Hobohemia Collection, 1905-1997
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Brundage, Slim, 1903-1990 and Sheridan, Jack, 1905-1967
- The Hobohemia Collection contains materials from 1905-1997. The materials are original correspondence and manuscripts, photographs, serials, pamphlets, ephemera, clippings, and realia. The collection centers around soap box culture, radical thought, and open forums for free speech in Chicago that were popular from mid-1910’s to the early sixties. Jack Sheridan and to a much greater degree, Slim Brundage and The College of Complexes, are the main focus of this collection.
17.0 Linear feet (16 boxes)
Serials and pamphlets are located in Box 14.
- Finding aid prepared by Anne Sibbernsen Johns (2009)
- Scope and Content:
The Hobohemia Collection is composed of personal and business correspondence, manuscripts, business records, serials, ephemera, photographs, and clippings. It revolves around Jack Sheridan, an active Dil Pickler, and Slim Brundage, founder of the College of Complexes, as well the business workings of the College. The Jack Sheridan series (.5 linear feet), includes correspondence with professional peers and friends, family letters and correspondence, several of his manuscripts, personal records, and related news clippings. Correspondence includes Jack Conroy, liberal labor writer and activist, and John Quinn Brisbon who was an activist and in later years ran for VP and President representing the Socialist Party USA. Notes and plans for a "handwriting" TV series in which Jack would analyze viewers’ handwriting and response from the showing of one segment are included also. Family correspondence includes exchanges with Jimmy Sheridan, Jack’s twin brother and hobo, letters from James Sheridan, Jack’s father, to his family, dated 1917 and 1943, and documents from a federal INS investigation.
Manuscripts include a dedication to the reopening of the Dil Pickle Club in 1944 and a tribute to author and fellow Dil Pickler Max Bodenheim who was murdered. Poems to Jack Sheridan by Max Bodenheim and J. Q. Brisbon and poems by Jack Sheridan for Ben Reitman and in tribute to Hobo College are also part of this series. Personal records include school and service records, a letter of reference, parental certificates, and a copy of a US Treasury document denying Jack Sheridan as a merchant seaman.
The Slim Brundage series (11.66 linear feet), is comprised of personal and business correspondence, and material relating to family, Slim’s manuscripts, and material about the College of Complexes. Correspondence is listed by name and also chronologically. Personal correspondence includes that with writer Carl Sandburg (1937), an important Pickler, Thornton Wilder (1937), and hobo poet Axel Dragstedt.
Business correspondence relates to Slim’s workmen’s compensation regarding a fall he took as a painter and problems obtaining social security benefits. There are also letters to editors regarding submission of manuscripts and some subsequent responses.
Manuscripts comprise 3.5 cubic feet of this series. They include poetry, plays, articles, speeches, radio shows, and books. Most are undated and unsigned but the style consistent. Many of his short essays, or Ravings, are included here. The layout for his only book publication, Ravings of a Manic Depressive, is included. This book was a disappointment for Slim because of its hurried and sloppy assembly. Some manuscripts exist under differing titles; Slim also writes under the pseudonyms Malarkey McCarthy, Manuel Labor, and Casa Pintura.
Family material holds correspondence from Slim to his brother and children, his colorful autobiography which claims his place of birth as an insane asylum and a scrapbook compiled by his daughter, Anna Brundage, which coincides with the establishment of College of Complexes. The scrapbook also contains photographs of the family.
Materials on Margaret Brundage, who married Slim in 1927, include papers on her divorce from Slim in 1933 (official 1939) and custody of their only child, Kerlyn. There is a letter from Margaret to her lawyer explaining how Slim fit into Kerlyn’s life. Personal records and memberships include Slim’s union membership cards and certifications.
Materials under Kay Brundage, to whom Slim was married in 1940, includes correspondence with Slim regarding his painting accident in New York and recuperation, letters from her mother which shed light on Kay and Slim’s financial situation, flooding in Missouri, and the Truman administration. Other material relates mainly to her involvement, and to a lesser degree, Slim’s involvement, in the administration and activities of the Chicago Repertory Theatre and Child Guidance Center.
The College of Complexes subseries includes Business Records. These are marketing promotions such as the Miss Beatnik Contest, extensive business records which include donations to various pro labor and community organizations, mailing lists, IWW support, potential openings of College of Complexes locations in New York and San Francisco, and a large assortment of check stubs, ledgers, daily records, gate receipts, and steno pads recording College of Complexes daily monetary transactions.
Business Records also include correspondence and documents from the US Internal Revenue Service, the Illinois Internal Revenue Service, various vendors to whom Slim owes money, and lawyers regarding the dissolution of Slim’s business partnership with Margaret due to their divorce. There is a letter from Ann Landers and a letter to Hugh Hefner.
The Curriculum files contain typed monthly schedules of speakers enlisted for the College of Complexes. It was traditional to include essays by Slim known as Ravings into each Curriculum. Ephemera contains humorous items such as the Schizo Certificate, Slim’s business card from Mexico, a "pickup" card, play money, and certificates issued to speakers. There are newspaper articles that cover the Beats and the Miss Beatnik contest.
The Other Forums/Events/Organizations series (.75 linear feet), briefly addresses other open forums of the period. Slim and Kay Brundage were longtime Wobblies in the Council for Union Democracy. There are several essays that were written by Slim while committed to this organization as well as general member correspondence and business materials. Materials on the Dil Pickle Club include ephemera such as Volume 1, Number 1 of the Dil Pickler, a pamphlet of writings with the Dil Pickler Lending Library, as well as a small pamphlet with lecture schedule. Druid Society materials include a certificate establishing Jack Sheridan as a witness to the appointed trustees of the Druid Society.
