Once At Christmas
46 pgs w/decorative borders, including 3 color plates
6 7/8″h x 5 3/4″w; Abingdon Press, 1928
Rollover the cover image above, and find the page controls for the pdf viewer.
This is the last book published by Harold Speakman (1888-1928) in September 1928, just two weeks before his suicide on the steps of Bellevue Hospital. Throughout the 1920s, Speakman had written a successful series of travel journals, as well as an account of his service on the Italian Front and Montenegro in WWI.
Once At Christmas is a curious book. It contains direct statements of spirituality and personal philosophy, metaphor, and opinions of arch-typical characters he meets along the journey. Given the context of the book, the full motivation behind Speakman’s suicide after publication is a bit of a mystery. Earlier in the year, he returned from a trip to Asia, where he contracted dengue fever, as well as a flair up of malaria (which he previously contracted while living in China). His return adventure to Asia does not appear to have been successful. No journal or manuscript of his journey has yet been recovered, although records indicate he visited at least China, Burma and India. He probably traveled with his wife, Russel Lindsay Speakman.
In Summer 1928, he was hospitalized in Milwaukee for exploratory surgery to address a gastro-intestinal malady (which may have been in some way connected with appendix surgery he underwent at a missionary hospital while living in China). The surgery found little wrong with him, or at least that could be treated. He returned to New York City, where he lived in an apartment at 45 Tiemann Place, just off Broadway.
Early on the morning of September 24th, he hailed a cab at 83rd and Broadway, and told the cabbie to take him to Bellevue, where he had to ‘meet a man on a white horse’. Speakman was carrying a small valise. The driver assumed that he was a doctor rushing to an emergency. At Bellevue, Speakman got out of the cab, paid the driver, took a few steps, pulled a revolver from the valise, and shot himself in the head.
Not a very pleasant Christmas story, but I do think Once At Christmas is appropriate for the current times.
Beyond that, I offer little comment. I will be migrating and revising the Speakman pages linked to above, soon. And then much more to follow