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Two of Robert E. Howard’s tales, “Dig Me No Grave” and “The Brazen Peacock,” feature the worship of a devilish peacock deity, alternately called Malik Tous and Melek Taus.

As recently as 1996, T.K.F. Weisskopf could say in the introduction to a Howard collection that “the cult of Malik Tous, mentioned in several stories, is – so far as my research can tell me – one that only existed in the pages of Weird Tales.” (Beyond the Borders, p. viii) – which is fair, given the relative obscurity of the subject.

While Howard had an excellent imagination, Malik Tous, the Peacock Angel (whose name is variously transliterated as Melek Taos, Taw’us Melké, Malka Tausa, and Melek Taus), was not one of his creations. Reverence for this figure is a feature in the life of the real-life Yazidis, or Yezidis, a group of Kurdish-speaking peoples from what is now Northern Iraq. As in the fiction, Mailk Tous is often identified with Satan, and the devotees have often been depicted as devil-worshipers by outsiders. Today, a Yezidi Human Rights Organization is working to raise awareness and support for the contemporary people, who are still often thought of as Satan-worshipping cultists.

William B. Seabrook, the same author who brought attention to Haitian vodou with his book The Magic Island, discusses the Peacock Angel in his 1927 work Adventures in Arabia.

His informant, an old Yezidi priest, says that “Moslems and Christians are wrongly taught that he whom we call Melek Taos is the spirit of evil. We know that this is not true. He is the spirit of power and the ruler of this world.” (p. 326)

black_massIn her book Peacock Angel (1941), Lady E. S. Drower sums up the religion: “The Yazidis are spoken of as Devil-Worshippers … I cannot believe that they worship the Devil or even propitiate the Spirit of Evil. Although the chief of the Seven Angels, who according to their nebulous doctrines are charged with the rule of the universe, is one whom they name Taw’us Melké, the PEACOCK ANGEL, he is a Spirit of Light rather than a Spirit of Darkness.”

“‘They say of us wrongly,” said a qawwâl to me one evening, “that we worship one who is evil.’

“Indeed, it is possibly the Yazidis themselves, by tabooing all mention of the name Shaitan, or Satan, as a libel upon this angel, who have fostered the idea that the Peacock Angel is identical with the dark fallen angel whom men call the Tempter. In one of the holy books of the Mandaeans the Peacock Angel, called by them Malka Tausa, is portrayed as a spirit concerned with the destinies of this world, a prince of the world of light who, because of a divinely appointed destiny, plunged into the darkness of matter … It seemed probable to me … that the Peacock Angel is, in a manner, a symbol of Man himself, a divine principle of light experiencing an avatar of darkness, which is matter and the material world. The evil comes from man himself, or rather from his errors, stumblings and obstinate turnings down blind alleys upon the steep path of being.”

In Howard’s story “Dig Me No Grave,” the peacock is known as “Malik Tous,” and is an embodied, gigantic, bat-like bird figure, apparently synonymous with all the devils in history: “There is but one Black Master though men calle hym Sathanas & Beelzebub & Apolleon & Ahriman & Malik Tous.” (p. 140) In “The Brazen Peacock,” the more localized version is called Melek Taus, and here the peacock is a carved bronze figure, like that described by Seabrook.

peac42aIt is impossible to know at this point whether Seabrook was a direct source for Howard’s research on the Yezidi, but Howard’s descriptions in “The Brazen Peacock” do seem to have been informed by Seabrook’s first-person account of visiting “the temple of Satan and the sacred shrine at Sheik-Adi” (p. 314) Both of them refer to the same geography: Mount Lalesh, the Mosul region, and the town of Baadri, (Howard, p. 114) and include many common details.

Seabrook: “We had our first view of the castle of Said Beg, ruler and ‘Black Pope’ of the Yezidees … it stood isolated on a slope, and the little village of Baadri with clustering low stone houses lay several yards below it.” (p. 311)

Howard: “A few Americans, Englishmen and Frenchmen have been to Baadri and seen the castle of Mir Beg, the Black Pope of all the Yezidees, scowling down on the village a hundred yards below.” (p. 114)

Unlike Howard’s character, Seabrook met Mir Said Beg, and says “It was hard to convince myself that I was actually in the presence of the ruler of the Devil-Worshipers … for he seemed no different from any other grave and courteous Oriental host, and in the most matter-of-fact way set about making us feel at home and comfortable.” (p. 312) The American visitor is welcomed as if he’s an Englishman, whose “countrymen had stopped the murder and persecution of his people” at the hands of both Moslems and Christians.

Seabrook: “I … wondered as we rode how many of the other wild tales would turn out to be untrue … the temple hewn from solid rock, leading down to vast subterranean caverns stained with the blood of human sacrifice.” (p. 315)

Howard: “I have heard that their stronghold is in the hill-town of Sheikh-Adi, beyond Mosul, and that they worship this brazen image as the symbol of Shaitan, and to it they offer up human sacrifices in great caverns below the temple.” (p. 114)

Seabrook: “The entire hillside was dotted with hundreds of uninhabited stone huts – shelters, the Mir told us, for Yezidee pilgrims who visited the shrine.” (p. 316)

Howard: “In one of the hundreds of empty stone huts, erected for the shelter of pilgrims, I took up my abode.” (p. 114 – 115)

Seabrook: “I followed our new guide down a flight of stone steps, through a gateway … into a little rectangular walled yard whose northern wall was the face of the actual temple, built against and into the living rock of the mountainside. This was the ‘Courtyard of the Serpent.’ And the serpent’s actual dominating presence was there – though it was not alive. It was a stone serpent standing on its tail, carved in high relief, and glistening black in the sunlight on the gray wall, at the right of the temple door.” (p. 317)

Howard: “I fled screaming at the sight of the great black stone serpent which stands on its tail in the inner courtyard near the doorway.” (p. 115)

Seabrook: “The first thing I noticed was dozens of little flickering points of light at irregular spots in the wall. These came from small iron dishes, set in niches, in which lighted wicks floated in olive oil.”

Howard: “Lighted wicks, floating in oil, illuminated the place.” (p. 116)

Seabrook: “The arrangement of the temple was curious and difficult to describe. Down its middle, from end to end, ran a row of stone pillars …” (p. 318)

Howard: “A row of stone columns divided the great hall into two equal parts.” (p. 116)

Seabrook: “There was no altar of any sort …” (p. 318)

Howard: “There was no altar, no shrine. The room was bare.”

Seabrook: He is told about a ceremony “which … was repeated every spring.” In it, a white bull “was decorated with garlands of red flowers, a vein in its throat was opened, and it was led or dragged in procession round and round the tower … until the tower’s white base was bathed in the crimson circle of its spurting blood.” (p. 323 – 324)

Howard: In his story, the hoopla surrounding this festival allows his narrator entrance to the shrine.  “A white bull, bedecked with flowers, is brought to the Tower of Evil and there a vein is opened in his throat and he is led around and around the Tower until he drops and dies from weakness, and the blood spurting from his throat has dyed the base of the Tower crimson all about.” (p. 116)

Seabrook: “One must neither wear nor exhibit any article of clothing that was blue … for blue is taboo and anathema among the Yezidees, because it is supposed to have magical properties inimical to Satan.” (p. 309)

Howard: “You must not wear a blue garment or ornament, since blue is a color inimical to Shaitan.” (p. 115)

Seabrook: “While it was forbidden, at least theoretically, on pain of death to pronounce the name of Shaitan, we might freely mention their Satanic god by his other name, Melek Taos (Angel Peacock).” (p. 325) “While the name of Shaitain was forbidden, he said – so much so that if a Yezidee hears it spoken, their law commands him either to kill the man who uttered it or kill himself – yet we could talk as freely with them about Melek Taos ‘as we could to a Christian about Jesus.’” (p. 310)

Howard: “If you speak the name of Shaitan before a Yezidee, he is bound to kill you, or failing that, to kill himself.” (p. 115) “You may speak freely of Melek Taus … since this is the name by which Shaitan permits himself to be discussed by his worshippers.” (p. 115)

Seabrook: “One must take care never to spit in a fire or to put out a dropped match by stepping on it with the foot, for to them all fire is sacred.” (p. 309)

Howard: “I lit a cigarette, then thoughtlessly cast down the burning match and trod on it to extinguish it … I cursed myself. Fire is sacred to Melek Taus and it is forbidden to spit in a flame or to tread on a flame. No Oriental would have made that mistake in Sheik-Adi …” (p. 118). Here, the sociological detail about Yezidi beliefs is used as a dramatic means to give away the disguise of the narrator.

96660b7eb2e063826a57554c0fb7c2a0At least one major difference between the weird tale and the nonfiction account has to do with the peacock itself. In Howard’s story, the carved peacock is “worked with exquisite skill.” (p. 113) In Seabrook, the bird, which “no man … had ever seen” is “supposed to be rudely carved, more like a rooster than a peacock.” (p. 310)

Also, in the thriller, the cavern under the chamber is kept guarded, and is an active site of weird rituals. Seabrook merely had to get permission from the Mir in order to be allowed entrance, although he was told “it was just a cave.” (p. 319)

Inside, Seabrook finds fascinating “subterranean caverns and streams and springs” (p. 320), but no sign of any rites or worship taking place there. His guide does eventually tell him that “kolchaks, who I learned later were the fakirs of miracle workers of the Yezidess,” still came there to perform magical workings (p. 322). He’d been disappointed to find so little evidence of the weird or mysterious, and at this information, he candidly admits “I was thrilled.” (ibid)

(Curiously, those of us of a certain age will recognize the word Kolchak as the name of “the Night Stalker,” the 1970’s TV character who investigated the strange and unusual).

