The Year Everything Important Happened

Ain’t No Chateau


Photo by the author

As reported in the Boston Journal, November 23, 1904, “The skeleton of the man who first caused the rappings heard by the Fox Sisters in 1848 has been found between the walls of the house occupied by the sisters, and clears them from the only shadow of doubt held concerning their sincerity in the discovery of spirit communication.”

In Hydesville, New York, in 1848, two little girls, Maggie and Katie Fox, had claimed to communicate with the spirit of a murdered peddler in their house; through a series of demonstrations of their ability to communicate with the dead the sisters’ fame spread and helped to foster the growth of spiritualism in America.

Forty years later Maggie recanted their story, admitting it was all a hoax, but in 1904 the discovery of a skeleton walled up in the cellar of the house the girls had lived at the time of their communications seemed to contradict her confession.   Further investigation, however, would reveal a further twist, that the bones discovered weren’t human and were in fact mostly from chickens, placed in the cellar as a practical joke.  Some spiritualists still challenge that verdict.

There’s truth and truth, of course, and past truth and future versions of it.  There are levels of reality.  There is a reality just below this one, I’ve discovered, and you can access it by just a tip of the head.  A slight downward gaze, and there it is, another version of the world, another plane of existence.  Very similar to the one you’re currently familiar with, more or less; the differences are subtle yet significant.  And I mean more than just a change of perspective on your life, although you may be inclined to see it as nothing more than that, simply seeing life from a different angle, from someone else’s point of view, even if that someone else is you.  Another you.

I’m moving from a place I’ve loved, but no longer suits.  “Why would you give this up?” a friend asks.  “A drafty box you pay too much for,” another friend scoffs.  “A fifth floor walk up.”   “But the view,” someone else sighs longingly.  “You can look on your Instagram feed when you miss it,” that other friend, the practical one, advises.  “Don’t be surprised if they keep your deposit, landlords aren’t human you know.”

“I have a curse from a gypsy,” my neighbor downstairs offers, “I can give it to you but you only want to use it if you mean it, because I tried it on my last landlord and it really fucking worked, trust me.”  I admit I’m tempted, but I don’t think it will be necessary.  Most of the places I’ve lived in my life have burned to the ground or been demolished with no effort whatsoever on my part.  Even school buildings.  Dormitories.  Family homes.  Places of employment.  I seem to have that effect.  I don’t know why.

Change is a shift in perspective, a new development in the narrative, a reversal of what was previously thought, or debunked, or recanted or rediscovered.  But reality itself is mutable, infinitely faceted, layered, and open to interpretation.   I have lived many places.  I have lived for the last eight years in a marvelous place, a perfect place, and then one day I tipped my head, I looked down, and I saw it differently.  What I saw, however, was myself in another reality, another self going about his life, perhaps the self you see, or maybe not.  I was somewhere I’ve been and haven’t been, had never really been but was only pretending.  A home that said something once, that spoke to me, not quite rapping on the floor, but close enough.  Spoke to me, described me the way I thought I was and wanted to be. Now that’s changed.  I’m not sure why.

I’ve called this place the Poor Man’s Chateau, but it’s no chateau.  Neither is where I’m going.  But then again, I don’t know, maybe it will be, when I get there.

Morning Poem


George Balanchine (1904 – 1983)

Spirit yearns not for flesh but
For connection
For touch that touches
The body has become a disobedient distraction
A cheap suit better suited
For ill-fitting youth long fed up and departed.
Earth rides up wrong these days, pinches, sags,
Hangs odd,
Chafes longing,
Hurts in places without reason.
Soul resists, says, oh, let’s let this old lie lie.
Let’s fly;
Shuck off should, break crust, empty shell of self,
Let go and know again the artless dance
We managed naked easily before,
Weightless.  No waiting.  Hard when it mattered, and
Soft as new skin under carelessness flaked off,
Too much sun or temporary blemish,  simple to forget.

Telling Truth


Place of Epiphany: classroom in which Lu Xun attended the lectures of Professor Fujino (portrait on left) in 1904,  Sendai Medical Academy (now Tohoku University), Sendai, Japan.

This week it was the birthday of Ida Tarbell (November 5, 1857 – January 6, 1944), who wrote in 1904 the great muckraking masterpiece The History of the Standard Oil Company in which she exposed the corrupt dealings of the oil monopoly run by the richest man in America, John D. Rockefeller.  By trying to get to the truth, Tarbell invented a new kind of journalism.

Rockefeller heirs have recently announced they are divesting their fortune from fossil fuels.  How times change.

