Writing from his native Boston in March 1892, [...] Ogden Codman (1863-1951) confided to his closest friend, Arthur Little (1852-1925), of his latest attraction: "I am rather interested in Walter Abbott, Gordon Abbott's younger brother who has been in New York for a year and is quite unhappy in Boston where he has to live and is wild to get back to New York. He is much improved in looks, has rather nice skin and curly hair. He has grown thinner and is better dressed but looks cross and says foolish things about Boston which make him unpopular." Arthur Little, age thirty-eight and himself constantly in search of young men, responded by return mail: "How does your smash on Walter Abbott get on? Also, the young Gray? You ought to push some of these things and get some wild adventures." Less than a month later he could endure the silence no longer: "How is your smash on Walter Abbott getting on? You don't mention him so I suppose all sorts of things. Silence is golden. What is screwing for God's sake then?" In time Ogden did answer these urgent inquiries, and his cursory response indicates that, this time at least, there would be no amorous adventures with young Abbott: "I have not seen much of Walter Abbott but he is stupid and drinks a lot." Typical of his relations with young men, within the short span of three months Codman had met, avidly pursued, and then tired of one who had caught his fancy. This exchange of letters between Codman and Little, with its intimacy and frank discussion of their respective sexual desires, is representative of their friendship. It also illuminates a world in which guilt for male same-sex attraction, including its physical consummation, was largely absent. [...] Consisting of ninety-two letters written between 1891 and 1913, the most detailed exchanges took place when one of the friends toured abroad, almost invariably in Europe. The period of the friendship's greatest intimacy appears to be during the early 1890s, when Codman had entered his late twenties and Little his early forties. The majority of the correspondence centers on two years, 1892 and 1894 [...]. Following Codman's move first to New York in 1893 and later to France, the intensity of the friendship diminished. Their respective marriages (Codman in 1904 and Little in 1903) may have played a role here as well. The few letters from this later period illustrate a greater distance opening up between them.
[...] In the unusually candid language of these letters emerges a world of sexual intrigue, romance, and assignation. Harboring a consuming interest in tracking attractive young men, the two friends devoted a great deal of time and effort in pursuing them as potential conquests. Significantly, though these young men came from all social classes, from working-class messenger boys to their upper-class equivalents, all ranked below Codman and Little in the social hierarchy and were thus seen as sexually available. Both men engaged in romantic affairs with others as well; their male same-sex eroticism was not confined solely to sexual trysts devoid of emotion. [...] Both discuss such notorious sites as the Slide in New York City, a saloon where men of different classes with same-sex desires met, and numerous Turkish baths, the Boston Athletic Association most prominent among them. In addition, their letters reveal an extensive world where those of similar sexual temperaments met and exchanged information and gossip. [...] A man was not marginalized for his sexual object choice [...] but rather for his public gender behavior. [...] For instance, the popular New York playwright Clyde Fitch (1865-1909), who had very pronounced effeminate mannerisms, necessarily had to look over his shoulder far more frequently than Codman did. Among the working class the figure of the fairy was stigmatized and marginalized primarily for his effeminate behavior. Men who pursued and consummated sexual relations with a fairy-as long as they publicly maintained the dominant masculine role-suffered no stigmatization or marginalization whatsoever. The same held true among the middle and upper classes; public deportment rather than sexual partner defined a man's status within the mainstream. In striking contrast to the effeminate Fitch, Ogden Codman, whose appearance and behavior conformed to that of the normative male, never suffered from stigma or marginalization. He was always impeccably respectable, his career as an architect flourished (at least in early life), and he never encountered the difficulties that dogged Fitch's professional life from beginning to end. To the extent that Codman lived the life of a typical upper-class American man, his same-sex affairs were beside the point and never factored into the matter. It should be emphasized again that we are discussing a sexual system distinct from our own: while it is tempting to suggest simply that Codman was "closeted" and Fitch was "out," this distinction is misleading and ultimately anachronistic. In fact, of the two, Fitch was by far the more secretive and fearful of discovery; because he appeared effeminate, he was under closer scrutiny. In contrast, Codman was relatively daring and open in communicating his desires. He could afford to be bold because his mainstream gender behavior placed him above suspicion, same-sex attractions notwithstanding. The two models of homosexuality extended beyond these differences in gender behavior to incorporate their sexual attractions.
Fitch and other effeminate men like him sought out an equal - an "ideal friend" - with whom to share their life. This effort to settle down with a mate, roughly equivalent to today's most common model of homosexual relationships, was never a viable possibility in the nineteenth century - at least at home in the United States. Significantly, men like Codman, who presented mainstream gender behavior, were not on a quest for an ideal friend. Rather, they were sexual predators who sought out young men who could be controlled and dominated. This pattern continued throughout Codman's life, even during the years of his marriage (which also signified him as in the mainstream). He pursued attractive young men, normally in their late teens and early twenties, from his late twenties right up until his death in 1951. Themselves free from the charge of effeminacy, Codman and Little were nonetheless acutely aware of this behavior in other men and its possible meanings and associations. For instance, writing in the spring of 1892, Little appears to imply that a friend's effeminacy precludes him from marriage and heterosexual activity: "Fancy 'George' Stackpole engaged! I should suppose he would giggle so he could never get in or work it off. Perhaps being an alleged Dr. will help him however." Little highlights Stackpole's effeminacy by placing quotation marks around "George," indicating an unfamiliarity with using the name; possibly a woman's name had been common among their circle. Discussing a young man he has just recently met in New York, Codman snickers: "Mrs. Fish called him the Lady of the Lake." They also discuss another friend, Hamilton, whose effeminacy appears to have been well known to both men and women: "I was walking with a girl one day and we met Herbert [Browne] and Hamilton. She ... said, 'how ladylike Hamilton is!'" Indeed, the two friends assigned female names to many men, usually in quotation marks or underlined in the letters: "Lapsley's name is Gilliard, maybe some relation of 'Aunt Mary.'" By referring to men as "Aunt Mary," "Aunt Kitty," or "Auntie Belle" Codman and Little emphasized these men's effeminacy while never once attaching a feminine name or imagery to themselves. A final example culled from the correspondence provides by far the most intriguing information on the two men's understanding of male effeminacy. Writing in spring 1892, Little confides: "How indiscreet the Sunday Herald woman is when she says Julian and someone else have so much femininity about them it is no wonder the other fellows fall in love with them as they do!!! If that means what it says Julian must be worth knowing one day. How does he walk?" While the newspaper reporter observed that effeminate young men might be sexually attractive to other men, Little goes one step further by explicitly connecting effeminacy with male same-sex eroticism. Significantly, he identified himself as belonging among a group that was sexually interested in effeminate young men.
