An American Original
April 26, 2012 8:46 PM   Subscribe

A heroic leader of a cavalry charge at Gettysburg, a legendary newspaperman, twice famed co-inventor of the Wagon Lit train compartment --- and a real bastard’s bastard, a con man, a swindler, a quite-nearly-convicted blackmailer: all of these are one man. William d'Alton Mann. The pseudononymous writer of "The Saunterer" (and editor-in-chef Town Topics, the New York paper in which it was published from the 1880s until the 1930s) William d’Alton Mann was a pioneer of gossip who invented the blind item and --- entirely inadvertently --- gave the world Emily Post.

This Civil War site has more on Mann’s youth and military career (including a picture of our hero in cavalry uniform, and if you like beards, then rowr).

Train enthusiasts the world over hail Mann's invention of the 'boudoir car' (U.S. Patent No. 122,622) an advance on the dominant Pullman sleepers which became the European standard and, following Mann's partnership with Belgian inventor Georges Nagelmackers, spurred the development of the legendary Orient Express. (You can still buy a stock certificate for the company Mann started to try and break into the American market with his invention, signed by the old buzzard himself).

Subscribers of Time may read his obit, and subscribers of the New Yorker can dig on two pieces about him by legendary city reporter Andy Logan, who wrote the book on Mann in 1965.

In the interest of spreading joy, here's a few of the choicer quotes from Logan's original New Yorker pieces on the master. On former Union officer Mann’s post-war career as a newspaper owner in Reconstruction Alabama:
“On one occasion, when a delegation of Northerners, including a Pennsylvania congressman named William Kelley, arrived in Mobile with the intention of admonishing its white citizens that they had an obligation to accept their Negro brethren…Mann ran an editorial expressing the pious hope that there would be no bloodshed but noting that another objectionable Irishman had recently been torn limb from limb on Boston Common.”
The Roosevelts were the subject of a particular vendetta of Mann’s:
“[In 1904] Alice Roosevelt, the President’s twenty-year-old daughter, made her first excursion to Newport…[Mann] led off the ‘Saunterings’ department with a paragraph asserting that while the young lady was there she had disgraced herself by ‘indulging freely in stimulants,’ going about unchaperoned, and permitting herself to become the subject of stories involving ‘certain things gentle people are not supposed to discuss.’”
Mann's preferred blackmail tactic was to threaten exposure in his paper, but hint to his victim that this could be forestalled for a small contribution to a fund a Who's who-style volume he was putting together called Fads and Fancies. (Thus he had you coming and going --- refuse and have your sins exposed; but pay him off an a fawning profile of you was sure to appear in a select volume populated with like portraits of your fellow victims.) Most paid up:
"The most forthright position on the subject was taken by Charles M. Schwab, [president of Bethlehem Steel and also] a Fads and Fancies benefactor…Schwab told the [prosecutor] that he had paid fifteen hundred dollars for a copy of the book because Town Topics has once been the only publication to carry an accurate account of an incident involving him and the bank at Monte Carlo and ‘I felt such accuracy should be rewarded.’"
posted by Diablevert (3 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have tried and tried to find an online archive which has copies of Town Topics --- the scattered Saunterer quotes I've come across are absolutely delicious --- but no soap. If anybody out there's got better google fu, please post in the thread. I'd be grateful, for one.
posted by Diablevert at 8:49 PM on April 26, 2012

Fantastic post.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:15 PM on April 26, 2012

all of these are one man mann
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:34 PM on April 26, 2012

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