Title-page photograph: Samuel H. Gottscho’s From River House, Cloud Study, Noon, 1931,

                           courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

An historical novel about

The Baker Street Irregulars

in the 1930s and ’40s

Depression, Crisis, and War,

to the birth of the Cold War . . .

a Mycroft & Moran book from

Arkham House Publishers, 2010 . . .

a tale of Long Ago and Far Away . . . .

“At first blush, this is a gripping portrait of New York between the wars, and the early years of the Baker Street Irregulars. Lellenberg is their historian, and its founders and early lights – Christopher Morley, Elmer Davis, Edgar Smith, Rex Stout and others – come to life as never before. As the tale progresses, however, Lellenberg’s agenda emerges as far more ambitious and decidedly more sinister. He sits like a spider at the center of its web, testing each quiver and radiation of a plot that will leave readers thoroughly inconvenienced, incommoded, and hampered in their carefree ideas about the Baker Street Irregulars. He is not to be trusted.  Reader beware.”

   Daniel Stashower, author of  The Beautiful Cigar Girl:

     Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder


Ch. 11: Harry Hopkins

The struggle between neutrality and those who believe Britain’s war is our war too intensifies during the summer of 1940, with American heroes like the eighty-year-old General John “Black Jack” Pershing speaking out insistently on behalf of aid to Britain. But for every Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies there were organizations equally opposed to aiding Britain, some of them authentically neutralist like America First, but some others out-and-out Axis supporters working for Britain’s defeat, depicted by the book Under Cover by investigative reporter John Roy Carlson in 1943:

In order to invade Britain, Hitler must break the Royal Air Force. Churchill warns that the Battle of Britain is about to begin, and that “never has so much been owed by so many to so few”—the RAF fighter pilots in their Spitfires and Hurricanes. Nazi bombers attack London and other British cities as well as military targets, lighting up the night despite the blackout with burning buildings. In London, CBS News correspondent Edward R. Murrow brings the Blitz into American homes nightly with his broadcasts from the streets and rooftops of the beleaguered city. The American debate grows intense, damaging friendships and dividing marriages. Woody’s is not immune, and that summer he leaves home to live alone in the Murray Hill Hotel’s Victorian confines.
The place creaked. Widowed dowagers holding court in the lobby in long gloves and high collars eyed me disapprovingly through lorgnettes. Some of the clerks had worked there since before I was born. The bar was a morgue, complete with a few upright stiffs. One of them walked, if that was the word for it, like The Creeping Man. The good thing about the Murray Hill was that I couldn’t possibly run into anyone I knew, not before the BSI returned in January. By then I’d be somewhere else.

1940 is an election year, and President Roosevelt, seeking an untraditional third term in the White House, is hesitant to support Churchill’s Britain too strongly as he faces the most serious opponent of his lifetime, Republican dark horse Wendell Willkie whom many Americans like and admire. And Willkie is no isolationist.

Woody discovers his friends are scheming to get him out of his now-despondent rut by sending him to Washington, D.C., too.

    “Maybe you’ll patch things up soon,” suggested Alsop.

    “Don’t count on it.”

    “Well, in that case—” He paused for attention, and I looked up from my drink. “Maybe you’d like a change,” he finished.

    “A change? Of what?”

    “A change of work. A change of scene.”

    “Like what? What’s on your mind?”

    “I thought,” he began, “you might like to come to Washington for a while, and put your political passions to work there. On something more interesting than mobilization contracts.”

    “Such as?”

    “Harry Hopkins needs someone to help him. Someone unstultified by years of government life.”

    “Hopkins? The public-relief czar?”

    “The war has him on fire. All he cares about now is seeing Hitler beaten. And he’s the President’s instrument for that.”

    “It sounds like a remarkable opportunity, Woody,” Elmer put in. “I’d grab it if I were you.”

    I looked from Joe to Elmer and back again. “You cooked this up together, huh?”

