The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part XI

By Ray Schultz

In my ignorance, I now considered myself an expert on the varieties of Hasidism. In addition to the Satmar and Lubavitch, there were the Breslover Hasidim, the “Dead Hasids,” so called because their founding Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman, had died and never been replaced; they were viewed by other Hasidim with a mixture of contempt and pity, I thought. There were the Gere, the Belze and the Squarer, who inhabited New Square, in Rockland County, New York. 

I’d also somehow heard of the Sassover Hasiim, and I visited the remnant  that existed in their shul on the ground floor of a tenement in in the East Village of New York. To get to it, you had to walk through a dark alleyway. The Rebbe was a slightly passive young man, maybe 27, who did not look to me like a leader. Everyone else was elderly. They could barely pull together a minyan for afternoon prayer. 

Next on my tour were the Bobover, one of the largest groups in the city. They lived mostly in Borough Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood served by an El line that went to Coney Island. One Friday morning, I visited Rabbi Halberstam, a nephew of Shlomo Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe, who at 67 was one of the most well-known Hasidic leaders in New York. We sat at a dining room table with a large, bright chandelier overhead and enjoyed soft drinks while talking.  

The Bobover dynasty was founded in Sanz, Poland in 1830 by Chaim Halberstam.  He learned with Rabbi Naftali Horowitz, who in turn had learned with Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhenskwho had studied with the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor to the Bal Shem Tov himself. Rabbi Weisblum “was above our conception, we can’t even conceive the mind that he had,” our host, Rabbi Halberstam said. 

The current Rebbe’s father, Ben Zion Halberstam, had greatly expanded the movement after World War I, helping and praying for people with serious problems. Life was hard in Poland. And like other Hasidic groups, the Bobover were caught up in the horror overtaking Europe. The Rebbe, Ben Zion Helmerstam, was shot to death by the Nazis along with 1,200 other Jews in a slaughter in Lvov, Poland in 1941. And Shlomo Halberstam’s wife and two children also died in the Holocaust.

Despite these tragedies, Shlomo Halberstam took up the mantle of Rebbe and devoted himself to smuggling people out of concentration camps. In one operation, he hired coal trucks that were shipping coal into Hungary, and made double layers near the bottom, 20 to 24 inches wide, and there they would hide people. “The drivers got paid, they knew what was going on, and they smuggled out hundreds of people,” Rabbi Halberstam said. “He was running a whole intelligence system.” 

Some of the Bobover escaped to Russia, and found themselves in Siberia. Rabbi Halberstam’s own father died in prison there. The Hasidim were afraid to take Russian citizenship because it meant they couldn’t return to Poland, they thought. But in the end they were allowed to go home, only to find that anti-Semitism still prevailed in Poland and that they were not welcome back.

The Rebbe’s son left for Palestine on one of two ships headed there. The British Navy sank one, and fired on the other. The young man barely made it to land. 

Finally, the Rebbe arrived in the United States and found himself ministering to survivors, some of whom had not belonged to the Bobover congregation.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of other Hasidic movements some who were just wiped out, and there were no followers to reinstate it,” Rabbi Halberstam said. “There was nothing left in those countries, Poland, Hungary, Austria, nothing left over there.” 

These survivors were often burdened with psychiatric problems, as were their children. But few were ever treated because people wouldn’t seek help. And even if they did, there were few professionals qualified to deal with these issues. “What is psychiatric help going to do when a kid starts talking about a dybuk or gilgul?” asked Rabbi Yitchak Rubin, a Bobover I spoke with that same week. Rabbi Rubin added that some of these children were “skeletons,” or challenged in other ways, and encumbered with the fears of the parents. 

“There are little kids whose parents from the camps won’t let them ride on public transportation—they’re afraid they will be driven to the camps,” he said. 

It fell upon the Rebbe to pull the surviving followers together—if he could. 

“It was the Rebbe’s job to encourage them and prove to them they could start anew,” Halberstam said. That was the first challenge.  

Then there was the problem of making a living. 

“In early part of 1946 or ’47, the people who came over were lost people without any families, nobody to turn to, so the Rebbe felt that he must try and help these people,” Halberstam said. “So instead of them going out, not knowing English, not knowing where to start in this new country, he felt it was his duty to provide them with an occupation where they can make a decent living. “ The Rebbe decided on watch repair and jewelry. 

Why those two trades?

“He had meetings with professional people, with economists, from various trades, and had some of his businessmen bringing in people from the Labor Dept.,” Halberstam answered. “It was decided that these would be the most appropriate trades for a Jewish Hasidic youngster. It was an individual trade—there wouldn’t be any problems with unions, or with observing the Sabbath or the Jewish holidays.” 

The training program lasted for two years—after that, there was no need. 

How did the Rebbe bear up under all this pressure? Halberstam answered by saying something I had never heard about any of the other Rebbes: “He has a tremendous sense of humor, not only a sense of humor, but he rises himself above any problem he may encounter.”

This was reflected in the character of the Bobover, who while just as serious as other groups in their observance, they avoided controversy.

 “We do not discourage anyone, we do not disqualify anyone from becoming part of our movement,” Halberstam said.. “To the contrary we tolerate anyone’s views.” 

The Rebbe himself “is accessible to all,” Halberstam continued. “He’s in constant contact He has weekly gatherings every Friday night after the first Sabbath meal. The congregation would come where the rabbi comes. He says the kiddush, and they drink a cup of wine and sing the Sabbath songs. The Rabbi eats his Sabbath meal, and the rest of the people participate either by drinking a cup of beer, and eating fruit, and dance. And on this occasion the Rabbi gives a sermon. During this sermon, he will seek a certain topic to speak about. Sometimes it’s about education of children, sometimes it’ about ethics. Whatever the topic is, people are delighted and exceptionally enthusiastic about it.”  

The Bobover were also known for their joyous singing.

