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Revisiting McCarthyism – Seventy Years on

The Red Scares of the immediate postwar era are notorious as twentieth-century witch hunts, and rightfully so.  There were many reasons they ended up reviled, but mainly it was because they mimicked the methods of the very people they were out to get.  When democracy looks like communism and attempts to pit neighbor against neighbor and rumor against rumor in the time-honored socialist way, something has gone very wrong somewhere.

Worse for McCarthy and his band, we now have hindsight to aid us.  We know that, even dominating half the world as they did until 1990, communism just isn’t sustainable and eventually collapses under the weight of its own grey hopelessness.  McCarthy didn’t have that advantage, or he would just have stayed home with a smug look on his face.  Or maybe that kind of personality would have annoyed a different group.

For a modern audience, it’s hard to understand what the general public would have felt at the time, or to be objective.  The weight of history (and of often left-leaning historians) has given its verdict and McCarthy has joined the ranks of the vilified.

But he had real support, from intelligent, thinking people.  And if you read into the times, you’ll probably come to a different conclusion: that McCarthy was doing a necessary job, and his true crime was ignoring due process.

A good way to analyze this kind of thing is to read the popular fiction of the day (don’t waste your time with modern revisionist stuff as they have the same preconceptions you do).

neither-five-nor-three-helen-macinnes.jpg

My demolished paperback copy of Neither Five nor Three by Helen MacInnes was in the same batch of 1970s’ paperbacks I’ve been reading through lately.  Nevertheless, it was written in 1951 (also, the paperback is from 1985).  This means that we can have a taste of the 1950s with the unmistakable  experience of the crumbling acidic paper of the eighties.

But it’s the 1950s insight that matters, and MacInnes is supremely qualified to give a more accurate picture than the one that has reached us.  She was both an academic and an intelligence officer, and therefore very much attuned to the question of communism in both academic and other circles.

So even if her book offends our modern preconceptions, the smart money is on her being right and our preconceptions being wrong.  That’s especially true if you feel very strongly about the subject one way or the other.

Basically MacInnes’ book postulates that the communist party in America was going to try to gain ascendancy by taking over editorial positions in American written media and, from those jobs, select the writers and viewpoints that would be printed therein.  Our heroes, as befits a novel of the era, are out to stop them.

This is the part where the cries of McCarthyism come in, but again, I assume MacInnes was right and we are wrong.  It certainly does seem plausible.

But more than plausible, it’s prescient.  In our current world, political parties on both sides of the spectrum do exactly this.  Impartial news is nearly impossible to find, and news outlets are no longer serious because… well, because exactly the scenario MacInnes was warning us about seventy years ago has come to pass.  Try selling a story about the successful application of free market thinking to The New York Times.  Or a heartwarming story about a commune giving out free milk to Fox News.

Of course, the left is much more likely to do this kind of thing (one of the tenets of communism was that everything was done for the state and for socialism, while democracy tends to focus on self-realization first), but everyone has learned the lessons.

I recommend this book as a must-read to anyone who wants to understand the current world.  MacInnes’ heroes might have won in the book, but when you see that some people mistake The Huffington Post (or Fox News or… insert your own pet peeve here) for actual information, you realize that, in real life, the good guys lost.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His own take on how the world can go to hell in a digital hand basket… and of what happens after that, is called Outside.  You can check it out here.

Did I Say Trashy? I Meant it…

On Wednesday, I informed my readers that my TBR pile had reached a section of trashy 1970s paperbacks.  The first book was a spy book–definitely trashy, but also fun–and I’m happy to say that, today, I can add sleazy to the list.

Rosemary Rogers - The Insiders - 1979 Paperback

I’d never read a Rosemary Rogers book, so I thought I was in for another thriller. The girl on the cover could easily be 1970s code for the bikini-clad jet-setting model that my international man of mystery falls into bed with, couldn’t it?

Apparently not.  Rosemary Rogers is described by Wikipedia as having been the writer who brought romance into the bedroom… and boy does she ever.

The Insiders was my Rogers debut, and it didn’t disappoint.  It was a seventies book in all its overdone glory.

Now, I’m not an expert on the romance genre by any means.  I’ve written some stuff that appears in romance anthos, and I’ll also read classic erotic books to compare them to other classic erotic books, but I don’t go out of my way to court the genre, so when I do read one, I find it extremely interesting.

