the Baroness balances a birthday cake

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1875-1927) was known as the Queen of the Dada Movement.

Elsa found here

Her father, a mason, sexually and physically abused her in her childhood. She practiced prostitution, and had numerous affairs with both men and women throughout her lifetime, including the writer Djuna Barnes.

Djuna found here

Elsa married August Endell in April 1901 but by 1903 she had left him for his friend Felix Greve. In July 1909, Greve disappeared from Germany after staging his own suicide. Elsa played a part in the faked suicide, she sent a letter to his publishers accusing them of working her late husband to death. He sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, where he renamed himself. Later, as the Canadian author Frederick Philip Grove, he described staging his death and reinventing himself in his first autobiography. 

Felix Greve found here

It is unclear how Elsa made her way to New York. However, it was there she met and married Baron Leo von Freytag-Loringhoven, the black sheep of his illustrious family, in November 1913. Through her marriage to Leo von Freytag-Loringhoven she became a Baroness but little is known about their relationship. Baron von Loringhoven hurried back to Germany at the outbreak of the war and then, not liking war, shot himself – an act which his wife characterized as the bravest of his life. 

black sheep found here

From 1917 on, she published a fair amount of her mostly Expressionist and sometimes Dada-style poetry in various magazines. She also created “ready made” sculptures and collages from random items she stole or salvaged from the trash. Her most famous “ready made” is the plumbing pipe irreverently called “God”

God found here

By the early 1920s, von Freytag-Loringhoven had become a living legend in Greenwich Village. Often arrested for her revealing costumes and ongoing habit of stealing anything that caught her eye, she “leaped from patrol wagons with such agility that policemen let her go in admiration“. She continued to pose for artists, and appeared in a short film made by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp descriptively titled The Baroness Shaves Her Pubic Hair.

Duchamp and Ray playing chess found here

Margaret Anderson vividly recalls the Baroness’ first entrance into the Little Review’s office: “So she shaved her head. Next she lacquered it a high vermilion. Then she stole crêpe from a house of mourning and made a dress of it. She came to see us. First she exhibited the head at all angles, amazing against our black walls. Then she jerked the crepe with one movement. It’s better when I’m nude, she said.”

Elsa found here

When many of her friends moved to Paris after the First World War, von Freytag-Loringhoven tried desperately to join them. Eventually she returned to Berlin in April 1923 – a time when inflation of the German currency was at its worst. She was reduced to selling newspapers on a street corner of the Kurfüstendamm in the winter of 1923–1924 and was a more or less permanent inmate of several insane asylums. Her outrageous blackmail attempts and demanding propositions to André Gide, George Bernard Shaw, and perhaps other celebrities for living expenses did little to keep her out of trouble. Her notoriously elaborate costumes were not of much help either. In an undated letter to Djuna Barnes, von Freytag-Loringhoven describes an ensemble she wore to the French Embassy in Germany:

Andre Gide found here

“I went to the consulate with a large, wide sugarcoated birthday cake upon my head with fifty flaming candles lit – I felt just so spunky and affluent! In my ear I wore sugar plumes or matchboxes – I forget which. Also I had put on several stamps as beauty spots on my emerald-painted cheeks and my eyelashes were made of gilded porcupine quills – rustling coquettishly – at the consul – with several ropes of dried figs dangling around my neck to give him a suck once and again – to entrance him. I should have liked to wear gaudy colored rubber boots up to my hips with a ballet skirt of genuine gold paper with lace paper covering it (to match the cake) – but I couldn’t afford that! I guess that inconsistency in my costume is to blame for my failure to please the officials?

Cake Head found here

The true circumstances of von Freytag-Loringhoven’s death are still unclear. On December 14, 1927, she died of asphyxiation when the gas in her room at the Rue Barrault was left on overnight.

the lions with male patterned baldness

James Audley Blyth was an heir to the Gilbey liquor fortune; his wife Effie, was young, beautiful and wealthy in her own right.

