“I have the means to make myself deadly”

Demonstrably, one thing about the life of the electrical engineer Mark Anthony remains in historical memory. His dates of birth and death don’t seem to be accessible online, but during the years of his floruit, 1909-1911, he is known to history to have been experimenting in New York with what we would now call a radio-controlled drone bomber. About that the online record yields two reprinted newspaper articles. Says Anthony in one of them, from 1909,

This airship of mine
(“Airship to Cross Ocean”)

There are also two 1909 portraits in the Library of Congress’s George Grantham Bain Collection, an archive of news agency photographs. One is captioned “Anthony at transformer,” and it shows a standing man, presumably Anthony, looking down at a table upon which rests a transformer. By analogy with “at bat” or “at the wheel,” the phrase “at transformer” is a dramatis persona in a scene of power and mastery.

The other portrait . . .

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Dark but with a rubbery sheen, the rope-bound object in the background may be what the newspaper article calls “a balloon 22 feet long, with a capacity of 600 cubic feet of gas.” Anthony’s right hand rests on what looks like a compressed-gas cylinder’s hose connection, and it seems to be holding the inflation tube of another balloon, tied off with string. The system looks ready for arming and flight, and the artist who memorialized the event for history bent his name to the masterful arc of the inventor’s shoulder.

A later article about radio control extinguishes the expectation. From Germany in 1911, it reports: “A somewhat similar invention was recently reported from New York, where Mark Anthony, a well-known electrical engineer, offered his device to the United States Government for $125,000. The offer was declined. . . ” But in what Cavafy might have called the days of 1909, an image inflated itself with curves bulging into more curves and then went tense and still, in a waiting phase, at the brink of a moment when the curves might merge, then soar free enclosed in straining rubber, then explode and cause to explode. The balloon, the hat, the nose, and the double beacon of the eyes behind their collimators: all these awaited the unbuttoning of what a poem written in 1911 was to call “My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, / My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.”

The unbuttoning didn’t take place in 1909, but the readiness was all. In 1912 Vaslav Nijinsky would fuck the nymph’s veil. Two years after that, the term “blow sky-high” would explode into aeronautical meaning.


Title: Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, chapter 4: “I have the means to make myself deadly, but that by itself, you understand, is absolutely nothing in the way of protection. What is effective is the belief those people have in my will to use the means. That’s their impression. It is absolute. Therefore I am deadly.” “Those people” are the police; “the means” is a bomb in the speaker’s breast pocket, with its detonator button in his hand. I visualize a hand looking like Mark Anthony’s.

The photographs: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014683108/
and http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014683107/. Detail restored with Photoshop, using the Topaz AI Clear plug-in.

The newspaper articles:

Cincinnati Enquirer 4 January 1909, page 6:

The_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Mon__Jan_4__1909 cut 2_


Literary Digest, vol. 43 (26 August 1911), pages 313-14:

Literary Digest combined

Hat: comparative immortality

1. Art

Early one April, Vaslav Nijinsky descended in New York. For his atterrisage he was costumed in a fuzzy coat and a furry hat.

A few days later, a New York Times reviewer wasn’t entirely pleased by Nijinsky’s appearance. However, he was prepared to make allowances for the deleterious influence of choreography.

2. On the other hand, real stuff

This judgment on Nijinsky’s suspect grace appeared in the newspaper just below another Russian item. That one began:

The list continued for several more inches. As it rolled down the page, it seemed to grow a voice and a music. The music was a song made of names, and it pulsed with their rhythm like a dancer.

3. Punchline

The year when Nijinsky danced one way and Princess Troubetzkoy danced another was 1916. Within a year from then, the choreography of the ballets russes was changed, onstage and off.

But this color picture from a century afterward depicts an exhibition of Nikolai Roerich’s costumes for a dance that Nijinsky choreographed in 1913: The Rite of Spring.

A girl in a leotard is looking. She is still young, as Nijinsky in his deteriorating photograph is still young. Some hats, it turns out, come from a boutique where moth and rust do not corrupt. Immortal fur, let’s name you the Nijinsky.


The photograph of Nijinsky is in the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2005021382/. Photoshopped.

The New York Times articles are part of a single column published on April 16, 1916.

The photograph of the Roerich exhibit is at http://www.theritereturnsomaha.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/RoerichCostumes_Rite.jpg