Hopkins, Harry Lloyd, govt. official, b. Aug. 17, 1890, Sioux City, Iowa. A.B., Grinnell Coll., 1912. m. Asst. to the President,White House, Washington, D.C.  Previous posts: 1912, Christadora House (Lower East Side settlement house), New York, N.Y. 1913, superintendent, Employment Bur., Dept. of Family Welfare, N.Y. Assoc. for Improving Condition of Poor (AICP), New York, N.Y. 1915, exec. sec., Bur. of Child Welfare, New York, N.Y. 1917, dir., Civilian Relief, Gulf Region, Amer. Red Cross, New Orleans, La. 1921, gen. mngr., Southwestern Div., Amer. Red Cross, Atlanta, Ga. 1922, asst. dir., AICP, New York, N.Y. 1924, exec. dir., N.Y. Tuberculosis Assoc., New York, N.Y. 1931, exec. dir., 1932, pres., Temporary Emergency Relief Admin., Albany, N.Y. 1933, fed. relief administrator, supervising Fed. Emergency Relief, Civil Works, Works Progress Admins., Washington, D.C.. 1938-40, Sec. of Commerce. Address: 1600 Penna. Av., Washington, D.C.

FDR’s alter ego Harry Hopkins is one of the administration’s most controversial figures—part New Deal champion, part political hack.

Woody meets with Harry Hopkins, whose purpose emerges:

“I know about you and your friends at the Century,” he said, lighting a cigarette from the stub of the last one. “Alsop told me. Today’s the 31st, isn’t it? The President’s going to announce the destroyer deal in three days.”

    A warm glow spread through me, and I was ready to climb off my high horse, but now Hopkins was frowning.

    “The thing is,” he said, “working the traps in Washington is no snap. One thing I’d want you to do is put together a weekly assessment of where the war stands. The State Department and the Army and Navy have most of the dope you’ll need, and they won’t open up just to be nice. You have to be tough. There’s no use even trying if you aren’t.

    “I know, I don’t look so tough myself these days,” he continued, staring at me over the tops of his eyeglasses. “But don’t let appearances fool you. I’m plenty tough. From the day I got to New York in 1912, I’ve dealt with tough elements. In those days I did relief work on the Lower East Side, and there were some pretty nasty gangsters around. One of my jobs was to bounce them when they showed up at settlement house dances and tried to make the girls there.”

    “Did you ever mix it up with the Gophers?” I asked.

    “That bunch? No – why?”

    “I used to be Owney Madden’s lawyer. If you care to compare gangsters.”

    Hopkins stared at me. “You were? Doing what?”

    “I can’t discuss that. But if I satisfied him, I should be able to cope with State Department cookie-pushers. If I need any lessons, you can tell me how you bounced Lefty Louie and Gyp the Blood from your settlement house dances.”

    Hopkins stared at me again, then laughed. “Let’s give it a try, Mr. Hazelbaker. How soon can you be in Washington?”


I had one thing left to do: cancel my New School course and apologize to the students I was leaving in the lurch. I went down early the first night of class and put a note on the classroom door telling them to see me in the fifth-floor lounge. It was my favorite room, with the strong images and bold colors of Thomas Hart Benton’s “America Today” murals on the walls.

I got a platter of doughnuts for my students and explained the situation as they showed up. A young woman waited her turn impatiently at the end. Short and stacked with long dark wavy hair and strong features bare of make-up, she was frowning and tapping her foot. When her turn came she thrust a card at me: “I need you to sign this, please.”

    I looked at it. “This is a drop card. You don’t need—”

    “I’m dropping this course,” she interrupted brusquely. “I thought it was supposed to be about labor’s struggle against monopoly capitalism, but now I hear different.”

    “No, the point is—”

    “Listen, apologies for Wall Street aren’t what I’m looking for, is my point. Ok? What’s a Wall Street lawyer teaching a course like this for anyway?”

    “What’s your name?”

    “Zannie Zimmerman.”

It is not love at first sight. Woody works out his frustrations on her, using Benton’s murals on the walls around them to heap scorn upon her politics. The artist’s work represents democratic life, he tells her—not hers! 

Woody Hazelbaker wishes you


and will return after the holidays!

