoonist R. F. Outcault was especially well-known. He had made his name with the inimitable character, the Yellow Kid. The bald urchin in an oversized yellow nightshirt emerged from a comic strip about street kids called “Hogan’s Alley,” which Outcault created for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Soon enough, William Randolph Hearst lured Outcault to his New York Journal. It is said that the term “yellow journalism” originated with the circulation battle that ensued between the two papers. **

The Yellow Kid is front and center in this panel
from R. F. Outcault's "Hogan's Alley."

While the newspaper business conjoined the Blue Pencil members, they often boasted of their “Bohemianism,” and spectators agreed. However, newspapermen like Finn and Fales were a long way from the down-and-out, unconventional style that took its name from the early-nineteenth century vie de Boheme of Paris’ Latin Quarter.

They were almost as distant from the crowd that met at Pfaff’s, a cellar bar on Broadway where Walt Whitman and other Bohemians hung out before the Civil War. After all, the Blue Pencil Club men were regularly employed with bylines to boot.

Still they persisted in identifying as Bohemians, even declaring Fales “the King of Bohemia.” There are many histories of Bohemianism in the United States, some of which mention the crowd at Maria’s and none of which mention the Blue Pencil Club, but I won’t split hairs.     

Detail of 1890 demographic map of Manhattan
(Library of Congress)

What’s interesting is that the newspaper offices where these men worked were spitting distance from the neighborhoods where Chinese, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants had settled since the 1880s. In this way, they were right on top of the cultural and social changes brought about by new demographics.  

One change was the proliferation of ethnic table d’hote restaurants in lower Manhattan. In those days, table d’hote referred to a small restaurant, often in a cellar, where the chef and his family lived, cooked, and served dinner to guests. For these boisterous fellows, a visit to a Hungarian, Spanish, French, German or Romanian joint constituted a Bohemian adventure. 

Something new and different, unsullied by crowds hoping to be cool.

Besides, by 1900, a spaghetti dinner could be had at one of many “Italian eating houses,” recalled Henry Collins Brown.  

* The Pleiades Club continued into the 1930s.
** Since the cartoonist had not copyrighted “Hogan’s Alley” or its characters, the World was able to continue the strip by employing a different illustrator and retitling it. That illustrator was George B. Luks, who went on to become a member of the Ashcan School of painting. Later, Outcault created Buster Brown, a comic strip character as well as the mascot of the Brown Shoe Company of St Louis.

See posts: 1/25/17, 2/1/17, 2/14/17.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Blue Pencil Boys

In 1899 when they started the Blue Pencil Club, the men were a bunch of rambunctious, if well-established, writers.

They rented some rooms on Spruce Street in lower Manhattan. Around the corner, the row of buildings that housed the city’s newspapers reached to the sky with a gold dome and towers.

The club was a mess, though.

One flight up. . .

              The furnishings and appointments of the general meeting room were gorgeous to the point of extravagance . . . (sarcasm)

                             The floor, when covered at all, was carpeted with sawdust. The ceiling decorations were mostly cobwebs. . .  The furnishings consisted of bare tables, tubs, beer kegs, a telephone and a bar.*

That was just one of several problems – the bar in the club. From time to time, police busted the members for lack of a liquor license. But who had the heart to penalize such rollicking consumers of theater, literature, and Chinese culture?

Purveyors of wit that has, 117 years later, lost some of its luster, they joyously took down Tammany Hall, pompous publishers, and business titans.

But it should be noted they were rather smug themselves.

The point of the club was to have a good time, and to publish the Blue Pencil Magazine which they packed with doggerel, drawings, and tales ridiculous and fantastic.

Blue Pencil Magazine, cover of first issue

And the names of these men?

They were Billy Burgundy and Mickey Finn (pseudonyms) and Billy Fales.

And there was Forman, the pince nez’d scion of one of Brooklyn’s first families who got his start when the legendary Irish editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Thomas Kinsella, sent the lad to San Francisco in 1877 to cover an anti-immigrant uprising fomented by a labor leader named Denis Kearney.

