8425 Monticello Ave.
April 17, 1940
I am inclosing a booklet that I thought might interest you. It concerns "Alcoholics
Anonymous," an informal group of ex-guzzlers that has grown up in several cities and
is spreading rapidly about the country.
The booklet does a good job of explaining the business, and I will not attempt to add much
to it except to tell you a little about the Chicago group, of which I am a member.
You know enough about my drinking career so I need not go into detail. Well, as you
probably observed while I was in Mpls (Minneapolis) last fall, I had not been
improving any as the years passed. Trying to beat liquor had me plenty worried, and more
so during the last couple of years. About a year ago, one of my Chicago friends, a
newspaper man who had been fired for drinking a couple of years ago, was hitting the
bottle harder than ever. He was doing a rapid tailspin toward the nut house or the
graveyard; he had his wife almost nuts trying to do something about it, and she had even
consulted me about trying to persuade him to go out to the Hines Vets Hospital (he was
cagey, thought it was a ruse to get him permanently confined.)
About that time, Bill tried to commit suicide; he felt he was all washed up. He swallowed
a terrific overdose of sedative late in the afternoon. His wife happened to come home
early from her office, found him unconscious, called the doctor and they dragged him back
from oblivion. That really was a bad shock to me; before that I had tried going on the
wagon for stretches, but you know how those things end upwith a bigger binge than
After Bill's unsuccessful attempt to die, he went on the wagon. I was skeptical as week
after week passed, expecting him to fall off with a terrific thud. But he didn't, and it
is a matter of record that he hasn't had a drink sincethat is eight months dry.
Meanwhile, I was drinkingperiodicallybrief stretches of aridity, then a few
weeks of really two-fisted tippling. Then Bill started working on me subtly. He told me a
little about a gang of guys, all of them alcoholics, who had quit drinking and had worked
up a little social life of their own to replace at least somewhat the free and easy
atmosphere of a barroom. It sounded good to me, but I was a bit skeptical and was shying
away a bit from anything that might savor of a WCTU setup. After about a month, he
persuaded Marie and I to attend an open house in Willmetteone of the group's
gatherings. We went and I was considerably amazed. I expected to find almost
anythinga bunch of screwballs, or long faced prematurely doddering old souses, a
forced and tense atmosphere. But instead, there were about thirty people, mostly around my
age, some a bit older. One poker game (nickel limit) was in session, several other card
gamesbridge, pinnochle, etc. And a good buffet lunch, plus gallons of coffee. We
didn't stay very long, but I did warm up to the drunks, and their fraus, and I had a
feeling (really of vast relief) that I was hooked.
That was New Year's eve, and I didn't take a drink though we went to two other parties
(one wet) afterward. But I made up for it a few days later; I went on a two day bender
that was a beautit seemed like a good one, because in the back of my head I couldn't
shake the thought that it probably was my last bout with he cheerful bottle.
As it later proved, that was it. I haven't had a drink since, and have little if any
desire to drink. A tremendous load off my mind, a feeling of ease, new confidence in my
future, and I am really enjoying life for the first time in years. Those damned drinking
nightmares are somewhere in the dim past.
Well, that's my story, and by God I'm sticking to it, you skeptical bastard.
Very seriously, Barry, I've found that this thing is the answer. The group here, which is
growing fast, was started little more than a year ago by an "alumnus" of the
Cleveland group (Earl T.). We have about fifty members. We have an open house once
a week, on Sunday, at one of the members homes (it is to be at our house this week;
wish you were herewe're going to feed em about a half ton of fresh shrimp, etc.);
gather for dinner at a downtown restaurant every Tuesday night, and afterward hold an
informal meeting. In our other spare time, all of us work on newcomers,
"prospects", some of them just out of sanitariums, others of whom have to be
hospitalized to shake off the jitters.
By its nature, we must adhere as much as possible to the anonymous
aspect of the group. We don't let it be generally known who belongs, where we meet, etc.
If we did we would be deluged with crackpots, reformers, mamas and wives who want us to
reform their darlings (and that doesn't work), etc. We merely try to pass the thing along
to other alcoholics who want to quit and have learned that it is all but impossible to do
The group here is an interesting cross section of the town. We have (as you might guess)
several newspaper men, among them the city editor of the town's best newspaper, a
nationally famous reporter, a newspaper art director, several salesmen, two city firemen,
a former city detective, a paperhanger, a lawyer, two doctors, a dentist, the heir to a
State St. store fortune (for who we hold little hope, as he hasn't a damned thing to
interest him besides drinking and no responsibility), etc. etc. etc., every last one of
them an alcoholic.
The surprising thing about it, the damn thing works. We have an amazingly small percentage
of slips; I would say that 90 percent of the guys who really want to quit are making the
grade, and the "medicine" is very pleasant. Last night, a major league baseball
star attended our group meeting; he is a member of the Cleveland group (Rollie H.).
Here's where you come inif you are interested. I am in
correspondence with four persons in Minneapolis, none of whom can handle his liquor and
who want to quit. They are interested in forming the nucleus of a Minneapolis group. They
are reading about it and soaking up in the fundamentals. In the next two or three weeks I
am planning to drive to Mpls, taking with me three or four other members of the group. We
plan to contact these people as soon as we get there, and then get them together. Our
mission will be merely to be as helpful as we cananswer questions, tell them how we
operated in Chicago, etc. The rest is up to them.
Write and tell me what you think of the plan. There is no catch in it, it costs nothing,
you incur no obligation, take no pledge.
I mentioned that the other Mpls guys are "reading about it." As the booklet I am
inclosing mentions, there is a book called Alcoholics Anonymous that tells the detailed
story of the grouphow it operates, how it started, its method, and the personal
stories of many of the first hundred members of the group. The book costs $3.50, and we
have them available here at that price; it is strictly a non-profit enterprise, and the
publishing of the book was underwritten by members of the New York group. If you can
scrape up the price, I would like you to order oneI can mail it from here. If you
can't spare the dough, I'll try to borrow one for you to read, though they are scarce and
much in demand.
I trust you will excuse what probably sounds like a long sales talk, but very naturally I
am filled up with it and I think it is too damned good to keep.
Marie and the kids are fine, though Marie is too damned busy to get enough sleep. She is
working, of course, and is mixed up in a lot of other activities.
I have been busy for a month completely redecorating our apartment, 5½ rooms, to make a
month's rent. It was a hell of a job, even though I had the supervision of an expert and
he loaned me all his equipment. Haven't got the garden plowed yet, but expect to get
started on planting next week.
Please keep this as confidential as you can, Barry; I don't mind any of my Mpls friends
knowing I am on the wagon, but the anonymous business is really necessary for the group as
far as names of persons in it is concerned.
My best to Corrine and the rest of the family, and to any of my friends you may meet.