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I was a revolutionary, p.19

I Was a Revolutionary, page 19

 

I Was a Revolutionary
 


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  Part II: Wayland

  LETTER 1

  1/29/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  How your letter of the 20th surprised me! Pleasantly, I should add, lest I give you the wrong impression. It has been a long time since I’ve thought of Girard. Fifteen years since my husband and I moved to Kansas City and we’ve not once returned. The two-hour drive seems worthy of an ocean liner for the remove I feel from little old Girard. Oh listen to me! Such are the vagaries of sentiment for which women can curse middle age. I shall content myself to answering your queries forthwith.

  Yes, I knew Mr. Wayland, though I was not involved with Appeal to Reason. We were neighbors. His second wife, Pearl, was my dearest friend in those years.

  I would be happy to be of service to you in any way you might find useful. I suspect from the fine prose of your letter that you shall write an excellent book. (I must here correct one small factual error, if you’ll forgive my bumptiousness: Mr. Wayland did not take his life on election night. It was three days afterward. I remember this for certain. He passed on November 10th, 1912.)

  Please do not hesitate to further inquire. They were, on the whole, happy years I should be glad to remember.

  Sincerely,

  Mrs. Edward Shaw

  p.s. May I ask who put you in touch with me? I have lost touch with most of the old gang.

  LETTER 2

  2/18/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  Oh, it was Fred who gave you my name. Dear Fred, how is he? We corresponded for a few years after I left Girard, but not in the many since. He is a kind man and I’ll tell you this, because not many people realize it: Fred Warren was the secret behind the Appeal to Reason’s success. Don’t misunderstand me. J.A. (forgive me, but that’s what everyone called Mr. Wayland) started the paper and under him it was successful, but it was when Fred came on board as an editor, around 1904 or so if I recall correctly, that the paper really took off. I remember Pearl telling me how Fred and J.A. would argue late into the night in J.A.’s study, shouting about some matter or other at the paper. They were great friends though, and J.A. could not have regretted Fred’s influence on the Appeal. Circulation rose quickly. J.A. always said he wanted a million readers, but I suspect he contented himself with the half million he received. It is hard to imagine even now. Six hundred thousand subscriptions for a red newspaper. Surely more than a few “papers of the plutes,” as J.A. used to say, would have envied such figures. Fred can tell you more of the specifics than I. As you’ll recall, I wasn’t involved with the paper, nor was I of their political persuasion. I was a friend and most of my memories are of long walks with Pearl or of the spectacular dinners she and J.A. would host. They were generous with everyone. How I miss them both.

  Sincerely,

  Mrs. Edward Shaw

  LETTER 3

  3/2/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  Forgive me for not answering the questions raised in your last letter. It was not intentional, I assure you. I got to thinking about the past and my mind wandered off as it is wont do. I shall set right to the list you’ve been kind enough to include to keep me on task.

  1.As I recall, Pearl told me that J.A. had come up with the idea for the newspaper here in Kansas City around 1895 and moved with his first wife, Etta (whom I did not know), and children to Girard sometime in 1897 or 1898. I’m not sure why he chose Girard—possibly cheaper printing costs than the city. You might ask his son, Walter, who took over the newspaper after his father’s death.

  2.As I say, I did not know Etta. She was sickly when they arrived in Girard and passed shortly afterward. It was not until J.A. and Pearl married in 1901 that I began to know the couple.

  3.Pearl worked in the printing office at the Appeal and for a time was a housekeeper for J.A. He courted her fiercely and after seeing a fortune-teller, who bespoke coming happiness, so the story went, he proposed and she was quick to accept.

  4.I could only describe them as happy. He was older than she, and she adored him in the manner of daughter and wife. In many ways they were suitably opposite. She was excitable, boisterous, quick to smile, and he was quiet and pensive, often seeking solitude in his office. Their temperaments tamed the other’s excesses in these areas.

  I hope I have responded to your liking, Mr. Bronstein. I shall be happy to oblige any further inquiries to the best of my capabilities. I must say, however, that while I am flattered you have taken the time to contact me there are others, like Fred or members of J.A.’s family, who are far more knowledgeable than I on these matters and specifics.