Howard’s tale would have been anticlimactic if it took its cues from Seabrook at this point, so in his version, there is “a crimson and horrific altar … a grisly, horrible thing, of some sort of red stone, stained darkly and flanked with rows of grinning skulls laid out in curious designs.” (p. 117)

71152950In the 1919 work Devil Worship, an early book about the Yezidis, Isya Joseph says, “It is interesting to note that, in the history of religion, the god of one people is the devil of another. In the Avesta, the evil spirits are called daeva (Persian Div); the Aryans of India, in common with the Romans, Celts, and Slavs gave the name of dev … to their good or god-like spirits. Asura is a deity in the Rig Veda, and an evil spirit only in later Brahman theology. Zoroaster thought that the beings whom his opponents worshipped as gods, under the name of daeva, were in reality powers by whom mankind are unwittingly led to their destruction.” (p. 155)

Melek Taus, whose identity as an evil being is a matter of perspective, is very much a god in the eye of the beholder. That’s a theme found in other of Howard’s works, especially in the approach to world religions in the Conan stories, where some of these ambiguous deities, like the historical Asura, appear by name.

 

Works Cited:

Drower, E. S. (Ethel Stefana). Peacock Angel: Being Some Account of Votaries of a Secret Cult and Their Sanctuaries. London: J. Murray, 1941. Available online at www.avesta.org/yezidi/peacock.htm

Howard, Robert E. Beyond the Borders. New York: Baen, 1996. Introduction by T.K.F. Weisskopf.

Howard, Robert E. “The Brazen Peacock.” Tales of Weird Menace. The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2010. Pages 111 – 130.

Howard, Robert E. “Dig Me No Grave.” The Complete Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Pages 131 – 141.

Joseph, Isya. Devil Worship: The Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz. Boston: R. G. Badger, 1919. Available online at www.sacred-texts.com.

Seabrook, William B. Adventures in Arabia: Among the Bedouins, Druse, Whirling Dervishes & Yezidee Devil Worshipers. New York: Paragon House, 1991. Originally published 1927.

Read Karen’s REHF Award nominated “I Put a Spell on You: Robert E. Howard’s Conjure and Voodoo Stories” here.
This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, Weird Tales.

lonesome-rattler

In early October of 1932 Howard sent a set of rattlesnake rattles to his friend and correspondent H.P. Lovecraft. Here HPL is thanking Howard for the gift in a letter dated October 15, 1932:

Thanks prodigiously for the splendid set of lethal reminders – which will go under glass in my cabinet of curiosities. It will form a splendid companion piece to the mottled and sinuous glider which Whitehead captured and bottled for me in Florida in 1931. Your prose-poem accompanying the set is one of the most vivid things I have read lately, and I wish it could be published somewhere. It has a magnificently weird, haunting cadence and imagery, and seems to call up a potent atmosphere of power, death, and silence.

Here is Howard’s response in a letter to HPL, ca. December 1932:

Glad you liked the rattles. The owner got his head shot off by an acquaintance of mine, one Tom Lee, on the upper reaches of the Jim Ned, the scene of several bloody Indian fights in the past. Knowing I was anxious to procure a good set of rattles to send to you, he saved them.

An even bigger snake was bagged by a friend of mine down in Brown County this fall, but the discharge of his shotgun blew the rattles all apart and destroyed some of them. They found fourteen, and there’s no telling how many were destroyed. The snake, according to what I heard, was as thick as a man’s arm. Talking of phobias — there was a fellow with my friends when they came onto the snake, and he was shaken so badly by the incident that he trembled like a leaf, and his teeth chattered for perhaps half an hour afterwards. I’ll admit there’s something unnerving about the slimy brutes. I’ll never forget the time that I came clambering up out of a creek bed, reached up to pull myself up on the bank by a tree limb, and took hold of the tail of a water-moccasin which was sunning itself on the branch. They say you can’t do but one thing at a time, but I did, or rather my various members acted simultaneously and independent of each other. My left hand released the snake, my right drew my knife, and my legs gave way and precipitated me down the bank.

cottonmouth-coiled-around-a-treeOdds are that was a Western Cottonmouth Howard had the close encounter with. Though it is rare event that a Cottonmouth is found on a tree branch, they do show up there from time to time. Howard writes in his correspondence of close encounters with poisonous snakes, notably rattlesnakes, when he was younger. They are one of the many denizens of the high plains of North Central Texas where Howard lived. Of course, he was always talking up the deadly critters that lurked in his environment and Texas in general. Howard clearly had a fascination with slithering serpents — they are a reoccurring theme in his’s stories.

It is too bad Howard did not live to see the Great Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, which began as annual event in 1958 and has been held every year since then. Some of the events at this year’s event included: snake eating contest, beard contest, longest snake and most pounds of snakes.

Here is the text of that original letter enclosing the rattles Howard sent to Lovecraft, which first appeared in a 1937 fanzine called Leaves #1 published by R. H. Barlow, the literary executor of HPL’s estate. It is likely Barlow found the letter among HPL’s papers, gave it a title and used it in his publication.

“With a Set of Rattlesnake Rattles”

Here is the emblem of a lethal form of life for which I have no love, but a definite admiration. The wearer of this emblem is inflexibly individualistic. He mingles not with the herd, nor bows before the thrones of the mighty. Between him and the lords of the earth lies an everlasting feud that shall not be quenched until the last man lies dying and the Conqueror sways in shimmering coils above him.

Lapped in sombre mystery he goes his subtle way, touched by neither pity nor mercy. Realizations of ultimate certitudes are his, when the worm rises and die vulture sinks and the flesh shreds back to the earth that bore it. Other beings may make for Life, but he is consecrated to Death. Promise of ultimate dissolution shimmers in his visible being, and the cold soulless certainty of destruction is in his sibilances. The buzzards mark his path by the pregnant waving of the tall grasses, and the blind worms that gnaw in the dark are glad because of him. The foot of a king can not tread on him with impunity, nor the ignorant hand of innocence bruise him unscathed. The emperor who sits enthroned in gold and purple, with his diadem in the thunder-clouds and his sandals on the groaning backs of the nations, let him dare to walk where the rank grass quivers without a wind, and the lethal scent of decay is heavy in the air. Let him dare — and try if his pomp and glory and his lines of steel and gold will awe the coiling death or check the dart of the wedge-shaped head.

For when he sings in the dark it is the voice of Death crackling between fleshless jaw-bones. He reveres not, nor fears, nor sinks his crest for any scruple. He strikes, and the strongest man is carrion for flapping things and crawling things. He is a Lord of the Dark Places, and wise are they whose feet disturb not his meditations.

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A tip of the Stetson to Patrice Louinet for the information on “With a Set of Rattlesnake Rattles.”
This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard Biography, Howard's Texas.

00000il_570xN_296503644

Conrad shook his head. “Have you ever thought that perhaps it is his very sanity that causes him to write in that fashion? What if he dares not put on paper all he knows? … Men may stumble upon secret things, but von Junzt dipped deep into forbidden mysteries. He was one of the few men, for instance, who could read the Necronomicon in the original Greek translation.”

– Robert E. Howard, “The Children of the Night

VonJunzt1Friedrich, Baron von Junzt, had met with difficulties when it came to having his life’s work, Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, published. No orthodox press in Europe would touch it. Even commissioning the task privately led to one printer destroying a manuscript, and to a second committing suicide. Junzt had a second manuscript in reserve against such eventualities, and he entrusted that to his friend Alexis Ladeau, who copied out another for complete security, placing it in the vault of a Paris bank. Friedrich then left for Riga on the Baltic, hoping the furore and scandal would have died before he returned.

Being a Prussian nobleman and a scholar, he knew much about the Teutonic Knights and the Brotherhood of the Sword, those medieval orders which had conquered the original Baltic Prussians and Lithuanians. Von Junzt had studied their history, and the life of the Scandinavian scholar who had translated the Necronomicon from Greek into Latin in 1228. That twisted savant was a Swede named Olav Veramius, though some scholars had confused him with the Danish antiquarian and physician, Olaus Wormius, who lived later, between 1588 and 1624.

kozik-teutonic1Wormius had indeed read the Necronomicon, and been repulsed. He threw his copy, which had come into his hands by chance, into the Kattegat. Veramius, on the other hand, had been a person as malignant as he was formidable. The antediluvian cult of Cthulhu had existed in Lithuania in his day; the Teutonic Knights had striven to eradicate it. That they failed was largely the warlock Veramius’s doing.

The cult still existed when von Junzt arrived in Riga in 1836. He considered that, and other shocking facts he learned in Lithuania, serious enough to report in a lengthy letter to Ladeau. He instructed his friend to add his findings to the final chapter of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Ladeau complied.

Von Junzt went to Moscow and organised an expedition to Mongolia as planned. The March of Muscovy was expanding into central and north-east Asia in those days, against the resistance of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and other tribes. The Kremlin was taking land almost as fast as the Yankees in North America.

kalmyks-torghutsWith a hard-bitten Kalmyk named Toghrul as his guide (vouched for by several high-born Germans in Moscow), Friedrich set out to explore the shadow-cloaked mysteries of Inner Asia. Toghrul would provide von Junzt with an introduction to the Torghuts of Mongolia and the time-lost cult of Erlik which had gripped that ancient land since Hyrkanian times.

