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Did George Washington Really Tell Henry Knox
to "Shift that Fat Ass"?
A Most Merry and Illustrated Search for a Primary Source

George and Henry - Shifting that Ass

George and Henry

(With Added Discussion of the Variety of Literary and Historical Genre)

The Quote

One of the most famous - quote - "authentic quotes" - unquote - from George Washington is the one he made before the crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776. Henry Knox, the rotund but highly effective artillery officer, had just gone down into the boat. As George made his way on board, he nudged Henry with the tip of his boot and said the immortal words:

"Shift that fat ass, Harry, but slowly, or you'll swamp the damned boat."

This quote, we should point out, is everywhere. It's in books, articles, and even on the various "authentic quotes" sites on the Fount of All Knowledge. So if there's anything we know it's that George told Henry (or Harry) to shift that fat ass.

There's just one question.

Has anyone found the source for this quote?

Well, there is one source we know of, and that is The Crossing. This is a book published in 1971 and was later a TV movie released in 2000. Both the book and the movie were written by Howard Fast, an extremely prolific and successful author of the 20th century and beyond.

Howard's forte was definitely fiction and if you've seen the Kirk Doublas movie Spartacus, you'll see that the screenplay is based on Howard's novel of the same name. But Howard also wrote non-fiction, and indeed The Crossing is listed in libraries under the Dewey Decimal classification system number 973.33/2. This number - which starts with a number above 900 - indicates the work is history, geography, or biography. The number 973 means specifically that it is United States history, and the Library of Congress catalog number, E241.T7 F27, tells us the same thing.

Well, that seems clear enough. The book is history, George tells Henry to shift his fat ass, and that's pretty much that.

That was a short essay, wasn't it?

Weeeeeelllllllllll, not quite.

When is History Not History?

More people probably have seen the TV movie than read the book. Naturally at the beginning there are the usual credits listing the actors, cameramen, crew, and such stuff. And shortly before the action starts, the note appears saying that the teleplay was by Howard and is based on his novel The Crossing.

Hanh? (To quote Shakespeare) The novel?

Yes, the novel.

Now, the definition of a "novel" from the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary is - and we quote - "an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events". Another Merriam-Webster definition - from it's Concise Encyclopedia - is a "fictional prose narrative of considerable length and some complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting."

That's "an invented" and "fictional" prose narrative that deals "imaginatively with human experience".

Hm. There's something a bit amiss here.

How can an "invented narrative prose" or a "fictional prose narrative" that deals "imaginatively with human experience" also be history? Particularly since Merriam-Webster also tells us history is "a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes"?

But wait! Before we start throwing darts, remember! Merriam-Webster's dictionary lists the oldest definition first. So perhaps that was the definition for the word "novel" back then, but not now.

So let's turn to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. This, we read, gives us the most commonly used definition first. And turning the pages (or clicking the mouse) we find the American Heritage Dictionary defines a novel as a "fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters."

Once more we have a fictional prose narrative.

Does this mean, then, that The Crossing is a fictionalization about George and the army crossing the Delaware? Well, if we go by the dictionary definitions, it would certainly seem so.

And if you want to take this position, you can go to the Fount of All Knowledge where you can look up almost any book in print. There's one particularly popular site where you can get a description of a book, sometimes the picture of the cover, and its classification.

On that site, The Crossing is listed as "Fiction".


Then you can take a look on another website which lists all of Howard's books classified by "Fiction" and "Non-fiction".

The Crossing is listed under "Fiction"


So on the one hand, we see that some people are calling The Crossing a novel and fiction. But libraries - including the Library of Congress - call it history.

So what the heck is going on? Just what is The Crossing? Is it history? Fiction? A blend of the two?

And now we'll throw in - if that is possible - even more confusion.

If you look around you'll learn that in the 20th century, there emerged a new literary genre. This was the nonfiction novel. Now at first glance this seems contradictory. How can a "fictional prose narrative" be non-fiction? On the other hand, Humpty Dumpty said a word means what we want it to mean, neither more nor less. It depends on who is to be the master. We certainly agree with that.

