Living With Henry, And Waltzing With David: Mencken Day 2012

Posted In: Events and Programs, Behind the Scenes, Collections, State Library Resource Center, Guest Contributors, Video
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By David Donovan and Ryan O'Grady

Mencken Day 2012

I was born in the northeast of the USA and so H. L. Mencken was somewhat of a mystery to me when I moved to Baltimore six years ago. Working at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, every day I have the privilege of walking past a few display cases that highlight Mencken’s life achievements and what he means to the city of Baltimore. Out to dinner with some friends a few weeks ago, we broached the subject of Mencken and my friends had a few questions. “When was Mencken born?” and “Around what time was he writing?” and “When did Mencken die?” Through what must have been some unconscious daily osmosis I was able to supply the answers to most of their questions—around 1880 he was born, he died in the mid-1950s, and he rose to writing prominence in the 20s. Okay, so I was off by a few years here and there, but you get the point: living with Mencken every day at the library has been an educational experience.

In that vein, Mencken Day 2012 was a real treat. I, and many others, got to hear a lecture by Towson professor H. George Hahn in the morning and one by Richard J. Schrader, professor emeritus of English, Boston College, in the afternoon. I am sure that my unconscious osmosis worked again, and at some future date I will be able to spout out an idea or two that I gleaned from these great lecturers. Listen to the podcast here. Watch the video here.


Professor Schrader lectured on The Scopes Trial and how Mencken reported on it and felt about it. The Professor also mentioned how Mencken (a.k.a. the fictional E. K. Hornbeck) had been played by several different actors. Below is a trailer for "Inherit The Wind" from 1960 in which Gene Kelly played the role based on Mencken.

See Gene Kelly in action:

Another great part of being and working at Pratt is access to Mencken’s rich history. Just recently we have had two other posts on our blog about Mencken: one by the current editor of Menckeniana, and one by our curator of the Mencken Collection here. As part of my work here, I have been able to film and get a close look at Mencken’s books and musical compositions. The fact “Mencken was a musician” is one of the first things I learned during my time here at the library. Which leads me to my next point: David Donovan of the Fine Arts Department here at the Pratt Library will deliver a lecture titled H.L. Mencken and the Saturday Night Club later this month, September 29th, at the Southeast Anchor Library branch. Below is what David has to say about his upcoming lecture.

H.L. Mencken and the Saturday Night Club will give the public some sights and sounds that I have collected while studying this interesting collection of music-loving friends. In 2005, I wrote an article for Menckeniana about the colorful shield of the Saturday Night Club. Shortly after its publication, I was asked to speak about the Saturday Night Club to the Mencken Society in 2007. I realized that the Shield Article was not enough material for a lecture. So I started to examine the collection of music that was given to the library by Mencken and the Club in 1951. It was amazing that this music had not received a systematic study in over 50 years.

What I discovered was a collection that was huge and contained original manuscript compositions by members of the club who were some of the movers and shakers in the Baltimore music scene in the early 20th Century. This study led to an exhibit: Treasures of the Saturday Night Club in 2009, an article about my research by Richard O’Mara in the May 2009 Urbanite magazine entitled “Waltzing With Henry” and finally a concert at the Engineers Club with Ed Polochick and the Concert Artists of Baltimore of 11 works from the collection. The concert was called the “Saturday Night Club on Sunday.” My talk will include material from all these events and the audience will even hear H.L. Mencken himself talk about music. A preview of that is here.



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