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Slim Brundage Papers

 Collection
Identifier: Midwest-MS-Brundage

Scope and Content of the Collection

The collection primarily consists of the writings and personal correspondence of Slim Brundage (1903-1990), as well as correspondence, press releases, speaker solicitations, and poetry relating to the College of Complexes. Two attempts at an autobiography, a novel about union politics and corruption, and a wide variety of published and unpublished magazine and newspaper articles and letters to the editor make up the bulk of Brundage’s writings. Most of the College of Complexes materials are general correspondence, speaker solicitations, press releases, and poetry written by attendees of the College. In addition to the foregoing, the collection also includes materials relating to the Culture Vulture, an institution similar to the College of Complexes which operated briefly from late-1961 to mid-1962, and documents pertaining to certain of Brundage’s financial and legal matters. Although the heyday of the College of Complexes was in the 1950s and early 1960s, most of the papers in the collection are from 1964-1972.

Dates

  • 1955-1997
  • Majority of material found within 1964 - 1972

Creator

Language

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Slim Brundage Papers are open for research and available to users one box at a time in the Special Collections Reading Room. (Priority III)

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Slim Brundage Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to either the Newberry Library or the applicable author or his or her heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Slim Brundage

Myron Reed “Slim” Brundage typically described himself as a house painter, which was probably his most consistent source of income, but he was best-known as the founder and self-proclaimed “janitor” of the College of Complexes, which operated on and off out of several locations on Chicago’s Near North Side during the 1950's and 1960's and served as a forum where speakers and the audience would debate controversial topics and read poetry. Brundage was also a prolific, if ultimately unsuccessful, writer, authoring multiple books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, as well as frequent letters to the editor on various topics. None of his books, however, and few of his articles, were ever published.

Brundage was born on November 29, 1903, in an insane asylum in Blackfoot, Idaho, where his mother was employed. He worked various jobs as a teenager before moving to Chicago in 1922, where he picked up house painting and joined the painters’ union in 1926. This was a trade he continued to ply on and off for most of his life, even offering to paint high floor exterior windows at the age of 69 if someone would supply him with a window-washer’s belt.

During the late 1920's, Brundage frequented the Dill Pickle Club, which was founded by former labor activist Jack Jones in 1916 and stood near the corner of Tooker Place and State Street in Chicago. The Dill Pickle Club served as a meeting place for radicals, students, intellectuals, and literary and academic figures such as Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, Ben Hecht, and Albert Michleson. Brundage also may have worked at the Dill Pickle Club for a time, although for how long and in what capacity is unclear. During this period, Brundage allegedly spent thirty days in jail after being arrested for procuring liquor for two Dill Pickle customers who turned out to be federal Prohibition agents.

Around the time of the Dill Pickle Club’s eventual demise in 1932, Brundage opened his own establishment, the first College of Complexes, at 1317 N. Clark Street. Brundage hoped to emulate the formula and early success of the Dill Pickle Club, but the College closed after only a few months. Brundage’s next venture was a “hobo college” called the Knowledge Box on West Madison Street, which he operated from 1936-1937. The Knowledge Box and other hobo colleges of the period put on speakers and acted as open discussion forums for the large numbers of men who were unemployed during the Great Depression. The rent was low, and the speakers spoke for free, but Brundage was not able to collect enough money from donations and special fund raising events such as the “Fiesta for Forgotten Men” to stay in business.

Brundage then went back to house painting, while writing on the side. In the late 1940's he visited New York to try to sell his first book, a novel entitled Mine be the Dust about union politics and corruption. Brundage never found a publisher, and while in New York he fell off of an elevated train platform and injured his back. He received an insurance settlement from this accident and used the money to open the second College of Complexes at 1651 N. Wells Street in 1951, sending out opening-night invitations to those on a mailing list supplied by Chicago novelist Jack Conroy, who also served as the College’s first speaker that night.

