The Charlotte News

Saturday, July 12, 1941


Site Ed. Note: Today's page again carries little on which we have not recently commented. The editorial column again bemoans the fact that Tuskegee had labeled what The News believed was a simple Gaston County interracial murder instead a lynching.

Installment 36 of Out of the Night finds Jan, after his grueling 101 days of torture, now in Nazi court, sentenced to ten years hard labor, as nine of his Comintern comrades are sentenced to death for their various roles in the 1922 attacks in Hamburg on storm troopers and Nazi youth. He begins his sentence dully confined to his cell, receives a visit one day from a former Comintern handler, now turned Nazi interrogator, who desires his report on Copenhagen for secret use by the Communists. Jan complies. Now back to court and another three years tacked to his sentence pursuant to Weimar laws. His labor confinement begins; his daily task is to provide three kilos of oakum, the hemp threads of old rope--used primarily for caulking ships, stopping leaks, and making bandages. Firelei writes often, buoys his spirits; then, suddenly in late 1934, the letters stop.

The butterfly's headlong crush against the stone walls bespeaks the universal yearning: You got to, got to, got to, got to set him free...

On this day, Josephus Daniels, without any particularly apparent prompting event, provided evidence of Nazi spy activities in Mexico to Mexican Foreign Minister Ezequiel Padilla (who we apologize for having sometimes referred to erroneously as Jose Padilla). This evidence pertained especially to Abwehr agents Georg Nicolaus, Friedrich Karl von Schleebrugge, and Paul Max Weber, and importuned Padilla to transmit the information to the proper authorities to effect their immediate arrest. As we have before indicated, the Mexican government, however, under newly elected President Avila Camacho, took no action until late February, 1942, then arresting 240 spies, of whom two were prosecuted as saboteurs, none convicted. (The chief Nazi saboteur for North America, at least through the summer of 1940, had stayed at the Geneve, the only hotel, according to Mary, acceptable to Cash among the four to which he and Mary retreated finally after leavng the apartment on the afternoon of July 1.) All of the 240 arrestees were deported safely back to Germany to live to see another day. Many spies already had fled like rats from a burning ship between July and November, after the June 28-29 New York arrests. The exact number present in Mexico on July 1 is not known. Whatever happened to the three Abwehr agents named by Daniels--agents over whom the inference naturally arches were likely connected with the death of Cash--is not known.

But wait, says the skeptic and believer in official stories, whose flesh and nerves crawl and jump palpably should anyone dare question the sacred verdict on such matters entered by corrupt governments in time of war: why would anyone dare say that Josephus Daniels's naming of three Nazi spies and asking for arrests, having never before or afterward done so during his eight-year tenure as Ambassador, and just 11 days after Cash complained of being followed by such within the last 24 hours of his life, have anything at all to do with Cash's death?

As mentioned before, an old friend of Cash at The News, John Daly, claimed that in an interview with Daniels before his death in 1948, Daniels stated his belief that there was more to Cash's death than had been reported in 1941. Apparently, however, this tantalizing statement, while confirmed again by Daly to Joseph Morrison in 1964, never went beyond Daniels's general speculation on the matter. Daniels did not, to our knowledge, ever directly mention the matter again in writing after his July 7 report to his family.

Morrison neverthless caved in to Mary, who worked Morrison mercilessly on the suicide theory, insisting in several letters that it was true, insisting that the Nazis were delusions--that she was there and knew. She railed periodically at the Cashes in these letters for their believing and spreading the myths of Nazi spies, as well as other matters she labeled mythical in the mid-60's, such as the tumor theory to which she herself had given life in order, she said, to make the elder Cashes feel better about the loss of their son.

We don't fault Mary on these points. But we do bring them up to explain her bias in the matter. She was stuck with her original 1941 account and obviously took it as implicitly defamatory either to her integrity and credibility or to her intelligence, maybe some of both, for anyone to question her perception of the events. She was there; they were not.

The problem, however, with Mary's claim of direct perception is that she was not there at Cash's death; she was not there during his prolonged absence during the day on June 30, again on the morning of July 1. Indeed, by her own admission, she was shocked at the discovery of his body and looked only once at it before looking away. Moreover, a man who had actually been confronted with Nazi agents who convinced him that unless in some way he cooperated with them, they were going to murder him or his wife or other more remotely located but accessible family members of whom they knew--a tactic documented to have been often used by this network of spies--, would likely have become quite as quickly agitated as Mary described him. And her earliest extant account, written in 1957, was a decade and a half old--regarding an event which was likely to be, in part at least, repressed at its occurrence and for a long time afterward. She had provided a contemporaneous report to the Mexican police, to which she refers in her letters to Morrison as being the best authority for buttressing her admittedly imperfect memory, but Morrison was never able to garner cooperation from the police on anything, and there is no such report in his UNC papers.

So, why did Daniels seek the arrests of these three particular spies at this particular time? History does not tell us. Why did Mary and Daniels together agree to tell Cash's parents that Cash's body had already been cremated when it hadn't? Why didn't the Mexican authorities obtain proper permission before the cremation, as the death certificate indicates they didn't? Again, there is no explanation offered, other than to the penultimate question: Mary's illogical claim that she did not want to endure a train ride with the corpse, illogical because undoubtedly the body could have been flown back to North Carolina.

And of course, where is the autopsy report?

