The Daily Agenda for Saturday, March 28

Jim Burroway

March 28th, 2015

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Lafayette, LA; Lake Worth, FL.

Other Events This Weekend: European Gay Ski Week, Avoriaz, France; Los Angeles Leather Pride, Los Angeles, CA; AIDS WAlk, Orlando, FL; European Snow Pride, Tignes, France.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From GPU News, January 1977, page 26.

From GPU News, January 1977, page 26.

The Barracks was an old fleabag hotel located across the street from the Gold Coast bar, of the original International Mr. Leather fame.” Chuck Renslow, who ran a number of gay-oriented businesses in Chicago including the Gold Coast, remembered taking the Barracks over in 1975: “It was at one time a whorehouse and it was right across the street from the Gold Coast. The owner asked if I wanted to take it over or us it for anything, so for a while we rented it out for a hotel, bit not for too long. The beds were in horrible condition and we couldn’t use too many of the rooms — maybe ten or a dozen were in decent shape. … I eventually got rid of it since it needed so many repairs.” Today the building appears to be an apartment building with a Potbelly’s Sandwich Works on the ground floor.

From the The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), March 29, 1894, page 4.

From The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), March 29, 1894, page 4.

“A Peculiar Friendship Made the Assassin Murderously Jealous”: 1894. Letter carrier William L. Clifford, 30, had just left the Chicago Post Office on Clark Street at noon and had walked the two blocks north to Madison street when Guy T. Olmstead, 29, came up behind Clifford and shot him in the head behind his left ear. Clifford sunk down in the snow (a snow storm would dump six more inches that day), and Olmstead shot him twice more, once more in the head and once in the back. Clifford was in the company of about a dozen other carriers who had left the post office at about the same time. They were joined by lunchtime customers flooding out of restaurants at the sound of the gun shots, about a hundred in all, who had disarmed Olmstead and threatened to lynch him on the spot. They had dragged Olmstead to a large light pole in front of Dale and Sempill’s Drug Store when about a dozen officers arrived, beat a passage way through the crowd and formed a cordon around Olmstead. A police wagon soon arrived, and the crowd surged forward as police struggled to get Olmstead into the wagon and hauled away to Central Station before the mob got out of control.

Clifford, who was unconscious, was taken into the drug store. Several doctors who had offices in the building worked to staunch the bleeding. An ambulance arrived and rushed Clifford to Presbyterian Hospital. According to early news reports, Clifford’s condition was pronounced fatal.

Meanwhile at Central Station, the distraught Olmstead told the police everything. About how he had meant to kill Clifford and then shoot himself. And he showed police a letter he had in this pocket, a murder-suicide note, which explained everything:

Mercy, March 27th.
To Him Who Cares to Read.

Fearing that my motives in killing Clifford and myself may be misunderstood, I write this to explain the cause of this homicide and suicide. Last summer Clifford and I began a friendship which developed into love. (He then recited the details of the relationship, and continued) Alter playing a Liszt rhapsody for Clifford over and over, he said that when our time to die came he hoped we would die together, listening to such glorious music as that. Our time has now come to die, but death will not be accompanied by music. Clifford’s love has, alas! turned to deadly hatred. For some reason Clifford suddenly ended our relations and friendship.”

Clifford and Olmstead had met in 1893, while both were letter carriers for the Post Office. They found they had quite a bit in common, including the fact that both had been school teachers. Their relationship blossomed in the summer of 1893, but Clifford ended it soon after. Clifford also urged Olmstead to undergo “medical treatment” and offered to pay expenses. Olmstead rejected the idea, and continued to, well, stalk Clifford, writing him passionate letters and following him around. Finally Clifford went to his superiors at the post office, showed them Olmstead’s letters, and Olmstead was out of his job by early December.

On January 7, Olmstead acquiesced to Clifford’s advice and entered the Polyclinic Hospital to have his testicles removed, which was believed to be a sure-fire cure for homosexuality (see Aug 16, Feb 7) It wasn’t. He became depressed and checked himself into Mercy Hospital. On March 19, he wrote to Mercy Hospital’s Dr. Eugene S. Talbot, who had by then established himself as something of an authority on sexual matters. Olmstead’s letter is full of what we would now recognize as an extreme case of internalized homophobia:

I returned to Chicago last Wednesday night, but felt so miserable I concluded to enter a hospital again, and so came to Mercy, which is very good as hospitals go. But I might as well go to Hades as far as any hope of my getting well is concerned. I am utterly incorrigible, utterly incurable, and utterly impossible. At home I thought for a time that I was cured, but I was mistaken, and after seeing Clifford last Thursday I have grown worse than ever so far as my passion for him is concerned. Heaven only knows how hard I have tried to make a decent creature out of myself, but my vileness is uncontrollable, and I might as well give up and die. I wonder if the doctors knew that after emasculation it was possible for a man to have erections, commit masturbation, and have the same passion as before. I am ashamed of myself; I hate myself; but 1 can’t help it. I am without medicine, a big, fat, stupid creature, without health or strength, and I am disgusted with myself. I have no right to live, and I guess people have done right in abusing and condemning me. I know now that this disease was born in me, and will leave me only when my breath leaves me.

Olmstead was discharged from Mercy only a few days before the shooting.

This wasn’t Olmstead’s first experience with emotional distress due to his sexuality. Born near Danville, Illinois, he had been molested at the age of twelve by a male relative. As an adult, he became a school teacher in Connecticut and married the daughter of a prosperous farmer. But a short time later, he fell in love with her male cousin. He divorced his wife and returned to Illinois. By 1886, he was in the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane in Kankakee, where he remained for three years. Things were looking up when he moved to Chicago, found gainful employment and eventually secured a good job at the Post Office.

