At the Crossroads of Art & Research T-Bone Slim

Who is Aunt Molly Jackson?

Author: John Westmoreland

Aunt Molly Jackson & T-Bone Slim:
At the Crossroads of Art & Research

Part 2: Who Is Aunt Molly Jackson?

Text and drawing from a newspaper. Decorative.
Fig. 1. Illustration of Aunt Molly Jackson by Russell Theodore “Butch” Limbach. Unkown Author. The Communist Party USA’s newspaper The Daily Worker, 2 December 1931, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Urbana, IL.

My role as a musician, independent researcher, and relative of T-Bone Slim places me at a unique crossroads of art, research, and family history. With that perspective in mind, in this three-part blog series, “Aunt Molly Jackson & T-Bone Slim, at the Crossroads of Art & Research,” I share my thoughts on the origins of a mysterious folk song, the fascinating woman who wrote it, the relationship between folklorist and informant, and how this research relates to T-Bone Slim. Stay tuned for a new recording and video release at the end of Part 3.

In Part 1 of the series, I discussed a fascinating song, “Crossbones Scully,” written by Kentucky folk singer, Aunt Molly Jackson—allegedly about T-Bone Slim. In this second part I take a wider view of Aunt Molly’s life history and try to contextualize her artistry and activism in relationship to political ideology.

Born Mary Magdalene Garland—but using “Molly” as a first name—Aunt Molly Jackson grew up amid the cultural and socioeconomic environment of rural southern Appalachia at a time when grave exploitation of workers was institutionalized by the mining industry. Low wages paid in “scrip”—which could only be used to purchase inflated goods at the company store—as well as the practice of deducting extraneous expenses directly form a miners paycheck left many workers and their families in dire circumstances. Hunger, disease, and egregious safety standards in the mines contributed to high mortality rates amongst the population.

At the age of twelve, Molly began serving her community as a nurse and midwife which earned her the affectionate title “Aunt Molly”. Customarily midwives were referred to as “Granny” but being so young “Aunt” was thought to be a better fit in her case. Claims have been made by Aunt Molly and others that she delivered hundreds or even thousands of infants during her years as a midwife. She herself married twice before the age of twenty, and is believed to have had two biological children both of which died in infancy. Her second husband, Jim Stuart, was killed in a mining accident circa 1917 and soon after she married another coal miner, Bill Jackson, whose last name became part of her official identity as a folk singer for the remainder of her life.

“People just opened their mouths like the birds in the trees, and whatever melody come to them and whatever was on their minds, they just sang it out and that’s a folksong.”—Aunt Molly Jackson (Romalis 1999, 159)

Text and photo from an old newspaper. Headline is "'Aunt Molly Sings Mine War Ballads;". In the photo, Aunt Molly is singing. Bu her is sitting a man. Part of the other photos and rest of the headline are cropped out.
Fig. 2. Photo of Aunt Molly Jackson. Photographer: Unknown/ possibly Herndon Evans. The Milwaukee Journal, 8 December 8, 1935 (Milwaukee Public Library).
Photo from and old newspaper. Aunt Molly is smoking a pipe and wearing dotted dress and a hat.
Fig. 3 Photo of Aunt Molly Jackson. Photographer: Unknown.  Baton Rouge Louisiana Morning Advocate, 8 December, 1935 (East Baton Rouge Public Library).

Steeped in the traditions and lore of the Kentucky mountains, learning songs and stories passed down from older relatives—“knee to knee” as it’s been called in Appalachia—Aunt Molly Jackson began composing her own songs at the age of four. However, she would have likely remained an obscure figure were it not for the activism of the Dreiser Committee (also known as the NDPP) during the early days of the Harlan County War (see also the Raye 2020). Authors Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos and other prominent communist intellectual figures from New York City traveled to Harlan County in the fall of 1931 to document and raise national awareness about the conditions of exploitation and oppression unfolding in Kentucky. On November 7th, 1931 Aunt Molly attended a gathering at Glendon Baptist Church in Bell County and gave her own testimony to the committee, after which she proceeded to burst into song, belting out a version of her “Hungry Ragged Blues.” The performance left such an impression on Dreiser that he felt she would make an ideal symbolic representative for the miners’ cause. Aunt Molly through her appearance, manner, and actions projected a rural Appalachian cultural authenticity that was lacking in a movement comprised of urban intellectuals from the north.

“These women grabbed the gun thugs and stripped them naked while some of the local men took off through a cornfield after the strikebreakers. After four women had managed to hold down one of the gun thugs, my sister Molly took his pistol and shoved the barrel right up his rectum. Never did this particular gun thug show his face there again.”—Jim Garland (Romalis 1999, 86–87; about gun thugs see Raye 2020)

Aunt Molly, for her part, seemed happy to go along with Dreiser’s vision. She accepted an invitation from members of the Dreiser Committee to travel to New York City in an effort to help raise funds and publicity for the cause. It’s also been alleged that after Aunt Molly’s performance of “Hungry Ragged Blues,” she was arrested and only released by Judge David Crockett Jones on the condition that she leave Kentucky, so perhaps there were compounding factors which led to her exodus from the Appalachian coal country. (Collett 2006)

Communism & the IWW

In late November of 1931, Aunt Molly Jackson boarded a northbound bus headed for New York. Upon her arrival on December 1st, she was thrust into the public eye. Many newspaper articles were published about her, and on a couple of occasions she performed for crowds of workers numbering in the thousands. She also went on a performance and speaking tour, collecting money to send back home to the striking miners in Harlan and Bell Counties. Many of these public events were organized as communist gatherings, and as such Aunt Molly was on the fringes of mainstream society despite receiving publicity in major press outlets such as the New York Times. Her own relationship to the communist party however appears to be opaque.

 “The only ism we knew in Kentucky was rheumatism; I never heard tell of such thing as a communist or a radical until I was 50 years old when I come to New York. I got all of my progressive ideas from my hard, tough struggles and nowhere else.”—Aunt Molly Jackson (Wilgus 1961)

Whether or not her assertion about learning of communists and radicals only after leaving Kentucky is literally true, Aunt Molly’s point that her ideas and values come from her own life experience and not any ideology is certainly believable. By late 1931 however, she did have connections to communist circles, and some of her songs carry overt references to Communist organizations such as, “I am a Union Woman,” with a refrain that states “Join the NMU, come join the NMU.” The NMU (National Miners Union) was a Communist union which attempted from 1931–1932 to organize rural miners in Kentucky—an effort which met with limited success (on NMU see Soodalter 2016).

Interestingly, a December, 1931 issue of the Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker, features an interview with Aunt Molly as well as a separate article disparaging the IWW’s and UMWA’s (United Mine Workers of America) organizing efforts in Kentucky.

“The UMWA and the IWW are betraying us (– –) Now, when we are once more organizing, under the National Miners Union leadership, to strike against starvation, the UMWA and the IWW are again trying to step in in order to betray us. We must be on guard against these agents of the coal operators.”—Unknown author (Daily Worker, 2 December 1931)

Text from an old newspaper. Decorative.
Fig. 4. Daily Worker, 2 December, 1931 (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library).

T-Bone Slim, in his writings for the IWW in late 1931 also commented on the events in Kentucky, such as the following statement from the IWW’s Industrial Worker, published the very same day that Aunt Molly Jackson made her pivotal performance for the Dreiser Committee.

“There is no such thing as freedom of silence. No man has the right to contain in himself the thought, the knowledge, the experience, the eloquence, the prestige that might remove injustice from our fair land ( that might arrest the so called legal murders now in the making in the state of Kentucky…”—T-Bone Slim (Industrial Worker, 7 November 1931)

Text from an old newspaper. Decorative.
Fig. 5. Cropped excerpt from T-Bone Slim’s column in Industrial Worker, 7 November 1931 (University of Michigan, Joseph A. Labadie Collection).

Days later in an article for another IWW periodical, Industrial Solidarity, we find T-Bone Slim weighing in on the subject of aid for the striking workers in Kentucky in relationship to the activities of Socialists and Communists.

