SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Lincoln Avenue home of Saratoga Springs native Frank Sullivan will be designated a national literary landmark and his writings selected as the focus for the SaratogaReads! community-wide reading and discussion initiative in 2017.
Affectionately known as the “Sage of Saratoga,” Sullivan was born in 1892 and graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1910. After graduating from Cornell University and serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War 1, Sullivan relocated to New York City where he worked as a journalist and contributor to the New York World and The Saturday Evening Post. As a humorist, his annual Christmas poems and articles appeared in The New Yorker magazine for a half-century.
“He was a great wit and he was part of the Algonquin Round Table,” said William Kennedy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author known for his “Albany Cycle” of novels. “He started off a newspaper man like I did and he wound up working for the New York World. He loved The World. That was a newspaper that produced guys like Heywood Broun and Franklin P. Adams and its editor was Herbert Bayard Swope.”
Swope played a key role in launching Sullivan’s life work as a humorist, rather than in hard news. Early in his career, Sullivan had “scooped” the rest of the New York media by reporting the death of a popular society woman. As it turned out, the woman was not dead after all. “You’re too emotional for the news columns,” Swope supposedly told Sullivan. “From now on, you’re writing funny stuff exclusively.”
“It was a great newspaper and when it died in 1931, he was devastated by it,” Kennedy said. “He wrote a piece about it called ‘Thoughts Before the Undertaker Came,’ and he closed out by saying, ‘When I die I want to go where The World has gone, and work on it again.’ That’s a lovely quote.”
Sullivan grew up in Saratoga Springs on White Street and on Lincoln Avenue, where he played rubber ball games like Roly-Poly on the then-unpaved sidewalks of the neighborhood, and worked as a pump boy carrying water to bookmakers and earning $10 to $15 a day, tax-free.
Sullivan’s childhood home was at Lincoln Avenue and High Street – just east of present-day Siro’s. It was one of a half-dozen homes either moved to different locations, or torn down altogether to expand the racecourse. In 1975, city Mayor Ray Watkin introduced a resolution that recognized Sullivan’s contribution “making Saratoga Springs famous all over the world,” and authorized the renaming of High Street to Frank Sullivan Place.
Sullivan returned to Saratoga Springs and settled down at his home at 135 Lincoln Ave., where he lived for several decades. He was a regular shopper at the Five Points grocery store, found relaxation in visits to the Yaddo Gardens, and frequented the Saratoga Race Course, where in the summer of 1967 a race was named in his honor.
“We’re very excited to be part of a revival in interest in one of Saratoga Springs’ own literary luminaries,” said Saratoga Springs Public Library Director Issac Pulver. “Given the current state of civil discourse, we believe a little levity in the form of Frank Sullivan’s gentle but incisive wit, is exactly what’s called for at the moment.” A series of SaratogaReads! related performances, discussions, lectures, and film presentations will take place between December 2016 and March 2017.
At the same time, United for Libraries, in partnership with Empire State Center for the Book, will dedicate Sullivan’s adult home on Lincoln Avenue as a literary landmark. More than 150 Literary Landmarks have been dedicated across the country since the program began in the 1980s; Tennessee Williams’ home in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Edgar Allen Poe home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were among the first.
Perhaps Sullivan’s most celebrated character was his creation of the noted cliche expert, Mr. Arbuthnot. Asked what he did for exercise, Mr. Arbuthnot replied, “I keep the wolf from the door, let the cat out of the bag, take the bull by the horns, count my chickens before they are hatched, and see that the horse isn't put behind the cart or stolen before I lock the barn door.”
“He accumulated all the clichés of the world,” Kennedy said. “It was hilarious.”
Sullivan, a lifelong bachelor, died in early 1976 at Saratoga Hospital at the age of 83.