“An important point in the Bobover movement is singing because my grandfather, the Rebbe’s father, was a great singer, a composer,” Halberstam said. “He composed beautiful songs , we have records that we distributed. The Rebbe today also makes very beautiful compositions, so singing is important. It’s a good release, it tends to make you joyous and gives a lot of young people a certain feeling. It gives you patriotism, and they could be enthralled and prepare for the gatherings and for the holidays.”

Once again, I was astounded by the diversity within the Hasidic movement– how the Satmar, Lubavitcher and Bobover could have such distinct characters while rigorously adhering to the same commandments.  

The earlier installments:

Introduction

Part 1

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

Part IX

Part X

 

Yale And Danny Do The Pandemic

By Ray Schultz

A Sunday or two ago, I was enjoying a stroll in Central Park when I was almost knocked over by a lout on a skateboard, wearing no shirt and no mask. I was about to curse the Millennials, then I saw it was a particular Millennial: Yale Moss by name.

I tried to hold my temper because Yale’s wife Danny was sitting on a bench not three feet away, wheeling a baby carriage back and forth. And she at least had a mask on.

The last time, I had seen this pair was at their wedding reception in January. Danny’s dad Hal Hall had finally accepted Yale as his son-in-law, mostly because of Yale’s sales record, and had even named him as VP in charge of used car lots and hauling and cartage concerns for the Middle-Atlantic region. And a baby was on the way.

Not that I cared, but how had they been faring and what were they doing in Central Park?  They looked a little gaunt. I sat down with them, carefully social distancing myself, and they told me the story. Yale did most of the talking.

The baby arrived in March and he was named in honor of his two grandfathers. There was some debate over whose name should go first, but Hal’s was chosen because Hal Mo sounds better than Mo Hal when the contractions are used together, and Hal is the billionaire.

Over Danny’s objections, Yale insisted that they fly to Tampa to see his folks Mo and Wendy. But the minute they landed, they were clapped into quarantine because Florida ordered that anyone from New York be isolated for two weeks. The only food they could get was takeout pizza during a three-hour window each day. Fortunately, they had enough baby formula and diapers.

When the quarantine was up, Florida put them on a plane back to New York, and the minute they arrived, they were  thrown into quarantine again because New York was retaliating by blocking anyone arriving from Florida. Here they were given leftover jailhouse bologna sandwiches once a day.

No sooner had the last two weeks expired, with things getting gamier by the day, when they were grabbed by ICE and transported on a bus with barred windows to Easton, Pennsylvania because someone heard Yale joke that they were being  “deported.” They were quarantined again, and left to rot  in a motel where there was no food available at all, and they had to subsist on small packets of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits from a vending machine.

Meanwhile, Hal Hall’s  battery of high-priced legal help couldn’t even figure where his family members were, let alone how to get them out of this predicament.

One night, Hal was venting to Mo over the phone, and Mo suggested he call Erwin Forrest, a landlord-tenant lawyer who might be able to help. Hal called and Erwin was happy to hear from him because business was slow, there being a moratorium on evictions in New York State.

Hal, a man accustomed to great authority, had to visit Erwin’s office in a rat-trap office on Fulton Street, where file cabinets were kept in the hallway outside the elevators. Speaking over a telecom, Hal explained the problem and Erwin gruffly ordered Hal to deliver $20,000 in small unmarked bills, exclusive of fees.

Hal has never been talked to this way in his life, but he had a certain familiarity with criminality. He sent the assistant who was with him to his office to get the cash from a safe. Then he had to deposit the money into a automated teller’s window in the wall in Erwin’s hallway.  It took a day or two, but thanks to Erwin’s magic, Yale, Danny and little Hal Mo arrived back in the city by private limo.

All three had contracted colds, but thankfully not Covid-19. They were sure of this because the adults were painfully tested with long nasal swabs that went right up to the eyeball at every step of the journey.

Altogether, they  were in custody for two months, and their marital relations were severely strained. Danny threw Yale out of her apartment in the Pierre the day they got back.

Luckily, Yale had won a contract to gut the office of a bankrupt Philadelphia law firm, and the bankruptcy court insanely approved a fee of $1.5 million, most of which was profit.

Determined to save the deal, Hal brought in a telehealth marriage counselor, who advised Yale and Danny to laugh at themselves, enjoy the sunshine and then go isolate in the Hall family compound in Southhampton, Long Island. So here they were, making goo-goo eyes at each other again.

I was happy that the lovebirds were reconciled, but not that happy. When I got home, I found that I had a fever.

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 27: The Veteran’s List

By Ray Schultz

Having returned from the South Pacific, Ensign Ed Proctor, Jr. was recovering from an eye infection in a naval hospital in Georgia on July 13, 1945 when he got an urgent call from New Jersey: The family patriarch, Ed Proctor Sr., owner of the Guild Co. since 1920 and a mailing list broker since 1899, had, after playing with his grandson the prior evening, died in his sleep at age 68.

Proctor arranged leave, and rushed home. His father, he learned, had been under a terrible strain. “It was a struggle to get business,” Proctor said in a 1995 interview. “Everyone was in war work in those days, and you couldn’t get anyone to work for you.”

Discharged by the Navy, Guild resumed his old routine of commuting into Manhattan to the Guild Co. sweatbox on 8th Ave. and 31st St. “Talk about green-eye shades and arm garters,” said Tom Foster, founder of the Foster & Gallagher catalog, of the premises. “There were old wooden filing cases, and bare-bulb lights hanging form the ceiling.”

The office was the least of Proctor’s problems, though: A bigger one was that there were some tough new competitors. One was James Mosley, an advertising agent from Boston. Mosley lost $4,000 when a client went belly-up, and the only way he could recoup it was to rent out the company’s list.

