The Sad Story of Hatrack

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Herbert Asbury’s story ‘Hatrack’ is about a small-town prostitute. Jason Duberman presents a synopsis in his article, “H.L. Mencken and the Wowsers”:

“Also known to some as Fanny Fewclothes, she had obtained her nomme de guerre as a result of her angular figure, for ‘when she stood with her arms outstretched she bore a remarkable resemblance to the tall hatracks then in general use in our homes.’

“A domestic servant by day, Hatrack sought to augment her meager salary at night by peddling her wares in the town’s cemeteries. She demonstrated a fine appreciation for her clientele’s religious sensibilities, always taking her Protestant customers to the Catholic cemetery and her Catholic customers to the neighboring Masonic cemetery.

[That way nobody is desecrating sacred ground!]

“Every Sunday morning Hatrack would go to church [a Methodist church, by the way] hoping to reform her life, seeking redemption and salvation. But no one would talk to her, no one would sit next to her, no one would pray for her…

“Humiliated and made sullen by the treatment she received, Hatrack would invariably get up and leave the church before the service had ended. She would then walk down the street, past the post office, outside of which a group of men congregated to await her weekly appearance, and proceed up the hill to the graveyards.”