From this rich correspondence emerges a highly focused picture of the two friends' attractions and relationships along with commentary on those men they admired from afar. Within the course of two years, from 1892 through 1894, Codman actively pursued at least fifteen young men, all save one from his own social class. While ample evidence of sexual activity abounds, signs of a more lasting romantic love or relationship remain elusive. Without exception Codman always sought out younger men as the objects of his sexual interest. Writing from London during the summer of 1891, Codman echoes the language of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, published that year: "I have just made the acquisition of a gilded youth named Baldwin. 'Moon-Eyed Charley' he is called, who is to take us driving in his coach tomorrow." Less than a year later he comments on an exhibit at Boston's Camera Club, providing additional insight into his attractions. The photographs, titled The Bathers had seized his imagination; as he explained to Little, they portrayed "Frank Curtis and Freeman Allen naked on the rocks at Nahant. Also some nice little boys, their cocks hidden by their legs. I want a copy awfully." Later in the same letter he expressed another interest along similar lines: "There is such a nice letter boy I keep meeting him in the streets, so well dressed and rides or drives a very smart T-cart. His name is Isidore Hope. Son of Leopold the Jew clothing man. But really he seems quite nice. I hear they go [to] the Synagogue." [Codman then adds, in a jarring reminder of Boston upper-class anti-Semitism, "Do let us take the rich Jews into society in Boston as they do in London and Paris. They can't be worse than Cabots." After all, this was an era when hierarchy still ruled Boston upper-class society, as a famous ditty written at the time explained, "And this is good old Boston, / The home of the bean and the cod, / Where the Lowells talk only to the Cabots, / And the Cabots talk only to God."] Among his contemporaries Codman was not alone in his attraction to letter boys (variously referred to as messenger or telegraph boys). These young men, who were seen racing through the streets of most American and European cities, provided much needed speedy communications in an era just preceding the development of reliable telephone service. For Codman and those of his temperament, however, the messenger boys held additional interest beyond expeditious communications. As Timothy D'Arch Smith has concluded, "The telegraph boy appears to have provided the Uranians with a considerable erotic stimulus." In one of his earliest scrapes with blackmail Lord Alfred Douglas became involved with a telegraph boy while still attending Oxford. Notoriously, the infamous Cleveland Street scandal of 1889 involved a number of London messenger boys. As historian Lesley Hall has recently noted, "The telegraph boy seems to have been an almost fetishized erotic object for upper and upper-middle-class Victorian homosexuals." Codman's keen interest in young Isidore Hope seems to confirm that this pattern reached across the Atlantic as well.
The correspondence between Codman and Little is peppered throughout with critiques on the beauty of young men whom they encountered in their daily lives. In a passage typical of these exchanges Codman writes, "The more I see of David Gray the less I feel attracted, he seems too thin and pimples that I did not see at first begin to show." On another occasion he similarly noted, "He is less good-looking than I thought but talks well. He is too tall, and slight and rather weedy looking but will fill out well. And so bright and well-read and amusing both about books and people." Both men were always in search of young male companions when on their travels. In February 1894 Codman wrote, "Did you ever hear of some people in Montreal named Dobell - I met one, a nice lad in Genoa, and he took me on board 'The Spree' where he introduced me to his family who were going to Cairo for the winter." By return mail Little responded, confirming the family's solid social standing: "I asked Willie about the Dobells for I thought the name sounded familiar and they stayed there last summer .... Your 'lad' is a nephew of the ones who asked to come to Swampscott and play with Mrs. G. when he was nineteen-they had a lovely time up there and the Dobells dined with the G's in New York before sailing." Significantly, Codman saw no need to hide these friendships with younger men; indeed, he courted them quite openly. Writing to his friend, still away in Europe on the same journey, Little asked after another young man: "I hear you have picked up George Adams, it must be mighty nice to have anyone as amusing as he is to travel with." Codman, however, explained that this particular friendship had been of the shortest duration: "George Adams is really more suited to my father than to me. I think Ned Cod[man] is right, I like him but I prefer foreigners." Some weeks later Little delivered a postmortem on this fleeting connection: "[Ned Codman] says, speaking of G. Adams and you, that probably G.A. got somewhat
excited by going around with you!" At least in terms of their gender behavior and sexual temperament Arthur Little and Ogden Codman were striking mirror images of one another [...].
Much like Codman, Little also searched vigilantly for attractive young men. During the winter of 1892 he wrote home to Codman from Rome: "This p.m. I have been talking with a nice Philadelphian whose name I am not very sure of. He is very nice however. There is another named Brice not so good-looking but nice. I picked them both up last evening in the Billiard Room." Later he described developments: "The two Phila. Youths are named Brice and Denckle. We went and looked up a lot of smutty photos yesterday.... D. is the better beauty ... very attractive and nice looking, he and I are going to a Cafe Chantant tonight." Two years later, now back in Boston, Little described a recent dinner he attended along with his latest prospects: "The dinner was for G. Robbins and Caswell - he is rather a nice little boy... his manners are a little too 'elbowy' but still he is not bad. I have asked them [to] lunch here the 25th.... That boy Bradlee Fueno was at the Bradlee's dance, he looks as if he would 'toss it' [most likely a reference to masturbation] very well, or it would him!!" Revealing similar attractions, a month later Little commented on new arrivals in the neighborhood of his summer house (Swampscott): "John has let the Shingle style house to some people named Swift from Dayton, Ohio.... The oldest boy is a cherub and has been at Belmont - but one boy stabbed another there with a knife - I don't suppose the other 'stabs' count - and the Swifts thought it best to remove their attractive kid!" In another communication Little described not only his attractions but also a party where men could apparently express their attractions quite openly: "Did I write you of Jarley's last dance? Gordon Ball set in my lap and was very affectionate."
