The man who befriended MenckenIn his article on "Mencken's...

the Forum

March 01, 1991

The man who befriended Mencken

In his article on "Mencken's Fakery" (Other Voices, Jan. 31), Carl Bode referred to Robert McHugh, who arranged the publication of "The Bathtub Hoax and Other Blasts & Bravos," as a Chicago newspaper man. Although McHugh might consider that to be an accolade, he never was a Chicago newspaper man. However, he was an Iowa newspaperman, a South Carolina newspaperman, a Mississippi newspaperman and a Baltimore newsman.

It was while with the Associated Press in Baltimore that McHugh met and became a friend of Henry Mencken in his later years. McHugh would join Henry and his brother, August, for convivial evenings at the Mencken home on West Hollins Street. There, he would help the Menckens consume the ale that Henry received -- a case a month -- from a Canadian brewery as a lifetime reward for having authored an advertisement for the beverage in the '20s. (Henry declined to accept cash for writing an advertisement.)

Upon Mencken's death in 1956, McHugh wrote the obituary for the Associated Press; he was the only journalist invited to the funeral.

"The Bathtub Hoax" was not a best-seller when it was published in 1958 for a retail price of about $4.95. McHugh's main reward was to receive a large number of the "remainders" -- the publisher's overstock of the unsold volumes. Many years after its publication, I chanced upon the book in a rare book store and found that it was selling for $20.

I telephoned McHugh at his home in Mississippi to advise him that he was potentially a wealthy man. He informed me that he had not one copy of the book. Within a month after he had accepted the editorship of the Biloxi Herald and before he had made a mortgage payment on the first home he had ever purchased, Hurricane Camille wiped him out -- lock, stock, home and books.

A first edition of "The Bathtub Hoax," obviously now valuable because of its scarcity in addition to the quality of its contents, was recently selling for $75 -- about the same as Mencken's "The American Language." A second, apparently bootleg, edition of "The Bathtub Hoax" has been published recently.

Incidentally, McHugh donated all of his share of the book's proceeds, such as they were, to the support of the Enoch Pratt Library's Mencken Room.

William A. Miller


Hot air

Your allegations against gun ownership are hot air. If your paper had some truth to back its claims, it would not need to stoop to constant name calling. Without facts to back its claims, your paper's position is damaging its credibility. The editorials in this paper remind me of our governor's "love letters." The governor has stopped his unfounded outbursts against those who disagree with him. Can The Evening Sun do likewise?

Donald Howard


Saddam's lies

Well, so much for the butcher of Baghdad's prognosis for "the mother of all battles." Perhaps we should now be dubbing him "mother of all liars."

David Judd


Useless law

Last year Maryland passed a gun law, and Baltimore city darn near broke its murder record (in spite of its declining population, mind you).

If we work real hard and get this new law passed, we can probably go over the top this year!

Dave Reich


Revamping taxes

Several recent letters to the editor were critical of the governor, particularly of his alleged squandering of the state's $400 million surplus from July 1989 and his support of legislation which reflects the Linowes commission's recommendations for revamping Maryland's existing tax structure.

First, the governor cannot spend any of the state's money without the legislature's approval. He can only propose where the dollars should go. Second, it has been clearly stated how the $401.84 million surplus was used. Here is a summary:

* $257.24 million -- for one-time repairs and capital improvements such as to hospitals and community centers that had been ignored for 20 years;

* $100 million -- payments to Maryland citizens as part of the savings and loan crisis repayments;

* $5 million -- set aside in the state's "rainy day fund" to pay for the unanticipated costs of a recession;

* $10 million -- used to cut approximately $7 from each taxpayer's 1989 income tax bill.

As for the Linowes proposals, I would ask only that before people take a position for or against the bill, they should take a few minutes to learn more about it. I think they'll be pleasantly surprised.

For example, every property owner in the state would see a reduction in his or her current property tax rate. Two-thirds of all Marylanders would get a personal income tax decrease. All people would be taxed fairly, based on their ability to pay and their level of income.

No one wants new taxes. But in order to give our children a quality education, keep our highways safe, preserve our natural resources and help people who are truly in need, we must makes changes in our tax structure now. Today's problems cannot wait for tomorrow's solutions.

George L. Bunting Jr.

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