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Strange Times 178: Whistler's Ghost
Today we have harmonicas in the OR, Whistlers in the afterlife, and a ten-cent scuffle on East Ninety-Eighth. Just let the dime go on…
June 27, 1921
Accused of breaking into a stranger’s room and beating her senseless, 18-year-old Brooklyn boy James T. Conway pleads amnesia, insisting that he simply can’t remember anything that occurred.
Wary of conjuring images of the Red Terror, American socialists vote to strike all mention of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” from their platform.
The Weather: Partly cloudy today and Tuesday; scattered thunderstorms no change in temperature; fresh west winds
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Reading between the lines, I think we can assume Kelley’s stepson started shooting at him because he wouldn’t quit playing the damn harmonica.
BOSTON, June 26.—His own music so soothes Oscar J. Kelley of South Boston that he preferred it to ether today while hospital surgeons were probing for a bullet in his thigh.
When the doctors started to put Kelley under the influence of the anaesthetic he objected strenuously. Then he called for his harmonica, jumped upon the operating table and played gayly while the bullet was removed.
The shot was fired after a quarrel between Kelley and his stepson, Frank Tattoon. Tattoon was held on a charge of assault and battery with intent to kill.
Daubs in the sense of, “A painting executed without much skill.” Whistlers in the sense of, “The guy with the mother.” Peoria in the sense of, “We don’t care, we don’t have to.”
Joseph Pennell, the etcher, complained yesterday that he was swamped by letters from writers who wanted to know whether the pictures which Whistler’s ghost was painting through a woman in Peoria, Ill., were genuine Whistlers.
Mr. Pennell discussed this vexation at the Hotel Margaret in Columbia Heights, Brooklyn. Mr. Pennell was a friend of Whistler and is his biographer and the possessor of a large collection of Whistler’s works. He was much wrought up over the Peoria Whistlers which have caused a sensation in the Middle West. Mr. Pennell displayed a scrapbook with clippings showing reproductions of the Peoria Whistlers and photographs of the Mrs. Smith whose hand is said to be guided by the genius of the dead artist. There were pictures of trees, lawns and running brooks, kine, swine and other pastoral items. Mr. Pennell said they were daubs.
“Further than that,” he said, “this is not the first time the thing has been done. Shortly after Whistler’s death there was a Dr. Alexander who said that the spirit of Whistler had come to him and dictated a whole book. The doctor also said that his hand had been used by the ghost to make a series of drawings. He took his manuscript to Harper’s, but their enthusiasm waned when they saw the pictures. I always considered Dr. Alexander an honest man. He was a writer and historian of some repute, but had surrendered to some form of self-delusion in regard to Whistler.
“In the Peoria case, I believe the idea of connecting Whistler with spiritualism was based on his biography. Whistler was deeply interested in spiritualism and was at one time much in company with Rossetti, who was an ardent believer. Burne-Jones, George Meredith, Swinburne and a good many men of note also were interested. Whistler was very eager to get in touch with spirits for inspiration, but it all came to nothing.”
Mr. Pennell added that Donald Shaw McLaughlin, an etcher of great ability, had asserted that as a student he was very much discouraged, and was about to drop his art, when the spirit of Whistler manifested himself and told him to stick to it.
Come for a bizarre crime story, stay for the low key racism. What I’m most struck by in this story is not the extreme ick of the Times’ portrayal of Puerto Ricans—that I could have predicted—but the idea that you could stab someone nine times and fail to cause serious harm.
In the course of a struggle to regain possession of a dime which he had dropped on the sidewalk in front of 312 East Ninety-eighth Street last night, Vitecentio Roca, 20 years old, of 1,889 Second Avenue, was stabbed nine times by an unidentified assailant. He was taken to the City Hospital, where it was said his condition is not serious.
Roca, who is a Porto Rican [Sic], was walking through Ninety-eighth Street when, in front of 312, he took a handkerchief from his pocket. As he did so a dime that had caught in its folds dropped to the sidewalk. The jingle of the coin aroused the financial instinct of other Porto Ricans who were in the vicinity at the time, and several of them made a scramble for the ten-cent piece. One of them, a man of about 25 years, picked it up, and when Roca demanded its restoration the man in possession of the coin began a struggle with him. When it appeared that he was about to lose the dime the stranger drew a knife and began slashing Roca. After stabbing him several times in the left cheek, the back and the lower left arm, the unidentified man ran off. Detective John Behan of the East 104th Street Station is making a search for Roca’s assailant.