Fillmore’s bathtub — metaphor?

One of my searches turned up what appears to be a well-informed essay from 1999 by Wendy McLemore, “The Bathtub, Mencken, and War.” According to her curriculum vitae, the article originally appeared in a publication called Ideas on Liberty, “The Bathtub, Mencken, and War,” Vol. 49, No. 9 (September 1999).

While the article is available on the author’s website, I have not found a link from her blog to the article. So let me urge that you make a second foray, and check out her blog, too. A word of warning — while I haven’t found anything at the blog that is not suitable for viewing at work (NSVW), this is the subtitle the blog: “A site for individualist feminism and individualist anarchism.”

McLemore argues that Mencken was not merely fighting deadline, but was writing a close satire of the difficulties he had getting stories published during World War I that did not condemn Germans willy-nilly. She writes that Mencken was a great appreciator of German culture, and did not go along with propaganda that merely demonized Germany and Germans.

She also wrote that it was Andrew Jackson who introduced the bathtub to the White House, in 1834. This contrasts with the White House story I noted earlier, attributing the introduction of the tub to Fillmore’s wife in 1853. (Before my hard-drive crash, I wrote to the White House historian asking for a check of the veracity of that story. I’ve got nothing in response.) What is McLemore’s source for the Andrew Jackson tub?

We continue the search for the Truth about White House bathtubs. Go read McLemore’s essay.

Post script: Go see what Cecil says about Millard Fillmore, at the column archives for Straight Dope.

One Response to Fillmore’s bathtub — metaphor?

  1. DavidD says:

    So how much was Mencken being satirical, even if only he could appreciate the full degree of satire, and how much was existential – writing this because he could? Maybe even Mencken would have been hard pressed to explain with perfect accuracy why he invented this.

    I was taken in just now by the supposed Boston law against bathing. How they must have smelled, I thought. I remembered in Shogun how the main character feared bathing. The couple of centuries difference in time didn’t keep that from being a precedent for me in accepting the Boston story. Of course I’m gullible enough to have believed that with no previous exposure to the concept. “Trusting” is the better way of seeing that. It’s not so bad being fooled on occasion.

    I don’t suppose anyone would get away with that degree of inventiveness today, but there are so many “facts” in our culture that exist so someone could write a good story. Quantum physics is very distorted by those who want the power of science to support New Age mysticism. Amnesia is distorted by scriptwriters who want to write about loss of personal identity instead of what amnesia really is. Many think that Dan White’s defense for shooting the mayor and fellow councilman in San Francisco was that Twinkies made him do, when that was not the meaning of how that snack came up at his trial. That the first two are bogus I know from my professional education. The last one I read in the LA Times within months of the trial. No debunking of any of these has eradicated them from the culture. The best history possibly can do is correctly label these myths of our time. It’s not hard to see obstacles to getting that right, how easily one might think that people behind these myths must have had some legitimate basis for them. No, it was just a good story. That’s it.

    That’s not even getting to so much political proganda that exists because they are useful stories, such as the myth that homelessness is all about mentally ill who don’t take their medicines, something I last heard from Tucker Carlson on MSNBC.

    People do what Mencken did all the time, maybe not as intentionally or inventively, but they write to suit their purpose. Maybe it’s not all bad. One story I know about propaganda backfiring was when Fred Hoyle, a believer in the steady-state universe, decided to ridicule the idea that the universe had a beginning by calling that beginning the Big Bang. Then his opponents said, “Big Bang, hey we like that.” It must have irritated Hoyle to the day he died that this was his greatest contribution to the culture.

    Unfotunately most propaganda has yet to be turned around so.


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