Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Millers Return From Europe, 1928

When I took a look at the ship manifest for Henry and June’s return voyage to New York from France in 1928, I thought it would confirm two things at least: when they arrived back and where they lived at the time. Instead, I’m a bit confused. What follows is a post in which I try to work through this confusion and come to some conclusions. But this will no doubt raise more questions than provide answers.

In 1928, Henry Miller and his wife, June Mansfield, went to Europe for an extended stay. For Henry, it was his first time in Europe, first time in Paris. In future references, Miller would call this his “one year” in Europe [1]. However, there seems to be a generous rounding-up of numbers by Miller. By my estimation, the Millers left for Europe in July 1928 and, as the ship manifest indicates, returned in November 1928: a total of four months.

Just by comparing the Big Three biographies of Miller (Martin’s Always Merry And Bright; Dearborn’s Happiest Man Alive; Ferguson’s Henry Miller: A Life), I already see conflict: Martin says they left in April 1928 [2-149]. Dearborn, however, says July 1928 [3-114] (Ferguson says “summer” [4-164]). I side with Dearborn and Ferguson on this, for reasons I laid out in my posting about the Millers’ vacation in Quebec in 1928; the reason being that Dearborn establishes, from a letter to Emil Conason, that they were in Quebec in April, making a simultaneous ocean-crossing to Europe impossible.

More confusing are the accounts of the return of Henry and June to America. Ferguson says “early in 1929” [4-164]; Martin says “January of 1929” [2-160]; and Dearborn says “January 1929” [3-116]. Miller’s contemporary account would help clarify this fact. However, for someone who wrote so thoroughly about his own life, there is not much written about the first trip to Europe. Nexus ends as he’s about to depart. Nexus II (which had only ever been published in a small batch in French) was never completed, so it ends in mid-tour. The only letters that appear to cover this period were to Emil Conason, and that correspondence seems to be in a private collection (to which I have no access).

This poster of the S.S. Leviathan which Henry and June sailed on for their return to New York in 1928, is posted at, at which you'll find many real photographs of the ship.

Maybe they know something I don’t. Keep that in mind. But official documentation seems to state that Henry and June had in fact returned to New York on November 8, 1928.


This ship manifest originates from Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957: (National Archives Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls); Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- National Archives, Washington, D.C. It can be accessed on paid public record websites such as

Which brings me to the ship manifest. On November 2, 1928, the S.S. Leviathan departed from the port at Cherbourg with Henry and June Miller on board. The Leviathan was originally a German ship until the Americans got their hands on it during the war and made it their own. In 1923, it was launched into passenger service by the United States Line. Although Prohibition turned it into a dry Atlantic cruise, by the late 1920s, they permitted alcohol once US waters were cleared. [history at The Great Ocean Liners; Wikipedia; and Ocean Liners].

The bottles must have been locked up behind the bar as the S.S. Leviathan re-entered American waters, heading for New York City, where it arrived in port on November 8, 1928. They missed the federal election by two days: Herbert Hoover’s Republicans had been given the green light to take over America once Coolidge’s term ran out in March. But Henry and June’s two missing ballots would hardly have made a difference in native New Yorker Alfred E Smith's Democrat, anti-Prohibition campaign: Hoover was up on him by six million votes. (but who says they would have voted Democrat? Or voted at all? There’s a subject for debate.)

The ship manifest for the S.S. Leviathan clearly identifies Henry Miller, born December 26, 1891 in New York, and June Miller, born January 28, 1906, also in New York. It’s got to be them! And the date is November 8, 1928.

Here’s a mystery for which I have no answer or even clue. Henry and June’s address in the United States is listed as “116 Willoughby Ave., Brooklyn.” I know nothing about them ever having lived this address. I am guessing that it was a friend’s address—but I have no access to the 1928 Brooklyn city directory to see if I recognize the name.
UPDATE Oct.10/09: Thanks to Christopher Nesbit for locating Willoughby Avenue on the 1930 U.S. census: the tenant at 116 Willoughby Ave. is Abraham Elkus and family, including Jacob Frank and Rose Frank (the Elkus in-laws). Using this info, I think I've got a connection. Please see my following post about Miller and the Elkus family.

Before leaving for Europe, the Millers had been living in a furnished apartment on Clinton Avenue [2-149]. Mary Dearborn writes that their friends had “smoked them out of” that apartment [3-114]. There may be further detail somewhere (I can’t find one in Nexus), but I will venture that the financially-challenged Millers were probably without a permanent address in advance of their voyage across the Atlantic. Any New Yorkers out there willing to look up the 1928 Brooklyn directories to see whose couch they surfed upon, on Willoughby Avenue?

Dearborn writes that the Millers stayed briefly on Decatur before finding a place in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighbourhood [3-116]. Martin says they moved into an apartment at Fulton and Clinton upon their return [2-160]—my understanding is that they were living at 180 Clinton before Miller took off for Paris in 1930 [5]. Both Clinton and Willoughby appear to be in Fort Greene (or so my random Google search seems to suggest).

How’s that for inconclusive?

[1] See, for example, the chronology on the inside flap of Miller's My Life And Times: "Toured Europe for one year with June on money given to her by an admirer"; [2] Jay Martin's Always Merry And Bright: The Life of Henry Miller (1978); [3] Mary Dearborn's Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller (1991); [4] Robert Ferguson's Henry Miller: A Life (1991); [5] This is what I posted in my list of Miller's New York addresses (to 1930)...but at this moment, I can't remember where I got that information--which is why I've since been trying to annotate everything a lot more vigorously.


Anonymous Eric said...

Great work so far, RC!

This looks like another of your serious biographical forays...hope it leads somewhere good!

11:39 am  
Anonymous Daniel said...

Very nice work. One typo: "The ship manifest for the S.S. Leviathan clearly identifies Henry Miller, born December 26, 1981" should be 1891?.

12:44 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks Eric. And thank you Daniel--the typo has now been corrected

7:17 pm  
Anonymous Christopher Nesbit said...

Thanks for another great post, RC.

The manifest reads 116 Willoughby Ave, not Street, and it's the home of Abe Elkus and family. Makes a lot of sense but doesn't open any more doors.

RC: I emailed you the census form with the Elkus family on it.

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