Toghrul was an indifferent Erlikite, at best. However, he was not indifferent to the sackful of silver rubles bonded back in Moscow, contingent upon the safe return of Freiherr von Junzt. The stalwart Kalmyk led Friedrich to the Altai Mountains, where the German scholar penetrated many of the mysteries of the Erlik cult. From there, they journeyed south toward the Plateau of Leng. As advised by Herrmann Mülder, the two carefully skirted the citadel of Yahlgan in the Khingan Mountains.

All of Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s travels during this period are shrouded in mystery. The only resources we have (all second-hand data) are the diaries of Alexis Ladeau, which were published a century later by Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, along with the not-entirely credible comments of Gottfried Mülder in his Die geheimen Mysterien Asiens – mit einer Anmerkung zum Ghorl Nigral (1847), also known as Secret Mysteries of Asia.

While in the Altai Mountains, Junzt first encountered the Tcho-Tcho people or, at least, an offshoot called the “Tchortchas“. Friedrich later conjectured that they were a Manchu tribe which had interbred with the not-quite-human Tcho-Tchos. He soon encountered far worse.

gutalin-leng1Upon reaching the dread Plateau of Leng, Toghrul disappears from the record (i.e., The Ladeau Bequest). For reasons von Junzt does not specify, the repulsive Tcho-Tchos of the region allowed the German savant to live and depart, unharmed, months later. The “corpse-eating cult of Leng” had been abominated for untold ages throughout Asia. During his time on the plateau, von Junzt glimpsed the Elder Pharos, his being the first account brought back to the modern West. He also heard rumours of cults dedicated to Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth in the Chinese mountains further east.

“Leng” is hard to identify or locate. Some scholars assert it is the name given to Tibet by devotees of Erlik, others that it is a small, arid, demon-haunted highland somewhere between Tibet and Mongolia (which seemed to be von Junzt’s definition) and others think it mythical. It is hinted in the Necronomicon that Leng exists beyond the natural boundaries of Earth, only to be reached through the “keys” and “gates” of which von Junzt wrote so often.

It was during this segment of his journey that Friedrich seems to have “visited” both Shamballah and Yian-Ho. It would appear from Ladeau’s diaries that von Junzt did not do so physically, rather that he journeyed to them in an astral or dream state of some sort. Leng, as with other Tcho-Tcho enclaves, was a source for the black lotus.

Friedrich told Ladeau that neither place existed here on our Earth, instead confirming the testimony of Herrmann Mülder that they resided in the “lands of dream” and that both locations were extra-dimensional redoubts of the priests of Erlik. He described the “thousand bridges” of Yian-Ho and the Naacal priests, the Kuen-Yuin, that rule it. Apparently, the German savant also told Ladeau that anyone expecting a “messianic figure” to emerge from Shamballah would be gravely disappointed.

leng-2Traveling south from Leng to Kyrgyzstan, von Junzt rode into the temple-city of Yolgan, founded by a splinter-sect who fled Yahlgan in Mongolia centuries earlier. His earlier induction into the Erlik cult (and his stay in Leng) allowed this. There he learned of the schism which had resulted in the foundation of Yolgan. Twin sisters were born with the sign of the “Daughter of Erlik Khan”. The sect supporting the junior “Daughter” attempted a coup d’etat. Though defeated, their faction was still strong enough to avoid annihilation. Instead, they chose exile.

Von Junzt learned a great deal in Yolgan. While degraded in contrast to their northern cousins in regard to religious zeal and scholarship, the monks of Mount Erlik Khan still possessed many “forbidden volumes” unknown to the West. Some tomes were brought with them and some were later donated by pious lay Erlikites. One of many was The Testament of Carnamagos. Another was the (apparently) nameless treatise by Ibn Schacabac which Alhazred used as a primary reference for his own Necronomicon.

Friedrich sailed from British India and disembarked in Marseilles by way of Alexandria in early 1839. He was ready to write his second warning to the world concerning the dark forces facing humanity. His knowledge was hard-won, to say the least.

Von Junzt found that Ladeau had not succeeded in having the manuscript of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten printed. Alexis had, in fact, been arrested, and confined in prison for months without trial. Conservative political and religious forces had engineered his imprisonment. Von Junzt, being both wealthy and a nobleman, was able to pull strings and effect his friend’s release. The two men were closely watched and emphatically warned to publish nothing.

zarono-gottfried1Von Junzt ignored the ban. He paid a large sum to have a mere one hundred copies of his book printed in secret. This was the famous “Dusseldorf Edition”, published in late 1839. The printer, who defiantly placed his name on the book, was one Gottfried Fvindvuf Mülder.

Gottfried had been an apprentice book-binder when he approached his illustrious relative, Herrmann Mülder. Gottfried was a distant cousin of Herrmann (though of common birth), and had always idolized his dashing, erudite Prussian kinsman. When he learned that Herrmann had returned to Heidelberg, Gottfried journeyed there and ingratiated himself. Herrmann endured Gottfried’s presence for his own, inscrutable reasons. The junior Mülder’s skills in printing (and his interest in the occult) led to his crucial role in the publication of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Gottfried was found dead in Prague, apparently of a laudanum overdose, in 1851.

A10UKWhile this blogger has never seen any of the Dusseldorf copies, they are said to be bound in black calf-skin leather over thick boards, and to be fastened with three iron hasps. Robert E. Howard assured his public that it did not become known as the “Black Book” from the colour of its binding, but “because of its dark contents”. (“The Thing on the Roof“)

The ill-famed Church of Starry Wisdom possessed at least one copy before its members were forced to disband and flee Providence in Rhode Island. An auction of its many occult volumes was planned, and a catalogue prepared, but the auction never took place. The catalogue describes a copy of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Besides confirming the above details, it specifies the book contained 192 pages 12 by 16 inches, was printed in Gothic black-letter, and had seventeen full page illustrations.

Von Junzt distributed the books to a number of correspondents and interested people, from Germany to England to the U.S.A. Miskatonic University is believed to have been presented with three first edition copies. Von Junzt then settled down to hard, unceasing work on a new book based upon his travels in Asia. He was visited occasionally by Gottfried Mülder.

Alexis Ladeau was understandably worried concerning the mental state of Junzt. The Parisienne did what he could to bring his old friend back to a frame of mind more congruent with modern, “enlightened” European society. All the while, he kept up his diaries, which are, on the whole, the only extant records we have of Friedrich’s last expedition.

Von Junzt finished the manuscript at last, on a spring night in 1840, in the locked and bolted chamber where he habitually worked. He had prepared an ingenious and fireproof hidden safe in which the manuscript could be sealed at short notice, in case of a raid by the authorities. Friedrich seems to have aroused opposition that may not have been human.

Ladeau, as is well known, found von Junzt dead after breaking into the still-locked room the next day. Alexis discovered the marks of misshapen, taloned fingers on his friend’s throat. It is possible that the long arm of the monks of Erlik had reached from deepest Asia to silence von Junzt and repress his final work.

thumb_john_kirowanThe manuscript had been scattered in tatters and shreds about the room. Ladeau, though distraught, swept them into von Junzt’s concealed safe and closed it, after which he informed the police. On instructions from people in high places, they did not look very hard for the murderer. One may gravely doubt the polizei would have found Friedrich’s killer even if they had been conscientious.

Ladeau, still in Dusseldorf, took the fragments of von Junzt’s last manuscript and painstakingly joined them together. He read them. Having done so, he burned the closely written pages and crushed the ashes under his feet until he was sure every word had been eradicated. Then Ladeau cut his own throat with a razor.

When the news spread, many owners of copies of Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten destroyed them, in fear of sharing the two men’s fate. Others reasoned that it was the final manuscript which brought about von Junzt’s death and provoked Ladeau’s suicide Those stalwart occultists retained what swiftly became known as the “Black Book” for its dark subject matter.

VonJunzt2.jpgAlexis Ladeau was a man of steely nerves, for all his quiet nature. He had fought two duels as a student – neither of them willingly – one against a ruthless, notorious rake and fine pistol shot. He had faced Cthulhu cultists in Louisiana. Ladeau read thoroughly, and aided to have printed, Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten without failing in resolution. One has to wonder just what was written on the manuscript pages he burned in horror and utter despair.

In any case, few copies of the Black Book’s first edition survived. From time to time rumors circulated that the manuscript Ladeau left in his Paris bank for safety had been rediscovered. They never proved substantial. Five years after the shocking deaths of von Junzt and Ladeau, a London printer named Bridewall got hold of a copy of the Dusseldorf edition. He had it translated into English and issued a print run.

bridewall-1The general view of scholars is that the translator had acquired his knowledge of the German language from a child’s primer, and in addition was drunk most of the time. The name by which the book is generally known to the Anglophone world – Nameless Cults – graced the Bridewall translation first. It was so shoddy that, as Robert E. Howard wrote, “publishers and public forgot about the book until 1909, when the Golden Goblin Press of New York brought out an edition.” (The Thing on the Roof”)

The Golden Goblin publishers were more artistic than practical. They produced a handsome, beautifully bound and printed volume, with illustrations of commensurate quality by Diego Vasquez. In consequence, it was too expensive for wide sales. As for content, the publishers censored it so strictly that a quarter of the original text was missing. As an artistic curiosity it is interesting, but as a faithful and accurate reproduction of Junzt’s original book it is worthless.

The “unexpurgated German copies, with heavy leather covers and rusty iron hasps” are almost impossible to find. The narrator of “The Black Stone”, writing before World War Two, thought that there were not “more than half a dozen such volumes in the entire world today”.

It may be just as well.

Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan, Alex Kozhanov Gutalin, Mariusz Kozik and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

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I was digging through some old REHupa mailings the other day and noticed something that might be of interest. Back in 2010, one of the side trips I took on the way to Howard Days was a little excursion to Marlin, in Falls County, Texas. Robert E. Howard spent lots of time in Marlin on multiple occasions. His May 9, 1931 letter to Clyde Smith is addressed from Marlin, as is the earliest letter we have of Howard’s. At the end of that June 8, 1923 letter, Howard tells Smith, “A letter addressed Robert E. Howard, 508 Coleman Street, Marlin will reach me or should, also one addressed Ali Akbar, 508 Coleman Street Marlin, Texas, should reach me.”

The big draw back then was the town’s natural hot springs. What could be better for Hester Howard’s tuberculosis than the healing waters at Marlin? The Howards were apparently such frequent visitors at the Torbett Sanatorium (above) that Bob became friends with Doctor Torbett’s nephew, Thurston. Thurston’s mother even wrote a letter to Strange Tales’ editor Harry Bates praising Howard’s work. Anyway, my main goal in 2010 was to find out about this 508 Coleman address. I had heard that it was the address for the Torbett Sanatorium, but that turned out not to be the case.

Just past the downtown area, on the north side of Coleman Street, are some pretty old houses—two-story affairs, most in need of some paint, and all with impressive trees and shrubbery growing in abundance. This is an old neighborhood. The homes on the south side are equally old and shaded by greenery, but these houses are much smaller, boxy little bungalows. The one pictured below has 508 above the door. [CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said “208” here. That was a typo. It’s 508.]

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That certainly isn’t the Torbett Sanatorium. But what would the Howard’s be doing in a little place like that? Just down the street, back toward town, the “Marlin Health Spa Apartments” provided the answer.

Modern visitors rent those apartments on the cheap to be near family members in the nearby hospital. They are more “homey” than a hotel room and come with small kitchens and laundry facilities. This is no doubt what 508 Coleman Street was in 1923: a convenient rental for families wanting to spend time in the healing waters.

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After my trip, I found a bunch of postcards for Marlin somewhere online. One of them was for the “Buie Clinic and Marlin Sanatarium Bath House.” The postcard was stamped on July 17, 1929. The inscription on the back reads as follows:

Dear Birdie and Family,
We left Houston last Friday morning at 6 a.m. arrived here 1 p.m. I like this place fine. John drinks lots of the water and is taking the baths every day. We came here in our car and the country here is beautiful. Our address is Mrs. [Something], 508 Coleman, Marlin, Tex.

That’s right, 508 Coleman. This appears to confirm that back in the 1920s, 508 Coleman was a place for short stays in Marlin, and provides another touchstone for the obsessed Robert E. Howard fan.

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HDs2015 Long Banner Small

Based on previous years, the twelve weeks until Howard Days are going to literally fly by. So if you are considering going, now is the time to make your arraingments.

In addition to this year’s Guest of Honor, Mark Schultz, there will be an emphasis on the friendship and correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft to mark the 125th anniversary of the Old Gent’s birth.

Of course there will be the usual popular panels and events again this year, plus a bus trip to Howard’s gravesite in the Greenleaf Cemetery located in Brownwood and a REH Trivia Contest with prizes for the winners.

Additionally, for you gamers, Patrice Louinet will be attending and will have all the details and news on the successful Kickstarter campaign for the new Conan board game coming out this Fall.

Here is the short version of this year’s Howard Days’ schedule:

Summary Schedule of Events and Activities

Thursday, June 11th:

2:00 – 4:00 pm: The Robert E. Howard House open to the public. No docents on duty. Pavilion and Gift Shop will be open.

The Cross Plains Barbarian Festival will conduct a Parade on Main Street at 6:00 pm and there will be a Fish Dinner at the Cross Plains Senior Center (proceeds benefit the Center). Howard Days attendees are encouraged to partake.

Friday, June 12th:

8:30 am until gone: Coffee and donuts at the Pavilion.

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public.

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: REH Postal Cancellation at Cross Plains Post Office. 9:00 am – 11:00 am: Bus Tour of Cross Plains and Surrounding Areas, leaving from the Pavilion.

10:00 am – 5:00 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open, REH manuscripts available for viewing.

10:00 am – 5:00 pm: Pavilion available for REH Swap Meet.

11:00 am: PANEL: “Conan vs. Cthulhu” at the Library.

Noon: Lunch hosted by Project Pride at the Pavilion.

1:30 pm: PANEL: “The Mark Schultz Hour” at the Library.

2:30 pm: PANEL: Presentation of the REH Foundation 2014 Awards, at the Library. (30 minutes)

3:15 pm to 5:15 pm: Bus Tour to Howard’s grave in the Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood; meet at Pavilion.

5:30 pm – 6:30 pm: Silent Auction items available for viewing and bidding at Banquet site.

6:30 pm: Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet and Silent Auction at the Cross Plains Community Center.

9:00 pm: PANEL: “Fists at the Ice House” (behind the Texas Taxidermy building on Main Street).

Afterward there will be Howard Fellowship at the Pavilion and some extemporaneous REH Poetry Reading from the front porch of the House.

Saturday, June 13th:

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public.

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: The Barbarian Festival at Treadway Park, 3 blocks west of REH House.

10:00 am – 3:00 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open, REH manuscripts available for viewing.

10:30 am: PANEL: “A Means to Freedom: Letters of REH and HPL” at the Library.

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm: Pavilion available for REH items Swap Meet.

Lunch and Barbarian Festival activities at your leisure during the day.

1:30 pm: PANEL: “Robert E. Howard and Fantasy Gaming” at the Library.

2:30 pm: PANEL: “What’s Happening with Bob Howard?” at the Library. (30 minutes)

5:00 pm: Sunset BBQ at the Caddo Peak Ranch. Meet at Pavilion at 4:30 pm and caravan to Ranch.

Afterward there will be Howard Fellowship at the Pavilion and some extemporaneous REH Poetry Reading from the front porch of the House.

(All panels at REH Days last about one hour and are held at the Library unless noted.)

For more information, including the detailed schedule, where to stay, eat, etc. visit the REHupa 2015 Howard Days webpage.

Also, be sure and pre-registration for the Banquet and Barbeque. The cost is only $15 per person. Please send your name(s) and address with a check or money order or register via PayPal: ProjPride@yahoo.com. The address for mail-in payments is Project Pride, Attn: REH Days 2015 Pre-registration, PO Box 534, Cross Plains, TX 76443. Please pre-register before June 6, 2015.

As the old saying goes, “be there or be square.”

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More than ever I sensed a deep and sinister wisdom behind the author’s incredible assertions as I read of the unseen worlds of unholy dimensions which Von Junzt maintains press, horrific and dimly guessed, on our universe, and of the blasphemous inhabitants of those Outer Worlds, which he maintains at times burst terribly through the Veil at the bidding of evil sorcerers, to blast the brains and feast on the blood of men.

– Robert E. Howard, “The Hoofed Thing

After he studied the Necronomicon in Paris, Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s preoccupation with eldritch cults deepened into obsession. Between the ages of 28 and 30, he travelled in Austria, Hungary and the Balkans. He halted in Prague for a time, a city which had been a centre of science and alchemy in the late 16th century. Ludwig Prinn, author of Mysteries of the Worm, had lived there for a decade. The famous English alchemist, astrologer and mathematician (and royal spymaster) John Dee also spent years there in the 1580s, at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.

Further, in Prague, Junzt encountered Simon Orne, former close associate of the warlock, Joseph Curwen. Orne, perhaps maliciously, wrote Friedrich a letter of introduction to John Grimlan, then living in Providence. Orne was also familiar with Herrmann Mülder.

Von Junzt briefly looked upon the Black Stone, that evil monolith near the mountain village of Stregoicavar in south-western Hungary. He wrote of the Hungarian pillar as one of the “Keys”, and remarked that to believe it was a monument raised by Attila the Hun – as Otto Dostmann had – was “as logical as assuming that William the Conqueror reared Stonehenge” (REH, “The Black Stone”).

Von Junzt gave little space to the Hungarian “Black Stone” in his writings, however. It appears from this that the German scholar never suspected the Black Stone was actually the topmost “spire on a cyclopean black castle,” or he would surely have sought to dig beneath it.

VonJunzt2.jpgReturning from Eastern Europe, Friedrich set sail for North America, taking his trusted friend, Alexis Ladeau, with him. The pair landed in Nova Scotia early in 1825, went on to Quebec and thence south into Maine. Afterwards they stayed for two months in Boston. Then, in Providence, Junzt met John Grimlan, the most amazing and evil person he was ever to know – perhaps excepting Hermann Mülder.

Grimlan had been born in Suffolk in 1630. He became a sorcerer of considerable power. At the age of fifty, somewhere in the Levant, Grimlan contracted with a monstrous Being for a further two and a half centuries of life. The price was his soul and body once that span ended. The Entity with whom he bargained presented Itself as Malik Tous, the Peacock Sultan, identified by orthodox Muslims with Shaitan. Grimlan knew there was only one “Black Master” though variously named as Erlik, or Ahriman, or Malik Tous – or Nyarlathotep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrimlan took Friedrich into his confidence, to a degree, once he knew the German had read the Necronomicon and was an initiate of the Black Goat. Grimlan had been one of the many strange visitors who came by night to Joseph Curwen’s Pawtuxet farm, before Curwen was killed in 1771, by a party of more than a hundred men in a night attack (Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). Curwen, like Grimlan, had been unnaturally long-lived and given to terrible traffic with nonhuman beings, Yog-Sothoth among them.