(which for him means the BSI festivities in New York as well)






Baker Street Irregular,

by Jon Lellenberg

Cover art by Laurie Fraser Manifold

Arkham House Publishers

Box 122, Sauk City, Wisconsin 53585

ISBN-13: 978-0-87054-186-5



Ch. 8: Into the Abyss

After March 1938 the European crisis intensifies and explodes. Hitler takes Austria, then begins to dismember the Czechoslovak Republic. For America, isolationist by instinct and neutral by law, the Sudetenland crisis during the summer of 1938 is the first great watershed. Britain and France go along with Hitler’s demands, brokering an agreement at Munich giving the vital strategic part of Czechoslovakia to Germany.

Many Americans are relieved by the avoidance of war, but how tautly nerves are stretched becomes clear when the Halloween War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson
Welles’ Mercury Theater of the Air panics radio listeners from coast to coast.

Chamberlain returned home to a sensational welcome, waving a scrap of paper he called “peace with honor, peace in our time.” Churchill called it unmitigated defeat. “And do not suppose that this is the end!” he growled. “This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year, unless – unless! – by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again, and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time!”

    His words thrilled me, but Charles Lindbergh, a universal hero if we had one at the time, called for neutrality instead, and flew to Nazi Germany for a red-carpet tour of the Luftwaffe that had been poised to bomb Paris and London.

For the next few years Lindbergh will be neutrality’s champion, and the leading spokesman for the isolationist “America First” movement opposing U.S. defense preparedness and aid to the Allies. Americans become polarized over the rights and wrongs of it, especially when Hitler starts demanding territorial concessions from Poland as well. In August 1939 Hitler and Stalin turn the entire world upside-down with their surprise non-aggression pact freeing Germany from the threat of a two-front war. The two terrible enemies are suddenly allies, and on September 1st Germany invades Poland. And at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Long
Island, New Yorkers and tourists taking in “The World of Tomorrow” learn that it will be indefinitely postponed.

Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement has failed abysmally, but the “phony war” he reluctantly declares on Germany neither saves the Poles nor incommodes the Germans for the next eight months. Poland falls, and after occupying its eastern half, Stalin attacks Finland as well, reported here by Elmer Davis who’s become CBS News’ principal nightly news commentator. Harper’s Magazine tells its readers:

On the afternoon of August 22nd—the news of the German-Russian treaty had arrived that morning—Paul White of the news department of the Columbia Broadcasting System called Elmer Davis on the telephone. H. V. Kaltenborn was in Europe and a news analyst was needed. Mr. Davis said that he would oblige, and for many days thereafter was on tap at every hour. Occasionally he would get away to a nearby hotel, but this was no refuge, as he was liable to be routed out of bed at any hour of the night to deal with a fresh sensation from overseas. Since then the feverish pace has slowed down, but Mr. Davis is still busy as a news commentator and may be heard every evening at 8:55 E.S.T. and at various other times, morning and afternoon, through the week.

Elmer Davis had continued to warn the public about the dangers ahead in articles like “We Lose the Next War” in the March ’38 Harper’s. “We have lately been getting a good deal of education in international politics, but we need still more,” it begins:

The proposal for a popular referendum on the declaration of war implies a growing conviction that the people themselves should make the ultimate decision of international politics; but to make it intelligently we need to know more about the cost of war—and about the cost of trying to remain at peace in a world at war.

And in December he tries to make sense of where “The Road from Munich” is taking the world, including America:

A shrewd victor will, if possible, keep imposing his demands on the conquered by degrees. He can then, in dealing with a nation that has lost its character—and this means every one that submits voluntarily—count on its never finding in any particular act of oppression a sufficient excuse for taking up arms once more. On the contrary; the more the exactions that have been willingly endured, the less justifiable does it seem to resist at last on account of a new and apparently isolated (though to be sure constantly recurring) imposition.

—ADOLF HITLER, Mein Kampf, p. 759.

There, set down twelve years ago, is a preview of the history of Europe after Munich—a Europe which at the end of 1938 stands about where it stood at the end of 1811, with this difference: In 1811 England was not only the implacable but the impregnable enemy of the man who dominated the Continent. The England of 1938 is something else, strategically and morally.

