The Year Everything Important Happened

Stranger Than Fiction


Huguette Clark’s Santa Barbara estate, Bellosguardo, circa 1940.  It cost the reclusive heiress $40,000 a month to keep the 23 room mansion and grounds in shape, although she never visited.  From the book Empty Mansions.

Huguette’s story is strange, but her brother William Andrews Clark Jr.’s is possibly stranger, and gets a lot less press.

 Friends and Advisers of William Andrew Clark, Jr.
Illustration from:
by William D. Mangam

New York: Silver Bow Press, 1941

It has always been easier to break the law in this country if you are rich. It’s possibly even easier today when the disparity between rich and poor has grown by such extraordinary leaps and bounds.  Which is why, of course, we incarcerate so many more of the have-nots than the haves.  The poor, you see, do not have the collateral with which to defend or bargain; they can not offer up a Philharmonic orchestra or a beautiful library in exchange for the freedom to continue to commit crimes.

That is why social justice is rare – the game is rigged.  The rich get off and the poor go to jail.  With a few exceptions, Oscar Wilde being a good example.  He was famous, he had money, he had friends in high places, but they still threw him under the bus.  Every once in a while, those in power let one of their own take a fall.  Martha Stewart, who had to pay the price for insider trading and, of course, for being a woman.  Ken Lay and Scooter Libby who were sacrificed as well, for the sins of their handlers.

But the truth gets lost sometimes.   Even if the truth is a fabulous story it winds up suppressed and overlooked, even if it’s in a book.  Take for instance a little-known book, The Clarks: An American Phenomenon, about William A. Clark, the Montana copper baron and his family.  A phenomenal story, especially as concerns the Clark children.  For the strange case of William Senior’s daughter, Huguette, you want to read Empty Mansions, but for Clark’s son and namesake Bill Jr., whose library with its wonderful collection of Oscar Wilde material (irony intended), you need go no further than this extraordinary book by William Mangam, published in 1941 and now largely forgotten, despite the many testimonials praising it when it was first published.

Clark Junior (1877-1934) married, interestingly enough, for the first time the same year his father was said to have married his second wife, (marriage certificate not found) in 1901.  Junior’s wife died shortly afterward following the birth of their son, and in 1904 Junior took up briefly with a dancehall girl named Maudie Vanning. Then he abandoned Maudie and came to L.A. where he would marry again and at the same time pursue and enjoy relations with a number of boys and young men, some of whom are pictured above.  If those images look like mug shots, well, see again the difference between the rich and the poor.

To my eye the best looking is Harrison Post, second row, right.  Junior did not meet Harrison Post (then known as Albert Weiss) in Union Square, downtown Los Angeles, where he picked up some of the other boys, but in San Francisco when Post was a teenager.  Junior brought him home to be one of a number of the young men upon whom Clark showered favors and gifts.  “Post lived the life of a country squire – horseback riding, a box at the symphony with Clark, and trips to Europe.”  Junior bought Post a ranch in Santa Monica Canyon (go Here for details on the property and how to find it today), and sponsored him for membership in the Los Angeles Athletic Club, the Riviera Country Club, the Jonathan Club, and others. With money from Clark, Post also bought property in Hollywood and at the beach.  He was on the payroll as ‘secretary’ to Junior, although he never seems to have performed any duties one would call especially secretarial, and in addition he received an annual allowance (in the 1920s and 30s) of thirty thousand dollars.  Awfully good money for taking dictation, if you know what I mean.


The lawn in front of the William Andrews Clark Library.  “The scene of indescribable orgies.”  Photo by the author.


Ceiling mural, interior, William Andrews Clark Jr. Library, photo by the author.

Junior built a residence for Post adjacent to his own home and gardens and library which “was the scene of indescribable orgies.  Men dressed in female attrire frequented the place.  It became a nuisance to the people in the neighborhood  who complained to the office of the District Attorney.” (Mangam, page 207).

