The Editor’s Gas-Bag

(with a wink at Philip Shreffler, Donald Pollock,
Steven Rothman, and other editors of the Baker Street Journal.)

What’s New the Week of January 10th:

Part 5 of Edgar W. Smith: Prolegomena to Any Future Biography.

At Disputations this time, the 1940 BSI dinner photograph plus a new key to it, but there because the key -- though better than the one in my BSJ Christmas Annual -- is still incomplete, and potentially contentious in some cases.  I noticed that the 1940 dinner photo at the BSI Trust website is incomplete, missing its left margin with three important Irregulars.  I’ve provided the complete 1940 dinner photo and my updated key to it to the BSI Trust, to replace what’s there now.  The 1940 dinner was, after the first annual dinner in 1934, the most important one in the BSI’s history, since it revived the annual dinners after four years of Christopher Morley’s indifference, and brought Edgar W. Smith into the Irregular fold.  (Not to mention being a publication party for the first collection of Irregular writings, 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, edited by Vincent Starrett.)

Received, from William Hyder BSI, a copy of “Aunt Clara” Clarified: Unearthing the Original Tune of “We Never Mention Aunt Clara” in the Year of Its 80th Anniversary.  As a Master Copper Beechsmith of The Sons of the Copper Beeches, out of which this Irregular anthem came via James Montgomery BSI in the late 1940s, and a fan of the late Bill Rabe BSI’s 1990 history of it, I look forward to reading this greatly, and will review it at this website as soon as possible.

Read:  in the January 6th Wall Street Journal, “Grappling With History” about an “Artist and Empire” exhibition at London’s Tate Gallery that would have had Dr. Watson getting into line for it long before the opening hour.  Not only do the subjects include ones in which he had personal interest, such as a painting of “The Death of General Gordon, Khartoum, 26th January, 1885” by George Joy, the exhibition includes the Afghan Wars in one of which Dr. Watson saw action himself.  If this link doesn’t work, it’s worth going to the newspaper’s website directly for it.  At the Tate through April 10th.

Also read, at Arts & Letters Daily a few days ago, this review of Michael Dirda’s latest book about books, from the Weekly Standard.

And new Links of the Week.

What was new the week of December 27th:

Part 4 of Edgar W. Smith: Prolegomena to Any Future Biography.  

What was new the week of December 19th:

Part 3 of Edgar W. Smith: Prolegomena to Any Future Biography.  

What was new the week of December 12th:

Part 2 of Edgar W. Smith: Prolegomena to Any Future Biography.  

What was new the week of December 5th:

Next month’s BSI weekend will include the annual BSI Special Meeting at The Coffee House club on W. 44th St. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Christopher Morley was a member of The Coffee House (founded 1915 by Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield and literary friends of his), in the 1920s and early ’30s before the Great Depression got him by the throat (and pocketbook).  And on the eve of the BSI weekend, Wednesday January 13th, I’m giving an informal talk there on “Deficit, Damnation, and Death” - Christopher Morley and His Clubs, including The Coffee House (and also the BSI).

     The talk including Q&A will start aroung 6 p.m., and be followed by an optional three-course dinner with wine by Chef Irene for $40.  Anyone wishing to attend talk or dinner should let me know, at my email address above, as soon in advance as possible, especially where dinner’s concerned -- the dining-room has one big table (the custom being to take the first open seat from the end near the club lounge, and converse during lunch or dinner with whomever’s seated around you), and seats 32 comfortably.  

What was new the week of November 30th:

On the 16th, I promised an announcement next time of something new coming to this website, something I hope of considerable interest to followers of the BSI’s history.  For too long, I’ve alluded to a forthcoming volume in my BSI Archival History called Edgar W. Smith: Prolegomena to Any Future Biography.  Smith was of course “the best and wisest man the man the BSI has ever known,” first attending an annual dinner in 1940 (and helping to spark it, after the BSI dinner’s four-year hiatus!), and soon becoming the person really in charge of Baker Street Irregularity until his too early death in 1960 – in the process, producing a very substantial pile of his own Writings About the Writings, and founding the Baker Street Journal in 1946 which he edited until his death.

