Hathaway first appeared in The Sandman #1 "The Sleep of the Just."

In 1916, he was the senior curator of the Royal Museum. He had been approached by Roderick Burgess before about 'loaning' museum pieces, but after the death of his son, Edmund, in battle, he agreed to remove the Magdalene Grimoire from the Royal Museum and release it to Burgess, in exchange for returning his son to him. Burgess lacked only the Grimoire to complete a spell he said would imprison Death. Once imprisoned, he assumed Death could be forced to do his will.

Burgess completed the spell, but did not, in fact, capture Death. Hathaway had not only received nothing for his ethical lapse, he had opened himself up to blackmail, and Burgess used him to loot the museum of any artifact he cared to have. In 1920, the Royal Museum reviewed their collections, revealing missing books and manuscripts. Hathaway came under suspicion almost immediately. Broken, and disgusted with himself, Hathaway confessed all in a suicide note, implicating Burgess as the receiver of stolen goods. Burgess, however, watched his lap dog try to bite him through magical means. Hathaway stabbed himself and lay dying even as Burgess caused the note to burn. Burgess was questioned about Hathaway's suspicious death, but no action was taken against him due to lack of evidence. John Hathaway's death was ruled a suicide.