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From Cather Studies Volume 11

The Outlandish Hands of Fred Demmler: Pittsburgh Prototypes in The Professor’s House

Complaining of prototype hunters to her lifelong friend Carrie Miner Sherwood, Willa Cather muttered, “You can never get it through people’s heads that a story is made out of an emotion or an excitement, and is not made out of the legs and arms and faces of one’s acquaintances” (Letters 492; Cather’s emphasis). Of course, scholars know better. Serious readers can both appreciate the aesthetics of Cather’s fiction and discern the “legs and arms and faces” of her friends and casual acquaintances that, more often than not, provided the initial emotion or excitement. A case in point is Mark Madigan’s explication of Cather’s “rift and reconciliation” with Dorothy Canfield over her use of the “prominent facial scar and a taste for extravagant clothes” of their mutual friend Evelyn Osborne in “The Profile,” which Cather intended to include in the short-story collection The Troll Garden (Madigan, “Regarding” 1–5). Attention to the features of acquaintances that Cather transferred to characters (even composite characters like Tom Outland) reveals connections both biographical and critical.

I have long wondered about professional librarian John March’s speculation, in his 1993 volume A Reader’s Companion to the Fiction of Willa Cather that Tom Outland and Godfrey St. Peter were inspired by real prototypes connected to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology (556, 657–58). (Because the university, now Carnegie Mellon, underwent several name changes during its first century, for the sake of clarity I will use its long-standing nickname, “Tech,” henceforth.) This essay grows out of that curiosity, probing connections between The Professor’s House and the real English professor Haniel Long. I find that only some of March’s identifications have merit. Among those that do not is his claim that Long, who taught at Tech from 1910 to 1929, shared the physical appearance of Tom Outland (556), and that Long’s wife, Alice Knoblauch Long, had the personality of Lillian St. Peter (657). These claims are supported neither by photographs of the Longs in the Cather Foundation Archives (see figs. 9.1 and 9.2) nor by the published recollections of friends and students. In 1968 the Cather Foundation was given photographic portraits of Haniel and Alice Long by the couple’s son and literary executor, Anton V. Long, who noted in an accompanying letter that his parents were writers Cather knew in Pittsburgh (A. Long to Miriam Mountford). Neither photograph resembles Cather’s descriptions of Tom or Lillian. May Sarton, a close friend of Haniel and Alice Long in their later years, described them as looking like “an early American painting; he spare, tall, with lean high cheekbones and a wide mouth; she, plump as a tea cozy, with light child-voice and soft, vague hands” (1–2). Conspicuously absent from any surviving account of Alice is Lillian St. Peter’s hard upper lip. Strangers did sometimes underestimate Alice’s intelligence due to her high-pitched, childlike voice—until the acuity of her conversation revealed the quality of her mind (Vermorcken, Pittsburgh 86–101). Haniel’s students recalled Alice as a “lovely, calm” companion to their professor (McLaughlin 418). For his part, Haniel was universally described as “spare and tall,” of nervous temperament, but not particularly “well built,” a phrase Cather applied to both Tom Outland and Godfrey St. Peter (Professor’s House 13, 111). The smoggy Pittsburgh winters aggravated Haniel’s bronchitis, a chronic affliction that later made him abandon the city he loved for the more healthful climate of New Mexico. Haniel’s decision to give up teaching in Pittsburgh for writing and publishing in Santa Fe could have suggested Tom Outland’s turn to cattle herding after his bout with pneumonia, but the Longs’ relocation came only in 1929, about five years too late to have influenced The Professor’s House.