So we go back to the American Heritage Dictionary, and we can indeed find that there is a definition for "nonfiction novel". A "nonfiction novel", we read, is a "factual or historical narrative written in the form of a novel: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is a nonfiction novel."

That's a factual or historical narrative.

So it seems that perhaps calling The Crossing a novel doesn't necessarily mean it's fiction after all.

And the nonfiction novel, Truman assures us, is not fiction. He said that In Cold Blood was completely factual down to the quotes for which Truman claimed at least 94 % accuracy from his memory alone. Instead he used the writing methods found in the novel to enhance the realism. Hence the nonfiction novel.

Later writers have indeed shown that Truman used the techniques of the novelist - if you mean the book "deals imaginatively with human experience". Journalists who have dug into the matter have found that some of the events described in In Cold Blood were so highly distorted - or perhaps we should say "imaginative" - that the dialog had to be invented. One of the detectives who worked on the case read a draft of the parts where he appeared. "I was under the impression that the book was going to be factual," he said, "and it was not. It was a fiction book." Sometimes even whole scenes were complete fabrications.

So if we go by what Truman did, then a - quote - "nonfiction novel" - unquote - is indeed a novel which, although generally based on true events and characters, permits the author to invent what he likes if he thinks it makes a better story.

But hold on there! Are you suggesting [sternly spoken] that Jonathan actually spun the tale of George telling Henry to shift his fat ass out of the cloth? Quit beating around the bush!

Well, before we cease our beating, we have to be honest. We have left out still another literary genre. That is the popular history . Or to once more quote the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a popular history is a history book that is "adapted to or indicative of the understanding and taste of the majority".

Now in novels ("nonfiction" and otherwise) the dialog may, as we've seen, be imagined by the author. But even in popular histories, dialog may not be exactly as the sources state. Instead the author may combine multiple sources and recast them in a more modern idiom. So one book will tell us that Richard the Lionhearted, when he was accosted by his father's friend, William Marshal, cried out, "By God's legs, Marshal, do not kill me. I wear no hauberk!" and yet in another book Richard says, "By the legs of God, Marshal, do not kill me! That would not be right, for I am unarmed". So a later writer pulls the two quotes together, and simplifies them to the more modern "By God's legs, do not kill me, Marshal. I am unarmed!"

Now is this quote invented? No, we can't say that. But neither is it exactly what Richard said. Instead, we have "reconstructed" an event and the dialog.

Note that when authors are reconstructing an event, they are not deliberately inventing the scenes. But the degree of how much imagination is allowed in a reconstruction has no fixed rules. It can be quite a bit. In fact in popular histories what you have might be highly novelistic descriptions. You could find stuff like:

"The door swung open and there stood General Washington adjusting his dentures."


"'Great Scott!' expostulated General Grant, as he stood astride the latrine, 'I thought it was only the Rebs who were 'on the run'!"

But aren't we straying a bit from our point? What about The Crossing?

The Crossing: The Novel

Well, in The Crossing we certainly have novelistic reconstructions. There are passages like:

"Washington himself was high and eager, his whole body tense with excitement and purpose."


"As he watched the boats, his frustration and annoyance mounted."

So we see that The Crossing does indeed reconstruct the scenes. After all, for these last two passages there are no specific sources.

Or look at it this way. In all of the 20,000 or more letters that George wrote, he never said anything like "At Trenton I was high and eager, my whole body tense with excitement and purpose" or "As I watched the boats, my frustration and annoyance mounted." Nor did Henry write to his wife Lucy, "When I saw General Washington, he was high and eager, his whole body tense with excitement and purpose, and as he watched the boats I could see his frustration and annoyance mounted." Had we references like these, we would have what are called primary sources and the scenes would not be reconstructions but true academic history.

It's important to realize that in a popular history, then, the authors may very well be imagining what the situation was like and the dialog might not be literal. The reconstruction may be a good guess, true, but it's still a guess.

And the guess might be quite different from someone else's. For instance, couldn't we just have as readily written:

"Although the men standing nearby were tense with excitement, Washington himself was remarkably calm and collected."

or perhaps:

"As he watched the boats, he managed to fight back any sense of frustration and annoyance."

So what should we think when we finally come to this paragraph.

