Saturday, January 28, 2012

A clever hoax? The Coney Island House Register now at the Brooklyn Public Library

I quote from a blog dated 26 January 2012:
The Coney Island House Register: a literary mystery
Jan 26, 2012 12:19 PM | 4 comments

The register of Coney Island's first hotel, Coney Island House, is a hefty volume. Its morocco leather trim, raised bands, gold-leaf detailing and marbled endpapers proclaim it as the record of an establishment that is unpretentious yet of solid worth. Coney Island House was built by the Gravesend and Coney Island Road and Bridge Company on land procured from Court Van Sicklen in the 1820s. Those who know the area today may find it hard to imagine the shore as it must have been then--a wild beach with a single road leading up to it, frequented only by clammers and beachcombers from nearby Gravesend. With the establishment of this hotel and others, a few tourists would come out to enjoy the sea air and the long vistas.

Page after and page of elaborate signatures could easily lull one into a reverie on the brevity of human life, or a reflection on the extraordinary changes that would take place in Coney Island over the course of the next century and a half. But then, every now and again, one turns a page, and the eye lands on a name that looks familiar. Can it be...? Yes, that is Jenny Lind, with P.T. Barnum's name right below it!

And yet, one has to wonder...the signature preceding these at close of day, Thursday 12th September 1850, is that of "Bill Blunderbuss, Shirttail Bend." There are other spoofs. Some wag --perhaps a hotel employee--signs in as Solomon Frizzlepipes, traveling in the company of Judith Snuffs. On another day a Longsnoot family comes to stay. Friday 13th September 1850 opens with the arrival of these two illustrious personages--or are they perhaps fictitious additions, intended to raise the status of the hotel?

But it is a page in early September of 1849 that really arouses wonderment. Mrs Bostwick and her friend Mrs Clement, now long gone, left their signatures as proof of a long-ago day spent by the sea. And so too, if we are to believe our eyes, did Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and friends. According to Melville's biographer, Hershel Parker, "There happens to survive no known record of Melville's ever having seen Poe, although he describes Poe to the life in The Confidence Man (ch. 36)." Well then, if we believe in the authenticity of these signatures, here is proof that Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and a handful of other literary figures met at Coney Island on Wednesday September 5th, 1849. Also among the company was their mutual friend Evert Duyckinck, writer Cornelius Mathews, and William Gilmore Simms who, with Duyckinck and Mathews had formed a literary group called Young America in the 1830s. Poet and satirist Fitz Greene Halleck completed the party.

Handwriting experts! Speak up and let us know what you think!

Doubt has been cast on the authenticity of these signatures. The Poe Log, a meticulously researched day-by day account of Poe's life, locates him around Richmond VA on this date. Researchers at the Poe Museum tell us that "Poe’s whereabouts at the time [are] well documented by his letters as well as by newspaper notices of his lectures and his initiation in Richmond into the Sons of Temperance."


I tried to post a comment on this blog several hours ago. It may yet appear. Here I will point out only that in my THE NEW MELVILLE LOG (electronic) I have transcribed a letter from Evert A. Duyckinck to his brother George dated 5 September 1849. In it he chats about various people including Irving and Thomas Powell but says not a word about an excursion to Coney Island. Could he have written it very early, before being asked out to Brooklyn? Certainly he could not have written it at the end of the day. I suspect that the register is a very funny hoax, maybe by some modern wretch who found an original register and saw he could have great fun doctoring it up. They should put up images of several full pages so we can check newspapers and

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