To better try to understand Mary's perceptions, the reader should contemplate that which she provided to Morrison in November, 1966, as abstracted below, another document in which she set forth reminiscences of her general relationship with Cash, not about his death; titled "Recollections", Mary was contemplating seeking a publisher for it but never did, though some of that recounted wound up in Morrison's November, 1967 biography as well as in Bruce Clayton's February, 1991 biography. It is a subjective account which relates quite a bit more about Mary than Cash, but offers a fair amount of quick insight into Mary's point of view on life, at least by the mid-1960's.

To put this document, as well as the contemporaneous Red Clay Reader account of Cash's death, into proper perspective, Mary was by this time in her mid-60's, living alone in a small apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, once divorced, twice-widowed. She had emphysema and, by her own report, wheezed a lot.

Although she would live another 14 years, until September 6, 1980, life was beginning to slip away, and without much grace for her in the offing. She appears, understandably, to grasp for a little piece of the immortality granted Cash by scholars. But perhaps for a little more than her three years in his life and six months of marriage merit?

The table itself usually looked well when we sat down to it but the "dining" room was a real oddity. It had been my bedroom but except for the spool bed it had no identity as such. The bed was now down in our locker room and in its place was Cash's old typewriter desk with its rows of cigarette burns, but he seldom sat down to that. I did to some extent, making notes for a novel that interested him very much. In working for the FWP [Federal Writers' Project] on material to be considered for its publication These Our Lives, I had talked to a good many Poor Whites (and ow, in the circumstances, the ironicalness [sic] of that) and had become interested in the plain little churches that were the operations headquarters for so much flamboyant religion. I had spoken to some of the preachers, for the most part aware and earnest men willing to talk about the needs of their drab-lived people. Outsiders lumped them together under the name of Holy Rollers but they were in reality several small and different sects. I had seen people gobbling in hysteria in the strange spasm called "speaking in unknown tongues", and had seen some, even some who at least looked to be dying, being "healed" at the Gospel (?) Tabernacle by the laying on of hands by a jazzy ministerial couple reportedly schooled by Aimee Semple McPherson. Their name escapes me now but they were a big thing in Charlotte and, in the course of saying some curiously sensible things, they had given me the idea for the novel. Its protagonist was a boy-wonder of a healer, half-honest, half-convinced. Years back I had seen Billy Sunday close down even top-drawer Charlotte to the point where we were allowed no Saturday night dances at the country club for six weeks, to our teenage frustration. I had even found myself dumping all my money in Gypsy Smith's plate at a revival in Roanoke when I was at Hollins. Interest in mesmeric evangelism went all the way back to the age of about eleven when I found myself screeching "Saved by Grace!" at a still earlier Billy Sunday (?) tent meeting. On the basis of the sketches he had seen for the book I'd abandoned as unmarketable (Women's Ward), Cash believed I could write this novel. And although he'd had a stiff dose of dogmatic fundamentalism as a child (while I had gone to dull, sedate Episcopalian Sunday School and squirmed through the world's most insipid and unaffecting sermons) Cash's lurid indoctrinations had been many refined cuts above what was interesting me now, so I was doing most of the talking and Cash asking the questions.

He was also warmly enthusiastic about the idea for another novel I hoped I'd get around to, much later on, a story based on one block (where I'd lived to the advanced age of eight and never lost touch with) and its kinship to the main theme of Charlotte's growth from a small town with a sporting world, centered on a row of "sportin' houses" on 4th Street behind the Post Office, into a thriving preserve for racketeers and organized crime. (There's a chapter of it I'd still like to write.) The contrast between the daily headlines and Uncle Tom's hell-raising reminiscences had given me that idea. It was hard to put it away entirely until the faith healer had materialized because it bore on the changing South, and you know whose field that was...

Damn it all, there was more to Cash's wife than a "breezy and easy-going" old girl who was really very good for him from that angle. Breathe normally, mister. I appreciate the difficulty of reporting on a surviving widow who is to some extent, but not as much as you may have thought, wheezing over your shoulder. Further, I'm completely content with a description of me as breezy and easy-going but would swear on a stack of Christian Science Monitors that there was more to my beautiful character than that. If I can convince you that I was also intellectual, gracious and extremely rich, perhaps this information may somehow work itself into the book. It's not my life you're writing, of course, but, after I showed up, Cash was a different fellow. In that respect, I count...

Do you think this little incident disproves what I've been saying? My tall, Gothic table-model Philco was playing moony music and began on "My Wonderful One". Cash looked up smiling and remarked that it was the song that used to throw him because it always reminded him of Betsey [actually, Peggy Ann]. I had a thought, checked a giggle, and said "Which one reminds you of me, you big ape?" He cut his eye at me sideways and answered "A-Tisket, A-Tasket", as I had known he would because it was an inevitability. It was the one that reminded me of him. I'd had him listen to it (Ella Fitzgerald?) once when the announcer gave it out as his next record.

But there was not much radio music after Cash and his "music box" came into the house. His taste in music was conventional and I doubt that he had ever heard (in those simple dear days) anything written in a twelve-tone scale, and I wish I never had, but the only true light record he had was some Strauss waltzes. But the ones he played most, and are now the music that makes me think of him, were the Beethoven symphonies, particularly the Ninth, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, particularly the "Don Quixote", and Tchaikowsky's anything. He loved Mozart, which usually left me cold, and I loved Wagner which left him unmoved. I remember giving him the Fire Music and he retaliated by presenting me with "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (spelling?). Almost daily I did my house cleaning to Beethoven's Seventh, and to this day the great opening clangs electrify me. I think I told you how it frustrated him that I could whistle symphonic themes.

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