"Washington stepped into the boat, picked his way among the men to where Henry Knox sat, nudged him with the toe of his boot and said vibrantly, "Shift that fat ass, Harry-but slowly, or you'll swamp the- -boat."

So not only did George tell Henry to shift his fat ass, but he did so vibrantly.

All right, already! Enough pontificating! Is there a source for this passage? And how much of this scene had to be "reconstructed"?

To answer that, we first consider what we read a bit later.

"Washington had an unmatched reputation for colorful speech in a crisis. What was not heard was invented, and Washington's observation gained in color and direction until it had swept through the little army."

We are now in a quandary. Just exactly what the heck does it mean that what George said "gained in color and direction" and "what was not heard was invented"?

Is Jonathan telling us that the quote might not be authentic? Or at that at least he has doubts that what has come down to us is really what George said?

George: His Customs and His Civility

Sadly Howard is no longer around to enlighten us further. He died in 2003 at age 88. That leaves us with only a few options.

First, we can check what we know about the men involved and the customs of the time. Then we can decide if it is likely George would have told Henry - vibrantly or otherwise - to shift his fat ass.

Or we can keep digging into the historical record.

And we can, of course, do both.

Henry Knox is a rather unusual hero of the American Revolution. After all, how could a 250 pound bookseller from Boston become one of the most effective artillery officers of the 18th century? How ridiculous! How absurd!

Showing respect

George thought we should show respect

The truth is Henry had as good credentials as anyone. He had been a member of the local militia in Boston and as the owner of a bookshop he was far more well-read and educated than many of his fellow soldiers. He was particularly interested in artillery and had taught himself the basics of the field. So he knew as much about big guns as anyone in the American Army.

Throughout his life, George held Henry in the highest esteem. Here we have no doubt as to why. In a truly Herculean feat, Henry managed to haul the 50 cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga 200 miles through horribly snowy weather down to Dorchester Heights above Boston. The sudden appearance of heavy artillery made the British realize that discretion was the better part of valor and so they hightailed it up to Halifax along with shiploads of civilian Tories. So although we may wonder if George asked Henry to shift his fat ass, we certainly know that Henry saved George's.

But first things first. Would George likely have made such a remark?

Remarks made in jest

Remarks made in jest

Despite the assurance that Washington was known for colorful speech, telling a fellow officer to shift his fat ass would have been a violation of military etiquette. This isn't just a matter of being polite. Disparaging remarks by a superior office about junior officers - even in jest - can weaken the authority of the officers over their command. George knew this, and today making provoking or reproachful comments can even be a court-martial offense.

We also know that George had a strong sense of dignity and proper behavior. True, some stories of his stone-faced character may be exaggerated. There is the tale that Gouverneur Morris (Gouverneur is his name, not a misspelled title) accepted a challenge from Alexander Hamilton to put his hand on Washington's shoulder only to received a withering stare in return. This episode may very well be bogus. On the other hand James Madison tells us that in "the company of two or three intimate friends" George would unbend and was "particularly pleased with the jokes, good humor, and hilarity of his companions". But joking with two or three intimate friends is not the same thing as standing in front of boatloads of soldiers whose ranks varied from lowly privates to lofty colonels.

George believed in proper standards of conduct and was sensitive to demeaning remarks. In his famous Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior (Plug: A fully illustrated volume can be purchased from Amazon by clicking here), he stated his maxim against speaking injurious words even in jest. He also expected proper deportment from his officers and that didn't include telling someone to shift his fat ass. On the contrary, when approving the appointment of Colonel William Woodford, George advised William that, yes, he could be "easy" with the men:

"... but not too familiar, lest you subject yourself to a want of that respect, which is necessary to support a proper command."

So telling someone to shift his fat ass is, we have to admit, an example of being "too familiar". George would have been breaking the standards of conduct he expected from his own officers.

Hilarity with His Intimates

Hilarity with His Intimates

Secondly George would not have said "ass". Instead contemporary documents tell us that in the 18th century Americans were still using the British "arse". It wasn't until after the mid-19th century that the Americanization "ass" is first attested as a vulgar substitute for the polite English word (yes, "arse" was considered polite).