“What to do about all this? That is beyond my competence,” Davis says—but “we had better see if we cannot once more — as we have done once or twice in great crises of the past —rise to a sense of unity and resolution in the service of democracy and freedom. And to remember, if, as, and when, that the time to stop Hitler is the first time.”

Felix Morley is still a voice for neutrality in the BSI, but not his brother Frank who has returned to New York after nearly twenty years in England:

Morley, Frank Vigor, publisher, b. Jan. 4, 1899, Haverford, Pa. B.A., 1918, M.A., 1920, Johns Hopkins U.; Rhodes Scholar, New Coll., Oxford U., 1920-23, D.Phil., mathematics, 1923. m. Coast Arty., Officer Reserve Corps., 1918-19. London mgr., Century Co. publishers, 1924-29; dir., Faber & Faber publishers, London, 1929-38; dir. Harcourt Brace Co. publishers, New York, since 1938. Author: Travels in East Anglia (1923), River Thames (1924), Whaling North and South (1930), Lamb Before Elia (1931), The Wreck of the Active (1936). Office: 383 Madison Av., New York, N.Y.

Several more additions to the Irregular ranks are also far from isolationist-minded:

Smith, Edgar Wadsworth, corp. official, b. Apr. 1, 1894, Bethel, Conn. Student New York U., 1912-14. m. Secretary, J.P. Morgan & Co., 1916-17. 305th Inf., 77th Div, 1917, attached to office of asst. sec’y of war, Washington D.C. and Paris, 1917-19; Capt., U.S. Army, 1919. Office mgr., General Motors Export Co., 1919-21. Asst. sales mgr., various European cities, 1921-25. Asst. to v.p., 1926-38, v.p. and dir., since 1934. Member, Ntl. Foreign Trade Council. Propr., The Pamphlet House. Author: Foreign Trade and the Domestic Welfare (1935), Price Equilibrium (1936), Appointment in Baker Street (1938). Clubs: Army & Navy (Washington, D.C.), Racquet & Tennis (New York). Address: 639 Prospect St., Maplewood, N.J. Office: 1775 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

Wolff, Julian, physician, b. Jan. 11, 1905, New York, N.Y. m. B.S., Columbia Coll., 1924, M.D., N.Y. Medical Coll., 1928, specialist industrial medicine. Member, Grolier Society. Clubs: Dutch Treat, Players. Address: 37 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y.

And one downright shrill when it comes to opposing isolationism and neutrality:

Stout, Rex Todhunter, author, b. Dec. 1, 1886, Noblesville, Ind. m. Successively office boy, store clerk, book-keeper, sailor, hotel mgr., inventor sch. thrift system, 1916-27. Enlisted U.S. Navy 1906, purchased discharge 1908. Author: How Like a God (1929), Seed on the Wind (1930), Golden Remedy (1931), Forest Fire (1933), The President Vanishes (1934), Fer-de-Lance (1934), The League of Frightened Men (1935), The Rubber Band (1936), The Red Box (1936), The Hand in the Glove (1937), Too Many Cooks (1938), Mr. Cinderella (1938), Some Buried Caesar (1939), Over My Dead Body (1939). Home: High Meadow, Brewster, N.Y.

1939 passes with Americans mainly at the movies, though, in what will go down as their best year ever.  The BSI revives its annual dinners in January 1940 at a new venue, the Murray Hill Hotel on Park Avenue a few blocks south of Grand Central, and with a new volume of Writings About the Writings as well:

But when Hitler seizes Denmark and Norway in April, Elmer Davis looks isolationism in the face in a Harper’s article entitled “The War and America”:

There is a vast difference between keeping out of war, and pretending that this war is none of our business.

—President Roosevelt to Congress, January 3rd.