     So Edgar Smith was a very familiar figure to the Irregulars of his era, and to readers of my BSI Archival History series so far.  Yet in many ways his life will surprise Irregulars, to learn about his origins and upbringing; the powerful effect World War I had upon him as a young man; the actual role he played in General Motors’ Overseas Operations division, a bit different from what some Irregulars believe, who think of him as a car salesman on a grand scale; how personally in the late 1930s and early ‘40s the approach of World War II hit him; and how he played a significant role in the making of postwar America.

     My biographical sketch of Edgar W. Smith – I’m loath at this point to call it a biography, hence the title that I’ve adopted -- has been a work in progress a long time:  too long, as other books and the irregularities of life had to be given priority at different times.  It’s a work in progress still, but I’ve decided to start serializing it this weekend on this website.  As it stands, what’s written goes to the creation of the BSI’s Certificates of Investiture near the end of World War II -- about 30,000 words plus notes, which will be divided here into 4,000 to 5,000 word weekly slices that make sense sub-topically.  I have seven ready to go, and if I don’t succumb to my usual sense of procrastination, perhaps the writing process can resume and stay ahead of the serialization time-line.  

     Eventually I hope to issue the completed entirety as another BSI Archival History volume in print, updated by additional research along the way, along with any information readers of the serialization may send me. Questions and comments along the way will be welcome, sent to

    So, Part I this weekend of December 4th, covering Edgar W. Smith’s ancestry, parents and birth, his growing up and early education in Brooklyn, early work in business along with college by night school, and the World War.  I hope readers enjoy it, and learning more about the remarkable man that Edgar W. Smith was.

What was new the week of November 16th:

A new Q&A at the Ask Thucydides page, posed by Chris Redmond. 

What was new the week of November 6th:

The final  two essays about Conan Doyle biography from the second edition of my book The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Thirteen Biographers in Search of a Life.  This time, an essay about the Piltdown Man hoax nonsense (that it had been done by Conan Doyle) by Doug Elliott, and an afterword about the Arthur Conan Doyle Society by its founder Christopher Roden.

What was new the week of October 23rd:

The next two essays about Conan Doyle biography from the second edition of my book The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Thirteen Biographers in Search of a Life.  This time, essays by Dan Stashower, with some new comments by him, and by me.

One of October 9th’s essays was by Dr. C. Frederick Kittle, who was “Jack Stapleton” in the BSI.  I’m sorry to say that Fred, a good friend of mine, died last Sunday.  This Saturday, which will be the annual Conan Doyle symposium at Chicago’s Newberry Library, home to Fred’s superb collection of Conan Doyle materials, would have been his 94th birthday.  Please see this announcement by Newberry Library president David Spadafora.  Fred will be remembered at the symposium, and at tonight’s annual Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) dinner.

What was new the week of October 16th:
Nothing.  The Rodger Prescotts were away with The Cardboard Boxes visiting The Greek Interpreters in Napa Valley, California.  Good food, good wine, good comradeship and talk.

What was new the week of October 9th:

The first two of half a dozen essays about Conan Doyle biography by me and other Baker Street Irregulars which constituted new material of a second edition, in 1997, of my 1987 book The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Thirteen Biographers in Search of a Life.  This week, prefatory material and essays by Fred Kittle and Catherine Cooke BSIs.  The rest to come over succeeding weeks.

New York in the summer of 1939:  several minutes of lovely color movie of the city, filmed in 16mm Kodachrome by a French tourist—my thanks to Susan Dahlinger BSI for sending it to me.  

Remembering Art Levine:  The death September 16th of Arthur L. Levine, “The Cutter Alicia” in the BSI since 1955, creates a big hole in our ranks.  Born in 1929, Art hailed from Cleveland, and emerged in the BSI in the late 1940s as an undergraduate at Western Reserve University.  Said Bill Rabe’s Who’s Who & What’s What in the early 1960s: “A small group of undergraduates, noticing the Canon in each other’s bookshelves, banded together,” with Edgar W. Smith’s encouragement, as The Creeping Men of Cleveland.  “The Langur,” continued Rabe, “had previously read of the BSI.”  Art was the anthropoid in question, and his correspondence at the time with Edgar Smith is in Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ’Forties, pp. 367-71.  He went on to graduate school at Columbia, became a NASA official in the early days of the manned space program, and later one of its historians, and the first director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies before becoming a professor of public administration at City University of New York.  He was a friend, and a resource for my BSI archival history work -- among other things, contributing this reminiscence of his first meeting of Edgar W. Smith in 1950, to go into Irregular Crises of the Late ’Forties, pp. 462-63, when Art’s car broke down nearby in New Jersey during a trip and required a few days’ fixing:

