[NOTE: I posted this piece a year ago today, but since there is another flurry of activity out there today on Twitter and the web toasting O’Hara on his birthday, I thought I’d repost it again today].
It’s been great to see lots of people around the web noting that today is the birthday of Frank O’Hara, who was born on March 27, 1926.
But there’s a strange story about this which complicates things a bit: today is not the day O’Hara thought was his birthday.
As Brad Gooch details his biography of O’Hara, City Poet, O’Hara believed that he was born on June 27, 1926. That’s what his parents told him, and presumably that was the date he always celebrated as his birthday. He even wrote some funny lines about his supposed birthday in “Ode to Michael Goldberg (‘s Birth and other Births)”:
I hardly ever think of June 27, 1926,
when I came moaning into my mother’s world
and tried to make it mine immediately
by screaming, sucking, urinating
and carrying on generally
it was quite a day
O’Hara also deliberately began one of his amazing long poems, “In Memory of My Feelings,” on the day he thought was his 30th birthday — June 27, 1956.
But he was wrong. As Gooch explains, O’Hara’s “birth certificate — found twenty-five years after his death — recorded his real birth as three months earlier, on March 27, 1926, at Maryland General Hospital. The presiding physician: Maurice Shamer, M.D.”
Gooch offers a compelling explanation for this error:
“The discrepancy is a mystery. But not a difficult one to solve. His parents had been married in Grafton, Massachusetts, on September 14, 1925 — six months before the birth of their first son. As both were offspring of morally conservative Irish-Catholic families, the shift of their baby’s birthday three months later implied conception after marriage rather than before. The cover-up also solves the mystery of his parents’ eighteen-month stay in Baltimore. They fled their thickly rooted families in New England to hide the progress of the pregnancy, then soon returned.”
So there you have it: today, March 27, is actually Frank O’Hara’s real birthday — but that would’ve come as a big surprise to him.
As Gooch notes, this means that O’Hara (who called himself “an ardent horoscope reader”) wasn’t even aware of his correct astrological sign. Ironically, in October 1959, he wrote a poem about being a Cancer, when he was actually an Aries:
Now it is the 27th
of this month
which would have been my birthday
if I’d been born in it
but I wasn’t
would have made me a
which symbolizes silver, money, riches
… instead of
which symbolizes instability, suggestibility, sensibility
all the ilities like a clavichord
In any event, happy birthday to Frank O’Hara!