In January, 1926, the D.A.’s office served Junior’s attorney with notice that by reason of the conduct, the premises must be vacated.  Junior was not pleased.  He’d been holding “nude male parties” in the adjacent Italian gardens and at least one of his guests was a local judge who lived next door.  But the authorities were getting uncomfortably close and his friends were getting nervous, so soon thereafter Clark announced his intention of donating the property, including his home and library and Post’s “party house” (not named as such, of course) to the University of California.  Case dismissed and closed.

Money may not buy you everything, but in the old days if you played your cards right it could keep you out of jail.

How times have changed.  Or not.

I started out with an idea.


1904 was always meant to be an exercise, an experiment, an excuse.   I never imagined it would have wide appeal, and I was not disappointed in that regard.   Personal meaning, however, is like that; what is public can be dismissed.  The private is another matter entirely.  A sacred talisman to me is a trinket to you.  That’s the point: I conjure with sticks and stones in your world, a word and numbers game, playing with accidental sums, not even a parlor trick.  As far as you’re concerned, I tilt at windmills.   I even agree with you and nod, and then I stumble on significance, a door opens, and  I surprise myself.

That’s what magic is, of course.  Something that looks ordinary until it isn’t.  Nothing but a hat, until a rabbit comes out of it.   Meaning where you didn’t think to look, until you did.  A miracle no one else can see, but you.



Liberty Theatre, 234 West 42nd Street.  Opened October 10, 1904

Designed by Henry Beaumont Herts and Hugh Tallant in the Beaux-Arts style, the Liberty was a legitimate theatre until 1933 when it converted to film, eventually falling into a derelict state [more pictures].  In 1996 it was rented for a staged reading of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland with Fiona Shaw.  [picture].

With children the boundaries of space and time are less rigid; past and future and other dimensions blur and bleed into the present, which is why children see ghosts more than grown ups.  As you get older, though, the same thing happens.  There’s a girl with bobbed hair at the window again this morning, a jade green bakelite cigarette holder in her hand that she waves in time like a metronome at the two men in white playing tennis down below.  There used to be a tennis court down there; now there’s a parking lot.

In the world of the theatre it is easier to accept that Time and Place are mutable and need only be suggested by little more than a prop or two, or a change in lighting.

This is an old place where I live.  Built in 1928.  Clara Bow reputedly stayed here; Marion Davies certainly did but several floors down, at the front.  There are bound to be ghosts.   Or not really ghosts but just other layers and levels of life going on, occupying the same space.  Old places can feel a little crowded sometimes. And then some of us, closer to the entrance or the exit doors of this particular plane, have an easier time seeing the multiplicity.  We have the freedom, the liberty so to speak, having only recently arrived or else in the process of getting ready to depart, of being open to other possibilities.

Or it could just be the time of year.

Isn’t This Reality Enough?


Entrance to Dreamland, Coney Island, N.Y., 1904 – 1911

Such was the message that came last night from Dreamland and greeted me in a scrawl this morning: isn’t this reality enough?

If you feel constrained by space and linear time, then the answer’s no.  I for one find the time lapse in this plane of existence between the idea and its manifestation annoying, frankly.  Why does everything take so long here?  There are worlds where all you have to do is think of something to make it happen.  As you might imagine, of course, in that sort of world you have no secrets: imagine it and out it comes.  But then we really have no secrets in this reality either, we only pretend we do.  Pretending makes conversation both more challenging and interesting.  I have a friend who periodically stares at you intently and smiles with a lot of teeth.  When he does this it means he hates what you’re saying and wants to kill you.  Where did he come up with that?  As a coping mechanism, it’s genius.  The best I ever seem to conjure is, “You may be right.”  Also effective yet subtle.  What it means is, you’re wrong but I’m not going to argue.

There are lots of other realities, however.  I was thinking recently of Jeane Dixon (1904 – 1997), astrologer and psychic to presidents (Nixon) and the wives of B-Movie stars (Nancy Reagan).  Jeane had a knack for snatching bits of probable realities out of the ether in order to predict the future, sometimes accurately.  They even coined the phrase “Jeane Dixon Effect” to describe the way we emphasize the ‘correct’ hits and discount the ‘incorrect’ predictions to come up with a  better success rate than the record would otherwise justify.  However, when you think about it, we do this all the time.  We shape our reality by a process of selection.  I, for example, may see nothing but delays and postponements, traffic snarls and snail crawl queues.  While you, with your infinite patience, see instant gratification and the divine unfolding of good in perfect time.