Would a top executive of General Motors deign to see a fledgling, wet-behind-the-ears devotee of the Master? I hesitated to call his office, but mustered my courage and dialed. A pleasant female voice took my request. After a short pause she asked would 2 p.m. tomorrow be convenient?
	Convenient? I could hardly contain my joy. “I would come all the same, no matter how inconvenient,” I blurted out.
	I arrived early at 1775 Broadway, the General Motors Building. I walked up and down the street to get rid of my nervous excitement. The elevator ride seemed endless. Finally it stopped at the 18th floor and shortly I was at the door of Suite 1800.
	As I entered I encountered two secretaries furiously typing with intense looks on their faces. One looked up and asked if I was from the messenger service with more text for typing. I replied that I was expected — I had an appointment with Mr. Smith. “Oh, yes,” she said as she glanced more closely at me. “You must be the young Sherlockian. Wait just a minute. I’ll see if Mr. Smith is free.”
	During the time she was out of the outer office, I took a furtive glance at the papers being typed so assiduously. I fancied that there was crisis in Buick sales in Europe or a foreign currency crush. But I was wrong. The material being typed was much more important. It was copy for The Baker Street Journal.  
	When she reappeared she said that Mr. Smith would see me immediately. I entered his roomy but not overspacious office. The walls were lined with books and journals. There was a wooden desk and comfortable chairs. After shaking my hand, the first thing Mr. Smith did was to turn to the intercom. “No calls while I am with Art Levine.”
	The next two and one half hours were unparalleled in my Sherlockian existence. We talked and talked and looked at books and articles and manuscripts. Mr. Smith was in a happy and mellow mood. His affable and warm nature showed in his every expression and gesture.
	Periodically during our meeting, one of the secretaries would pop in to check something in the BSJ copy, and to tell Mr. Smith that, by the way, when he was finished with the present interview, he might wish to return calls from the CEO of General Motors and the Secretary of Commerce.
	Near the end of our meeting, Mr. Smith asked if there was anything from the items on his shelves that I might want. I said that I would not think of asking, but he insisted on giving me a few recent examples of the Writings About the Writings, and then proceeded to hand me a typescript copy of his essay “The Adventure of the Worst Man in London,” which he signed. [Published as “The Suppressed Adventure of the Worst Man in London” in Smith’s Baker Street and Beyond, 1957.]
	I left the GM building as if walking on air. The next several weeks were spent happily reading and rereading the manuscript and the books Mr. Smith had given me, and recounting to my associates in The Creeping Men my glorious encounter with this wonderful person.

What was new the week of October 2nd:

The concluding chapter of my Great Alkali Plainsmen history. 

A review by me of a new book about the BSI’s founder Christopher Morley.

What was new the week of September 25th:

The penultimate chapter of my Great Alkali Plainsmen history.

I was chatting with Russ Merritt BSI, professor of film at the University of California at Berkeley, about RKO Radio Pictures, my favorite movie studio of the 1930s and ‘40s, and telling him about H. C. Potter, who directed two of my favorite Cary Grant movies there, Mr. Lucky (1943) and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). Hank Potter (d. 1977) was one of my earliest mentors in the BSI in the mid-1970s. “The Final Problem” in the BSI, and a two-time Morley-Montgomery Award winner, as a young man he’d seen William Gillette perform Sherlock Holmes during the Farewell Tour, and actually auditioned for him once (for a part Hank didn’t get in a different play), before turning to directing on the stage in New York and in movies in Hollywood, where he is the only BSI with a star on Hollywood Boulevard. When the Royal Shakespeare Company revived Gillette’s play, I watched its U.S. opening in Washington D.C. in 1974 in Hank’s and Lucy’s company, and listened to him tell a fascinated John Wood, at a Red Circle party with the cast afterwards, about Gillette in the role.  But all in all, I think I envy Hank most for having known and worked with Myrna Loy, the two of them shown below on the set of Mr. Blandings.  It’s a question of priorities.

What was new the week of September 18th:

The next chapter of my Great Alkali Plainsmen history, this time about my own ten years running it from long distance, in Washington D.C.

