The Indian Lake Letter
An Unpublished Letter of Ring Lardner, With Comment

Updated 06 February 2008


Click on the footnote number to go directly to the note.



Indian Lake Letter
Two Letters
Ring & I
It all comes back
Lardner Links




I was contacted by a friend of Robert Long, who said that Robert had a letter that Ring Lardner had sent to his father, Theron.   He was kind enough to let me reproduce it on this site.

Scans of the letter and envelope are included below.  A transcription of the letter with notes follows.  Punctuation and spelling are Lardner's.




12 August 1926
Great Neck

Niles Letter Reproduction    Niles envelope reproduction

Click on the small letter or envelope above for a full-size version.



Text Ring Lardner
Great Neck, New York(1)

August 12, 1926.

Dear Theron: - (2)
     I'd like to go to Indian Lake (3), too, as I've always preferred small lakes to the ocean, but there doesn't seem to be much chance of my getting to one (4)
     It was my wife (5), not I, that accused everybody in Niles of goiter or insanity.  Speaking of goiter, that is our nickname for Great Neck.
     I am not surprised that you and Bertha are still young and happy.  She is the type that will always look young.  I was quite interested in your romance, being, you might say, an eyewitness (6).  I was trying to stage one of my own at the time, but the lady's parents thought me a stew bum, and the worst of it is that they were absolutely right (7) .
     I have you beaten 4 to 1 on boys.  My oldest is also fourteen and goes away to school this fall (8)
     If you ever come to New York, call up.  I don't expect to drive that far west, but if I do, I'll try Route #40 (9) .  Anyway, I was glad to hear from you.


Ring W. Lardner (10)

     P.S. I never kick about our gas bills  (11)



1. Printed letterhead. The Lardners lived in Great Neck on Long Island from 1921 to 1928.
Back to Letter

2.  The letter is addressed to Theron Long, who was a co-worker of Lardner's at the gas company in Niles.  Lardner worked at the gas company in 1904 and until he left to work for the South Bend Times in the fall of 1905.  Long moved to Boonville, Missouri to manage the Missouri Power and Light Company plant in that town. 

3. Indian Lake is north of Niles, between Niles and Dowagiac. 
Back to Letter

4.  Lardner was not only busy in 1926, but sick.  He had been diagnosed with TB.

5. Ellis Abbott Lardner, his wife, was not from Niles.
Back to Letter

6.  Eyewitness.  Ring Lardner worked at the gas company.
Back to Letter

7.  The girl may be Ethel Witkowski, the only romance prior to his wife his biographers mention.  Donald Elder speculates his biography that the relationship may have broken up because one or both sets of parents disapproved of it on religious grounds:  the Lardners were Episcopalians and the Witkowskis were Jewish.  Whatever the case, Witkowski was from Chicago and vacationed at Barron Lake, outside of Niles.  He seems to have courted her until he met Ellis in 1907.   He mentions the same break-up in "Caught in the Draft," originally published on 9 Janurary 1932 in The Saturday Evening Post and reprinted in Some Champions (27-34):  "In the fall of 1907. . . I found myself in Ruth Etting's usual condition--heart-broken.  It was . . . because the only girl I could ever care for had announced her engagement to somebody decent.  I saw her and we talked it over, and she said that her family held to the conviction that I, like all other newspapermen, was en route to the gutter."
Back to Letter

8.  Lardner's sons are John, James, Ring, Jr., and David.  John Lardner was 14, as was Robert E. Long, the son of Theron, and the current owner of this letter.  
Back to Letter

9.   At one point Route 40 stretched from New Jersey to California, expanding the older National Road which had its terminus in Illinois.  The designation "Route 40" was introduced in 1926 along with its slogan, "The Main Street of America."  
Back to Letter

10.  Autograph signature.    

11.  One of Ring's jobs at the Niles Gas Company was bill collecting.  He didn't like the job and that part of the job didn't like him.  "Trying to collect bad debts and get new customers was a set up; I have always been a person who could take no for an answer.  Reading meters was the rub, because meters are usually in dark cellars where my favorite animal, the rat, is wont to dwell.  When I entered a cellar and saw a rat reading the meter ahead of me, I accepted his reading and went on to the next house."
Back to Letter



Home • Reader Guides • Study Guide • Works • Life • Features • Family • Store