In the first place, romance is much more similar to the spy genre than its readers like to admit.  At the risk of generalizing, women read romance while men read spy thrillers (I’m pretty sure the numbers back me up on this, but if anyone has evidence to the contrary, please drop me a line).  What no one tells you is that they read them for precisely the same reasons–at least if you’re talking about 1970s examples of each breed.

What do I mean by this?  Simple.  Just as both heroes and villains are utterly overdone in the spy genre, making everyone a caricature of himself, the same thing happens in The Insiders.

Every single character in this book is a sexual paladin.  From the heroine to the hero (who, at one point, actually leads a gang-rape of the heroine… imagine that today) to the secondary figures, sex is just something the characters do all the time, and which is worth little more than a passing thought. They have no hangups and don’t really think about sex as anything other than a cool way to spend some time… especially if their partner is skilled (and they all seem to be).

For those not used to the genres rules, it all seems a bit farfetched (anyone who has ever gone on a date with more than one person will know that, while scattered individuals may act the way the people in this book do, they are few and far between)… but the same can be said for a spy thriller from the same era.

Anyhow, this was a fun read.  In our politically correct world, I think if this one sold the millions of copies it did in the seventies, it would be denounced from every social media pulpit on the planet (we live in the era of the new Hays Code – a character who is involved in rape can no longer turn out to be the sympathetic hero, no matter what he does to redeem himself afterwards), so it was doubly interesting as a cultural artifact.

This one did nothing to dispel my conviction that literature was just more fun in the seventies.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is the author of Outside, a novel that contemplates what it means to be human.  You can check it out here.

Literature was More Fun in the Seventies

Whenever possible, I try to go through my to-be-read pile in the order in which I acquired or borrowed the books.  Though this sounds incredibly obsessive, and probably is, I’ve found that it helps me to actually read all the stuff I lay my hands on.  Otherwise, I’d immediately read the shiny new stuff and some books would wallow in the pile forever.

But that method also means that stuff tends to come in thematic clumps.  If I happened to swing by a science fiction con, I will have a pile of SF books to read.  If I did an Amazon order, it’s likely that the books will all be from series I’m in the middle of.

This time, I’ve hit a patch of trashy 1970s paperbacks.  They are trashy both because of the quality of the printed object itself (acidic paper seemed to reach its peak in the 70s) as well as for the writing.  By looking at the covers, I’m guessing that there aren’t many literary pretentions in this lot.

But when I read the first, I was immediately delighted to have landed in this batch.

Toll for the Brave - Jack Higgins

Jack Higgins is not a writer I was familiar with (although I later realized that he wrote the semi-classic The Eagle has Landed), but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of his work after reading Toll for the Brave.

This was a classic-style seventies thriller where a guy survives against all odds, defeats communism and also beats his tortured (in this case rather literally) past.  Unlike modern takes on the theme, this is a slim volume at just under 200 pages, and yet seems to pack all the necessary action into the story.  The characters are also sufficiently well done that you start to wonder why any book should be thicker than this.

The enemy here are communists, and it’s a particularly nice to see them get their butts kicked by an individualist, filthy-rich product of capitalism.  The whole thing is cheesy and unbelievable, but fun as hell.  I’d felt the same way, quite recently, about The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin, which probably ticked the same boxes for the same audience in the era.

I read and enjoy plenty of modern books, but whenever I dip into the seventies, I wonder if we’re not all making a huge mistake by focusing so much energy on avoiding stereotypes and being more character-driven and literary.  That has its place, of course, but there’s also a strong argument to be made for the fun factor.

Seen in a different way, stereotypes are also archetypes–figures that many people who share a cultural background will be able to identify.  They’re a shorthand way of putting the reader at ease, letting him know what’s happening around him without dumping four hundred pages of exposition.  Those little tools make a book more enjoyable for the person picking it up.

There’s a reason books like this one sold in the millions and that’s because they were actually better than watching TV.  They’re also better than watching TV today.

So what should have been a light read of an admittedly preposterous thriller has actually made me think, which is an unexpected bonus.

The first benefit, of course, was that I enjoyed the hell out of it.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist whose own preposterous thriller is called Ice Station: Death.  He thinks it’s even more farfetched than the Higgins above, but urges you to check it out for yourself.

