Back Beat

By GEORGE KIMBALL  |  October 24, 2008

The aforementioned were all direct byproducts of that kitchen-table summit conference I had stumbled into more than a decade ago. So, too, is And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, the last known unpublished manuscript by any of the Founding Fathers of the Beat Generation. Although the rights were jointly held by the estates of its two authors, the publication of the long-anticipated 1945 Kerouac-Burroughs collaboration would have to await one final piece to the puzzle — the death, in 2005, of Lucien Carr.

Over his dead body
At the time of his passing, he was known (to those by whom he was known at all) as “Lou Carr,” a respected newspaper lifer who logged nearly half a century with United Press International and wound up the chief of that agency’s news desk in Washington.

But in 1944, Lucien Carr IV was a 19-year-old Columbia undergraduate, the central figure of a small cadre of literary-minded friends he had introduced to one another over the previous year. Ginsberg, a bookish 18 year old from New Jersey, was a member of Carr’s freshman class. Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac had dropped out of Columbia by then, after breaking his leg in a football game, but returned to New York between trips on wartime Merchant Marine vessels, and, as did Carr, lived with a girlfriend near Washington Square. The 30-year-old William Seward Burroughs, the group’s learned guru, dispensed his wisdom from a walkup flat on Bedford Street. A graduate of Harvard and the scion of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, he was a fount of knowledge on everything from philosophy to French poetry, but spent many of his waking hours studying the Daily Racing Form, delighted in the company of low-level mobsters, and occasionally himself packed a gun.

A fourth member of the circle was David Kammerer. Even older than Burroughs, whom he had known since they were small boys in St. Louis, Kammerer had developed a fixation on Carr when the latter was but 11 years of age, an unrequited obsession that had brought him to New York by the late summer of 1944.

Carr seems to have been deeply conflicted by the relationship. Flattered by the attention, he did not always discourage Kammerer’s affection, but seems to have been so repulsed by the notion of physical intimacy with a man he had come to regard as a meddlesome stalker that he had undertaken plans to ship out with Kerouac on his next voyage.

On August 14, 1944, following a somewhat drunken evening of horseplay in Riverside Park, Carr produced a Boy Scout knife and stabbed his tormentor twice in the chest. Believing Kammerer to be dead, he tied his arms together with shoelaces, weighted down the body, and rolled him into the Hudson River, where, an autopsy subsequently revealed, he drowned.

Carr didn’t turn himself in to the police for more than 24 hours, during which time he sought the advice, separately, of Kerouac and Burroughs, technically involving both as accessories to the crime (even though the latter’s paternal advice had been that Carr should surrender and throw himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he had merely been defending his honor by warding off the older man’s homosexual advances). Warrants were issued for both Kerouac and Burroughs. Burroughs, owing to family connections and a high-priced lawyer, was released following a desk appearance. Kerouac was briefly jailed as a material witness.

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