Posts Tagged ‘Allan Ginsberg’

A scandalous Beat murder in Riverside Park

April 17, 2011

In 1944, Lucien Carr was a 19-year-old sophomore at Columbia University, the nucleus of a group of literary-minded undergrads who in the 1950s would be known as the Beats.

Among them were Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (with Carr, at Columbia), and William S. Burroughs—not a student, but part of the crowd. Carr and Burroughs both hailed from prominent St. Louis families.

Carr was smart and handsome, which made him popular. But it also attracted a hanger-on, a 30-something man named David Kammerer who Burroughs knew from St. Louis.

He followed Carr for years and reportedly hit on him constantly. Carr wasn’t gay, but the stalker apparently was obsessed.

On the night of August 13, 1944, Carr and Kerouac went out drinking at Beat favorite bar the West End, on Broadway and 114th Street.

Kerouac left, and as Carr’s story goes, he went for a walk in nearby Riverside Park. Kammerer reportedly caught up to him and began assaulting him.

Carr pulled out a boy scout knife and stabbed Kammerer, killing him. He tied up his arms and legs, filled his pockets with rocks, and tossed him into the Hudson.

Carr went to the DA’s office and turned himself in. The ensuing trial got huge media play, thanks to the Columbia student angle, rich families, and scandalous homosexual advances.

Carr ended up with two years for manslaughter. Once released, he got a newspaper job, working for UPI his entire career. (He’s the guy who supplied Kerouac with roll of teletype paper, on which Kerouac wrote the first draft of On the Road.) He died, out of the spotlight, in 2005.

Getting a sandwich—and hit on—at the Automat

March 7, 2011

The Horn & Hardart Automat is one of those institutions New Yorkers seem to collectively mourn the loss of.

Call it early 20th century fast food: Put a nickel in the slot and turn the chrome-plated knob, and a glass window would open granting you access to the food item of your choice: macaroni and cheese, baked beans, Salisbury steak, pie and of course, a hot cup of coffee.

From 1912 to the mid-1960s, the city had up to 50 Automats, like this one depicted on Depression-era color postcard.

The easy-access food wasn’t its only appeal. The Automat was a place you could sit and nurse a cup of coffee all night long—and got hit on by a famous Beat poet, as Patti Smith recalls in her tender memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids.

[Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe on their West 23rd Street fire escape, about 1970]

“One drizzly afternoon I had a hankering for one of those cheese-and-lettuce sandwiches.

“I got my tray and slipped in my coins but the window wouldn’t open. I tried again without luck and then I noticed the price had gone up to sixty-five cents. I was disappointed to say the least, when I heard a voice say, ‘Can I help?’

“I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg.

“Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich.

“Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. ‘Are you a girl?’ he asked.

“‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Is that a problem?’

“He just laughed. ‘I’m sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy.’

“I got the picture immediately.”