J. C. Leyendecker was 8 years old when his family immigrated to Chicago from a German village 15 miles east of the Rhine. At its peak in the 1880s, Chicago had 470,000 residents who had at least one parent born in Germany and/or who were born in Germany themselves. Those of German descent were the largest ethnic group in Chicago from 1850 until the turn of the century.
In the world that J. C. lived in the German-born citizens occupied many of Chicago’s highest political offices, including County Clerk, Sheriff, Coroner, City Clerk, City Treasurer, City Marshall, General Superintendent of Police, and County Treasurer.
Leyendecker first became aware of the work of photographer, and independent publisher Adolf Brand by chance one momentous spring afternoon in the mid-1880s. Those books revealed an exciting world to explore, but at 13, he didn’t have a clue about how to step into it.
Leyendecker’s family had relocated to Hyde Park, Illinois, where many Germans were involved in antislavery abolition movements and anarchist-radical politics. At that time, German Americans were the primary leaders of the Socialist Labor Party and by 1890, it was essentially a German-speaking group. German was one of the organization’s two official languages used in its meetings.
In the house where he lived, all but one of their windows faced an alley. On that afternoon, several of his junior high school buddies and he were hanging out in Leyendecker’s room, and one of his pals spied the neighborhood’s drunk hiding something in a trashcan. Leyendecker and his friends wanted to see what that was all about, so they went down, got the bag out, and dumped the contents on the ground.
Out came a collection of homo porn with text in the German language. The title of the journal, Der Eigene (The Unique), refers to the classic anarchist work Der Einzige und sein Eigentum by Max Stirner. Der Eigene interwove cultural, artistic, and political material, including lyric poetry, prose, political manifesto, and nude photography.
This was the first time J. C. had ever seen anything like that. It was a revelation: His heart and mind were racing. His pals picked them up, flipped through the pages a bit, and started throwing them around and laughing; then, after a few minutes, they tired of it and headed off. Although Leyendecker left with them, he hurried back to investigate, stuffed as many as he could into his waistband, and went to the park and into the bushes, where he pored over them for a long time. He wanted to bring them home, but there was nowhere to hide them where he lived, so he stashed them in the bushes and returned the next day to study them again. And, man, did he ever study that stuff! When he came back the day after that, his stash had been discovered and was gone, but the memory of those images was the inspiration for many jerk-off sessions to follow.
Leyendecker thought he would never see such images again, and didn’t have a clue that a few years later he’d stumbled into an opportunity to do so.
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