Gilbey’s subliminal advertising found here

They set out on safari from Nairobi in 1908 with their friend and guide John Henry Patterson.  Effie was a brilliant shot and star of the safari. Her husband, James, became ill on the trip leaving Effie to spend many hours alone with Patterson.  Just before they reached Liasamis they encountered a rogue elephant. Effie fired two shots into it but the elephant escaped into the bush where Patterson shot it twice more.

image found here

Later the three of them argued about the elephant and its tusks. They appeared to patch it up but the following day James became deliriously ill and that night Effie left the marital tent to sleep with Patterson instead. The following morning she rose and returned to her husband’s side where two things happened but accounts differ as to which happened first.

luxury safari tents found here

Effie screamed and a gun went off. She ran from the tent as Patterson and his porters ran towards it. They found James with a gaping wound in his head and a revolver. Later the porters all testified that the wound was in the back of his head and the gun in his hand. Patterson, however, first testified the wound was in the temple and that he had picked up the gun and handed it to his headman, Mwenyakai. The headman corroborated this.

image of Mr Stanley found here

At which point, somebody must have put it back in James Blyth’s hand, because that’s where the porters saw it, unless they somehow saw it the instant before Patterson handed it to Mwenyakai. It seemed impossible that a dozen porters all saw the same thing and reported it in exactly the same words after only a second or two of looking. At Patterson’s direction they burned all of the dead man’s clothes and buried him in a shallow grave.

shallow grave cake found here

They then continued on their safari for six more weeks, with Effie sharing Patterson’s tent all the way. Despite the ensuing scandal and private accusations of adultery and murder, an official verdict of suicide was issued.

This is the basis from which Hemingway supposedly formed his fictional story, The Macomber Affair. Patterson wrote his own version of the events in The Lure of Nyika. An earlier book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, detailed the fascinating and frightening months in 1908 when he oversaw the building of a bridge in Kenya.

Tsavo man-eaters at the Chicago Field Museum by Jeffrey Jung

Almost immediately after his arrival, lion attacks began to take place on the worker population, with the lions dragging men out of their tents at night and feeding on their victims. Despite the building of thorn barriers around the camps, bonfires at night and strict after-dark curfews, the attacks escalated dramatically, to the point where the bridge construction eventually ceased due to a fearful, mass departure of the work force.

The man-eating behaviour was considered highly unusual for lions and was eventually confirmed to be the work of a pair of rogue males, who were believed to be responsible for as many as one hundred and forty deaths, although the actual number is still uncertain due to a lack of accurate records at the time.

image found here

With his livelihood and safety at stake, Patterson, an experienced tiger hunter from his military service in India, undertook an extensive effort and after months of attempts and near misses, he finally killed the first lion on the night of December 9, 1898, and killed the second one on the morning of December 29 (narrowly escaping death in the process). The lions were maneless like many others in the Tsavo area and both were exceptionally large. Each lion was over nine feet long from nose to tip of tail and required eight men to carry it back to the camp.

Now biologist Bruce Patterson (no relation) studies the descendants of these lions.

Many locals still believe that old and sickly lions, possibly with tooth problems, are responsible for most human attacks today. While that might have been the case in the 1898, Field Museum researchers have found that attacking lions these days are typically under five years old and healthy.

image found here

Another hypothesis Patterson’s team is exploring is whether Tsavo lions have elevated levels of testosterone. More hormones might lead males to vigorously defend larger territories, leaving less room for youngsters. It could also lead to a condition similar to male-pattern baldness in people, when testosterone receptors on hair follicles are overloaded and cause hair loss, contributing to the absence of manes on the lions.

image found here

Regardless of hormone levels, environmental factors likely play a greater role. In a part of Tsavo East where maneless lions are common, annual rainfall is just 12 inches. On Taita Ranch, however, there is significantly more rain. There lions feature what Patterson calls a modest mane: a mohawklike growth on the head, hair on the neck and chest, but bare shoulders.

image found here

a resort for disorderly women

In 1890s New York, the worst dive on the Bowery was McGurk’s Suicide Hall.