As seen in his pursuit of sundry and various young men Little's attractions, much like Codman's, were not limited by social class-their interests apparently transcended such criteria. Judging from Little's leading questions, the two friends were not only well aware of the physical possibilities of such relationships but actively pursued them. In another typically forward inquiry Little again urged Codman to act: "How is Russell? I should think it was nearly time for developments!" An exchange on the Sturgis family's approaching visit (they were relations of the Codmans) conveys quite explicitly where both friends' sexual interests lay. Codman noted: "There are two or three boys who are left in England at Eton. I think I wish they were coming and not the girls who are as ugly as fiends." Little's response adds illumination: "Certainly the Sturgis boys would be much more fun in a sexual way than girls! Girls have such an inconvenient way of wanting to be virgins where as boys are never virgins when they have a right hand and are perfectly formed." Providing further clarification, a letter from the end of the decade points to the two friends' concern with age as a marker of sexual attractiveness or availability for them: "Chapin - your friend has they say defaulted or used Bank funds - he was a teller.... Anyway, hasn't been arrested as it wasn't much and his bond covered it all. Paper speaks of him as, 'thirty and unmarried.' So you see you thought him too old-you were not alone however, or wrong." In fact, all of the men Codman and Little pursued in these years appear to have been significantly younger than they; as far as can be deduced from the letters, their partners were all men in their late teens to early twenties. Among Arthur Little's myriad personal attractions, flirtations, and short-lived romances one relationship stands apart. In his friendship with James Bowdoin Sullivan, who was twenty-two when they met, the forty-year-old Little seems to have uncharacteristically lowered his guard and come closest to what could be termed a romantic friendship. Sullivan, variously known in the letters as "Bowdoin" or "Iran," was most likely the older man's lover, although in the final analysis the question is irrelevant to appreciating how important the relationship became for Little.
It was clear from the beginning that Sullivan was more than just another pretty face: "Bowdoin is not at all good looking, that is handsome, but is great fun. He is so liberal-minded and can talk Italian like a native or nearly so!" Another letter further indicates that the attraction was this time more than Little's usual quest for physical male beauty: "I have just been reading your letters to Bowdoin who is very nice and dear. And never conceals his ideas or actions or anything else." The two friends obviously enjoyed each other's company and remained together for much of the winter and spring of 1892. In late April, writing home to Codman in Boston, Little explained that Bowdoin was still with him: "We have great fun poking around as our tastes are so entirely the same, except he is fearfully musical and sings and all that. But then he is never in a hurry and is at least as lazy as I am!" In his return note Codman approved of his friend's new relationship: "How nice for you to have Bowdoin Sullivan with you so much. I always have wanted a companion when traveling as I never enjoy anything alone. What a pity he is musical. I hope he does not practice much." During this tour Little's letters find them at baths together, traveling to Sicily for "a wild spree," searching for choice photographs of Italian boys, and enjoying themselves at various other sites of the European sexual underworld. One letter reveals quite clearly the intimacy of the relationship: "Iran has been taking some photos of me with little on! They seem quite a success!" A final story - gleefully related by Little - particularly appealed to his irreverent humor while also illustrating his view that he and his new friend enjoyed illicit secrets: "Last evening I was sitting with Bowdoin in the corner of the Reading Room when the porter brought me a card of a man and the man advanced and said it was a mistake, he had seen my name and concluded it was the Rev. A. Little - who was an old friend of his. If he had known what we were talking about he would have thought there was a greater difference than he thought." In April Little wrote that Bowdoin intended to visit Boston
during the coming September. "I am rather in hopes he may get rooms somewhere near you. He would need a sitting room, however so Laurence would not do."
Characteristically, Codman responded with unbridled enthusiasm over the addition of another young man to his regular circle: "When does Bowdoin come to Boston? And will he stay? Or go to New York? What will he do here? I am much interested." When their travel plans separated Little from his new friend he conveyed a deep sense of sadness back home: "[Bowdoin] is now I suppose in Constantinople as he left Venice a few hours before I did. I miss him ever so much. I tried in vain to make him come to Paris but he had decided last September to go to the Caucesses [sic] and so it was no use." His next letter reveals that his spirits had regained their usual buoyancy: "I have just had a letter from Iran, it was very amusing and graphic! There are no chambermaids only boys in the Constantinople hotels! What a time one, I will not say you, would have." In an exception to his usual pattern of short-lived conquests, letters from later years indicate that Little remained in touch with his young friend, even after the latter's marriage. In the letters they exchanged Codman and Little discussed their sexual conquests quite openly, with little apparent concern about discovery. Little's questions about one of Codman's young men - Winnie Clark - illustrate these realities in stark, unmistakable terms. Writing in January 1892, Codman first mentioned Clark while describing the latter's efforts to circumvent his physical advances: "I haven't seen Julian since he came to spend the evening with me one night when I expected Winnie Clark who brought Julian fearing to come alone. I suppose I thought Julian was rather drunk. I would have preferred either alone in spite of Herbert's saying about nice people who know how." Little mentioned Clark in a note pointing to a circle of friends and their parties: "Poor dear Winnie Clark. I shouldn't have supposed that after that bath on the sea ride in June he would ever have been afraid of anything again. I mean the midnight one!" Later that spring Little returned to Clark and bluntly inquired, "Have you been screwing W[innie] Clark lately?" Codman answered, "I have not seen Winnie Clark this winter but I shall ask him to dine when the Pop Concerts begin." Here Winnie Clark's trail abruptly ends, possibly because of his failure to surrender to the older Codman's sexual advances.