The Writings by Others series (.5 linear feet), contains typed and some handwritten manuscripts by people active in Slim’s circle and the College of Complexes. The Anthology of Love is a collection of poetry written by others that Slim hoped to have published. Almost every poem has an attached typed commentary by Slim. There are handwritten poems by Max Bodenheim on truth and beauty and a guestbook for the Guild of Young Writers, 1932. There are writings by Kay Wood, who married Slim in 1940, John Krzton, "World’s Foremost Authority on Garbage" who reviews Slim’s Ravings, and Malarkey McCarthy, pseudonym for Slim Brundage.
The Serials series (.5 linear feet), contains literary publications from as early as 1905, The Crank, to 1960, The Tab. Amazing Stories and the Washington Square News contain articles by Jack Sheridan. The Tab contains photos and an article about the Miss Beatnik contest held at the College of Complexes in New York.
The Pamphlets series (.25 linear foot), contains materials that may have been used for reference by Jack Sheridan or Slim Brundage. Roger Payne’s The Hobo Philosopher, priced at 10 cents, explains how he can "maintain himself, working as a hobo, in about one day a week, instead of the usual six." The Isle of Mona is a Druidic fantasy written by Francis Lambert McCrudden, who corresponds with Jack Sheridan.
The Photographs series (.125 linear foot), contains many photographs that relate to the collection. Interior photographs of the College of Complexes, circa 1950’s, as well as photographs of Meta Toeber and Franklin and Penelope Rosemont at the 1997 COC Reunion. There are photos of Margaret and Slim Brundage, Slim’s son, Kerlyn, Slim in the hospital, and Slim’s well recognized portrait as housepainter. Photographs of The Place (San Francisco), its manager, Jack Langan, and photographs of Jack Sheridan’s family are among others. Several are unidentified.
The Newsclippings series (.125 linear foot), is arranged primarily by decade and relates to social protest, the free press, labor, unions, Cuba, and the Socialist Party.
The Ephemera series (.5 linear foot), is arranged by decade, subject, and title. There are flyers and bulletins on labor, Cuba, Vietnam, civil rights, post war housing, IWW, the March on Hunger to City Hall, and an Irwin Corey for President button. This material may have been used as reference by Slim for his writings and education. There is also a folder that contains many actual copies of The Curriculum, 1953-1990.
- Biographical / Historical:
Hobohemia is a place, a time period, a lifestyle. It is political dissidence and a blue collar counterculture of artists, poets, writers, intellectuals, hobos, and ne’er do wells who bucked conventional society and politics generally from the mid-1910’s through the early sixties. This collection contains the correspondence and writings of many individuals who were part of this movement that thrived on free speech, especially that of Jack Sheridan, self proclaimed Hobo and avid soap boxer, and Slim Brundage, who forever considered himself first and foremost, a housepainter. It also covers much of the business dealings of the College of Complexes, an open forum for free speech founded by Slim Brundage in 1951.
The hub of Hobohemia was Chicago where the rails drew hobos and the labor movement a concentration of radical thought. There were Hobohemias in other cities such as San Francisco and New York, but none had the power of Chicago. Its momentum started with soap boxing in Bughouse Square which was located at the corner of Clark and Walton Streets in Chicago. This grew into the opening of the infamous Dil Pickle Club (circa 1920-1933) which was frequented both by Jack Sheridan and Slim Brundage who were regular speakers. Sheridan and Brundage were also dedicated Wobblies, along with Brundage’s future wife, Kay, in the union organization, Industrial Workers of the World. Jack Sheridan attempted to revive the Dil Pickle in 1944 but was unsuccessful. Slim later established The College of Complexes, The Playground for People Who Think, in 1951 of which he illustriously deemed himself, The Janitor. Other open forums such as the Anthro-Cosmo Open Forum, The Culture Vulture, and The Druid Society came and went through the years.
The style at these open forums was humorous, irreverent, sacrilegious, witty, challenging, and provocative. According to Slim Brundage, soap boxers were "much concerned with freedom, especially from responsibility." (p.88, Rosemont, 2003). But the open forums went way beyond this and tackled every subject, from sex to religion to the women’s movement to civil rights to national and international politics. Its "aura of attractive unrespectability" (p.35, Rosemont, 1997) drew Beatniks, professors from local universities, and professionals, as well as well as those on the fringe of society.
"In the spring of 1961, the United States Internal Revenue Service notified Brundage that the College owed a vast sum in back taxes, payable immediately...and Brundage’s legal battle against the IRS proved unsuccessful...The Chicago original closed in May. Thus Chicago lost its most colorful center for higher learning, and the city’s most celebrated Janitor went back to painting houses. As of New Year’s Day 1963, Brundage still owed the IRS a total of $101,720.01. (p.36, Rosemont, 1997) Slim attempted to revive the College of Complexes to a lesser degree over the years but it had lost its momentum and the anti-war movement of a new generation came to the forefront.
References: Rosemont, Franklin [Ed.] (1997). From Bughouse Square to the Beat Generation: Selected ravings of Slim Brundage. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company.
Rosemont, Franklin [Ed.] (2003). The rise and fall of the Dil Pickle: Jazz-age Chicago’s wildest and most outrageously creative Hobohemian nightspot. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company.
- Acquisition Information:
- This collection was acquired from the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, Chicago, 2004.
- Processing information:
Anne S. Johns, Summer 2009
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Hobohemia Collection, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)