|Birth: ||Aug. 11, 1901|
New York County (Manhattan)
New York, USA
Wilbur's mother died giving birth to him and his brother, Wallace F. Burton. Four days after Wilbur's birth, he was adopted by his Aunt Barbara and Uncle Josie Shaver who raised him. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Randolph Co. Indiana, and attended courses at Ohio State University for journalism. His tombstone in Maxville-Woodlawn Cemetery, Maxville, Randolph Co. Indiana, which he shares with his mother and brother Wallace, reads:
Mary Elizabeth Shaver Burton, born Va. 1874, died Ind. 1901, birthing,
Wallace F. Burton (killed Spain 1937)
Wilbur Burton (killed himself in Manhattan 1956)
"Praise'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy and objects and knowledge
And for love, sweet love--but praise, praise,
For the sure---enwinding arms of cool
Dora's second husband, Wilbur Burton, was an outwardly hard-boiled American journalist to whom I introdued her one fateful evening in 1941 and whom she married later that year. Wilbur Burton about whom one can read in Vincent Sheean's Personal History,* had led an adventurous life as a Baltimore Sun foreign correspondent in South America and China. He had at one time been married to the sister of Sheean's heroine, Rayna Proem. In 1927 he was arrested in Peking for his activities on behalf of the revolutionary Kuomintang together with Milly Mitchell, whom I had known in Moscow before she became famous as the wife of the Communist Commander of the American "Lincoln Brigade" in Spain. In spit of, or because of this experience Milly became as anti-Communist as I long before she died in New York.
Wilbur Burton had walked into my life on a winter's day in 1941 when he visited C.V. Starr's offices at 101 Fifth Avenue to see Randall Gould, editor of the Shanghai Evening Post until Pearl Harbor caused its demise. Finding me working in the room next to Randall he grinned and said, "How typical of Neil Starr to have a ‘yes man' and ‘no woman' working for him side by side."
Wilbur Burton rarely agreed with me and on the rare occasions when we found ourselves in accord it was usually for different or opposite reasons. But I was fond of him and had a high regard for his sterling integrity, his courage, his scorn for those he called political whores, " and his wide ranging knowledge of literature, philosophy, and poetry. He came from Indiana, where his forebears had emigrated from the South after the Civil War to become poor farmers, and he was self-educated. Despite his rovings in foreign lands he remained all his life an unreconstructed old-style American radical from the Middle West. He had a natural affinity to "wobblies" and anarchists, and as instinctive a repulsion toward Communist despotism as to kings, princes and all types of authoritarian rule.
Seeing no more good in Chiang Kai-shek than in Stalin, opposed to Hitler but regarding the British "imperialists" as no better, he was firmly convinced that the United States should consistently follow Washington's advice to keep clear of foreign entanglements. Thus he chose to go to prison as a conscientious objector soon after he married Dora. He could easily instead have secured exemption from military service, since he was 40 years old and then on the cable desk of the New York Times. But he did not choose to take this easy way out and ruined his life's prospects in consequence.
During subsequent years when Dora was endeavoring to get him released from prison in Kentucky, her situation was, to say the least, paradoxical. Burt was kept in prison mainly because he refused to retract the violent diatribe he had written against Roosevelt as a war monger subservient to British and Jewish influences while his wife was working at the Jewish Refugee Relief Center in New York.
Eventually Dora secured Burt's release from imprisonment but only on condition that he become an indentured male nurse in a Maryland lunatic asylum. Here they were at last together again in a lodging in Towson. But he had to work very hard for a pittance, whereas in prison he had had little to do besides talk and organize study groups and debates among the Kentucky moonshiners, Jehovah's Witnesses and other pacifists whose society he had found most congenial. Although a condition for his release from prison was that he should not express his views in print, Burt was able to visit me occasionally in Washington where I had gone to live in 1944, and to pour forth his unreconstructed isolationist views in the letters he wrote me and to his old and loyal friend William Henry Chamberlin. I reproduce one of these letters dated February 18, 1945, because it so well displays Burt's sarcastically cynical style, his rock-bottom isolationism and his realistic appraisal of the shape of things to come thanks to "Roosevelt's War."
17 Alleghany Ave.
Towson 4, Md.
