Obscura Day Tour - William S. Burroughs' NYC

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Taft Hotel – 152 W 51st St

Now the Michelangelo Hotel. Reportedly Burroughs had a room there and met a man named Jack Anderson who he decided to have romantic relations with.  They left the door open and a hotel employee caught them in bed together while he was checking the doors. Ten minutes later Burroughs was told by hotel management that he had to pack up and leave and would be refunded for the remaining time. Burroughs became enamored with Jack andmoved to the boarding house Jack was staying at.

 

55 Jane St – Boarding House

 

Burroughs moves in to become closer to Jack. Jack was bisexual and enjoyed bringing men and women back to his room for sexual encounters. Burroughs became so distraught that he cut off the end of his left little finger with poultry shears and brought it to his analyst, Dr Wiggers. Dr. Wiggers committed him to Bellvue (462 1st Avenue). He then was transferredto the Payne Whitley Clinic (525 E 68th St.)

Burroughs wrote about this incident later in a sketch called “The Finger” it is included in the 1988 Interzone collection.  During this time he also experiments with automatic writing. He was sent back to St Louis after his time in the hospital where he and Jack kept in touch. Jack visited him there and they immediately got into a car accident whichshows up in “Driving Lesson” in Interzone as well as glimpses of the relationship in The Wild Boys and Port of Saints.

 

69 Bedford Street

 

Lucien Carr and Dave Kammerer had just moved from Chicago to NY. Burroughs followed along soon after and moved to Bedford St. Kammerer lived at 48 Morton Street which was just a block or so away and was intrigued by Carr. Carr was not homosexual but enjoyed the attention and allowed Kammerer to follow him. Here Burroughs met a man who worked for the New Yorker who introduced him to Truman Capote. Burroughs was not impressed. Around this time is where Burroughs met Ginsburg through Carr. 

 

Chumley's – 86 Bedford St

 

Chumley's was one of the homes to the Beats. You could often find William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, or Jack Kerouac there. Burroughs and Kammerer would have drinks and dinner there. It was founded in 1922 by Leland Stanford Chumley and used as a speakeasy modified from an abandoned cobbler shop. The rumor is that the term “86'd” started here to describe being thrown out of the bar since one would land under the bar’s address 86. Hence “86'd.” It is more likely, though, that the term came from Article 86 of the NYC Liquor code which details reasons why a person may be thrown out or removed from a bar. Edna St. Vincent Millay was known to stop in for a drink as well as were EE Cummings, Eugene O'Neill, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, and others. The bar closed after a chimney collapsed and has had trouble re-opening ever since. This is mostly due to neighbors protesting. The bar is fully renovated and contains the book covers of those who visited. 

 

White Horse Tavern - 567 Hudson Street

 

The original White Horse Tavern was constructed in the 1880's.  Much of it has been preserved to stay true to its roots. Jack Kerouac lived upstairs and would come down for drinks or food. Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Dylan Thomas, Hunter S. Thompson, Jane Jacobs, and Norman Mailer where some of the many that stopped by in our their travels. There is a rumor one can still see the words “Jack go home” carved into one of the bathroom walls. This is also the infamous tavern where Dylan Thomas drank too heavily one night, stumbled back to the Chelsea and died a few days later of pneumonia with pressure on the brain. Diet and lack of self care may have been a part of his demise. There is a plaque honoring him within the tavern at his favorite booth. Burroughs came here for drinks while visiting Kerouac. 

 

Minetta Tavern - 113 MacDougal Street

 

Minetta tavern is named after a small stream that once flowed through Union Square to the Hudson River. As time passed and the city created streets, the path the stream once took was renamed the Minetta Triangle. The tavern opened in 1937 and has many of the original fixtures giving it a “tavern of the time” feeling. It was the base for the original “Reader's Digest” and a favorite of E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, and Eugene O'Neill. Many of the Beats including William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Joe Gould would come to dine and drink but are barely mentioned in the roster of writers who dined there.

 

421 West 118th Street

 

This was Kerouac's apartment he shared with his girlfriend but it became a sort of artist gathering space. Burroughs at this time was living on Riverside Drive at the end of 108th st. He spent a lot of time working communally and socializing at Jack's place. 