The Dean of Motor Racing Magazines

I’m pretty sure that a deep love of literature and art is not often corresponded by an equally deep passion for all things automotive, and that whenever I write about cars, some of my readers just skip that bit.

But I wanted to take a moment to talk about Motor Sport magazine, which, like Road & Track (which I’ve talked about here before quite often) is a classic publication that has been around for a certain amount of time.

But Road & Track, born in 1947 started out borrowing articles from established journalists that had made their names in the British motoring press, in Autocar, The Motor and, yes, Motor Sport.

Founded in 1924, and with a green cover that acknowledged its British heritage (green is the racing color for Britain), Motor Sport is one of my favorite magazines, and one of the few automotive publications I read regularly despite having gone through several different editorial directions within the past couple of decades.  It even had a red cover at one point (gasp!).

Why?

Well, for one thing, it focuses on race cars, which are the most exciting part of the automobile kingdom.  For another, it keeps the modern stuff to a minimum and concentrates on the history of racing, which is where the romance and heroics live.  I assume that today’s action will become more interesting as the hidden stories come to light, but right now, all we have are results.

Motor Sport February 2018

A good case in point is the issue I recently finished reading (and which prompted this post), the February 2018 magazine.  This one combines a huge tribute to the late Colin McRae with current (well, from 2018) Formula One news, an interview with Adrian Newey and another with Gordon Murray–probably the two most groundbreaking designers in the past 40 years of F1–plus reports on classic car racing and a feature on Group C.

For anyone with a love for the history of racing, this is paradise.  I won’t recommend that you go out and buy an issue, because I assume that anyone with an interest in motorsport will already be familiar with it.  But on the off chance that you’ve been living under a rock for the past nine decades, go get an issue.

You can thank me later.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose Military SF novels Siege and Incursion have been well received.  You can check them out here and here.

The Fifth Di… A Slim but Poignant Tome

As those of you who saw Friday’s post know, I’m reading contributor’s copies.  The latest was The Fifth Di from March 2018 (yes, I’m a year and a half behind. I know.  My to-be-read pile is approaching critical mass.  If you see news that something collapsed upon itself and generated a black hole centered in Argentina that is slowly absorbing matter from all of the rest of the world and will end life as we know it, it was my TBR pile.  I apologize in advance).

The Fifth Di - March 2018 - Edited by J Alan Erwine

This one hit me hard, because of the four stories within, it contains one by my good friend Robert N. Stephenson, a brilliantly talented writer from Australia who, sadly, committed suicide in August.

This was my first time in Fifth Di, so it’s also my first contributor’s copy, and I was quite impressed by it.  It holds four stories (mine is entitled “Spinning Candle”, a science fiction suspense piece).  The one I liked the most (I never rate mine in these, obviously) was a tale by Lachlan Walter called “She has no Toys”.  This one was a tear jerker on more than one level, with a well-created atmosphere and, coming right before the story penned by my lost friend made the mag hit home pretty hard.

So, a recommended read here.  I definitely invite you to check it out (if you do, please let me know what you thought!).

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writers.  For those who enjoy science fiction suspense, he is also the author of the tense thriller Siege.  You can buy it here.

The Visions Series – A Tough Act to Close

Readers of this blog are all aware that I’m a writer, and that I do a lot of science fiction.  One of the places I’ve sold a few stories to was the Visions series edited by Carrol Fix.  I was in Visions III and Visions VI.  The first contributor’s copy I read in this one was Visions III, and it impressed me very much.  The theme there was “Inside the Kuiper Belt”, and the stories hit the same sweet spot as The Expanse.

Visions VI, while not as mind-blowing, was a solid antho, and I guess you could say the same about the last volume in the series, Visions VII.

Visions VII - Universe - Edited by Carrol Fix

It certainly holds a large number of well-written stories which are worth reading for themselves, so most people who pick it up will enjoy it.  What I didn’t like quite as much was that the very wide way the theme, Universe, was interpreted by both authors and editor.

I would have expected this one’s tales to be set on a broad scale, well above the galaxy level with, possibly a wink to multiverse existences.

And yes, some of the stories do this, and do it well (my own story in the collection, “Burstchasers” was written specifically with this scale in mind – you can judge for yourself whether it’s any good or not).  But too many of them are set on generic planets that could be a few dozen light years away, with no need at all to have been placed in an antho subtitled “Universe”.

