Strangers to Us All
Lawyers and Poetry

Charles Tilford Greene

New York

New York Times
April 3, 1923


Collection of His Verses Is Found in Room of Little Hotel at Coney Island

Charles Tilford Greene, 40 years old, a lawyer, who, in a note which he had written on Jan. 21 last, declared that he would have preferred success as a poet rather than in the legal profession, was found dead from illuminating gas yesterday forenoon in a room he had hired last Thursday in the Sagamore Hotel, at Surf Avenue and West Eighth Street, Coney Island. Gas was flowing from five jets in a heater when a policeman broke down the door and found the body on a bed with the Bible in the right hand.

Assistant Medical Examiner Martin declared after an investigation that there was a possibility that the lawyer’s death was due to an accident, but detectives of the Coney Island Station expressed the belief that he had committed suicide because of his inability to devote himself to the writing of poetry, ill-health and financial difficulties.

The detectives based the suicide theory partly on passages from one of the 150 poems written by the lawyer in the last twenty years and which were found among his effects in the room. These passages were contained in the poem “The Fatigue of Earth,” the last stanza of which read:

I try to find the truth in holy places.
And all I see is falsehood everywhere;
I am tired, and I believe that God above
Is tired and weeps over his labor of love.

Excited Landlord’s Suspicion

According to Arostal Pharasles, proprietor of the hotel, when Greene appeared there last Thursday he said that he had just separated from his wife, and wanted a place near the ocean where he could find peace and quiet. Pharasles added that the lawyer’s actions aroused the attention of himself and others at the hotel for the next few days because Greene arose early every day and walked the beach, scantily clad, far from five to eight hours.

On Saturday last, Pharasles continued, the lawyer called him and to his room after one of these outings and informed him that he had been seriously handicapped by financial reverses.

“He was very eccentric in his sections.” Pharasles explained, “but when I sought to learn something about his family he ceased talking. He paced the floor most of the night, but that did not appear to deter him from resuming his trips up and down the beach each day.”

Pharasles became anxious about the lawyer yesterday when at 10 o’clock in the forenoon Green was found not to have left his room. The hotel keeper began an investigation, and detected gas coming from Green’s room. He called in Sergeant John Hubman, who, forcing his way into the room, found that the door and the two windows had been carefully bolted before the gas was turned on.

The first thing to draw Sergeant Hubman’s attention was a diary on a nearby table, and which the lawyer had begun about twenty years ago, the last entry of which read:

“Having at last reached fair maturity, and realizing the effervescence of life and the earthly oblivion after death, I have this day, Sunday, Jan. 21, 1923, felt a yearning to perpetuate my poems. These cover a period of twenty years and reflect the life and thought of one who longed to be a poet in a practical age, but who, instead, became a lawyer.

Hubman then turned to two black leather traveling bags which lay open at the foot of the bed, some of the contents of which had been strewn on the floor, evidently a few moments before the man turned on the gas. Protruding from the top of one of the bags, however, was a note, hastily scribbled in pencil, which requested that the police communicate with his wife, Virginia B. Greene at 151 West Eighty-fourth Street, which proved to be the home of Mrs. Green’s mother.

A detective communicated with Mrs. Greene by telephone and learned that up to the day that the lawyer appeared at the Coney Island Hotel, he and his wife resided at 207 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn. Perusal of other papers in the in the room developed that Green formerly had office space with the Haitian Dominion Improvement Corporation at 96 Wall Street, and about a week ago moved to another office at 44 Cedar Street.

The police then made a more thorough examination of the contents of the two bags and came across a poem which evidently had been recently written by the lawyer and which was entitled, “Sonnet to My Wife.” This read:

If I were cast upon some desert isle
By wave too cruel to ever bear me aid,
Destined never again to see your smile.
Or hear the music when footsteps strayed;
If, like primeval man, I dwelt alone
In a rude cave, by sun or moon,
Hearing no sound inside the sea’s dull moan,
Or the faint haunting of the night wind’s croon,
I would come forth at midnight on the strand
And peer attentive o’er the weeping nipin,
then march to wind your footprints in the sand,
Study the barren o’er and o’er again;
Such wanderings would not fruitless be,
False hope sustains a sweeter memory.
Attached to this was another poem
which ran:
To a judge and jury of my peers
My matrimonial vows I would relate;
But she is whose plaintiff words and tears
Would blast my righteousness and close debate.

Mrs. Greene appeared at the station last evening and told detectives that when she and her husband broke up their home last Thursday and placed their furniture on storage it was agreed two weeks in an effort to recuperate his health and she would go to the home of he mother.

She said that her husband had been in ill-health for a long time and that on March 26 last he was seized with an epileptic attack. She added that he had acted strangely in their home for a few weeks before and corroborated statements of other tenants in the Ocean Avenue house that the lawyer frequently paced the halls of the house in his bare feet late at night. She added that they were married four years ago and had no children.