In 1955 Brundage moved the College to 862 N. State Street, very near where the old Dill Pickle Club had been. Brundage then opened a New York City branch of the College of Complexes in Greenwich Village in 1957, and also explored the idea of a San Francisco location as well. In 1959, Brundage purchased a building at 515 N. Clark Street and moved the Chicago College of Complexes there. By 1961, however, trouble with creditors, the Internal Revenue Service, and the City of Chicago led to the closure of both College of Complexes locations. Some claimed that the City’s increased scrutiny of the College, which resulted in allegations of numerous Building Code and other violations, was precipitated by Brundage’s decision to invite Nazi leader George Rockwell to speak at the College in 1960, a move which sparked stormy protests by Jewish groups.

In November 1961, several months after the second demise of the College of Complexes, Brundage opened the “Culture Vulture” at 343 W. North Avenue. The Culture Vulture was an establishment very similar to the College of Complexes, and featured speakers and debates, poetry nights, and live music. Brundage and his partner soon had a falling out, however, and the Culture Vulture did not survive past the spring of 1962.

Brundage once again returned to house painting, but never gave up on the College of Complexes. In 1965 he reopened the College of Complexes for the third time, this time back at its old 862 N. State Street location. Some of his earlier problems with the City of Chicago apparently remained, however, and despite the best efforts of Brundage and his allies, the College was unable to obtain a liquor license and was thus forced to operate as a coffee shop rather than a tavern. This proved to be a serious set-back, and by 1966 the College of Complexes no longer had an independent location. Instead, it operated out of the back room of the St. Regis Restaurant at 105 W. Grand Avenue, and later at various other locations on Chicago’s North Side, one or two nights a week, with occasional interludes of complete inactivity. During this period Brundage worked to get the College of Complexes concept on the air as a radio or television program, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

By this time, Brundage had grown tired of the Chicago weather and he began spending winters in Guadalajara, Mexico. While he was away, friends such as Dorothy Beineke took over the responsibilities of running the College of Complexes, which at this point was really just a matter of lining up speakers and acting as a moderator. Brundage’s role at the College gradually decreased, and it appears that he was no longer actively involved with the College of Complexes at all after 1972. Nevertheless, meetings of the College of Complexes have continued to take place at various locations throughout Chicago since the 1970's. Currently (as of 2003), the group meets Saturday evenings at the Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Brundage apparently moved to California sometime in the mid-1970s, although he seems to have continued to regularly spend time in Chicago for the rest of his life. He last home was in El Centro, California, and it was there that he died on October 18, 1990, at the age of 86, reportedly of a brain hemorrhage he suffered while attending a senior citizens bingo party.

Extent

4.8 Linear Feet (12 boxes)

Abstract

Writings and correspondence of Slim Brundage, founder of the College of Complexes, which operated on and off out of several locations on Chicago’s Near North Side during the 1950's-1960's as a forum where speakers and the audience debated controversial topics and read poetry. The collection also includes a variety of documents relating to the College of Complexes itself, such as correspondence, press releases, speaker solicitations, and poetry written by the College’s “students.”

Organization

The Slim Brundage Papers are organized into the following series
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1955-1990
Box 1
Series 2: Writings, 1956-1988, bulk 1964-1971
Boxes 1-5
Series 3: Correspondence, 1962-1991, bulk 1965-1972
Box 6
Series 4: College of Complexes, 1953-1972, bulk 1964-1972
Boxes 7-10
Series 5: Culture Vulture, 1961-1962
Box 11
Series 6: Legal Matters, 1960-1972, bulk 1960-1963
Box 11
Series 7: Personal Financial Matters, 1968-1972
Box 11
Series 8: Audiovisual, 1965 and 1997
Boxes 11-12

Collection Stack Location

1 8 5

Provenance

Gift of Slim Brundage, 1984, 1988; and Roy Alexander, 1991.

Processed by

Brian Silbernagel, 2003.

Acknowledgements

This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Title
Inventory of the Slim Brundage Papers, 1955-1997, bulk 1964-1972
Status
Completed
Author
Brian Silbernagel
Date
©2003.
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 08/17/2011: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts Repository

Contact:
60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States
312-255-3512