(Copyright, estate of Gaillard Hunt)

City of Masterless Men

Washington in the 1930s

A slice-of-life novel in the manner of John Dos Passos


Gaillard Hunt

INTRODUCTION, by Gaillard T. Hunt

City of Masterless Men is a Washington novel, but not, as the title might suggest, about the Washington of senators and cabinet officers, the great and the self-important. It is about the Washington of a cab driver (Anderson) and a patent examiner (Peter Mann), two men who each in his own way is living through the Great Depression, one struggling to stay alive, the other flirting with communism, fearing fascism, despairing of capitalism, and having a roaring good time.

The author, my father Gaillard Hunt, was born in 1903. He attended MIT and then Colorado School of Mines. He spent much of the 1920s driving a cab in Washington, and wandering about America, confirming his nickname "Hobo." He got a job at the Patent Office, but soon he left it for Corning Glass Works in upstate New York. When Corning proved insufferable, he returned to Washington, begged for the patent examiner job back, and got it by signing a pledge he would not leave again. At the bottom of the Depression, he not only had a job but was pledged not to quit.

So Anderson and Peter Mann both represent experiences of the author, but he never was as desperately down-and-out as Anderson, and I am reasonably certain he never got as involved with the Communist Party as does Mann. Like Mann, he was too busy careening from speakeasy to speakeasy to be a good communist. Gus the cook, the burnt-out Wobbly, must be either a composite or an ideal. If he were a real person I would have heard more about him. As with most first novels, much else is crypto-autobiographical: Jane and Hilda are recognizable as my aunts, later Eleanor Hunt O'Donoghue and Mary Hunt Power. Ellen is recognizable as my mother, Pauline Ward Hunt. But in the last analysis, fiction is fiction.

Gaillard Hunt finished City of Masterless Men in 1943 on an upright Underwood manual typewriter. After the War at least one major publishing house expressed interest, but nothing came of that, and the author died an untimely death in 1949. The typescript yellowed in bureau drawers. In the 1970s my energetic wife, Susan Hunt, retyped the first half on an IBM electric. The age of Xerox enabled me to distribute copies to my relatives.

Now I have run the typescript through a scanner and character recognition software, into Word and HTML. This worked fairly well for the part typed on the IBM electric, rather poorly for the manual typescript. You will see random periods in the middle of sentences, commas where there should be periods, and other bizarre errors that only a machine could think up. Please read tolerantly. I have tried to keep most of the author's stylistic quirks, particularly those he took from John Dos Passos. I resisted the temptation to bowdlerize racial references. (Did you know that cabs were segregated in Washington then?)

The title comes from The Fall of the City, a 1937 radio play by Archibald MacLeish, directed by Orson Welles, in which the allegorical City falls to fascism. A prophetess warns that the "city of masterless men will take a master!"

She was not proven right in my father's lifetime, nor has she so far been entirely right in mine. And she won't be, as long as Anderson, Peter Mann, and Gus the cook are around when we need them.

Washington, D.C.

April 2003


Chapters 1-2 1931. The Capitol at night. Anderson wakes up in a mission,later lands a job washing dishes.

Chapters 3-6 Morning in the Mann household. At Union Station, Ellen arrives in Washington on the Southerner.

Chapters 7-9 Anderson has a tooth pulled. Peter Mann and his sister Jane visit a speakeasy behind the Mayflower Hotel. Peter visits a Hunger March meeting at the Washington Auditorium.

Chapters 10-11 Back at the speakeasy. Peter and his sisters and some of their admirers wander up to St. Matthew's Court, the alley behind the cathedral. Peter drives to Bladensburg for a poker game.

Chapters 12-14 A Hunger March at Lafayette Square. Peter plans to get his job back at the Patent Office.

Chapters 15-16 Peter is back at work as a patent examiner, already thoroughly bored.

Chapters 17-19 Anderson is getting himself cleaned up.

Chapters 20-21 The Manns drink mint juleps, argue with some unreconstructed southerners. Peter meets Ellen. They drive beyond Laurel, Maryland, to visit a bootlegger.

Chapters 22-25 1932. Peter and Ellen watch MacArthur ride down the Bonus Marchers. Anderson plays the numbers. Gus the cook explains why he shouldn't. Peter and Payton discuss women.

Chapters 26-27 Peter writes an essay on the psychological effects of the Depression, ironically titled, "You're lucky to have a job." Peter and Ellen see "Three's a Crowd" at the National Theatre, go to O'Donnells Restaurant, advance their relationship a bit.

Chapters 28-30 1933. Peter is invited to a Communist Party cell meeting. Peter's Marine Reserve unit helps inaugurate Roosevelt. Banks close. Peter and Ellen decide to marry.

Chapters 31-32 Anderson's number hits, he buys a cab. Hitler takes power.

Chapters 33-35 Peter interrupts his Party work long enough to watch the first legal beer roll out of Abner Drury's brewery.

Chapters 35A-35B Peter goes to an NRA code hearing. Anderson keeps a log for a long day of hacking.

Chapters 36-37 1936. Anderson, Peter, and Gus the cook come together in an all-night joint, discuss politics, the Depression, being on the bum. Peter narrowly escapes a fatal accident on Klingle Road, Payton is killed.

Chapters 38-40 1939. Peter watches the Dies Committee, talks on the Capitol grounds with some of his former colleagues from the Party. They insist the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact will guarantee peace in Europe. Peter is thoroughly disgusted.