Soon, Mosley was dealing in lists full-time, and keeping his hand in the copywriting game: “How to get 20,000 to 1-million new mail order customers in a hurry during 1945. We’ll help you select the CREAM,” he said in one ad in the Reporter of Direct Mail. “Mosley has the LISTS.”

His ads asking company owners to rent their lists out, were equally compelling. “You have hidden gold in your mailing lists! I’ll show you how to get it out. I’ve almost had writer’s cramp from signing 13,000 checks to folks like you for addressing empty envelopes for high-grade acceptable mass mail clients. Mosley sends the CHECKS!”

Another new competitor was Arthur Martin Karl, owner of Names Unlimited, whose ads in the Reporter of Direct Mail promised “Less Testing—Better Results.” Karl, who tortured tortured his employees by playing the cello every afternoon, supposedly rented more names for more clients than any other list broker, and persuaded more list owners to rent their names out. “He was a better pleader than I was,” Proctor conceded.

Then there was Herbert Ozda, a  tall, a charming opportunist known to  friends  as “Mr. O.”  Ozda and his wife, Irma Meyer, returned to New York after several years in California, and entered the mailing list business.

Ozda soon compiled the World War II veteran’s list, “the one big file you could get at that time.” It came out of the seven armed forces separation centers throughout the United States, according to Ozda’s son Robert Dunhill (who later changed the family name to the classier-sounding Dunhll). Ozda contacted clerks who had access to the rosters of incoming ships. Later, Dunhill would say, “It took a lot of phoning, and some of this,” rubbing his fingers together to indicate the passage of money.

That list pulled in maybe $100,000 a year, a fortune in 1946, and Ozda compiled many more like it: That year, he announced in an ad that he had “housewives, known donors, anything.”

And he advertised lists made to order. “You  have  to   listen  to  what   Mr.  O  is  saying   because  sometimes he sells things  we don’t have,” his wife told Florence Leighton, an employee who later made a name in her own right in the list business.

In 1966, Calvin Trillin wrote a 10,000-word article about the mailing list business for the New Yorker magazine that took a bemused air, observing that, like pork farmers, list brokers used “everything but the squeal.” In it, he documented one of Ozda’s techniques.

Not long ago, Herbert Ozda, the chairman of the Dunhill International List Company and one of the industry’s most aggressive compilers, happened to mention to a reporter a list of contributors to the United Jewish Appeal.

“But I just spoke to the U.J.A. yesterday,” the reporter said. “They told me they don’t rent their list to anyone. They don’t even trade it.”

“That’s right,” Ozda said.

“Then how did you get it?”

Ozda looked disappointed, as if he found it distressing that anyone could fail to see such an obvious bit of business strategy. Eventually, he said, “Well, the U.J.A. has dinners attended by the big contributors, right”

“So you subscribe to the Jewish press, and if it covers the dinner you get some of the names.”

Ozda smiled patiently and shook his head. “There are only twelve hundred hotels with banquet halls used for that kind of dinner. They all print programs for the dinner, and the bell captain gets a copy of the program, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, we have arrangements with nine hundred of the twelve hundred bell captains. Then we add to that information whatever is in the U.J.A. newsletters, and we subscribe to all the papers. We put together a list of eighteen thousand of the largest contributors. Of course, we don’t sell it as the U.J.A. list. We call it ‘Large Contributors to a Jewish Charity’ or something.”

Desperate to save his inheritance, Proctor put his rusty sales skills to work, and found to his relief that magazine publishers were ready to drop “a bunch of Number 10 envelopes into the mail.” And the cash started flowing in.

Newsweek alone ordered ten million names a year from him, and they “didn’t pay much attention to what I was giving them,” Proctor said. What is more, the direct mail manager of McCall’s and Redbook, F. Nixon (“Nix”) Merriam Jr., asked Proctor to get him the names of all Workbasket subscribers in the South.

“There’s a lot of deadbeats in the South,” Proctor warned. But that didn’t bother Merriam. “I want to extend the hand of friendship to every deadbeat in the South,” he said.

Business was now so good that Proctor joined his peers at the 1948 Direct Mail Advertising Association conference in Montreal. The old boys were together again at last—the promoters, the hustlers, the guys of whom it could be said, every day, “Today he met his new best friend.” Homer Buckley was there—it was like looking at a biblical figure—and so was Henry Hoke, not as celebrated as he should have been for his anti-Nazi campaign. Also present was O. E. McIntyre, formerly of Sears, who now owned a list compiling operation and service shop. Proctor claimed, decades later, that “they offered you a girl in your room.” Mosley gave a speech. “We must blaze new trails,” he said. “Only the beaten follow beaten paths.” “Mosley was verbose,” Proctor commented.

Chapter 28: Inside The Johnson Box

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 29: Gifts From Foreign Lands

By Ray Schultz

Max Sackheim, co-founder of the Book of the Month Club, had abandoned Cleveland in 1944. His son Sherman would return from the Army to learn that his parents had left for New York, just as he found they’d left for Cleveland when he came home from summer camp in 1927. Max Sackheim had gone back into the agency business, writing ads for paint sprayers and other such products.

One day, Sackheim opened an envelope and found a dollar in it. “I’ll bet you a dollar you won’t take my account,” it said. The letter was from David Margoles, who operated a company called Damar out of his car. Sackheim took the bet, and their first project was to sell a garlic crusher by mail. it sold millions, thanks not to wordsmithing but vision, said the copywriter Andi Emerson. But it was only the start.

“In my search for new products I tried to cover everything available in this country and abroad,” Marguiles said in an interview. “For instance, in Italy I found a garlic press, which became one of our successful items. This and the search for other gadgets led me to establish contacts with buying representatives in key spots internationally.”

That gave Marogles and Sackheim an idea: To start a continuity program modeled on the Book of the Month Club. They came up with the Around the World Shoppers Club, which offered Americans, who didn’t travel much at that time, A SURPRISE PACKAGE FROM A FOREIGN LAND EVERY MONTH!