The third point will seem strange to modern Americans. But George would not have addressed (then) Colonel Knox as "Harry" or even Henry. Despite the two men being on extremely good (and according to George, affectionate) terms, in all of George's ninety-odd letters to Henry, he never once addresses his friend by his first name. In fact, George never even called him "Knox", "Colonel Knox", or "General Knox". Nope, to George, Henry was always "Sir" or "My dear Sir".

This was not just a polite formal letter salutation, either. In colonial times adult males usually restricted first names to people considered their social inferiors. You used first names when addressing your children, servants, and slaves (who in fact had no last name). Using a first name indicated you considered the person significantly below your social standing.

In fact, use of any names was far less common than today. Men addressed other men - even friends - as "Sir" as did their wives and children (which if done so today is not with a straight face). Similarly, men addressed ladies as "Madam" whether they were married or single, and if they were or not. You even addressed family and relatives by titles: "Husband", "Wife", "Brother", "Sister", "Cousin" - stuff like that.

It wasn't until the mid-19th century that use of given names became more common. But still many men continued to use surnames. For instance, we have no record of the friends of Abraham Lincoln personally addressing him "Abe" or "Abraham". Even in private conversation it would have been "Lincoln".

But you say, we are speaking only in terms of probability. So even if it's not likely George would have told Harry/Henry to shift his fat ass/arse, why couldn't George in his "frustration" have had a lapse in propriety?

Well, there's one iron-clad rule in history. You are not allowed to make up the evidence if it's lacking. Without evidence that something happened, we have to take that it didn't. So if we want to believe George told Henry to shift his fat ass, it looks like we are going to have to do some more digging into the records. That is, we need to find out if indeed Jonathan got the story from somewhere other than his own - ah - "reconstruction".

Rupert Steps In

To make a not terribly long story even shorter, the exact reference Jonathan used is not really that difficult to find. It is, in fact, quite well known to the true Washington scholars, although for beginners the source is a bit surprising.

Rupert Hughes - A Towering Intellectural

Rupert Hughes - A Towering Intellectual

The source is from none other than the famous family of Howard Hughes, the reclusive multi-multi-billionaire. In the early 1920's, Rupert Hughes, Howard's uncle, began researching the life of George Washington. By the end of the decade he had published a three volume biography: George Washington: The Human Being and the Hero, George Washington: The Rebel and the Patriot, and George Washington: Savior of the States. A fourth volume was planned but never completed.

Now today's readers might take a rather condescending attitude toward Rupert. After all, they've never heard of him and so just who was he? Was he just a quintessential amateur who because of a wealthy father and a massive fortune (even then the Hughes family was rich) was able to dabble in anything he wanted to? And when you learn about the praise and honors heaped on Rupert by various art and literary organizations, you might sneer that they were just tossing bouquets in hopes that some of the famous Hughes fortune would roll their way.

Such dismission, though, is not really fair. Rupert, although virtually unknown by the general public today, in his own time enjoyed considerable celebrity and was seen as a towering intellectual. He produced a massive literary output: books, novels, plays, articles, short stories, screenplays. He was also a popular speaker and lecturer, directed a film, and achieved the epitome of fame by being the subject of an Al Hirschfeld caricature. So although his books today may seem dated - some of them were written over a hundred years ago - he was one of the most popular writers in the early 20th century. Certainly being from a prominent and wealthy family may have helped get Rupert's foot in the literary door, but it isn't enough to explain his later success.

And as far as deciding to write the biography of George, Rupert's goal - and a laudable one - was to strip the myths from the man and write about the Real George Washington. Unfortunately this approach, then as now, can cause problems with the Washington Worshipers. Some readers did indeed see Rupert as just a trash-the-great-man debunker, and it wasn't unheard of for someone during his lectures to lambast him for thinking George was actually a human being. But Rupert's books were by no means negative toward George as the title of the last book clearly shows.

All in all, though, the opinions regarding Rupert's biography were and are pretty mixed. Some modern scholars have praised the books for their attempt to look honestly at our first President. Others, though, more or less class it as a nice try. But regardless of the merits of the books, if you are a real Washington scholar, you certainly know about Rupert's books and have even read them.

Trimming the Quote

OK. But what about the "fat ass" quote?