      Last week’s chapters contained a chance to see Chris Redmond BSI as a beardless youth. Bob Coghill BSI sent it to Chris, who put the picture up on his Facebook page. “Age 14, deerstalkered up and solemn as an owl,” he says. Once you get to a certain age, though, it’s hard for others to embarrass one, I guess.

And while not for the philosophically faint of heart, to see that you meet Sherlock Holmes in the most surprising places, go to

What was new the week of September 11th:

Started, at Books, my 1988 history of The Great Alkali Plainsmen of Greater Kansas City, without which I would probably have never gotten into all this BSI history stuff. 

Russell Merritt BSI provided us a link to the podcast of the BBC Proms’ August 16th concert “Sherlock Holmes: a Musical Mind,” of music from Holmes movies and television from Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror to the present day. 

What was new the week of September 4th:

At Disputations, some thoughts prompted by my review of Russell McLauchlin’s two books about what planted the seeds of Baker Street Irregularity in that first generation.

At Essays, a 1996 Five Orange Pips paper about Richard Hughes, the legendary Australian foreign correspondent in East Asia, and The Baritsu Chapter he co-founded in 1948, with some additional material.

A question from Nicholas Utechin BSI about the New Series BSJ in the early 1950s, and my answer at Ask Thucydides.

What was new the week of August 28th:

A retrospective review by me of two works by the late Russell McLauchlin BSI, founder of The Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit.

What was new the week of August 22nd:

Linked to both my About Me and Tin Dispatch-Box pages, my Irregular professional biography from the Spring 2006 BSJ, “An Old Campaigner” -- 
my end-of-mission report when I retired from the Defense Department that February, with some information about The Bruce-Partington Planners within the Military-Industrial Complex of Washington, D.C.

The Link of the Week was something very special about Elmer Davis BSI, a 1973 Pacific Historical review essay entitled “The Making of an Interventionist on the Air: Elmer Davis and CBS News, 1939-1941.” Elmer was, of course, the author of the BSI’s Constitution & Buy Laws, and much more.  Hat-tip to John Lehman of Independence, Missouri (“The Danite Band,” BSI), for coming across a reference to it and letting me know. Anyone who missed the Link to it, please contact me and I will be happy to email it to you.

     Elmer is pictured below in that role in his life, in a photo that could be out of pp. 148-50 of Baker Street Irregular.* He had a great deal of what someone once called “non-Sherlockian exceptionality.”  It’s a good thing he got into the BSI as a charter member in 1934, because he was never part of any scion society, and in the 1940s and ‘50s often could not make the BSI annual dinners because of his professional responsibilities in New York and Washington (where he was Director of the Office of War Information from July 1942 to September 1945, and then a newsman for ABC).  Yet there was never a better Baker Street Irregular.

* But is actually Elmer Davis playing himself in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Below, the week before, I reported on copies of my chronological BSI Archival History volumes available through, and their prices, now that all five of those volumes are out of print. I did not find any copies there of Irregular Memories of the ‘Thirties, which has always been the scarcest. This week I cast a wider net, and did find one copy for sale at the Amazon website -- for an utterly appalling $2000 (plus shipping).

What was new the week of August 15th:

“Bill Starr’s Secret,” my fiftieth-anniversary talk to Philadelphia’s Sons of the Copper Beeches in 1998, and one of my favorites, at Essays or here.

And some information below about the availability of my chronological BSI Archival History volumes, now that the first five and my BSJ Christmas Annual about the 1940 BSI dinner are out of print. I’m often asked how to obtain copies of these volumes, so this morning I found the following for sale, from dealers in the USA, the UK, and Canada, at

     Four copies of Dear Starrett/Dear Briggs between $78.50 and $125.
     Three copies of Irregular Records of the Early ’ Forties between $50 and $70.
       Nine copies of Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ‘Forties between $20 and $70.
     Six copies of Irregular Crises of the Late ‘Forties between $23.50 and $96.
     And one copy of my 1998 BSJ Christmas Annual for $25.

Good hunting!  I will try to update this availability periodically.

I was horrified, by the way, to see used copies of my historical novel Baker Street Irregular for sale for up to $188!  It’s still in print for less than a quarter of that!

