Saturday, October 15, 2016

Writing Illini: Rudy Kagey (aka Kurt Steel) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Although Rudolph Hornaday Kagey (aka mystery writer Kurt Steel) was born in 1904 in the small Illinois town of Tuscola, sometime around the outbreak of the First World War he moved with his parents, Charles Claudius and Martha Francis (Hornaday) Kagey, to Flint, Michigan, where his father served as secretary and general manager of the Guaranty Title and Mortgage Company. By 1922, however, the family had returned to Illinois, specifically the city of Champaign, some thirty miles north of Tuscola.

Kagey House in Champaign, IL (right)

The Urbana-Champaign metropolitan area is home to the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system.  Rudy Kagey attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign between 1922 and 1927, received BA's and MA's there in 1926 and 1927.  In the latter year Kagey left UIUC for New York to attend Columbia University, where he received a PhD in philosophy in 1929. For the remaining 17 years of his short life he would teach philosophy at New York University.  Between 1935 and 1943 he also would publish ten mystery novels under his Kurt Steel pseudonym.

After his premature death at the age of 41 in 1946, Rudy Kagey's body was sent back to Tuscola, where he was laid to rest.  Matthew T. McClure (1883-1964), then Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UIUC and formerly the chairman of the philosophy department when Kagey was there, eulogized his late pupil as follows:

Rudy, as he was affectionately known to us, was carving for himself a distinguished career.  He must have seemed to himself to possess an inexhaustible store of energy, for he worked with a drive and at a tempo that knew neither caution nor limit.  His achievements as a writer of radio scripts, mystery stories, and magazine articles, as well as his more serious contributions to philosophy, his ruling passion, carried him in a swiftly moving rise to literary and professional recognition. 

Rudy never lost his affection for his friends here.  And we here never lost our interest and pride in his career in New York.  I remember how swiftly the news went around among us when we finally discovered that Kurt Steel was our own Rudy Kagey.

Kagey definitely made his mark at UIUC, as did his parents in Champaign, where they lived in a wide-porched Victorian house on West Hill Street.  I'll be looking at this matter, plus actually reviewing some "Kurt Steel," very soon.

"Death Loves a Shining Mark"
Rudy Kagey's burial plot in Tuscola, IL

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