Crane & the Crosbys

On this day in 1929, Hart Crane hosted a party for Harry and Caresse Crosby, attended by E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Malcolm Cowley, Walker Evans, and a crowd of Crane’s sailor friends. Held at Crane’s apartment in full view of the Brooklyn Bridge, the party was to celebrate Crane’s completion of his seven-year poem, The Bridge, and its imminent publication by the Crosbys’ Black Sun Press. It was also a bon voyage to the Crosbys, who were scheduled to sail for Europe within the week, returning to the wild and wealthy expatriate pursuits they had declared their mission — in telegrams home, for example: PLEASE SELL 10,000 WORTH OF STOCK. WE HAVE DECIDED TO LEAD A MAD AND EXTRAVAGANT LIFE.

Crane had written parts of The Bridge at the Crosbys’ retreat outside Paris. This was a place of champagne, polo played on donkeys, and literary projects, all of it inspired or just funded by the Crosbys — both were high society Boston, and Harry’s uncle was J. P. Morgan. The Black Sun Press had evolved from being a vehicle for the Crosbys’ own bad poetry to being an important outlet for many famous modernists, among them James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Archibald MacLeish. Whatever else was said about their money, self-indulgence, and Jazz Age pranks, the Crosbys were known to be serious about full living and good books.

But if Harry Crosby was among the richest of the Lost Generation, he was also among its most lost. Behind Crosby’s “black sun” logo was a cryptic personal mythology based on darkness and light, and a commitment to living hard and dying young. One plan was to blaze out by airplane, another was to jump — on the morning of his death Harry asked Caresse to jump from their hotel room. Josephine Bigelow, Crosby’s mistress, was his “Sun Princess,” and one of the few who took it all seriously: two and a half days after Crane’s party, Crosby and Bigelow committed double suicide, using Harry’s revolver, engraved with a sun.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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