It was marketed through a wave of junk mail that doubtless brought business for Ed Proctor and many other list peddlers. The copy described Notre Dame, rising majestically from its island in the Seine while bibliophiles browse among the bookstalls of the Left Bank and philosophical fishermen dangle their fishless lines in the shining waters. Also promised were knick-knacks from Merry England, Eternal Greece and “Sweden, the land of Ancient Vikings,” all intriguingly foreign in appearance. The cost: $20 for 12 monthly surprises.

Unfortunately, the club ran into trouble, lots of it, the company stated in a racist follow-up letter. One problem was late delivery: People around the world are not Americans. In India, for example, the clocks frequently do not tell the right time, the trains run when the engineers have finished their lunches, and there is little, if any, modern plumbing. And the natives simply have no concept of time as we do…

Then there was the problem of broken or poorly wrapped packages. Again, it was due to the fact that the foreign craftsmen do not always know how to package the beautiful things they make. We will just have to be patient until we can educate foreigners to package gifts properly!

“It’s a headache!” admitted Sallie Weir, Sackheim’s second wife. “You have to deal with all kinds of personalities. Our representatives have to negotiate in a dozen languages.”

Chapter 30: The Nervous Breakdown Saint

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail Chapter 30: The Nervous Breakdown Saint

By Ray Schultz

Another headache for Max Sackheim was that younger people were coming into the business who din’t need his help. John Stevenson, a tall Englishman with a mustache and an impish griin, started his career on Fleet Street in 1933 writing mail order copy for the Daily Herald. A year later, he moved to Australia and wrote book promotions for the Melbourne Herald, a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch’s father Sir Keith Murdoch.

The young rogue’s next stop was the United States. Stevenson worked for the New York Post and Doubleday. And in 1948, with a modest capital outlay, he bought a company called Greystone Press in a bankruptcy auction.

Eventually, that firm sent 50 million pieces of junk mail a year, selling everything from children’s books to handyman and medical book series. Did Stevenson have the books in the warehouse when he tested book club ideas? No. “We would send a survey letter, maybe offer them the first book, he said in 1997. “We’d say, ‘We’re thinking of offering this.’ It had to be worded very

The direct mail was a dumb as it could be. “We did rebus puzzles,” Stevenson said. “Now it would require no skill — a rebus is picture arithmetic, like ‘Cat plus rat minus hat equals…’ Other publishers thought it was an undignified way of selling books.”

Then there was use of the word “free,” as in, “Free! Send for Volume 1, no obligation.” This drew the ire of the Federal Trade Commission.

“They wanted an immediate explanation with the headline that there was a commitment — if there was a commitment. Of course, you could cancel, but they don’t like the inertia factor at all. So we tightened the offers.”

One night, Stevenson was driving home with the copywriter Paul Michael. “I asked, ‘How is it that no matter how good it is, you can only get 2% of the people to respond?’“ Stevenson said. “It was like a man standing on a corner giving away $20 bills, and nobody would accept them because there was something wrong. Paul came in with a publisher’s letter, which later became known as the lift letter. It was folded over, and said: ‘If you have decided already not to accept this offer, please read this letter from the publisher or editor. I can’t understand…’ That kind of note.”

That was a breakthrough, but it was still a primitive business. “We only had their purchase and payment history,” Sttevenson said. “You couldn’t cross-sell. We kept every club separate.”

At its peak, Greystone pulled in $25 million a year, with minimal profit. “We were scrabbling around 10%,” Stevenson said. Then he moved from continuities into book clubs, because the average contiuity carried “the seeds of its own destruction. If you have a 20-volume set, it’s over after you ship the 20th volume. The partial answer is to publish annual yearbooks, but that’s not the same as a club where you can continue and continue and continue.”

Another newcomer was Andi Emerson, a tall, beautiful woman with red hair and freckles, who could have passed for Katherine Hepburn. Having been trained to write copy during a hellish weekend in a hotel room (“You’re not a good copywriter, but you can write mail order copy,” her teacher told her), she went to work for Eugene Schwartz, the author of direct mail headlines such as, “She Fled the Table When the Doctor Said, ‘Cut Her Open.’ Schwartz ran a mail order business, selling everything from weight reduction pills to “A wire nail THAT CUTS THROUGH ARMOR PLATE!” Schwartz and his stunning wife Barbara were socialites, known for buyng art and donating it to museums. One night, a fellow socialite asked him, “Do you work for a lliving?”

Schwartz closed that business to write copy full-time, and Emerson founded an agency, but included her husband Ken Weeks’ name on the door because “you couldn’t have women and you couldn’t have Jews,” she said. It was called Emerson-Weeks. One day, she was visited by Father Bernard Dazzi, a Franciscan in need of a direct mail writer.

“Father, I’m not Catholic,” Emerson protested. “I’m Protestant if anything, but I’m really an agnostic. My assistant is Mormon, and my art director is Jewish.”

“Great,” the Franciscan said. “I’m sick and tired of being ripped off by Catholics.”

Emerson took the job, and quickly condluded that they needed a saint. They found one they called “the Nervous Breakdown Saint.”

People suffering from jagged nerves and emotional disturbances may not be award that a loveable girl saint has been granted unique power to help them in their affliction. She is Irish-born St. Dympha, the ‘Lile of Eire’ whose feast occurs on May 11. This is her story.

Finally, Emerson met John Caples, the copywriter who wrote a famous mail order ad in the 1920s: “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano, But When I Started To Play…” And she formed the John Caples Creative Awards, which drew crowds of drunken copywriters from the UK and Europe. A typical awards ceremony would find some of them laying under tables.

