Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Map of Bohemia

Luther Emanuel Widen alias Lew Ney likely rates barely a footnote in American literary history, but there was a time during the 1920s and '30s when he had a certain notoriety in Bohemian circles, and a New York Times article, back in the day, even referred to him, perhaps generously, as "the Mayor of Greenwich Village." His most durable contribution to letters was probably as a letterpress printer responsible for such curiosities as Christopher Morley's Rubaiyat of Account Overdue, which was dedicated to Frances Steloff of the Gotham Book Mart, but he also garnered attention for such tepid publicity stunts as baptising a baby in the company of the entertainer Texas Guinan and paying for the marriage license for his wedding to Ruth Willis Thompson with 200 copper pennies donated by 100 friends. (Instead of receiving wedding gifts, Thompson, a poet, gave her guests copies of her latest book.) As a correspondent for Variety, Ney reportedly once concocted an item about an upcoming raid on an unnamed adulterous couple's Washington Square love nest, leading to widespread panic and hasty decamping on the part of any number of local philanderers who assumed that they were the parties in question.

I haven't been able to find a single online trace of the existence of this leaflet periodical, The Greenwich Village Saturday Night, which was written, illustrated, and distributed by Ney, and consequently I'm posting it in its entirety. It does say Volume II, No. 3, so presumably there were other issues, but on the other hand it also says "perhaps there will be a series of Saturday Nights similar to this issue in size and tone," so the numbering may have been a fiction.

For this issue, at least, Ney evidently had only one advertiser, the Smock Shop (smocks were big in Greenwich Village, apparently), but the effusiveness of his praise for the Little Quakeress restaurant suggests he might have been slipped a few coppers by that establishment as well. As a money-making scheme The Greenwich Village Saturday Night probably didn't go very far, but Ney's annotated map has a certain charm as a record of the Village's bygone amenities.

Update (2013): Julie Melby, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University's Firestone Library, has posted some examples of Wyden's printing work on the Graphic Arts Collection blog. The Princeton University Library holds one other number of The Greenwich Village Saturday Night in addition to the one shown here.

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