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Author Topic: In days of old, there was a mag, "The American Mercury" was the gag...  (Read 1853 times)


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The American Mercury

by H.L. Mencken & Co

    ... The magazine
    featured writing by some of the most
    important writers in the United States
    through the 1920s and 1930s.
    H.L. Mencken rarely if ever flinched from
    controversy, and he found himself in the
    thick of it when
The American Mercury was
just over two years old, when the April
1926 issue published "Hatrack," a chapter
from Herbert Asbury's Up From Methodism.
The chapter described a reputedly true story:
a prostitute in Asbury's childhood in Far-
mington, Missouri, nicknamed Hatrack because
of her angular physique, and a regular church-
goer seeking genuine forgiveness but, shunned
by the town's reputed good people, returning
to her sinful life.

If that seems a straightforward and uncontro-
versial enough description, consider that in
1926 it was just enough at the edge that the
Rev. J. Frank Chase of the Watch and Ward
Society, which monitored material sold in
Boston for obscenity, decided "Hatrack" was
immoral and had a Harvard Square magazine
peddler arrested for selling a copy of the
issue. That provoked Mencken himself to visit
Boston and sell Chase himself a copy, the
better to be arrested for the cameras. Tried
and acquitted, Mencken's courageous stance
for freedom of the press cost him regardless:
over $20,000 in legal fees, lost revenue, and
lost advertising.

Mencken sued Chase and won, a federal judge
ruling the prelate's organization committed
an illegal restraint of trade and prosecutors,
not private activists, should censor literature,
assuming anyone should. But following the trial,
the Solicitor of the U. S. Post Office Department
Donnelly ruled the April 1926 American Mercury
was obscene-- the federal Comstock Law, he ruled,
barred the issue from delivery through the U.S.
Post Office. Mencken challenged Donnelly, arousing
the prospect of a landmark free speech case before
the United States Court of Appeals for the Second
Circuit and legendary Judge Learned Hand. But
because the April 1926 Mercury had already been
mailed, an injunction was no longer an appropriate

All hail the Mencken manĀ  :laugh:
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