Tag Archives: 1910s

“Who’s looney now?”: John Armstrong Chaloner’s fight to prove his sanity

Post contributed by Dr. Paul Sommerfeld, Rubenstein Graduate Intern for Manuscripts Processing and one of Duke’s newest PhDs in the Dept. of Music.

By the age of 26, John Armstrong Chaloner (1862-1935)—or to his friends, Archie—had amassed a fortune of $4 million and seemed poised to live the privileged life the wealthy elite of New York City enjoyed in the late nineteenth century. In 1897, however, his family had him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Chaloner spent the next 22 years fighting to prove his sanity. His papers, a mixture of correspondence, legal documents, and writings by Chaloner himself, offer not only a fascinating portrait of Chaloner but also a snapshot of attitudes toward mental health in the early twentieth century.

In the 1890s, Chaloner became interested in psychological experiments. He believed that he possessed a new sense, which he termed the “X-Faculty.” Among many claims, Chaloner stated that the faculty provided him a profitable stock market tip, would turn his brown eyes gray, allowed him to carry hot coals in his hands unharmed, and caused him to resemble Napoleon.

Newspaper clipping with Chaloner and Napoleon
Milwaukee Free Press, Oct. 1911

Chaloner’s family regarded his claims—in addition to his blasé attitude toward the scandal of his divorced wife, the novelist Amélie Rives—as evidence of insanity. Chaloner continued to live near Rives’ estate in Albemarle County, VA, and even befriended her second husband. Chaloner’s brother reportedly labeled him as “looney.” In response, Chaloner’s family had him committed to the Bloomingdale Hospital in White Plains. On 12 June 1899, a New York court declared him insane and ruled that he be permanently institutionalized.

Letter from Chaloner to attorney, 3 July 1897
Letter from Chaloner to attorney, 1897 July 3

But Chaloner had other plans. He believed his family had him committed to seize his fortune and stop his experiments. Bitter sonnets composed during his time at the asylum reflect his anger and desire to clear his name. In November of 1900, he managed to escape to a private clinic, whose doctors declared him able to function in society. Thereafter, Chaloner plotted strategies to both overturn the New York verdict and change lunacy laws in America.

During his legal challenges, Chaloner became immortalized by the phrase “Who’s looney now?.” In the summer of 1910, Chaloner’s brother married the opera singer Lina Cavalieri and signed over control of his property to her. The marriage soon broke down, and Chaloner wired his brother the pithy catchphrase. Four years later Chaloner even titled one of his many books The Swan-Song of “Who’s Looney Now?” (1914), drawing on the phrase’s subsequent popularity.

Newspaper clipping about Chaloner's brother
New York City Evening Mail, 1910 Oct. 4

Chaloner’s correspondence, copious notes, and book drafts speak to his dedication in clearing his name. Filled with legal strategy and instructions to attorneys in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia, his letters trace his maneuvering within the legal system, reaching even the U. S. Supreme Court in 1916. In Chaloner v. Thomas T. Sherman, Chaloner sought damages for the withholding of his estate and fortune. Chaloner argued that because he was a resident of Virginia, New York had no jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court affirmed the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision.

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legal brief
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legal brief, 1914

Yet the courts of Virginia and North Carolina had declared Chaloner sane in 1901, allowing him to live and maintain business interests in both states. New York continued to declare him legally insane until 1919, when his family no longer challenged the petition and reconciled with Chaloner.

Letter congratulating Chaloner on his legal victory, 1919 July 8
Letter congratulating Chaloner on his legal victory, 1919 July 8

Like his dogged legal challenges, Chaloner’s book drafts, including Four Years Behind the Bars of “Bloomingdale,” or, The Bankruptcy of Law in New York (1906) and The Lunacy Law of the World: Being That of Each of the Forty-Eight States and Territories of the United States, with an Examination Thereof and Leading Cases Thereon; Together with That of the Six Great Powers of Europe—Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia (1906), are also filled with annotations and revisions that fill every bit of available white space. Not even a calendar from the University of Virginia escaped unscathed.

Calendar with Chaloner's notes, 1906
Calendar with Chaloner’s notes, 1906

Chaloner’s papers offer a fascinating portrait into the mind of a determined, if eccentric, man, while also simultaneously portending the burgeoning changes toward psychiatry in both medicine and the law that developed throughout the twentieth century.

