The Graphic was the creation of an eccentric, bushy-haired businessman named Bernarr Macfadden, who had started life rather more prosaically some fifty years earlier as a Missouri farmboy named Bernard MacFadden. Macfadden, as he now styled himself, was a man of strong and exotic beliefs. He didn’t like doctors, lawyers, or clothing. He was powerfully devoted to bodybuilding, vegetarianism, the rights of commuters to a decent railroad service, and getting naked. He and his wife frequently bemused their neighbors in Englewood, New Jersey — among them Dwight Morrow, a figure of some centrality to this story, as will become apparent — by exercising naked on the lawn. Macfadden’s commitment to healthfulness was so total that when one of his daughters died of a heart condition he remarked: “It’s better she’s gone. She’d only have disgraced me.” Well into his eighties he could be seen walking around Manhattan carrying a forty-pound bag of sand on his back as a way of keeping fit. He lived to be eighty-seven.
As a businessman, he seems to have dedicated his life to the proposition that where selling to the public is concerned no idea is too stupid. He built three separate fortunes. The first was as the inventor of a cult science he called Physcultopathy, which featured strict adherence to his principles of vegetarianism and strength through bodybuilding, with forays into nakedness for those who dared.
— Bill Bryson, One Summer: America, 1927
I dare say that a full biography of Macfadden would only be a disappointment compared to this delightful little character sketch. I’ve always liked Bryson’s dry, understated wit. I especially appreciate the tricolon here: “doctors, lawyers, and clothing.” It’s followed by a tetracolon, which is often assumed to not work well for rhetorical effect, but it would probably have sounded too singsong had he followed the first tricolon with “bodybuilding, vegetarianism, and getting naked.”