Among Ogden Codman's amorous interests in the 1890s Mason Hammond stands out, not only for revealing the older man's sexual attractions but also for his involvement in New York City's teeming sexual underworld [...]. Little wrote of his confusion over names at a recent party: "Fancy my disgust on seeing in the book of the Bankers -'Hammond Mason.' I fancy if it had been 'Mason Hammond,' what fun we should have had!" Later that month Codman wrote back on the subject of their mutual interest: "I saw Mason Hammond at the Horse Show, he did look so forlorn and dirty." Only months later did he finally indicate in an aside that a sexual congress between them had at last taken place: "Still in New York. Saw Mason yesterday and dined with him at Dels [Delmonicos] and spent the evening." Throughout the early 1890s Codman frequently lamented his unhappiness at being in Boston and expressed his strong wish to spend more time in Europe - or, if in the United States, at least in New York. As often as possible he traveled to Manhattan not only for work but for pleasure as well. Typically, he wrote during one of these trips to New York, "if only business will keep on as it has begun I can come here quite often. ...I go home Monday, but come back later... I must stop now and dress and make endless calls." In another communication he complained to his friend that his uncle's sudden death and the expected period of mourning meant the more important loss of a projected trip to New York: "Your letter of Jan. 1st has just come, also sad news of Uncle Ben - by cable. I am quite sorry as I was going to New York for the spree of my life." Following Little's repeated inquiries after Mason Hammond, still abroad on his European trip, Codman responded that another of his special friendships had broken up. "I have not seen Mason and I found the haunts of vice too expensive so as 'The Slide' is broken up I shall see him no more." Little responded again with alacrity, betraying a deep familiarity with such underground "resorts" as the Slide. "How sad for you that 'The Slide' should go broke up! What do they do without it? And how does Princess Maud earn a living?" Little's question clearly indicates that he and Ogden had visited the infamous resort and knew it well enough to ask after one of the effeminate "fairy" waiters. That November, before the Slide's closing, Codman had written wistfully to Little, who was touring Italian cities, "of course you will have fun in Italy if you care to look about. I always heard 'The Slide' was mild compared with Italy." The many references to the Slide in the Codman/Little correspondence explains in part Codman's strong desire to be in New York, for here lay a sexual subculture that allowed him far greater freedoms than were possible back in puritanical Boston.
[We learn more about this place from] the trial transcript of one Thomas Frank Stevenson, charged with "keeping a disorderly house," or an establishment used for prostitution. The defendant's saloon, the Slide, was located at 157 Bleecker Street, New York. This transcript supplies a clear picture of the saloon Codman acknowledged frequenting before it was shut down in January 1892. The "most notorious of all dens of iniquity in the city", says The New York Herald,"where vice reigns in such a hideous mien that it is impossible to describe it. [...] There was a fair sprinkling of bloated, dissipated looking men, some young and some old, who were bandying unspeakable jests with other fashionably dressed young fellows, whose cheeks were rouged and whose manner suggested the infamy to which they had fallen." Physically, the resort was described as a series of basement rooms, with the entrance on the street down a short flight of steps. Within its walls could be found a bar, tables, a dance floor, and a piano, complete with a "fairy" who occasionally sang for the patrons. A New York Press account published at the time reads: "The basement floor is filled nightly with 100 to 300 people most of whom are males but are not worthy of the name of man. They are effeminate, degraded and addicted to vices which are inhuman and unnatural." Another vivid press account exposed "one of the most vile, vulgar resorts in the City, where no man of decent inclinations would remain for five minutes without being nauseated. Here men of the degenerate type were the waiters, some of them going to the extent of rouging their necks. In falsetto voices they sang filthy ditties, and when not otherwise busy would drop into a chair at the table of any visitor who would brook their awful presence." One of the witnesses at Stevenson's trial testified that one of these "fairy" waiters had "minced up to me and lisped" a request for a drink. Others noted their feminine names: "Fanny Davenport, Madam Fisher, Maggie Vickers, Princess Ida, Princess Toto, and Sarah Bernhardt." Another fairy named Maude - possibly the "Princess Maud" that Little expressed concern for - reportedly invited customers to a sexual "performance" to be held in private. The fairy's gender behavior was patently and unmistakably feminine. One witness marveled at how "they would refer to each other as 'she' and 'her' and 'would call each other bitch." They also spoke of their "husbands" and of "being kept." [...] These fairies modeled themselves after women they knew and understood, most often prostitutes. A letter that Little sent from Europe confirms this pattern. Describing people whom he had encountered at a Paris nightclub, he noted how two men, "dressed as fallen girls," came in and picked up two (presumably "normal") men. At Stevenson's trial a reporter also testified to the flagrant homosexuality at the Slide - although significantly, this word is never used at any point. "The effeminate men" he noted, put their hands near visitors' "private parts" and would "lean over and whisper in a very affectionate manner." In the end the Slide's owner was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison and a five-hundred-dollar fine. The Slide was closed permanently and would never reopen, although many other similar resorts would quickly take its place. The utter lack of concern that Codman and Little expressed over the Slide's abrupt demise is puzzling and troubling at first glance. [...] Socially superior and masculine in appearance and behavior, Codman and Little shared with the [Slide's] fairies only a sexual attraction to other men. Significantly, newspaper reporters and witnesses also appear to have distinguished the effeminate fairies from their male customers. A drawing of the Slide, the "lowest and most disgusting place," as it was called, depicts clearly effeminate waiters - complete with limp wrists - serving normal masculine-gendered and well-dressed male customers. [...] The masculine men retained their normative gender status, only the effeminates were called "unnatural" and thought of as "depraved".
[...] Another important site of the sexual underworld was the Turkish bath. [...] Not surprisingly, then, Turkish baths figure prominently in the Little/Codman correspondence: the baths on Lafayette Place and at 28 West 28th Street in New York and the Boston Athletic Association back home were their favorites. In February 1894 Little wrote from Boston: "Took a Turkish Bath yesterday, the boys were bathing nothing particularly pretty however. I shall never forget the lovely one last year. Do you suppose, 'beauty but skin deep' means removed the skin to find beauty?" Within the week he had returned: "I took a Turkish Bath this p.m. It was very nice. I had a towel over the shower so it became one stream and then lay on the floor and let it come on my bottom! My balls were shrunk up into my chest! Then I went to the steam room... it was bully." Seemingly unable to stay away, before three days had passed he had been again: "1st: I took a Turkish Bath this p.m., it was indeed Turkish. That fat Charlie Rice, a man named Balderstein and a Taylor were more or less full and B. took it into his head to try ... [left blank]." Little then explains that, despite an invitation to a dinner party where a mutual friend, Tom Kelly, was to sing, he chose the bath instead: "Certainly the scene at the B.A.A. [Boston Athletic Association] was worth all I should have seen there. I was on the other side of the T. Bath, otherwise I might have fallen victim to the lust of B. I would have given anything to have seen all he did. Once they carried a lot of towels and I could [not] tell whether he put his mouth or fucked off!! The Tatler is almost impossible to do if you have drunk a lot, so I fear it wasn't so!!!" His manner of providing graphic illustrations of the sexual activity at the Turkish Bath and then ending with a step back - that perhaps none of it really happened - is an interesting way of avoiding otherwise taboo topics. By return post Codman responded from London: "I have just got your nice long letter, certainly I never dreamt of such scenes at the B.A.A. - it must have been great fun and quite worth losing a sight of Tom Kelly."