The Englishman revealed much to Junzt concerning the darker secrets of the East. In particular, Grimlan spoke of the Zurim, the Hidden Ones, “a pre-Canaanitish race who lived in Syria before the coming of the Semitic tribes … given to heathenish worship and … all kinds of black magic and human sacrifice”(REH, “Three-Bladed Doom”). In their great days the Zurim were the power behind the Assassins, and branches of the cult included Druses, Yezidees and Thugees. He also told Junzt of the “buried cities of the Zurim.” Judging from the veiled accounts given in Nameless Cults, Grimlan may have been referring to the underground complexes of Anatolia.

Grimlan hinted to Friedrich that the origins of the Zurim could be traced back to Yalgahn and the last days of the Hyborian Age. He also spoke darkly of the “brazen towers” which linked the Sinjar Mountains with Mongolia. Like Herrmann Mülder before him, Grimlan chuckled at Junzt’s superficial knowledge concerning the deeper secrets of the Far East.

5-cthulhu-bayou211Wearied of and disgusted with Grimlan’s mocking half-truths and obfuscations, Friedrich and Alexis set out for New Orleans. It was there that unique sources of occult lore were available to Ladeau. The ancient, wealthy and influential de Marignys of Louisiana were his distant cousins.

The two Europeans were warmly welcomed. The de Marigny family had a long history of interest in the occult going back to medieval France. They were able to provide a great deal of assistance to Junzt in regard to voodoo practices in the region.

It was in Louisiana that Friedrich and Alexis encountered the actual cult of Cthulhu. The cult was based in the swamp and lagoon country south of the city, a region of “traditionally evil repute” where there were “legends of a hidden lake … in which dwelt a huge, formless white polypous thing with luminous eyes; and squatters whispered that bat-winged devils flew up out of caverns in inner earth to worship it at midnight” (Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”).

Friedrich and his compatriots barely made it out alive. Ladeau was injured and, in the bargain, contracted malaria. Junzt, obsessed and driven as always, decided to press on. Ladeau’s recovery and care was given into the capable and compassionate hands of the de Marigny family. That convalescence would bear eldritch fruit a century later.

5-lafitte1Through the de Marignys, the Friedrich made contact with Jean Lafitte (Lafitte’s reported demise being, as Twain would say, greatly exaggerated). Lafitte liked Junzt. Both had seen bloody combat, as well as eldritch horrors. However, for various reasons, Lafitte referred Friedrich to a Cuban mulatto, Enrique. Enrique, who claimed to be named for Henry the Navigator, was captain of a Bermuda sloop. In Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Junzt would refer to him simply as “der Navigator.”

With Enrique at the helm, Junzt visited many of the islands of the Caribbean. As a result, he was the first occult researcher to publish an account concerning the deeper secrets of Haitian Vodou. The German savant is our initial and primary source regarding the “black drink” ceremony and “zuvembies.” It was during this segment of his journey that Friedrich learned of the primordial “Zemba” and Gol-goroth cults. He also discovered the location, by way of a Taino mestizo shaman, of the Temple of the Toad.

The Temple of the Toad lay in the jungles of what is now Honduras.  Junzt went in search of the temple, landing on the north coast at Tela. Seventy miles inland, in a remote valley near the Rio Sulaco, he found it.

Von Junzt’s passage in the Black Book concerning the temple is one of his most explicit references to “keys”. He entered the site, certainly, and found the desiccated ancient corpse of the last high priest, with a red jewel in the form of a toad hanging around its neck on a copper chain. Using the pendant, Friedrich explored the inner sanctum of the temple. Apparently, he was a bit wiser in doing so than the treasure-hunter, Tussmann, who followed in the German’s footsteps decades later.

After leaving the temple, Junzt traveled in Guatemala and Yucatan. He nearly died of yellow fever, but came through and recovered in Belize. His convalescence, typically for the disease, was a long one, but his constitution was strong. In 1830 Junzt departed from Acapulco on a voyage across the Pacific.

5moai-easter1The vessel on which he bought passage was the Joshua, a whaler from Sydney, Australia, under the command of a tough, brutal captain, Davey Arkright. From Mexico, Friedrich headed south to the coasts of Peru, a popular whaling ground, and thence to a brief stop at Easter Island. Junzt went ashore to examine the renowned statues of the island. He concluded that, as Herrmann Mülder had once told him, Easter Island was a former south-eastern extremity of Mu, the lost continent of the Pacific.

Upon leaving the island, the German savant paid Arkright well to search for “Karath the Shining City” of Mu, which REH mentions in his fragment “The Isle of the Eons”. Junzt had heard of it from Mülder, who in turn had read of it in the Ghorl Nigral. The search proved fruitless… and perhaps that is for the best.

Upon reaching Sydney, Friedrich jumped ship, made his way to the Dutch East Indies, and thence to the Philippines. He sailed for the Caroline Islands, where he investigated the massive stone ruins of Nan Madol. Junzt concluded that these were probably of “late Lemurian”  origin, remnants of the semi-barbaric Lemurian pelagic regime which ruled the Pacific after the inundation of Mu.

(Junzt’s mentions of “Lemuria/Lemurian” would seem to antedate any other modern reference, anticipating Haeckel and Blavatsky by decades. Friedrich arrived at his own conclusions and should not suffer for the misapprehensions of later scholars.)

Sailing south, the German savant disembarked in Malacca. While there, he gathered hints of ancient Naacal/proto-Stygian survivals. As was his wont, Junzt infiltrated local cults. It was in the jungles north of Malacca that he first encountered the Tcho-tchos and the tainted ecstasies of the black lotus. The antediluvian drug opened Friedrich’s mind to dream-realms and dimensions he had, heretofore, only guessed at. He staggered back to Malacca and set sail for Zanzibar.

Abdul_AlhazredVon Junzt’s obsession with ancient mysteries impelled him towards Africa and Arabia. His investigations concerning the “Zemba” cult, as well as those regarding Cthulhu, Ghatanothoa and Dagon, drove him there. From his youth, Friedrich had dreamed of visiting Yemen, home of the mad poet Abdul Alhazred who had written the Necronomicon. That grimoire referred to a “city in the wastes.”  Junzt made plans to find that city.

During 1832, Friedrich von Junzt halted for a time in the Zanzibar Islands, then under the rule of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. There, in the slave-pens, Junzt found — and freed — an nganga (Bantu shaman) from the interior. From that shaman, he learned of Cthulhu worship in “Great Zembabwei.” Also, Junzt was tutored in the lore of what the nganga referred to as “very old, old Zembabwei.” Friedrich concluded that the shaman was referring to the Hyborian Age kingdom of Zembabwei, whose ancient northern borders lay just across the Zanzibar Channel. In addition, the German savant gathered information pertaining to the cults of Zemba and Gol-goroth further south and inland.

Boarding a British frigate, Friedrich set sail for the city of Sana’a in Yemen, the ancient birthplace of Alhazred. His attempts to visit the Rub’ al-Khali (and locate an Arabic manuscript of Al Azif) were less than successful. He barely escaped with his life. The Arabian peninsula, since the days of the Prophet, has only welcomed the Faithful.

AVon Junzt was pleased at gaining permission to travel in Egypt. Its ancient history had long fascinated him. In one of the plainest, most unambiguous passages in Nameless Cults, Junzt asserted he had seen the Labyrinth of Kish which Nephren-Ka created beneath the hidden valley of Hadoth. His accounts of ghouls and caverns below the Gizeh plateau were more circumspect.

Friedrich returned to Europe by way of Turkey. He was now thirty-eight. He began correlating his vast mass of notes and organizing the material into the basis for a book. He worked intensely on the manuscript which he would call Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten and which would be titled Nameless Cults in the (Bridewall) English translation.

Von Junzt arranged his magnum opus in chapters which followed, in close outline, his actual travels in chronological order. Friedrich frequently rambled in the text, though, and in other places was deliberately obscure or ambiguous. In some passages he wrote as though close to hysteria. The book contains many flat assertions of a bizarre nature, without argument or evidence to support them. These genuine flaws gave many conventional publishers the excuse they greatly desired –considering Friedrich’s social status — for rejecting it.

Von Junzt offered it first to Konigsberg University. The authorities there denounced it, nor was it received any better elsewhere in Germany or France. Spanish scholarly presses refused to even consider it. The cosmology, and presentation of a universe in which there was no supreme moral order and human beings were insignificant, was deemed outrageous. Moreover, the hideous practices of the various cults described, and Junzt’s acquaintance with them, brought much personal vituperation on the German savant.

A10UKVon Junzt eventually had Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten printed at his own expense, privately, with an initial run of one hundred copies. Even then there were difficulties. One printer deliberately sabotaged the presses and burned the copy from which he was setting the type; a second killed himself. Eventually, in 1839, Friedrich turned in desperation to Herrmann Mülder’s cousin, Gottfried, who had hand-bound the translated codex of the Ghorl Nigral.

While engaged in this struggle, Junzt carried out further researches. He had long contemplated a journey to Mongolia for other reasons; to learn the inner secrets of the cult of Erlik, the death-lord, for one. Friedrich’s conversations with Herrmann Mülder had hardened his resolve beyond reasoning. He was determined to plumb the deepest secrets of Inner Asia.

He set out in 1836.

Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan, Chris Schweizer and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Six

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Mary Ervin, aka “Maxine,” the youngest of her Ervin clan, was born at Big Spring, Texas, on October 12, 1906, to William Vinson Ervin, Sr. (Hester Howard’s brother) and Ida (Ezzell) Ervin (the sister of Hester Howard’s former heart-throb, Frank Ezzell). In January 1908, the Ervin family played host to William’s sister, Hester, her husband, Dr. I. M. Howard, and their baby boy, Robert E. The Howards stayed a few weeks “due to illness” and then made their way to Seminole, up in Gaines County.

The 1910 US Census for Howard County, Texas, lists W. V. Ervin, age 48, as “Editor” for a “Paper” in Big Spring, with wife, Ida, 38; two sons, Vinson, 15, and Jessie, 13; and two daughters, Lesta, 8, and Maxine, 3. By the time of the 1920 Census, Jessie had flown the coop, W. V. was upgraded to “Publisher,” and everyone was 10 years older.

In 1921, Maxine participated in at least two declamation contests for the Big Spring high school, winning first place at one of them. She was on the Seventh Grade Exercises program with a “Reading” (sister Lesta performed a piano solo).

There is little evidence of the Ervins in the Big Spring High School yearbooks, the El Rodeo: only the senior photo of Lesta from 1919 and the “Irven” in the “Public Speaking Club” from 1922 that heads this post. My guess is that’s Maxine. She bears a striking resemblance to her Aunt Hester, if you ask me.

In the early 1920s, W. V. Ervin appears to have been starting newspapers in several small Texas towns, including Gail, Westbrook, and Putnam, all practically ghost towns today (yes, I’ve been to all of them). This caused him to be away from the family much of the time, but items in the newspapers show that he visited home frequently, and that his daughters often returned the favor—when they had a break from school. While working on the paper at Putnam, in Callahan County, the Ervins visited the Howards in Cross Plains:

The Misses Maxine and Lesta Erving, of Big Springs were visiting their uncle, Dr. Howard and family, last week. They formerly were in the newspaper business, and for a time the two girls published a paper at Putnam, doing all the work themselves. They stated that they thought Cross Plains was a splendid town, and their visit here was a pleasant one (Cross Plains Review – Oct. 5, 1923).

In a letter dated the same day as the paper, Robert E. Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith a little more about the visit: “I’ve had two cousins visiting me, whom I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. They’d read the International Adventure Library and from what they said, Dracula is a hum-dinger. I’m going to order the set right away.”

In 1924, Maxine ran an ad in the Big Spring paper: “I am prepared to take a few pupils in expression. Maxine Ervin.” Also in 1924, sister Lesta moved to the big city and landed a job with the Dallas News; by 1927, Maxine had joined her as both appear in that year’s Dallas City Directory at 2515 Maple Avenue. Early in 1927, Lesta switched from the newspaper game to Etna Insurance. In November, their father William died.

In his essay, “The Last Celt,” Harold Preece reports on Maxine’s activities at the time: “During 1927, while I was enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, I was introduced by a fellow student to a visiting Dallas girl named Maxine Ervin. Maxine was employed as a clerk by a Dallas newspaper, though she shared my then very incipient literary ambitions. She was a remarkably intelligent woman, and a friendship of some years would follow.”

1927 Texicoma Yearbook p09 - group photo - web

In another of Preece’s essays, “Robert’s Lady Cousin,” he describes Maxine as handsome and conservative, and says that she once described her cousin Robert as “a Tristan” from Celtic legendry. That essay also describes a 1927 Lone Scout convention that gave rise to a group called The Junto. Maxine was responsible for a photo of those Lone Scouts that appeared in the paper (an alternate shot appears above), was mentioned in the 1927 Texicoma Yearbook (click image below), and ended up being a member of The Junto, as well, but not many of her contributions have surfaced.

1927 Texicoma Yearbook p07

In 1928, Maxine is listed as a “journalist” with her sister at 4933 Victor Street in the city directory, but she wasn’t in Dallas for the whole year; on September 21, 1928, the Big Spring Herald reported the following: “Miss Maxine Ervin arrived from Dallas to accept a position with the West Texan, the new weekly publication, which is to make its advent here in the near future.” By 1929, Maxine appears to have moved back to Dallas. Both she and Lesta are at 2505 Maple in the city directory. Maxine again listed as “journalist.”

In March 1928, The Junto began its circulation. The first contribution by Maxine that survives is a comment on a previous issue that appeared in the October 1928 mailing:

Good Lord! What are we, cut throats? Have we lost sight of our treasured philosophy, our staunch independence, etc., etc? Did somebody accidentally drop a bomb that wasn’t a dud? I feel like I’d just been in a volcano or something after all this. The Junto is very good. Who is A.M.Y.? No fair hiding behind an alias. Anyway, what he or she said about Truett isn’t quite fair. As for “Our Beloved Barbarian” he can take care of himself.

Her only contribution to the December 1928 issue is this short comment about the November issue: “Not as good as usual.”

Around this time, Junto editor Booth Mooney was asking for biographies of the members. Robert E. Howard was less than enthusiastic about this, telling Clyde Smith in a letter that “I’ve decided I don’t care to have mine appear in the Junto. There are several reasons, the main one being that as several of my cousins receive it, my mother would be pretty near bound to hear about it and there are a good many things in my life that I don’t want her to know about.”

By July 1929, Maxine was back in Big Spring again; on The Junto’s mailing list for that month, Maxine had crossed out the Maple Avenue address and written “Box 1224, Big Spring, Texas.” She also had this comment about the mailing: “The best issue we have had in a long time, and it still has plenty of room for improvement.”

The August 1929 Junto contains a rather sexist piece on women by Harold Preece. Maxine wrote the following on the mailing list: “This issue is very good. I agree with Schultze that Harold is all off about women. Fact is, all men are.” She followed this short comment up with a longer one in the September mailing:

More about Mr. Preece
by Maxine Ervin

I may be putting my foot into it, but I feel like Harold has rather flung a challenge at some of “us girls” and that it should be taken up.
Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not defending womanhood against any mere male’s implications, accusations, attacks, satires, or what not for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary and it isn’t needed. Woman stands alone. She doesn’t give two “whoops and a holler” (quoting hill slang) what the world thinks of her; not if she is all genuine woman, she doesn’t; she may pretend she does, but deep down in her heart, she knows it isn’t so, and that she is going to go her own sweet way and enjoy herself.

The trouble is that women are just now beginning to find themselves. They have been so hampered and fettered by these generations past of strong men that they haven’t had the time nor the opportunity to find out what they really and truly do want. They are just now beginning to understand what life is all about and the vital part that they can play in it. They are learning that they have rights and the power to assert those same rights.

Pistols and horse whips have played a large part in woman’s emancipation, for she has learned that she, too, can meet brute force with brute force when it becomes necessary. If more women would shoot and horse-whip men who insult them and try this cave-man stuff, there’d be less of it, believe it or not.

The fact of the business is that men don’t like to see their chattels, toys, buffoons, slaves and what-not getting on an equal footing with them, economically, socially, or otherwise. It doesn’t suit his male desire for supremacy, for bullying, and brow-beating. He is denied having a meek, helpless something on which to vent the rage and other emotions that he is not man enough to control.

Oh, be fair. I think that all of this double-standard business is the most asinine, insane, and idiotic rot that ever was. I also think the same thing about this constant war of the sexes. We are human; we have human desires, aspirations, and hopes; we have our peculiarities, but first, last, and all the time we are HUMAN. Why can’t we behave as such and live and let live? Of course, there are some men who are unspeakable and some women who are unspeakable, but there are so many, many times their number who are real that I think it is silly to think of the few misfits and rotters when there are so many wonderful ones to think about.

Perhaps women haven’t yet become artists and musicians to rank with their brothers, but give them time. There never has been anything yet that women haven’t been able to attain once they set themselves to it. Anything within reason and that can be accomplished without a great deal of force as wars, for instance.

This is the way I feel about the subject. But I agree with Schultze that Harold should study his subject more. I am inclined to think that for some reason Harold is prejudiced and has not yet been able to re-assume an open minded attitude on the subject. Yet he swears he’s a genuine socialist!

This was the last of Maxine’s contributions to The Junto, as far as we know. The mailing list for the February 1930 issue has her address as “Maxine Ervin, c/o Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont.” The US Census for that year has her there with her sister Lesta B., lodgers in the hotel of William Martin; Maxine’s occupation is listed as “newspaper work.”

Ervin-Yew

By 1934 she’d moved to Longview, where she appears in the city directory with her mother and brother, William Vinson, Jr. In 1935 she had a short story, “They Die by Night,” published in Murder Mysteries. She appears to have spent some time writing radio scripts in Texas and California after this. In the fall of 1938, her first novel appeared, Death in the Yew Alley. I found a copy of this and can’t recommend it, nor another of her works, If I Die, It’s Murder (1945). An October 30, 1938 article in the Wichita Daily Times (below) has Maxine living in Wichita Falls, but the 1940 Census has her back in Longview, working as a reporter, with two years of college under her belt. Her mother Ida died in November of that year; the obituary reports Maxine’s address as Houston. On August 14, 1945, Maxine was the “informant” on sister Lesta’s death certificate. Her residence is reported as Fort Worth, profession is “writer.”

1938 10-30 Wichita Daily Times

On July 27, 1948, the Breckenridge American had this: “Mary Ervin has come up from Mineral Wells to help out with society a while, telephone her your news.” Two days later, they ran a follow up:

Miss Mary Ervin has come as a relief worker on society to the Breckenridge American. She is away from California about three years. We asked today to give us her first impression of Breckenridge. She wrote:

“A gradual descent extending over more than three years has taken me from San Francisco’s forty-five degree hills to Mineral Wells’ not-so-steep hills, to the smooth, level prairie that is Breckenridge. My notion was Breckenridge leaned more to hills and woodlands than to prairie, so I had a surprise. It is all one piece of that long West Texas stretch which reaches from Fort Worth to El Paso. Breckenridge is a nice place to be in and part of, even if it hasn’t an up and down side to it.”