With the foregoing statement a considerable section of American opinion disagrees. Persistently during the debate on the Neutrality Bill, and sporadically since, some of our most respected and/or most vocal citizens have insisted that nothing about this war concerns us at all; that it is only a struggle between rival imperialisms, equally alien and obnoxious. This point of view was ably expounded by the late Senator Borah on October 2nd, in his speech opening the neutrality debate. Denouncing “the hideous doctrines of the dominating power of Germany,” he nevertheless contended that they were not an issue and seemed to see no ethical difference between the belligerents. “1 look upon the present war as nothing more than another chapter in the bloody volume of European power politics.” So said Lindbergh in his radio talks of September 15th and October 13th; “I do not believe this is a war for democracy; it is a war over the balance of power in Europe.”

When Hitler invades the Low Countries and France, driving the British Army to the Channel, a new Prime Minister takes office, Winston Churchill. Many Americans want no part of this war, and the debate will be bitter. But FDR begins to rearm America at last. And just as Woody receives a cryptic summons one day in June, after the fall of France, a great stirring in the land is beginning.

Ch. 9: 46W47

Ch. 9 covers a single but for Woody enormously critical hour of a late-June 1940 afternoon, at Christopher Morley’s hideaway office on the top floor of 46 West 47th Street. And the first thing that strikes Woody about it is how decrepit it is.

Any woman alive would have condemned that room. Beneath curtainless windows a scarred desk stood on a threadbare rug. Rough bookcases lined the walls, but books and papers were everywhere, including the floor. Ashtrays overflowed. So did the wastebasket. Dust was thick everywhere and hung in the smoky air where sunlight fell through unwashed windows.

A working hidey-hole for a writer. The description comes from a woman who did see and condemn it, the late Dee Alexander, Edgar W. Smith’s second Irregular secretary at General Motors Overseas Operations. Photographs of it are few, but here is one, taken after the war, from The Standard Doyle Company: Christopher Morley on Sherlock Holmes (Fordham U.P., 1990; ed. Steven Rothman).

Chris sat on the edge of an ancient davenport in close conversation with two other men. One was the big frame and boyish face of Gene Tunney, but the other was a stranger, short and thin with a freckled face, blue eyes, and brown hair going gray. At the far end, Rex Stout sat in a dilapidated armchair with his feet on a footstool, arms around his knees. Elmer occupied a smaller chair nearby, and Edgar Smith perched between them on an upturned beer crate.

The stranger will never become a Baker Street Irregular, but he has come to New York on a wartime mission that will change Woody’s life.

Stephenson, William Samuel Couston, businessman, b. Jan. 23, 1897, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. m. Telegrapher as a young man. Enlisted 101st Overseas Bn., Winnipeg Light Inf., Jan. 1916. Cadet, Royal Flying Corps, England, 1917, commissioned Aug. 1917, assigned to 73 Sqn. 12 victories before shot down and captured Jul. 28, 1918. Repatriated Dec. 30, 1918. Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross. In various businesses in Canada and England since 1919, incl. pres., Pressed Steel Co. Ltd.; holder of patents for industrial and communications processes. HMG Passport Control Officer, New York City, June 1940. Address: British Security Coordination, Room 3603, Rockefeller Center, Fifth Av., New York, N.Y.

Cable address: Intrepid.

(Ian Fleming’s model for James Bond, allegedly.) After the

British Army’s hair-raising evacuation at Dunkirk  to avoid destruction or surrender, he was sent by Winston Churchill to New York with a top-secret job description emphasizing finding ways to circumvent the U.S. Neutrality Laws in order so Britain can obtain military aid to Britain. America has begun to rearm, after years of legislated neglect, but for itself alone. After years of Downing Street appeasement, and Britain facing Hitler alone now, Churchill’s first hurdle is convincing America that Britain is finally determined to fight it out to the end.

“I know you hear in the States that Britain can’t last, now that France has been defeated. That Mr. Churchill has no choice but to seek the best terms he can get, and Britain can have peace if it sticks to its empire and leaves Europe to the Nazis. I’m here to tell you that Mr. Churchill will not seek nor accept terms. Mr. Churchill’s policy is war, and his objective is victory. As long as Winston Churchill is prime minister there will be no compromise with Hitler. None whatever.”

