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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
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“Who’s looney now?”: John Armstrong Chaloner’s fight to prove his sanity

Wed, 2017-05-03 17:57
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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 NapoleonMilwaukee 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 1897Letter 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 brotherNew 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 briefU.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 8Letter 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, 1906Calendar 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.

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

The post “Who’s looney now?”: John Armstrong Chaloner’s fight to prove his sanity appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Looking at Jay Anderson’s Historical Photos of Duke

Wed, 2017-02-22 15:35
UNC-Chapel Hill vs. Duke Men's Basketball Game, January 14, 1978.

Post contributed by Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.

The University Archives recently completed processing of the Jay Carl Anderson Photographs and Papers, a collection with many images of Duke’s campus, students, and athletic events, as well as politicians, scenes of Durham and elsewhere in North Carolina, and many other locations and subjects, mostly dating from the 1970s and 1980s. The collection is a rich new resource for researchers interested in Blue Devils men’s basketball, student life, campus protests, the city of Durham, political campaigning in NC, and photojournalism, and it offers many beautiful and fascinating new views of familiar subjects.

East Campus pavilion, circa 1980East Campus pavilion, circa 1980

Jay Anderson was a native of New York State who enrolled at Duke in 1974. He first published a photograph in his local newspaper at 16, and by the time he was a Duke student he was working as a freelance photographer submitting images to the New York Times. He took pictures for the Chronicle and then became involved with the Chanticleer, serving as editor for the 1978 Chanticleer during his senior year. He photographed many aspects of life at Duke, taking pictures of students, classes, events, and scenes on campus, as well as representing life off campus, snapping pictures of life in the surrounding neighborhoods, downtown Durham, and elsewhere in the Triangle. He also traveled, spending about six months in Europe and going as far east as Moscow, photographing life in the Soviet Union in 1977. He brought many of these images back to the Duke community, publishing spreads in the Chronicle and showing his work in exhibits and contests.

A 1975 issue of the Chronicle featuring Anderson’s images of people in Durham.A 1975 issue of the Chronicle featuring Anderson’s images of people in Durham.

Anderson also photographed political persons and events, attending and photographing the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City and capturing presidential candidates and politicians, both on and off the campaign trail.

Jimmy Carter at a 1976 Presidential Debate on the campus of the College of William and Mary.Jimmy Carter at a 1976 Presidential Debate on the campus of the College of William and Mary.

A resident of Pegram dormitory, he took a number of photos of friends and residents. New to Durham and the South when he arrived at Duke, he took an interest in life off campus and in the surrounding areas, including residents in nearby neighborhoods, events downtown, and the State Fair in Raleigh. He documented campus protests and performances, including visits from celebrities and politicians. And he lovingly captured athletics, particularly men’s basketball, capturing many of the players and fans mid-action.

UNC-Chapel Hill vs. Duke Men's Basketball Game, January 1978.UNC-Chapel Hill vs. Duke Men’s Basketball Game, January 14, 1978.

 

Johnny Dawkins, Colorado vs. Duke Men's Basketball Game, December 21, 1983.Johnny Dawkins, Colorado vs. Duke Men’s Basketball Game, December 21, 1983.

Many of the images are not labeled or identified, or have only general topical labels. As with many photographic collections, identifying information can sometimes be found in the image itself. Anderson also kept copies of many publications featuring his work, which include additional description.

1980 Duke/UNC basketball game, image submitted to New York Times.1980 Duke/UNC basketball game, image submitted to New York Times.

After graduation, Jay Anderson remained in Durham for many years, and continued to photograph Duke events, particularly men’s basketball, and he remained involved with the Chanticleer for several years. He became the official photographer for the American Dance Festival and worked as a freelance photographer for a variety of publications as well as for private commercial work (his ADF photographs can be found in the Jay Anderson Papers in the American Dance Festival Archives, also housed here at Duke).

We’re excited to make this collection available to researchers. For anyone with an interest in Duke, politics, photography, or any number of related topics, the Jay Carl Anderson Photographs and Papers offers a lot to explore.

The post Looking at Jay Anderson’s Historical Photos of Duke appeared first on The Devil's Tale.