Of course, The most threatening rival to Sackheim was much closer to home. Sackheim had hired Lester Wunderman, a whiz kid who had sold a book titled “I was Hitler’s Doctor.” But Wunderman irritated him: He would return from visiting clients without any copy. Sackheim, who carried transparent pads and wrote ads in front of his customers, would ask, “Did you tell the clients jokes?”

No he didn’t. Wunderman was more more interesed in vision and strategy—he “verbally put his arm around the prospect,” Emerson said. “You ha to hire him.” Wunderman helped launched the Columbia Record Club and the American Express credit card while working for Sackheim. Then he decided to leave and take whatever clients he could. He and Sackheim ended up court.

Chapter 31: Eros

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 19: The Great War

By Ray Schultz

Homer Buckley, said to be father of direct mail, was not proud of his offspring. It was, he charged, “an orphan medium of advertising abused and misused on all sides, with a stigma of cheapness attached to it.” And he would have known, for he had baeen sending it since 1902, while still an advertising clerk at the Marshall Fields department store:

“The development of this direct by mail solicitation fell into my hands,” he wrote. Sensing an opportunity, he left the store and with a partner, Merritt H. Dement, opened a lettershop, a firm for handling “the entire mechanical function of a mass mailing.”

Buckley, who had the face of an impish choir boy, was credited with inventing the term “direct mail,” although a British writer had used the phrase in 1897. In 1916, though, acting on an idea by Louis Victor Eytinge, he announced the start of the Direct Mail Advertising Association (the DMMA, later known as the DMA), and incorporated it the following year. And things rolled along until the night of April 2, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson asked a joint session of Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.

At first, Buckley saw the war as good for business. Salesmen would be drafted, and companies would replace “man power with mail power,” he exulted. But it wasn’t that simple. Men were drafted, all right, almost three million, and their names disappeared from mailing lists. Worse, the government started seizing trains for military use. In the fall of 1917, 180,000 railroad cars sat idle on sidings. Merchants blamed the Post Office.

Meanwhile, the public mood deteriorated, and it wasn’t helped by “the colossal waste of public money, the savage persecution of all opponents and critics of the war…the half-insane reviling of the enemy,” in H.L. Mencken’s words. Even the charities got combative with each other. “We have been advised to abandon these American families until after the war is over,” wrote the Caney Creek Community Center of Kentucky in a letter requesting donations for homes for the poor. “Is this consistent? None hesitates to affirm that each French baby ought to be and must be saved. Why is it not equally important that Lincoln’s people should be rescued?”

Still, business had to go on, and Buckley decided it was time for the DMMA to hold its first convention. It opened on Oct. 4, 1918 at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago.

Many guests had fortified themselves with spirits, if only to ward off the Spanish flu then kiliing people. Buckley greeted them. This was his show, and he was careful to project the right image. There would be no speeches in absentia by the convicted killer Louis Victor Eytinge.

Buckley had that morning received a threatening letter from the War Industries Board, an oversight agency run by the financier Bernard Baruch. “We understand that there is going to be a conference of direct mail advertisers on October 9th to 12th to consider the use of mail power to replace man power,” Dr. E.O. Merchant wrote, using Buckley’s phrase.

The Board didn’t approve. To save paper, it wanted to “greatly reduce, or entirely eliminate direct circulation advertising,” for the duration, Merchant wrote, adding this sidewise swipe: That direct mail letters created “an unfavorable impression in the minds of the persons to whom they are addressed.”

Buckley and his fellow leaders discussed the letter that night. An outright ban would put them all out of business, not that Merchant had that kind of power. What had the Board accomplished, anyway? The garment industry had shortened women’s skirt lengths to save fabric. Ha! Still, they had to respond. Could anything be said in their favor? Well, yes. For one, they supported the war effort by selling Liberty Loans by mail; Even the convict Louis Victor Eytinge wrote Liberty Loan copy.

The Liberty Loan provides what is perhaps the first opportunity the average man has had to definitely serve his country, said Harry T. Ramsdell, president of the Manufacturers and Traders National Bank of Buffalo, in a typical letter. If, as Ramsdell boasted, there was no sacrifice in a subscription to the Liberty Loan, there was even less for the banks or the mail houses: Liberty Loan mailings went out free under government frank.

Then there was Postage magazine’s campaign to send tobacco to the boys overseas. “Do you know what it means to find yourself at the end of a good, hard day’s work with nothing to smoke?” it asked in an ad. “Now think of Uncle Sam’s fighters in France, out there in the thick of things fighting your battles…Don’t let them go smoke-hungry.” Buckley had to know this poignant message wouldn’t sway anyone, nor would an honest review of the direct mail business, for even some practitioners had doubts about the uses to which it was put.

For example, the Boston copywriter E.M. Dunbar had refused to work for mail order liquor houses. “I am a writer of advertising, and sometimes I take a drink when I want to, but I don’t write booze advertisements,” he wrote. Dunbar, for his “soul’s safety,” did not want to be party to a tragedy like one that had occurred in Georgia, when a man drunk on mail order liquor shot his own brother to death.

If Chicago was home to the great mail order houses and New York the center of publishing, Kansas City was in the early 1900s the mail order liquor capital of the United States, home to over 100 firms selling mostly to dry counties.

They didn’t need Dunbar, not when they had writers like Elmer Davis, age 21, from Kansas City. Dear Friend: Did you ever wake up in the morning, head buzzing `round like a Kansas cyclone, a dark brown taste in your mouth, and a desire to lick the living daylights out of everything that got in your way? Davis wrote in one letter, or so he later claimed. Fortunately, Congress outlawed mail order liquor sales in 1917.

Buckley and company turned to their biggest dilemma: mail fraud. There were more brazen examples of it every day. Every time they opened an newspaper, it seemed, there was a story about some miscreant selling a cure for “weak manhood.” Worse, the papers regularly published statistics on how much money was stolen by mail—$183 million from 1909 to 1912.

