Monday, June 30, 2014

His Excessive Passions Were Unlike Those of Other Men

Joseph Carp:
an early gay identity?
A list of criminal cases in the June 30, 1883 edition of the St. Paul Daily Globe, of St. Paul, Minnesota, has a number of interesting items among the twenty-five cases disposed of by the very busy Judge Burr, on June 29th.

Among these were the case of Ms. Hausdorf, who was found to have “abused Mary Reimer in unladylike manner with her tongue.” The article notes that Mrs. Reimer responded in kind. They were bound to keep the peace. Remember in the future, Mrs. Hausdorf, to abuse your neighbors in a ladylike manner.

Less decisive was the case of Swan Anderson and Gus Langren, who “were charged with assaulting and insulting a German woman with a name unpronounceable. They plead not guilty, and witnesses failed to identify them as the ones who made the assault.” The two young men fingered others, but the witnesses failed to identify them.

Then there’s this:
Alice Montague, alias Maywood, alias Wood, for keeping a house of ill-fame on Fifth street, formerly kept by “Swede Annie,” was fined $5 and three days imprisonment in county jail. The imprisonment sentence was suspended and the fine paid. The complaint as first made was dated Junes 9th, but afterwards changed to June 1st. It was not proven that she had violated the order the mayor, but that she had kept a house of ill-fame prior to the date of the mayor’s order.
But we can top a woman running a bordello. The article has a somewhat surprising account, that of a man who was arrested for “erotomania.” (This must have been an unfamiliar term for the compositor, since it is spelled “erottœmania” on the first use, and “errotomania” on the second.)
Joseph Carp, a crank, lascivious and evidently insane, was charged with sodomy, or a crime, denominated in medical terms as erotomania. He had been in the city but a few days, and had visited seven or eight physicians, for the purpose of being treated for a rupture; and when closeted with them in their private consultation rooms made improper propositions of a vile nature. Carp visited the office of Dr. Markoe. The Dr. had heard of the fellow’s visits to other physicians and when he called determined to make the fellow commit himself in conversation sufficiently to secure his arrest. And the fellow did. He said his excessive passions were unlike those of other men, and were centered on his own, rather than the opposite sex. He loved his own sex with strong passions. He was invited to call and see Dr. Davenport yesterday morning, and bring with him a truss he wanted fitted. He failed to bring the truss, and as he went out of the office door with the doctor his suspicions were aroused and he started on a run up Third street, pursued by the doctor, to the Seven corners, where he was arrested by the police. Several physicians were present in court to hear the fellow’s story. It was briefly stated, and the judge sent him to the workhouse for ninety days.
The word homosexual wouldn’t enter the English language for another nine years, in 1892, and even then it was only known to a few medical professionals. But here we have someone who formed a modern gay identity, describing his “excessive passions” as “centered on his own, rather than the opposite sex.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Carp, same-sex marriage was 121 years in his future, and he clearly wasn’t the sort of guy who wanted to wait. None of the other newspapers of the era seem to have anything related to our Mr. Carp, nor is there enough data to try to find him in other records. Clearly in 1883, at least one gay man was already deciding that he was different and clearly wasn’t ashamed of it, despite the costs. I’m surprised that he wasn’t charged with attempted sodomy and jailed for years.

The Daily Globe for June 29th had a small item concerning his arrest:
Dr. Davenport, caused the arrest of a fellow who gave his name as Joseph Carp, who has the habit of going around to various places making indecent proposals of the vilest nature. He will have a hearing before the municipal court this morning.
I do wonder what these “various places” were, what the “indecent proposals of the vilest nature” are (I also suspect that weren’t as vile as all that), and why he thought these proposals might be well received. Could there have been a gay underground in Saint Paul in 1883? All I know is that the next time I’m through the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I’m lifting a glass to toast the (somewhat impulsive and perhaps misguided) gay pioneer, Joseph Carp.
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  1. Great research, thanks for posting this interesting item, and the one about the two men married in Ft. Smith. But I have to say I believe you are badly mistaken if you think "gay identity" somehow spontaneously arose in the mists of small-town America in the 1880's. Michel Foucault started that nonsense a couple of decades back, and lots of people have parroted his harebrained ideas. But there is plenty of solid documentary evidence that what you are calling "gay identity" has always existed. I'm not going to debate it here but if you are sincerely interested in gay history, I urge you go read Louis Crompton's monumental survey, Homosexuality and Civilization and look at the facts of gay people down through the centuries, in their own words, instead of some philosopher's crank notions.

  2. Thanks. There was certainly a time before gay identity. I know that Wilde appreciated being a case study in Kraft-bbing's "Psychopathia Sexualis," because it gave a name to his experiences.

    My thought was simply, if we could hop into a time machine and have a chat with James Chesser and George Burton, how would they describe themselves?

    Thanks for the book recommendation.


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