In keeping with Anton Long’s letter, it is likely that Cather knew the Longs socially; they had too many friends and interests in common for it to have been otherwise, but without access to Long’s daybooks (now in the ucla Libraries) the extent of their acquaintance is hard to determine (A. Long to Miriam Mountford).[1] More promising is March’s notation that “Tom [Outland]’s death . . . [was] suggested by that of a Carnegie Institute of Technology student” (556). Once again, however, the facts are slightly off. When he was sent to war in 1918, the young artist in question, Frederick A. Demmler, had finished his formal schooling and was earning sizable commissions in Boston and Pittsburgh as a portrait painter. He was never a student at Tech, but he was a close friend of Haniel Long, who was exactly his age. Fred grew up in Allegheny City with six brothers and a sister (Miller; Caplan, “Requiem”), a large German family much like the Engelhardts of “Double Birthday.” Between 1904 and 1906, while teaching at Allegheny High School, Cather taught English to Fred and his brothers Oscar and William (Caplan, “Requiem”; Hutchinson). Fred, say Kathleen Byrne and Richard Snyder, “made an impression on his English teacher with his better-than-average scholarship and his artistic talent” (66). In what may be a tribute to Fred Demmler, Godfrey St. Peter remembers Tom Outland as “Always very different from the other college boys. . . . Always had something in his voice, in his eyes. . . .

One seemed to catch glimpses of an unusual background behind his shoulders when he came into the room” (Professor’s House 130). Ron Caplan, a Pittsburgh-based fine arts publisher, revived interest in both Demmler and Long in the late 1960s, when he published selections of Long’s writings as If He Can Make Her So and conducted interviews with Fred’s brother, Oscar. Oscar Demmler told Caplan that Cather’s acquaintance with Fred extended beyond the classroom: “[Fred] attended the Sixth Ward Public School [in what was then Allegheny City] and graduated from Allegheny High School in 1907, where he had been a student and close friend of the writer Willa Cather” (Caplan, “Requiem”; emphasis added). Some of Cather’s fellow teachers at her previous place of employment, Central High, complained that she gave too much attention to her gifted students (Byrne and Snyder 62). Indeed, certain favorites, such as Fred Otte and Louis Johns, would later enter her fiction (Otte 46; Byrne and Snyder 65). Fred Demmler probably fit her notions of the ideal male artist. Just as Cather had dabbled in illustrating while literary editor of the University of Nebraska’s Hesperian magazine, Fred illustrated both Allegheny High’s magazine and its newspaper. In fact, Fred probably was on the newspaper staff when Cather wrote her farewell letter to her junior class, which appeared in a 1906 issue of the Wah Hoo (Byrne and Snyder 63–64, 66). A dozen years after leaving Pittsburgh, with her own career established in New York, Cather may have learned from Pittsburgh friends of Fred’s death in Belgium a week before the Armistice. Soon after, a memorial exhibition of his paintings was mounted at the Carnegie Institute by the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, of which group he had been president, a show that later moved to Boston (“Obituary”). Was March correct in assuming that Cather combined Fred’s best features with those of other young men she had known in Pittsburgh (including her younger brother Jack), to make Tom Outland?

Fig. 9.1. Haniel Long, 1920s. Courtesy of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society. Fig. 9.2. Alice Long. Courtesy of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

For having died at age thirty, Fred Demmler left a remarkably rich legacy in paintings and photographs, family legend, and the prose and poetry of his friends. But two generations later, it is difficult to sort fact from legend. A family story holds, for example, that Cather in 1919 visited Pittsburgh to ask Fred’s mother, Mrs. Wilhemina Augusta Demmler, how it felt to lose a son at the front. I heard this family story from Mrs. Eileen Hutchinson, now in her nineties. Oscar Demmler had been a close friend of Mrs. Hutchinson’s father, who died early. Mrs. Hutchinson judged that by the tone of Oscar’s recollection, Wilhemina Demmler did not take offense at Cather’s request. Although Cather is not known to have visited Pittsburgh after 1916, the record of her travels during these years is far from complete, so the Demmler family anecdote may well be verified by further research (Hutchinson).[2]

