(Roughly) Daily

“Sure, everything is ending, but not yet”*…


Front cover to the 15th edition of Caesar’s Column (1891)

Ignatius Donnelly migrated from Pennsylvania to Minnesota in 1858 in search of an agrarian dream (and a land promoter’s fortune).  Frustrated on both of those fronts, he picked up his pen.

Twenty years of personal frustration turned his thoughts toward catastrophe. Reporting on the Dakota War of 1862, in which Sioux tribes struck back at encroaching settlers in western Minnesota, he had seemed to revel in the horrors of war. For a St Paul newspaper he described refugees from the town of New Ulm: “There were mothers there who wept over children slaughtered before their eyes, strong men . . . who had escaped into the grass with the death shrieks of parents, brothers, and sisters, ringing in their ears.”

Those death shrieks were just the start for a writer who came to specialize in cataclysms that could rend entire cities, ravage entire civilizations, or destroy entire continents. As his ambitions and plans repeatedly fell short — his agrarian golden age failed to materialize — he took up his pen to explore increasingly extreme visions of apocalypse. First came “factual” accounts of two very different prehistoric disasters — Atlantis (1882), followed by Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883) — and then, seven years later, Caesar’s Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century (1890), a futuristic novel that major publishers rejected as dangerously revolutionary…

The remarkable story of a man who transmuted his personal disappointments into (very successful) epic apocalyptic fiction: “Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly.”

* “Jules,” in Jennifer Egan’s  A Visit from the Goon Squad


As we brace for the worst, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970 that Earl Kemp added 500 photos (“the sort of photographs the commission examined”) to the official report of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography and (re-)published it as The Illustrated Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.

The Commission’s work, which had been initiated under president Johnson, was rejected by President Nixon.  Kemp (and his publisher William Hamling) were arrested for “pandering to prurience” and convicted of “conspiracy to mail obscene material.”



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