Well, Rupert didn't give it to us exactly, but he lets us see how it came about. In his second book, George Washington: Rebel and Patriot (published in 1927), Rupert wrote:

"There is an unusually credible tradition among the many often-spoken but never-printed anecdotes of Washington, that he provoked a much needed laugh in his dreary audience [at the crossing of the Delaware] by turning to Knox, whose weight was tilting the barge lopsided, and saying:

"Shift your weight, Knox, and trim the boat."

What was that quote again?

"Shift your weight, Knox, and trim the boat."

You mean that's the quote?

Well, yes and no. There is a bit more as Rupert goes on to elaborate:

"Only 'weight' was not the exact term he used; for the real Washington was man among men enough to prefer a venerable Anglo-Saxon word when it said what he meant. Ferrying any army across any stream at noon is task enough, and always prolific in delays, but that dark embarkment was harrowing."

This, then, is the earliest written source of the famous "Shift that fat ass" quote. And if we are to believe Rupert, the story had not been written down before 1927. It was, we read, an "anecdote" from "tradition" and "never printed".

For reasons we won't elaborate on (see the reference section), it appears that Jonathan took the quote at face value. As far his own rendering, Jonathan was writing in the permissive and liberal 1970's. So he had no need to employ the euphemistic [weight]. Still, we must accept that both the anachronistic "ass" and changing "and trim the boat" to "but slowly or you'll swamp the damned boat" is a clear case of imaginative reconstruction.

But we've kind of strayed from the point. Did George actually tell Henry either to shift his weight and trim the boat or to shift his fat ass but slowly or he'd swamp the damned boat? Our question is equivalent to asking just how credible is a quote transmitted by "tradition" for 150 years and not recorded until 1927.

Sadly, not very. Despite the assurance that the tradition is credible, the quote really appears out of the blue and this is the hallmark of an apocryphal tale. In fact, one historian has examined the various "traditions" about George (and he does talk about Rupert's quote) and it's amazing how many of the famous stories arose many years after George's death. Sometimes they were out and out fabrications. The "source" might be nothing more than an old, tottering, decrepit, and enfeebled individual showing up in the 1830's claiming that in his younger days he knew George. He starts talking and suddenly everyone would know something about George that never really happened.

Finally we must point out that the crossing of the Delaware has been written about by academic historians, most recently in Washington's Crossing, published in 2006 by Oxford University Press. In this book there is even a chapter called "The River: Henry Knox and the Delaware Crossings". Not only do we read nothing about George telling Henry to shift his fat ass but there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe George and Henry even crossed in the same boat.

Still, some may think we're still speculating and haven't proven that George could not possibly, maybe, perhaps, and in one way or another have told Henry to shift his fat ass.

But there is one very good reason to doubt - even disbelieve - the story. Remember how George "picked his way" among the men to where Henry was sitting? So we see George stepping through a crowded boat with the men all huddled down as they wait for the boat to shove off.

Ultimately, this setting is drawn from a much later and inaccurate rendering of the event. That's the famous 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze. Everyone has seen this picture of George standing tall and proud in the tottering overfilled near-foundering craft. Except for the standard bearer, everyone else is sitting down. If we accept the picture, we can readily believe that George could indeed have picked his way among the (sitting) soldiers to where Henry was sitting. Then he could have easily nudged Henry with his toe and told him to shift his fat ass.

The trouble, though, is that in the boats that were actually used, this could not have happened. The crossing, in fact, was made in high walled, flat bottomed, and stable vessels called Durham boats. In colonial times, these craft were about 30 feet long and manned by a crew of 5. Their primary use was for running heavy freight up and down the river.

But the point is that the men in the boats - and pardon us if we shout - WERE NOT SITTING DOWN! Freight boats had few, if any, seats. The sides were also high enough so the men could safely stand, which would also have been the most efficient way to pack them in. So far from picking his way past the seated soldiers to nudge Henry, George would have had to tortuously squeeze his way through the men standing shoulder to shoulder and then lift his leg waist high to boot Henry's fat ass and tell him to shift it.

Not, as Eliza Doolittle said, bloody likely.