“The socialist party has aided the Kentucky miners in their hour of gloom—not blindly as some people do but with their eyes open. Not only did they give but they took the trouble to trace their gift and found it in a communist office—heluva place for a needy miner to be? The presence of the gift in possession of ‘comrades’… indicates extensive lack of consideration, if not complete contempt for the suffering miners.” T-Bone Slim (Industrial Solidarity, 17 November 1931)

Text from an old newspaper. Decorative.
Fig. 6. Cropped excerpt from T-Bone Slim’s column in Industrial Solidarity 17 November 1931 (University of Michigan, Joseph A. Labadie Collection).

The above excerpts quoted from the Daily Worker and T-Bone Slim’s Industrial Solidarity column exemplify the distrust, and animosity which sometimes characterized the dynamic between the Communist Party and the IWW. Folklorist Archie Green’s skepticism that Aunt Molly ever truly met T-Bone Slim derives largely from his awareness of that tenuous historical relationship.

“Plainly put, IWW’s and communists during sectarian years, worked together on various jobs, but did not fraternize in meetings or social events. At times, the ideological differences between them led to bloodshed. Many Wobblies were among the earliest critics of Stalinism on the American left. Communists responded both by denigrating, anarchist values and appropriating Wobbly lore.”—Archie Green (Archie Green Collection, SFC)

Putting aside Archie Green’s skepticism for the moment, it’s important to mention that both T-Bone Slim and Aunt Molly Jackson lived in New York City during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. In a geographic sense it’s certainly not out of the question that they could have crossed paths, and Green himself acknowledges that regardless of ideological tensions between the IWW and the Communist Party, it’s not impossible the two songwriters met.

Further evidence that perhaps T-Bone Slim did have some connection to communist MWIU members can be found in an anecdote from Communist MWIU organizer,  Al Lannon, who claimed that T-Bone Slim was invited to perform at a 1933 Communist event in New York City.

“Hoping to capitalize on lingering IWW sentiment among seamen, Lannon set up an open-air meeting at Thames and Broadway featuring T-Bone Slim. Lannon gave the singer a big introduction, expecting the singer to open with his well-known ‘Popular Wobbly.’ T-Bone Slim began yelling at the crowd about ‘those fuckin’ bastards down in Alabama’ who had framed the Scottsboro Boys. An embarrassed Lannon hustled the living legend, away from the microphone. They later made T-Bone Slim, an honorary member of the Port Organizing Committee, allowing him to sell The Marine Workers Voice along the waterfront.” (Lannon 1999, 45–46; about the Port Organizing Committee see Bailey 1993)

Al Lannon’s assertion is quite interesting—especially the bit about T-Bone being pulled off stage—if true it certainly lends credibility to Aunt Molly Jackson’s claim that she met T-Bone Slim in person. I’m somewhat skeptical that T-Bone Slim ever became a member of the Port Organizing Committee and sold Communist newspapers on the New York waterfront, but if further supporting evidence comes to light my opinion is of course subject to change. Archie Green speculated in some of his writings on the topic of “Crossbones Scully,” that Aunt Molly Jackson may have been attempting to “misappropriate” the identity of an IWW hero (Archie Green Collection, SFC), the same question could be asked of Al Lannon’s claim. Ultimately, the veracity of either or both Aunt Molly’s and Al Lannon’s T-Bone Slim encounters may never be known, it could be impossible to prove whether these stories are completely true, completely fabricated, or partially true and partially fabricated.

In part 3 of the series I will discuss archival recordings of “Crossbones Scully,” the relationship between Aunt Molly Jackson and the folklorists who studied her, and release a new video of the song filmed in studio during production of my forthcoming T-Bone Slim album, Resurrection.

Archival References:

Archie Green Collection at UNC Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Collection (SFC)

Book References:

Author Unknown. (1942). The Kentucky Miners Struggle. New York City, New York: American Civil Liberties Union.

Bailey, Bill. (1993). The Kid from Hoboken: An Autobiography. San Francisco, California: Circus Lithographic Press.

Lannon, Albert. (1999). Second String Red. Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania: Lexington Books.

Romalis, Shelly. (1999). Pistol Packin’ Mama. Champaign, Illinois: Univeristy of Illinois Press.

Journal References:

Collett, Dexter. (2006). “The Musicians of the Mine Wars.” Appalachian Heritage 34 (2): 72–81.

Wilgus, D. K. (1961). “Aunt Molly Jackson Memorial Issue.” Kentucky Folklore Record 7 (4): 129–176.

Website References:

Raye, Janet. (2020). “Hellraisers Journal: Company Gunthugs Beat Up and Shoot Down Union Coal Miners in Harlan County, Kentucky”. Hellraisers Journal. May 14, 2020.

Soodalter, Ron. (2016). “The Price of Coal Part II”. Kentucky Monthly. October 31, 2016.

At the Crossroads of Art & Research T-Bone Slim

The Mystery of “Crossbones Scully”

Author: John Westmoreland

Aunt Molly Jackson & T-Bone Slim:
At the Crossroads of Art & Research

Part 1: The Mystery of “Crossbones Scully”

Black & white image of Aunt Molly Jackson. She wears a hat and a shirt that has small square pattern.
Fig. 1.  Photo of Aunt Molly Jackson from her Lomax Kentucky Recordings Artist Page. Unknown Photographer.

“Who can rescue Molly’s ‘Crossbones Scully’ from obscurity? Who will pose fresh questions about its meaning to present day guardians of radical tradition?… In my view, the hidden story behind Aunt Molly‘s ‘Crossbones Scully’ is more intriguing than the narrative of a poor sailor robbing a rich geezer.” —Folklorist Archie Green (Archie Green Collection, SFC)

My role as a musician, independent researcher, and relative of T-Bone Slim places me at a unique crossroads of art, research, and family history. With that perspective in mind, in this three-part blog series, “Aunt Molly Jackson & T-Bone Slim, at the Crossroads of Art & Research,” I share my thoughts on the origins of a mysterious folk song, the fascinating woman who wrote it, the relationship between folklorist and informant, and how this research relates to T-Bone Slim. Stay tuned for a new recording and video release at the end of Part 3.

The song “Crossbones Scully” was composed by Kentucky folksinger and union activist, Aunt Molly Jackson (1881–1960), who became a forceful advocate for the plight of impoverished coal miners and their families in Eastern Kentucky during the 1930’s. Folk music icons such as Pete Seeger have credited her as a major influence (Romalis 1999, 101), and Woody Guthrie once wrote that she was the “best ballad singer in the whole country.” (Guthrie 1967, 139)

The title of Aunt Molly’s aforementioned song may to some readers bear a resemblance to the nom de plume of Matti V. Huhta—T-Bone Slim— the illustrious hobo, songwriter, poet, and IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) columnist. In fact the first publication of “Crossbones Scully” in print comes from folklorist John Greenway’s chapter on Aunt Molly for his 1953 anthology, American Folk Songs of Protest, which lists the title simply as “T-Bone Slim” (Greenway 1953, 264). A spoken word introduction Aunt Molly recited to Greenway during an interview in 1951 precedes the lyrics.

Text. The quote from this book page is mostly written in the blog text.
Fig. 2. Page 264, American Folk Songs of Protest.

“This is the story of T-Bone slim. He told me how he got put in jail for a year and a day. He said he had tried to get a job for two months, and had been picked up as a vagrant different times till he had become desperate. He had not eat a bite in two days, he said, and it had been 10 weeks since he had lain in a bed. He was so cold and hungry he said he was desperate. When he saw this old ‘big shot,’ as he called him, he just knocked the big shot down, and took his suit of clothes, watch, money and all. Just as he was taking off the old man’s shoes he saw some men coming and he ran off with the fine suit on and a high top hat, and when they saw him with his old rags and shoes and that high silk hat and that fine suit of clothes, they grabbed him and pulled him before the judge. He said when they turned him out and he did not have a cent and he could not get a job for food and rent. He said he did not want to steal and rob; he said he began to wonder how he could find a job. He said he was almost out of his mind when he went down on the waterfront and joined the seamen’s picket line. I was leading the picket line and I met him there. In the Seamen’s union hall he told me this story. I remembered it all, and a few days later I composed this song. Old T-Bone Slim got sunk in a ship when World War II come along. He was a good union seamen, but he is dead and gone.”—Aunt Molly Jackson (Greenway 1953, 264)

The Story of T-Bone Slim?

