Saturday, January 19, 2013

An Exterior Disarrangement

My next two posts will revisit two peripherally connected news stories, one comic and one tragic. The first is recorded in The Fourth Estate, a trade periodical devoted to the newspaper business, on February 19, 1921.


Luther Emmanuel Widen of 148 West Fourth street, New York, editor of the Vagabond and a well known figure in the faddistic [sic] circles of Greenwich Village, was before Magistrate Joseph E. Corrigan in the Jefferson Market Court Wednesday and the magistrate said at first he guessed he would have to send the editor to Bellevue Hospital for observation. After reading an issue of Widen's paper, Magistrate Corrigan expressed the opinion that "no sane man would put out work like this."

In behalf of Widen was Dr. Lindley Kasdy, who said the editor was suffering from exterior but not interior disarrangement.

He also said Widen had been in Bellevue before, but that it did him no good. The magazine was said by the doctor to be published without malice to any one. It is filled with bits of village news and gossip, in which initials are used instead of names. The two gems that brought forth Magistrate Corrigan's comment regarding the editor's sanity were: "Mrs. — has married a man from West Virginia, but she still has her friends," and an article about a woman who "still looked pretty without her paint."

"I am going to send you to Bellevue for examination," said the magistrate. "This is an unusual magazine."

"Why should I go to Bellevue when I can go elsewhere?" asked Widen.

"Where will you go?"

"Astoria," said Widen.

"Well," said the magistrate, "if you will promise to leave Greenwich Village and not publish the Vagabond, and do all that in forty-eight hours, you won't be sent to Bellevue."

"I'll go right now," said Widen. He bowed deeply, and looked sadly from the window. "Never, never, shall I return. Farewell, Greenwich Village."
Better known as Lew Ney and often styled (at least by himself) "the Mayor of Greenwich Village," Luther Emanuel Widen (his middle name is spelled incorrectly in the article) was well-known in New York's bohemian circles in the 1920s and '30s as a writer, publisher, journalist, prankster, and publicity-hound. The straight-faced looniness of the article, which is unsigned, makes me half suspect that he had a hand in writing it himself. The New-York Tribune also ran a story on the incident, much of which corresponds closely to the above, though it adds a few other details, including the fact that The Vagabond had all of forty-eight subscribers (which would explain why I've been able to find no other record of it). It also clarifies — if that's the word — the circumstances that brought Widen before a city magistrate:
He was arrested because of the suspicions which his psychological methods aroused in a detective who was trying to find out who had been stealing gowns and jewelry from Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney's studio at 147 West Fourth Street. Luther's "office" is next door, and in a neighborly way he tried to help the detective, and, in fact, told him the name of the thief, which he discovered psychologically.
The Tribune also reported that Widen said that he might, on second thought, go to "sunny California" instead of Astoria. In any case he remained in Greenwich Village and probably never had any thought of leaving.

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