Main content

August Mencken papers


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

August Mencken (1889-1967) was an American civil engineer and author. He was the younger brother of author H.L. (Henry Louis) Mencken and the son of cigar magnate August Mencken, Sr. According to the William Feather Magazine in 1954, August Mencken was a "constant companion of his famous brother ... during the latter's long illness," (page 2). Indeed, biographies of H.L. Mencken indicate an extraordinarily close relationship between the two brothers.

Born on February 18, 1889, to August (1854-1899) and Anna Margaret (1858-1925) Mencken, August Mencken was raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He worked as a civil engineer for Claiborne Johnston in Baltimore in 1917 and for Whitman Requandt and Smith in 1942. He appears to have lived most of his life with his brother, H.L. Mencken.

August Mencken spent more than six years building a model of the CSS Alabama which he intended to gift to his brother's wife, Sara Haardt Mencken. The model was finished only after her death; therefore, he donated it to the United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. In addition to building the model, Mencken performed significant research on the ship's history during the Civil War and its sinking by the USS Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in 1864. He compiled his research and correspondence into a booklet, eight copies of which were made. He appears to have been very proud of the model and his booklet, sending copies of the booklet to naval officers, libraries, and even the President of the United States.

In addition to his interest in ships and engineering, Mencken also wrote several books, including First-Class Passenger in 1938, By the Neck; A Book of Hangings in 1942, The Railroad Passenger Car; An Illustrated History of the First Hundred Years in 1957, The Fair Chanteuse, or Science is Here to Stay in 1958, The Reluctant Bride; A Romance in 1960, and Designing and Building the Great Pyramid in 1963.

August Mencken died on May 19, 1967.

This collection comprises August Mencken's correspondence regarding his brother, H.L. Mencken, his research and work on a scale model of the Confederate cruiser Alabama, and miscellaneous collected writings from friends and colleagues. The collection is arranged in three series: documents concerning H.L. Mencken; CSS Alabama, notes and documents; and writings by others.

The series including documents concerning H.L. Mencken contains a small amount of material collected by August Mencken about his brother. This series includes published material by H.L. Mencken including "Notes on American Given-names" and "Gropings in Literary Darkness," as well as a volume and a letter produced as a result of H.L. Mencken's role as editor of The American Mercury. Several posthumous accounts of Mencken's life are contained in this series, but of particular interest may be the description of H.L. Menken's relationship with the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. A description of the Mencken brothers' home following August's death may be found in Drawer 55. Three letters written to August about his brother are from S. Miles Bouton, Stewart H. Holbrook, and Ben Dixon MacNeill. There are, in addition, several newspaper clippings regarding a play entitled An Unpleasant Evening with H.L. Mencken, starring David Wayne which was performed at Ford's Theater in 1972.

The second series documents August Mencken's research of and booklet regarding the CSS Alabama. Of interest is August Mencken's extensive correspondence with Naval officers and experts on the Alabama, as well as blueprints and photographs of the Alabama.

The final series includes writings by others, in particular, Robert Durr. Many of these reprints appear to have been sent to August Mencken by the authors. The topics are widely varied, including engineering, history, literature, medicine, nature, and ships' models. All the articles written by Durr relate to literature. Researchers should be aware that there is one piece of writing by August Mencken in Box 1, Folder 11 ("The Descent of Man") as well as a brief profile of him in Box 1, Folder 2.

The bulk of the collection relates to the CSS Alabama and August Mencken's research and writing on the ship. Mencken's booklet on the ship appears to have been a source of great pride for him. Researchers interested in naval history and/or H.L. Mencken would benefit from consulting this collection.

Gift of August Mencken, via his will, circa 1972.

Students from English 771.301, Behind the Reference Desk: Archival Methods, Forms, Theory processed this collection as part of their course work during the Fall 2015 semester. The course is taught by Jean-Christophe Cloutier, Assistant Professor of English.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Zach Fruit and Cory Knudsen
Finding Aid Date
2015 November 5
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

Request to View Materials

Materials can be requested by first logging in to Aeon. Then, click on the ADD button next to any containers you wish to request. When complete, click the Request button.

Request item to view

Mencken, H.L., published material, 1943, 1946.
Box 1 Folder 1
Mencken, H.L, profiles of, 1954-1972.
Box 1 Folder 2 Drawer 55 Folder 1
Letters to August concerning H.L. Mencken, 1937, 1958.
Box 1 Folder 3
An unpleasant evening with H.L. Mencken, clippings and article regarding, 1972.
Box 1 Folder 4

CSS Alabama, correspondence regarding, 1942, 1959-1961.
Box 1 Folder 5
CSS Alabama, research and clippings regarding, circa 1942-1961.
Box 1 Folder 6
CSS Alabama ship captains, photograph and letter regarding, 1931.
Box 1 Folder 7
A. Mencken's model of CSS Alabama, photograph and receipt, circa 1942-1961.
Box 1 Folder 8
Ship model photographs, not CSS Alabama, circa 1942-1943.
Box 1 Folder 9
CSS Alabama booklet written by August Mencken, correspondence and copyright notice, 1936, 1942-1943, 1961.
Box 1 Folder 10

Articles, poems, and reprints, including correspondence, 1940-1942, 1957-1965.
Box 1 Folder 11
Durr, Robert, inscribed reprints and correspondence, 1956-1960.
Box 1 Folder 12

Print, Suggest