Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shakers, Bohemians, and a Cat in a Cage

Family in tow, Lew Ney (Luther Emanuel Widen), writer, printer, and tireless self-promoter, takes an excursion into the hinterlands and visits, among other local worthies, the Shaker community of New Lebanon, NY. From the Chatham (NY) Courier, Jan 9. 1930 (PDF).

Lebanon Springs is played (sic) host to three distinguished writers this week, with the coming of Charles Willis Thompson, formerly connected with the New York Times; his son-in-law, Lew Ney, self-styled mayor of Greenwich Village, whose real name is Luther Emanuel Widen, and his wife, a daughter, Ruth, of Mr. Thompson.

They are visiting Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Browning, and Mr. Thompson is recuperating from a recent nervous breakdown. Mr. Ney is rewriting his book, "Mad Man."

Mrs. Widen is spending the week end arranging the manuscript for a first book of poems by Eva S. Browning, probably to be called "Cyclone and Other Poems," to be published by the Parnassus Press on March 1.

The New York visitors are spending several days communing with the Shakers. They have been entertained by Sarah Collins of the chair shop and have met numerous of the 30 or so surviving members of what was not so many years ago the most flourishing religious community in the world.

Mr. Thompson's book on the presidents and near-presidents he had known (these last including Bryan and Hanna) was published by the Macmillans. He is a regular contributor to the Commonwealth, the American Mercury and other current publications of literary quality. He still is an unofficial member of the Times' staff, writing reviews of books particularly those dealing with political events and personalities. He was a great friend and admirer of [Theodore] Roosevelt accompanying him in the great campaigns. With Wilson in his book he deals rather caustically.

One of the best known of Mrs. Ruth Widen's published works in entitled "In Praise of Pain" which has enjoyed extensive vogue and still is popular. Mr. Widen has just published a six-verse poem entitled "Sister Corinne," written by Sister Grace Ada Brown in memory of Sister Corinne Bishop who passed to her spirit home December 3, 1929.

Mr. Widen, in planning to come to the Berkshire country, had equipped himself in accordance with his impressions of what would be needed in the way of apparel to resist the rigors of a highland winter and was astonished upon arriving to find a spring flavor in the air. His knee-high boots, heavy coats and wraps would have been supplanted by more seasonable garments had he only known. He had with him his typewriter, a couple of grips containing his stationery, Christmas cards and so on and a caged cat.
I was at first surprised at the Courier's blunt allusion to Charles Willis Thompson's "nervous breakdown," but perhaps in that set it was regarded as a badge of honor. A copy of Sister Grace Ada Brown's brief tribute, printed by Lew Ney, is in the Shaker Collection of the New York State Library. Eva Browning's Cyclone and Other Poems was issued in 1930 in an edition of 320 copies. As far as I can tell Ney never published a book called Mad Man; perhaps, since he apparently pronounced his nickname Looney, it was intended to have been autobiographical.

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