From a family of rich New England bankers, Harry Crosby was born in 1898 in Boston, a poet who came to epitomize what Ernest Hemingway described as the Lost Generation. He was brought up in the exclusivity of the Back Bay area of the city and his uncle was then one of the richest men in America. He lived a privileged youth in a large mansion, delighting in throwing water bombs off the top story at visiting guests.
Crosby was sent to public school and graduated from St Mark’s in 1917 while war raged across the Atlantic in Europe. Along with the likes of Hemingway, Cowley and Crane, he longed for something more exciting and on graduating left for France to serve in the American Field Service. He experienced action as an ambulance driver in the Battle of Verdun and his vehicle was hit by a shell that miraculously left him unharmed.
Most of what followed of Crosby’s life stemmed from that moment when he almost lost it and, combined with his independent wealth, prompted him to lead the life of the consummate bon vivant. He was an inveterate womanizer, something he may have inherited off his father, and, on his return had a very public affair with the wife of Richard Peabody.
He would later marry Polly who was almost 28 years his senior and, after a period in Boston, they moved to Paris and took part in the Bohemian lifestyle there. He wrote his first collection, Sonnets for Caresse, in 1925 which received favorable reviews. Two years later the couple set up the Black Sun Press which produced lavish productions of the works of authors such as Edgar Allen Poe but was also used to publish Crosby’s second collection Red Skeletons.
His development began to move forward in Paris where he was able to mingle with the modernist artists and writers of the day. He read widely and developed an unhealthy interest in artists who had killed themselves. He and Polly also had a rather open relationship and they both had a number of extramarital affairs. In 1927 he wrote and revised his collection of journal entries, including more poems, into the first of his diaries under the title Shadows of the Sun.
He produced two more collections of poetry including Chariot of the Sun and Transit of Venus that were published by his own company. He and Polly returned to America for a short while and he was both appalled and excited by what he saw as the vulgarity of New York and Boston with their advertisements lighting up the night sky. The couple went back to France in 1929 where Crosby began to take flying lessons that prompted him to write Aphrodite in Flight which compared handling a plane to making love to a woman.
In December that year, Crosby was supposed to attend a dinner and play with friends but did not show up. When his apartment was searched he was found dead with a bullet wound in his head along with socialite Josephine Rotch who had also been shot. Crosby is believed to have killed Josephine and then turned the gun on himself. He was just 31 years old at the time.