The list of frauds was staggering:

  • Promoting and sale of worthless mining or other stocks
  • Inducing betting on fake horse races and athletic contests
  • Fake land schemes
  • Commission merchant swindles
  • Selling worthless goods through misrepresentations.
  • Obtaining commissions on fraudulent order
  • Work at home schemes
  • Failure to furnish goods ordered
  • False correspondence school
  • Sale of cheap books and dividing rods for locating minerals
  • Phone guarantee of stocks and bonds
  • Forged bills of lading
  • Selling diplomas and requiring little or no study before granting them
  • Fake trance mediums
  • Green-goods swindles
  • Sales of fake recipes
  • Obtaining money to assist in securing fake inheritances
  • Obtaining payments from relatives of deceased persons for goods supposed to have been ordered before death
  • Selling interest in non-existing moving picture theaters
  • Obtaining subscriptions for charitable institutions
  • Fake employment bureaus

Some of these promotions are being used online today.

Anyone who had forgotten about fraud was reminded of it on Sept. 21, 1915, when Anthony Comstock died at age 71. The New York Times praised the old warrior for “the almost innumerable convictions of counterfeiters and green goods men,” and his fight against the Louisiana Lottery.

Some at the table must have thought it was hopeless. But Buckley rallied them, and after another sniifter of brandy or two, they drafted a response to the Board, pledging a “savings of 25% in the total tonnage of paper used.” This would be achieved by reducing paper size and limiting print runs. This document was submitted to the membership the next day, and the convention ended with a banquet on Friday night. E. St. Elmo Lewis, of Detroit, spoke on the subject of “Beating the Hun with Bigger Business.”

Chapter 20: Peace

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 17: The Hard-Luck Writer

By Ray Schultz

Slightly hung over from drinking their way to Chicago, ad men filed into the hall for the opening of the first Direct Mail Advertising Conference in 1915. The keynote speech snapped them out of their torpor.

“We must emit and vomit out the nauseous masses that have been swallowed in our swift growth,” said the copywriter Louis Victor Eytinge. “There are too many specious shysters amongst us, who while they may be within the law are yet foul with filth in the morality of their business methods and we must remove this reek ourselves!”

Well said, but Eytinge didn’t deliver the remarks himself. He was serving a life sentence for murder, and had to speak from “behind the walls that encompass my body.”

It was a sad comentary that the beleaguered direct mail business. had to rely on a felon to speak for it.

Eytinge was a “wastrel” from a family of actors and musicians. Convicted twice of forgery, he drew a five-year sentence in the second case and emerged from that term in 1907 with tuberculosis. Hoping to cure him (and get him out of their sight), his family sent him to Arizona with an allowance of $100 per month.

But he got into trouble there, too. The body of his roommate, a tubercular barber named John Leicht, was found near a ranch after the pair had gone for a buggy ride one Sunday. There was no proof that Leicht was murdered, let alone that Eytinge had done it, but Eytinge fled after passing several bad checks, and that was enough to convince a jury that he had poisoned the barber. Convicted of first degree murder, Eytinge was sentenced to life imprisonment, the court deciding that there was no need to hang a man who was about to die of TB.

Near collapse, the 120-pound Eytinge was dumped in the outdoor ward at Yuma Prison. He hemorrhaged daily, and was too weak even to swat flies. There must have been times when he wished he had been put out of his misery. But as his parents hoped when they sent him west, the desert air did him good and he eventually regained his strength.

Then, as legend has it, he wrote to two Western curio dealers to offer the horsehair souvenirs made by inmates. And he got orders from both. So he wrote more, and the prison lifted its restriction of two letters per month, the belief then being that even killers could be rehabilitated by work.

In time, businessmen noticed that this lifer could write and started giving him freelance copywriting assignments. Granted, his “letters were sophomorically fervent” as the copywriter Henry Hoke described them. In one insinuating letter, Eytinge offered raincoats to Catholic priests:

Dear Father,

Just as I glanced at next month’s calendar my eye caught the warning, ‘Rainy Season Begins,’ and I thought of you and other faithful servants of the Church.

My mind’s eye pictured you thrashing your way thru wind and rain, to administer the Holy Oils to some dying one, going about your duty despite the dirty weather. Saw you standing beside the open grave, giving your benediction not seeming to mind the bluster that bespattered your beloved Breviary. I saw you, too, hurrying to some sadly stirred soul, with the rain soaking into your black clothes. And then, I began to really understand what is meant to take Holy Orders.

But Father, there’s little need spoiling your good black overcoat…

Not many raincoats were sold. “I made the thing too personal for a printed letter and talked more about weather than weatherproofs,” Eytinge admitted.

But he learned. By 1915, the Eytinge Service was pulling in $5,000 a year, and his ideas were taken seriously. In his Chicago speech, Eytinge called for the start of a direct mail magazine. Postage appeared six months later, and the jailbird Eytinge was soon named editor of it.

Chapter 18: Selling In America

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 16: Paper Bullets

By Ray Schultz

John P. Cramer was another small businessman who found a way to make a dollar off junk mail around  the turn of the 20th century. He owned the Multi-Mailing Co., a lettershop that performed “the entire mechanical function of a mass mailing.” Located on Park Row, this outfit printed circulars and stuffed them into envelopes. And it compiled mailing lists out of telephone directories. “The rural telephone sorts out the influential classes in every community, and lists of names made up from telephones are excellent for high-class propositions,” Cramer said. “I should call such names the very best that could be secured for investment advertising.

“Here are the telephone directories of the country around Akron, Ohio. Some of the little independent lines built by farmers for their own communities are only fifteen miles long. They have perhaps 100 subscribers. The subscribers’ list of such a line gives names that have been hard to get heretofore, as they are in no directory.”

