Lucien Carr  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Lucien Carr (March 1, 1925 – January 28, 2005) was a key member of the original New York City circle of the Beat Generation in the 1940s; later he worked for many years as an editor for United Press International.

Killing in Riverside Park

On August 13, 1944, Carr and Kerouac attempted, and failed, to ship out of New York to France on a merchant ship – aiming to fulfill a fantasy of walking across France in character as a Frenchman (Kerouac) and his deaf-mute friend (Carr), and hoping to be in Paris in time for the Allied liberation. Kicked off the ship by the first mate at the last minute, the two men drank together at the Beats’ regular bar, the West End. Kerouac left first, and bumped into Kammerer, who asked where Carr was. Kerouac told him.

Kammerer caught up with Carr at the West End, and the two men went for a walk, ending up in Riverside Park on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

According to Carr's version of the night, he and Kammerer were resting near West 115th Street when Kammerer made yet another sexual advance. When Carr rejected it, he said, Kammerer assaulted him physically, and being larger, gained the upper hand. In desperation and panic, Carr said, he stabbed the older man, using a Boy Scout knife from his St. Louis childhood. Carr then tied his assailant's hands and feet, wrapped Kammerer's belt around his arms, weighted the body with rocks, and dumped it in the nearby Hudson River.

Next, Carr went to the apartment of William Burroughs, gave him Kammerer's bloodied pack of cigarettes, and explained the incident. Burroughs flushed the cigarettes down the toilet, and told Carr to get a lawyer and turn himself in. Instead, Carr sought out Kerouac, who with the aid of Herbert Huncke protégé Abe Green, helped him dispose of the knife and some of Kammerer's belongings before the two went to a movie and the Museum of Modern Art to look at paintings. Finally, Carr went to his mother’s house and then to the office of the New York District Attorney, where he confessed. The prosecutors, uncertain whether the story was true – or whether a crime had even been committed – kept him in custody until they had recovered Kammerer's body. Carr identified the corpse, and then led police to where he had buried Kammerer's eyeglasses in Morningside Park.

Kerouac (who was identified in The New York Times coverage of the crime as a "23-year-old seaman") was arrested as a material witness, as was Burroughs. Burroughs' father posted bail, but in a famous Beat side-story, Kerouac’s father refused to post the hundred-dollar bond to bail him out. In the end, Edie Parker’s parents agreed to post the money if Kerouac would marry their daughter. With detectives serving as witnesses, Edie and Jack were married at the Municipal Building,

Carr was charged with second-degree murder. The story was closely followed in the press, involving as it did a well-liked, gifted student from a prominent family, New York's premier university, and the scandalous whiff of homosexuality. The newspaper coverage embraced Carr's story of an obsessed homosexual preying on an appealing heterosexual younger man, who finally lashed out in self-defense. The Daily News called the killing an "honor slaying", an early example of the 'gay panic' defense. If there were subtle shadings to the tale of Carr’s five-year saga with Kammerer, the newspapers ignored them. Carr pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, and his mother testified at a sentencing hearing about Kammerer's predatory habits. Carr was sentenced to a term of one-to-twenty years in prison; he served two years in the Elmira Correctional Facility in Upstate New York and was released.

Carr's Beat crowd (which Ginsberg called "the Libertine Circle") was, for a time, shattered by the killing. Several members sought to write about the events. Kerouac's The Town and the City is a fictional retelling, in which Carr is represented by the character "Kenneth Wood"; a more literal depiction of events appears in Kerouac’s later Vanity of Duluoz. Soon after the killing, Allen Ginsberg began a novel about the crime which he called The Bloodsong, but his English instructor at Columbia, seeking to preclude more negative publicity for Carr or the university, persuaded Ginsberg to abandon it. According to author Bill Morgan in his book, The Beat Generation in New York, the Carr incident also inspired Kerouac and Burroughs to collaborate in 1945 on a novel entitled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which was published for the first time in its entirety in November 2008.

The 2013 movie Kill Your Darlings is a fictionalized account of the killing in Riverside Park that tells a version of the murder similar to the version portrayed in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. In the movie, David Kammerer is a pedophile and stalker, and Lucien Carr is portrayed as a young man who is conflicted by feelings of codependence and hate towards Kammerer, forced into sex in exchange for essays written by Kammerer.

Dissenting Opinions

In a letter to New York Magazine published on June 7, 1976 written by Patricia Healy (née Goode), wife of Irish writer T. F. Healy, she puts forth a strident defense of David Kammerer in her rebuttal to an article written by Aaron Latham and previously published in the magazine. Patricia Healy had been a student at Barnard College at the time when the Beat Generation was coalescing in the 1940s in New York City. She had known several key members of the literary movement including William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (though she hadn’t known Allen Ginsberg at the time) as well as Lucien Carr.

In her rebuttal, she paints a radically different portrait of Kammerer (whom she stated she was particularly close to) and his relationship with Lucien Carr. Far from Kammerer having been the fringe figure within the Beat movement of the time as often depicted, she asserted that he had been a guiding light within the literary circle with many taking inspiration from his informal lectures, particularly Kerouac whom she accused of ingratitude with him never acknowledging his debt to Kammerer. Regarding Kammerer’s relationship with Carr, she rebuts what she terms “the Lucien myth” that Carr had been the victim of Kammerer’s relentless obsession and resulting stalking. On the contrary, she states that it was Kammerer who wanted to be rid of Carr whom he referred to as “that little bastard,” and on one occasion she had accompanied Carr to Kammerer’s apartment only to be greeted by hostility on Kammerer’s part towards Carr who insisted that he had told Carr previously never to come around again. The resulting altercation culminated with Kammerer physically assaulting Carr with his fists causing Carr to fall to the floor. Within her rebuttal letter, Healy hints that the relationship between the two men was not as the “myth” recounts, and that Carr had frequently sought Kammerer’s help in writing his Columbia term papers.

Healy also offers evidence that Kammerer—far from being the homosexual and pedophile he was alleged to have been—was very much heterosexual as evidenced by his pursuit of a “kept woman” of his acquaintance.

Within its obituary upon Lucian Carr’s death, The Guardian (Eric Homberger, February 8, 2005) notes regarding the killing by Carr of Kammerer:

"Central to Carr's defence was that he was not gay, and that Kammerer, an obsessive stalker, threatened sexual violence. Once the story of a predatory homosexual was presented in court, Carr became a victim and the murder was framed as an honour killing. There was no one in court to question the story or offer a different version of the relationship.

"Much of the story, however, is doubtful; perhaps now, with Carr's death, it may be possible to disentangle some of the strands of insinuation, legal spin and lies. There is no independent proof that Kammerer was a predatory stalker; there is only Carr's word for the pursuit from St Louis to New York; there is persuasive evidence that Kammerer was not gay. Carr enjoyed his ability to manipulate the older man, and got him to write essays for his classes at New York's Columbia University. A friend remembers Kammerer slamming the door of his apartment in Carr's face, and telling him to get lost.

"There is much evidence to suggest that Carr had been a troubled and unstable young man. While at the University of Chicago, he attempted to commit suicide with his head in an unlit gas oven, and told a psychiatrist that it had been a performance, a work of art. In New York, Carr gave Ginsberg, who had been raised respectably in New Jersey, where his father was a teacher, a new language of eroticism and danger. Ginsberg carefully wrote in his journal the key terms of the "Carr language": fruit, phallus, clitoris, cacoethes, faeces, foetus, womb, Rimbaud."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lucien Carr" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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