Romany Marie: Death of a Village Icon


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March 2, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 19

La Reine Est Morte

By Mary Perot Nichols

“Yes indeed, yes indeed, yes indeed, the old man mumbled as he shuffled up to the podium. A murmur of remembrance swept through the audience, peopled predominantly by the elderly, as he made his way. He bowed to a few in the group as he went. It was the funeral of Romany Marie and he had come to pay homage. The old lady who never accepted age and kept hers a secret – she was close to 80 – had died two days earlier in her beloved Greenwich Village.

Recalling the lively anarchist days, before Communism had straitjacketed the radicals, the old man said: “With the little splinters we little fellows brought together we set the world on fire.” He said a few things about Marie and shuffled away.

It was like that with everyone who came forward to speak. A murmur would go through the crowd – a shock of recognition – as a familiar face would appear. Some of the people at the funeral had not seen each other since the 1920’s, the great days of Bohemia when Greenwich Village was the Left Bank in a land of Babbittry.

Author Konrad Bercovici stood with full mustache, looking about 80, Bercovici spoke in a quavering voice. “I never looked on her as a character or a Lady Bountiful,” he said, making oblique reference to those speakers before him who had told of the many famous writers, poets, and artists who had been fed, free of charge, by Romany Marie when they were poor and little known…

The funeral was held in a reasonably human place as funeral homes go, Cook’s on West 72nd Street. The ceremony was secular, with a Bahai verse read at the opening, and the last act was played with dignity before an SRO house.

There were few among those present whose dress indicated that they had “made it” in the worldly sense. Some of them referred to the old days before the first World War when many of Romany Marie’s friends, and she herself had been anarchists. They told, again and again, of famous figures who were hungry in garrets, fed by Romany Marie and encouraged by her to go on working. Eugene O’Neill was one. Painter Stuart Davis, who was at the funeral, said he was another. Hippolyte Havel, George Bellows, Maxwell Bodenheim, John Sloan, Max Eastman, and Lincoln Steffens – all were her friends…

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