-Walt Whitman "Calamus Camerados"

From: "Ben Boxer" benboxer@mediaone.net
Subject: Walt Whitman "Calamus Camerados"

Walt Whitman, America's greatest poet, chose the acorus calamus plant, or Sweet Flag, as his symbol for gay love. One look at its rhizome, like an erect penis, tells you why. He spoke of his own gay loves as "camerados," comrades in the great struggle, as he might put it, "to sing the song of myself."

Boyblue, an Internet wit, writes: "Walt was one of the gayest and horniest poets in America. What, they didn't tell you that in high school? He had a thing for working class guys. Sweat, muscles, straining backs...all that stuff was a real turn on for Walt (no nodding daffodils for Walt baby.) I only wish I had pics of the teeming hordes of tricks Walt chronicles in his journal."

According to Rictor Norton, "Whitman's notebooks of this period are filled with descriptions of bus drivers, ferry-boat men, and other 'rude, illiterate' men that he met—picked up is really the only accurate word for it—in the streets of Manhattan, and 'slept with,' often keeping notes of their home addresses."

Excerpts from Whitman's Notebooks have been collected in Charley Shively's "Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working Class Camerados":

Peter — large, strong-boned young fellow, driver . . . I liked his refreshing wickedness, as it would be called by the orthodox.
George Fitch — Yankee boy — Driver . . . Good looking, tall, curly haired, black-eyed fellow
Saturday night Mike Ellis — wandering at the corner of Lexington av. & 32d st. — took him home to 150 37th street, — 4th story back room — bitter cold night.
Wm Culver, boy in bath, aged 18
Dan'l Spencer . . . somewhat feminine . . . slept with me Sept 3d
Theodore M Carr — came to the house with me
James Sloan (night of Sept 18 '62) 23rd year of age — plain homely, American
John McNelly night Oct 7 young man, drunk, walk'd up Fulton & High st. home
David Wilson — night of Oct. 11 '62, walking up from Middagh — slept with me
Horace Ostrander Oct. 22 '62 — about 28 yr's of age — slept with him Dec 4th '62
October 9, 1863, Jerry Taylor, (NJ.) of 2d dist reg't slept with me last night weather soft, cool enough, warm enough, heavenly.

There are at least 150 such entries in the Notebooks and probably hundreds more that went unrecorded. There are a lot of foxhunters who pray daily to be cruised by such a silverfox as he was. As far as I am concerned, Walt Whitman was ministering to them, not cruising them. He undoubtedly made a lot of emotionally starved young men happy in exchange for all they gave to him. I imagine that his poetic soul enfolded them as generously as his lips or any of his body parts of which they maybe have availed themselves. They would have been richer for the experience of love or any semblance of love from such a man.

Per Boyblue, Whitman called his long-term loves his "camerados," the word he used for his "gay comrades in arms, usually his own."

One calamus camerado was Peter Doyle (see picture, Gallery #1). Doyle was a 19-year-old public transit horsecar (streetcar) driver in Washington, D. C., who met Whitman one stormy night in 1865 when Whitman, looking (as Doyle said) "like an old sea-captain," remained the only passenger on Doyle's car. They may have had a conversation about the fact that Peter was at the performance of "Our American Cousin" in Ford's Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was shot. Talk was apparently not all they did that evening. They were inseparable for the next eight years. Doyle was a Civil War veteran on the Confederate side. Whitman spoke of his as his "Rebel friend," and said of Doyle 24 years later in 1889 that he was "a rare man: knowing nothing of books, knowing everything of life: a great big hearty full-blooded everyday divinely generous working man: a hail fellow well met-- a little too fond maybe of his beer, now and then, and of the women: maybe, maybe: but for the most part the salt of the earth. Most literary men, as you know, are the kind of men a hearty man would not go far to see: but Pete fascinates you by the very earthiness of his nobility." Whitman was undoubtedly in love with him, and like many gay men, was probably titillated by sexual involvement with a younger man who also liked women.

Harry Stafford (see picture, Gallery #1) was another of Whitman's truest calamus camerados. Whitman often stayed with the Stafford family at their farm in New Jersey where he spent restorative time by Timber Creek, regaining his health. In 1876, Whitman entered an intense and stormy relationship with young Harry, who often accompanied Whitman to the creek and to whom Whitman gave a ring; the ring is visible in this photo on Harry's right hand. The ring was taken back and re-given over the next couple of years, and clearly was thought of as a symbol of deep commitment; Harry wrote to Whitman about wanting the ring back in 1877 "to compleete [sic] our friendship": "You know when you put it on there was but one thing to part it from me and that was death." During these years, when they were apart, Whitman wrote Harry intimate letters: "Dear Harry, not a day or night passes but I think of you. . . . Dear son, how I wish you could come in now, even if but for an hour & take off your coat, & sit on my lap." By 1881, Whitman credited Harry with having saved his life: "Dear Hank, I realize plainly that if I had not known you---if it hadn't been for you & our friendship---I believe I should not be a living man to-day."

Yet another of them was Bill Duckett (see picture, Gallery #2). Duckett was a friend, driver, and helper for Whitman and traveled with him extensively around this time, escorting Whitman on stage for his Lincoln lecture in New York in 1887, for example. Whitman recalled in 1889 that "he was often with me: we went to Gloucester together: one trip was to New York...then to Sea Isle City once. I stayed there at the hotel two or three days---so on: we were quite thick then: thick: when I had money it was as freely Bill's as my own: I paid him well for all he did for me. . . . I liked Bill: he had good points: is bright--very bright."

