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Guide to the John Armstrong Chaloner papers, 1862-1935

Summary

John Armstrong Chaloner was a celebrity and writer known for coining the catchphrase “Who’s looney now?” in the aftermath of psychiatric experiments and own legal troubles regarding his sanity. Great-grandson of John Jacob Astor; from Cobham (Albemarle County), Virginia. Collection includes business and personal correspondence, legal papers, writings and drafts by Chaloner, printed materials primarily composed of newspaper clippings, and some personal financial documents and photographs. The letters, almost half of the collection, are concerned with Chaloner’s attempts to have himself declared sane after a four-year involuntary internment in Bloomingdale Asylum at White Plains, New York.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.00208
Title
John Armstrong Chaloner papers
Date
1876-1933
Extent
12 Linear Feet, Approx. 6,500 Items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Material in English

Collection Overview

The John Armstrong Chaloner papers have been arranged into five series: Correspondence, Legal Papers, Writings/Drafts, Printed Materials, and Personal Materials. Correspondence, almost half the collection, comprises business and personal correspondence. Most the content consists of Chaloner’s communications and consultations with various attorneys in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia that address his multiple legal battles. Legal Papers consists of legal briefs, appeals, court transcripts, depositions, memos, and notes from Chaloner’s various legal petitions and trails. Writings/Drafts comprises manuscript drafts, notes, and some published versions of Chaloner’s assorted publications. Printed Materials includes an assortment of magazine articles, advertisements, invitations, flyers, and newspaper clippings. Personal Materials includes some personal photographs and an assortment of financial documents such as bills, receipts, cancelled checks, and ledger sheets.

More Biographical / Historical Info

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], John Armstrong Chaloner Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Correspondence, 1876-1932 and undated

Almost half of the collection, Correspondence comprises both business and personal letters. Most of the content consists of Chaloner’s communications with various attorneys in New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia that address his multiple legal battles. The letters discuss his efforts to regain possession of his estate, verdicts from psychologists concerning his mental condition, the circulation of his sonnets on European politics prior to 1914, and congratulations on his receiving a favorable verdict from the U. S. Supreme Court regarding his sanity. Also includes content on the fostering of motion pictures for rural areas. The series contains one nineteenth-century typed transcript of a letter from 1782 regarding the Revolutionary War in Virginia.

Correspondents include: J. W. Bickett, Philip Alexander Bruce, Richard Evelyn Byrd, J. H. Choate, Dr. John Staige Davis, Richard, Donaho, W. A. Dunn, Walter Duranty, John W. Fishburne, Armistead C. Gordon, James Lindsay Gordon, M. M. Habbiston, Charles Hartnett, Thomas N. Hill, Herbert W. Jackson, Joseph Jastrow, Claude Kitchin, J. P. Morris, Lee Slate Overman, W.L. Phelps, William D. Reed, John D. Rhodes, J. M. Stoddard, Morris Streusand, F. H. Treacy, Frederick A. Ware, J. E. White, Micajah Woods, the governors of South Carolina and Georgia, and with the Washington Post.

Locations for much of the correspondence remain on the eastern coast of the United States: New York, New York; White Plains, NY; Concord, North Carolina; Halifax County, NC; Raleigh, NC; the Western State Hospital in Roanoke Rapids, NC; Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane in Philadelphia, PA; Albemarle County, Virginia; Lynchburg, VA; and Staunton, VA.

Correspondence, 1876-1904
(15 folders)

Personal correspondence with a variety of individuals. Also includes Chaloner's correspondence with attorneys in Virgina, New York, and North Carolina

Box 1
Correspondence, 1905-1916
(14 folders)

Includes 1906 July 17 letter to William Randolph Hearst from Chaloner

Box 2
Correspondence, 1917-1932 and undated
(16 folders)

Personal correspondence with a variety of individuals. Also includes Chaloner's correspondence with a variety of attorneys, mostly in Virgina and North Carolina

Box 3
Bound volume of correspondence, 1920-1923

Consists of nineteenth century tissue paper carbon copies; includes alphabatized index of correspondents with page numbers for their letters

Box 9

2. Legal Papers, 1891-1925 and undated

Legal Papers consists of legal briefs, appeals, court transcripts, depositions, memos, and notes from Chaloner’s various legal petitions and trails. Included are the cases Thomas T. Sherman v. John Armstrong Chaloner, Chaloner v. Sherman, Chaloner v. New York Evening Post, Chaloner v. United Industrial Company, and Heil J. Evans v. Omer B. Johnson et. al., Ferguson v. Crawford, Chaloner v. Society of the New York Hospital, Miller v. Chaloner, and William Dike Reed v. Chaloner.

