September 5, 2000
The fire-and-brimstone preachers like to say that man is a creature "conceived in sin and born in corruption." That expression may be bad theology, but it is literally true of the 1901 Alabama constitution. Conceived by a group of wealthy landowners looking to consolidate their hold on power, and enacted with the help of some highly imaginative vote-counting, the state constitution, true to its roots, has grown over the last 99 years into a monstrosity -- an impediment to progress and an embarrassment to the state. So why hasn't the current constitution been changed? In fact, constitutional reform movements have begun a number of times, only to be thwarted -- partly by the same reactionary forces of wealth and privilege that created the monster in the first place to perpetuate their positions. Even the authors of the 1901 document could not have predicted how successful they would be. But progressive voices in the state are not completely stilled, and a new campaign for constitutional reform is underway. The first major expression of that campaign in the Mobile area will be a rally planned for October 22 at Battleship Park, with speakers (the list is not final yet) who will address some of the fundamental issues relating to the constitution. One red herring that is sure to be used by opponents of reform is the uncertainty regarding exactly how a new constitution would be written. Under state law, there are three options for reforming the constitution, each with its advantages and disadvantages. That, however, is a question that will be decided further into the process. The first step is for the voters to resolve to throw off the anachronistic millstone that is the principal obstacle to local home rule, to meaningful tax reform, and to creating a climate in which progressive leaders can bring the state out of the shadows of its shameful past and toward a brighter future.
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Editor's note: The following letter from the executor, director, and trustee of The William S. Burroughs Trust, addressed to Dr. Salvo, was received by The Harbinger last week. Dr. Salvo was the pen name of Dr. Stonewall Boulet Stickney, who wrote a column, "Ask Dr. Salvo," for The Harbinger between 1986 to 1996. Stickney, an important figure in the field of public health psychiatry whose role as the Alabama State Commissioner of Mental Health in a Supreme Court ruling changed the way state institutions treat mental health patients, passed away in November 1996, shortly before his book, Ask Dr. Salvo: Brazilian Psychiatry, was published by The Harbinger Press. The columns of Dr. Salvo can be found on the Harbinger web page.]
Dear Dr. Salvo,
I hope this letter will reach you. I came across some of your "Ask Dr. Salvo" articles from January and June 1994, while searching online for information about De Paul Sanitarium.
I was the longtime companion and assistant to the author William S. Burroughs (1914-1997). Now I am researching and writing an in-depth biography of Burroughs, for Grove Atlantic Press.
On Tuesday, April 5, 1949, Burroughs was arrested along with three other men in a car that was chased and stopped by New Orleans police at 1800 Calliope. All four were booked at the Second Precinct, but the other three were soon released. Burroughs were held on gun and drug charges.
By Wednesday night Burroughs was in serious withdrawal, and after the Federal charges were lifted at about 10 p.m., he was escorted to Charity Hospital by two cops, in a paddy wagon. At the hospital he encountered two doctors: one who was very judgmental, and one who was sympathetic. After a shot of morphine, he was taken back to his cell.
Burroughs was released on a $1,500 security bond at mid-day on Thursday, April 7, and went directly to "a sanitarium" (name not specified) for a heroin cure. There he encountered a self-important doctor whom he called "Dr. Fredericks" in his 1953 autobiographical novel, Junky. This man was the "head psychiatrist of the hospital," and he seems to have been a petty tyrant. After 8 days, Burroughs signed himself out of the sanitarium, "AMA" -- against medical advice.
I am enclosing copies of the passages in Junky where Burroughs described these two hospital visits in some detail.
Catherine Kahn, archivist at the Touro Infirmary Archives, recently suggested to me that the "sanitarium" in question was probably De Paul Sanitarium.
From the two items in The Harbinger that I have read online, I gather that you worked at De Paul Sanitarium in 1946-47, and thus you must have known some of the people who were perhaps still working there in spring 1949.
I noted with interest your description of "Dr. Tomson, a pompous little Chief of Neurology," as well as the anecdote of Dr. Tomson's come-uppance from the little Black man, Samuel.
Would you agree -- after reading Burrough's account -- that "Dr. Fredericks" was very likely the same person as Dr. Tomson?
If so, can you tell me just a little more about Tomson? Such as his first name, background, etc.
It even seems possible that you would recall, at Charity Hospital, "the heavy-set young doctor with reddish hair and gold-rimmed glasses" (who was sympathetic) and the "doctor with a long nose and hairy arms" (who was not)...? It would be interesting to guess at their names.
As William Burrough's adopted son, executor and heir (I was with him from 1974 until his death, three years ago), I may be entitled to have access to any surviving medical/psychiatric records pertaining to his possible treatment at De Paul.
But does De Paul still survive? And in particular, their administrative and/or medical archives?
What I have been able to locate is "De Paul-Tulane Behavior Health Center" at 1040 Calhoun in New Orleans...this seems to be the sanitarium's successor. Since this address is south of Kenner, Louisiana, however, it would not seem to be located at the original location of the sanitarium in the 1940s.
Incidentally, you may be interested to learn that between 1940 and 1959 (mostly in 1940-1946), Burroughs was in analysis with (or at least consulted) more than a dozen (!) psychiatrists, in St. Louis, New York, Chicago and even Paris. As he wrote in Junky and elsewhere, this series of analyses ended with his feeling disillusioned by Freudian psychoanalysis.
Noting that you gave a talk on Foucault's Madness and Civilization in 1994 at Springhill College, I also suspect you may be interested to know that Burroughs and Foucault first met at the "Schizo-Culture Symposium" organized by Sylvere Lotringer at Columbia University in 1975.
I was there, and I recall that Foucault said from the stage, midway through his talk, something to the effect that "William Burroughs has just arrived, and I wish to turn over the microphone to him, as I cannot justify holding your attention when it is possible to hear from this great artist."
Years later -- in spring 1984, as best I recall -- William and I had dinner with Foucault and Herve Guibert at their home in Paris. The gathering was arranged by our friend Edmund White, who was then living in that city. With us were filmmaker Howard Brookner and his friend, Gilles Barbedette, then a Gallimard editor.
Foucault was very convivial. He was slightly emaciated and entirely bald, and he spoke frankly, even crudely, and very humorously about his manic sex life in the Paris "leather" underground -- a topic that, within the year, had become much less amusing. At the time William and I did not know Foucault was seropositive.
If higher-minded topics were discussed, unfortunately, I cannot recall them. But in general I recall that William had a hard time "chatting" with Foucault, and Foucault had a terribly hard time understanding William's southern drawl, filtered through numerous vodka-Cokes.
Well, that that has nothing to do with Dr. Tomson and "Dr. Fredericks," et al.
I hope this letter finds you well, and I will be most grateful for any advice or assistance you can offer me.
yours very sincerely,
James W. Grauerholz
Director and Trustee
William Burroughs Communications
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