The truth is, this reality of ours includes many others.  Other ways of seeing, of being, of living.  It’s not a question of enough but how much  of what’s already around you you’re willing to be aware or conscious of.

It could be worse.  I’m working right now on a project involving acrobats.  Young, handsome, talented acrobats who look good with their clothes off.  On October 9, 1904, Arthur Wing Pinero’s play, A Wife Without A Smile, got banned and shut down in London because of a dancing doll.  Not even a real actor, but a doll.  Fully dressed too.  Simulating various amorous adventures offstage.

Back then, of course, that’s all it took.  That was enough.

Inside and Outside Time

evelyn (1)

Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967), famous chorus girl and model, the Girl in the Velvet Swing.  Seduced by the famous architect Stanford White at a tender age, Evelyn married insane Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw, who murdered White in 1906 at Madison Square Garden, the building White designed, with its famous tower topped by Augustus Saint-Gauden’s sculpture of Diana, for which Evelyn had posed.


Evelyn as sleepy Geisha Girl on Stanford White’s big bear rug.  Oh pretty Butterfly.

In October of 1904, however, Evelyn was somewhere in Europe with Harry, not yet married to him but much pursued.  Having paid for her “emergency appendectomy” (some might call it an abortion) in 1903 after a dalliance with the actor John Barrymore, Thaw took Evelyn on a European holiday to recuperate.  His Pittsburgh family objected:


New York Times, October 31, 1904

They came back, and against all common sense married in 1905.  It could only end badly, of course.  Thaw became obsessed with the notion that White had ruined Evelyn, in 1906 he confronted the architect at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden and shot him to death.  It was downhill from there.


Evelyn Nesbit, circa 1954, Los Angeles.  Evelyn divorced Thaw in 1915 and eventually ended up in Los Angeles, in an apartment on Figueroa, teaching sculpture classes.  She said most of her young students had no idea who she was, but some of their grandmothers did.

Of Human Bondage


Walter M. Baumhofer (November 1, 1904 – September 23, 1987) American illustrator, known for his pulp fiction covers for Doc Savage, Dime Detective and Dime Mystery.  He also did covers for magazines including Collier’s, Esquire and Redbook.

Last night I worked late.  Not too late.  I didn’t notice the time, but I rarely work late.  Perhaps I should have paid attention to the time; the time might have been a clue.  What else?  I stand up from my desk.  The light is particular.  Perfect enough to get my attention.  I look out the window and I see, across the street, jogging shirtless, someone I was obsessed with seven years ago.  He is jogging west, into the sun.  He glows.  He stops traffic.  He stops my heart.

Seven is a magical number.  7 years.  Maybe more than seven years, I can’t remember.  What does it mean?  Why now?  I have not seen him in a long time.  It was an important relationship, and yet to be honest it was not a relationship at all, unless giving money to someone counts as a relationship.  Which it does, sort of.

Why now?  I think, well, my guru is coming next month, it’s the energy in the air this time of year, Walter Baumhofer was born in November, is that it?  I don’t really know, I’m looking for a connection, a way to tease out the meaning, untangle the knots of past and mystery and desire.  In bondage.  In a prison of my own making.  I go home, I do other things, I go to bed asking why.  Why any of it?  Please explain.

I wake up in the middle of the night and reach for the pen and paper I keep by the bed.   I am still dreaming, a little.  I take dictation.  I often do this.  This is what I write down and what I find this morning:

Time has an inside and an outside.  

1904 is a key, the key is the message we gave you.  Keys are embedded with meaning like a present (gift).  They have an inside & an outside.  Open it (underlined).

We have put music inside stones.  The meaning is inside.  Hamlet’s Mill. 

What does it mean?  If Time has an inside and an outside, then you can open it, but how?  I get up, I walk across the room, I go to the kitchen to make coffee, these all become things that happened in a time that is now the past, how do I open the past?  The music in stones I don’t understand either.  When I try thinking about it I get images of the Pyramids.  Were they supposed to make sound?  Is that it?

