Oscar Wilde Fleeced at Banco

Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour of 1882 ended not with a whimper but with a bang. Lonely, and with his popularity on the wane, Wilde fell prey to Hungry Joe, one of the most notorious of New York City's many hucksters and swindlers.

Hungry Joe. Would you trust this face? Oscar Wilde did. BIG mistake...

It was not a merry Christmas for Wilde, who realised he was at the mercy of the 'bunko men' (sometimes called banco or bunco steerers) far too late, after he had lost over a thousand dollars in a rigged game of chance. Although he later recovered the money (bizarrely, Joe and his cohorts left the uncashed cheques at a police station), Wilde was badly shaken by the ordeal. He was petrified that the story would be leaked to the press. His fear was realised within days.

Wilde wrote home to England, frantic for cash to pay for his return ticket. In the meantime he tried, in vain, to avoid the many reporters so desperate for a story that they bothered him at dinner and followed him into his bank to interrogate the tellers.

Earlier in the year, I narrated a series of contemporary newspaper articles that tell the story of the scam for the Short Nonfiction Collection Vol. 029 at Librivox.org, the public domain audiobook website. You can listen to the 10 minute audio clip by clicking here.

Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com