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***Located in the heart of the old Red Light District, McGurk’s saloon had the distinction of sporting one of the first electric signs in the city. The clientele typically consisted of sailors, pickpockets, waterfront thieves, gang members, morphine addicts, and prostitutes—or as the police reports frequently described them, “women of no occupation.” Entertainment was provided by singing waiters and a small band. Whiskey was the drink of choice, selling for five cents a glass. Liquor was often mixed with water and liquid camphor (also used as moth repellent and embalming fluid) to strengthen the drink—sometimes fatally. Waiters were armed with chloral hydrate (the ever-popular Mickey Finn) for doping unsuspecting guests as preparation for back alley robbery, or worse.


The headwaiter was Charles “Short-Change Charley” Steele, once arrested for burglary and attempted murder, but released when none of the witnesses could identify him. According to rumors another McGurk employee was Commodore Dutch, a freeloader and con artist later famous for his forty year stint chairing a “society” whose sole purpose was to collect funds for himself.

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On hand as “mayhem specialist” was a pock-marked ex-prizefighter with cauliflower ears known as Thomas “Eat ‘Em Up Jack” McManus who, according to a newspaper account of the time, wore “a flaming cerise tie and a derby at a tilted angle.”

image found at chateauthombeau

What distinguished McGurk’s Saloon from the other roughneck dives on skid row was that it soon became the suicide den of choice for Bowery prostitutes down on their luck. Figures are hazy, but there were reportedly from six to a dozen self-administered deaths in the year 1899 alone. Swallowing carbolic acid was the most popular method of offing oneself. Later known as Phenol, carbolic acid was typically used as a disinfectant and was easily available at pharmacies.

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Blonde Madge Davenport and Big Mame were two such prostitutes who chose the carbolic acid route, possibly mixing the acid into their booze to make it more palatable. Blonde Madge died of internal chemical burn. Big Mame was less successful. She spilled most of the acid on her face, disfiguring herself, which got her permanently barred from the saloon.

Mamie Van Doren NOT Big Mame

The suicides “got to be quite a fad,” an observer later recounted, and the saloon was quickly rechristened McGurk’s Suicide Hall as a shrewd marketing ploy to attract the morbidly curious. With this kind of reputation the police led countless raids on the saloon. Newspapers gave lurid accounts of sailors and gamblers, women “conducting themselves indecorously” and all manner of “indiscretions” happening in the upstairs rooms.

“Indiscretion” recipe found here

Tom McManus, by now having acquired a second moniker of “The Brute,” opened a music hall of his own called Eat ‘Em Up Jacks. In 1905 he got in a dispute over a woman with a notorious gangster named Chick Tricker who owned a joint of his own called The Fleabag. A pistol duel left Tricker with a bullet in his leg and one of his associates with six knife wounds. The next day, as McManus was leaving work someone crept out of an alley and cracked his skull with an iron bar wrapped in newspaper. His murderer was never arrested.

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During the Suicide Hall’s heyday a woman known as the “Pride of the Stevedores” and her husband Big Barney were regulars at the saloon. They would waltz down the middle of the saloon as everyone would push their tables against the wall to clear space. Big Barney and the woman later disappeared. She resurfaced many years later with a new husband named Billy the Gink, called so because his right eye had been knocked out. By then the woman was known as Deaf Lilly, and in 1910 Billy the Gink beat her to death in their apartment and fled.

read the story behind the one eyed man ad campaign here

The Suicide Hall was a natural for literary material. Soon after it closed a play appeared by Theodore Kremer called The Bowery After Dark, which was partially set there. The Hall also provides the setting for Mae West’s novel Diamond Lil, in which the second chapter is titled “Suicide Hall.”

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As for the building itself, from World War I until the 1950s it was known as the Liberty Hotel, a Skid Row flophouse with a sign above the door that read “When did you write to mother?”

In 2005, the building which housed McGurk’s Suicide Hall was bulldozed to make way for the Avalon Bowery Place apartment complex. Avalon Bay advertised their new development as “one of Manhattan’s finest locations in Soho”. Future residents should not be surprised to discover their crisp new apartments haunted by the ghosts of women of no occupation, rifling through the medicine cabinet in search of an antidote.

***by Rob Hill

More excellent artwork by Ellen Rixford here