Mysterious Disappearance of Charles T. Sprading Solved
“I am the last living person to have seen him alive in the late 1950s”
Charles T. Sprading was one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th Century. He was a man who championed liberty and fought tyranny all of his life. He vanished around 1959, and many people over the years wondered what happened to him.
My dad was a great friend of Mr. Sprading. Although my father was a technical writer, he was very interested in many other subjects, one of which was rationalism, or free-thought as it is sometimes called. When I was a kid I spent most Saturdays riding around in our old car, visiting dad’s friends. Most of them were quite elderly. Two of the rationalists I remember were Sadie Cook and Charles T. Sprading. I was taught from a young age to listen, not speak. “Children should be seen and not heard,” was the refrain I remember hearing on a weekly basis. These visits to Cook, Sprading, and others opened my eyes to things in philosophy and history at a very early age. Listening to elders talk was serious in my family, so I grew up respecting the views of those who were in very advanced years.
I believe Sadie Cook was the secretary for one of the rationalist societies, and her small house was packed with papers, correspondence, books and magazines. I heard about atheism on Saturdays, then on Sunday it was off to church, for my mother’s side of the family was somewhat religious. I used to ask my dad why I had to go to church if there was no God, and he would answer that I would go to church until I was 18, and then make up my own mind about God. He never said God did not exist, I just picked up that from his discussions with Sadie Cook and others.
Mr. Sprading was a delight to visit, he was a wonderful man, an advanced age, very thin and fragile. He was living in a ramshackle garage in East Los Angeles, I believe it was behind a house on Folsom St., off Brooklyn, in the older section of the city. His living quarters were very sparse, a cot, a sink, some crates and old shelves that contained his remaining books and papers. Looking back, it is more than sad, it is a national disgrace that one of America’s finest intellectuals, a world-respected author and speaker, would end up in such poverty. During our visits, he never complained. He was always cheerful, speaking of many earth shaking historical events. His time was the time of great radicalism. His contemporaries were anarchists, rationalists, syndicalists, libertarians, the great union organizers, and especially Eamon de Valera, the great fighter for Irish Freedom. Sprading was a close associate of de Valera, and worked in the cause for Irish Freedom for many years, as an organizer, speaker, advance man, publicist, and writer.
I would sit in an old shaky wooden chair and listen wide-eyed to Sprading telling about Emma Goldman, revolutionaries, the great strikes, the libertarian campaigns against the religious “blue laws”, and other fantastic events. Most of the libertarian fights in the 1930s seemed to be against the “blue laws”, which among other things forbade retail stores to be open on Sundays. It is hard to believe now, in this time, that such laws existed 80 years ago. Mr. Sprading could go on for a couple of hours, his photographic memory for people and dates were very clear, he would never stumble over a date or a name. After about 2 hours, he would tire, and we would depart so he could rest.
My dad passed on at an early age in 1956. After a time, my mother would take me on a Saturday and we would make the long trip from Hollywood to East Los Angeles on street cars and buses to see Mr. Sprading. My mom didn’t drive, and when father died she sold the car, so we had to take public transportation. Believe it or not, it wasn’t bad back then, because we had the wonderful street car system, soon to be trashed by a conspiracy of GM, Firestone Tires, and Standard Oil. One fateful day we went out to see Mr. Sprading, but he wasn’t there. The landlady who lived in the front house said that he had died. We asked about his books and papers, and she informed us that she had “thrown away all those old papers and books, who would want them?” Even as a young man of 15 at that time, I knew those “old papers” were very valuable. I wanted to scream at this ignorant woman, but years of family training to be polite took hold. My mother was visibly upset, but she kept her cool. On the way home we discussed what a tragedy it was that the stupid woman threw away such rare photos, papers, and books in the trash. My mother knew that material should have gone to a library somewhere. And so it was that one of the giants of the 20th century died quietly in his sleep, living in a dilapidated old garage in the run down section of Los Angeles. His books still exist in libraries, and if someone could track down old copies of The Truth Seeker magazine published by Charles Smith, or other rationalist, libertarian, or freedom magazines, you will find some interesting articles by Charles T. Sprading. Since I was only 15 at the time (1959), and since I never heard of any other “youngsters” who visited him, I am pretty sure that I am the last person presently alive who saw the great Charles T. Sprading.