In death as well as life, Fred was remembered by friends for the passion with which he devoted himself to painting, his athleticism and good looks, and his tempered idealism, which ultimately led him to sacrifice his life when his professional career was just beginning. In these ways, as in ways more concrete, Fred Demmler resembles Cather’s Tom Outland. This identification is made more interesting, at least for me, because in first decade of the century, in Boston and in Pittsburgh, Fred Demmler was openly bisexual, as documented in detail by his lover, Boston journalist Lucien Price, in his book-length memoir, Immortal Youth: A Study in the Will to Create.[3] Published by a Boston art house in 1919 with a first run of a thousand copies, the book circulated far beyond that city. Cather may have received a copy from a mutual friend in Pittsburgh or Boston, or even have been loaned a family copy if she visited the Demmlers.[4] Despite its candid account of same-sex love, the book evidently met the approval of Fred’s family, who accepted Fred for who he was. Price’s memoir opens with a rich description of his first view of Fred at a working-class pub in Boston in 1912, which invites the reader to glance back to the frontispiece, a tipped-in color print of a self-portrait in oils that Fred made for the author before leaving for war (see fig. 9.3):

Anyone would have taken a second look at him; also a third, a fourth, and as many more as good manners would permit. What was there about him that attracted attention? It was hard to say. The dark eyes with a somber light burning in them? The rugged features and swarthy complexion with a ruddy glow of health in each jowl? The hands; very large and finely muscled? (I have never seen a more beautiful pair of hands on a human being.) It was all of these things and none of them. Rather it was the look of one with immense forces in reserve, bound on an errand. (7)
Curiously, this sounds not unlike Godfrey St. Peter taking the measure of the perspiring Tom Outland who had just entered his life via his garden gate. Toward the end of his first meeting with Tom, Godfrey’s attention is arrested not by the raw turquoises his visitor offers to St. Peter’s daughters but “by the hand that held them: the muscular, many lined palm, the long, straight fingers with soft ends, the straight little finger, the flexible, beautifully shaped thumb that curved back from the rest of the hand as if it were its own master” (Professor’s House 121).[5] The professor’s description echoes Price’s account of Fred’s hands as “large, strongly muscled, marked with heavy veins, the fingers full-fleshed at their tips, the skin bronzed by the sun” (Immortal Youth 44). This eroticized description of both men’s hands could be coincidental, but if one looks back at Cather’s “The Professor’s Commencement” (1902), a story set at Pittsburgh’s Central High a few years before she met Demmler, the homoeroticism between teacher and student is markedly different. In this story, Professor Emerson Graves’s hands are conspicuously effeminate: “delicate, sensitive hands curving back at the finger ends, with dark purple veins showing prominently on the back. They were exceedingly small, white as a girl’s, and well kept as a pianist’s.” Graves remembers “his restless, incorrigible pupil with the gentle eyes and manners of a girl, at once timid and utterly reckless . . . who had suffered a little, sung a little, struck the true lyric note, and died wretchedly at three-and-twenty in his master’s arms” (486–87). While Graves’s unnamed Ganymede undoubtedly contains the germ of Paul (seen from the other side of the podium), Fred Demmler and Haniel Long may have inspired the very different pairing of Outland and St. Peter after 1902.

Fig. 9.3. Self-portrait by Fred Demmler for Lucien Price. Reproduced from Immortal Youth, 1918.

Price comments that his own attraction to Demmler was “no isolated personal impression. Wherever [Fred] went, people felt the same intense curiosity about him” (Immortal Youth 7). Women were often drawn to the painter, and Price admits that Fred sometimes returned their attention. Fred dressed well, adds Price, even while painting, but had a habit of rolling his sleeves past the elbows, “as if his wrists could not abide cuffs” (8). In a photo of Demmler taken in his Pittsburgh studio (see fig. 9.4) one can see that the painter indeed had the outsized, muscular hands Cather gave to Tom Outland, whose “fine long hand with the backspringing thumb . . . never handled things that were not the symbols of ideas” (Professor’s House 260). Cather, whose powers of observation and memory are well documented, may have recalled these hands as Fred’s distinguishing feature.