Advertising card for cigarettes featuring Allan Forman

Forman ended up reporting on the Sand Lot riot, a three-night rampage during which four Chinese men were killed. He went on to write about theater, manners and the like. For 25 years, he edited The Journalist, the nation’s first magazine for writers and editors.

His essay, “How to Eat an Orange,” which appeared in Northwest Magazine in 1890, was well-received as they used to say.

As for Billy Burgundy!

Why would anyone named Oliver Victor Limerick need a pen name?

A Mississippi native who trained to be an allopath, Limerick was an incorrigible joker. He came to New York to edit a medical journal. After a while, he decided that he would rather write stories than practice medicine.

Limerick’s amusing advice column, “Billy Burgundy’s Balm for Burdened Bosoms,” and his books, such as Billy Burgundy’s Tales in Toothsome Slang, satirized romance.  

Percival was the confidential valve in the Borated Talcum Powder Trust, and drew down a voluptuous salary for his services in behalf of the Chafe-Allaying Industry. . .

It was Percival’s wont to stake Maxine to bon-bons and blossoms from the most expensive joints every day. . .  Maxine fanned the blissful bloke along in good style, and looked dead anxious for the Orange Blossom period of her career to show up.

Ernest Jarrold appeared on the frontispiece of
the February 1901 issue of Blue Pencil Magazine.

Then there was Mickey Finn, a.k.a. Ernest Jarrold, an Englishman who had been hanging around Newspaper Row for years, contributing short stories to The New York Evening Sun, Harper’s Weekly and other magazines. He often poked at Irish immigrants.

In a story entitled “Mickey Finn’s Dress Suit,” Finn studies a drawing of his friend, Ernest Jarrold:

              “That’s a pretty fair likeness of Mr. Jarrold, but seems to me his clothes fit pretty loose. Must be he lost a lot of flesh after he got that suit made. . .”

              Mrs. Finn turned on her liege lord with an air of superior wisdom and answered: “You don’t know anything about city folks anyhow. Now Mr. Jarrold is a swell gentleman. He drives out nights wid George Goold and Spearpoint Morgan and them rich chaps. . .”

And there was Billy Fales – of whom his friends wrote:

Brave, brilliant Billy! No man or woman ever heard from his lips of the great grief that paralyzed his ambition and made a wreck of his career, for there was no yesterday on his calendar,


He often said that life was a joke and he generally appeared to make this epigram the maxim of his career.

A poet, essayist, diplomat, attorney, and adventurer, Fales bore the nickname “the Encyclopedia.” Married thrice, indifferent father of two sons, he caroused Manhattan, eating and drinking heavily.

Chow Chop Suey at Mong Sing Wah in Chinatown, the spaghetti at Maria Da Prato’s on MacDougal Street, the oyster stalls at Fulton Market, and the Lomo de Puerco con Platanos at Braguglia & Carreno on Broadway; Billy loved it all.

Artist's sketch of "Spaghetti Night" at Maria del Prato's

He steered the members of the Blue Pencil Club through the night, returning at dawn to his home on Pineapple Street in Brooklyn Heights.

They called him, as many had been called before, “The King of Bohemia.”

*See posts on William E. S. Fales, 2/1/17 + 1/25/17 & about his mother, Imogene C. Fales, 5/25/16.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

‘My Wicked Vice’: William E. S. Fales in China

The British established five treaty ports, including Amoy, soon
after winning the First Opium War in 1842.  

On a beautiful fall day in 1890, the newly appointed emissaries William E. S. Fales and Edward Bedloe went off to China on the S. S. New York. 

I imagine them on deck, waving goodbye to no one because neither man had, at the moment, anyone special in his life.

Between them, Bedloe actually possessed qualifications, having served in the American Consular Service in Italy and Egypt. Fales’ fluency in Chinese would be an asset, as well. Both men were fascinated by Chinese culture: Bedloe with etiquette and weaponry; Fales with decorative art and food.

Messrs. Bedloe and Fales were heading to Xiamen, which Westerners called Amoy, a port city about 300 miles northeast of Hong Kong, along the Taiwan Strait.

They would arrive at a country stuck in time, except for a dramatic escalation of foreign intrusion.    