This didn’t last long though. The August 10 issue has this: “Miss Mary Ervin, who has been helping out in American office, in hospital in Mineral Wells—Society news will be printed as sent in until successor arrives.”

The early 1950s has Mary working the Society column for the Liberty Vindicator, out of Liberty, Texas. An introductory piece, “Mary Ervin New Editor of Page,” appeared on August 30, 1951. Her pieces appeared until at least mid-1952.

On July 25, 1963, Mary “Maxine” Ervin died of heart failure at the Wichita Falls State Hospital. Her residence at the time was the Jerome Hotel in Mineral Wells. Her profession was recorded as “reporter.” She is buried in Wichita Falls.

This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard Biography.

EPSON MFP image

“You dog,” said the emir, “there is war in the wind and the Archduke has need of your sword.”

“Devil eat the Archduke,” answered Gombuk; “Zapolya is a dog because he stood aside at Mohacz and let us, his comrades, be cut to pieces, but Ferdinand is a dog too. When I am penniless I sell him my sword. Now I have two hundred ducats and these robes which I can sell to any Jew for a handful of silver, and may the devil bite me if I draw sword for any man while I have a penny left. I’m for the nearest Christian tavern, and you and the Archduke may go to the devil.”

Then the emir cursed him with many great curses, and Gombuk rode away laughing, huh! huh! huh! and singing a song about a cockroach named –

– Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

Sometimes Gottfried von Kalmbach was carefree to the point of irresponsibility, and sometimes he brooded. The summer of 1527 found him brooding. His plunder from the sack of Rome had gone, and staunch old von Frundsberg, the best man at that spree of city-wide burglary (which he had tried vainly to prevent) was wounded and destitute. While he entered a decline, traitors like John Zapolya and tyrants like the Sultan of Turkey flourished. The devil ruled.

Von Kalmbach rode east from Germany into Austria again. Little as he cared for the Archduke Ferdinand, he was now penniless, and as he said, in those circumstances he sold Ferdinand his sword. The Archduke was now lord of the western third of Hungary, since its young king had perished. There was ample fighting to be done if that was to be saved from falling to the Ottomans like the rest. After the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had taken Buda and Pesth, and removed many of its people to Istanbul as slaves, but not reduced it to a Turkish vassal city permanently; not then. Probably he did not judge that the time was right, and left lasting conquest for later.

sackWhile von Kalmbach had been merrily taking part in the sack of Rome, the treacherous voivode of Transylvania, John Zapolya, who had left the Hungarians in the lurch at the battle of Mohacs, had been tussling with his rival Ferdinand for the rule of Hungary. In September 1527 they fought the Battle of Tarcal, which the Austrians won, forcing Zapolya to retreat into Transylvania. He had betrayed the Hungarians at Mohacs instead of supporting them as promised, in order to gain the Turkish Sultan’s favor and become vassal king of Hungary. Suleiman’s diplomats had been all honey at the time, but this failure of Zapolya’s made the Ottoman lord doubtful of his value. Desperate to prove his worth to Suleiman, the voivode raised a new army of about 15,000 men, nearly all Transylvanians, Poles and Serbs, and advanced into Hungary again in 1528.

During this time a new diplomatic player had entered the game, one who appears to have been Zapolya’s equal in two-faced treachery. He was Hieronymus Jaroslaw Laski, whom REH mentions early in “Shadow of the Vulture” as “Jerome Lasczky, the Polish count palatine”. Laski had indeed been Palatine of Inowroclaw and Seradia, but after Mohacs he decided he could do better for himself than that. He ignored the policies of his own king, Sigismund I of Poland, an ally of Austria, and carried out a diplomatic mission for Zapolya. He raised a considerable sum in gold from France, but by the time he returned with it, Zapolya had been beaten at Tarcal.

489px-Szapolyai_János_VUEarly in 1528, Laski went as an envoy to Istanbul for Zapolya. In REH’s words Laski “like a suppliant, asked on his bended knees” for the crown of Hungary, and was given “honor, gold and promises of patronage, for which he had paid with pledges abhorrent even to his avaricious soul – selling his ally’s subjects into slavery, and opening the road through the subject territory to the very heart of Christendom.”

Laski had the effrontery to negotiate a ten years’ truce between his old master King Sigismund and the Sultan while he was about it – which he had no more authority to do than to offer the Sultan Spain and England. Shortly afterwards, Zapolya advanced into Hungary with his mixed army, and an army of Ferdinand’s, made up of Austrians, Germans and Hungarians, met it under the command of Count Bálint Török and the Slovenian, Johann Katzianer.

Bálint Török is one of the many colorful characters of the period that REH did not mention in “Shadow of the Vulture.” He couldn’t have mentioned, let alone done justice, to all of them, of course, or the story would never have moved forward. He wasn’t writing in the days of Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens. However, in spite of belonging to the royal party of Hungary originally, and fighting ferociously against Zapolya on this and other occasions, Török went over to Zapolya’s side later. He was fabulously rich, so perhaps he saw that as his best chance of keeping his fortune and lands. He fell from Turkish favor in the end, and ended his life a prisoner in the Seven Towers of Istanbul in 1551.

Map of HunGottfried von Kalmbach was with Török and Katzianer in 1528, taking much satisfaction in this chance to strike back at the detested Zapolya. The voivode had meant to march upon the Hungarian capital, Buda, but was intercepted near Košice and could not carry out his intention. Then the Serbian and Polish mercenaries in Zapolya’s force turned against each other, wrecking his plans completely. Ferdinand’s army trounced the traitor. Gottfried waded in blood like a happy tiger, though he was disappointed in his hopes to kill Zapolya personally. The voivode fled for shelter to Poland, and King Sigismund granted him refuge, but refused to take hostile action against Austria. As it happened, Jerome Laski had already gained the support of the Sultan for Zapolya, so that was no immense setback.

Unaware of this, Archduke Ferdinand resolved to send an embassy of his own to the Sublime Porte. Its purpose was to negotiate the disposal of the Hungarian crown. He chose, as we read in “Shadow of the Vulture,” a blunt old war-horse of a general named Habordansky to lead it.

Gottfried, a man with a heroic if turbulent and undisciplined past, pleaded to be part of the embassy. He did not think it very likely to succeed, but he remembered the charge of the thirty-two knights at Mohacs and their attempt to kill the Sultan Suleiman. He was the lone survivor of the charge. He promised the ghosts of his friend Albert Marczali and thirty others that he would amend that failure if possible. Perhaps, if he came into the Sultan’s presence … he could not kill Suleiman and survive, but then he had not volunteered for the death-charge with Marczali in order to survive. Suleiman the Magnificent threatened all Christian Europe.

Habordansky accepted him. The blunt old warrior found Gottfried a man to his taste. He had no idea what was in the Bavarian’s mind.

s10-suleyman1Gottfried did not wear the arms of his family to Istanbul with Ferdinand’s envoys. He was sure the Sultan would remember the one man in Marczali’s suicide charge who came close enough to wound him!  The von Kalmbach arms had shown proudly on his shield and coat, even through the dirt of battle, the day he had almost killed the Sultan, and he knew Suleiman would not forget that silver and purple division with the device of a bear. For that matter, he had seen Gottfried’s face, the German’s helmet having been hacked from his head, but only briefly, in the confusion of battle. Besides, there had been blood obscuring his visage. He supposed he was safe enough from recognition.

He underestimated Suleiman’s concern for detail. His spies had informed him there had been thirty-two knights in Marczali’s death charge. Their heads had been piled before Suleiman’s tent after Mohacs, and by counting them he had ascertained there were only thirty-one. It did not follow that the missing man survived, of course; so many hacked and butchered corpses are piled on a battlefield that they cannot all be accounted for. But Suleiman remembered.

As it happened, the whole embassy was soon in trouble, not von Kalmbach alone. At the first audience in the purple-domed royal chamber he saw there was no chance to assassinate the Sultan here. Not even if a man was willing to die immediately afterwards. It was literally impossible. He was unarmed, and between him and Suleiman’s throne-dais stood twenty Solaks, picked armored warriors of the Sultan’s guard. In addition, Gottfried and the others, General Habordansky included, entered the Sultan’s presence with two powerful janissaries gripping the arms of each. “Thus were foreign envoys presented to the sultans,” REH informs us, “ever since that red day by Kossova when Milosh Kabilovitch, knight of slaughtered Serbia, had slain the conqueror Murad with a hidden dagger.”

I’m with REH. Good for Milosh. Who invited Murad to make a butcher’s yard out of Serbia?

Castle_of_Seven_Towers_IstanbulHabordansky seems to have been insufficiently humble for the Sultan’s liking. Jerome Laski had come first and been well received. Habordansky, too late and too blunt, found himself and the Archduke’s other envoys tossed into durance in “the grim Castle of the Seven Towers that overlooks the Sea of Marmora,” the same prison in which Bálint Török was to end his life twenty-two years later. Habordansky, Gottfried and the rest sweated over their fates for nine months before being released and brought before the Sultan again.

Suleiman was about to continue his campaign against Christian Europe. His next objective was Austria; he considered that Archduke Ferdinand had tried his patience long enough. He scornfully presented each of the envoys with rich Turkish robes and two hundred ducats, and charged Habordansky with a curt message for his master the Archduke: “I now make ready to visit him in his own lands, and … if he fails to meet me at Mohacs or at Pesth, I will meet him beneath the walls of Vienna.”