Firms like Cramer’s drew legitimate clients. For instance, the Metropolitan Telephone and Telegraph Company sent circulars printed on tinted paper to names taken from the Elite Directory or Blue Book: HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF HAVING A TELEPHONE IN YOUR HOUSE? Those little worries and annoyances that cause so much friction in household affairs are abolished by the telephone, which makes the householder independent of distance, weather and promises.

In Chicago, the Irene How Sanitarium asked physicians to refer women who wish to seclude themselves until they have passed what might be an embarrassing confinement, and offered a liberal percentage for referrals. And it added, Where the mother wishes to dispose of her infant we find it a home with respectable people.

Other letters, those sent by charities, achieved a divine eloquence:

Dear Friend:

The Bowery Mission and its famous Bread Line are favorably known throughout the length and breath of our beloved land. In every State and in every county may be found those who, once stranded in the great Metropolis, homeless, friendless, and penniless, found, in the time of their direst need, and in the Bowery Mission a City of Refuge and a Haven of Rest…Think of a thousand homeless men and boys, in line every midnight for coffee and rolls. Think of the clothing, the shoes, the underwear, and the linen necessary to give the shabby men a respectable appearance that they may have a better show when seeking work! Think of the thousands of aged and feeble ones who must be sheltered from the wintry blasts in clean and wholesome beds!

All this requires funds. Give what you can, and give quickly, and may the blessing of Him who says, ‘Inasmuch as ye do it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me,’ be your recompense and your reward.

Not everyone liked getting letters from strangers, though. “If a man or woman utterly unknown to you should stop you in the street, and, after tapping you on the shoulder, begin to tell you a story about his or her affairs—what he or she has to sell and how good it is—you would consider it a great impertinence,” wrote a young businessman. “But is it any the less an impertinence for that strange man or woman to take advantage of the mails to do the same thing?

He complained that he was “the target of scores of paper bullets which are shot at me every morning. Here, for instance, is a good woman who has imported a lot of baby clothes, and stops me to tell me of it, or another boasts of her woman’s underwear…Another person brings a school to my attention; a second his meats and groceries; a third his unparalleled landaus or other carriages; a fourth his hotel in Florida.; another his pickles and other things in which I have no more interest than I have in the man in the moon, yet every day I am compelled to listen for several minutes to their ranting, when I want to be off about my own business.”

The astute consumer could tell an advertising circular mile away, so even the most honest firms tried to disguise them. It started with type. People so distrusted the “type writer” at first that Richard Sears sent only handwritten letters. By the late 1890s it was accepted. Printers had perfected a process by which they could print thousands of letters so that each looked as if were individually typed. “Experts can scarcely tell it from genuine typewriting,” said one.

The arts of camouflage were also applied to the envelope. A new device, Belknap’s Rapid Addressing Machine, operated with stencils—it fed the names in a continuous roll, and printed them on the envelopes or periodicals. But these spotted addresses were fit only for magazines. “They give a circular away at once,” said Cramer. “All addressing in this office is done either by hand or on typewriters.”

Another giveaway was a cheap envelope and stamp. For a single cent in postage, a company could mail a letter in a so-called patent envelope, leaving one flap unopened for inspection by the post office. The drawback was that “after a man has seen one he is seldom fooled,” said Cramer.

No matter. Legitimate companies were now studying these developments, and trying to determine if they could use the medium.

Chapter 17: The Hard-Luck Writer

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 10: Green Goods

By Ray Schultz

In 1875, in a article titled, “Fancy Advertising,” the New York Times reported a man whose letter and Post Office boxes were “daily ‘made the recipients’… of a lot of envelopes, which he is put to the trouble of opening, and which he finds contain only advertisements of articles that he does not want to buy, or of companies or professional persons that he does not wish to employ.”

Some of these doubtless came from the City Novelty Co. of Philadelphia, established in 1860. At the height of the Depression in 1873, it mailed a brochure in a hand-written envelope. “The Crisis that has so suddenly burst upon the Country and so rapidly extended to every branch of Business, has particularly affected manufacturers of Jewlery, and we find ourselves carrying a very etxensive stock of FINE GOODS for LADIES’ AND GENTLEMEN’S WEAR, And have determined to dispose of our Stock on the following plan, which is PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE, AND NOT A LOTTERY.”

And the plan? “We do not sell any tickets to tell you what article you can have for a dollar, but we sell you a box of very extra quality of Writing Pens, twenty-four in a box, for twenty-five cents, and warrant them to give entire satisfaction; will not corrode—and are adapted to any hand that can hold a pen. In this box we put a sealed envelope, that has in it a slip of paper with some one of the above articles named on it, which you can have if you desire it, by paying one dollar.

“We also sell the Ladies’ Casket for fifty cents, which contains the following articles, (whih are worth separately at retail $1.15) viz: four papers (100) of Cole’s Celebrated Duplex Silver Spring Steel Needles, Nos. 5 to 10, (Sharps); one Patent Button-Hole Cutter, twelve Yosemite Pens, one Silver Plated Pen Holder. The Casket opens like a book, with gold edges and clasp. In this Casket you will find two envelopes, each contaning a slip of paper, naming some article in this list which you can have, if you desire it, upon paying one dollar.”

Anthony Comstock had overlooked the City Novelty Company, but there were bigger bigger frauds being perpetrated. One was the so-called Green Goods scam. Having divined that most people were as dishonest as they were, rogues like Ed Parmalee and Tony Martin prospered by sending letters like this one:

“Dear Sir: — If you have no conscientious scruples regarding how men get money, I write to say that I am in a position to supply you with an ‘article’ that — for commercial purposes — is as good as gold.”

If the reader was too dense to grasp what he was being offered, the attached clipping, looking like it came right out of a New York newspaper, would set him straight:

“A COUNTERFEITER GOES FREE”

“The country flooded with $2,000,000,000 of counterfeit money in the past year, and pronounced by Government experts to be as good as the genuine greenback.”

