The Myth of Ephraim Tutt: Arthur Train and His Great Literary Hoax

The Myth of Ephraim Tutt: Arthur Train and His Great Literary Hoax


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The Myth of Ephraim Tutt: Arthur Train and His Great Literary Hoax by Molly Guptill Manning

The Myth of Ephraim Tutt explores the true and previously untold story behind one of the most elaborate literary hoaxes in American history.

Arthur Train was a Harvard-educated and well-respected attorney. He was also a best-selling author. Train’s greatest literary creation was the character Ephraim Tutt, a public-spirited attorney and champion of justice.Guided by compassion and a strong moral compass, Ephraim Tutt commanded a loyal following among general readers and lawyers alike—in fact, Tutt’s fictitious cases were so well-known that attorneys, judges, and law faculty cited them in courtrooms and legal texts. People read Tutt’s legal adventures for more than twenty years, all the while believing their beloved protagonist was merely a character and that Train’s stories were works of fiction.

But in 1943 a most unusual event occurred: Ephraim Tutt published his own autobiography. The possibility of Tutt’s existence as an actual human being became a source of confusion, spurring heated debates. One outraged reader sued for fraud, and the legendary lawyer John W. Davis rallied to Train’s defense. While the public questioned whether the autobiography was a hoax or genuine, many book reviewers and editors presented the book as a work of nonfiction.

In The Myth of Ephraim Tutt Molly Guptill Manning explores the controversy and the impact of the Ephraim Tutt autobiography on American culture. She also considers Tutt’s ruse in light of other noted incidents of literary hoaxes, such as those ensuing from the publication of works by Clifford Irving, James Frey, and David Rorvik, among others.
As with other outstanding fictitious characters in the literary canon, Ephraim Tutt took on a life of his own. Out of affection for his favorite creation, Arthur Train spent the final years of his life crafting an autobiography that would ensure Tutt’s lasting influence—and he was spectacularly successful in this endeavor. Tutt, as the many letters written to him attest, gave comfort to his readers as they faced the challenging years of the Great Depression and World War II and renewed their faith in humanity and justice. Although Tutt’s autobiography bewildered some of his readers, the great majority were glad to have read the “life” story of this cherished character.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817317874
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 11/19/2012
Edition description: 1
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Molly Guptill Manning received her JD from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 2005. She is a staff attorney in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York.

Read an Excerpt

The Myth of Ephraim Tutt

Arthur Train and His Great Literary Hoax
By Molly Guptill Manning


Copyright © 2012 Molly Guptill Manning
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-1787-4

Chapter One

Arthur Train

I enjoy the dubious distinction of being known among lawyers as a writer, and among writers as a lawyer.

—Arthur Train

On March 13, 1944, Arthur Train was at the height of his literary career. His most recent book had become a best seller, and he could hardly believe the storm of publicity that surrounded it. Although his exact actions on that date have been lost to history, he likely followed his usual schedule and awoke early, dressed in his signature outfit—a dark blue pinstripe suit, a silk shirt, an unassuming tie, and brown shoes—and prepared to devote the next several hours to the welcome chore of writing at either Manhattan's University Club or Century Club. As he left his home, located at 113 East Seventy-Third Street, he bid his wife goodbye, grabbed his creased-brim hat and deposited it on his head, reached for his cane (as was the fashion at the time), and greeted the cantankerous early spring weather.

As mundane as it may have started, this day proved to be a remarkable one, for, by sunset, a handful of papers were delivered to Train that changed the course of the rest of his life. The papers were a summons and complaint; Train was being sued for fraud, along with his publisher and longtime editor. While the prospect of a lawsuit might ordinarily cause one to feel panic, I am nearly certain that upon reading these documents a look of amusement spread across Train's face, his lips formed a sly grin, and his eyes twinkled—he was absolutely delighted. In fact, the only matter that likely bothered him was that he had not considered how advantageous a lawsuit would be until he had already become a party to one.