And where is Hamlet’s Mill?


October 2, 1904

England Made Me

GRAHAM GREENE (October 2, 1904 –  April 3, 1991) England Made Me

An Englishman does something and you say, “How very English” or “Well what do you expect, he’s English.”  A country, a place, a religion, a culture makes you.  England makes you an Englishman.

But we can also be selective.  The Duchess of Devonshire was a great lady, we say, ignoring the fact that one her sisters married the head of the British Fascists, and the other sister fell in love with Hitler.  Or yet another sister, my personal favorite, ended up being a novelist (Nancy Mitford, 1904 – 1973).  The England of their time, the turn of the last century, made them all, but made them differently.  We make allowances.  It’s complicated, we say.

Of course it’s complicated.  We’re selective.  A Christian leader says gay people are an abomination, they should be executed, they should all die of the Ebola virus, and we say, “Well that’s not very Christian.”  A gay man is attacked by a gang of graduates of a Catholic school and is left for dead and we say, “Those kids were hardly Catholics, they were just drunk.”  Alcohol made them.

I grew up in a part of the country where all the best fracking sites are; a rich seam of shale lies beneath much of what we call Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, most of Michigan.  Ohio made me.  They will soon be fracking beneath the Ohio River.  The fracking process (EPA exempt, all patents property of Halliburton, see also Dick Cheney, war criminal, Satan’s minion) requires massive amounts of water to extract that oil from the shale, permanently rendering toxic the water in the process.  The drinking water of millions of Ohioans will soon be contaminated, poisoned forever, a chemical cocktail for all eternity.

Last night my dream guide shows me a place I think I’ve been before, the way places in dreams always seem to be places you’ve been: familiar but changed, as if quickly and rather carelessly translated from another language.  There is a process of translation, of course, from that dream reality to one with coordinates in space and time that I would be able to recognize.  Consequently much of what I see in my dreams ends up looking like Ohio.  Dante’s guide took him to Hell where everyone he met was Italian; my guide takes me to Ohio.  Same thing.

So we stand along a familiar stretch of landscape with a highway in the near distance, the Ohio turnpike.  You can feel and hear the Bell Curve rise and fall of the whoosh of passing big rigs.  There’s almost certainly a truck stop nearby.  We observe (actually we sort of float over to) the raw construction site of a new Taco Bell, (or Denny’s or Bob’s Big Boy), and my guide waves away centuries of earth the way you might wipe away a week’s dust from a bookshelf, and he shows me the elaborate archaeology revealed beneath, the massive stone gate that once greeted the traveler to this place, faintly Mayan-looking in style, if you ask me.  It is, it was, the entrance to a great city of which nothing now remains except flat Ohio fields with corn stalk stubble (See also high fructose corn syrup, government subsidies, rampant obesity).   The landscape that made the people who made that city that once was.  All gone.

In an Ohio mine, I read once, not in a dream, they found evidence of civilization 260 million years old.  “It is reported that James Parsons and his two sons exhumed a slate wall in a coal mine at Hammondville, Ohio, in 1868.  It was a large smooth wall, disclosed when a great mass of coal fell away from it, and on its surface, carved in bold relief, were several lines of hieroglyphics.” (Forbidden Archeology, Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, 1993).

We are selective in our history, of course.  What we accept, what we dismiss as nonsense.  What we can be held accountable for.  What we say makes us do what we do, or not do.

September 25, 1904


MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE (1904-1971) Bread-line, 1937, Louisville, Kentucky.

The idea of a bread-line came to Louis Fleischmann (1826 – September 25, 1904, New York) when he noticed homeless men standing near the grating outside his bakery at Tenth and Broadway, smelling his baking bread.  He offered to feed one of them, and a line formed.  From then on, every night at midnight, a long line of the hungry and homeless would form around the block and in front of Grace Church, which was next door to the bakery, and Mr Fleischmann would distribute his unsold bread.  [East Village Transitions].   From Christmas Eve, 1876 until his death, the baker’s “unique charity” continued.