That’s a nit, though, and one most readers won’t be bothered by.

As I said above, the stories are good, which is what matters.  Most memorable, and one I think did a fantastic job at interpreting the theme was “Universal Hero” by Darrell Duckworth.  It’s a bit whimsical, perhaps even naive, but well-thought-out and extremely interesting.  I’ll remember that one for a long time.

Anyway, start at number one and read through this series.  It’s fascinating to see the scope grow ever larger as it progresses–even though, the Universe seemed a tad too big for many authors.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an award-winning Argentine author.  His novel Siege takes place on a huge scale, albeit not quite on the Universe level.  You can check it out here.

A Lesson in Why the Greats Are Great

Over the past few years, I’ve been complaining about Gardner Dozois’ Years’ Best Science Fiction anthos.  They were still, I argued, the best source for the reality of the genre in the modern era, and his summation was a priceless essay, but the stories were getting weaker year by year.

Why?  Well, the message was drowning the storytelling.

For those living under a rock, the science fiction world’s current tempest in a teacup is that half the genre believes that the most important thing that SF has to do is to advance a progressive political agenda and that everything else is secondary while the other half feels that the job of science fiction is to tell a good story, politics be damned.  There have been some well-publicized arguments about this which I won’t go into here.  Google is your friend.

Though my reading preferences fall squarely into the second camp, I don’t mind reading a good message story with my action.  My problem was that the message stories were no longer good, and the genre was becoming more about diversity than about actual interesting tales.  Which explains why so much respected genre fiction isn’t selling while every Hollywood film seems to be an SF title.  Dozois, I felt, was echoing this trend instead of fighting it, and I wasn’t impressed.

But I now realize I owe the man an apology.  I wish he were still alive so I could give it to him in person.

The Year's Best Science Fiction- Thirty-Second Annual Collection - Gardner Dozois

This year I became a Hugo voter for the first time, mainly because Guardbridge books launched my collection Off the Beaten Path at WorldCon in Dublin.

So, full of enthusiasm, I started reading the nominees.  The first book was terrible, so I went on to the next.  Ugh.  The third… well, you see where this is going.  It was, to put it gently, a weak field.  The reason: preachy, political stuff and not much that I didn’t find boring.  I was gutted.

In fact, my conclusion was that it had been a bad year for the genre in general.  Until I saw the Dragon Award nominees and realized that it hadn’t been a bad year… just a bad selection.

That forced me to reappraise Dozois’ last few books.  He hadn’t selected too many bad, preachy stories… he had, in fact, had to cull the best ones from an ocean of utter tripe to give us the ones fit for human consumption.  He was doing his job, holding his nose and giving us the Best of the Year… no matter how bad some of that year might have been.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection, pictured above, is a good collection.  Not as good as some of the older ones, definitely not Golden-Era-worthy, but good, especially when compared to what’s been happening to the Hugos.  He will be missed – his death is a huge blow to the SFF genre.

As for the story selection in this one, I was disappointed that the Alastair Reynolds tale wasn’t quite as good as some others of his I’ve seen over the years, but that disappointment was made up for by excellent stories by Cory Doctorow (“The Man Who Sold the Moon”) and Ken Liu (“The Regular”).  Those were my favorites.

Bad ones?  Yes, there were a few (albeit every one of them well-written).  Nevertheless, considering what’s happening in the rest of the genre, this is a solid collection.  Better than most of the more recent ones.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose collection Off the Beaten Path, mentioned above can be seen here.

 

Tense and Almost Brilliant – A Hitchcock Near-Miss

Rope Film Poster - Alfred Hitchcock

Rope is a film I hadn’t heard of.  Among the Hitchcock classics, it is apparently a cult piece as opposed to one for the general fans.  Rear Window, or The Birds are much more well known today.

It’s one of Hitchcock’s more experimental films in a couple of senses.  The first being that the action takes place entirely within three rooms of an apartment.  Secondly, it begins with a murder on camera, which means that the audience knows from the very first moment whodunnit, wheredunnit, whydunnit and with whatdunnit (the last one is the rope of the title).  Finally, the action takes place in, apparently, real time: the running time of the film supposedly coincides with the time that passes while it takes place.  This last one requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, but it can be accepted if necessary.

james-stewart--alfred-hitchcock--farley-granger-and-john-dall-in-rope-1948--album

Unlike most experimental films, which fail because they were experimental.  I would say that 95% of this movie is absolutely brilliant, and that the experimental bits are firmly in the background.  The tension ramps up from the very first moment until it becomes nearly unbearable, and the philosophical underpinnings interesting, if extreme.