Boyhood and Beyond

Arthur Cheney Train was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1875, to Charles and Sarah Train. His father attended Brown University and the Dane Law School of Harvard College, and after graduating with his law degree, he became district attorney of the northern district of Middle sex County, Massachusetts, in the late 1840s. Thereafter, Charles Train devoted his career to government service, working in a litany of positions. To name a few, he served as a Republican representative for the Thirty-Sixth and Thirty-Seventh US Congresses, which sat from 1859 to 1863. While Congress was recessed in 1862, Charles Train volunteered to serve in the Union army and worked "as assistant adjutant-general" during the Battle of Antietam. Charles Train was a delegate to the national Republican convention at Baltimore, which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1864, and was even honored with the distinction of being offered a seat as an associate justice on the US Supreme Court (which he declined). At the conclusion of his federal congressional term, Train returned to Massachusetts, where he worked within his local government, first as a member of the common council and later in the state legislature.

In 1871 he was elected attorney general of Massachusetts and was reelected annually to that position for seven years. During this time, Charles Train prosecuted an assortment of cases, including "several celebrated capital cases." By the 1870s, Train was known as "a criminal lawyer [who] unquestionably stood at the head of his profession, while as an attorney in civil cases he ranked among the most eminent attorneys in the State." According to Arthur Train, one of his father's schoolmates once described his father as "a genial, large-hearted, impulsive boy; sarcastic, transparent; never attempting to conceal his faults; nourishing no ill will; seeking no revenges; always ready to meet all consequences; just the boy—as in years after he was just the man—one would most like to have for a friend, or an enemy."

Despite Charles Train's successful and lucrative career, Arthur's mother—whom Arthur described as a "sweet little woman" who "had the charity and self-effacement of a saint"—governed their household with a strict sense of frugality, imparting a feeling on young Arthur that his "family came from a lower economic stratum than most of [his] fellows." In fact, Arthur claimed this "early sense of social inferiority" "dominated [his] life." As a child Train recalled turning to moneymaking enterprises such as digging for dandelions—which he sold for five cents per quart—and engaging in a "negligible trade in old iron and bottles" in order to have some spending money. The insecurity he felt regarding his social status "bred in [him] a recalcitrant individualism, that led [him] to question and challenge everything that was conventional and authoritative." This sense of rebellion may have proved especially problematic since Train was raised amid a strict Puritan tradition, to which his family, at a minimum, paid homage. Train recalled that during his childhood he spent many miserable Sundays "cooped up in a long high-backed pew during long, dreary hours, with out occupation except to draw surreptitious pictures of the minister in the back of [his] prayer book" and to play with small toys he had "smuggled" into church, which his father unfailingly discovered and confiscated.

Although Charles Train died when Arthur was only nine years old, Arthur had a few opportunities to travel from court to court—riding circuit—with his father, during which Arthur had his first experiences with the law. Apparently, these trips left quite an impression on Arthur, for, when he was only seven years old, while pretending to be a "prosecuting attorney, [he] sentenced all his schoolteachers to prison for life." In addition to what appears to be an early interest in the law, Arthur also loved writing stories. "[Writing] was a passion even in [his] childhood." Train also enjoyed reading whatever he could get his hands on. As a child he recalled reading his parents' magazines, one of which included a baffling column that told thrilling tales of "love and adventure" that of ten ended "abruptly with [a] laconic statement." Before he "gave [them] up ... in view of the inevitable disappointment attending the denouement," Arthur would sometimes amuse himself with writing a "more literary ending" to these sagas.

When Arthur turned twelve years old, he entered St. Paul's School, in Concord, New Hampshire, where, for the next four years, he spent "the happiest days of [his] youth," enjoying country life and "freedom from parental restraint." Although discipline was no small matter, "the presence of boys of [his] own age from all parts of the country opened up vistas into a new and exciting world." During this time, Arthur overcame some of his self-consciousness and insecurities; however, when he was admitted to Harvard University in 1896, they resurfaced. "My four years at Harvard were years of frustration, embittered by my inability to achieve the social recognition from my classmates to which I felt entitled. Whether or not there be (or was) such a thing as Harvard indifference, I found Harvard almost wholly indifferent to my own existence, and this intensified all the characteristics that engendered my upbringing." Train described his under graduate years as resulting "in nothing more but a complete intellectual demoralization," believing he had "left Cambridge with a less well-trained mind than when [he] entered it." Although he graduated magna cum laude and was a commencement speaker, he believed his success was based upon his selections of easy, "snap" courses and "sporadic cramming for examinations." Train claimed that he "loafed" through his four years, "sitting on the steps of [his] dormitory, smoking innumerable stogies."

