Bruce Calvert—the man who cancelled Christmas

Bruce Calvert advert pic 001Found in the classified column of The New Masses for May 1927 is this advert for The Open Road, a monthly magazine described by its founding editor, Bruce Calvert, as ‘A Zinelet of High Voltage for People Not Afraid to Think’ and a cure for ‘ Mental Obstipation and Brain Fag ‘.

Calvert, who ran the operation from his home in Pequannock , New Jersey, delightfully dubbed by him ‘Pigeon-Roost-in-the Woods’, had been a hard-bitten magazine editor in Chicago and Pennsylvania before moving to the backwoods of Griffiths, near Gary, in his home state of Indiana, to take up the life of an anarchist-freethinker inspired by, among others, Walt Whitman and Thoreau. In 1908 he had brought out the first issue of The Open Road, which appeared regularly until 1915. Espousing a philosophy of ‘right thinking and right living ‘, Calvert made his magazine a fount of various heterodoxies which delighted in offending straight-laced home-loving and family-orientated Americans. In April 1911 one of the most controversial issues challenged the hijacking of Christmas by commerce—a point of view which earned him the soubriquet of ‘Indiana’s Prize Crank ‘.

By November 1911 ‘The World League for a Sane Christmas’ had established its HQ in Room 431 of the State Life Building in downtown Indianapolis. Members who paid their $10 subscription could expect their money to go towards various planned publications as well as a booklet entitled The Christmas Insanity. Moreover, each new member was obliged to sign the following agreement:

‘I will from this time forward neither give nor accept Christmas presents outside my own immediate household, and I will do all I can by distributing literature and other propaganda work to discourage the senseless practice of indiscriminate Christmas giving, to the end that true human love and brotherhood may reign in the hearts of men instead of the maudlin insanity which now disgraces the day ‘ Continue reading

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Literary Cranks of London– The Whitefriars Club

This was established in 1868 in three rooms at Radley’s Hotel, in New Bridge Street, Blackfriars. The authors don’t mention the fact, but  in the 1820s Radley’s was known as Walker’s Hotel and was infamous as the HQ of the generally despised Constitutional Association, the reactionary group dubbed by William Hone, the ‘Bridge Street Gang’, which harassed radical booksellers  it accused of circulating seditious libels--- usually the pirated works of Thomas Paine.

By the time it had come to house the Whitefriars ( incidentally, a humorous reference to the nearby Blackfriars) Radley’s was a respectable family business with ‘ an old-fashioned cuisine and an excellent cellar of wines ‘. Of the three rooms occupied by the Club, the one used as a dining room had ‘three windows looking out on Ludgate Hill Station, filled with heavy furniture and black horse-hair sofas of a late Georgian period’. Behind this was a smaller room dedicated to ‘smoking and writing’, which  commanded a view behind the Bridewell gaol ‘of a neglected bit of ground, on which flourished rank grass, oyster shells , and dead cats…and a row of picturesque and irregular backs of ancient houses, delightful for their finely-toned red brick, their old red tiles and their quaint chimney pots ‘. By 1900, when the history of the Club was privately published, Radley’s Hotel had been pulled down ‘for improvements’.

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