Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker
St. Clair McKelway
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The best of St. Clair McKelway, a longtime New Yorker writer, whose astonishing career and work have been overlooked for too long.
Named for his great-uncle, a prominent newspaperman, St. Clair McKelway was born with journalism in his blood. And in thirty-six years at the New Yorker, he made "fact-writing" his career. His prolific output for the magazine was defined by its incomparable wit and a love of New York's rough edges. He had a deep affection for the city's "rascals": the junkmen, con men, counterfeiters, priests, beat cops, and fire marshals who colored life in old New York. And he wrote with levity and insight about his own life as well, a life marked by a strict Presbyterian childhood, a limited formal education, five marriages and divorces, and sometimes debilitating mental illness.
Like Joseph Mitchell and A. J. Liebling, McKelway combined the unflagging curiosity of a great reporter with the narrative flair of a master storyteller, and he helped establish the New Yorker's unique brand of journalism in its most storied years. William Shawn, who began as McKelway's assistant and became the magazine's revered editor, described McKelway as a writer with the "lightest of light touches," his striking style "too odd to be imitated."
Reporting at Wit's End collects McKelway's most memorable work from the 1930s through the 1960s, creating a portrait of a long-forgotten New York and of one of its consummate chroniclers.
agency. On September 25, Wyman had written them a letter applying for a position. Mr. West signed the letter which I wrote to Wyman on the suggestion of the agency to the effect that there was a position there open for a man of his ability and if he would be in their office Saturday morning, October 1, at 10 A.M., the client of the agency would be there at that time. On Friday, September 30, Wyman telephoned them stating that it would be impossible for him to keep that engagement, inasmuch as he
mail them in. He mailed them to nobody in his family and to none of his friends but only to notable strangers whose names he had seen in the newspapers or heard in Pincus’s camera store. The invitations asked the recipients to be present at a banquet at the Hotel St. George, in Brooklyn Heights, at eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening. Formal dress was suggested. The occasion, the invitations said, was a bonvoyage party in honor of S. Clifford Weinberg, the newly appointed United States Consul
Their Majesties’ Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations ordered that “if the Indians shall offer to putt away upon exchange or barter their false peag string beads [wampum] for good, and warrant it to be so, and it be found otherwise, it shall be confiscated to the Public Treasury.” This measure appears to have put the savage red men in their place, but it wasn’t long before some of the frailer white men began making counterfeit wampum on a scale that Indian counterfeiters had never
rationalization of the crime to such an extent that lying aroused little or no emotional disturbance. This was evidenced by his statement that he considered himself to be an honest man, that his admitted passing of counterfeit one-dollar bills was a petty matter, as it caused the storekeepers to lose only a few cents.” Mr. Baughman regarded the case of Old Eight Eighty as closed. Mueller had caused the Secret Service more bother and more expense than any other counterfeiter in its history, but
Bomber Command. All this had happened within a few days after LeMay’s arrival. LeMay had selected for the very important post of chief of staff in his new command Brigadier General August W. Kissner, who had worked with him in England. Kissner had flown home from Europe for a week’s duty in Washington and a few days’ leave, and was with us on Guam by this time. Kissner proved at once to be an ideal chief of staff. Like LeMay, he believes in, and is fond of, people, but his personality enables him