Then, at the very end, it all unravels.  The character playing “detective” (he’s not a real detective, just an intelligent observer, and one that should have been morally ambiguous, at the very least, flips over like a roadhouse flapjack and realizes that conventional morality is correct after all.

I assume this unfortunate turn of events was caused by the strictures placed upon filmmakers by the Hays Code, but it’s hard to swallow after such a masterly buildup.

This one is interesting, but ultimately deserves its status as a forgotten film.  I would recommend it to lovers of the art more than to those seeking a satisfying thriller.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose thriller Timeless has not been constrained by the Hays Code, by the bounds of good taste or even by common sense.  You can check it out here.

The 1919 Omaha Incident

America’s Red Summer reached its crescendo with the attempted lynching of Omaha mayor Edward Parsons Smith one hundred years ago this week.  While nearly all white casualties of 1919’s widespread violence occurred when their intended victims responded in self defense, Mayor Smith was attacked by other whites, who resented his interference in their vigilantism.  The incident is reported as a factual passage presented for context in Stacy Danielle Stephens’ monumental work-in-progress, tentatively titled A Citizen of London, and excerpted here.

 

Released in May of 1943, The Ox-Bow Incident opened to reviews which are striking in the consistency of their ambivalence. There could be no denying that it was a great movie, nor could there be any pretense that an audience of that time would enjoy it.
In spite of making it on the lowest possible budget, the studio nearly lost money, and never would have made The Ox-Bow Incident if Henry Fonda hadn’t been determined to star in it. The studio exacted a price for catering to Fonda’s perverse whim, tossing this single golden apple into a barrel so rotten that Fonda would ever afterward refer to the studio as “Penitentiary Fox”.

The eponymous incident is a lynching, and it is this fact which compelled Fonda to sacrifice the next several years of his career for the sake of one unpopular low budget film. As a teenager in Omaha, he had witnessed the lynching of a black man accused of a crime investigators were certain he had not committed, and the attempted lynching of the mayor, who had told the mob they must not do this thing.

* * *

Omaha Lynching 1916

In 1916, the Nebraska State Constitution was amended to allow for the statewide prohibition of beverage alcohol to begin the following year. By 1919, organized crime was already flourishing in Omaha, allegedly under the guidance of Tom Dennison.
Late in the evening of Thursday, September 25th, 1919, an employee of Dennison’s, an M. Hoffman[1] alleged that he and his girlfriend, Agnes Loebeck, had been robbed at gunpoint by a “small negro” who then took them, still at gunpoint, to a vacant lot, where he then allegedly raped Agnes, holding one hand over her mouth while keeping his gun pointed at Hoffman.

A large number of white men, most of them veterans and many of them armed, began searching for likely suspects, but found none. However, on Friday, the 26th, a concerned citizen reported “two suspicious negroes” to the police. What made the two “suspicious” was that they lived with Virginia Jones, a white woman.

The arresting officers found William Brown at the home of Miss Jones. Mister Brown and Harry Johnson, the other “suspicious negro,” said they had been at a show with Miss Jones at the time of the alleged assault. Police made no record of what Miss Jones said, or if she was questioned, and later claimed that Brown had a gun, although no gun was held as evidence, and no description of the gun was ever recorded. The officers claimed to have taken the two men into custody “for their own safety”.

Although the County Attorney felt certain that no man as arthritic as Brown could have assaulted anyone, he charged him with sexual assault, and planned to empanel a grand jury on Monday.

On Saturday morning, the 27th, The Omaha Bee ran a story, more lurid than accurate, under the headline, “Negro Assaults Young Girl While Male Escort Stands by Powerless to Aid Her.”

Having spent a night in jail, Miss Jones [2] decided that Brown had not been with her at the show after all. The prospect of prosecution as an accessory may have helped her memory. Johnson, facing a similar prospect, had a similar change of heart and clarification of memory.

That afternoon, police took Brown to Agnes Loebeck’s home [3], where they presented him to her with the question, “Is this the man?”

