Missing Links: The African and American Worlds of R. L. Garner, Primate Collector

Missing Links: The African and American Worlds of R. L. Garner, Primate Collector

Missing Links: The African and American Worlds of R. L. Garner, Primate Collector

Missing Links: The African and American Worlds of R. L. Garner, Primate Collector

Excerpt

On 18 February 1911, U.S. President William Howard Taft amused himself at a special dinner held at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. The Gridiron Club, a social organization of prominent journalists, held its annual roast of the luminaries of the American economic and political elite. A score of senators and representatives rubbed shoulders with generals, Supreme Court justices, major newspaper publishers, railroad tycoons, the ambassadors of Austro-Hungary and Germany, and financier extraordinaire Andrew Carnegie. Attendees devoured a mountainous meal. Guests selected their choices from a crowded menu, which included steak, terrapin Maryland, crab flakes en cassolette, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of alcohol—cognac, martinis, and a mysterious concoction known only as Gridiron punch. A server in a Cupid outfit, which apparently consisted of wings and “little else,” handed each guest a witty valentine card.

After dinner, guests smoked cigars as they savored the night’s manifold entertainments. A band in wigs played a series of songs in German, accompanied by a display of pictures of American life with faux-German captions, finishing with Theodore Roosevelt, “Schnickle Fritz.” Members dragged out Speaker of the House Champ Clark of Missouri in chains. Comedians impersonated many of the guests and made speeches on their behalf. An ersatz Andrew Carnegie reminded the assembly that he wished to “die poor, but advertised.” Victor Berger, the first Socialist Party member elected to Congress, received a bomb with a lit fuse as a gift. Racial caricatures made their way onto the stage as well. Supposedly, a Japanese spy had uncovered secret information on many of the congressmen in the room, which included “measurements of the honorable hole into which Congress throws a billion dollars every year.” Because the club ensured that none of the guests’ replies to the jokes would ever find their . . .

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