What was new the week of August 9th:

A posthumous Q&A from the late John Farrell BSI and me, at Ask Thucydides. 

Two additions to my Tin Dispatch-Box:  my and Daniel Stashower BSI’s essay “A. Conan Doyle, Nineteenth Century Man” from the 2014 Saturday Review of Literature, and “The Hound Upon My Bookshelf,” my essay about the great BSI and collector Vincent Starrett’s first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles, from The Caxton Club’s 2011 volume of essays Other People’s Books. 

We’re Back, and It’s About Time!
It’s been too long since this website has been touched. Since Susan and I relocated to Santa Fe, N.M. in December of 2013, we have been busy with the domestic demands of our new home (an unending process) and the daycare for our two grandsons, now ages four and two. I shall strive to be more regular with my Irregular duties from now on.

    In response to my announcement of the website’s reawakening, J. B. Post reminds me of his 1981 poem in the Baker Street Journal:

                                This Motley Crew,
                                Meaning me, meaning you
                                Would rather believe in the box
                                In the vault down at down at Cox's
                                Than give Conan Doyle his due.
                                So to keep us from shame
                                And give Doyle fame,
                                Let's keep our perspective
                                On our favorite detective
                                And remember that, afoot, it's our game.
J. B. was long the map librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and in 1973 the compiler of the lovely Atlas of Fantasy, which included two of Julian Wolff’s Sherlockian maps. About himself he once wrote:

                 I am the very model of a modern map librarian:
                 I deal with no maps anyone could label antiquarian.
                 I’ve microfiche and printout maps and data digitizable,
                 And a CRT-linked plotter to make it realizable. 
                 I’ve cartographic data banks just full of information,
                 All instantly accessible through modern automation.
                 Census tract or ward division, it makes no difference here,
                 We manipulate our data differently -- always in high gear.
                  I’ve everything my heart could want that’s bright and clean and new,
                 And of the maps I deal with -- why, they must be modern, too.
                 And, so, I deal with no maps even faintly antiquarian,
                 For I am the very model of a modern map librarian.

Meanwhile there’s a good deal new at this website too:

     I’ve been able to restore the photographs for my and David Galerstein’s Spring 2004 Baker Street Journal article about Edgar W. Smith’s homes, “It Is an Old House.”

      A photograph of Jay Finley Christ has been added to my paper “Hounds Bounding: The Unleasing of Jay Finley Christ” in the Essays section.

     In the Reviews section are several new book reviews.  One is of my own new BSI Archival History volume Sources and Methods, the long-promised companion volume to my 2014 historical novel Baker Street Irregular.  I can’t resist providing, with her permission, the following reader comment from Susan Rice, ASH, BSI: 

     If I were to describe vividly my reaction to reading Baker Street Irregular side by side with your volume of explanation, you would accuse me of gushing. It was a thoroughly engrossing experience, and now I want other authors to supply me with a side volume for my favorite books, though many of them are dead. It was something like being inside the novel and inside your head at the same time.

     First of all, you will be amused and proud to learn it was difficult to maintain my method of alternating chapter and notes. I have read the novel twice already, but several times in this reading I noticed I was in the second or even third chapter before I returned to the notes -- your plot still pulled me insistently along. This time, perhaps because I was reading with intent, I noticed how well you delineated among the Irregulars in the tone and rhythm of their speech.

     You had hinted that there were many facts among the fiction, but I was still surprised by the extent of the truth of the story. Most of your men were real, even the bit players. I was also impressed by the extent you used real events from [Elmer Davis’s] Office of War Information, and two types of cryptanalysis, sliding Woody into them neatly. As much as that, I liked reading about the reasons that emerged for some of your choices -- it all made the novel much richer.
Thanks, Susan. I hope everyone will enjoy Sources and Methods, and Baker Street Irregular as well even more.  New information about Sources and Methods is here.

     Also at Reviews is one by Donald Yates BSI of Christopher Music BSI’s new book out of the Amateur Mendicant Society archives. Don Yates was active in this superlative scion society himself for many years, and out of his personal archives has provided a 1955 Detroit Free Press photostory about the AMS.