“Yes,” she replied, “this is the man. Take him away. The sight of him has been haunting me since he stopped me on the street and dragged me into the clump of weeds.”

“There is not the least bit of doubt,” Hoffman chimed in, “but what he is the negro that assaulted Agnes.” [4]

By this time, a crowd numbering into the hundreds had gathered outside the Loebeck residence, with hundreds more on their way. The officers phoned police headquarters; a police vehicle came to take them, and Brown, back to the courthouse.

Hoffman spent the rest of the evening preparing to incite a riot.

* * *

On Sunday, the 28th, William Fonda took his son, Henry, to the print shop he owned, because there was something he wanted him to see. Henry was puzzled. No one would be working at the shop, across the street from the courthouse, on Sunday, so nothing would be happening. But from a second story window, Henry saw everything.

* * *

Agnes Loebeck had attended Bancroft Elementary School; boys who’d been in her class then were now men. Many of them were veterans, most of them had or could quickly obtain firearms or heavy tools which could be used as assault weapons, whether against persons or structures, and almost all of them were ready to wage war.

Will Brown and the Mob at Omaha Courthouse

As they proceeded to the courthouse on Sunday, the 28th, they were peaceably dispersed several times, but regrouped, ever closer to the courthouse, in another few minutes. And as they went, word of where they were headed and what they intended spread, so that other groups of similar inclination were on their way to meet them. By three o’clock, the police surrounding the courthouse were themselves surrounded, and vastly outnumbered, but believed themselves to be in control of the situation. By five o’clock, the courthouse and the police protecting it had become engulfed by more than four thousand angry white men [5]. A pair of police attempted to scatter the crowd by flailing vigorously with their night sticks, charging toward the apparent ringleaders.

Unintimidated, the crowd charged back, disarming the two and flinging a third through a glass door. From inside, other officers sprayed a fire hose at the crowd, momentarily driving it back, until people from the rear of the mob moved forward, pushing through the wet and confused men in front of them, flinging rocks, and shattering windows. As the first group of police shut off the disappointing fire hose, another group fired their revolvers into an elevator shaft, hoping the sound of gunfire would frighten the mob. It did nothing of the kind.

As the mob began splintering a door to force their way in, the Chief of Police came to a window, asking to address them. In a few minutes, they were calm and listening. He asked them to allow justice to take its course. This was not what they wanted to hear. With renewed frenzy, the mob pressed forward again, overpowering and looting individual policemen before resuming their efforts to smash through the doors.
Inside, police moved prisoners to the fifth floor, then set up a defensive line on the fourth floor, where they intended to hold back the mob or die trying. They held back the mob.

By seven o’clock, members of the mob had brought gasoline, and were pouring it throughout the first and second floors. By eight o’clock, the police had an inferno beneath them, and no way of holding it back. They also had no means of escape. Anyone attempting to flee the building was shot at by several gunmen outside. Firemen arriving on the scene were kept away from the building by the mob.

It was nearly eleven that night when Mayor Ed Smith went out to address the crowd, imploring them to let the law handle this case [6], adding that “If you take him from this courthouse, it will be over my dead body.” Obligingly, someone clubbed him, someone else grabbed him, and in the course of the melée, a rope was put around his neck, then removed as he was rescued and taken to a car which was overturned. He was taken out of the overturned car, and dragged by another rope around his neck to the southwest corner of the courthouse lawn and hoisted on a street lamp. He hanged there momentarily until a car drove through the crowd to reach him, and four or five men [7] managed to cut the rope, get him into the car, and drive him to a hospital.

The fire had now moved to the third floor, where two bottles of formaldehyde were stored. When the heat broke the bottles, the burning formaldehyde rapidly filled the building with toxic fumes. The remaining police moved the prisoners to the roof.
What happened next cannot be confirmed; the least suspect of accounts say the police began attempting to negotiate the release of white prisoners while black prisoners implored Brown to give himself up; if he didn’t, they would surely all be lynched, unless they died in the fire.