The loving father from whom Fred inherited his hands, William Edward Demmler, made a comfortable living selling commercial kitchen equipment. Fred’s other grandfather, and namesake, Fred Mayer (1832–1910), had wanted to be an artist, but in order to support his family he became an architectural sculptor instead, designing flowerbeds, ornaments for downtown buildings, church altarpieces, and a stone lion that graced the family home in Allegheny, which his grandson assiduously copied in snow (Miller; Immortal Youth 9). After graduating from high school, Fred tried studying architecture at Cornell, but after two years he decided his true calling was painting. With his family’s backing, he began a fouryears course at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston (Miller), studying with impressionists Frank W. Benson and Edmund Tarbell, two of the group known as The Ten. The Museum School, of course, was where Kathleen St. Peter’s friends recommended she develop her skill at watercolors (Professor’s House 65). During these four years in Boston (1909–13), Fred shared a studio with two friends on Beacon Hill, a fifth-floor rear apartment at 94 Charles Street, less than five hundred feet from 148 Charles Street, where Mrs. James T. Fields was still receiving visitors—including Willa Cather (Immortal Youth 13). James Woodress recalls that Cather first met Mrs. Fields in February 1908, visited again for a week in May 1911, returned near the end of April 1912, and called for the last time at New Year’s 1913 (195, 197, 239, 257). Knowing Cather had worked for a decade in Pittsburgh, Mrs. Fields or a mutual acquaintance may have mentioned the handsome young painter on the block who hailed from the neighboring city of Allegheny. It was at this time that Fred became lovers with Lucien Price (fig. 9.5).

Fig. 9.4. Fred Demmler in his Wood Street studio in Pittsburgh (Speigelman Art Galleries). Courtesy of Demmler Family and Ron Caplan of Breton Books. Fig. 9.5. Lucien Price as a young man, 1901. Courtesy of Western Reserve Academy, Hudson, Ohio.

Other of Tom Outland’s characteristics probably derived from Cather’s youngest brother, Jack, who followed his sister to Pittsburgh in September 1914, at which time she resumed work on The Song of the Lark. Her chief interest in the industrial college that Andrew Carnegie had opened just four years earlier across the ravine from the Carnegie Institute was having Jack complete his degree there. He had just flunked out of the University of Nebraska, transferring at the age of twenty to Tech, where his sister could keep an eye on him. Dedicated to promoting industrial design and efficiency, Tech had a surprisingly good English faculty, including poet Haniel Long, who had known Witter Bynner (then a graduate student) at Harvard and who encouraged an obscure underclassman named T. S. Eliot to keep writing poetry (Armitage 231). We know that Jack’s sister helped him select classes (Bennett 624), and her own stories (such as “The Professor’s Commencement”) suggest she respected Harvard men. It is thus possible that Jack Cather took a class with Long, as he did with Elizabeth Vermorcken, then teaching rhetoric.[6] Jack’s academic transcripts from Tech have not survived, but his sister’s letters hint that he once again squandered his opportunities. Assuming cheer that rings false, Willa wrote to Elsie Sergeant that “it was great fun to get [Jack] started. He is just off the farm and has never before been out of Nebraska.” She described Jack as “over six feet [tall], rather good looking and twenty years old. I think you would like him, though he will say ‘yes ma’am’ to older women—older than twenty” (Letters 195). In The Professor’s House, Lillian St. Peter similarly had to break Tom of the youthful habit of “addressing her as Ma’am” (120). The details of this letter suggest that Jack’s physical build and country manners informed Tom Outland’s naïveté.

Cather’s letter to Sergeant did not confide that during the prior two years at the University of Nebraska, Jack covered much ground in football and track but neglected his studies. In October, Willa assured Aunt Franc that Jack “is doing well at his school. I often drop in at his rooms when I am out walking. . . . He is with older people a great deal, which is very good for him. He has grown much more manly and serious since he has been here” (Letters 196). However, Jack lasted only one month in electrical engineering before switching to Tech’s new dramatic arts program. Although Tech had been founded to improve industrial design, the school pioneered some progressive ideas, including its dramatic arts program, the first degree-granting program offered by an American university. Jack’s lack of intellectual effort must have irritated Willa, who had worked so hard to earn her own education. Having been a high school teacher, she knew how rare an opportunity Jack had wasted at Lincoln. According to Kari Ronning, who looked up his University of Nebraska transcript, “[Jack’s] grades were abysmal. He did pass Drill. He had a number of incompletes which he fulfilled with minimal grades (60s), plus outright Fs in rhetoric and applied mechanics, plus Ds in math.” Because there is no record of grades for the second semester of Jack’s second year, Ronning concludes that he may have dropped out mid-year.