Feb. 18, 1945
Darling Freda: How about la Hahn's "China to Me?" I'm practically dying to
read it, and so I expect it by next mail!!!! And did you ever locate a copy of
Your Bohemian Brawl was up to the best Utley standard and I enjoyed it
immensely – and my entire stay in your domicile. Don't know when I will
get to Washington again, but expect me when I do ….My Virginia friend was
heartbroken not to get to the party; only the serious illness of his sister
The general press and radio reaction to the Crime(a) Conference reminds me
that journalists today perform the same function as the augurs in ancient Rome –
but most of our journalists are too naïve to smile when they meet.
Anyway, the Crime(a) should have put us in our proper, humble place:
America is not God, as some of our more bumptious citizens once imagined;
Uncle Joe is God,-but, and our hearts can swell with pride! FDR is his Vicar
for America. And through Lend-Lease, we have surely restored the Trotskyist-
shaken faith of the Russians in Santa Claus. Now what could be sweeter than
for materialistic America's major role in the 20th Century????
Also, the Crime(a) has given us a new definition of "realistic" internationalism
as opposed to "perfectionist" internationalism: The Angle-Americans give
multilateral blessing to Stalin's unilateral accomplishments. Thus there are
no longer any "spheres of influence brought about in the old-fashioned way
of power politics; instead, the Anglo-Ams simply say "Praise Uncle Joe from
whom all blessings flow." Of course, Uncle Joe did make one significant
concession to his American Vicar: He had, I think now, established his Free
Germany Committee in Moscow as a hedge just in case American voters
should have proved ungodly enough to not re-elect FDR; now FDR being
re-elected, Uncle Joe is willing to go all out for Unconditional Surrender –
so that the war may be prolonged, in some fashion or another, to 1948, and
thus FDR can again run as Commander-in-Chief and the PAC can again do
its stuff. So the Crime(a) may be viewed as a prelude to the Fifth Term –
just as Teheran was the prelude to a Fourth Term. (And Uncle Joe may even
enter the Pacific war to help his pal in the White House; after all, he has
always got Europe at hand – so why should he not take all "realistic" steps to
keep FDR looting US for him by Lend-Lease as long as possible?) The only
thing I missed at your party was an Englishman to quote my "Epitaph to a GI"
to. So I will set it forth to you, without apologies to Kipling:
Walk wide of the Muddler at Windsor, for half of creation he owns.
We've bought him the same with the sword and the flame,
And we've salted it down with our bones.
(Poor GIs! It's blue with our bones!)
Hands off the lands of the Muddler! Hands off the goods in his shop!
For rival kings must bow, and other imperialists cow,
When the Muddler at Windsor says Stop!)
Anyway, I'm not sure that the "poem" is not outdated. Maybe you can compose
one in Russian that is more appropriate!!!!
How about coming up to Towson for a quiet week-end?
At the end of the war in Europe Burt was permitted to go to the 30 acre farm and ramshackle old house he had inherited near Winchester, Indiana. Having no capital he could not work the land, and life there was pretty grim for both of them while he milked cows and looked after chickens and Dora worked four days a week for a Jewish welfare agency in Indianapolis. After several years of this miserable existence, Dora and I persuaded Burt to return to New York, believing that he would eventually be able to re-establish himself as a newspaperman while she took one of the many jobs open to her there. But none of Burt's former "isolationist" friends would help him to secure employment. When I approached Mary King on the Daily News, with whom I was well acquainted, and tried to enlist her help she was uninterested in such a ghost from the past. Wilbur Burton had gone to prison for proclaiming the same isolationist views that she and her husband Joseph Medil Patterson had subscribed to. Now only younger men were of any value on the paper. My friend Batchelor, the cartoonist, was most sympathetic, but had no power to help him secure a job.
