The murderous beats

This past Sunday afternoon, several parents from my son’s preschool organized an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids in Riverside Park near Columbia University. With the park in full bloom and the children remarkably well behaved for so late in the day, we must have presented just about as wholesome and innocent a portrait as you can get here in the Big City.

Yet who would have guessed our kiddies were scrounging for eggs on the site of a legendary literary murder?

Not me, until I read this piece in the Times about the Beat writers and how Lucian Carr, mentor to Ginsberg and Kerouac at Columbia, murdered the childhood stalker who had followed Carr to New York from St. Louis. Afterwards, Carr dumped the body in the Hudson—and must have dragged it right through the spot where we were picnicking 68 years later!

Well, morbid connections aside, I love this story for a few reasons. One, I’ve been a big fan of the Beats since high school when my lit-mag friends and I would traipse down to Café Reggio on MacDougal Street and pretend we were hipsters over cappucinos—though, full disclosure, I didn’t actually read any of their work until post-college. But when I did, I was hooked, and even now I’ve probably re-read HOWL and ON THE ROAD more than any other books on my shelf.

Two, it’s always fun to hear a new story about literary heroes, especially a nicely lurid one like this. But I especially love how it places the rowdy, anti-establishment Beats firmly in the Columbia literary culture—somehow, it makes them more relatable without deflating their impact, sort of like Thoreau heading home from Walden for dinner.

And three, it reaffirms my book-love for NYC. I mean, you could walk down virtually any street in any borough and there’s some kind of literary connection—a scene from a favorite book, the residence of a famous writer, the site (or former site) of a bookstore or writers’ bar or some other hangout. And in a few instances, like Riverside Park, something much more sinister…

4 Responses to The murderous beats

  1. In my more morbid moments, I sometimes reflect on how somebody has probably died on nearly any spot we can stand on. Given how long people have been around and how many of them have died, it doesn’t seem too unlikely. It’s a bit chilling.

    Like with any form of celebrity, I think people are drawn to the morbid or unusual aspects of writers’ lives. Some people get as much of a thrill visiting the house where Dickens died as they do visiting the Winchester Mystery House or taking a Jack the Ripper tour. And of course, people love hearing stories that make their icons seem more human, because it’s very easy to idolize their work and put them on pedestals and imagine they didn’t have loves or losses or that the pain they felt from them was more than poetic. It’s always a bit strange to realize someone you admire is not untouchable, but they had their own oddities and dramas and the same problems as you.

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