  Sincerely,

  Mrs. Edward Shaw

  LETTER 4

  3/21/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  I suppose I understand why you should want an “outsider’s” perspective on things. However, this designation feels inaccurate. I was a friend, neighbor, and fellow townsperson. I was an outsider only to the political aspirations and inner workings of “the Appeal army,” to use a phrase J.A. loved. I was not taking communion at their church, one might say, but we got on splendidly. That was one of the interesting things about Girard. J.A. was welcomed upon arrival. Though solidly Republican, Girard had been no stranger to political debate—after all, we counted a fair number of Populists on our rolls in the 1890s. It mattered less what he was preaching than that he was an entrepreneur bringing business to town.

  That is what you must realize: he was an interesting breed of socialist because he was one shrewd businessman. The contradictions didn’t seem to nettle him in the least. He had made a considerable amount of money with prudent speculation on land in Colorado and Texas, and he continued to do so till the end of his life. He used the profits to support the paper, in part, but he also used them to support his lifestyle, which can only be described fairly as a small step shy of lavish. The notion that a red newspaper could or should turn a profit seems confused, but it didn’t stop him. He ran advertisements alongside articles about “wage slavery” and thought nothing of it. He fought the unionization of his own newspaper when his employees complained about working conditions. Now, I seem to recall that some of this changed when Fred became editor, but Pearl always said that J.A. believed these were the necessary compromises to fighting capitalism on its own battlefield. Myself, I believe he was in a financial position amenable to believing such a thing.

  I remember one evening Edward came home from the office (he sold, and continues to sell, insurance) and remarked that he had seen J.A. driving through town center in a brand new Ford. There were few automobiles in town then. “If that is socialism, I reckon we better sign on for the revolution,” he said, and we had a good laugh. It was, of course, precisely that he did not advocate revolution, which allowed us to laugh. Whatever his rhetoric, he was no Bolshevik; he believed education would hasten the end he desired.

  Sincerely,

  Mrs. Edward Shaw

  LETTER 5

  4/8/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  As you have surely surmised, Girard was a small town, as it still is no doubt. That southeastern part of the state is unordinary for its coal and zinc mines, and surrounding the town in nearly every direction were encampments of the most wretched lot you ever saw. Catholics, most able to summon only a word or two of English. In town proper, however, there was a bevy of respectable families and establishments and it was this quality that likely attracted the Waylands.

  Their house was beautiful, you are certainly correct. It was on the outskirts of town on a healthy parcel of land that allowed J.A. to keep a small farm and pasture. Etta was by all accounts serious about her gardening, and after she passed that was a duty J.A. made sure the household staff upheld, because the good Lord knows that’s a talent for which Pearl was unblessed. There were trees, stands of fruit and catalpa, that kept their yard shaded, and it seemed there wasn’t an hour of the day you couldn’t see a pack of neighborhood children there frolicking.

  He did employ servants to cook, and
launder, as well as to look after the children, especially after Etta died. Even a stranger could have noticed the pall that fell over the house afterward. But as I mentioned previously it wasn’t long before his heart had rekindled, aflame for Pearl, and soon it was the warmest home one could hope for.

  J.A. and Pearl hosted parties, big affairs for prominent political visitors, but they never failed to open their door to any soul who knocked. There mustn’t have existed a tramp in seven states who didn’t have their address memorized and who wouldn’t receive a hot meal if he could suffer receiving a little socialism in turn. I remember hearing Pearl cater to these men, pitiful-looking as any you have ever seen, while J.A. was at the printing office or away on a trip checking on his properties. I will leave it to you to imagine sweet little Pearl lecturing transients about the “ruling class” as they ate on china and drank from crystal.