While Aunt Molly Jackson’s introduction clearly indicates that her song is indeed about T-Bone Slim, it may be helpful to take a step back and consider a broader perspective of the song, the folksinger who composed it, as well as the folklorists who collected and studied Aunt Molly’s life and compositions.

“Let me confess that I can’t get this song out of my mind. All the forces that pushed me to ballad scholarship in the 1950s have converged again. Molly’s maritime song has become a metaphor for the questions I neglected to ask in visits with her.”—Archie Green (Letter to Shelly Romalis April 21st, 1992, Archie Green Collection, SFC)

In her introduction to “Crossbones Scully,” Aunt Molly is speaking in verse. In a sense it’s as if she’s already singing the song, and as such may be favoring musicality and rhyme over dry facts. In my view this versification adds an enigmatic and mysterious air to the narrative she describes. But to state it as plainly as possible, in “Crossbones Scully” we have the story of a desperate out of work sailor, cold and hungry, who comes across some wealthy old “big shot,” knocks him down, robs him, and as a result gets thrown in jail for a year and a day. Upon his release the sailor is still desperate and contemplates that out of necessity he may have to repeat his crime. Ultimately, the unlikely hero goes down to the waterfront and joins the seamen’s picket line which Aunt Molly is leading. The sailor recounts his story to her at the seamen’s union hall and she composes a song out of it. Aunt Molly concludes her introduction stating “Old T-Bone Slim got sunk in a ship when World War II come along. He was a good union seamen, but he is dead and gone.” As Franklin Rosemont pointed out in the biographical introduction of his anthology Juice is Stranger Than Friction: Selected Writings of T-Bone Slim (1993), it’s factually inaccurate to say that T-Bone Slim’s ship was sunk during World War II. Rather, he fell, was murdered, or jumped off, and the boat itself—a scow—was certainly not sunk. That being said, in a more poetic sense, could it be—as Rosemont considers a possibility—that Aunt Molly is tying T-Bone Slim’s demise to the US entry into World War II?

Fellow researcher Dr. Saku Pinta noted in his blogposts, Who Killed T-Bone Slim Part I & Part II, that the last published article of T-bone Slim’s career appeared in the Industrial Worker on April 4th, 1942. Within that article references are made to the blackout drills which had begun to take place in New York at the end of 1941.

“To say the least, blackout is a promise, a prophecy, foreboding eternal darkness.”

“When New York City is bombed, say May 10-20, you may be sure I will not run.”

T-Bone Slim’s body was found floating in the East River at Pier 9 in Manhattan on May 15th. The question arises, is it a coincidence that T-Bone Slim’s final article speaks of “prophecy,” “foreboding eternal darkness,” and a bombing between May 10th–20th which happens to coincide with the time frame of his own death? Is it possible that in a veiled manner T-Bone is ominously predicting the end of his own life? Dr. Pinta’s blogposts offer thoughts and reflections on the matter including consideration of the possibility that T-Bone Slim’s death could have been connected to the US intelligence collaboration with organized crime on the waterfront of New York City, ”Project Underworld,” which began in the spring of 1942. Bearing this additional information in mind, I do wonder whether Aunt Molly’s account of T-Bone Slim’s ship being sunk “when World War II come along,” might be a metaphor implying he was murdered and that somehow his death was related to the onset of US involvement in WWII. Of course, another possibility is that it’s simply a poetic way of mourning the loss of a sailor.

Despite Aunt Molly’s introduction to “Crossbones Scully” in John Greenway’s, American Folk Songs of Protest, another distinguished folklorist, Archie Green, has cast doubt on the idea that she ever truly met T-Bone Slim and wrote a song about him.

“I am uncertain whether Molly had actually met T-Bone Slim and heard him tell a story about going to jail after robbing a big shot, or had read such an account in either an IWW or CP (Communist Party) publication, or had heard the anecdote from a third person.“—Archie Green (Archie Green Collection, SFC)

In Part 2 of this three-part series I will explore the background and biography of Aunt Molly Jackson, her ideological affiliation, as well as the divisive relationship which existed between the IWW and the Communist Party USA.

Archival References:

Archie Green Collection at UNC Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Collection (SFC)

Book References:

Greenway, John. (1953). American Folk Songs of Protest. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Guthrie, Woody. (1967). Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Romalis, Shelly. (1999). Pistol Packin’ Mama. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Rosemont, Franklin. (1993). Juice is Stranger Than Friction: Selected Writings of T-Bone Slim. Chicago, Illinois: Charles H. Kerr Publishing.

Events T-Bone Slim

Music, Research, and Activism Conference 2023

Authors: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, Marija Dalbello, Lotta Leiwo, Saku Pinta and John Westmoreland

Music, Research, and Activism Conference 2023

T-Bone Slim project’s researchers Kirsti Salmi-Niklander (PI), Lotta Leiwo (research assistant), Saku Pinta, Marija Dalbello and musician John Wesmoreland held a T-Bone Slim themed roundtable at Music, Research, and Activism Conference on 11 May 2023. The conference brought together researchers and practitioners engaged in activism and knowledge production around music. This short conference report is combined from the roundtable abstracts.

Our project’s roundtable “T-Bone Slim – a songwriter, an activist and a hobo” was chaired by Saijaleena Rantanen who first introduced the project and T-Bone Slim’s life to the hybrid audience. In the first presentation, PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and research assistant Lotta Leiwo discussed about music and poetry in Ashtabula and Erie during T-Bone Slim’s childhood and youth. Their analysis focuses in the Finnish-language books and newspapers published in Ashtabula in the late 19th century, preserved in the National Library of Finland. These fragmentary materials provide some new perspectives to the transnational influences of T-Bone Slim’s poetry. For example, he uses religious satire but also seems to compare himself to the Christ that was often called “Jerusalem Slim” in IWW context. Christ was considered as the first radical and religion had just misinterpreted his message. Salmi-Niklander have observed radical re-evaluations of Christ’s life also in Finnish working-class writing during the same period. Religion is an interesting perspective to Slim’s texts when we know his connection to religious temperance movement – a fact that has been discovered in this project. Furthermore, both Finnish and transnational cultural influences can be observed in T-Bone Slim’s writing: these include the use oral and hybrid genres (proverbs, wellerisms, riddles, rhymes), neologisms and language-twists.

Saku Pinta has observed apologies in the Finnish-language translations of T-Bone Slim’s texts in the Finnish-language IWW daily newspaper Industrialisti. Pinta spoke in his presentation about T-Bone Slim’s forgotten contemporaries and colleagues in the IWW Movement. In his presentation “The Mysteries of Other Popular Wobblies”, Saku Pinta first gave an overall context of the music and culture of the IWW with reference to two of T-Bone Slim’s lesser-known contemporaries: the Finnish American songwriter and poet George Blad and Canadian songwriter and humourist Pork Chop Slim. Pinta explored themes of anonymity, class, and cultures of resistance within the many worlds that T-Bone Slim inhabited.