By Christmas 1916, not only his sister’s watchful eye but also the situation in Europe helped Jack get serious. He did not volunteer for the French Foreign Legion, as would Tom Outland, or seek an officer’s commission by joining the infantry early, like Claude Wheeler. Instead, Jack avoided direct service by leaving Tech to take a war job at Smethport, Pennsylvania, working for the British government as an analytic chemist (Bennett 624). After the draft was instituted, Jack had another reason to seek deferment: he had met a young woman named Irma Wells, granddaughter of a surgeon general of the Union army, Sylvanus Dwelley Freeman (Bennett 623). They married abruptly in July 1918, just a month after his cousin G.P. had been killed in France (see fig. 9.6; Bennett 623). With the same letter to her brother Roscoe of 19 July 1918 in which she expressed her satisfaction with G.P.’s posthumous citation for valor, Willa conveyed her surprise at Jack’s hasty marriage (Letters 259; see also 659). Clearly, neither she nor Roscoe had met the bride.

Fig. 9.6. Jack Cather and Irma Wells Cather at the time of their marriage (ca. 1920). Courtesy of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Jack’s work testing munitions-grade wood alcohol, acetic acid, and acetone made in Pennsylvania’s wood chemical factories was certainly relevant to the war effort, and he may have had good reasons to marry rather than enlist.[7] But his big sister seemed to think he should have done more. She wrote to Aunt Franc upon hearing that G.P. had enlisted, saying,“I wish Jack were going. I really do, though I think he is very useful where he is” (Letters 244). Her depiction of Claude Wheeler and later Tom Outland as enlisting confidently perhaps stems from her mixed feelings about Jack’s deferment.

While Jack Cather was struggling to find himself at Tech, Fred Demmler was struggling to develop his own style and to resist the salable—but he thought too-polished—manner of Benson and Tarbell. Demmler seemed destined to brush elbows with the great. A friend at the Museum School, Alexander James, was the youngest son of philosopher William James and the nephew of novelist Henry James. Little wonder, then, that to celebrate their graduation Fred and Alexander went abroad to tour the galleries of Paris, Munich, and London, where the two were granted an audience with Henry James as well as John Singer Sargent (Immortal Youth 29). The grand tour that began so auspiciously, however, was interrupted when Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, German troops occupied Belgium, and England rose to Belgium’s defense (Immortal Youth 28). While most Americans rushed home, Fred remained in London. He was in the crowd on Downing Street when the British Cabinet issued their midnight ultimatum that Germany withdraw from Belgium. Fred wrote, “It gave one an odd feeling to realize that behind the drawn shades sat men who were settling the question of life and of death for hundreds of thousands. The crowd cheered, I did not” (qtd. in H. Long, Pittsburgh Memoranda 58). Unlike Tom Outland, Fred did not immediately enlist. Rather than join up, he returned to Pittsburgh, took a downtown studio on busy Wood Street, and painted as if his days were numbered. Over four months he produced dozens of portraits of family members, newspapermen, and other friends, among them Haniel Long (Miller).

Between 1914, when Fred returned to Pittsburgh from Boston, and 1918, when he departed for war, Demmler enjoyed a close friendship with Long. The two men had been born the same year (1888) and interacted as equals, not professor and student. Their cerebral friendship resembled that between Godfrey St. Peter and Tom Outland. Of this relationship, Cather wrote using painterly language, “Through Outland’s studies, long after they had ceased to be pupil and master, [St. Peter] had been able to experience afresh things that had grown dull with use. . . . To share [Tom’s] thoughts was to see old perspectives transformed by new effects of light” (Professor’s House 258). According to Caplan (in an opinion seconded by Price), “[Fred’s] friends found him a quiet, rather inarticulate person,” one who thought and read deeply but spoke mainly through his brush (“Requiem”; Immortal Youth 22). Both Fred and Haniel opposed the war, believing with Tolstoy that “violence is no way to settle a quarrel” (H. Long, Pittsburgh Memoranda 59). Despite deep skepticism about this particular war, Fred’s eventual decision to answer the call to service became a touchstone for Long. On at least four separate occasions over the next twenty years, Long addressed epistolary poems to his dead friend, much like Godfrey St. Peter rehearses his memories of Outland after Scott McGregor doubts that Tom had ever been more than “a glittering idea” (Long, “Envoi to Fred Demmler” and “To a PainterConscript”; Professor’s House 110).