Churchill, overage and once-scorned maverick politician out of another era, seems to mean it, too. But America is still divided, and even Baker Street Irregulars may question how realistic this appeal for their help is, and how far the White House is prepared to go.

“I didn’t discuss this with the President personally. I did have a very encouraging talk with his man Harry Hopkins. But it’s also true, to be entirely honest with you, that some of his other men aren’t keen about my set-up here. Right now America is divided, and so is the Administration.”

But not only are opponents of aid to Britain getting organized,

so are supporters, beginning with the influential Emporia, Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White’s new Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.


In New York, where much of America’s public opinion is made, unmade, and remade, two years of uneasy peace and agitation following the outbreak of war in Europe make for a turbulent climate, but one in which Mr. Stephenson is quite prepared to operate -- and one not foreign to Woody either, no matter how exasperated he gets with Rex Stout’s stridency about it.

“I’m not telling you what not to do, Rex, I’m simply pointing out the facts. Personally I’d like to help Mr. Stephenson. But if I were convicted of violating the Logan Act, I’d be disbarred. It’s not something to decide in an instant on the basis of emotion. Especially as what we’ve heard is just the tip of the iceberg, as Elmer says. I see why Mr. Stephenson is a successful businessman. He showed us a hood ornament and a headlight or two, and you’re ready to buy the car without checking to see how many miles are on it, let alone whether it’s hot. If I were you, I’d at least kick the tires first.”

. . . . Woody doesn’t really mean it. He is personally committed now to what Churchill declared in another speech to Parliament this month, and the world.

Of course the natural inclination of Baker Street Irregulars in that direction, as Christopher Morley suggests—

“Frank would have been here today, except for an appointment he couldn’t break. I have no doubt that he’ll contact Mr. Stephenson on his own. Felix, on the other hand, thinks Britain should seek terms before it’s too late. As for me – I suspect I’ll know what I think when I find myself doing something for Mr. Stephenson. Logan Act or no Logan Act. Faugh! What we need is a Logan Clendening Act, making it an offense for Baker Street Irregulars not to come to England’s aid in its hour of need! I still don’t know what the BSI as a sodality can do, though.”

Elmer Davis has some ideas about that last item, though he isn’t prepared to share them with Chris Morley yet.

        “That went quite well on the whole, don’t you think?” he said.

“Beats me. What was that ‘Woody and I have to go’ about?”

“If we hadn’t left, we’d be late for our next meeting.”

“Meeting? What meeting?”

“Our other secret cabal to aid England – the real one.” He laughed at my bewilderment. “The one the Baker Street Irregulars, and the William Allen White committee, and even Mr. William Stephenson, that ingratiating man of parts, don’t know about. You wanted action, didn’t you? Step lively, then. We’re expected at the Century in ten minutes.”


Ch. 10: Good Men Must Dare

Woody’s afternoon is not over, as Elmer Davis takes them from Christopher Morley’s shabby hideaway office on West 47th Street to the magnificence of his own club on West 43rd.

In the distance, beyond Fifth Avenue rushing by a stone’s throw away, lay Grand Central and the Chrysler Building rising beyond it.

    I didn’t have long to enjoy the view. Without a pause Elmer led me inside and across the lobby’s tiled floor to join the flow of men up the staircase beyond. The second floor held its bar and lounges, beginning to fill at the end of the day. On the third were the library and the dining-room. But we were headed higher.

    Century membership reflected accomplishment in arts and letters. I’d enjoyed lunch there with Elmer, but never asked if law made one eligible; I doubted it did, short of Learned Hand.

And while Woody notices Basil Davenport reciting “Horatius at the Bridge” to a captive audience in the club library,

We reached a door, and without pausing went in. Inside a meeting-room, about ten men were talking in small groups, but I took in only the one glaring at us indignantly. Fletcher Pratt advanced like a bantam cock. “What are you two doing here?” he demanded.

The men Woody meets there

are among the most influential in American life, in the summer of 1940—editors, publishers, lawyers, clergymen, a former Chief of Naval Operations, more—and what brings them together is a common goal: finding ways around America’s isolationism and neutrality laws so Britain can survive—putting pressure on President Roosevelt to follow through despite his inclination to play safe in what will be a tough election year, as he seeks an unprecedented third term.

