Joe Gould's Last Rites

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

August 28, 1957, Vol. II, No. 44

Last Rites for a Bohemian

By Dan Balaban


Finally they bearded and buried Joe Gould. On Friday morning, August 23, he lay clean-shaven, hands folded, made up like a little wax doll, in the chapel of the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Church at 81st and Madison. The Greenwich Village Lions Club and Campbell's had arranged for burial services and funeral.

Gould's small spare body had been carefully clad in a gray suit, white shirt, and light-gray tie. He looked dapper, as he never had during the decades he had scurried about the Village in hand-me-downs which were always much too big for him. His fringe of scraggly white hair had been cleaned, cut and brushed. Even the big scar on his forehead had disappeared, the scar that his friend Leonard De Grange had always taken pains to include in the many portraits he had painted of Joe Gould because "it had obviously been caused by an accident which, I always thought, may have brought about Joe's condition." In his casket Joe might have been a merchant prince, a philosopher, a Rothschild. In Campbell's, Bohemian and banker are, in death, one.

Perhaps 80 people were there, and these included a host of photographers, reporters, NBC and CBS men, Lions, funeral-parlor people, and others who had never known Joe Gould. Many of Joe's friends were absent because they had gone out of town or, in the rush to save Joe from a pauper's grave, couldn't be reached in time. Such as E.E. Cummings, who had at times boarded Joe and was one of the few men who had read in the penciled dime-store notebooks in which Joe was amassing his "Oral History of Our Time;" Malcolm Cowley, who had long ago given Joe books to review; William Saroyan, who had sought for Joe after being deeply impressed by an essay Gould had written in the old Dial; William Carlos Williams, who had attended Joe's birthday parties; Joseph Mitchell, the New Yorker editor who had written "Professor Sea Gull," the definitive New Yorker profile on Joe which had accounted for much of Gould's renown.

But enough of Joe's friends were there to give the assembly an appropriately motley appearance...Lawrence Woodman, cousin of Joe Gould and director of the Adam-Ahab 4 plus 3 plus X art gallery, was dressed in his Bohemian best, a blue suit, dark gray shirt, and brown, large-figured tie...Prominent was the long, yellowish-white mane and beard of Maurice, the peripatetic magazine vendor who roams the Village at night with his wares. He used to hang around the Public Library with Joe Gould during the Depression. He remembers Joe and others pinning their poetry on the fences at Washington Square South after the Outdoor Art Shows. "I used to know spring was here when Joe Gould would come out from wherever he had been hiding and walk across the Square to the outdoor show." Prince Robert de Rohan Courtenay...was resplendent in top hat, sharply cut gray suit, brocaded vest with medals.

Several persons wished to eulogize Joe Gould, and...Lawrence Woodman, his cousin...was full of the things he wanted to tell people about Gould...Woodman had a sheet of paper on which were copied six poems by Joe Gould; they had come from a little book called "VI," privately printed for a John S. Mayfield in 1943. At least three of them he had wanted to read. They were:

RECONCILIATION
I would like to bury the hatchet,
But I fear I would make it dull,
Or at least I would badly scratch it,
If I buried it in your skull.

CASH CONSCIOUSNESS
I would give a month's salary to sleep with you, my dear,
If I worked for the government at a dollar a year.

and

LOVE POEM
My love for you is of the very cleanest,
Holy and sweet is my emotion.
There should be sumpin deep between us
And I suggest the Atlantic Ocean.

Prince Robert de Rohan Courtenay...read from a prepared text. "Here lies a great man," he said. "He paid no attention to the frills and furbelows, and consumed great quantities of ketchup. When his shirt hung outside his pants, he would say: 'It doesn't matter, shirts are dirty anyhow.' Ketchup had great nutritive value for him."

...No sooner had the Prince finished with "the friends whom you have left behind here wish you well in your new adventure; a fond farewell to you, Joe Gould," than Mr. Isaacson of Campbell's leapt to his feet to say that the services were over.

[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.]

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