Toast To Olde Tymes – Logan Clendening
Logan Clendening was a longtime faculty member at The University of Kansas School of Medicine, but his interests ranged far beyond that academic discipline. His mother encouraged him to follow a literary career. His books included The Human Body, which was published in 1927 and remained in print for approximately 50 years, A Handbook to The Pickwick Papers, The Care and Feeding of Adults, and The Source Book of Medical History. Logan also penned a column, “Diet and Health,” that was syndicated in more than 380 newspapers. He was a bibliophile who loved travel and collecting. His enthusiasm for Sherlock Holmes was such that he was the subject of an article in the Baker Street Journal in 1992, which featured this tribute: “Dr. Clendening died in 1945, but mention his name to Kansas Citians even today, and some will remember him — usually for his idiosyncrasies. He was a superb raconteur, a bon vivant and practical joker, an inveterate party-giver and party-goer, altogether one of the most memorable characters in Kansas City’s history.”
Logan was born in Kansas City on May 25, 1884. His parents were Lide Logan Clendening and Edwin McKaig Clendening. His father, who was known as Clen, spent 38 years with the Chamber of Commerce (originally the Commercial Club), first as secretary and later as assistant to the president. After graduating from high school, Logan attended the University of Michigan and then transferred to The University of Kansas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a degree in medicine. He then did some post-graduate study, much of it abroad. Logan began teaching at The University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1912.
On July 22, 1914, Logan married Dorothy Scott Hixon, the daughter of Frank Hixon, a prosperous lumberman and banker, at her father’s home in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Legend has it that at the point in the wedding ceremony when the part about endowing one’s spouse with one’s worldly goods was mentioned, Logan quipped, “Damn, there goes my bicycle.” The young couple had met when Dorothy was visiting friends in Kansas City, and it was in Our Town that they would make their home.
Logan had become a member of the Reserve Medical Corps of the United States Army in 1911. From June 1917 until the end of World War I, he was stationed at the Fort Sam Houston Base Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Logan would have preferred to be sent overseas. (That wasn’t what his mother wanted. Logan didn’t know his father had written to a senator, in the hopes of keeping the young doctor stateside.) He did achieve the rank of major. After the war, Logan returned to Kansas City.
For many young couples, parenthood was a priority, now that the world seemed safer. Dorothy and Logan were not among the fortunate ones. A daughter was born to the Clendenings on July 4, 1920, but her birth was premature. She lived only a few hours.
The 1920s are often characterized as a time of wild excesses. Some of Dorothy and Logan’s exploits fed into that, even though Logan was far more career-oriented than most of the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. In 1922, he was appointed assistant professor of clinical medicine. Historian Daniel Coleman has noted, “Clendening’s unpredictable teaching style was the stuff of legend: he peppered lectures with bawdy stories, and classroom performances could range from Shakespearian recitation to Bronx cheer.” His first book was published in 1924. That same year, Dorothy visited the Plaza Hotel in New York, where her jewelry was stolen. The loss was estimated at $50,000, (more than $700,000 in today’s money), and the missing items included a diamond-studded toothbrush. Not surprisingly, that made the papers.
Logan threw a party in the late 1920s that Martha Belle Aikins Smith, who was one of the guests, still fondly remembered nearly 70 years later. (Martha Belle, a much-loved dancing teacher, lived to be 98.) Anyone, tiring of winter weather, might take Florida as an inspiration and decorate for a gathering by using umbrellas, chaises longues, and heat lamps. Only Logan, though, would have decided to fill half of the dining room of The Kansas City Country Club with sand.
One of Logan’s notable pranks occurred prior to the wedding of Wallis Warfield Simpson and the Duke of Windsor in 1937. While on holiday in France, Logan managed to convince a group of reporters that he might be the clergyman who would officiate at the ceremony. Accounts vary – one story has him turning his detachable collar around and acting furtive in order to get attention, and in another he goes so far as to hold an impromptu news conference. It seems to be agreed that his photo was taken for the newspapers before the story was quashed.