The working-class poets who wrote about incarceration or migratory life often intended their poetry to be sung to familiar Christian tunes or known popular melodies. Focusing on the period of the late 1910s and early 1920s, Marija Dalbello discussed several narrative poems and ballad-like compositions and presented a preliminary analysis of ”The Rebel Worker group poets” who were active in the late 1910s and early 1920s. They were associated with Leland Sanford Chumley, an IWW activist and editor/business manager of The Rebel Worker, a New-York based bi-weekly newspaper. For example, “My Wandering Boy” is a poem about a jailed migrant worker (‘wandering boy’) intended for public recitation. “We’ll Be There” is a Lew Maisel poem to be sung to the “tune” of T-bone Slim’s “They go wild, simply wild, over me” (itself a parody of a popular 1917 song). Whether performed in barrooms, ballrooms, protests, or jail, these forms reveal a sensibility that Jacques Rancière identifies in the working-class emancipation of the body.

Lastly, musician, researcher, and great grandnephew of T-Bone Slim, John Westmoreland, performed new renditions of some of his Finnish American relative’s published and unpublished songs and poems. Brief reflections and commentary was given between the musical performances as well as an introduction consisting of T-Bone Slim’s own words as printed in his April, 5th 1924 column in the Industrial Worker “Mostly Song”:

“Now, it happens that I have written a few songs —a few songs as rotten as the system itself —no more and no less —ROTTEN. And, I maintain that under proper conditions my songs would have been SWEET as the voicings of an unsuccessful candidate cooing under the protecting wings of the administration. And since this be so and since my songs can not be blamed for the conditions that are, I stand unsullied of any taint of responsibility for the terrible straits in which labor finds itself today and the singing of my songs can not make things any worse than they are.”

ALT: Smiling man standing with a guitar at a lecture hall’s speaker platform. Behind him is a screen of Zoom participants. Names of the participants are smudged. On the left is a bay window with blinds shut. On lower right corner is the project’s round “logo”, which is text “T-Bone Slim Project” in front of handwritten text.
Image: John Westmoreland performing “Mostly Song” at the Music, Research, and Activism Conference on 11 May 2023. Live video from conference dinner can be viewed on YouTube.

For us, Music, Research, and Activism Conference was a “warm-up” for the upcoming T-Bone Seminar we are holding at Kälviä and Kokkola in August 18–19. This time, on MRA conference most of us met online as we usually do every month when we have our project meeting, but in August we finally meet in person here in Finland.

In the seminar, we will give longer presentations on the topics we have been researching during the project but also offer a lot of very interesting cultural programme with art, music and storytelling. The seminar programme will be hybrid so one can follow the presentations via Zoom as well as in person. Cultural programme is available only on site at Jokikylätalo at Kälviä on 18 August and at Kahvila Saha at Kokkola on 19 August. The programme will be published on June 1 on our website’s event page. On that date, the registration for the seminar opens as well. We hope to meet you there!

T-Bone Slim Uncategorized

Technocracy and T-Bone Slim’s Break with Ralph Chaplin

Author: Owen Clayton

Technocracy and T-Bone Slim’s Break with Ralph Chaplin

One of many mysteries in T-Bone Slim Studies is why he did not publish any new material for two and a half years, between Oct 1933 and April 1936.[1] However, in recent research trips to the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan and the IWW Collection at Wayne State’s Walter P. Reuther Library, I think I have found the answer.

There is no central location of T-Bone Slim’s writings, scattered as they are in several different libraries and special collections. His complete works have never been collected and published. Indeed, such an undertaking would be very difficult since, as the T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America project has uncovered, the total number of his published pieces is over 1000. Getting an overview of his work is challenging, but the large number of articles he wrote also leads to a mystery of why he did not seem to publish any original material between Oct 1933 and April 1936.

The reason is that he had a personal and political falling out with Ralph Chaplin, the then-editor of Industrial Worker. Author of the famous song ‘Solidarity Forever’, as well someone who had gone to jail during the years of repression during and immediately after WWI, Chaplin was something of a literary giant not just for the Wobblies but on the American Left in general. He was a ‘Great Man’ within a movement that did not believe in Great Men.

Ralph Chaplin and Technocracy

Chaplin was also something of a political wanderer, someone whose politics shifted over time and meandered into some dark corners. By the early 1930s, he had become a devout follower of Technocracy, a movement that sought to replace political democracy with rule by experts, in particular scientists and engineers. In the US the Technocracy Movement was led by Howard Scott, and in Canada by, among others, Joshua Haldeman, Elon Musk’s grandfather (whose views shape Musk’s own projects in the 21st Century). In a Technocratic society, energy would be the default ‘currency’ (pun intended), with experts constantly monitoring how much energy individuals and organisations needed. In theory the amount of energy could be the same for all people, which made Technocracy appealing to some on the Left, like Chaplin. However, Technocracy’s status as an anti-capitalist or even ‘Left Wing’ movement was much contested, and today most scholars see it as a fascistic phenomenon.

Chaplin’s aim in taking over the editing of Industrial Worker was to make the paper more ‘professional’, which meant moving away from opinion pieces and towards more news coverage. Chaplin’s intention for this increased news coverage was, however, that it would be written from a hard-line party position, in effect making the paper less diverse and more propagandistic. His approach, which divided the IWW, meant that there would be less tolerance for the bizarre and sometimes politically-opaque writings of T-Bone Slim.

T-Bone Slim on Technocracy

In the period before Chaplin took over on 17th May 1932, Slim had been publishing regularly, sometimes having several pieces in a single issue. He wrote for the paper for 17 months during Chaplin’s editorship but tensions soon emerged. These tensions spilled out onto the pages of the Industrial Worker, but they did so in ways that were implicit rather than explicit. On 7th Feb 1933, Slim wrote an attack on ‘bosses’ and at the end sarcastically signed off as ‘T-bone Slim, Technocrat (Not connected with trust)’, the trust in question being Scott’s Technocracy Inc. If this was a dig at Chaplin, it was subtle. It is often difficult to work out the meaning of Slim’s sarcasm, but it does seem that tensions with his editor were rising.

For the 7th March 1933 issue, Chaplin seems to have requested pro-Technocracy articles from several of his writers, including Slim. While the other published pieces are straightforward peans to Technocracy, Slim’s article was different. He wrote: “it is almost unbelievable that an adding machine puts the essence of victory into Labors [sic] hands…along comes a set of mathematicians, impervious to all sentiment, and dissect the Industrial World in cold blood”. The quote drips with irony, even sarcasm, so that we might infer that it is indeed ‘unbelievable’ that Technocracy has solved the longstanding contradictions of capitalism. This kind of ironic prose was certainly not what the propagandistic Chaplin expected from his authors.

On the 4th April, Slim once again had technocracy in his sights, writing “A Technocrat is one who rubs elbows with work, is on speaking terms with it.” Given how derisive Wobblies were about managers who did not perform the work they expected from others, this is hardly a ringing endorsement! On the 4th July, he followed this up with: “Beware of practical men. They dream only of what can be, not of what should be.” While this quote is not definitely about Technocrats, I would argue that it is an attack on a movement led by ‘practical’ engineers and scientists such as Howard Scott.

Slim’s Fluctuating Writing Career

By October, Slim’s articles vanished. No other wobbly papers existed by this time and so he seems to have simply stopped publishing. A note held in the Reuther Library indicates that some writers who once appeared in the Industrial Worker were now staying away, as they no longer wished to appear in a paper edited by Ralph Chaplin. Slim seems to have been among this group. He does not appear in the paper again for two and a half years, notably returning within only three issues of Chaplin’s departure, once the Editorship had passed to Fred Thompson. His first article back, on 11th April 1936, attacks the concept of leadership, presumably with the ‘Great Man’ Chaplin in mind, and, once again, critiques those whom he calls ‘practical men’. By now the Wobblies had turned away from Technocracy and, over time, would come to see Chaplin as a troubling, even Right Wing figure.

Slim’s handwritten notes held in the Newberry Library, it seems to me, mostly date from the period just discussed. Indeed, some of the material in those notes would appear in the paper during the late 1930s under Thompson, who claims to have been given a stack of Slim’s earlier writings, almost certainly the Newberry notebooks. As research continues, we are beginning to see how different archives build up a more complete picture of the fluctuations of Slim’s career.


[1] Slim had had publication gaps before, but this is by far the longest. Earlier gaps are often to do with illness or being away for work.