Despite the exchange of money, I doubt the Duckett relationship could be called "commercial." He was paid for services rendered, i.e. driving, etc., but that may not have included pay for oral, anal, or whatever sexuality they may have enjoyed together. There was some sort of trouble between them later. If I find out what it was, I will share the information. Bill occupied a privileged position by being in such proximity to a world-renowned literateur. He might have become jealous of some other camerado and caused trouble in some devious way. Then again, maybe he just got greedy.

Handsome Warren Fritzinger (see picture, Gallery #2), the most contemporary looking of the camerados we have seen, may have been Whitman's last true love. "Warry," Whitman said, "is faithful, true, and loyal." Whitman called him his "sailor boy," and he indeed had spent years at sea. He was the son of a friend of Mary Davis, Whitman's housekeeper; when Warry's parents died, Mary became his guardian, and she talked him into becoming Whitman's nurse.

He was a comfort to Whitman in the last years: "I like to look at him---he is health to look at: young, strong, lithe." Dr. J. Johnston, one of Whitman's English admirers and a founder of the "Eagle Street College," arrived in Philadelphia to visit Whitman on 15 July 1890, and that evening photographed Whitman and Fritzinger, who were out for a walk, Fritzinger pushing Whitman in his wheel chair (which had replaced his phaeton as a mode of transportation in 1889):

"As we approached the Camden Wharf he exclaimed: 'How delicious the air is!' On the wharf he allowed me to photograph himself and Warry (it was almost dusk and the light unfavourable), after which I sat down on a log of wood beside him, and he talked in the most free and friendly manner for a full hour, facing the golden sunset, in the cool evening breeze, with the summer lightning playing around us, and the ferryboats crossing and re-crossing the Delaware."

How intimate their relationship may have become in those declining years is anybody's guess, but those of us in the Silverfoxes Syndrome readily understand the possibilities and techniques of sexual fulfillment among very senior men. I knew a man of 87 who could still conquer younger men with little more than the blink of an eye. He always had a handsome hunk beside him in bed or in the shower or at his dinner table. I once walked past an open bedroom door and saw a gorgeous 36-year-old on his knees beside the bed, naked, sucking the old man's soft cock while jacking himself off in a frenzy. The old guy glanced at me, lifted his hands, and shrugged as if to say, "What else is life for?"

As we know, such a man can be everything to a foxhunter of any age, and Whitman was only 73 when he died in 1892! Add the gift of gab and his international celebrity to the enveloping aura of his great soul, and you will see a man who could tweak the heart of even a worldly sailor like Warry Fritzinger (who probably had a big, uncut, German dick).

Another picture with Peter Doyle, taken in 1865, was submitted to the list a few weeks ago by George of Boston. It shows them seated more or less facing each other in a love seat, a piece of furniture which we don't see anymore except in authentically Victorian homes or museums.

Apropos that photo, which Whitman once dated 1865, in 1889 Whitman had a chat with Horace Traubel and Thomas Harned about the photo; Traubel recalls the conversation: "I picked up a picture from the box by the fire: a Washington picture: W. and Peter Doyle photoed together: a rather remarkable composition: Doyle with a sickly smile on his face: W. lovingly serene: the two looking at each other rather stagily, almost sheepishly. W. had written on this picture, at the top: 'Washington D.C. 1865---Walt Whitman & his rebel soldier friend Pete Doyle.' W. laughed heartily the instant I put my hands on it (I had seen it often before)--Harned mimicked Doyle, W. retorting: 'Never mind, the expression on my face atones for all that is lacking in his. What do I look like there? Is it seriosity?' Harned suggested: 'Fondness, and Doyle should be a girl'--but W. shook his head, laughing again: 'No--don't be too hard on it: that is my rebel friend, you know,' &c. Then again: 'Tom, you would like Pete--love him: and you, too, Horace: you especially, Horace--you and Pete would get to be great chums. I found everybody in Washington who knew Pete loving him: so that fond expression, as you call it, Tom, has very good cause for being: Pete is a master character.'

Look again at the pictures taken in 1865 and 1869 with Peter Doyle. When he first set foot on Peter's horsecar, the poet was a mere 46 years old! Now tell me with a straight face that he was not already posing as a cotton-haired gramps, probably even with a shuffle in his walk.

It is remarkable to me that he was able to maintain his looks pretty much the same over a 30-year period from Civil War days to the time of his death: the bushy white beard; the eccentric hats; the rumpled clothing; open-necked shirts in the day of high, stiff celluloid collars; the relatively informal poses in an age of formal portraits. I would appraise him as studiedly bohemian in his body language and dress, as a man swimming against the tide of his times and broadcasting it, while in the same moment affecting the nurturing, grandfatherly air that drives so many horny foxhunters mad with desire.

The old darlin' knew he was that kind of foxhunter's dream. Walt Whitman was a sly silverfox who wasn't even near being "old" when he affected that pose. He knew precisely where he fit into the scheme of his sexual orientation. Such self-knowledge took genius, and he had plenty of that. You can't help but love him for it. He has been called the "Great Grey Poet." I suggest a revision of that accolade to the "Great Gay Poet."

An excerpt from his "Song of Myself":
Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.
I am satisfied--I see, dance, laugh, sing;
As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with stealthy tread.....