If she visited the Carnegie Art Gallery during the autumn of 1914, Cather may have recognized not only Fred’s signature but one of his subjects as well. On exhibit was The Black Hat, a portrait in oils of Ethel Shreiner Buxton, one of the painter’s classmates at Allegheny High (Miller). Another Demmler portrait, of Haniel Long, today hangs in the Rare Book Room of Carnegie Mellon’s Hunt Library. The portrait appears to be unfinished, but family legend says it was left so deliberately. “Fred wanted to show Haniel at the start of his career, with a full life . . . ahead of him,” explained the Book Room’s curator (Johnsen). While sitting for the portrait, Long was himself making a portrait of the artist, a poem he titled “The Poet Has His Portrait Painted”:

I know what you are doing And it is dangerous. . . . I am not deceived but I give myself to you. You are six feet away Yet you leap at me leap into my being with your eyes. (qtd. in Caplan, “Requiem”)
Price also was struck by Demmler’s ferocious concentration as he painted, exclaiming, “Nobody who had seen him paint could ever feel quite safe with him again” (Immortal Youth 24).

The professor and the painter talked often as America was drawn inexorably toward war. Neither knew what to do about conscription (H. Long, Pittsburgh Memoranda 59). Haniel and Alice were married with a small child, so Haniel would not be among the first called. Two of the seven Demmler brothers were already deployed in Europe. Their father, Edward, checked the conscription numbers in the newspaper each day dreading that his remaining sons would be called (Caplan,“Flowers”). When his number was drawn, Fred deliberated three days and then answered the draft (H. Long, Pittsburgh Memoranda 59). Initially, he was offered a relatively safe assignment as a camouflage painter. Instead of accepting this assignment as his due, he requested active duty in the infantry so another would not die in his place (Miller). In April 1918 he shipped to France, and after the first battles in the Argonne Forest he was promoted to lieutenant because his superiors noticed that “he was afraid of nothing” (Caplan,“Requiem”). Six months later, as he was leading his machine gun company on a predawn advance, Fred was wounded in the left side by fragments of a high-explosive shell (Miller). Evacuated to a field hospital, he died of wounds on 2 November, All Souls’ Day, nine days before the Armistice, while his works were on display at the Associated Artists annual exhibition in Pittsburgh (Burns; Miller).

Back in Pittsburgh, Haniel Long decided that the best tribute an English professor could offer to his conscripted students was to publish their writings. Carnegie Tech War Verse collected the poems that his students (male and female) had sent to their families from Europe or from training camps, which, due to influenza, were nearly as deadly as the front. Three poets had died before the volume appeared, including Richard Mansfield II, who had been a freshman in Tech’s drama program. A second volume, The Soldier’s Progress, compiled extracts of letters written by Pittsburgh youth, including some, like Fred Demmler, who were not students at Tech. The university press produced both volumes in less than a month so that they would reach the families by Christmas. The Soldier’s Progress contained (anonymous) excerpts from a letter by Demmler to a Pittsburgh friend.

Cather probably did not notice these two small anthologies during the holidays while thirty thousand gis were flooding New York, celebrating the end of a long, grim war (Letters 267). Her letters do not mention the Longs, nor do Alice and Haniel appear often in the critical record: just a brief mention in Chrysalis and a small notice in the Fall 1968 Pioneer Memorial Newsletter acknowledging the gift of two books from Anton Long, with a comment that “the Longs were people in Pittsburgh who influenced Willa Cather’s writing” (Mountford 3). Yet the Longs shared so many acquaintances with Cather that they must have known each other in Pittsburgh, and perhaps later in Santa Fe.