After taking so little satisfaction with his years spent earning his undergraduate degree, it is no small wonder that Arthur remained at Harvard to attend its law school. Arthur was driven by an obligation to follow in his father's footsteps, and thus earned an LLB degree from Harvard Law School in 1899. While studying the law, Train dated Ethel Kissam, and the two were married on April 20, 1897, at St. Bartholomew's Church, in Manhattan. After Arthur's law school graduation, the Trains initially stayed in Boston, during which Arthur briefly worked in a "conventional ... law office."

In 1900 Arthur and Ethel moved to New York City. During the early years of their marriage, Ethel devoted herself to her writing career and succeeded in publishing several novels as well as stories in popular periodicals. Arthur, on the other hand, paid little attention to his writing and set out to make a name for himself in the legal world. His first job in New York was at Robinson, Biddle & Ward, located in lower Manhattan. Try as he might, however, Train found himself "bored, impatient and unhappy." Train's memory of his employment at this firm was far from ideal:

My desk looked out into a narrow and gloomy airshaft. Only by sticking my head out of the window on a clear day could I glimpse a patch of blue far, far above. It made me feel as if I were imprisoned at the bottom of a well. Across the shaft on the story next above was another window—just like mine—at which sat an ancient with sunken cheeks and wisps of white hair encircling his parchment-covered skull. His profile was side-ways to me, looking down, presumably at a desk, motionless. So far as I could see, he neither moved nor spoke. He was there every morning when I came; and he was there when I went home. Perhaps he is there yet;—if so, he looks the same. I used to wonder if he had ever been young. "There," I said to myself one day, "but for the grace of God goes Arthur Train!"

Train knew something had to change; however, he was unsure of when or how such change would come about.

On January 11, 1901, Train was at home, sick with a bad case of the flu. As he passed the time reading a stack of newspapers in bed, Train glanced at a headline that "eventually ... determine[d] the whole future course of [his] life." Flu be damned, Train dressed and headed to downtown Man hat tan, hoping his fate was about to change. The newspaper had reported that New York State governor Theodore Roosevelt had removed New York County district attorney Asa Bird Gardiner from office because it had become clear that he was no longer fit to serve. According to the New York Times, "certain leading politicians" had threatened to manipulate elections and revert to violence at the polls if necessary to get the votes they wanted. Gardiner, inexplicably, threw his support behind the chief of police, who indicated he would not try to stop such criminal violation of the law. Since the district attorney, by the very nature of his position, was to oversee the observance of the laws, Governor Roosevelt simply could not tolerate Gardiner's stance on this issue. Thus Governor Roosevelt fired Gardiner and named Eugene A. Philbin to be his successor. Since with a new district attorney there would be new jobs, Train saw this as an opportunity to leave his unsatisfying law firm career and try his hand at public service.

Train secured a letter of introduction to Philbin from Lewis L. Delafield, an esteemed member of the New York bar, and then made his "first visit to the grimy old building on Lafayette Street where [he] was destined to spend so many active years." Unfortunately, Train was too late. Philbin had already filled all the vacancies on his official staff and had exhausted the salary appropriations earmarked for his office. It was no small consolation, however, when Philbin noted that he was terribly sorry since he would "have been glad to appoint any one so highly recommended by Mr. Delafield." Undeterred and certain of his destiny, Train offered to work "for nothing," and explained, "this is the kind of work I want to do and I think I can do it. Give me a chance and I promise you faithful service. If I don't make good, fire me. It won't have cost you anything." Maybe it was Train's tenacity and earnestness, or some other virtuous trait apparent to the new district attorney, but Philbin agreed, and Train began his work in the New York County District Attorney's office on that fateful day. Train was led to a room on the fourth floor, which became his office. For the next ten years, "on and off," Train would call this office his "official home."

The district attorney's office "was as depressing an environment as could be found anywhere," but it was the first place after Train's years at Harvard where he felt truly alive, interested, and engaged. "A daily succession of melodramas was enacted before my eyes, in which every human passion was laid bare, quivering in the raw—love, hate, lust, revenge, jealousy, cupidity. Every case was a tragedy; every trial a detective story." Over the course of the next decade, Train tried "thousands of all sorts of cases," and his name became well known as it appeared in headlines and news stories with frequency.