Documents within the series come from multiple courts and legal appeals, such as the Southern District Court of New York, the New York Supreme Court, Virginia Western District Court, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit), and the U. S. Supreme Court.

Legal Papers, 1891-1919 and undated
(13 folders)

Legal briefs, appeals, court transcripts, opening statement drafts, memos, notes, correspondence; includes the cases Thomas T. Sherman v. John Armstrong Chaloner, Chaloner v. Sherman, Chaloner v. New York Evening Post, Chaloner v. United Industrial Company, Heil J. Evans v. Omer B. Johnson et. al.

Box 4
Legal Papers, 1912-1925 and undated
(8 folders)

Legal briefs, petitions, court transcripts, depositions, orders for Writ of Protection, notes, correspondence; includes the cases Chaloner v. Sherman, Ferguson v. Crawford, Chaloner v. Society of the New York Hospital, Miller v. Chaloner, William Dike Reed v. Chaloner, Chaloner v. New York Evening Post

Box 5
California Assembly Bill on Mental Illness and Commitment, 1923
Box 5
U. S. Supreme Court Transcript, Chaloner v. The Washington Post, 1922
Box 5
U. S. Supreme Court briefs, Chaloner v. W. Gilmer Dunn, 1921
Box 5
U. S. Supreme Court excerpt of brief, Chaloner v. Thomas T. Sherman, 1897

From The Society of the New York Hospital

Box 5
Art scholarships, Chaloner Paris Prize, 1891-1903

Press releases, notes, accounting logs

Box 5

3. Writings/Drafts, 1903-1933 and undated

Writings/Drafts comprises manuscript drafts, notes, and some published versions of Chaloner’s assorted publications. Included are treatises on the lunacy laws of various states, Chaloner’s experiments in psychology, a variety of sonnets, and drafts of two plays: Robbery Under Law, and Saul, A Tragedy in Three Acts.

Assorted manuscript treatises on lunacy law by John Armstrong Chaloner, 1903-1904 and undated
(3 folders)
Box 5
"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

Manuscript drafts and notes

Box 5
"National Need of Lunacy Law Reform", 1921

Published lecture

Box 6
Assorted manuscript drafts and notes, 1905
Box 6
Assorted lecture notes and sonnet drafts, 1910-1933 and undated
(7 folders)

Includes Saul: A Tragedy in Three Acts, "The X-Faculty, or, the Pythagorean Triangle of Psychology," "New Force in Regrowing Tooth," and various sonnets. Also includes 1910 United States census data and Chaloner Essay Contest and History Prize manuscripts

Box 6
Assorted sonnet drafts, "In Memoriam: Shakespeare-Wordsworth-Lord Byron", 1915

Includes World War I news bulletin manuscript drafts

Box 6
"A Brief for the Defense of the Unequivocal Divinity", 1923-1924

Published lecture

Box 6
"Hell: Per a Spirit-Message Therefrom (Alleged): a Study in Graphic-Automatism," and Chaloner's sonnets and their newspaper reivews,, 1912-1913

Drafts, notes, press materials; also includes indenture with Roanoke Rapids, NC

Box 6
"Pieces of Eight: A Sequence of War Sonnets," "The Hazard of Die," "The Swan Song of 'Who's Looney Now'?", 1914

Manuscript drafts, notes, press releases

Box 6
Robbery Under Law Act I, assorted sonnet and lecture note drafts, 1922-1925
Box 6
Robbery Under Law Acts II-III, Cooper Union 'Rex' Lectures, 1918-1919

Manuscript drafts and notes

Box 6
Robbery Under Law, reviews of Chaloner's various writings, 1916-1917

Includes assorted notes and drafts, newspaper bulletins from World War I, and a list of lawyer fees