Archival "digs" T-Bone Slim


A sketch drawing of a woman (Marija Dalbello) with glasses standing behind a desk, holding a piece of paper in her hand. She is wearing a name sign band. On the table is an Apple laptop, two glasses and a bottle. Above the drawing is the text "MANIFESTO! Marija Dalbello 17.7.22". There is also text below the drawing. Some of the text is unreadable.
Sketchbook drawing by Louisa Preston.
AUTHOR: Marija Dalbello

From my Archival “Digs”

The Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) collection in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University documents the immigrant working class struggle from a century ago. Most of the documents are from the period between 1916 and 1922, the time of unrest and war, I.W.W.-led strikes, strikers’ imprisonment, and trials. This atmosphere was echoed through the letters, letter-poems, and some envelopes (yes, envelopes!) leading back to L.S. Chumley, a “wobbly” activist and editor of the Rebel Worker.

Through their transmission, the envelopes’ surfaces can accumulate information such as postal markings and inscriptions. They record interpersonal epistolary exchange. The envelopes are the skins that transmit the correspondents’ touch alongside the letters’ writing, folding, sealing; then tearing, cutting, un-folding them, and reading. In the envelopes, epistolary texts travel — enclosed, safe, and protected. They rarely survive in archival contexts to document transmission. So, when possible, I like to examine them as evidence. I found three such envelopes in my “dig” that carried an ‘excess’ of meaning, real and imagined.

The First Envelope: A Drawing 

On the face of my first archival envelope is a pencil drawing in the style of I.W.W. satirical cartoons that depicts a mail carrier, whistling “Toot Toot,” a sack-full of packages on his back, hand-delivering a letter addressed to “L.C. [sic] Chumley” at 1001 W. Madison St. in Chicago, Illinois. The sender is “The Can Opener Publishing Co., Apts. 25 & 41, CC Can, 440 No. Dearborn St., Chicago, Illinois” (Fig. 1). This ‘publishing company’ was in the Cook County jail, its punned name a sarcastic reference to the ‘can’ (jail) and anything that could be ‘canned.’ The drawing is signed by Raymond Corder. This illustration makes it possible to imagine what this emptied out envelope contained. It could have been used by the ‘canned’ Wobblies to send their writings to Chumley. In the satchel or the envelope arriving to Chumley’s door could be any of the Wobbly letters or poems found in this collection. It could have been the narrative poem “Bisbee” (dedicated to the I.W.W. organized miners’ strike and deportation of over 1,000 strikers, their families, and other citizens in July 1917) including this message to the editor by someone who self-identified by their prison cell and the I.W.W. card numbers:

Dear Sir
How about it, too raw?
I would like to see this little reminder in the Rebel Worker
I am up against it or I would write you a decent letter
Yours truly
Card 575210 No. 300.

Color photo of white envelope. Left upper corner is an ornamental sending address, in the middle is the cartoon drawing with receiver’s address and red 2 cents US stamp in the right upper corner. Other details are explained in the text.
Fig. 1: Envelope addressed to L.S. Chumley, illustrated by Raymond Corder, ca. 1916-1917. Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to view it in full size.

Alternatively, the emissary could be delivering the vision of another working-class poet Richard Brazier titled “The Girl Across the Way,” which he wrote in jail in the “year of conspiracy, 1917” and sent it to Chumley. Or it could be the prose poem, with the opening: “On Land or Sea wherever you may be stearing [sic] the ship in the tempests breath or behind prison bars of freedom bereft you who gain riches regardless of danger … ,” and closing: “To fellowworker Chumley. If you have use for this [,] put in the Rebel Worker Wigand Allen.”

The Second Envelope: A ‘Defaced’ Container

Browsing on, I find the envelope from Underwood’s News Photo Service series, World Events in Pictures. A diagonally placed note in black and red alerts to its intended contents (stereographs): “Press Matter, For Editor.” In branded stationery, the envelopes may ‘own’ their content but scribbled on its face is another message. I find the words “Secret Prison Newspaper” in a collector’s or archivist’s hand (Fig. 2). Intended for delivery of stock photos, it doubles as a container for prison journalism. This envelope was meant to keep, not send or receive.

Color photo of brown envelope branded to “Underwood’s New Photo Service”. “First Class” in red capital letters and “Do Not Fold” in black capital letters in the middle. Other details are explained in the text.
Fig. 2: Underwood & Underwood envelope with inscription “Secret Prison Newspaper.” Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to view it in full size.
The Third Envelope: The Blast  

Found in the archival folder labeled “Various envelopes,” is one postmarked 1940 with instruction to be filed “with other documents of Blast & E. Goldman” that, surprisingly, contained a letter. The letter was signed by Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, dated August 15, 1916. (Fig. 3a-b).

Fig 3a: Color photo of brown envelope. Sender’s and reciever’s address’ are crossed out with red pen. Text “To be filed …” is written in red. Blue 14 cents US stamp in upper right corner with a post-office stamp stating “New York N.Y. Grand Central Annex, Jun 14, 1940, 12.36 pm.” Additional stamp with letters “G. C.”

Fig 3b. Color photo of the same brown envelope. A hand drawing the letter out. Letter has text image stating “The Blast” and typewriter written text.
Fig. 3a-b: Circular letter signed by Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, July 22, 1917. Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to view it in full size.

Hiding in this envelope was the appeal to save Berkman’s paper The Blast and informing the supporters of intimidation and raids suffered by the editorial staff and offices. This was written less than a month following the anarchist-suspected explosion in San Francisco on July 22, 1917, at a rally favoring the United States entering the war (IISH) and before the couple’s deportation on the “Red Ark” that left Ellis Island on December 21, 1919 (Minor 1919).

As archival materiality, envelopes are surfaces and containers. Like drawers or folders, they are anatomic structures epitomizing archival intimacy in which the researchers’ sensations attract micro-readings.



This is the second in the series of blogs From my Archival “Digs” that focus on archival stories. I relate to documents in the mode of “drifting” (Dalbello 2019) in order to present their histories but also the aesthetic emotions and sensations that characterize archival disclosures.



Dalbello, Marija. (2019). “Archaeological Sensations in the Archives of Migration and the Ellis Island Sensorium,” Archaeology and Information Research, a special issue of Information Research 24 (2), Accessed January 30, 2023.

Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Accessed January 30, 2023.

International Institute of Social History. (1917-1919). FBI File on Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman Archives, Accessed January 30, 2023.

Minor, Robert. (1919). Introduction to Deportation: Its Meaning and Menace.

Preston, Louisa. (2022). Sketch of Marija Dalbello presenting, “A Hauntological Manifesto for Book History,” at the panel Manifestos! co-organized with Beth Driscoll and Claire Squires, presented at annual meeting of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, Amsterdam, July 2022.

Strategic Factory. (2018). “8 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Envelopes,” Accessed January 30, 2023.

Archival "digs" T-Bone Slim

Finding Slim!

A sketch drawing of a woman (Marija Dalbello) with glasses standing behind a desk, holding a piece of paper in her hand. She is wearing a name sign band. On the table is an Apple laptop, two glasses and a bottle. Above the drawing is the text "MANIFESTO! Marija Dalbello 17.7.22". There is also text below the drawing. Some of the text is unreadable.
Sketchbook drawing by Louisa Preston.
AUTHOR: Marija Dalbello

From my Archival “Digs”
PART I: Finding Slim!

Entering the collection of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University documents the immigrant working class struggle from a century ago. Among the various pamphlets, prison manuscript newspapers, and correspondence, I found a small letter, written in careful semi-cursive, each letter separate, words distinct, and lines slightly apart and ventilated. The letter is signed by “T-bone Slim” (Fig. 1a and Fig. 1b).

This blog post gives the story of the letter and interprets its significance for this project.