In Conclusion

What to conclude? Well, we can sum up our - quote - "evidence" - unquote as follows:

But still, you ask. Couldn't George have possibly told "Harry" to shift his fat ass but slowly or he'd swamp the damned boat?

Of course, it's possible. It's also possible that George tossed a dollar across the Potomac, chopped down his father's cherry tree, and wore wooden teeth.

But we know he didn't.



The Crossing, Howard Fast, William Morrow, New York, 1971. The first report of the modern rendition of the quote.

"Revising the Record: Did Washington's Wisecrack Tip the Balance?", Howard Fast, Americana, p 6, 1991. From this article it is clear Howard accepted at least the gist of the quote as genuine. But again there is no reference.

George Washington: Rebel and Patriot, Rupert Hughes, William Marrow, 1927.

Washington's Crossing, David Fischer, Oxford University Press, 2006. The most recent book about George crossing the Delaware. This does have footnotes and references (although a bit sparse). No reference at all to George telling Henry to shift his fat ass although the author clearly searched many primary sources including the letters of Henry and George.

This book mentions and even has a picture of a Durham boat. It is clearly not a boat shown in the Leutze painting.

His Excellency: George Washington, Joseph Ellis, Knopf, 2004. Mentions the boats George used to cross the Delaware were more like the landing craft used for the amphibious landings in D-Day. That's probably a bit of an exaggeration - Durham barges don't have sides that high - but that the low sided boats of the painting were not used is quite correct.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, John Fitzpatrick, Frank Grizzard, Jr., Sadly this site is no longer being maintained but is still searchable using keywords.

Life and Correspondence of Henry Knox: Major-General in the American Revolutionary Army, Francis Drake, Boston, 1873. On December 28 Henry wrote Lucy a detailed letter about the battle of Trenton. The crossing itself is mentioned only in passing and Henry didn't say anything about George telling him to shift anything or that they even crossed in the same boat.

Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic,Stuart Leibiger, University Press of Virginia, 1999. This has James's comment about George and his intimate friends.

Life of Thomas Jefferson, James Parton, Osgood, 1874. This book has the telling of the story about Gouverneur Morris and George that you usually hear. Another telling is where Gouverneur is even more familiar and is found in the Life and Correspondence of George Read by William Read (Lippincott, 1870).

"The King's English: Eighteenth-Century Language", Cathy Hellier, Colonial Williamsburg, Good article on conversation in Colonial America. We should note that women used first names with friends more often than men. In 1777, Martha Bland, the wife of Colonel Theodorick Bland, was with her husband at Morristown and wrote a friend how the General could be "downright impudent sometimes" adding "but such impudence, Fanny, as you and I like." (Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society: 1846-1966, 51:250-253.

A New English dictionary on Historical Principles, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1888. The OED with the history of the words.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature, Jay Parini (Ed.), Oxford University Press, 2003

Poor Richard's Almanac, Benjamin Franklin, 1736-1737. The quote is "The greatest monarch on the proudest throne, is oblig'd to sit upon his own arse." Even as late as 1888 the word was considered "polite". That possibly may not be true of Ben's aphorism, "Force shits upon reason's back." Polite language or not, Ben had a way with words.

The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: An A-Z Compendium of Quotes from the Most Eloquent of American Presidents, Alex Ayres, Plume, 1992.

"The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel", George Plimpton, The New York Times, January 16, 1966.

"Capote's Co-conspirators", Patrick Keefe, The New Yorker, March 22, 2013.

Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, George Plimpton, Doubleday, 1997. Interview with Harold Nye.

William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England, Sidney Painter, Johns Hopkins Press, 1933 (Reprint: Medieval Academy of America, 1982).

Elanor of Aquitaine, Marion Meade, Penguin Books, 1977

Richard I, John Gillingham, Yale English Monarchs, 1999.

"The Literary Legacy of Rupert Hughes", James O. Kemm, Books at Iowa, April 1985, reprint at

The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero, William Kalush and Larry Sloman, Atria Books, 2006

Various Websites. Not wishing to criticize individuals, it seems best not to identify certain websites specifically. But the quote seems to be growing in the telling. You can even read that what George really said was "Move that fat ass of yours out of the way, Henry, but not too fast or else you'll swamp the damn boat!"