Newly Unearthed Letters Suggest O. Henry did not Embezzle

Aug 30, 2018 - 8:37 am


Recently acquired correspondence featured in new display
“In Defense of Prisoner #30664”


The O. Henry Museum, the historical home of the short story writer William Sydney Porter, has acquired letters that suggest Porter’s innocence in the embezzlement conviction levied against him while he was a teller at the First National Bank of Austin. The two letters show correspondence between Porter and J.L. Watson, the business manager of the Houston Post, where Porter began working as a columnist in 1895, as he awaited trial back in Austin. “I want to state to you that the charges against me are not only unfounded, but are, I think, the work of spite as well,” reads Porter’s handwritten response to Watson’s typed letter.

The correspondence is featured in a new display “In Defense of Prisoner #30664.” Join the museum on Austin Museum Day, September 23, 2018, from noon to 4:00 pm., for the display’s official opening.

The acquisition of these letters was made possible by the financial support of the Brush Square Museums Foundation, the citizen group advocating for the restoration and continued preservation of the O. Henry Museum and its sister site, the Susanna Dickinson Museum. The letters were discovered in El Prado, New Mexico, at Palacio de Milagros, a former stop on the Pony Express, now converted into a resort.

The correspondence supports the theory that Porter was a fall guy for the First National Bank during his term there, from 1891 to 1894, and was, in fact, innocent. This notion is validated by other efforts to exonerate Porter, including official requests for a presidential pardon, as well as O. Henry’s placement on a U.S. postage stamp, making him only the second person convicted of a federal crime, after Susan B. Anthony, to receive this honor.

About the O. Henry Museum
The O. Henry Museum is the property of the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department. Founded in 1934, the Queen Anne-style cottage has achieved status as a National Literary Landmark and features many original items, including O. Henry’s dictionary, writing desk, manuscripts, and personal artifacts. Through exhibits and programs, the museum tells the story of the short story writer, whose twist endings were made famous in stories like “Gifts of the Magi,” “The Last Leaf,” and “The Ransom of Red Chief.” For 42 years, the museum has hosted the Pun-Off World Championships, the first wordplay competition of its kind.