Photo of a sheet of paper on a table with a handwritten letter signed by T-bone Slim
Fig. 1a: T-bone Slim letter to L. S. Chumley, February 13, 1922. Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to see it in full size.
Two pictures side by side. On the left is a transcript of the letter and photo on the right is a close-up of T-bone Slim’s handwritten letter.
Fig. 1b: Transcription and excerpt from T-bone Slim letter to L.S. Chumley, February 13, 1922. Industrial Workers of the World collection, 1916-1922, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York. Click the image to see it in full size or view transcribed text in pdf format.

The letter is dated February 1922 and is addressed to “Felloworker” [sic] L.S. Chumley I.W.W. in New York City. He signs off, “T-bone Slim” and offers an afterthought: “P.S. Am pulling out.” Is Matti Valentin Huhta referencing that he is leaving Minneapolis or rejecting the proposal by Leland Stanford Chumley to write? The opening refers to the accidental receipt of “your comm.” [communication]. “I happened to be here — may the Lord forgive me!” [“here” is underlined in the original]. We can imagine the letter writer on what could be a freezing day of February 1922 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We can only fill in the gaps as to what would be the “accidental communication” reaching Huhta — a written note, a message, or a rumor — which prompted him to respond. The abrupt “Am pulling out” leaves an opening, it cries for interpretation. This epistolary moment connects two fellow-workers, one of them in New York City and the other in Minnesota. They are in different moments of their activist engagement. At that time, Chumley had a long history of organizing restaurant and food workers and about to open his own establishment in New York City. On the other hand, Huhta had started writing for the I.W.W. newspapers. The figures of Slim and Chumley converge in the historical situation of which this letter is a trace.

The letter from Slim to Chumley is an important document for our project because it dates from the period when Huhta was emerging as the columnist for the English-language labor movement press. In 1921, he had started gaining visibility as a professional writer. According to the project database listing of his known documents and published writing (Kone foundation ProjectT-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America”), he wrote 46 columns for the English-language I.W.W. newspapers that year. This is also the first known professional letter from the beginning of his career as a writer, labor-movement poet, and newspaper columnist. (Apart from this we do have Huhta’s personal correspondence.) He was then 40 years old. So far this is the first hand-written document he signed by a pseudonym that he was to use for some of his writing. The February 1922 letter is preserved among the materials of the early I.W.W. archives at Columbia University because of its connection to Chumley correspondence.

Significantly, the letter self-references writing. Slim refers to his “literary-blossoms” in the form of “booklet material” (not yet columns in Solidarity, Industrial Worker, and Truth). In a half-joking tone that later epitomized his style, its writer projects a unique and singular voice. He is concerned with expressivity and affects projecting his moods. The evocative pseudonym “T-bone Slim” brings out half pictorialist, half etymological moment conveyed by the juicy “T -bone steak” that humorously conveys outrage and a program of social justice.

The steak could be contrasted with the “slim” existence of a migrant worker, possibly a figure of a starving artist, the life that Huhta himself may have experienced. At the same time, the lightness and joviality of the name resonates with the existential moment in the lives of the “starving labor” and food precarity — the trope of “hunger” that often organized the discourse of labor. The name became emblematic, recorded in the caricature accompanying his editorials (Fig. 2).

T-bone Slim's "logo": a cartoon image of a man with a horned head holding a t-bone steak. The man is wearing a tie and a suit jacket and vest
Fig. 2: “Matti Valentine Huhta” blog entry by John Westmoreland at:

Another actor in this epistolary moment and the recipient of the letter is Leland Stanford Chumley. His notes and correspondence relative to labor organizing is preserved in the same collection where I found the Slim letter from the time that marked a professional transition for both of them. Chumley was known as activist in the labor movement who raised awareness about the conditions of workers in the restaurant and other food industry in the 1910s and early 1920s (Rachleff 2005). Formerly organizer and “one-time stagecoach driver,” he opened a restaurant later known as Chumley’s in Greenwich Village in 1922, which remained a meeting place “for Wobs, other radicals and well-known writers and artists” (Rachleff 2005: 123; Saraniero 2020). Like many such museum-like sites in the palimpsest of New York City, Chumley’s remained a place of memory — erased by gentrification of neighborhoods, which locals fondly remember through their disappearance, when yet another New York “institution” of the “old school” gets turned into a boutique or residence. Chumley’s has not re-emerged from the New York covid lockdown in 2020. Ironically, the closing may call attention to an enduring precarity of the food industry and restaurant business.

A color photograph of a typical New York street with buildings built right next to each other. In the background is a terrace extending out onto the street. Traffic signs and small trees with no leaves alongside the sidewalk.
Fig. 3: Former Chumley’s location in Greenwich Village, 86 Bedford St., New York City. Photographed by Marija Dalbello.

The site of the historic venue remains – at the unmarked address at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village (Fig. 3), with signs on two entrances: “not Chumley’s” and “Froggy’s” (with a number for deliveries). This researcher lives and passes this site on her neighborhood walks, now enhanced by the discovery of its connection to Slim.


This is the first in the series of blogs From my Archival “Digs” that focus on archival stories. I relate to documents in the mode of “drifting” (Dalbello 2019) in order to present their histories but also the aesthetic emotions and sensations that characterize archival disclosures.



Dalbello, Marija. (2019). “Archaeological Sensations in the Archives of Migration and the Ellis Island Sensorium,” Archaeology and Information Research, a special issue of Information Research 24 (2), Accessed November 20, 2022.

Preston, Louisa. (2022). Sketchbook drawing of Marija Dalbello presenting, “A Hauntological Manifesto for Book History,” at the panel Manifestos! co-organized with Beth Driscoll and Claire Squires, presented at annual meeting of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, Amsterdam, July 2022.

Rachleff, Peter, editor. (2005). Starving Amidst Too Much and Other IWW Writings on the Food Industry. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr.

Saraniero, Nicole. (2020). “Greenwich Village Speakeasy Chumley’s Closes For Good,” Untapped New York, July 27, 2020, Accessed November 14, 2022.

John Westmoreland News T-Bone Slim

T-Bone Slim podcast

T-Bone Slim ja hankkeemme tutkijoita Tervetuloa, tervemenoa-podcastissa

(In English below)

Siirtolaisuusinstituutti tuottaa Tervetuloa, tervemenoa -nimistä podcastia, joka “kertoo Suomeen tulleiden ja Suomesta lähteneiden kiehtovia tarinoita ja selittää ilmiöt niiden takana”. Podcastin uusin jakso käsittelee T-Bone Slimiä, hänen aikansa poliittista ja historiallista kontekstia sekä IWW (International Workers of the World) -musiikkia ja runoja. Jaksossa esiintyvät hankkeemme tutkijat Saku Pinta ja Saijaleena Rantanen sekä taiteilija-tutkija John Westmoreland.

Vaikka jakso käsitteleekin aihetta myös laajemmassa historiallisessa kontekstissa ja peilailee aihetta myös nykypäivän aktivismiin, summaa tämä jakso hyvin ja selkeästi sitä kaikkea mitä olemme tässä Koneen säätiön rahoittamassa ‘T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’ -hankkeessa tutkineet. Samalla tulee esille, kuinka tärkeää laajempikin historiallisen ajanjakson ja aikaisemman tutkimuksen hahmottaminen on niin T-Bone Slimiä kuin nykypäivänkin aktivismin ilmiöitä tutkittaessa. Vaikka olemme varmasti hieman puolueellisia, suosittelemme lämpimästi kuuntelemaan! Podcastin lopussa summataan hyvin sitä, miksi T-Bone Slimin ja hänenkaltaisten historialliseen marginaaliin jääneiden yksittäisten ihmisten tutkiminen on merkityksellistä.

Kuuntele podcast alla olevasta soittimesta tai erillisestä linkistä täältä (avautuu uuteen välilehteen). Tervetuloa, tervemenoa -podcast löytyy myös useimmista ilmaisista podcast-sovelluksista sekä Spotifysta.