  Perhaps the only occasions they’d not celebrate were holidays. As atheists, J.A. and Pearl passed these days by taking food and presents to the unfortunate. I just remarked on that fact last week to Edward at Easter dinner. If they had lived to see the predicament we find ourselves in today, there would be a line formed at their door stretching all the way to Missouri. I remember stopping by their house one Christmas afternoon to drop some gifts off and J.A. answered the door, which surprised me. Pearl was unavailable for some reason or other, I don’t recall, and he invited me in. He had just come back from visiting the needy and I presented the gifts to him. He looked down at the brightly wrapped packages for what seemed a long time and finally he thanked me with that familiar look of his: a pained smile that to some must have seemed nothing more than a grimace. He said he had something for me and asked me to follow him. I said I should be getting home, but he insisted, so I followed him to his library, which was a magnificent room that doubled as his office. There was shelf upon shelf of titles that stretched to the ceiling. He was always lending books to anyone who showed a modicum of interest and a substantial number who showed none at all. I stopped at the door and watched him remove a book from a high shelf. He stood on his tiptoes, reaching. I saw the hem of his blouse stretching tautly in the gap between his vest and trousers so I brought over a stool, which he dismissed. He pulled down a book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, and handed it to me. I accepted it and could tolerate only a few pages, but it was a kind gesture, and something I have always remembered. I recall standing in that library and for some reason neither of us making a move to leave until I heard the front door open and close followed by Pearl’s voice calling out for J.A. Quickly I turned, leaving him there, and rushed into the other room to wish Pearl a Merry Christmas, as I now wish you a belated happy Easter, Mr. Bronstein.

  Sincerely,

  Jane Shaw

  LETTER 6

  4/12/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  Forgive my eagerness in writing so soon. I don’t suspect my last letter has half traversed the distance between Kansas City and New York, but I realized that in all these letters I’ve yet to tell you how Pearl and I became friends.

  I won’t ever forget that day for it was sweltering, the hottest day of the year. Though I didn’t like the prospect of leaving the paltry relief of the parlor fan, I went into town to pick up a few items that I needed to prepare supper. Quickly I rushed to the dairy and mercantile, and my last stop was the butchery. I never have cared for the aroma, which accompanies that vocation and you can imagine the stench on that day. I could barely tolerate it and intended to leave as quickly as possible, but when I entered I saw Pearl facing the counter ahead of me. We’d never had occasion to speak before, though I knew quite well who she was. She and J.A. had just married—it had been the talk of the town for a spell—and I thought it rude not to congratulate her on her nuptials. So I greeted her and she turned around. You should have seen her—she looked harried and flummoxed. The poor girl was trying to learn how to cook, I would find out. She didn’t see the need for the servants J.A. had kept since Etta’s death. In any case, we spoke, and she said they had just returned from their honeymoon. Though the heat and the stench were awful, I couldn’t help the curiosity I felt for knowing where the rich socialist would take his young bride. When I asked, she was silent, and then I saw the runnel that I momentarily mistook for perspiration fall down her cheek. Quickly I handed her a kerchief, looking away, and then I removed the package from her arms, telling Lou to put it back on ice, we would return shortly, and I led Pearl outside to a nearby stand of trees away from the road.

  Not wanting to embarrass her more than she already was, I looked away as she struggled to compose herself. “I don’t think anyone noticed,” I said. She said she didn’t care who saw and sobbed a few minutes more. I asked her what on earth was the matter, what should sour such a joyful time in her new life? Then she told me of her honeymoon: to Kentucky to see Mammoth Cave, taking in theater every night in Chicago, dining in the finest restaurants of St. Louis—three weeks in all they were away. I said I felt not a drop of pity for her in the least, which made her smile. She said that when they returned home, just a few days prior to our conversation, she was describing the trip to J.A.’s children over dinner and Walter said, “That’s the same trip Father took with Mother.” And so it was, down to the very hotels in which they’d stayed and the establishments in which they dined. She said she didn’t know which was worse: J.A.’s longing for his first wife or the thought of a ghost following their every step.