In Western Europe, the “phony war” smoldered through the winter of 1939-40, but with spring, Hitler invaded Norway and Sweden, and his blitzkrieg started its blast through Holland, Belgium and France. The Maginot Line collapsed. The Dunkirk disaster followed.

    By mid-May, I’d begun organizing a National Policy Committee meeting to be held June 29-30 under the title, Implications to the U.S. of a German Victory. But at the end of May, Richard Cleveland, son of the former president and an attorney in Baltimore who had been the NPC’s first chairman, called me up to say he thought we should hold a smaller session on the subject, at once. So on Sunday, June 2, 1940, nine people gathered at our home in Fairfax: besides Richard and ourselves, Stacy May of the Rockefeller Foundation; Winfield Riefler of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; Whitney Shepardson, a director of the Council on Foreign Relations, and his Anglo-Irish wife, Eleanor; the aeronautical engineer Edward P. Warner, chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board: and M.L. Wilson, Undersecretary of Agriculture.

    Beneath the ancient oak trees on Pickens Hill, we sat in a circle, each giving in turn his or her reaction to the very present danger of a Nazi conquest of Britain. Until that moment, none of us had quite recognized in our innermost selves the convictions we now found awesomely and unanimously evident: The United States must enter this war.

    Whitney Shepardson retired to Francis’ study and emerged with a brief declaration we called “A Summons To Speak Out.” Next day, Francis and I compiled a cross-country list of some hundred names to whom we sent the statement, inviting signatures. Some recipients, like Warner and Wilson of our original group, could not sign because of their official positions. But on Monday, June 10, 1940, the New York Times and the Herald-Tribune carried the “Summons” over 30 rather influential names from 12 widely separated states and the District of Columbia. It was the first call of citizens to fellow citizens to accept the test of war.

    On the previous Friday, just before giving our release to the press for Monday's papers, I had telephoned Morse Salisbury at the Department of Agriculture: “Get me off the payroll this afternoon. I’ve signed something so far ahead of administration policy that I would be an embarrassment to you on Monday morning.”

    “The FDR Years and Going to War,” unpublished manuscript by Helen Hill Miller (Mrs. Francis P. Miller)

Miller, Francis Pickens, for. aff. expert, b. June 5, 1895, Middlesboro, Ky. A.B., Washington & Lee, 1914; M.A., Oxford, 1923. Student, Grad. Inst. Intl. Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 1927-28. m. National prep. school exec, Y.M.C.A., 1914-17; 2nd, 1st Lt., A.E.F., France, 1917-18; asst. ntl. sec. of student Y.M.C.A., 1923-36; admin. sec., World Student Christian Fed., 1927-29, chrmn., 1928-38; field sec., Foreign Policy Assn., 1934-35; orgn. dir., Coms. on Foreign Relations of the Council on Foreign Relations, since 1938. Member, Phi Beta Kappa, Society of the Cincinnati. Author, Giant of the Western World (1930), The Church Against the World (1935), The Blessings of Liberty (1936). Clubs: Century (New York), Cosmos (Washington).  Address: Pickens Hill, Fairfax, Va.

Shepardson, Whitney Hart, for. aff. expert, b. Oct. 30, 1890, Worcester, Mass. A.B., Colgate University, 1910; Rhodes Scholar, Balliol Coll., Oxford, 1913; Harvard Law School, 1917. m. Attorney, U.S. Shipping Board, Washington D.C., 1917-18. 2nd Lt., Camp Zachary Taylor, Ky., 1918. Aide to presidential adviser Edward M. House, Paris Peace Conference, 1919, and sec. to commission drafting League of Nations covenant. Sec., Council on Foreign Relations organizing cmte, 1920. European manager, P. N. Gray Co. war relief shipping, Vienna, 1921-25. Dir., Rockfeller General Education Board, 1925-27. Pres., Bates International Bag Co., 1928-30. V.p., International Railways of Central America (United Fruit Co.), since 1931. Dir., Council on Foreign Relations’ War and Peace Studies project, since 1939; prin. ed., United States in World Affairs annual report, since 1934; also dir., Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Washington D.C. Clubs: Century (New York), Cosmos (Washington). Address: 213 E. 61st St., New York, N.Y.

