Spring Studio


Troubles in St. Thomas

1957 Trial

Ini 1957, the Virgin Islands Police launched a campaign against “undesirables”, and I was a prime target. First, I had spoken openly about my belief that laws against homosexuality should be overturned. Second, I was active in the civic life on the Island: a boy scout leader, on the board of the museum, organizing events at the library and owner of a prominent bookstore. Finally, people knew I occasionally had sex with men–sometimes natives, sometimes continentals.

In March of 1957 I was charged on four counts of sodomy and lewd and lascivious conduct. It was one of the low points of my life. Beyond the trauma of the trial, it was a great financial burden since I had to hire a lawyer. The incident also contributed to the death of a very close friend.

Cameron Clark, a prominent architect from Connecticut, and his wife Agnes had a home on St. Thomas, where I often spent time. One evening, soon after I had been charged, I was visiting when he received a phone call. Apparently it was some woman from the museum board raving about my arrest and demanding I be removed as a trustee. The exchange became quite heated as Clark vigorously defended me. Suddenly, Clark collapsed on the floor with a heart attack. I still feel a sense of responsibility for his death.

The small town politics of St. Thomas also meant my arrest served as a diversion from revelations regarding the sexual activities of several prominent officials on the island. The hypocrisy of this led me to write two public letters to the Virgin Island legislative assembly demanding an investigation of homosexuality on the island, so that laws against it be liberalized. In the second of two letters, I suggested a list of two dozen native islanders who I knew were gay. These letters caused quite a stir in the local press and may or may not have helped my case. Nonetheless, in October of that year all charges against me were dropped.

 Ralph Moolenaar

After this incident I managed to avoid being harassed by the authorities, but I was nearly caught up in an incident that triggered another call for crackdown on “deviates”. In January of 1963 I had a very attractive young man living with me named Ralph Moolenaar. He was in his early twenties and from a prominent family on the island. One night he came back to my house got into bed with me and asked, “If you stab a man will he die?” I told him, “It depends.” He then got up and left the house again.

Ralph was a volatile youth. He had pulled a knife on me once, although I don’t remember what triggered it. But that night apparently he had stabbed the Deputy Commissioner of Commerce, Sheldon Nulty, in the stomach with a bread knife. Nulty died the next morning, but not before identifying Moolenaar to the police as the perpetrator.
The rumor that circulated was that Moolenaar had caught Nulty with another man in his room and stabbed him in a rage of jealousy. The real tragedy was that Nulty might have been saved had the other people in the house taken him to the hospital immediately, but they thought it was only a minor wound and no-one wanted to get the police involved.

Of course, this led to a major scandal in the local press, and Governor Paiewonsky called for new legislation to stop the spread of “homosexual practices.” The police called in many of the more public queers and told them to get out of town.

After I learned what happened, my first thought was to get rid of any signs that Moolenaar had been living with me. For a while, I was extra careful going to bars, not picking up men as I otherwise might. Police would stand outside looking for “suspicious activities”. I remember seeing Moolenaar at a bar one evening while he was out on bail, and I avoided him, thinking it very indiscreet that he should be out like that.

Moolenaar’s family hired an excellent lawyer, who negotiated a conviction of manslaughter and a sentence of six years. The next time I saw him was sometime in the seventies in New York City. I was exiting the subway at Forty Second Street, and there he was in Times Square. We greeted each other briefly. He was well dressed and looked great. He was likely trying to prostitute himself. Ralph was a handsome guy, Dutch ancestry, tall, athletic. That was the last I saw of him.

Tram, Jean Marcellino, pastel\\
Tram, Bob Palevich, pastel

Police Report:
A Memoir Fragment for the Holiday Season

He was some mother's darling. He was some mother's son.
Once he was fair. Once he was young
And some mother rocked him, little darling to sleep,
But they left him to die like a tramp on the street.

"A Tramp on the Street," lyrics adapted by Grady and Hazel Cole, 1939, from a poem published in 1877 titled "Only a Tramp." (see postscript below)

Funny, in the bright afternoon sunlight the lines of the policeman’s face appeared incised into his flesh as though carved into pale, earth-colored clay, his face a sculpted mask. His eyes, two small dark points, focused on me. For a second I imagined that the flesh surrounding them was expanding into an immense barren landscape of hills and valleys -- monotone, dry and desolate.

I glanced down at his nametag. “CHAN,” it read.
As Officer Chan asked me questions, his partner exited the driver’s seat of their police car that he had just parked by the fire hydrant that is slightly forward of the last parking space on Forsyth Street’s southeast corner where Broome Street temporarily dead-ends. He stepped onto the sidewalk and positioned his body so that it closed the space between Officer Chan and the corner building.

A second police car drove up and parked illegally at the bend of the curve of Forsyth and Broome. Two officers got out, a woman who immediately leaned back on the car looking at me and slowly folded her arms with false nonchalance, and a man who took a sturdy stance stationing himself on the Broome Street sidewalk between the car and the corner building. In doing so, the two new arrivals made a complete semi-circular barrier that surrounded me and a homeless man who had asked me to help him. With the corner building to our backs, I felt imprisoned in a zone of deadly unfriendliness.

What had I got myself into? Why had two police cars shown up for a simple report of the theft of an ID, a bankcard, and a phone? Why were they surrounding us as though we were criminals?
“I own a business up the street at 293 Broome,” I said to Officer Chan. “This gentleman asked me to call the precinct so a report could be filed recording that his wallet and phone were stolen last night as he slept on a bench across the street in the park. The 5th precinct is too far away for him to walk with his unsteady leg. Would you please write up a report for him?”

The homeless man was small and short, probably of Irish descent. He leaned on a cane. Once he was a licensed plumber, he told me, and he had a grown daughter living somewhere near NYC.

Officer Chan said that he wanted to take him into the precinct to write the report. I argued and insisted that the cops write out a report on the spot. All of a sudden the homeless man said something flip. I immediately turned my face to him and said, “Don’t make jokes. This is serious. I am trying to help you. Don’t make it difficult,” all the while thinking to myself, “Oh, no, he could be one of those lost souls who want to provoke the cops into beating them up,” and all the while becoming panicked by the scenario unfolding. “Be careful.” I thought to myself. “These cops have guns.” My brain shifted into high alert, with an awareness that was not fear, but a distant cousin to fear.

I said firmly to Officer Chan, “You can’t take him to the precinct. I won't let him go with you. I know you don’t want to write up reports that make New York City look like a place full of crime, but this man needs a police report number in order to get replacements for his papers.”

After a brief exchange of words, one of the cops got a clip board out of the police car and began to question the homeless man and to write a report. It took about 20 minutes to get the information, and the task was done on the sidewalk in the daylight.

The report completed, the lady cop -- trim, tall, well-groomed, neatly costumed in NYC cop blue, cool, prime, fine, armed, and still leaning on the police car with her arms across her chest -- focused her eyes on me and asked with a touch of disdain in her voice, “Why are you helping him?”

Funny, I looked her square in the eyes and surprised myself as I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, “Because I am a Christian.” Then I added, “Last year I had a stroke and everyone helped me, so now I have to give back.”


The evolution of the lyrics of "A Tramp on the Street" and over ten recorded versions of the song, including those sung by Molly O'Day, Hank Williams, Joan Baez and the Staples Singers can be heard on "Joop’s Musical Flowers: original versions of famous songs and songs covered by famous people."


The 1877 lyrics:

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