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May 3, 1962, Vol. VII, No. 28
Cummings & the Mayor
By Mary Perot Nichols
Mayor Robert F. Wagner took a giant step across the cultural New Frontier last week. Indeed, in Cultural Frontiersmanship the Mayor was one up on President John F. Kennedy. The occasion for the Mayor’s triumph was the appearance at City Hall on Wednesday of the famed American — and Greenwich Village — poet, Edward Estlin Cummings. A visit from Cummings had reportedly also been sought by White House officials, but the 67-year-old poet has thus far evaded it.
The Mayor, of course, held a trump card. It was in his power to prevent Cummings’ eviction from the tiny house on Patchin Place which he has occupied for 35 years. Cummings and his wife came to City Hall to thank the Mayor for his intercession in their behalf.
Cummings and his wife were threatened with eviction because of a flurry of efficiency by the Department of Buildings. The Buildings Department was conducting a city-wide drive on longstanding water-closet violations. Because the building, although occupied only by Cummings and his wife and one other tenant, had been classified as a multi-family dwelling, the Buildings Department was insisting that landlord Hugh Keenan put in several additional bathrooms. This would have resulted both in a rent increase that the poet could ill afford and in considerably reduced living space.
The impending eviction of the poet came to Mayor Wagner’s attention because a press aide, Villager Leslie Slote, read about the situation in The Village Voice (January 25, 1962). Slote called The Voice shortly after the story appeared and said that the Mayor would try to iron out Cummings’ housing difficulties…
As Cummings was ushered out of the Mayor’s office…an elderly city official, apparently a laggard on the Old Frontier, was overheard to mutter: “I don’t see what all the fuss is about. You’d think he was Jack (sic) Frost!”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]