The sensational shooting, as you can imagine, appeared in newspapers nationwide, even if some reports fudged the details. The New York Times, said that Olmstead shot Clifford “because such charges were preferred against him (Olmstead) that he was discharged as a letter carrier.” The Chicago Daily Tribune was much less circumspect, reporting that Clifford “had been his roommate, and the severance of a peculiar friendship made the assassin murderously jealous.” Over the next day, Olmstead tried to kill himself in his jail cell four times by butting his head against the bars of the cell, and then a fifth time at 10:30 at night by swallowing rat poison and arsenic which, according to the Tribune, “he had sewed in the waistband of his trousers four days previous to the shooting of Clifford.” Olmstead was rushed to County Hospital, where he was given an emetic and survived.

Clifford also survived, and by May he was “nearly fully recovered” enough to visit with his co-workers at the Post Office, although he remained on medical leave. Surprisingly the press — at least the Tribune, found a measure of sympathy for Olmstead. An editorial appeared in the same edition that first reported the shooting which called or a defense fund for Olmstead:

We respectfully suggest to some of our Judges the propriety of raising a defense fund immediately on behalf of Guy T. Olmstead, who shot and mortally wounded a letter carrier yesterday … Olmstead shot a man because he loved him. …

The defense fund of the bench and bar cannot be raised too quickly. It is evident that Olmstead has few friends and no money. He will probably be quickly tried and hanged, without benefit of clergy, unless the bench, acting together, shall intervene in his behalf at the earliest possible moment. We do not see why the county should be put to the expense of a trial… If Olmstead was not actually insane when the crime was committed it is more than likely that he is insane now. His mind is much disturbed.”

Olmstead was committed to the Criminal Insane Asylum on July 18. Seven months later, he was discharged from the asylum, whereupon hepromptly returned to Chicago and demanded his testicles from the city’s postmaster, who he accused of engaging in a conspiracy against him. That got him admitted to the Cook Insane Hospital. He was released at some time — I don’t know when — but was arrested again in 1899 when a policeman saw him dropping his gold watch and chain into a letter box on Clark Street. This time, he was sent to the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane in Kankakee, where he may have remained until his death there in 1927.

Clifford married in 1899 and had a daughter in 1904. He eventually retired from the Post Office and died in 1941 in the Chicago suburb of Riverside.

[Sources: “Shot on the Street.” The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL, March 29, 1894): 4.

“Shot in Broad Day.” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 29, 1894): 2. Available online here.

“A Great New Chance for the Judges.” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 29, 1894): 8. Available online here.

“Almost a Lynching in Chicago.” The New York Times (March 29, 1894): 1. Available online here.

“Olmstead Takes a Dose of Poison” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 30, 1894): 8. Available online here.

“Mail Carrier Clifford Is Well.” Chicago Daily Tribune (May 17, 1894): 8. Available online here.

“Olmstead Returns From the Asylum.” The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL., February 9, 1895): 7.

Eugene S. Talbot, Havelock Ellis. “A case of developmental degenerative insanity, with sexual inversion, melancholia, following removal of testicles, attempted murder and suicide.” Journal of Mental Science 42, no. 177 (April 1896): 341-344.

“G.T. Olmstead Sent to a Hospital.” The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL., September 13, 1899): 5.

Havelock Ellis. Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Volume 1: Sexual Inversion (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 1901): 107-112. Available online here.]

Dirk Bogarde: 1921. He was born Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde, but his friends and fans called him Dirk. After serving in the Queen’s Royal Regiment in World War II as an intelligence officer, he became one of Britain’s top matinee idols in the 1950s. In the 1960s he decided to do away with his heart-throb image with more challenging roles, including that of the closeted Melville Farr in 1961’s Victim, who resolves to break up an extortion racket that targets gay men. Time magazine, in its review of Victim, called it “a plea for perversion.” “Everybody in the picture who disapproves of homosexuals proves to be an ass, a dolt or a sadist,” Time fumed. “Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself.”

Bogarde won critical acclaim for playing the sinister Hugo Barrett in 1963’s The Servant. Time, by then, had reconsidered their opinion of him, noting his transition from screen idol to serious actor.  (Also: “He is a bachelor, and lives a most unpublic life.”) Bogarde took on the gay lead in the 1971 art house film Death in Venice. Warner Brothers tried to drop the distribution of Death in Venice because they feared it would be banned for obscenity, but relented after Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne attended the London premiere.

If it was brave for a popular actor to take on gay roles like that, it was doubly brave of Bogarde because he never officially came out although his sexuality was often the subject of rumors. He remained dedicated to his lifelong partner, Anthony Forwood, whose 1988 death after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease and liver cancer led Bogarde to become an advocate for assisted suicide. Bogarde, by then had quit acting and turned to writing, publishing seven memiors and several novels. Bogarde didn’t come out in any of his memoirs, although he did talk about caring for Forwood. Bogarde was knighted in 1992, suffered a dibilitating stroke in 1996, and died of a heart attack in 1999. It wasn’t until 2004, upon the publication of an authorized biography, that his brother, Gareth van den Bogaerde, finally acknowledged publicly that Dirk was gay.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

This your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


March 28th, 2015

Tiny thing but it puts the Olmsted story in a better perspective, and since you use the sentence as your title, the word ‘peculiar’ when that account was written meant ‘particular’. So the newspaper writer wan’t calling it weird or odd but rather a particular kind of friendship. Dickens uses the word peculiar in the same manner.

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