Yes, counterfeit money. Most people got little mail of any kind, let alone letters from a stranger inviting them to commit a crime, but the note stated a truth obvious to many in that age of robber barons: “People are growing rich around you every day (no one knows why), why not you?

Another wrote, “My Dear Sir: I am desirous of obtaining a good shrewd agent in your locality to handle my ‘goods.’ If you have been unsuccessful in your business, I can supply you with goods with which you can pay off all your debts and start free and clear again. You can purchase mortgages, etc.”

Of course, most green-goods operators apologized for the intrusion. One said, “This communication may be somewhat startling or probably unwelcome. If so, I trust you will be good enough to destroy the same as no harm or insult is intended.”

The actual sale took place in two stages. If he responded, the would-be millionaire would be sent a free sample — usually a genuine $1 bill. After examining and spending it, he would send a sum of money for 10 times that amount in counterfeit notes (there was a sliding scale through which the customer received a better percentage the more he paid). On the happy day that his order arrived C.O.D., he would open the box to find not the greenbacks he had ordered, but sawdust or green paper.

Few victims griped because they feared “the odium that is attached to their being willing to be a party to purchasing and putting into circulation counterfeit money,” according to the Pinkerton Detective Agency. And they needn’t have expected any sympathy from Comstock. “Any person who sends money for counterfeit money should lose every cent of it,” he wrote.

Some green-goods artists ran industrial-strength enterprises (one group had free run of Jersey City city hall). Others operated out of saloons on Hudson Street in New York City, many of which had private mail boxes. They would come in for a beer and the mail, and quietly slip out if they saw anyone asking questions.

As for printing, some lottery men used processes that allowed them to mimic handwriting or typewriting. In 1883, a tip led Comstock to the back room of Eugene Marvin’s print shop on Eighth Ave., where he found two big cylinder presses, cutting and numbering machines, 875,000 green-goods circulars and phony Western Union telegraph blanks.

In 1890, Congress passed a law making it illegal not only to offer green goods by mail, but also to order them. (Ditto for “green articles,” “green coin,” “United States goods” and “green cigars”.) So the perpetrators returned to the practice they’d followed earlier: Conducting the swindle in person.

Invited to New York or to a smaller town (after the initial direct mail letter, all communications would be by telegraph), the mark would be plied with food and liquor by his hosts, and the party would retire to a hotel room to finalize the deal. Then one of two things would happen. In the first, men posing as police would barge in and threaten to arrest everyone for counterfeiting; the only way out would be for the one man with actual legal tender in his pocket to bribe the officers. In the second, the swindlers would switch a suitcase filled with cash for one containing sawdust. As one writer put it, the victim would find himself alone in the room, his money gone, the idea slowly dawning on him of just what a fool he had been.

Occasionally, this would backfire. Tony Martin, known as the Prince of Green-Goods Men, was shot to death by an outraged rube from whom he had euchred $650. Comstock attended the funeral, hoping to catch Martin’s Comstock. Failing that, he used the occasion to denounce the dead man to a reporter. “The woman he lived with was another man’s wife,” he said. “And he was a confirmed opium fiend.”

Chapter 11: The Crooked Road To The End

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 6: The Postmaster

By Ray Schultz

The U.S. Post Office was then headquartered in a two-story building near the War Department in Washington. Opened during the Franklin Pierce administration, the structure was finished with white marble from Maryland and New York, none of which stopped the roof from leaking. Into this setting in 1861 came Montgomery Blair.

Abraham Lincoln had become President in March of that year. In May, partly to pay off a political debt, he appointed Blair, a border-state moderate whose family had a house across the street from the White House and another in Maryland, as postmaster general.

A former U.S. attorney who represented the fugitive slave Dred Scott, Blair was reviled by radical Republicans for his moderation on the slavery issue. To add to his woes, his house in Maryland was burned down by the Confederates led by General Jubal A.Early.. But Lincoln wrote of his service as postmaster that “I remember no single complaint against with you in connection therewith.”

Blair’s first problem was getting the mail to its destination. The dying words of a wounded Pony Express rider—“Get out of the way—of the—United—States—mail,” in no way implied certainty of delivery. In many areas, service was only nominally better that it was in Franklin’s time, when the main conveyance was the horse. Some rural towns got no mail at all during high water.

Things were worse out west. Jefferson Davis, the secretary of War for Franklin Pierce, had tested camels in the Southwest, but they proved unsuitable, being used to the soft desert sand of the Middle East, not the hard-scrabble ground in the West. All this bred a certain cynicism: Mark Twain expected the stage driver taking him to Utah to “unload the most of our mail matter somewhere on the Plains and leave it to the Indians or whosoever wanted it.”

In 1862, largely thanks to Blair, the post office started operating mail cars on the growing national railroad system. Crews of men, “eyeshaded gnomes in shirt sleeves,” stood on their feet overnight, sorting mail by destination and dropping it into pouches.

One year later, mailmen started delivering to the door in the 49 largest cities. “Little can I tell how my life has been interwoven with those to whom I have carried mail,” said Morris Church, of Worchester, Mass. when he retired decades later. “Their joys and sorrows have taken a deep hold upon my life.”

And in November 1864, the post office started selling money orders so that families could send money to soldiers at the front without fear of theft. (Registered letters had been around since 1855, but the New York Times had argued that the system facilitated “fraud on the part of Post office officials, by pointing out the letters which contain money.”)

Finally, postage was now affordable. Advance payment had been mandatory since 1855, but Congress now sweetened it by lowering the rates and dividing mail into three classes: First class (regular letter mail); second class (periodicals); and third class (circulars).

The lottery men noted all this. And by the time Blair, who had offered to resign when it suited the President, was told by Lincoln, “The time has come,” they were taking full advantage of it.

Chapter 7: Ode To A Crook