The John Armstrong Chaloner Papers are available for research.

Oatmeal Cakes and Baked Oatmeal (1917) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

While processing the Slade Family Papers my colleague came across several delightful pamphlets from the US Department of Agriculture on economical and nutritious foods. One in particular caught my eye, “Do You Know Oatmeal?” which was published in 1917. Conveniently, it had already been digitized and was available through the Internet Archive.

Do you know oatmeal?

As a long time fan of oatmeal, I was thrilled to see it get the government promotion it deserves. There were several recipes to choose from, and in a change from some past test kitchen experiences, all the recipes seemed edible to this oatmeal lover. Finally, I decided on “Spiced Oatmeal Cakes” which seemed to be a cross between a cookie and a muffin, and “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts.” As a vegetarian, I was especially intrigued by the direction “Instead of meat, cook this appetizing dish for your family.”

oatmeal 2
Part cookie, part muffin?
oatmeal 3
Savory oats

According to Wikipedia oatmeal can refer to ground oats, rolled oats in various forms (instant, quick cooking, “old fashioned”, etc.) or steel cut or Irish oats. The recipe did not specify a type, but the long cooking time given on the front page (1 hour in a double boiler) suggested the “old fashioned” variety rather than instant or quick cooking. However, I never cook my oats longer than 10 minutes on the stove top so I was a bit skeptical. In the end, I went with what I had in my cabinet, Quaker Old Fashioned.

oatmeal 4
The Face of Oatmeal

I started with the oat cakes. All the ingredients were things I already had in my pantry. The only oddities in the recipe were 3 tablespoons of unspecified fat and the lack of oven temperature. I chose canola oil and 350 degrees.

oatmeal 5
Mise en place

These were very easy to assemble, even with the extra step of precooking the oatmeal. The dough/batter was very dry and I had to add ¼ cup water in order to reach a stir-able consistency. I also did not get 12 cakes.

oatmeal 6
Into the oven they go!
Thirty Minutes Later
Thirty Minutes Later!

Verdict: They were super tasty warm from the oven. I ate 3. They also smelled delicious while they baked.

The “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts” was equally as easy to assemble. Sadly, this would not feed 5 people, despite what the recipe says. I regularly cook 2 cups of dry oats for 2 people for breakfast, and then add fruit, flax seeds, and sugar. 2 cups already cooked oatmeal, split between 5 people would be a snack at best, even with the addition of peanuts and milk.

I used apple cider vinegar, and I used soymilk instead of regular milk. I also reduced the salt to 1.5 teaspoons. I also accidentally added ½ teaspoon pepper instead of ¼ that the recipe calls for. Since the oven was already preheated, I stuck with the previously decided upon temperature of 350 degrees.

oatmeal 8
Ingredients for Baked Oatmeal and Nuts
oatmeal 9
The Final Product

Verdict: This was fairly tasty, although a little bland. I would also bake it longer than 15 minutes if I were to make it again.

Post contributed by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger

Pick the President, 1912 Edition

Happy Presidents’ Day! As weird as our current election season has turned out to be, it has a way to go before it compares to the drama and excitement of the 1912 presidential election. That’s the election where William Howard Taft (Republican incumbent), Woodrow Wilson (Democratic challenger), Theodore Roosevelt (former Republican president who lost the Republican nomination and decided to run as the nominee of the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party), and Eugene V. Debs (the perpetual nominee of the Socialist Party) battled it out in a four-way race for the White House. Imagine if there had been televised debates back then.

I recently found this postcard in the Slade Family Papers that capitalized (sorry, Debs) on the enthusiasm surrounding the race. Written to friends in North Carolina just before the election, the anonymous author asks “How are politics in that part of the country? Have you any good reads yet?”

IMG_20160212_145240039Flip the card over and it is so cool! It’s a “magic moving picture card” that lets you slide the tab between all four candidates to “pick the winner.” I’ve only seen this sort of thing in children’s books, like Gallop.  (This isn’t quite Scanimation, but it is similar to that technology.)

You can see a video of us playing with the postcard below. Who will it be?

The sender adds the words “Hurray for Wilson!” on the side of the window. Turns out, they were right — Wilson did win the contest and served as president from 1913 until 1921.

Psst, the deadline for registering to vote in our upcoming primaries in North Carolina is Friday, February 19. Register here.