I just love it when people find useful information on my website and contact me!

This week someone contacted me for information on Daniel L. Carlsen.  She is researching to write a book on the history of the Narcotics Anonymous New York group of which Dan is the founder.  She told me “Daniel is a hero to many people in New York, and we intend to do him justice in our book.”  She indicated that Danny is mentioned in articles published in the New York Times, the Saturday Evening Post, Time, Look,  and that “he was masterful at public relations.  In fact, Danny was the first person to capture the attention of the national media about the true nature of drug addiction, and how addicts could recover using an adaptation of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous…  He is truly the founder of what became and is now a thriving, worldwide fellowship.”

Click & Zoom

Jane Dunaway (my husband’s great, great aunt) adopted Daniel when he was about 5 years old.  According to Jane’s book, Daniel was born in Puerto Rico and his mother died when he was 1 or 2 years old and was about 5 when his elderly father died in March 1913.  His father was Lorenzo Carlson and had made arrangements for Jane to care for Daniel upon his death.  She described Dan as “a prepossing blue-eyed little boy, charming in manner, quiet and obedient.  His diplomatic, gentlemanly behavior, would put to shame most American children.”  By the time Dan was 22 Jane withdrew all support due to his drug addiction and behaviors.  Read more about Daniel in her book, excerpt is to the left here.

When I received the request on Daniel this week I only had information about him that was in Jane’s book.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a photo of him with Jane and hope to locate it.   Since Jane indicated that Dan recounted his addiction in the Saturday Evening Post August 7, 1954 issue I looked it up using the public library’s free access to magazine archives and obtained a copy.  The article, linked here, is entitled “These Drug Addicts Cure One Another. While it only refers to Dan by first name, it has quite a bit of information about him and the New York Narcotics Anonymous group he helped form.

Here are excepts from that article about Dan’s family:

He was adopted by a spinster physician and spent his boyhood with his foster mother, a resident doctor in a Kansas City hospital, and with her relatives in Missouri and Illinois.   When he was sixteen he developed an ear ailment and was given opiates to relieve the pain. During and after an operation to correct the condition he received frequent morphine injections. Enjoying the mood of easy, floating forgetfulness they induced, he malingered.

Living in a large hospital gave Dan opportunities to pilfer drugs, and for six months he managed to keep himself regularly supplied. An addict at the hospital had taught him to inject himself, so for a time he was able to recapture the mood at will. He was embarrassing his foster mother professionally, however, and though not yet acknowledging the fact to himself, was becoming known locally as an addict.

…His attempts at withdrawal resulted in several extended periods of abstinence, the longest of which was three years.  When off of drugs Dan was an able sales executive and a good provider.  He married a Staten Island girl.  They had a son. Dan continued to have short relapses, however. Each new one put a further strain on the family tie. For a time, to save money for drugs, he used slugs in the subway turnstiles going to and from work. He was spotted by a subway detective and spent two days in jail. A few months later he was caught passing a forged morphine prescription. As a result, he was among the first prisoner patients at the new United States Public Health Service Hospital for addicts at Lexington, when it was opened on May 28, 1935.

After a year there, he made a supreme effort to be rid of drugs for good. To keep away from the temptations offered by New York drug pushers he found a job with a large Midwest dairy. He worked hard, saved his money and sent for his family. By this time, however, it was too late; his wife refused to come, and a divorce action was begun, “Her rebuff gave me what I thought was a good excuse to go back on drugs,” Dan reports. After that, his deterioration accelerated. On his seventh trip to Lexington, in 1948, he was in a profound depression…

Since I don’t have much on Danny, I decided to do some research this week.  In Jane’s book and the 1920 census Danny’s last name is spelled Carlson with an ‘o’ while in most of the other published materials it is spelled Carlsen, with an ‘e’.  Also based on Jane’s book and the 1920 census, Dan was born in 1907 yet, according to his obituary, he was 50 when he died in August 1956.

Dan married a woman from Staten Island and they had a son sometime in the early 1930’s.  I found that a Daniel L. Carlsen married Mary A. Lynch on March or May 30, 1930 in Richmond County, NY, which is where Staten Island is located.  The 1930 census was taken in April but I cannot find Dan.  However, there is one Mary A. Lynch, 17 and single, living in Richmond, NY in 1930.  She is living with her parents Frank J. and Hannah A. Lynch along with some siblings.  That is the only Mary A Lynch in Richmond but there are other Mary A Lynch’s in NYC area of similar age to Danny.   I’m now pursuing leads on possible living descendants.

Here’s his obituary that was published in the New York Times and a photo that was in a different publication.

Another obituary that was published in the New York Herald Tribune – August 21, 1956 (article page l2) – said “Founder Of Narcotics Anonymous Danny Carlsen, fifty,….. died Sunday (8/19).  …Mr. Carlsen had suffered the loss of one kidney as a result of the use of drugs, and had been in poor health a long time before his final illness.”

Then in The Addict, edited by Dan Wakefield (1963) published by Fawcett World Library, New York is an article entitled A Bridge to the Addict by Oona Sullivan (page 166) that says “…Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.), patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous and founded in 1945 by Daniel Carlsen, who had been a heroin addict for twenty-five years. Before he died of cancer in 1956, Carlsen, by his courage and perseverance, had been able to inspire many addicts to follow his example.”

I think it’s interesting to consider the influence that Dr. Jane Dunaway undoubtedly had on Danny.  She was one of Missouri’s first female physicians, was The University of Missouri’s School of Medicine’s second woman graduate and received her medical degree in 1905.  In my blog post entitled “Time for Bling” you can read more about her and also read about her successful siblings in my post entitled “Brothers & Sisters“.

While Jane Dunaway spelled his last name Carlson he signed his name Carlsen.

2012 — Update for “Oh Danny Boy!”

I did successfully make contact with a living descendant of Danny’s and provided her with the contact information with the individual doing research on him.  In August 2012 members of the NA informed me that they had located his unmarked grave and were having a memorial service for him.  On the NA website Carry The Message are several links including the 2010 work leading up to getting a headstone for Danny and another link has the memorial service program and photos of the headstone. I’m so glad that this worked out.

2015 — Update

On February 5, 2015 I received the following email:  “We were in touch some years back about the book, The Impossible Dream: A History of Narcotics Anonymous in New York. At last, the culmination of an eight-year effort, the manuscript is finished,and we have a date with the printer later this month. We would like to send you a copy of the first edition when we receive the shipment in March. Can you supply us with an address? There will be a gala book launch on March 21, at St. Paul’s Church in Manhattan. It will be tape-recorded, so we also would be happy to send you the relevant early history portion in which Danny C is the main subject.”

Yesterday, April 3, 2015 I received my copy of the book in the mail and immediately read the first chapter, which is called “The Legacy of Danny C”.  Those first 33 pages were quite fascinating to me.  How exciting to have contributed to this project.  Equally as exciting to me is to see Dr. Jane Dunaway’s contributions included in the bibliography and endnotes as well as my own.


Dunaway, Jane E. Dunaway, Allder, Pyle family. Bloomington, Indiana: Mimeographed, ?.

Ellison, Jerome. “These Drug Addicts Cure One Another.” Saturday Evening Post 227, no. 6 (August 7, 1954): 22. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 18, 2010).

Carry The Message of Recovery – a website with much history of Narcotics Anonymous.