     Under Essays, here, is a discovery about Christopher Morley’s hideaway office at 46 West 47th Street, New York, at which a great deal of literary work and management of the BSI was conducted from 1938 on. It appears here in the form it took for a handout at the May 5, 2015, Morley Birthday Lunch of The Grillparzer Club of the Hoboken Free State.  Harrison (“Terry”) Hunt BSI and his wife Linda are doing a wonderful job with it to keep Christopher Morley’s memory green, and I’m proud to be the Free State’s Honorary Consul in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

     Last December saw the publication of When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning, about World War II’s Armed Forces Editions of many 
books for U.S. servicemen, reviewed by the New York Times here.  I read it because of my general interest in the period, but was surprised and delighted to learn that the Armed Forces Editions were the brainchild of Malcolm Johnson BSI of Doubleday Doran & Co., and its Crime Club Book -- a long-time kinsprit of Christopher Morley’s going back to the Grillparzer Sittenpolizei Verein, when meeting at Christ Cella’s speakeasy, if not to The Three Hours for Lunch Club as well. There is a photograph of Johnson in the book, the first I had ever seen. I wish I’d known this years ago, to work a reference to it into my novel Baker Street Irregular. 

     A long-time member of The Great Alkali Plainsmen of Greater Kansas City is University of Kansas film studies professor John Tibbetts, who has followed Sherlock Holmes in movies for many years.  He particularly scored a trifecta back in 1988 when the Christian Science Monitor sent him to London to review Jeremy Brett’s The Secret of Sherlock Holmes in the West End, interviewing Brett in the process, and Michael Caine’s movie Without a Clue, interviewing Caine as well, and interviewing Dame Jean Conan Doyle BSI herself. John has put some memorabilia from that sojourn onto his blog, along with Sherlockian and Doylean artwork of his own, at

     At Links are a new selection of current items along with some additions to the continuing list, notably the one for the late Donald Libey’s John H. Watson Society (in which I am Towser), and for Ray Betzner’s Vincent Starrett blog.

Below are some previous items for newcomers who haven’t seen them before.

Return to the Welcome page.

“Restaurant-ing Through History”
is a lovely website conducted by one Jan Whitaker who has now taken an interest in Christopher Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club, here.  I first noticed her website two years ago when Ms. Whitaker, writing about a vanished Greenwich Village tea-room called The Crumperie, said Morley used to take the THFLC there as well.  On what evidence I don’t know; but this website is worth exploring, and certainly one Morley would have enjoyed.  Burt Wolder BSI, a present-day apostle of the Three Hours for Lunch Club, who noticed the website’s new story about it on his own, intends to look Ms. Whitaker up, I understand.

Return to the Welcome page.


Last time I reported below about this 1933 photograph of Chicago literary men at Schlogl’s, which also appeared in the revived Saturday Review of Literature in January. Schlogl’s was for Vincent Starrett what Christ Cella’s speakeasy in New York was for Christopher Morley, and it was a favorite of Morley’s as well.  I can now add this: the picture was printed in the September 15, 1953, Chicago Daily News, with the Daily News men in it identified in the accompanying article as, seated left to right, Henry Justin Smith, managing editor, reporters and brothers Raymond Casey and Robert Casey, literary editor Howard Vincent O’Brien, reporter Charles Laing, and foreign correspondents Edward Price Bell and John Gunther (not yet the John Gunther); standing, left to right, Richard Schneider the literary waiter, retired managing editor Hal O’Flaherty, Washington DC bureau chief Paul R. Leach, and foreign correspondent Junius Wood.

Starrett hoped Bob Casey would become a charter member of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) when it was founded in 1943, but it didn’t happen.  He might have tried not having the scion’ss early dinner meetings at Schlogl’s.  According to Such Interesting People, Casey’s lively 1943 account of Chicago newspaper life in the 1920s and ‘30s,  he loathed Schlogl’s.
 I have talked before (and will again) about Schlogl’s, the teutonic Chicago restaurant on Wells Street that was the local Mermaid Tavern for its literary and journalistic circles, and for Vincent Starrett and The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) what Christ Cella’s was to Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club and the early BSI.  In January’s revived Saturday Review of Literature, the picture below appeared as part of a sidebar about Schlogl’s, showing some of the city’s writers at its own round-table one day in 1933:
Standing far left is Richard Schneider, “the literary waiter” there, to whom one of its habituees, Harry Hansen, gave a copy of his 1923 book Midwest Portraits: A Book of Memories and Friendship, which Schneider used as a Grillparzer Book of his own.  So fragile did it become by handling and inscribing by the local literary types, including Starrett, and their visitors from out of town, including Morley, that Hansen had it rebound for him at one point.  The location today of this precious volume is unknown; but in Morley’s September 11, 1937, “Trade Winds” column, I find this news item:  “I’ve had a delightful letter from Richard, so many years a waiter at good old Schlogl’s rathskeller in Chicago (a great literary center in time past; meaning Schlogl’s, not Old Loopy) saying he’s opened a taphouse of his own at 407 South Wabash Avenue where all the ancient tradition will be faithfully purveyed. Good luck to Bonhomme Richard, a kindly soul and an honest caterer.”