  We talked for a long time in that heat, nearly an hour I’d say, and then walked back to the butchery before returning to our respective homes. The next morning I found a basket of flowers on my doorstep that she had picked from her garden. Later, when I ventured the quarter-mile walk down the road to show my thanks, she invited me in and we passed another afternoon, more pleasant with the heat having broken, conversing, which was to become a regular occurrence. How I miss those conversations, Mr. Bronstein. All should cherish the pleasant commiseration of a dear friend.

  Sincerely,

  Jane Shaw

  LETTER 7

  5/01/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  I apologize for the haste with which I now write. In the prolonged tumult in which our country finds itself, Edward’s company has suddenly ceased operations, which has rendered his health poor. The circumstances, you’ll understand, require my full attention. Perhaps soon they shall allow me to be more charitable to the needs of your work.

  Sincerely,

  Jane Shaw

  LETTER 8

  8/17/31

  Dear Mr. Bronstein,

  Thank you for your kind note. I’m pleased to say Edward’s health has improved. A rest much overdue has eased some of the burden and he is slowly regaining the vigor of his old self. Given his recent experience, I understand fully the pressures one’s business can exert. As such, I do not find your queries “insensitive.” In fact, I’ve quite missed our correspondence of late and should be pleased to help as your deadline nears.

  [1] Of course I knew Debs. He and J.A. were good friends, and after many years of asking, J.A. was finally able to convince him to move to Girard to write for the Appeal. This must have been 1908 or so. He announced his run for the presidency on the front steps of the newspaper’s offices. Gene was a sweet man. The children in town loved him because he always seemed to have an ice cream cone to give away. He must have lived in Girard about five years, writing his column, often leaving to campaign on speaking tours. I would rather not comment on the speculation you mention. I will say he loved his wife, that was apparent. To suggest otherwise on account of salacious rumor is not only unpleasant but unfair. Let’s let him rest in peace, shall we. I prefer to remember him as the man with the slow gait and quick smile, passing out ice-cream cones to children.

  [2] Yes, Mother Jones, too. I must say, I interacted with her infrequently and what little I did I didn’t care for her. She was imperious, liable to say whatever thought drifted into that head of hers, but J.A. carried a grea
t fondness for her. I do recall the first time I saw her. I hadn’t a clue who she was. Edward and I had been invited over to Fred Warren’s house for dinner and there was this small old woman. J.A. and Pearl were there, along with some folks we were new to meet. J.A. introduced us to the room and she spoke first. She was sitting in a chair, as if she couldn’t be bothered to stand and properly greet us, and called out, asking if we had brought any beer. Edward reminded her of Kansas law (Kansas was dry long before the rest of the country, if you recall) and she began to laugh. Something about this tickled her. She must have gone on a minute or so until Fred, who did not drink, rose and left the room, returning not two minutes later with a fresh bottle of brew for his guest.

  [3] Yes, I am aware that J.A. had tried to start a “utopian village” in the years after leaving Pueblo, Colorado, and before coming to Girard, but I know little of it. Ruskin, it was called, and located in Tennessee, if I’m not mistaken. I never heard him speak of it much, though I do recall a picture he had framed in his office of the village. Yes, the picture. It was of a stark cabin room. I remember asking him about it one afternoon when I had come to see Pearl but had forgotten that she was away visiting family. J.A. invited me in and I demurred, but he was insistent I come in for a glass of lemonade. (Why in my memories of the time is the weather always sweltering?) He walked back to his office. I was reluctant to follow. I remarked on the refreshing drink and asked where the children were. He said they were away for some reason or another. Perhaps they were with Pearl. I don’t recall the specifics. In any case, I figured he likely wanted to foist some book or other on me, and this was a proclivity I indulged so as not to hurt his feelings, always feigning delightful curiosity at the unbearable Marx he had placed in my hand. However, in my memory of that day, we are sitting at his desk, conversing a long time. Not about politics, just life. At some point I remarked on the photograph behind him on the wall and that’s when he told me it had been his cabin at Ruskin. He seemed to recall it fondly, though I do not remember him saying much more. I know nothing of the fray of which you speak. It is news to me if the other villagers kicked him out of the “socialist experiment” he started in Ruskin. I’d be interested to know more. Perhaps your book will educate me.

 
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