At this and my other vain endeavors to help Burt re-establish himself, I was given a salutory lesson as regards "What's-wrong-with-the-Right." It lacks, above all, the comradeship and the loyalty of the "Left" and is generally too heartless, selfish to ungenerous. The only one of Burt's previous friends or acquaintances who made some effort to help him was Norman Cousins who had never had any sympathy with Burt's views, but who believed in Voltaire's axiom that men of integrity should be permitted to speak and to live, however profoundly one disagrees with their views. Cousins failed to secure a job for Dora's husband but he at least tried, unlike those who had shared his views but themselves sacrificed nothing to uphold them. I did not agree with Burt's consistent isolationist views which made him oppose any American action risking war with the Communist powers as strenuously as he had been opposed to our intervention in the Second World War. But I admired his courage and integrity, and I loved Dora. It was very difficult to help them on account of Burt's injured pride which prevented him from making any concessions to conformity and impelled him willfully to outrage people who could have helped him.
The long beard he had grown while he worked his Indiana farm among his similarly hirsute Dukhobor neighbors and refused to shave off, combined with his casual clothes and defiant or positively rude manner, repelled the people Norman Cousins sent him to see who might have employed him. Finding all doors closed to him as a journalist or in any capacity in which his literary talents and diversified knowledge could be used, Burt finally took poorly paid employment as a shop assistant and general handyman at a second hand bookstore on University Place. Embittered and frustrated, he suffered deeply from the affront to his masculine pride at having become partly dependent on his wife, who earned more than he did, who adored him, but to whom he was often mean and nasty because he could not bear his hopeless situation. He reproached Dora for having persuaded him to leave his rural retreat in Indiana where, isolated, hard, and uncomfortable as his life had been, he had been able to earn his own living. Finally, in the fall of 1956, while I was in India, Burt committed suicide. My son cabled me in New Delhi to come home which I failed to do but reached Dora by phone. Rallying to her in my absence Jon said, "How could Burt have done this to you?" Which was as he perceived, young as he was, the heart of the matter.
Burt was the most obstinate and courageous, foolish and uncompromising, old-fashioned radical American I have ever known. He clung to outworn original American concepts long since rendered obsolete by the march of history, while believing that he was in advance of his time. But he was a wonderful guy who deserved a better fate.
Like our friend Lawrence Dennis, who married Dora some years later, Burt was incapable of either forgetting or forgiving the past, or adapting himself to the present and trying to make the best of it. They found infinite satisfaction in saying,"I told you so," in surveying the results of American intervention in both World Wars.
Appears in the book, "ODYSSEY OF A LIBERAL" ---1970 by Freda Utley
Meyers had a staff of two, Americans both; Horore (Connie) Connette from everywhere and Wilbur Burton from Winchester, Indiana.
Burton was in his twenties with a lantern jaw and bellicose eye, and a chronic skeptic. He knew everyone in Shanghai.
Burt was a Loquacious as Connie was reserved. He had arrived in Shanhai on a freighter, an able-bodied seaman. Although he was a trained newspaperman, he jumped ship and lived the life of a Shanghai beachcomber, eating, sleeping, and loving for ten cents a day. This was a story he loved to tell. Not many newspapermen came to Shanghai and dug below the surface of it's life, especially it's low-life, Burt assured me.9
When Burt and I went out an evening's fun, we went to the joints, dumps, and dives that he had frequented when he had been a hobo. Such a dive was usually a door cut in a wall, cut so low that six-foot Burt had to crouch to get in. When we were in I couldn't hear myself think fot the screaming and hubbub of dashing waiters and howling customers. I couldn't see my hand before my face for the flying smoke and grease.
9Burton arrived in Shanghai early in 1926 and in march joined the Shanghai Evening News where he stayed until February 1927 when he joined the China Courier. He was also writing for the Baltimore Sun. He was self-educated and from a poor family that had and affinity for anarchists and Wobbles. During World War II he went to prison as a conscientious objector even though he was forty years old at the time. After the war he became increasingly conservative polictically. His prison time prevented him from finding a suitable job, and limited him to menial work, he committed suicide in 1956. Utley, Odyssey of a Liberal, pp 246-47. Shanghai Municipal Police Department Files (hereafter SMPF) IO 7513 in National Archives Military Branch, Washington, DC.
Source: On Her Own Jouralistic Adventures pg 72 by Milly Bennett
Mary Elizabeth Shaver Burton (1874 - 1901)
Wallace F. Burton (1901 - 1937)*
Wilbur Burton (1901 - 1956)
Created by: stonelink
Record added: Dec 01, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 81285688
Added: Mar. 29, 2014