The Qing Dynasty, dating to 1644, continued its rule in the person of the Empress Dowager Cixi who had seized power in 1865. First she stood in for her son, Tongzhi, who died young of smallpox or venereal disease or both; then for Guangxu, her sickly nephew who advocated national modernization. (She had him poisoned.) 

During the Empress Dowager’s regency, the United Kingdom and increasingly the United States, Russia, and Japan expanded their control through treaty ports.

Treaty ports originally were established by the British after they defeated China in the First Opium War. The treaties governed trade on terms never favorable to China. They also created districts within each port city, inhabited exclusively by foreigners who answered to no one. Fales and Bedloe resided in such a neighborhood.

Parlor in the home of the U. S. Consul, Amoy;
late nineteenth century

Since Amoy was a treaty port, the men focused on American trade interests. They were pleased to find that Far East markets enthusiastically sought anything that came from the U.S.

But there was a problem with fraud:

. . . the filling of American flour bags with poor imitation British flour; filling canvas covers of Chicago ham and bacon with really unmarketable pork; putting up Siberian salmon in exact imitation of the best salmon canned in California and Oregon, and selling cheap imitations of Ames’ shovels, Collins’ axes, McCormick’s farming implements . . .

The Consul kept a special eye on arms and ammunition:

One example [of fraud] was an imitation Winchester rifle made in Belgium by an English firm of the lowest grade materials, which was liable to kill the man who fired it as the man or animal it was fired at.  

What else demanded the attention of Bedloe and Fales?

The promising tea crop of 1891,

silver curios and tea root carvings,

                             rituals of death and burial.

City of Amoy; scene with the famous tombs, 1890s

Like most Westerners, Fales and Bedloe were fascinated by the hillsides of Amoy. Across the centuries, the slopes had become packed with tombs. In some parts of the walled city, there were no boundaries between burial grounds and private property.

“Amoy proper and its suburbs have a living population of about one million, and a dead one of four and a half times as many,” Bedloe informed the U. S. Government.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association he affirmed Amoy’s “reputation as the dirtiest city on the face of the globe,” describing open cesspools and impassable roads.

Sketch of Fales from a newspaper profile
 that appeared during his years as Vice Consul

Despite the dirt, China intrigued and delighted the men.

Both were well-educated, sharp observers, and fine writers. They supplemented their annual salaries (Bedloe: $1,490; Fales: $354.19) by writing for various U. S. newspapers and magazines.

In an 1891 letter to the editor of Lippincott’s Magazine, Bedloe wrote:

You have no idea, my dear Stoddart, what an inexhaustible supply of literary material this ancient civilization possesses . . . my daily life here is one mass of surprises and arrangements. They do everything that we do, but in exactly the opposite way.
After several examples involving concubines, burglars, and animals, Bedloe closed:

Now I have two pretty poems from the facile pen of my wicked Vice which I will bring on to you in January or February. You shall have the first bid on them. They are truly great and I hope you can afford to buy them.

It appears that editor Stoddart, who had previously published poems by Fales, decided to pass.

Fales’ stories fared better: “Chinese Armor,” “”Chinese Statuary and Figures,” “Driving out an Evil Spirit,” “Fortune Telling in China,” “The Pharmacist in the Far East,” “Chinese Little Devils,” and others appeared in American papers between 1891 and 1894.

In 1893 Fales took leave and returned to the United States, where he married a pioneering journalist and suffragist, Margherita Arlina Hamm. Together they returned to Amoy and traveled to the Philippines and elsewhere.*  

By mid-September, W. E. S. and Margherita had returned to Brooklyn. Fales reestablished himself in law and journalism and resumed his love affair with Chinatown while Hamm wrote books and lectured.

The New York Press Club – a rowdy bunch – welcomed back William with a dinner featuring Punch a la Chinois.  

The New York Press Club welcomed back
Fales at a dinner in September 1894 

(New York Public Library)

*Hamm claimed that she and Fales were in Korea when the Sino-Japanese War began August 1, 1894. She reported that she had witnessed attacks on the palace in Seoul and an assassination attempt on Queen Min of Korea. However, Fales and Hamm were back in the U. S. by September 22, 1894 . . . and sailing time would have been at least 80 days.

*See posts 1/25/17 + 2/14/17; also 5/25/16.