In 1904, the great Chinese writer Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren, 1881 – 1936) was studying western medicine at the Sendai Medical Academy in Japan.  The Russo-Japanese War had broken out, part of which was fought on disputed Chinese land, and at the end of class slides would be shown of recent developments in the conflict – the equivalent of newsreel footage that would become a feature of war propaganda during future world wars.   In a biology class, the professor showed a slide depicting a Japanese soldier about to behead a Chinese man accused of spying for the Russians.  The students in the class, all Japanese except for Lu Xun, cheered.   As Lu Xun wrote later, it was at that point he had an epiphany; he decided to give up the study of medicine and to become a ‘literary physician,’ someone who would seek to cure not the physical but the spiritual sickness in the world.  Lu Xun wrote to get at a new way of looking at the world, at truth, and he became one of the New Culture Movement writers in China.

Recently, the Japanese government has approved the restarting of the nuclear reactor at Sendai, the first to be restarted since the Fukushima disaster of 2011.

The Otolith Group has made a film about the Fukushima meltdown, trying to get to the truth of what happened, how the catastrophe opened up a ‘fissure in time and space,’ in the past and present and future.  The menace of radiation makes truth sound like science fiction; the danger is invisible, it will only be known from cancer rates later, from deformities in the future, how do you tell that truth?  You can’t see it.  It doesn’t seem real.  Like a picture of a countryman being beheaded.   Like climate change caused by fossil fuels; you deny it, it doesn’t seem real.   You need a new kind of fiction and film to tell the truth.  You need new literary physicians.

There’s a connection here.  The Rockefellers divest; Japan restarts.  What’s the truth?  What’s best for the people?  For the environment?  For the planet?  For the investor?  What’s safe?

This week a man who believes the Old Testament disproves climate change was elected to the United States Senate.  He will become the head of the Senate Committee on the Environment.   This week that’s the truth Americans have voted for.


Silver Chimes

Edwardian wedding
Silverware on twine
Wind chimes in Woodstock:
Rosebud repoussé swings slow to crooked tine,
Bent bowl spoons fork,
Tinkling tarnished sun.
Repurposing the Past, you said, pleased with the sound of it and I said, as
Sweet as candy colored candles dripped on cheap
Wine bottles, new delights in old.
We painted a rainbow on the front of a farmhouse in Ohio.

Such tie-dyed simplicity we savored in back then’s
Makeshift making do, undoing, doing less because we could;
Homespun for fun and unaware
When so much of what mattered was as free as
Love, how little a future world would make from ours.



Wallace Sterling “Violet” pattern, 1904

What Really Trickles Down


Remains of the Day.  Salvage Shop, Los Angeles, photo by the author

The German sociologist Max Weber wrote “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus) as a series of essays in 1904 – 1905.  Translated into English in 1930, Weber’s work attempted to explain how the Reformation, by taking away the Catholic Church’s guarantee of salvation for the faithful, had shifted the responsibility for getting into Heaven onto the individual, fostering the need for personal hard work to prove one’s worth to God.  And hard working workers, of course, were exactly the sort of impetus a capitalist system needed to expand and flourish.  Work hard, be good, be kind to those less fortunate while you serve your earthly masters and you get to have a beautiful Hereafter when you’re dead.

But times have changed.  Now that the 1 percent control half of the earth’s resources, the privileged elite running the world is beginning to look a lot like that controlling Catholic cabal the Protestants rebelled against; the whole system starts looking rigged.  Which it is.  But habits are hard to break.  Ironically, the Protestant Ethic is alive and well, but only at the lowest level.   In the years 2006-2012, for instance, charitable giving by those making less than $25,000 a year increased, while charitable contributions by those in the top 1 and top 5 percent (those making over $200,000 a year) declined, although at the same time the incomes at these top levels increased.  [Source].  The Noblesse don’t oblige no more, folks.

As 99 percent of the earth’s population fight over what’s left of the planet’s resources not controlled by a handful of the lucky corporate few, things are gonna get ugly.  They already have, in fact.  [Not sold in any store! Call now! Supplies limited!]  Water, for example (“With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate“).  Shelter, as the so-called middle class moves into poorer neighborhoods in search of affordable housing.  In the old days we called it ‘gentrification,’ a fancy word for pushing out those with even less than we had.  Spruce up that ghetto, we said, and feel good about doing it too.  They’ll thank you for it.  Then the gentrifiers got pushed out and urban pioneers found themselves looking farther afield and deeper into the homeless squalor they’d shoved out to the edges, out of sight.

What really trickles down, you see, is not jobs or opportunity or goodness or kindness.  What trickles down is selfishness and meanness.   You and I buy cheap at Walmart and say we’re being thrifty, not thinking about the folks who work there who aren’t paid enough to feed and clothe their kids.  You know where you can live in this country on minimum wage and still afford a two-bedroom apartment?  Nowhere.  Not one state in the Land of Opportunity United States.  [Source]

But hey, don’t worry.  Right now the poor appear to be looking after those even less fortunate.  Suckers and fools.  Eventually, however, those who have only a little are gonna have nothing.  And then God help us all, when that last bit of goodness is squeezed out.

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.

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