Elmer Davis cannot sign it either, because of CBS News. But when the group meets at the Century Association in New York, he is there—with Woody in tow. Davis knows them all, and one of the ringleaders was his cabin-mate on the boat to England when they were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford as young men. Both Whit Shepardson and Francis Miller are foreign policy establishment figures whom Woody will also meet again in Washington, after America is in the war.

Not that Charles Lindbergh, America First, and other isolationists won’t oppose U.S. assistance to Britain right up to Pearl Harbor a year and a half later. But the cautious Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies will turn into the much more assertive organization Fight for Freedom! the battle will become increasingly bitter as even Dr. Seuss accuses the America Firsters of having pro-Nazi sympathies.

Woody, Elmer Davis, and Fletcher Pratt bring the BSI into the Century Group’s proposal for the United States to exchange fifty mothballed World War I destroyers desperately needed by Britain for air and naval bases on British territories in the New World, a deal proposed by FDR before the disastrous summer is out, as the Battle of Britain begins. Even Glenn Miller seems in favor of it with his new hit tune.

The Century Association continues today, but two venues that have disappeared are also part of this chapter. One is Billy the Oysterman, the West 47th Street restaurant a few doors down from Chris Morley’s hideaway office where the BSI’s leaders began to meet over lunch. No pictures seem to have survived, but these notes are from a volume of my BSI archival histories, Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ‘Forties:

Largely forgotten today, Billy the Oysterman was a Manhattan institution at the time, though West 47th Street was a second and newer location. The first Billy was William Ockendon, of Portsmouth, England, who came to the United States and set up his first small oyster stand in Greenwich Village around 1875. It prospered, and he eventually opened a full-blown restaurant at 7-9 East 20th Street. Woody and smoky, comfortable rather than classy, with lumbering, loquacious waiters, it prospered too.

By 1934 the establishment was managed by Billy’s sons William Jr. and Harvey (both known, somewhat Moriarty-like, as Billy), when the Repeal Edition of Rian James’s Dining in New York (John Day, 1934) said, most approvingly, that “the tart, penetrating smoke of a thousand expensive cigars hangs like a pall,” and “at the noon hour, Big Business in person groans under the right regal weight of a bowl of steamed tripe, a dozen of Billy’s giant blue-points, and an order of pie, so ample that it would constitute an entire dinner for a lesser man.” Billy the Oysterman was considered a fairly expensive restaurant, charging some $2 for a full-course dinner.

The midtown Billy the Oysterman opened in the ’Thirties and was managed very personably by Billy Ockendon Jr. It had a well-stocked bar, which of course mattered to Baker Street Irregulars, and a menu extending far beyond the oysters that had given Billy the Oysterman its start. Billy Jr. was not even that fond of oysters, he said, having perhaps seen too many of the mollusks in his day; in 1934; he calculated tat they had already sold 11,693,063 of them. Shall the world be overrun by oysters, indeed? But he served much else there, a la carte, of which he was a vigorous champion. “There never was a chicken roasted at 11 o’clock, to serve at 12 o’clock, that was good at 2 o’clock!” he once thundered like Jehovah at the adherents of table d’hote during a 1934 meeting of the New York Society of Restauranteurs.

In contrast to the original location, the West 47th Street Billy the Oysterman was an attractively modern place, with Walrus and the Carpenter murals on the walls. It was popular with people at Radio City nearby, and also with Christopher Morley and Edgar Smith. They went there a lot.


The other is Pennsylvania Station at Seventh Avenue and West 33rd, torn down in 1964 thanks to developers’ greed, but whose destruction led to preservation of many other architectural and historical landmarks in New York. And of this great landmark between 1911 and 1964 there are many surviving pictures:

Previous Installments

Part One: Depression (Chs. 1-7)