Midwest Portraits opens dreamily as follows:

When this book began to be written the hands of the big wall clock at Schlogl’s had already advanced to half past two, and as I looked up at the great disc of the pendulum, somnolently swinging back and forth like an animated moon, I saw reflected within its highly polished surface a merry and leisurely company that gave no signs of going home. Grotesque and disproportionate the scene, distorted in this concave mirror—a strip of olive-colored ceiling above and a flare of light from cut-glass chandeliers, then a strip of brown which I identified as the paintings indigenous to a tavern, then tables and chairs, and men bent over the polished wood in all sorts of easy attitudes. They might linger here for hours, unaware that the deepening gray outdoors was brought on by something more unalterable than soot; unmindful, too, of the pounding of iron wheels high up on iron trestles, or the clanging of street cars, or the churning roar of motor trucks. They were placid and comfortable even as that old patron at the third table, un vieux, if ever there was one, who had sat in that self-same chair thirty years or so, save for the time lost in the distraction of home and business, partaking of his hasenpfeffer with paprika, etwas ganz feines, pulling lazily at his long filler havana, sampling now and then his goblet of Rüdesheimer. Thirty years—that went back almost to antiquity in Chicago, where the calendar began anno incendi, in fact this very house had remained unchanged since the day that it was reared upon smoldering embers and charred walls, and if one dug deep enough the spade would strike bricks and debris that are all that remain to tell of the great fire—as in ancient Troy. Thirty years—and he might sit there another thirty years, toying with his hasenbraten and spaetzle, pulling at his long havana, if life could be endured that long again without the Rüdesheimer.
      This, then, was a hallowed spot. One sought it, mistakenly, under another name, just off the Strand, in London, and thought it worth the journey; jaded souls, tired of insensate dining on Manhattan, imagined it near the Place du Tertre high up on the Butte; feinschmecker extolled its cuisine and dreamed for it a site near the Kürfurstendam in Berlin; the Rathusplaads had it too, they said, in Copenhagen. I had explored them all and traveled up and down their carte du jour; I had indulged in delights gustatory and olfactory, and bewailing the fact that America had no cuisine worth the name, I had come back reluctantly only to find Schlogl’s within three hundred yards of the desk where I performed my daily task. And everything was as it always was. “Good day, and how are you?” asked Richard, as I hung my hat upon the hall tree, which scrambled over the wall like an illuminated initial from an ancient Celtic script, and then: “Your order is coming right up.”
So you can see why Richard Schneider prized this book.

Starrett is in it too, of course.  Hansen looks around the walnut round-table to see who he’ll be joining for lunch, and “There is Vincent Starrett, the last Tennysonian, biographer of the Eighteen Nineties, grave and ponderous and happy over a Rabelaisian anecdote, quick at hand with stories of Stephen Crane and Arthur Machen, whose fugitive tales he has collected in much-prized volumes, a khaliff lost in an industrial Baghdad and dreaming dreams of scimitars and lutes and Scheherezade.”

We may never recover that copy of the book, but we shall speak again, and again, of Schlogl’s.  In January, Ray Betzner remarked to me that his idea of going to heaven would be having lunch with Vincent Starrett at Schlogl’s, and Ray speaks for more than himself alone.
(March 10, 2013)

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That Cop Who Got Rough with Sherlock Holmes
In the revived organ featured below, I write about the New York Police detective who protected Christ Cella’s speakeasy while the BSI gestated there, and why he said “To hell with Sherlock Holmes!” in his 1930 book You Gotta Be Rough (published by a charter member of the BSI).