 

360 Riverside Drive, west end of West 108th Street

 

August 14, 1944, Burroughs awoke to knocking at his door. It was Lucien Carr who immediately handed him a blood stained pack of Lucky Strikes and told him how Kammerer had tried to come onto him on the grass below Riverside Drive and west 115th st. They were both drunk and a fight ensued. Kammerer was taller and bigger than Carr. Carr took out a knife and stabbed him. He then ripped his shirt into strips, tied rocks to his arms and legs and pushed his body into the Hudson. Burroughs advised Carr to turn himself in and destroyed the cigarettes. They then took a trip to Kerouac's to tell him the story. Kerouac and Carr went back to the park and disposed of the knife in a sewer drain. 

Carr turned himself in 2 days later but without a body and Carr being so awkward the chief didn't believe him. He locked him in the cell and waited for the coastguard to alert them of the body. Carr then took the police to where he killed Kammerer and buried his glasses. Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as material witnesses. Burroughs' father posted bail and Kerouac with no one to post bail stayed in jail as his family would not bail him out. His girlfriend's parents agreed to post bail if he married their daughter. He did. 

Carr was sentenced to up to twenty years for first degree manslaughter but only served two. He worked at United Press until his retirement. 

Burroughs and Kerouac later wrote And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,  based on the experience. 

 

419 West 115th Street

 

Joan Vollmer lived in this apartment. Joan was married at the time and had her daughter Julie living with her. She had met Ginsberg and they had become friendly. He ended up moving in along with Hal Chase reforming "the libertine circle" which had been first formed at Kerouac's. Kerouac came back from Michigan and moved in and Edie, his wife followed shortly after. Burroughs had an apartment near 59th and Broadway at Columbus Circle. He started hanging out at the apartment and he and Joan became a couple shortly after. He moved in sharing the bedroom with Joan. Joan's husband returned home from Germany a few weeks later disgusted. He filed for divorce soon after. 

 

204 East 7th Street

 

Burroughs stayed here after a few arrests for narcotics and the death of Joan. He killed Joan accidentally in a drunken game of William Tell. His brothers went to Mexico City and bribed the authorities to release him. He was released after just 13 days. This was his first time back to NY in 6 years. He stayed there a short time before moving to Tangier. 

 

Chelsea Hotel - 222 W 23rd St

 

Burroughs took up residence there. There is a strange video of Andy Warhol having dinner with Andy Warhol from this time where they talk of chicken fried steak. You can hear Nico talking from the other room. Rumor has it that parts of Naked Lunch were drafted here. Burroughs and Gysin also came to the Chelsea to market the “Dream Machine” The “Dream Machine” consisted ofa spinning paper cylinder with slitted sides and a light bulb inside. It was made to create a psychedelic experience for the viewer without the use of drugs. Unfortunately it did not make them rich. They also created much of the work for “The Third Mind” while here. Rumor had it that if Stanley Bard felt you would become Somebody he would let you live in the hotel for free or at least a discounted price. Hotel Chelsea is now closed and being remodeled to include a retail space and restaurant. Lord knows that can't end well. 

 

210 Centre Street

 

Burroughs lived here very briefly in which he did readings for friends events. He moved to London after.

 

452 Broadway

 

This was right around the corner from his old apartment. He worked at City College as a creative writing teacher. Ginsberg got him the job. 

 

77 Franklin

 

Burroughs lived on the third floor of this building mid seventies. He stayed there briefly before giving it to Malcolm McNeill who he had brought over from London. He and malcolm were working on various projects together. 

 

The Bunker - 222 Bowery

 

Burroughs hated teaching and only lasted a semester. At this time he moved into “The Bunker,” described as a windowless locker. Burroughs lived here and worked with James Grauerholz who was his assistant and agent,. James would book him speaking engagements. He also became a columnist for Crawdaddy Magazine interviewing people like Jimmy Page for the magazine. He lived there entertaining friends and working until 1981 when he moved to Lawrence Kansas. His room has been kept the way it was since he departed by John Giorno a friend of Burroughs. Gothamist posted images inside the Bunker taken by a photographer allowed to photograph the space.