Accused of being a “pauperizer of the idle,” Mr Fleischmann said he didn’t mind being called names.  “As long as there was flour in a barrel and fire under a kettle any man who was sufficiently sincere in his hunger to wait under the sky in any kind of weather could have a cup of steaming coffee and half a loaf.” [The Big Apple: Bread Line].

After Mr Fleischmann died in 1904, Grace Church bought the bakery and had it demolished.

I am interested in the connection between the individual and the institution.  It’s a tough one, it isn’t always easy to see, not necessarily clear where you lay the blame or to whom or what you offer praise.  Do you give credit to the man, or do you attribute his good to something greater?  When is it the baker and when is it the bakery?  When, for example, is Christian Love an act taught by the Church and when do we say, ah no, the actions of individuals associated with the Church have nothing to do with the place to which they tithe, or send their children to school or worship?

It’s unfair, of course, to blame a group for the bad actions of one of its members, but can the group take credit only when it comes to the good its members do?  Seems a little unfair.  I ask my sister who is very wise. She says, “There is hope in individuals, not so much in institutions.”  I like her answer but of course it is only part of the matter.  There is still the collective part.  The part about what is done or not done to one being done or not done to all.  There’s still a connection between the teaching and the action, that is; between what we say and what we do.

Matthew 25:35-40

Matthew 25:45

September 19, 1904



Dreamland, Coney Island, 1904 – 1911

Dreamland, which opened in 1904, was an amusement park of rides, educational exhibitions and freak shows.  There was a railroad through an alpine landscape, Venetian canals with gondolas, a Lilliputian village with 300 dwarf residents, a display of incubators complete with premature babies (incubators were not approved at that time for use in hospitals), and other attractions.  A fire destroyed the complex in 1911.  An early report claimed the incubator babies had perished, but this proved to be false and a later correction indicated that brave firemen had saved them all.

There is a world beneath and behind what you see.  Not a dreamscape perhaps, not exactly, but another landscape of lines of code that create what you see.  Worked hard last night to clean up that other world, tidy it up, scrub it, scan it, can you tell?  Do you see the difference?  100 pages now of blog, of 1904, of everything important, of what was then, now.  Now and then.

The older entries have lost some of their formatting, images are missing like a tooth gone here and there, or a digit; the font and spacing are off, sign of rickets incurred during a long voyage of migration, a deficiency of some sort, internal decay, a coding translation disorder,  I like that.  Something archaeological and historical about it.  What remains of meaning that once was.

The Daily Mail is reporting the discovery of hidden tunnels and canals and random golden orbs beneath the temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan, Mexico.   What mysteries lie beneath.   What we don’t know, didn’t pay attention to, used to know and have forgotten.

Elvia Allman (September 19, 1904 – March 6, 1992) was a character and voice-over actress who appeared on Petticoat Junction, the Beverly Hillbillies, the I Love Lucy show, and as the voice of Clarabelle Cow.   Life is what you’re doing.  Dreams, and careers, big and small, memorable and forgotten, what was planned and intended and saved and rescued, and what, if anything, was left behind.

September 17, 1904

Fonteyn, Somes, Ashton

Sir Frederick Ashton (September 17, 1904 – August 18, 1988) directing Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in Ondine.

He said he wanted to be a dancer from the moment he saw Pavlova perform, in 1917.  Despite the objections of his middle-class family, he pursued his dream, studied under Leonide Massine and Marie Rambert, but it was as a choreographer he would achieve his greatest fame.

“I met Freddie at Glyndebourne,” a friend tells me.  “Years ago.  I was sixteen.  He sat next to me and fell asleep on my shoulder, the old dear.”

There are so many rhythms in this world, of movement, of dance, of breath, of life and death, of sleeping and waking, of becoming and finishing, future and past, of being young and being old, an infinity of individual variations.

“Life is a state of becoming and death is a part of that process of becoming.  You are alive now, a consciousness knowing itself, sparkling with cognition amid a debris of dead and dying cells; alive while the atoms and molecules of your body die and are reborn.” [Seth, The Eternal Validity of the Soul, Prentice-Hall, 1972, p. 138]

Now let’s go see the Balletboyz at the Royal Opera House.

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