It was now clear to everyone, particularly to everyone on the roof of the courthouse, that William Brown had no hope of seeing the sun rise. Beyond that, all accounts of the next few minutes are suspect. Everyone on that roof had reasons to say what they said about those few minutes, and no one had anything to gain by telling the truth. All that matters, really, is that when those next few minutes had passed, the mob had William Brown, and he was certainly dead even before they’d taken him the two blocks to the corner of Seventeenth and Dodge, where they hanged his body, and continued to shoot it as it hanged there [8] . It was later taken down, doused in kerosene, and burned. And when it had ceased burning, it was dragged through the streets.

The next week, the rope used to hang and drag him was cut into short pieces, each of which was sold for a dime [9]. Even today, one could probably locate a few of these souvenirs.

 

[1] In his original report to police, Hoffman gave Millard as his first name; however, the address he gave was a vacant lot.  Someone by the name of Milton Hoffman lived near to that vacant lot, so it was assumed that Milton had been misquoted by police and news reporters.  To assume otherwise would suggest that the whole of his allegation was a fabrication.

[2] They had also arrested her, presumably for her own safety.

[3] If Brown had been a serious suspect in a rape case, police would have brought Agnes downtown to pick him out of a lineup.  What he was actually being prosecuted for was his intimate relationship with Virginia Jones.

[4] Both of these statements appeared in the next morning’s paper.  It seems likely the editor paraphrased what was actually said, perhaps for the sake of clarity.

[5] By midnight, as many as 15,000 men and women may have gathered in the immediate area of the Douglas County Courthouse.

[6] Although the police and prosecutor were obviously aware that Brown had not committed the crime he was to be arraigned on, there can be little doubt he would have been tried and convicted, because of his intimate relationship with Virginia Jones.  However, the maximum penalty for forcible rape in Nebraska at that time was twenty years.

[7] Sources do not agree on the names or number of these men.

[8] Some sources indicate he was first hanged at 18th and Harney, from the same street lamp where the attempted lynching of the mayor had occurred.

[9]Approximately $1.25 in current dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

A Taste of New York in the Eighties

In June, I was in New York speaking with a friend of mine who is also a writer, and she happened to mention that she had gone to art school (SVA) with Keith Haring.  My wife almost lost it; Haring is one of her all-time favorite artists.

She’s been a fan since forever, but the depth of her reaction might have been helped along because by a book I’d bought her a couple of years earlier.

Keith Haring

Entitled simply Keith Haring, by Jeffrey Deitch, Suzanne Geiss and Julia Gruen, this one is what I’d call an “art biography”. You don’t get much about the subject’s childhood, you don’t get too much about who was sleeping with whom, but you get a comprehensive explanation of the milestones in his artistic career, from elements of his style to people he met along the way and even specific trips and events that proved particularly notable in his career.

It’s a book tinged with sadness, of course–Haring died of AIDS in the early 1990s at far too young an age–but it doesn’t dwell on the sadness.  This book represents that overused phrase: “a celebration of life”.

And it was a life to be celebrated.  Few artists mix innocent style and good-natured self promotion with controversial (and sexual) themes as seamlessly as Haring did.  He preferred to change the world that affected him, even though he wasn’t averse to taking on the bigger-picture issues if he was called to do so.  To me, his Crack is Wack mural is much more indicative of the way he thought–it was inspired by one of his best friends’ addiction–than his action in anti-nuclear protests.

Crack is Wack Mural

I will admit that his art isn’t exactly my cup of tea.  It’s interesting, especially as I see the eighties as a morally straight-laced decade wildly at odds with his more pornographic imagery, but it’s not the kind of thing I would go out of my way to view.  Give me a good Constable any day.

However, this is a man who defined a city in a decade.  The book gives us a glimpse of New York’s art scene and a city lost to gentrification.  Also, a night scene lost to AIDS which utterly destroyed the libertine air that Haring lived and breathed.  From that perspective, this volume is fascinating even if Haring isn’t your favorite artist.  You want to read this book as a cultural icon of a lost world that still influences us today.

And most people who love art think of Haring in terms more similar to the way my wife does than the way I do.  I bought this book in L.A. alongside one of the Complete Peanuts volumes.  The guy at the cash register looked up at me approvingly.  “Haring and Peanuts,” he said.  “Two of my favorites.”  And then he offered me a Barnes & Noble points card.

Anyway.  This is interesting for both arts lovers and people who want to know what the eighties were really like.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He sometimes creates literature as opposed to entertainment.  If you like that kind of thing, you might enjoy his collection Love and Death.  You can check it out here.