In discussing the baths Little is unambiguous about his reasons for being so intensely interested: "Harry Williams says [of] the Lafayette Place Turkish Bath in New York - no one hears anything!!" "As for 28 w 28 st, NY - it is all the difference of having a cock or not in the case of need." While palpably excited, Little was also occasionally concerned about safety. He had reason to be so, for [...] there were risks, including frequent police raids, involved with patronizing such establishments. While the two friends explored Turkish baths around Europe, Canada, and the northeastern United States, all seemed to pale in the face of the excitements available back in Boston at the Athletic Association. Writing from Italy, Little comments: "You never write about the Athletic Club and Turkish Baths! Do you take any? There is one in Naples, [if] I can get Bowdoin to go to Naples I shall go and try the T.B. and see what will happen." A series of letters written later that spring charts Little's fascination and ultimate disappointment with a Turkish bath in Paris. Writing in early May, he explains: "I have not yet been to a Turkish Bath. Dick Weld is going and I shall make him go with me. As for other indecencies, I have such a cold I don't know when I shall be able to go out in the evening."Within a few days his burning curiosity had been satisfied: "The Turkish Bath here is a fraud, really not much better than the B.A.A.- and the attendance far beneath it!!" A week later, having migrated across the Channel to London, Little seemed eager to find the as (yet) unexplored English baths: "I shall try the Turkish Bath here. I hope it is better than Paris which was not as good as B.A.A.!! It is dirty and not the right kind of dirt!" While himself touring Europe Little could not help wondering about Codman's activities back home - and the doings of the Boston Athletic Association: "Do you take Turkish Baths? And with whom?" Later in the same letter he again asked: "What was it about you and Kip having a wrangle in the bathtub or something? Nothing nasty I hope?" Responding to these persistent questions only months later (at least as far as can be told from surviving documentation), Codman acknowledged far fewer activities than his friend: "I have not had a Turkish Bath this winter. They are no fun alone."
[...] While they moved easily through working-class sexual underworlds or subcultures, middle- and upper-class men of the era also experienced their homosexuality outside the boundaries of the red light districts. These privileged men, who could travel to Europe, had access to European texts of literature and history, and enjoyed far-reaching male friendship networks, could effectively circumvent the public veil of silence on male same-sex attractions. European books and newspapers - even pornography - provided an extensive, if subterranean, education. Although no public discourse on same-sex sexuality appears to have existed, many men in these friendship networks distributed among themselves innumerable books, articles, and other texts on same-sex passions. [...] During his many journeys to a Europe that he had known since childhood, Codman sought out books on male same-sex attractions. He also eagerly consumed all the news he could find about homosexual scandals.
In April 1894 Little asked Codman, then traveling through France, to "find a book in French called 'Les Confessions of Jean Jacque Bouchard.' Published in 1630. It is a daisy I hear. He describes - I hear - the whole process now what is called masturbation, fucking, etc., etc. all about everything and everything called by name-most unblushingly and delightful." The two friends also discussed the most famous symbol of male same-sex eroticism in their day, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. In December 1891, soon after the book was published, Codman mused: "I wish I could find out what novel Oscar Wilde means in Dorian Gray as the worst French novel - it is not du Maupin - I want to get it." Since Little was then touring Europe, the task of obtaining this book would surely have been his. Yet he responded: "I never know what book O. Wilde refers to in Dorian Gray." A later reference to Dorian, made by Little, illustrates how the name had become for them a shorthand for homosexuality (although they were apparently unaware of this clinical term, and indeed neither man ever mentioned the word, including Codman, who lived until 1951). "In England they have [in] all country houses what they call a morning bell which rings 1/2 hour before the bell to get up in the mornings! Then everyone is seen trouping back to their rooms!! Fancy the scene at Dorian Gray's!!!"
Codman and Little delighted in following scandals and especially prized those involving same-sex eroticism. Their letters indicate, however, that English newspapers were far more useful in this pursuit than those found back at home. One senses a validation or a search for kindred spirits in their eagerness to unearth these scandals. Astonishingly, the uniform hostility and unrelenting negativity generally found in the reports appear not to have concerned or affected them. From Rome Little wrote home: "I was much interested in reading about Lord and Lady Russell's divorce. Have you seen anything of it? I shall scan the papers as they are quite exciting! It seems that Lord R had a friend, a college friend, named Roberts whom he wanted to stay [with] after his marriage.... [H]e left his wife in bed and went quite undressed 'up to Roberts' where he stopped for hours! Lady R. thought nothing of it only that it was unkind until his mother and sisters and brothers enlightened her as to the relations between Lord R. and Roberts! The English papers are quite explicit and not like our goody-goody sheets. Lord R. frequently spent the night with Roberts. Quelle fun!" As Codman's answer confirmed, the American papers he was reading were less than forthcoming: "Do save cuttings from the English papers on the Russell divorce case as I don't know the funny part at all well." In what was to become one of the most notorious marriages of the decade, John Francis Stanley, or Lord Russell, married Mabel Edith Scott in London during the winter of 1890. Before three months had passed, the bride had fled from her husband, claiming physical and emotional abuse. After a trial reconciliation that failed during that summer, the two never again lived together. As various suits wound their way through the courts, culminating at last in their 1901 divorce, the couple gained great attention and reprobation when Lady Russell implicitly accused her husband of having a homosexual affair with his friend, Mr. Roberts. The two American friends, though forced to rely on the strictly censored "goody-goody" sheets when at home, nonetheless had access to the more open European press and used this information to build on their knowledge of the many men like themselves with pronounced same-sex attractions. In 1892 Little passed on to Codman his friend Bowdoin's (Sullivan) version of another English homosexual scandal then filtering through the European press: the Cleveland Street scandal. "He says the reason the Cleveland Street was found out was that 'some bloody ass burst!' or split! I believe was the correct term." This brief and casual reference to the scandal merely as "Cleveland Street" reveals that both friends had heard of the affair and were versed in its details, which had been publicly exposed some two years earlier. Much like "Dorian," this otherwise nondescript London address served them as shorthand for same-sex desires. Significantly, the friends' correspondence reveals no such shorthand drawn from American popular culture.