Box 6
Robbery Under Law revisions, 1920-1921

Includes interspersed assorted lecture notes and drafts

Box 7
Robbery Under Law reviews, 1920
Box 7
"The Strength of Sin is the Law", 1917

Published lecture

Box 7
"The X-Faculty, or, the Pythagorean Triangle of Psychology", 1907-1909

Drafts, ledger accounting sheets; also includes drafts of sonnets from Scorpio sonnets by Chaloner

Box 7

4. Printed Materials, 1888-1933 and undated

Printed Materials includes an assortment of magazine articles, advertisements, invitations, flyers, invitations, and newspaper clippings. The newspaper clippings are largely confined to the career of Chaloner’s divorced wife, the novelist Amélie Rives, as well as comments caused by the popular phrase Chaloner coined, “Who’s looney now?.”

Assorted printed materials and publications, 1901-1931 and undated
(2 folders)

Magazine advertisements, articles, newsletters, invitations, flyers, Virginia House of Delegates pamphlets

Box 7
Chaloner Paris Prize Foundation pamphlets, 1919-1923
Box 7
"Introduction to Third Court Theatre Lecture", undated
Box 7
Assorted newspaper clippings, 1888-1933
(7 folders)

Includes clippings from the Chicago Examiner, Chicago Tribune, New York City Globe, New York City Journal, New York City Revue, New York City World, New York Law Journal, Philadelphia Record, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Washington Times

Box 7
Assorted newspaper clippings, 1888-1933
(2 folders)

Includes clippings from the Chicago Examiner, Chicago Tribune, New York City Globe, New York City Journal, New York City Revue, New York City World, New York Law Journal, Philadelphia Record, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Washington Times

Box 8

5. Personal Materials, 1902-1932 and undated

Personal Materials includes an assortment of postcards, photographs, and financial documents. Postcards and photographs include snapshots, formal portraits, and buildings in Roanoke Rapids, NC. Financial documents include bills, receipts, cancelled checks, and ledger sheets. The ledger sheets include the finances for the Merry Mills, Chaloner’s estate in Albemarle, VA.

Assorted financial records, 1904-1929
(4 folders)

Bills, receipts, cancelled checks, ledger sheets and budgets from The Merry Mills estate; also includes diary fragments interspersed

Box 8
Photographs and postcards, 1902-1932 and undated

Personal and family snapshots, formal portraits, buildings in Roanoke Rapids, NC, photograph of letter

Box 8
 

Historical Note

Biographical / Historical

John Armstrong Chaloner (1862-1935) was a celebrity and writer known for coining the catchphrase “Who’s looney now?” in the aftermath of psychiatric experiments and own legal troubles regarding his sanity. Known in his youth as Archie Chanler, Chaloner was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor. When Chaloner’s family learned he believed he possessed a new sense that he called the “X-Faculty,” they had him committed in March 1897 to a psychiatric hospital in New York. In June 1899, a court declared Chaloner insane and ruled he be permanently institutionalized. Chaloner escaped in November 1900 and entered a private clinic, where doctors declared him competent and able to function in society. He spent the next two decades crafting legal strategies to challenge his New York verdict and lunacy laws in general. His case became the cause célèbre for many leading psychologists. Continually at odds with his family, in 1908 Chaloner legally changed his name from Chanler to what he believed to be its original spelling. Chaloner reconciled with his family in 1919, when they no longer opposed his petition for a New York court to certify him legally sane, but kept his changed surname.

Throughout his legal battles, Chaloner published almost two dozen books and articles on his experiments with psychotherapy and his stay in the insane asylum. Books like The Lunacy Law of the World (1906) attacked psychiatric medicine, which proved controversial within the field. Chaloner had also married the novelist Amélie Rives in 1888, but the couple divorced in 1895. After his escape from the asylum, Chaloner lived near her Albemarle County home for most of his remaining life on his own estate, the Merry Mills. Chaloner died of cancer in 1935.

Related Material

  • United States Supreme and N.Y. Circuit Court Chaloner trial records [three electronic resources](Duke University Libraries)
  • John Armstrong Chaloner Papers [147 items](Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia)


Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.

Provenance

The John Armstrong Chaloner Papers were acquired by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library from 1936-1954.

Processing Information

Processed by Paul Sommerfeld, April 2017

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 36-828 and later accessions.