June 4,1898 - December 10, 1929
Rapid Transit "Fascinating", "deplorable", "charming", "wretched"...these are some of the adjectives used to describe Harry Grew Crosby. He existed for just a little more than thirty years. He wrote and published books of poetry, journals and founded the Black Sun Press which published the work of Hart Crane, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, among others.
Crosby was born into a wealthy Boston family. The American capitalist J.P. Morgan was his uncle and godfather. Crosby attended private schools and until age 19 when he went to Europe to serve during World War I he appeared to be well embedded in his upper middle class environment. His experiences in World War I changed everything. He won the Croix de Guerre for his wartime service. But, he also became, like many others, a card-carrying member of the "Lost Generation." Returning from the war transformed, Crosby rebelled against his family and its traditions.
Upon his return to the United States in 1919 he entered Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On July 4, 1920 Crosby met Mrs. Richard Peabody, who at the invitation of Harry's mother, had accompanied Harry and a group of his friends to a shore party which included dinner and a trip to the amusement park at Nantasket Beach, south of Boston. "Polly" Peabody's maiden name was Mary Phelps Jacob. She was 28, six years older than Harry. Her husband was, at the time, in a sanitarium fighting alcoholism. Harry fell in love with Mrs. Peabody in about two hours. He confessed his love for her in the Tunnel of Love at the amusement park. Two weeks later they made love. By February 1922 Polly and Richard Peabody were divorced. Harry and Polly got married on September 9, 1922 in New York City.
Two days after their wedding, the newlyweds went to Paris to live and by the end of 1923 Harry had quit his job in the banking business. At the end of 1924, Harry persuaded Polly to formally change her first name to Caresse. Harry and Caresse spent much of their time traveling and writing in Europe. In 1926, on a skiing trip in Gstaad Harry met Ernest Hemingway, who will later say of Harry Crosby: "He has a great, great gift. He has a wonderful gift of carelessness."
In April 1927 Harry and Caresse started the Black Sun Press in Paris. By 1928, Harry Crosby was becoming a poet of increasing reputation. He had published his Red Skeletons collection of poetry and his work was appearing more frequently in magazines like Transition.
Also In 1928, Harry Crosby met Josephine Noyes Rotch, whom he would call the "Youngest Princess of the Sun" and the "Fire Princess." She was descended from a family that first settled in Provincetown on Cape Cod in 1690. Josephine would inspire Crosby's next collection of poems called Transit of Venus. Ms. Rotch was twenty, ten years younger than Harry. The two fell in love. In a letter to his mother, dated July 24, 1928, Crosby wrote:
I am having an affair with a girl I met (not introduced) at the Lido. She is twenty and has charm and is called Josephine. I like girls when they are very young before they have any minds.
On June 21, 1929, Josephine got married to Albert Smith Bigelow. Crosby's affair with Josephine became dormant. In August, Josephine contacted Crosby and the affair rekindled as Mr. Bigelow became preoccupied with his work as a first year graduate student of architecture at Harvard.
In December, Crosby and Mrs. Bigelow took a five day trip to Detroit. In describing that trip, Crosby's biographer, Geoffrey Woolf writes:..they checked into the Book-Cadillac [Hotel] on December 3, registering as Mr. and Mrs. Harry Crane in a twelve-dollar-a-day room on the twentieth floor. Most of their meals they took in bed, where they also smoked opium, made love and battled.
On December 7 the lovers returned to New York where they agreed that Mrs. Bigelow should return to Boston to her husband. On the evening of the 7th Crosby's friend Hart Crane threw a good bye party for Harry and Caresse since they were due to sail back to France the next week.
But Josephine did not return to Boston and on December 9 she had delivered a 36-line poem to Crosby who was staying with Caresse at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel. The last line of the poem is:
"Death is our marriage."On December 9, Harry Crosby made the following entries into his notebooks:
One is not in love unless one desires to die with one's beloved.
There is only one happiness
it is to love and to be loved
These are Crosby's very last entries into his journal because on December 10, after shooting Josephine, Harry Crosby shot himself. It appeared to be the completion of a suicide pact, but there was lots of speculation as befits an event such as this. Nevertheless, Harry Crosby and his "Fire Princess" were dead. The facts indicate that Harry shot Josephine and then, several hours later he shot himself.
In considering the motive and reasons for such an act, Crosby's biographer Woolff suggests the answer:
He had meant to do it; it was no mistake; it was not a joke. If anything of Harry Crosby commands respects, perhaps even awe, it was the unswerving character of his intention. He killed himself not from weariness or despair, but from conviction, and however irrational, or even ignoble, this conviction may have been, he held fast to it as to a principle. He killed himself on behalf of the idea of killing himself.Harry Crosby's suicide was carried out for aesthetic reasons making Crosby a fiery example of an artist who embraced art as religion. A phenomenon consistent with the erosion of traditional social values that for Crosby began with the experience of war.
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