So complete was Arthur Little's sense that male same-sex attractions were an important part of European life that in addition to commenting frequently on friendship networks he eroticized elements of European homosexuality. Little and Codman devoted endless hours to the subject of Italian boys. Typical of that era's "sexual tourism," the two discussed, pursued, and collected the photographs of Italian boys widely distributed among their friends. As these photographs were apparently not available back home, whenever one of the two friends was in Europe the other would demand more of these images. In December 1891 Codman wrote, "Be sure and get all the photos you can of architectural subjects and others as well as I shall expect great things." By return post Little confided that he had had little success but would continue to search: "I don't see many photos. I have some of Neapolitan boys with their clothes on which are rather nice and Bowdoin is going to show me some others in a shop he has seen." Within a week Codman had hatched a plan that would allow him to receive the coveted photos without the possibility of discovery: "You must get lots of photos. If you were to send some unmounted ones in an envelope without any letter and then if they got lost it would not matter - and they are such fun." Little, quickly agreeing, replied, "I may send you some photographs in a newspaper before long." Still in Rome two months later, Little at last struck pay dirt: "I have bought some more Neapolitan boys, some are daisys! Such c-ks!!" Judging by Codman's next letter, the photos were duly received: "I have just got your letter of the 3rd and 9th with its charming enclosure for which many thanks. It is indeed lovely, what a good time you must be having." Over the years Arthur Little became a veritable connoisseur of Italian boy photographs. In the winter of 1894 he updated Codman on the collection: "Have had all my Italian boys mounted in two big books and they look mighty well - no one ever sees them but I... have to keep them safe so they couldn't get rolled up badly. You never saw them all - there are 83 in the 2 books!!" That spring he revealed to his friend that the photos came from Taormina in Sicily, where Wilhelm Von Gloeden had established his photography studio. Men reportedly traveled from far and wide to this remote city in quest of the exotic pictures, all nominally posed in a classical style suggestive of the ancient Greeks. "Went to a stunning dinner at Bartlett's, also lent him my Taormina boy photos. I saw him at the Union [Club] today. I said I would sell him the lot for $100, so today he said, 'Too much pecker! Or, I'd buy them, but I feel as if I'd have dynamite in the house! Have to lock all the doors when I look at them!' He was very funny about them."
If the sexual component of Arthur Little's many friendships with young men cannot always be clearly understood, a careful reading of his letters as a whole leaves few unanswered questions. Comments culled from the correspondence indicate that his many attractions to young men often led to sexual consummation. Writing to Codman from Boston, Little exalted, "Charlie Winston spent the night here and wet drawers on every hand!!!" Earlier, he had noted, "Do ask Charlie Winslow to tea and ask after his armpits. Bowdoin says if he is as good looking as I say he must have been screwed to death nearly." In like fashion, while on a visit to London he mused, "There are lots of Johnnies here one would like to know in a Biblical way - one of them smiled at me in a suggestive way yesterday." Later in the same letter he acknowledged that while caution was surely advised, he would nonetheless continue to seek sexual experiences: "I agree with you about doing things alone being best-but there are some things that require two most decidedly!" The European visits provided opportunities to meet boys as well as collect photographs. Soon after arriving in Florence in 1891 Little complained that "the boys do not go bathing in the canals which is a disappointment." Within the month, however, he had become acquainted with one: "The elevator boy or lift boy is the image of Gus Rautoul except his nose. He is a dear child and his name is Calmenina Cortes." Then, as if the boy were just another beautiful object to purchase and take home to his collection, he added, "I have some thoughts of bringing him home to wait at table if he would go." With his typical humor, in another letter Little exulted about the male same-sex sexuality he felt all around him in Rome: "Haven't been able to s-w for 10 days but did yesterday pm! I propose to teach some of the [boy] models to say, 'B[ugger]r me' to Englishmen. B-(Bowdoin), not B -r thinks it would be great fun. The thing would be however I expect that the poor (!) would always be accepted!" During the same trip he sent home a story of an Englishman "who the moment he landed in Naples had a boy offered him!! What fun!"
Just as assiduously as he collected postal cards, Little sought out and relished stories of same-sex sexuality among the young men in English public schools and universities - the latter group as captivating to him as the former. Such eroticism was clearly tied to the two friends' sexual object choice - both men were attracted to younger men and not their contemporaries. In 1891, after asking after their mutual friend, "Charlie Morris,"Little continued: "He was at Eton, you know, and there they bugger each other's armpits!! I was told by one who knows. Don't tell this much around as it is too good to have any but a select circle know.... I have found a fount of information on the subject." Typical of the countless stories Little sent back home to Codman, one begins: "One fellow was in the sick house and another was wild to have him, told the matron he had a headache and was put in also. Outside he would have found it impossible as he was across court, but in the 'sickroom' he was put in a bed in the same room with his-!!!!! You can fancy what a night they had of it! He the active one and afterward he stopped and got fearfully screwed!!!" That same year Little explained what he had heard of the premier English military college: "They say at Sandhurst if a man has his breeches down and is stooping to pick up his shoes - if his rear tale shows he would be screwed in a minute by the nearest one who could stick it in! 350 men and only 3 women who screw - and 3 hours from London!" On his 1892 European tour he wrote home to Codman: "Ask me sometime about a letter from a Cambridge fellow. An English fellow read me selections from it! They are a hot lot there and continually smashed on each other and know about each others' 'flys as [well as] their own'!" Another letter ends with one of his many comparisons between Europe and America: "Bowdoin says English schools are terrors for it [homosexual behavior], he wanted to know if they did much at Harvard! I said I thought not."