In June 1908, Train tendered his resignation as assistant district attorney in order to enter private practice, though Train continued to try cases on behalf of the district attorney's office over the course of the next several years. Private practice did not suit Train; he had difficulty finding clients and was unable to earn a salary even close to that which he earned in public service (during his first year of private practice, Train earned $900; during his first year at the district attorney's office, he earned $7,500). In 1909 Train formed a partnership with Richard B. Olney, who served as US attorney general under President Grover Cleveland, and opened an office at 30 Broad Street in Manhattan. One of Train's few cases that received publicity while he was partnered with Olney involved a notorious affair implicating several members of high society. Mrs. Catherine K. Blake alleged that Train's client Katherine Mackay had "enticed" Dr. Blake away from her, causing Mrs. Blake to suffer damages in the amount of $1 million. Within a month of the sordid details of this suit being smeared across the pages of New York newspapers, Mrs. Blake elected to drop her suit. (Within one year of forfeiting her suit, the Mackays divorced in Paris, Mrs. Blake obtained a decree of divorce in Connecticut, and the day after Mrs. Blake's divorce decree was executed, Dr. Blake married the former Mrs. Mackay.) While the scandalous details of the case captured the interest of the public (it was of ten front-page news), it was not the type of case that inspired Train's practice of law. Perhaps save one matter while operating as Train & Olney, Train found neither financial success nor fulfillment in the legal matters brought before the firm.

The benefit to financial catastrophe and dull employment was that Train focused more on his writing, and during his days at Train & Olney he came to create and develop one of the foremost organizations for writers in the twentieth century. It all began when, around 1911, Train wrote a serial for McClure's Magazine, titled "C.Q." or, in the Wireless House, for which Train had made an "arrangement ... by letter" to sell the "serial rights" to McClure's for $3,000. However, Train learned that McClure's sold the English serial rights to the story to a magazine in London. Since "at the moment [he] had no clients but plenty of time to ponder technicalities," Train decided to investigate whether McClure's had the right to do this. After all, what were "serial rights"? To Train they meant "the right to publish once serially—in a specified magazine—[and] nothing else." Apparently "serial rights" meant something much more liberal to McClure's. Train decided to call Cameron McKenzie, the editor of McClure's at the time, and "innocently congratulate him on having sold 'my English rights,' [and] inquire how much he had received for them." According to Train, the conversation went something like this:

[Cameron] hemmed and hawed and finally said $600—"but they don't belong to you, you know—they belong to us!" he added.

"Oh, no!" I assured him. "I only sold you the right to print the story once serially in McClure's."

"But I hold the copyright!" he protested.

"What of it?" I argued. "You might hold my watch in your hand and yet it wouldn't be yours! That $600 belongs to me and if you don't send me a check for it I'll take legal steps to enjoin publication in England."

That was rot, but it worked. You see, I was a lawyer. Finally, gagging, he agreed to send me a check—largely, I believe, to avoid having to consult counsel. I hung up the telephone receiver and whooped for joy.

"What the hell is all the noise about?" asked Olney.

"I've got a client!"


"Myself! I got a fee of $600!"

Olney came over and sat sideways on my desk.

"How about that copyright stuff?" he suggested.

"I don't know anything about it!"

"Well, I advise you to find out!" he warned. "I don't believe any of you writing fellows know what you're doing. If you saved $600, maybe you can save $6000!"

Train did some research and soon discovered a federal court case that proved that not only did the editor of McClure's have every right to sell Train's story, but he could do it again and again. Train could hardly stomach the practical effect of the case's holding: that "every story ever published in an American magazine was at that moment without a copyright and free to be pirated." Train also learned that "the outright sale of a manuscript to a publisher, no reservations being made, was held to transfer every right of every sort and kind that the author might now have, or in the future possess, therein—including all serial rights, all 'second' (newspaper) rights, book, theatrical, movie, reprint, everything—he had sold the shirt off his back!"


Excerpted from The Myth of Ephraim Tutt by Molly Guptill Manning Copyright © 2012 by Molly Guptill Manning. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by John Train
1. Arthur Train
2. Yankee Lawyer: The Autobiography of Ephraim Tutt
3. The Cooperation of the Press
4. Here We Go Again!
5. "As Popular as Pin-Up Girls"
6. Mr. Tutt, the Celebrity
7. Pygmalion and Frankenstein
8. Mr. Tutt's Day in Court
9. Life after Death
10. Mr. Tutt at His Best
Appendix: Chronological List of Arthur Train’s Books
Selected Bibliography


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