Henry Clune was born and raised in Rochester and grew up to write for the Democrat & Chronicle, he also wrote books about Rochester. Those facts don’t add up to making Clune special or interesting on their own, but Clune was a character and staple in this city for a long time. His keen observations can make a reader laugh and begin to understand something about Rochester or even remark on the strange accuracy to be found in something written upwards of sixty years ago. Clune also lived a long time and wrote a lot, dying in 1995 at the age of 105, his last book was published in 1990.
The “Seen and Heard” column that ran in the Democrat & Chronicle way back when became Clune’s domain. Clune grew dedicated to the interesting characters of Rochester, he writes, in Main Street Beat, published in 1947:
” I do not hold with the opinion that New York, New Orleans and San Francisco are the ‘story’ cites of America… and the story material that could be supplied by the people in my own hometown, if searched out and put into print would make volumes of fascinating reading.”
Clune wrote about characters like Rattlesnake Pete, who he knew as a friend, or about the bar of The Eagleston Hotel, which he claims to have been filled with “shifty-eyed men who operated handbooks on horse races”, or about ” a great lady of the movies masquerading as a bourgeoise housewife.” He wrote about the old Front Street, with love for the troublemakers and longing for days when upstanding citizens and criminals mixed in marketplaces.
Bill Kauffman eulogized Henry Clune saying: ” He rendered it, (Rochester) in fiction and history and profile and vignette, with such thoroughness and skill that he not merely described Rochester but actually helped create it”.
Picking up something written by Clune will give you history, sure and that’s always fun, but the insight is special too. Have you ever noticed that when you leave Rochester, you tend to tell people about it? Clune noticed Rochesterians doing that in 1947:
“The good Rochesterian with eulogize the town to all who will listen and to many who won’t.”
That comment wasn’t without some self-deprecation and he followed it with,”In his enthusiasm he may recall that it’s hospital for the insane , which already occupies an enormous tract in the southern section of the city, is growing prodigiously.”
Clune’s topics of choice and writing style are what make for a fun read. He came before the days when the local paper was concerned with what would make Rochester sound good or be smoothly accepted by the wussy readers. Clune got to be real, he wrote about things that were less than legal and about bars in the city, about upscale society and the low-class and everything is written with a slightly mocking tone but filled with fondness as well. Clune can make a reader think about Rochester in a new way.