Despite their invariable pose of lighthearted banter and an utter lack of shame on the subject of homosexuality, Codman and Little did understand that some degree of discretion-indeed secrecy-was obligatory. With characteristic nonchalance, Little concluded a story of homosexuality at English public schools: "I hope you will be very careful of what I write you and not post the letters at the P.C. [postal center]. I might be too popular on my return!" In another letter posted ten days later he again hinted at their respective sexual interests, pursuits, and exploits: "I am so glad you are keeping my letters as I can then explain things in them. We might publish yours and mine in order! There used to be a book called 'Six Months in Italy' - we could call ours, 'Six Months, etc., etc.'!!!" Without question the two were aware that not everything discussed between them could be shared. Their exchanges on posting Italian boy photographs anonymously and going to the trouble of marking many of their letters "private" and "personal" confirm this understanding. Referring to the need for secrecy, Little explained in one note after a description of his latest Turkish bath adventure: "This letter would be mighty interesting reading for the family!!! And I hope there may be room for the address - that is for the morals!!" He concluded the communication by exclaiming, "Well, this is an eventful letter!!" On occasion a jarring reminder of the constant risk of discovery surfaced and hit them with a jolt. On a European trip Little began his letter home to Codman by saying, "I got here [in Rome] last night and found a very nice letter from you which had been opened in Paris as they said there was no room for more addresses-fortunately, it was written to be read aloud so no harm was done to anyone's morals." Ten days later he revisited the incident and pondered its implications: "My letters lay opened in Paris. I shall have to be very careful."
The same letter ends with yet another example of the elaborate juggling act required: "Jarley was here and wanted to know about you, but I didn't let her read your letter!" When another female friend, Minna, wanted to read Codman's letters to him from abroad, Little again resorted to any and all tactics needed to keep their sexual desires secret. "[Minna] wishes parts of your letters read to her at lunch Sunday! I hope I shall read the right parts!!" The same letter also notes that Jarley had not forgotten her request for the letters either: "Yesterday was lovely, we all went to tea at Herbert's .... Jarley was as funny as ever, she wanted to read your letters. I said, 'there were parts she couldn't', she said mark them with a blue pencil and I won't. That's what Miller's father used to do to books he read and he never read the marked places!!" In a postscript written some days later Little described the success of the Sunday luncheon and noted that Minna "had forgotten about your letter so I was not forced to skip parts of it." Yet, whether it was Jarley, Minna, or the family that pressed the matter, the issue of maintaining secrecy persisted; a month later Little again noted, albeit now with his usual humor, "I called on Minna yesterday, she was very gay and cheerful - wants to see your letters!!" While having a letter fall into the wrong hands was perilous, exposure of any physical acts was more so. Little referred to the latter danger only once throughout the long course of the correspondence. In an answer to an inquiry from Codman about his acquisition of any new bad habits, he explained, "Thanks I have learn't no new tricks or bad habits. As a girl in Rome said my hand showed that my heart (!!!) would never run away with my head, but then as you say being found out is the greatest mistake! That is always what prevents me from doing anything." Although poignant, this thought seems at odds with the other letters that found him in Turkish baths across Europe and the United States; yet the sentiment of caution itself seems genuine if unusual for the normally jocular Bostonian. As trouble brewed after the infamous 1895 Wilde trials and all male same-sex affections received a new and keen interrogation, Codman and Little did not need to cross the Atlantic in order to see how catastrophic public exposure could be. Right at home they had the example of their friend George Griswold.
Buried among Codman's personal letters from this period is a curious exchange on Griswold and his deathly fear of apparently approaching scandal. In October 1902 Codman, by then relocated to New York, received the following letter from his friend Eliot Gregory in Newport: "Dear Coddy: I've had such a queer experience with George Griswold. I am sure he is going out of his mind. Yesterday he stopped me in Bellevue Avenue (he was in a cab) and looking halfmad, he said, 'Ah! Can you come to Boston with me right away! I'm in such awful trouble!!' His teeth were chattering and his hands trembling! He could hardly speak!!! So I tried to talk to him and calm him a little. But he could not say anything but, 'I've been putting up a pretty good bluff all summer but now that's gone!' Suddenly, he said, 'Where's Coddy? I think I'll go to New York and talk it over with him!' Instead of going to Boston! I tried to ask him what it was all about? Anything about his father? He said no! Then he suddenly jumped into his cab and drove off saying, 'I'll go to New York and see Coddy! He's a good friend.' Then last evening I received this telegram from New Haven!! It worries me. He looked queer enough to do anything!" What trouble or scandal Griswold faced is uncertain; yet his membership in the Codman circle points to the real possibility of sexual scandal - and in this period men with same-sex desires often risked blackmail. Eight days later Griswold himself sent a plea to Codman: "My Dear Friend: Of your charity I pray you add not to my ruin by gossip and idle rumor. I have been temporarily off my trolley due to insomnia and worry for which I am now under treatment by Dr. Cres. De F. Smith, 44 East 29th street. Please invoke Eliot Gregory's silence. Yours as ever, GG2nd." Today everything about Griswold's troubles and fate remains mired in question and uncertainty. That he and Codman were close friends is confirmed by the only other reference to him in the archives: a brief note from A. Nitchie at the Bank of New Zealand, enclosing stamps from that country in response to Codman's expressed interest. Nitchie's note concludes by asking to be remembered to his "traveling companion Mr. Griswold."