***In English***

T-Bone Slim and Our Researchers in  Tervetuloa, tervemenoa podcast

The Migration Institute of Finland produces a podcast called Tervetuloa, tervemenoa [Welcome, Farewell], which “tells the fascinating stories of those who have come to and left Finland and explains the phenomena behind them”. The latest episode of the podcast looks at T-Bone Slim, the political and historical context of his time, and IWW (International Workers of the World) music and poetry. The episode features our project researchers Saku Pinta and Saijaleena Rantanen and artist-researcher John Westmoreland.

Although the episode also deals with the topic in a broader historical context and mirrors the topic in contemporary activism, it sums up well and clearly everything we have been researching in this Kone Foundation funded project ‘T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’. At the same time, it shows how important it is to have a broader historical perspective and an outline of previous research when studying both T-Bone Slim and contemporary activist phenomena. While we are certainly a little biased, we highly recommend a listen! The end of the podcast sums up well why it is relevant to study T-Bone Slim and individuals like him who have been historically marginalized.

Listen to the podcast from the player above or from a separate link here (opens in a new tab). The Tervetuloa, tervemenoa podcast is also available on most free podcast apps and Spotify. The podcast is mainly in Finnish.

T-Bone Slim

T-Bone Slim’s Forgotten Finnish-Language Writings in the IWW Press

Author: Saku Pinta

T-Bone Slim’s Forgotten Finnish-Language Writings in the IWW Press

Many new discoveries have been uncovered as the T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America research project has progressed over the last ten months. These discoveries have helped to shed considerable light not only on Slim’s life but also on his relationship to the Finnish-language and to Finnish immigrant communities in North America.

Last month, for instance, project research assistant Lotta Leiwo announced the discovery of a Finnish-language text written by Slim in 1903, using the pseudonym Mathew Houghton, during his time as a participant in the Finnish immigrant temperance movement.

This discovery shows that Slim had a much higher level of Finnish-language fluency than previously assumed. Until very recently, Fred Thompson – formerly the editor of the Industrial Worker newspaper as well as an instructor and director of the Work People’s College, among his many other roles in the IWW – had been the main source of information on the topic of T-Bone Slim’s ability to communicate in the Finnish-language.

T-Bone Slim’s Finnish Writing: The Evidence

This comes from one little snippet from an interview conducted by Franklin Rosemont with Thompson – who personally knew Slim – which appeared in the introduction to Rosemont’s edited volume Juice is Stranger than Friction: Selected Writings of T-Bone Slim. In the interview, Thompson says “I doubt whether T-Bone was familiar enough in Finnish to be funny…though he could speak it.” As a non-Finnish speaker, Thompson could only modestly doubt, rather than completely rule out, Slim’s ability to communicate effectively enough in Finnish to be funny.

However, we now have compelling evidence that suggests that Slim wrote for the Finnish- language IWW press in the early 1920s. As many as three Finnish-language writings by T- Bone Slim have been uncovered, but there may be more. This blog post will focus on one of these texts – the earliest confirmed Finnish-language writing by T-Bone Slim, or at least the earliest one uncovered so far.

It is a short piece entitled “Joitakin Terveysopillisia Neuvoja” (Some Hygienics Advice) which appeared in the August 27, 1922 issue of the Duluth, Minnesota-based Finnish IWW newspaper Industrialisti.

The English-language translation is as follows:

Some Hygienics Advice
By T-Bone Slim

Exercise for fifteen minutes in the morning, and the same amount in the evening. Do it when the boss is watching.

Use as much oxygen as possible. Sit down and breathe deeply occasionally. Nobody will care about that – they will think you are sighing. [Note: in the original Slim says “happoa” or acid, instead of “happea” or oxygen. This may be a typo or it might be that Slim accidentally used the wrong Finnish word – albeit one that was similar to the intended word – which was then reproduced in the newspaper.]

Never unbutton after eating – buy looser fitting clothes. Sleep sixteen hours a day in an airy room.

Don’t try to lift too much. There are over 6,000,000 unemployed, who are very willing to “give a hand” and also – you can tear something.

Don’t eat hastily (A horse is given an hour and fifteen minutes to eat).

Don’t go to work early. “Organization in everything.” Your employer might soon say that you are showing too much affection for the workplace – which is “theirs.”

Read I.W.W. literature, in order to be able to say something.

T-Bone Slim’s Finnish Writing: Some Conclusions

How do we know that this is a text originally written in Finnish?

Again, no English-language version of this short piece has been found (although there is one text with similarities, which will be discussed below). Also, unlike most of the Finnish-language translations of Slim’s writings that appeared in Industrialisti in the 1920s, of which there are several examples, this one did not include the short introduction from the translator. These short intros by a translator would became standard feature, apologetically noting that much of Slim’s wordplay is nearly impossible to render into Finnish from English, and has thus been lost in translation. Finally, the possible accidental use of the word “happoa” instead of “happea” as well as the use of a fairly well-known, old Finnish idiom in quotation marks also suggest that this was originally written in Finnish. The idiom in question is “Järjestelmällisyyttä kaikessa”, translated above as “Organization in everything,” which could also be rendered in English as “systemitization in everything” or “be methodical in everything”.

Those familiar with T-Bone Slim’s writings will notice similarities between “Some Hygienics Advice” and “Recipes for Health,” published about a year later in 1923 in the pamphlet Starving Amidst Too Much. Aside from being similarly structured as a series of eight, short pieces of advice for workers, these two pieces also discuss things like the importance of an airy room for sleeping as well as cautioning against being in a rush.

While Slim’s hygienics advice may have served as a kind of template or first draft of his “Recipes for Health,” there is a notable difference. “Some Hygienics Advice” uses humour and hyperbole to emphasize the fact that workers and bosses have different interests. The main lesson is that workers should not eagerly participate in their own exploitation. Rather, slowing down at work can, for example, serve to reclaim some dignity (even a horse is given more time to eat than a worker) or convince the boss to hire more people and thereby reduce unemployment (working faster, or working overtime, as the old union saying goes, is scabbing on the unemployed). “Recipes for Health”, by contrast, uses a much more serious and forthright tone throughout.

There is much more work to be done around Slim’s Finnish-language writings and the many questions that they raise. But one thing is certain: the satisfaction of uncovering these lost writings by T-Bone Slim is only matched by the satisfaction of making them available to a wider readership. We very much look forward to finding and sharing the next discovery.

News T-Bone Slim

T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps

Author: Lotta Leiwo

T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps

A lot has been going on in the past few months and our project has already done a lot this year. To celebrate the international foundation day last week, we wrote a summary of this year’s achievements so far on social media (read on Facebook or view on Twitter). Our blog has become a place where we share what we’ve been up to lately – sometimes even in almost real time. Our thoughts shared here are incomplete and unfinished as the aim is to share our project and process as we go. Our more evolved thoughts will be published in research articles later.

One of our main goals in this project is to create a T-Bone Slim database and staying true to our blog’s style, next I will give a short introduction to the T-Bone Slim database and how it is progressing at the moment. But first we need to explain why the database is needed.

The Challenge: Scattered Materials

Matti Valentinpoika Huhta wrote (or his texts were published) at least in ten publications, of which nine he wrote as T-Bone Slim. These nine are: Industrialisti, Industrial Pioneer, Industrial Solidarity, Industrial Worker, Little Red Song Book, One Big Union Monthly, Solidarity, Tie Vapauteen and Truth. The tenth publication that we have been able to find and verify, is Amerikan Sanomat that has been noted in this blog previously. In Amerikan Sanomat he wrote with a name Mathew Houghton, but he worked as the correspondent for “Tyyni” [Calm] Temperance society few years earlier by his own name. We haven’t yet been able to find his (possible) texts for “Tyyni” correspondence.

The challenge with finding the texts and information about T-Bone Slim is multifaceted. Because of the amount of publications he wrote for, the original materials are scattered around in several archives in North America and Finland. This is a common challenge with immigrant literature and publications and works as an example of another challenge embedded in these materials. It is sometimes hard to draw the line if they are Finnish or American or Canadian. Thus, immigrant, North American Finnish in other words, often fall in between “categories”.

