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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 12, 2006

Memoirs all a fib by a jailbird

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

I've just purchased a book written by an Advertiser reporter while he was jailed that has been called a masterpiece of literary forgery. No, the author wasn't Sammy Amalu. He was a character named William Francis Mannix, a member of Central Union Church.

This all started when I got a call from Frank Morgan in the Kohala Book Shop on the Big Island, where you'll find the biggest inventory of used Hawaiiana in the world outside of the Internet. When Morgan told me that an Advertiser reporter had forged a book in O'ahu County Jail on a typewriter donated by Gov. Walter Frear, I said: "How much do you want for the book?"

"Fifty dollars."

"I'll take it."

So here's the story of the book.

It appears that William F. Mannix first demonstrated his powers of invention during the 1895-98 revolution in Cuba. The news coming out of Cuba was rather tame until he appeared on the scene. Mannix sent reports from behind the lines where no one was permitted to go.

Mannix's brilliantly written articles were printed in the New York Times and newspapers in Philadelphia. His dispatches were eyewitness reports smuggled out. He wrote about ambushes of hated government troops and of heroic battles won by the rebels. He got exclusive interviews at rebel headquarters.

The Cuban government arrested Mannix and sent him packing. He became a hero on the lecture circuit in the United States until it came out that his Cuban stories were written while Mannix passed the time pleasantly in the cafe of the Hotel Mascotte in Havana with a drink at his elbow.

Discredited, he ended up in China, then at war with Japan. Li-Hung Chang, a respected Chinese diplomat, negotiated the peace while Mannix served in China as a private in a U.S. Army detachment. There is no record that Mannix ever got near Chang.

Now the scene opens in 1911 at Central Union Church in Honolulu, where Mannix presented fabricated letters of reference from West Coast ministers testifying to his pious reputation. He got a job on The Advertiser. Then he went on a toot and forged the name of Lorrin A. Thurston, Advertiser publisher, on a check.

Thurston didn't want to prosecute, but the bank did, and Mannix was sentenced to a year in O'ahu County Jail. He asked for books to read on China to pass the time. Forgiving people brought him books. He wanted to write, a commendable activity, so Gov. Frear sent over an extra typewriter from his office.

On this typewriter, Mannix concocted stories about the Chinese celebrity Li-Hung Chang, written from nonexistent diaries. The articles were published in New York and London. A publisher suggested that Mannix expand the articles into a book. Mannix was happy to oblige and "Memoirs of Li-Hung Chang" was born, published in 1913 by Houghton-Mifflin Co.

Mannix bamboozled the publisher by corresponding from the O'ahu jail through a fictitious agent using the stationery of Pacific Associated Press, a nonexistent company with offices in Singapore and Tokyo that listed Mannix as president.

The manuscript was carefully checked by a China expert who found it highly informative. That's why the book is called a "masterpiece of literary forgery."

Mannix's introduction to Honolulu through Central Union Church was just as brilliant. Even when he went on benders, he confessed his sins and was forgiven. He didn't even serve a whole year in jail. The governor pardoned him after nine months. Sammy Amalu could have taken lessons.

It wasn't until an American diplomat who traveled with Li-Hung Chang read the book that things fell apart. For one thing, Mannix had Chang sailing from San Francisco, when he actually was in Vancouver, British Columbia. Then Mannix's real reputation caught up with him.

It's a very good book, only it's a forgery.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.