[...] The unusually intimate nature of the Codman/Little correspondence makes reconstruction of Ogden Codman's world and his sexual identity not only feasible but indeed called for. Having established the two men's sexual desires, attractions, and practices, our next logical step is to make some well-grounded speculations on their self-conceptualizations, especially during the early years of the 1890s. Their frequent exchanges of letters over many years allowed them to develop and articulate quite clearly their belief in the history and "naturalness" of male same-sex eroticism and in the unmistakable fact that such people represented a distinct identity. In their communications they even adopted linguistic terms such as "queer," defined by them as someone of their own sexual temperament. Whether Codman, who first introduced this specific language, had learned it from others is hard to establish, as he himself presented no such connection. Writing from the elegant house he had built for himself in the Back Bay, Little updated the traveling Codman on Boston's social whirl: "I am asked to the Howes to meet Mrs. Robbins and Caswell, hers-not the apothecary's son, but fearfully rich, own a coach, etc., etc. They say he is very fond of change so he may prefer a male to a female!" As this odd reference illustrates, in his earliest letters Little struggled with the absence of a word that would convey the message of a man sexually attracted to another man. While in London, having recently separated from his friend Bowdoin, Little explained that he intended to look up the latter's friends immediately, as such men would be "a likely crowd." This phrasing was an obvious allusion to the very real possibility that they would share his sexual temperament. Employing similarly ambiguous language, he speculated later in the same letter on two other young men whom he suspected to share his sexual tastes: "I should say Frank Curtis and Freeman Allen were both 'likely subjects' from what I have seen of both at the T.B. [Turkish bath]. I should say that their 'pulses beat fast and furious!!'"
His use of quotation marks to present these labels further reinforces a sense of tentativeness over language. Yet in this letter Little also expressed his understanding that there were many others like him, referring to a historical tradition of male same-sex desire and romance, most notably the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston, immortalized in Marlowe's play. Little's language evolved over time. In January 1892 he provided Codman with some newly acquired vocabulary: "I find the term 'screwing' seems to refer to either male or female." That this "male" reference includes male same-sex eroticism is confirmed in a letter written about a week later: "I continue to hear charming stories of 'screwing' at English Schools." The friends' use of the word "queer" is equally significant and when carefully charted and analyzed yields even more insight into their identities. In much of their early correspondence Codman and Little used the word "queer" as the majority of their social class then did: to convey a sense of oddness or strangeness-something peculiar, for instance. In describing the wedding of Codman's relative, John Codman, Little wrote, "John Codman had such queer ushers... Al Bond! Sydney Wyeth! John Baworth!! Ned Codman was one and was disgusted as you can imagine." Similarly, he noted an acquaintance's strange behavior: "They say Alice Russell was walking little Emily Sears and E.S. heard her saying to herself, 'My God! How can I fear it!' over and over again until E.S. said she wouldn't walk with her if she [did so anymore]!!! She must be really queer. I feel awfully sorry for her." Codman also employed the term conventionally: "The T.T. [ Town Topics] says Gus Hewlerway is going to Newport. What queer people to go there." Earlier he described a block of houses with the oddest appearance: "There is also a queer old block of houses of which I have often heard, DePaw Row."
Their conventional use of the word "queer" is less certain in a letter in which Codman discussed a curious article he has found. In the course of his explanation he introduced a new definition: "There was a weird article in the paper of the [F]reedom sulphur mines where they do queer things. However, I guess it isn't the only place in Italy." The reference to an all-male site such as a mine, along with the allusion to Italy, suggests that Codman was fashioning a new and different meaning for the otherwise commonplace word - a meaning that could provide a name for his sexual temperament. A letter written that November uses "queer" in three different contexts, at least one of which, and most likely two, employ the new definition. Beginning with the conventional: "I was very glad to get your letter. Sammy Dexter is to be buried tomorrow. He died at Saranac suddenly. Lunched with Gordon, he had such queer eyes." Later in the letter he mentioned someone who is queer: "It seems that du Maurey's real name is something else and his father was queer but married to his mother which was a pity for much more fun if not." If the meaning is ambiguous here, his last usage of the word leaves no uncertainty, as he clearly linked the word with male same-sex eroticism, much as he would in the reference to the sulfur mines: "I should think you might get some awfully queer engravings and photos in Italy, you might send me some photos anonymously to my Chestnut Street [address]." Thus, when read with care, Codman's letters illustrate beautifully how the word "queer" was in transition, with double or multiple meanings. In time his linkage of "queer" with his own sexual
temperament would grow more pronounced. In an obvious response to Codman's association of "queer" with male same-sex attractions Little announced defiantly, "I haven't the slightest doubt that they did 'queer' things as you call them but which I am assured are perfectly natural and have always thought so you know!"
This insight into a late-nineteenth-century world is nothing short of astounding. Little not only understood his friend's new definition of queer, as referring to those of his sexual temperament, but went on to declare that such activity was "perfectly natural." Little's emphatic underlining of the word betrays an uncharacteristically defensive posture; in general, his discussion of homosexuality seems curiously at odds with the negative messages ubiquitous in the cultural productions of the day. In time, at least in the two friends' private code, "queer" came to mean homosexual. In 1894 Little wrote: "There are three fellows who I think do queer things. I saw one talking to a nice looking boy downtown who was flushing and wiggling!" That same year, in a letter to Codman, then on tour in Europe, Little asked, "Have you been to any of the places in Paris where one looks through cracks in the walls and sees queer things going on?" When placed in the larger context of the correspondence, the pointed question Little asked in 1891 seems unmistakable: "Loveland Ronalds has a fine house at Tuxedo I think and is very rich. Is he queer?" As is indicated by the examples above (along with innumerable others, too plentiful to include) Codman and Little understood same-sex attractions to be something deeper than homosexual acts. Little's favorite term to describe a sexual act performed with the same or the opposite sex was "screw." But in contrast to this mechanical definition of an act, their use of "queer" certainly referred to the identity of those attracted to their own sex; the examples in the letters are unmistakable on this point. Thus, a word [...] traced back to the 1920s as signifying an identity centered on same-sex attractions was used by Little and Codman at least a full thirty years earlier, beginning in the early 1890s. More than anything else, this linguistic construct indicates a fully developed identity that was surprisingly free from the ignorance, fear, and guilt that has so long been held as representative of male same-sex attractions in this period.
from David D. Doyle Jr, "A Very Proper Bostonian", Rediscovering Ogden Codman and His Late-Nineteenth-Century Queer World in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Oct. 2004.