In 1938, he was the subject of a profile, “Layman’s Diagnosis of a Doctor,” in the Kansas City Star. Its author, Henry Van Brunt, visited the Clendening home on West 56th Street and was introduced to their “bulge-eyed Pomeranians,” who weren’t what he expected: “One of the pooches is yappingly cordial, the other as dour as a Scotty. You don’t hold with either of them; you had rated the doctor, rather, with a wire-haired terrier of a roving, inquisitive and acquisitive disposition.” Henry was disquieted, to say the least, to learn that Logan wrote his columns on a bridge table in a “chilly” room on the second floor, above the front door. More to his liking was Logan’s library: “In the Clendening hideout, shelves built nearly to the ceiling hold an alluringly catholic, though eclectic, collection of reading matter… Several shelves are devoted to Shakespeareana, including all angles of the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy. Another section is solid with Sherlock Holmes… The autographed works of the doctor’s good friends, Ernest Hemingway and H.L. Mencken are copiously represented.”
For months, a construction project to dig a sewer line had been in process outside the Clendenings’ home on West 56th Street. The noise of the compressor was intolerable to him. One afternoon in February 1939, he took an ax outside with the intention of stopping the work. Logan quickly tired of clubbing the valve. (If he had cracked it, he could have been killed by the explosion that would have followed.) Logan then threatened to punch the foreman, who later took a philosophical view of the situation. “I can see the point,” the man told the Kansas City Times, adding, “Some guys work with their minds. Noises to a mind-worker must be mighty unpleasant, all right.” Logan spent a four-hour cooling-off period in jail on the day of the incident. He later paid two $25 fines, one for disturbing the peace, and the other for destruction of property. Logan had also been charged with intoxication, but was found not guilty. His outburst drew national media attention. If he had been someone else, or if he had lived in a different era, this might have affected his career.
The Clendenings were making a major impact on The University of Kansas School of Medicine. In 1939, Dorothy donated the Hixon Laboratory, which included one floor earmarked for a library, to which Logan gave many books. That year, Logan became a full professor and founded the history and philosophy of medicine department. Logan and Dorothy traveled extensively, and the medical texts and artifacts that Logan collected on their trips are now at the Clendening History of Medicine Museum and Library. The University of Kansas Medical Center Archives has Dorothy’s photos, which provide a personal glimpse into the couple’s journeys.
On January 31, 1945, Dorothy found Logan dead at their home. He was only 60 years old.
Logan’s generosity, and that of his widow, would continue. In his will, he directed that his books and artifacts should go to The University of Kansas Endowment Association. Logan left $50,000 to the history and philosophy of medicine department. Dorothy continued her philanthropy after his death, donating funds for books and establishing the Logan Clendening Memorial Lectureship in Medical History. She married Alfred B. Clark in 1950. The couple lived in California. When Dorothy died in January 1973, her obituary noted that she had been a founder of the Friends of Art and involved in the early days of the Kansas City Philharmonic Association.
For further reading:
- Baker Street Journal. “Logan Clendening: Canonizing an Irregular Saint.” December 1992. bsiarchivalhistory.org/BSI_Archival_History/Clendening.html
- Coleman, Daniel. “Logan Clendening.” pendergastkc.org/article/biography/logan-clendening
- Fried, Stephen. Appetite for America: how visionary businessman Fred Harvey built a railroad hospitality empire that civilized the Wild West. New York: Bantam, 2010. (This features more details on the theft of the diamond-studded toothbrush.)
- Fitzsimmons, Michelle. “Logan’s Run.” kuhistory.ku.edu/articles/logans-run Hulston, Nancy. “Logan Clendening’s Unattainable War.” kumc.edu/wwi/biography/logan-clendening.html
- Luening, Bill. “The Perfect Holiday: Parties.” Kansas City Star. November 24, 1985.
- Van Brunt, Henry. “Layman’s Diagnosis of a Doctor.” Kansas City Star. March 6, 1938.
- Wilding, Jennifer. “The Doctor.” Kansas City Star. February 9, 1986.
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