$5 postpaid from Donald K. Pollock, 521 College Avenue, Niagara Falls N.Y. 14305.

And in the article I wondered: “Did Mike Fiaschetti ever sit at that table in Christ Cella’s kitchen while Chris Morley was there with his friends gassing about Sherlock Holmes? We may never know.”

Or we may.  I’ve found a plug for Fiaschetti’s book in Morley’s “Bowling Green” column in the March 21, 1931, Saturday Review of Literature, calling Fiaschetti Mike rather than Michael, as the book gave the name.  So I went further back to Morley’s column in the February 1, 1930, SRL, and found this:

THE Cavaliere Fiaschetti, Chevalier of the Crown of Italy, otherwise Big Mike of the New York Police Department, found the right collaborator when he narrated his memoirs to Prosper Buranelli. Between them—I like to imagine them sitting down for long evenings over plentiful ravioli and asti spumante—they have put together a grand book. The serious-minded student of crime must not allow himself to be put off by the rather rowdy jacket; nor by the slangy title, “You Gotta Be Rough.” (The title seems to have been a publisher’s afterthought, for in the running heads throughout the book it reads “One Must Be Rough.” I much prefer the argot version.)

    I take it as proven that Mike Fiaschetti, former chief of the Italian Squad in the New York Police Department, is a rattling good narrator, and Mr. Buranelli’s skill and charm have made this “essay in constabulary biography” a work of eminent satisfaction. The portrait of Fiaschetti that emerges is attractive indeed: “a Renaissance bravo turned into a New York policeman,” with the vehement gestures of Italy and the hard jaw of a Center Street cop. Fiaschetti, who is still only in the middle forties, was the son of a Roman bandmaster and is himself a musician. For sixteen years he was a New York police detective, and in his six years’ command of the Dago Squad he sent twelve murderers to the chair.

    His account of the detective business is rather different from the romantic fictioneer’s. “How the Detective Really Gets His Man, or to Hell with Sherlock Holmes” is the lively caption of one of Mr. Buranelli’s chapters. We learn that false whiskers and the analysis of cigar ashes play comparatively little part in the grim routine. The novelist would fear to make such use of coincidence as happens in actuality. One of Mr. Buranelli’s best episodes—of which Detective John Cordes was the hero—began by a conversation overheard from an adjoining telephone booth.

    There is an engaging frankness about Mike Fiaschetti that is entirely captivating. He tells how he first got into the police by cribbing from a young Irishman who sat next to him in examination. So successfully indeed that Fiaschetti came out 20th in the papers and the Irishman 86th. Indeed there is none of the Philo Vance esthete about Mike; this book would cause the cultured Vance many a painful shudder—partly, perhaps, because it is written so much better than any of Mr. Van Dyne’s maunderings. There is an extraordinary ring of truth about it. What could be more genuine than the tale of the spaghetti-joint keeper who did not report the murder until mid-afternoon because to do so earlier would have spoiled his luncheon business, and he had already bought his supplies for that meal.

    Natural shrewdness, obstinacy, and guts are presumably the foundation qualities for detecting, as most likely for anything else; but the central necessity, according to Mike Fiaschetti, is a wide acquaintance among stool pigeons—i. e. squealers. You trade freedom for information, says Fiaschetti, and remarks with his seasoned wisdom of the world that freedom is always a valuable commodity. You don’t always succeed: he gives us a pretty broad hint, for instance, that the Dot King case was stopped by high influence; but when you don’t, if you are Fiaschetti, you utter his favorite Italian malediction, Managia i fiscetti and tackle the next problem. It is not a romantic picture he gives us, but a damned cruel and dangerous one. As he frequently remarks, The more you look into a thing the crazier it gets. The humor and skill of these offhand narrations will not blind you to the savage and terrifying realities behind them.

    Fiaschetti, I understand, is now doing some lecturing on his police adventures. Those lectures should be worth hearing.

Case closed.  I was glad to see also, though, in that 1931 column of Morley’s, a direct if veiled reference to Christ Cella’s speak: “In still another quiet hideaway, the headquarters of the Grillparzer Club, where they have the best veal cutlets in a crust of cheese ever tasted anywhere . . .” --- so now we know what his favorite dish at Cella’s was, at least as of March ’31.

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The 1936 BSI annual dinner notice and attendees explored.

(January 18, 2013)

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