As Cather’s serious readers know, she discovered Santa Fe and Taos a decade before either place became a fashionable writers’ colony. While returning from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh in 1924, the Longs’ train was delayed near Santa Fe. During that two-hour wait, Haniel and Alice, like so many artists before them, fell in love with the high desert. They eventually joined a thriving writer’s colony anchored by Poetry magazine coeditor Alice Corbin Henderson, novelist Mary Austin, and poet Witter Bynner, whose troubled friendship with Long went back to their Harvard days (Cline).

Starting in 1925, the Longs split their time between Santa Fe and Pittsburgh, where Haniel continued to teach part-time until 1929, when he resigned from Tech to devote himself to writing (Kraft 94). Long himself said that bronchitis and eye trouble made him leave Pittsburgh (Armitage 231). The Longs found the brilliant sunshine and dry air of Santa Fe tonic for Haniel’s health as for his literary output, which soon turned to Southwest politics and history, especially that of the Spanish adventurers. The couple bought an adobe house with a walled rear garden not far from Witter Bynner’s sprawling house. Part of the year they had Elsie Sergeant as a neighbor, whom Haniel knew through the New Republic. Sergeant had come west on the advice of her physician, who prescribed exercise on horseback as therapy for the leg injuries she had suffered on a deserted French battlefield (Sergeant, Willa Cather 164). From 1920, Elsie lived part of the year in what she called her “Mud House” in the Tesuque Valley, six miles north of Santa Fe (“The Journal of a Mud House”). Sergeant decided to renovate the Mud House with local labor, although she and her friend spoke no Spanish. Cather read and praised the four-part series in Harper’s that Sergeant used to underwrite the project (Sergeant, Willa Cather 165, 170), but she probably did not visit the Mud House in 1927. Cather had known Bynner at McClure’s, but he had taken Dorothy Canfield’s part in the conflict over “The Profile” and further angered Cather by cutting words without her permission from “‘A Death in the Desert’” before it appeared in McClure’s in January 1905 (Madigan, “Regarding”; Madigan, Historical Essay 351). These affronts, his open homosexuality, and his reputation as a disorderly drunk probably made Cather avoid Bynner in Santa Fe, cutting out the Longs by association (Cline 36–37, 132–35; Kraft 92–95).

Sergeant’s profile of “The Santa Fe Group” that appeared in the Saturday Review of Literature in December 1934 acknowledged that outsiders like Cather and D. H. Lawrence had given New Mexico its best literature in English, but it predicted that the colonists at Santa Fe would also produce literature of lasting value. “Long is no less beloved and naturalized in Santa Fe than Bynner,” Sergeant wrote. “Despite his love of books and gardens and music, [Haniel] belongs to the outland regions” (“The Santa Fe Group” 354). Although Sergeant lowercased “outland,” she may have unconsciously associated Haniel with the adaptable, transplanted genius of The Professor’s House.

In 1936, Long published what is considered his masterpiece, Interlinear to Cabeza de Vaca, a novella imagining the spiritual transformation of that conquistador marooned in the American Southwest. Long’s great theme, best realized in Interlinear, celebrated human resilience or our ability to adapt to circumstance, often by reinventing ourselves and subordinating our wants to the needs of others (Schulman). Interlinear, a poet’s between-the-lines amplification of the letter de Vaca wrote to the Spanish monarch after his repatriation, captures in forty-one pages de Vaca’s profound discovery of his ability to heal—and even raise the dead—during his eight-year barefoot trek across Texas to the Pacific. The themes of this work were anticipated in Pittsburgh Memoranda, published in 1935 in Santa Fe but begun two decades earlier (ca. 1916) in Pittsburgh in blank verse, a form that Long abandoned for a modernist pastiche of “terse prose passages” (often the actual words of historic persons) interspersed with brief poetic commentaries (Schulman). The chapter titled “Frank Hogan and Fred Demmler” drew memoranda from Long’s 1918 Carnegie Tech anthology of soldiers’ letters. Like St. Peter conversing with Tom Outland, Long spoke directly to Fred Demmler:

Seventeen years is a long time, to a man alive: What has happened to you, old crony? . . . . . . Do you know what God knows now? And is the truth different from what the living can catch a glimpse of— . . . . . . To do one’s best As neighbor and citizen, along with earning the needs Of one’s family, meaning to nourish any outward manifestation Of the pure and all-healing inward. Is there a way you could tell me, Or is that what you are telling me? (60–61)
Reflecting on their friendship near the end of his own long life, the ex-professor turned outland poet commented that Demmler’s “perfect unconcern” for his own survival “has helped me more than anything else; he was remarkable in every way, and I love him for the manner of his acquiescence” (qtd. in A. Long, “Address”).


 1. One letter from Long to Cather exists in the Haniel Long Papers at ucla (Schulman 44). It may request an endorsement for Pittsburgh Memoranda, Long’s book published in 1935, because Long wrote at about the same time to Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters, whose endorsements appear on the jacket of the first edition. Cather is not known to have replied. Her lack of response may be due to her own declining health and injured hand rather than indifference toward Long’s career. (Go back.)
 2. Of course, Cather may have telephoned Mrs. Demmler in 1919, but a physical visit to Pittsburgh cannot be ruled out. The current project was greatly aided by two members of the Demmler family. I met Mrs. Eileen Hutchinson though Andrew Jewell, chair of our plenary session at the International Cather Seminar in Arizona (June 2013), who shared a letter Mrs. Hutchinson had just written him commending the Selected Letters and explaining her friendship with the Demmlers. Later in the summer of 2013, I and my daughter Sylvia were invited to tea at Mrs. Hutchinson’s apartment in Sewickley, where we had a memorable interview seated under one of Fred’s paintings. Her impeccable memory and generosity made the people and times come alive. Another great help was a catalogue raisonné of Fred’s paintings compiled by Dorli Demmler McWayne, Oscar Demmler’s biological daughter, when she was an undergraduate art major. Now a professional flutist in Alaska, Ms. McWayne graciously read and commented on early versions of this essay. Her catalogue raisonné, a copy of which is at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, is indispensable for any serious study of Fred Demmler’s career. (Go back.)
 3. Price remembered Demmler not just by writing Immortal Youth but also throughout his forty-year career with the Boston Globe. The reflective essays he published annually for All Souls’ Day were later collected as Litany for All Souls, published by Beacon. Additionally, historian Jonathan Ned Katz notes that Price wrote and privately published All Souls, an “eightvolume series of novels on a homosexual emancipation theme,” which he began in 1919 and finished in 1962. The first volume, Hellas Regained, can be read online through HathiTrust. Price’s relationships with Demmler and Harvard classmate Fred Middleton also feature prominently in chapter 4 of Shand-Tucci’s The Crimson Letter (Go back.)
 4. A volume that from its inscription appears to be a family copy of Immortal Youth is held in the library of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, a local collection that owns six of Demmler’s most representative works. (Go back.)
 5. Anders offers a nuanced and critically informed reading of Godfrey St. Peters’s physical and spiritual reaction to Tom Outland (97–117). (Go back.)
 6. Byrne and Snyder record that one of Jack’s English teachers was Elizabeth Vermorcken, who later wrote an error-strewn account of her acquaintance with Willa Cather and Isabelle McClung in These Too Were Here. Cather’s Selected Letters reveals that Jack Cather’s favorite professor at Tech was Harold Geoghegan (234–35), an expert on period costume who taught in Tech’s art history department but whose advanced degree at the University of Dublin was in English literature (“Harold Geoghegan”). (Go back.)
 7. Evidently, Jack’s wartime employment conferred enough experience for him to succeed in industry without a degree. In later years he became an analyzing chemist for Standard Oil in Wyoming, then Kendall Oil in Bradford, Pennsylvania, where he helped that company perfect its highoctane gasoline (Bennett 623). (Go back.)


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