All summer, the giant Negroes have been discovered and pointed to by fans of American weirdness. My post was cited last week by the law-professor clique at BlackProf.com. And yesterday, a MetaFilter commenter linked to it, sending hundreds of new eyeballs here.
Nobody doesn’t like the giant Negroes.
All of which reminds me: there’s one giant-Negro story I never got around to writing about. So here it is now.
It’s about Sallie Kline, a 21-year-old “flapper” and Smith College graduate who, having fallen asleep on a sofa in her father’s Manhattan apartment, woke up to discover a burglar creeping around in the darkness.
She didn’t realize at first, but this wasn’t any old burglar. This was a “huge negro burglar.”
The New York Times reported Sallie Kline’s story on April 30, 1922. And much of the tale was told in Miss Kline’s own voice. Here’s what she said happened, after she saw the beam of the burglar’s flashlight moving around her father’s library and settling upon a desk:
SALLIE KLINE: It would have been stupid for me to yell, wouldn’t it, with father and mother and my brother Edward away back in the apartment. They probably would not have heard me. First I thought whether I looked nice. I really thought I’d vamp him.
So I said: “What are you doing there? I know you’re a burglar, but why don’t you try some of the rich families. We are poor – really we are.”
The light then was turned upon me. The burglar could see me plainly. I heard his voice. “I want your ‘vallables,’ ” he said. I especially noticed that word. Then I knew the burglar was a foreigner. He repeated he wanted our “vallables.”
“We have only a few here,” I said, “you are wasting your time.” Again – “why don’t you go to some rich people?” It seemed at first as if the man was going to do something rash, but I thought I could manage him.
“How did you get in here?” I asked.
“I came in through that window,” he said, and he pointed with the light to the open library window, which is about ten or twelve feet above the street. I had left this window open when I went to sleep. He said he had scaled the wall.
The conversation really was becoming interesting. I reasoned with him, and bargained with him, too. I told him that if he would go quietly out he probably would find some persons who did not need their “vallables,” and besides that I would scream if he did not go.
“My father is a large man and if I scream he will surely come, and my brother is there, too, and besides, you wouldn’t hurt me if I screamed, would you?” He said, no he wouldn’t.
“If you’ll go quietly I won’t squeal on you or tell the police – or anything,” I told him.
He seemed to agree with me that to go out quietly would be better all around, and with a few more words I had convinced him that this would be the best course. But before he went I decided to see whether or not he had taken anything from the desk.
So I said: “Come over here.” And, what do you think, he came right over near the sofa. “Are you sure you haven’t taken anything?” I asked.
“No, ma’am, I swear I haven’t.”
“Turn out your pockets.” And he turned out his coat pockets and his trousers pockets and turned the flashlight on them. He kept the light away from his face all the time, though.
“All right,” I said, “now you can go if you promise me one thing. Don’t take anything.”
“I promise,” he said.
“All right, then, shake!” The hand that was thrust into mine was large and black. I realized then for the first time that I had been talking to a huge negro burglar; but let me say right here that he was the nicest burglar I could have met. Do you think I would tell the police on him – anyway, I wouldn’t recognize him, because I didn’t see his face. ...
He climbed out the same way he got in – he literally hung for a few seconds and then dropped to the street. Just as soon as he had left the window I went to it and saw him walking, unhurriedly, mind you, toward Riverside Drive. There he turned the corner and disappeared.
Then I thought a minute to make sure it had not been a terrible dream, and then I ran back in the apartment and wakened my brother Edward. I realized that if I waited until the morning to tell the family they would say I had had a dream. ...
But really I’d like to do something for that burglar. I told him to be a sport, and he was a sport. I’m a sport, too, and so I wouldn’t yell. ...