Third challenge is his name. It was common for Finnish immigrants and their descendants change their name to fit in the North American society better. But in T-Bone Slim’s case we have more than one, two or three names. He used at least these names/ versions of his name:

  • Matti V. Huhta
  • Matti Leppihuhta
  • Mathias Valentinpoika Huhta
  • Matt Houghton
  • Mathew Houhghton
  • Matt Ahrlund (or Ahlund)
  • Joe Hilger (or Hilgor)
  • Valentin(e) Huhta
  • Matt Valentin(e)

This makes raking the numerous possible publications, often available only in physical or microfilm copy, slow. Which brings us back to the first challenge: the number of possible publications where his text might have been published.

Our researcher Marija Dalbello and her assistant Monica Genuardi prepared a census of IWW materials in the American and Canadian archives and libraries for the project. The result is 249 located IWW newspapers and other publications. Even though the language of the publications varies between 10 different languages (English=186, others=63), this gives us an impression of the viable publishing possibilities for an IWW writer writing in English and possibly in Finnish. Not to forget that many of T-Bone’s texts were translated in Finnish (mainly in Industrialisti) even though it is possible he wrote also in Finnish in IWW papers. This is a topic Saku Pinta is currently working on.

But this is not all the challenges we and all T-Bone Slim researchers face. There is also the contextual information and related research materials concerning T-Bone Slim and the historical time he lived in. For example the documents scattered in different archives about his death, newspaper articles about events regarding his family and information about his family history, to mention just a few.

To put it short: Finding T-Bone Slim’s texts and related sources is hard.

The Solution: T-Bone Slim Database

Recently, we have been collecting and combining our main research materials – T-Bone Slim’s texts – into one place to create a T-Bone Slim database from the archival materials and articles. This is one of the main goals in our project: To provide an open database for everyone to find information about T-Bone Slim and his texts to study them. We are currently researching and analyzing the texts to create this coherent corpus – The Database-to-be.

To give a tangible example what we are working on: We are currently creating an Excel document where we add all the texts (that we have found) with a date, publication, title and so on. After that, we categorize and add searchable tags to every individual published text based on topics central to our research but also to provide quantitative and qualitative data about the T-Bone Slim corpus we are creating. This means that after our work, we are able to tell how many of his texts were poems or songs or where he travelled (or said he travelled), what (own) illnesses he mentions and to who he refers to in his texts, to give just a few examples.

Currently, we are creating a small-scale crowdsourcing system among ourselves where the research assistant Lotta Leiwo manages the overall process, and our researchers contribute by analyzing the materials bit by bit based on tasks or “homework” they are given based on the phase of the process. First, we are experimenting this system by creating a manual or instructions for the topics and tags to be included in the database (the examples given above are almost certainly included). As we have approximately 1500 to 2000 texts to analyze, we need to be careful and consistent. The richness in this process is that we all come from different expertise, and some have studied these texts previously and others have more “fresher” eyes for the materials. Everyone’s contribution provides depth to the analyzing process. We feel very enthusiastic about this and even with all the challenges we feel that we are truly creating something important here.

In addition to collecting and analyzing the materials, there is also a lot of practical challenges to tackle such as where and how to maintain the materials so that it is easy to find for researchers but supported safely for years to come. A challenge all researchers and institutions pursuing towards open data need to consider: How open data actually can be and is maintained after our time? The work has just begun, but at the moment we are truly excited about this all and can’t wait to share more!

T-Bone Slim Uncategorized

Creosote Boxcars

Author: John Westmoreland

Creosote Boxcars

Since December 2017, when I first discovered that T-Bone Slim is my great granduncle, I’ve endeavored to learn as much as possible about his life and work. In my experience perhaps the best resources to accomplish this are the columns he authored for IWW periodicals, as well as the existing handwritten manuscripts housed at the Newberry Library and in my family’s archive. However, since the topics of T-Bone Slim’s writings are focused on contemporary events and issues of his day, and because he writes in a rather surrealistic and free flowing manner, understanding and contextualizing his work is not always an easy task—there are many references which could slip past a researcher. I’ve found that one useful way to gain insight into what T-Bone Slim is expressing is to take note of particular words or phrases found in his writings and to use internet keyword searches to find other content containing the same references. This tactic helps to elucidate T-Bone Slim’s perspective and often provides fascinating parallels to issues of importance in our society today. This blog post will be an investigation into one such word—“creosote.”

In the Franklin Rosemont – T-Bone Slim Research Collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago, there is an undated handwritten manuscript which can also be viewed via their online archive of T-Bone Slim papers, approximately 1934–1942 (pages 79, and 81). True to T-Bone’s characteristic elusive style, it is really up to the reader to decide exactly how much one believes he is making definitive claims here, or if the message should be taken to some degree in a tongue in cheek manner.

“Drouth seems to smell heavily of carbon monoxide, medicated gasoline, pickled railroads, perfumed-boxcars (hydro-chloric-creosote), treated-water and liquid chlorine. (Isn’t there a way to make them “let up” before they destroy the world and themselves with it?)—

In language fluent raw and terse
I’ll say the world is getting worse”

Image of a manuscript, text written with pencil. Text quoted in full on the blog text
T-Bone Slim writings, approximately 1934–42,Box: 1, Folder: 1-2. The Newberry Library – Modern Manuscripts, page 79/168.
Creosote in the 21st century

In an article from the Gothamist—a New York City online news, arts and entertainment outlet—published August 10th, 2011 residents of Queens, New York express concern over a nauseating smell emanating from the railroad tracks in Middle Village. According to one resident, “The odor is so bad it can choke a horse… You smell it for a while and you start to get woozy.”

T-Bone Slim in his manuscript describes a dark and “ill smelling fluid… which exudes fumes for six months, possibly years without recharging”. He states that this substance was used to line the interiors of boxcars, and that for the hobos traveling and sleeping in such cars, it amounted to a “death penalty” or at the very least an “accelerated dispatch to a haven of rest”.

“Death penalty seems rather a heavy punishment to lay on a man for sleeping in a box car. Such is the punishment however, the end slightly deferred. Here it might be argued the punishment is not a death penalty in so far as it lops off only the closing years of the slumberers life and might be classed as accelerated dispatch to a haven of rest. Be that as it may, here is how it is accomplished:

The cars are doped with an ill smelling fluid; with but few exceptions. We won’t go into the nature of the stuff, sufficient to say it makes the homeless one ill. We won’t go into the motives, which are many and all pointing in one direction; sufficient to say the evidence is in those cars, a dark shade, stain, which exudes fumes for six months, possibly years without recharging. Freight moved in those cars becomes as contaminated and the noble businessman and householder hasten to make their wills—noble martyrs to the cause of brainlessness!”

Image of a manuscript, text written with pencil. Two thirds of the text is quoted on the blog text.
T-Bone Slim writings, approximately 1934–42,Box: 1, Folder: 1-2. The Newberry Library – Modern Manuscripts, page 81/168.

What to do with “pickled” railroad ties?

Over the past couple decades aging creosote treated railroad ties have at times been burned in large scale incinerators and biomass energy plants in the United States to create electricity. Through this process railroad companies are able to grind down and dispose of tons of hazardous old ties which would otherwise have to be stored in industrial waste sites. This solution, however, elicits concern among some residents and environmental groups in the areas surrounding the energy plants which burn these creosote “pickled” railroad ties. For instance Flagpole, a local magazine in Athens GA published an online article from January 27th, 2020 featuring a video of members of the Madison Clean Power Coalition holding a protest against the burning of creosote treated railroad ties by the Colbert, GA Biomass Energy Plant over concerns that the smoke produced is toxic and poisoning the air.

Whatever one makes of the controversies related to creosote and its continued usage, it is certainly fascinating to see how issues which concerned T-Bone Slim 80 to 100 years ago are often still quite relevant and topical in our society today…