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Reichenbach’s version of “September Morn” controversy definitely debunked
Status: Classic hoax debunked
Two days ago I noted that I had posted an account of the "September Morn" controversy in the hoaxipedia, and I also said that I had my doubts about the role the publicist Harry Reichenbach played in the controversy. Well, I did some more research, and I've now been able to confirm my doubts. Reichenbach was just spinning a wild yarn.

Some background: The story (according to Reichenbach) is that back in 1913 he was working at a New York City art dealer who was trying to sell 2000 copies of a little-known work of art that showed a young woman bathing in a lake. Reichenbach came up with the idea of staging a phony protest. He phoned up Anthony Comstock, head of New York's anti-vice league, and complained that the painting, which was hanging in the window of the store, was indecent. Comstock stormed down to the store, saw a large group of boys gathered outside the store, gawking at the painting, and almost blew his top. He didn't know the boys had been secretly paid by Reichenbach to stand there. Comstock ordered the picture removed and charged the store owner with indecency. The resulting controversy made the picture famous and caused millions of copies of it to be sold throughout the nation.

It's a great anecdote about how a clever marketer got the better of Comstock, who was a self-righteous moral crusader (and thus a perfect comedic foil for Reichenbach's tale). The story is regularly repeated in newspapers, and for years it's been a staple in books about hoaxes. In fact some author called Alex Boese included it in the book version of The Museum of Hoaxes (Dutton, 2002).

Well, Boese evidently didn't do his homework, because some quick digging through newspapers from 1913 would quickly have revealed a major flaw in Reichenbach's story: The September Morn controversy didn't start in New York. It started in Chicago. Comstock did threaten a New York art dealer who displayed the painting in his window, but only two months after Chicago authorities had prosecuted a Chicago art dealer for doing the same thing. It was the Chicago case that made September Morn famous, not the New York one.

At best Reichenbach can claim that he jumped on the bandwagon after the controversy was well underway. But my guess is that Reichenbach simply invented his role in the controversy out of whole cloth.

You can read my entire description of the controversy in the hoaxipedia.
Categories: Advertising, Art, History
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 07, 2007
Comments (7)
More from the Hoax Museum Archives:
Alex, in the future you'll have to be mor careful about taking this guy Boese's word for something.

cheese
Posted by Big Gary  in  Vernon, Texas  on  Fri Sep 07, 2007  at  07:35 PM
all this controversy over a crappy Neil Diamond song... dag... btw, I agree, that Boese guy is outta control. Get the net
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Fri Sep 07, 2007  at  11:21 PM
In fact some author called Alex Boese included it in the book version of The Museum of Hoaxes (Dutton, 2002).

I think I may have been reading that the other day...
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Sat Sep 08, 2007  at  01:46 AM
Fascinating. I've always loved the story as Reichenbach tells it in his autobiography, Phantom Fame and now I find out it's bullshit.

Oh well, I should have known better than to believe a hoaxer/publicist in the first place.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sat Sep 08, 2007  at  05:25 AM
Yes, that Boese guy also did seem a little dodgy wink...

LOL Don't be too hard on yourself Alex! At least you've got the balls to admit you were wrong and to give us the actual truth!
Posted by Nettie  in  Perth, Western Australia  on  Sat Sep 08, 2007  at  05:59 AM
Hairy, isn't "crappy Neil Diamond song" a rather redundant expression?
Posted by Big Gary  in  Cracklin' Rosie, Texas  on  Sat Sep 08, 2007  at  06:45 PM
Man, I'm going to sue Boese! What if I went on who wants to be a millionare and that was a trivia question? Boese would have misled me! Shame shame.
Posted by Sakano  in  Ohio  on  Tue Sep 11, 2007  at  12:14 PM
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