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Arthur Cravan

Salina Cruz, a deadly hole, where nearly every white man died within a year.

Photos by Eden von Düben


An exposition by Bastiaan van der Velden

Seamens Art Club


Große Elbstraße 132; 22767 Hamburg
info@seamensartclub.com
www.seamensartclub.com

from 23 june 2011

When WWI breaks out, the boxer-poet Arthur Cravan decides to leave France, to avoid draft. First
Barcelona, the famous fight with former world champion Jack Johnson, than on a boat to America,
together with the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, finally towards Mexico with his wife the poet Mina
Loy. Cravan works as a boxing teacher in Mexico City, his last battle against Black Diamond Jim Smith in
Vera Cruz is irretrievably lost, and finally he ends up in Salina Cruz, a harbor city on the west coast of
Mexico.

The couple decides to travel separately to Argentina. Mina Loy, pregnant, arrives in Buenos Aires some
time later. Cravan bought a boat to make the trip with a couple of other deserters, he will never arrive in
Argentina. The circumstances of his disappearance remain unclear – and will quickly contribute to the
creation of a myth.

He was stabbed in a bar (according to Cendrars), he was slain near the border of Mexico and the U.S.A.
(Andre Salmon), lost at sea (says William Carlos Williams), drowned when trying out a boat on a stormy
day in the Gulf of Mexico (André Breton) or the Pacific Ocean (Mina Loy). Julian Levy met someone in
1930 who claimed to have seen Cravan recently. It is also suggested that he lived with a new identity, such
as the painter Archinard, fabricating fake manuscripts of Oscar Wilde. An American researcher says he
has found the solution of the mystery in a Mexican archive, but has not yet revealed his findings. Many
assumptions, little consistency. Marcel Duchamp signed a statement on March 2, 1946 for a notary, a
note of simple administrative fiction: „Je le connaissais bien et seule la mort a pu être cause de sa
disparition.‟1

Kalmar Al-Shima, the pseudonym of the U.S. Consul in Salina Cruz in 1918, describes the place as a wild-
west town, where Europeans waiting for passenger vessels have to spent some weeks at the village hotel, a
place attacked by bandits with the regularity of the clock.2 In the book of the consul unfortunately no
word on Cravan or Mina Loy. Around 1910 the biologist Hans Friedrich Gadow (1855-1928) visits
Mexico and Salina Cruz: „Until a few years ago Salina Cruz was justly feared as a deadly hole, where nearly
every white man died within a year. The “old town,” a wretched conglomeration of native huts, of palm-
trees and reeds, stood on a narrow neck of low-land between the sea and an evil-smelling lagoon,
surrounded by thick brushwood a fever-haunted place. [A kind of] trouble was the water supply, the only

1
A. Cravan, Œuvres: poèmes, articles, lettres (Paris: Ed. G. Lebovici 1987).
2
Kamar Al-Shimas, The Mexican Southland (Fowler: Benton review shop 1922).
available brook, and that intermittent, passing by the cemetery, which contained by far the largest number
of white men in the district.‟3

In the town of Salina Cruz, an English company was building a harbor, docks and other constructions
around 1905, to facilitate the railway that transported goods from Vera Cruz to the other side of Mexico,
as an alternative for the Panama Canal. During this construction works, the Salina Cruz based
photographer Eden von Düben made a series of photos showing the progress of the project.4 These are
images of - most probably - the last spot Cravan saw, made some years before the boxer-poet ended up in
this frontier town.

Since 1989 Bastiaan van der Velden is active as a curator, writer, editor and publisher of private press
publications and magazines. To be mentioned: Faits d´Hiver (24 postcards, 1994-2006), L´Aigle Bleu (19
issues, 1996-2002) and the publications of La Société Protectrice des Enfants Martyrs (since 2002). Bastiaan D.
van der Velden was honored in 2005 and received the chair of Régent de Navigation Épigéenne in the
Collège de ‟Pataphysique. In the journal of the Collège de ‟Pataphysique he published a long text on
Cravan in January 2011. In 2010 he organized the exposition Arthur Cravan: Kicker, Schüler, Sängerknabe in
Musée Pointe Jaune, St. Gallen.

bastiaanvandervelden@hotmail.com

3
H. Gadow, Through southern Mexico (London: Witherby 1908) p. 175.

4
‘In Mexico live the descendants of Baron Edward von Düben. He used to be a chemist and vice consul for Sweden in Salina Cruz, where he
died in l930, leaving his Mexican wife with seven children unprovided for.‟ Sven Tito Achen, Genealogica & heraldica : report of the 14th International
Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences in Copenhagen, 25-29 August 1980 (Copenhagen: Samfundet for Dansk Genealogi og Personalhistorie :
Heraldisk Selskab, 1982) p. 162. „E de Düben‟ was in 1911 consul in Salina Cruz, see: Nouvel almanach du corps diplomatique: ancien Almanach de Gotha
(C.A. Starke, 1911) p. 1009. Already around 1850 a photographer with the name Cesar von Düben was active in Mexico: Peter E. Palmquist &
Thomas R. Kailbourn, Pioneer photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide : a biographical dictionary 1839-1865 (Stanford : Stanford Univ.
Press, 2005) p. 217. His photos were published in: Cesar von Düben, Resor uti Guiana, Mexico, Californien, China och Ostindien, foretagna under aren
1843-58 (Stockholm: Tryckt hos I. Marcus 1870-1871). Anoter (presumed) member of this family, Ms. Lotten von Düben, is among the Swedish
women photography pioneers, see: Eva Dahlman e.a., 'Darkness and light': the proceedings of the Oslo Symposium 25.-28. August 1994 (Oslo : National
Institute for Historical Photography 1995) p. 99.