RhodesThen, according to Howard’s story, the Sultan noticed Gottfried von Kalmbach and spoke to him, finding something about him familiar. He assured the German that he had seen his face, though he could not recall where. Gottfried, sweating inside his unfamiliar robes, no doubt, and thinking this was the end, answered that he had been at the siege of Rhodes, to which the Sultan snapped that many men had been there. Gottfried agreed. “De l’Isle Adam was there.”  That might have been his finish – the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John had cost the Turk sixty thousand men in his defense of Rhodes – but REH tells us the Sultan decided von Kalmbach wasn’t subtle enough to be planting a barb, and let it pass. The embassy left Istanbul and began its return to Vienna.

It was after von Kalmbach had left his city that the Sultan finally remembered where he had seen him before. He said as much to his vizier, Ibrahim, who was as close to him as a brother. “I could not mistake those blue eyes … the knight that wounded me at Mohacz was this German, Gottfried von Kalmbach … I love brave men, but our blood is not so common that an unbeliever may with impunity spill it on the ground for the dogs to lap up. See ye to it.”

Ibrahim did proceed to see to it. He sent a company of Tatars to bring von Kalmbach to Istanbul again. As Howard has him say cynically, “The persons of envoys are sacred, but this matter is not official.” The Tatars failed, however, because Gottfried had parted from the embassy in disgust, with the words quoted at the head of this post. He rode hard afterwards, to get out of Turkish reach, because the Sultan’s recollection of his face made him uneasy. He wanted to be far away very quickly in case Suleiman the Magnificent remembered the specific instance – as of course he had.

Ibrahim decided that catching von Kalmbach was not a task for an ordinary man. He sent for Mikhal Oglu. That is his name as rendered in “The Shadow of the Vulture,” and in Fairfax Downey’s The Grande Turke, from which REH got much of his background for “TSotV.” (I believe he was actually known in the Sultan’s army as “Ahmad Mikhaloglu.”) I’d never have known but for the incomparable Patrice Louinet, and a tip o’ the hat for that favor, bejabers. As Patrice says, “Mikhal Oglu” means “son or descendant of Mikhal,” and that appears to refer to Michael of the Peaked Beard, a Greek potentate who ruled Khirenkia in Phrygia in the days of Othman I, the founder of Ottoman greatness, and became Othman’s most loyal henchman.

Józef_Brandt_-_Potyczka_Kozaków_z_TataramiHis sixteenth-century descendant was the leader of the Sultan’s Akinji corps. Germans called them the “Sackmen.” The French referred to them as “Faucheurs” and “Ecorcheurs” – the “Mowers” and “Flayers.” They were irregular light cavalry, neither paid nor maintained. They had to support themselves from enemy country and live by pillage. Their function was to ride ahead of the main army on a campaign, fan out far beyond the general line of march, and spread terror by arson, massacre and enslavement. Mikhal Oglu was their commander. In REH’s words, his “very name was a shuddering watchword of horror to all western Asia.”

His by-name was the Vulture. He wore vulture feathers on his jeweled helmet and a pair of vulture’s wings attached to the back of his “gilded chain-mail hauberk”. They spread wide in the wind when he rode. He wasn’t alone in that; other commanders and horsemen in the Ottoman cavalry affected that device, and certain Christian heavy cavalry like the Polish Winged Hussars did the same. But Mikhal Oglu was outstanding for merciless slaughter even in the sixteenth century. He wasn’t so much an irregular cavalry leader as the hard-riding personification of death.

This was the person Grand Vizier Ibrahim sent to bring back Gottfried von Kalmbach’s head.

Images by Rafael Kayanan, Józef Brandt and Others

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

This entry filed under Howard Scholarship, Howard's Fiction.

1919 Lesta

Last winter my dad and I drove to Texas for the gazillionth time. One of our stops was at Coke County, where the Howard family lived in 1908-09 in the little town of Bronte. Besides hunting for the Howards, I was also looking for Ervins—Hester Howard’s brother, William Vinson Ervin, to be specific. So we spent some time at the county seat, a town named Robert Lee.

W. V. Ervin is perhaps best known, when he is remembered at all, as the father of Robert Howard’s cousins Maxine and Lesta (image above from the 1919 El Rodeo, the Big Spring High School yearbook). W. V. appears to have been a big shot in the town of Big Spring, over in Howard County, where he located with his family in 1898 and where the Howards visited in 1908. But before Ervin settled there, he was all over the place: Albany, Ferris, Lampasas, and—of all places—Robert Lee in Coke County.

I already knew that our man had lived in the county because of a transcription I’d found on a genealogy website. According to the transcript, a “W. V. Ervin” was named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness” ($45) dated February 8, 1892, claim #84 in Minutes of Accounts Allowed, Volume 1. Also transcribed were parts of Marriage Book 1, 1890-1900 which has Ervin marrying Miss Ida Ezzell, though no date is mentioned (but based on the dates before and after, the marriage should have been late in 1891). So, as long as we were going to the Robert Lee courthouse, a little extra digging for Ervins wouldn’t hurt.

And, if you’ve been paying attention to this here blog, you may recall a series of posts by Patrice Louinet entitled “Long Road to Dark Valley.” In part 4 of that series, Patrice added a few nuggets to my knowledge and a name to my list of inquiries: Ezzell. Here’s the relevant passage:

On December 8, 1891, [Hester’s] younger brother William Vinson married Ida Ezzell in Coke County. She was the daughter of Samuel R. Ezzell (1834-1910), a preacher and newspaper publisher. Relocating to Ferris, Ellis County, William V. launched his own career as a publisher, buying the local newspaper, the Ferris Sentinel, in 1893. He sold his share in 1898 to move to Big Spring, Howard County, where he began publication of the Big Spring Enterprise. He would remain a newspaperman until his death in 1927.

This information is background to Patrice’s primary aim in that post, the revelation that W. V.’s business partner in Ferris, the son of Samuel Ezzell, was most likely the man that Hester Howard was in love with and wished she had married instead of Dr. Howard (this according to Cross Cut native Annie Newton Davis’s 1978 interview with de Camp). So, while in Coke I should probably look for Ezzells, too.

2014 01-06 010

While there is not much left of Robert Lee, it does have a Ford dealership (or maybe it was Chevrolet), a tiny library, and a café—and the county courthouse, of course. We spent some time at all of those places. First stop was the library. As is typical of most of the small town libraries I’ve been to in Texas, the librarian was very friendly and wanted to be helpful; unfortunately, my area of interest is pretty narrow. After quickly exhausting the scant genealogical materials she had, we looked into the county histories. One of them, in an essay about the county newspaper, added a bit of information:

The first issues were called The Coke County Democrat, of tabloid size, four columns and consisted of four pages. Warren and Edgar were the first publishers followed by Warren and Matthews. A short time later, it was Brady and Shores, then J. S. Brady bought Shores’ interest. The paper changed publishers and editors often in the early years. Brady moved the plant to Robert Lee when the county seat was moved from Hayrick and the paper was renamed The Coke County Rustler. The dateline was May 9, 1891 with Brady and W. V. Ervin as proprietors.

That nugget, from a book simply entitled Coke County and put together by the Coke County Book Committee in 1984, led us to another book, From the Top of Old Hayrick: A Narrative History of Coke County, compiled and written by Jewell G Pritchett (which we found later at the Midland library), and which added an Ezzell wrinkle:

The first paper was called The Democrat, but it was soon changed to Coke County Rustler. The Coke County Rustler was a predecessor to the Robert Lee Observer, and the issue of April 4, 1891, was published with Hayrick, Texas, as dateline, S. R. Ezell [sic.], Editor and Publisher. One month later, May 9, 1891, it was published with Robert Lee, Texas dateline, with J. S. Brady and W. V. Ervin as publishers.

So W. V. “launched” his newspaper career a bit earlier than we had thought. And over at the courthouse, we learned that W. V. had also tried to make money the way his father had, with land.

1891 Marriage 1

Besides Doc Howard’s medical registration, I also got copies of W. V. Ervin’s marriage record (click above) and several land deals, all in the town of Robert Lee. S. R. Ezzell made a couple of land purchases in Coke County, too (March 18 and December 17, 1891), but I didn’t pull the records. Anyway, in chronological order, here’s what I’ve got for W. V. Ervin in Coke County:

1891 May 9, publisher of Robert Lee Observer.
1891 Dec. 8, marriage to Ida Ezzell recorded.
1892 Jan. 30, purchased lot 5 in block 73, town of Robert Lee, for $75.
1892 Feb. 8, named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness,” $45.
1892 Dec. 13, sold lot 5 in block 73 for $25.
1893 Oct. 12, purchases the Ferris Sentinel, presumably he has left Coke County.
1894 June 16, R.T. Ervin (W. V.’s brother), of Wharton Co., sells W.V. Ervin, of Lampasas, for $500, lot 13 in town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. (filed for record July 14).
1894 Sept. 15, W. V., of Ellis Co., sells Samary Ezzell, of Lampasas Co., lot 7 in block 13 of town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500. (filed for record Sept. 24).
1896 Feb. 7, Samary Ezzell of McLennan Co. sells W. V. Ervin of Ellis Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500.
1896 April 7, W. V. of Ellis Co. sells Mrs. G. E. Webb of Coke Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. for $125.

In a May 1, 1897 announcement in the Ferris Wheel (formerly the Ferris Sentinel) readers learned that “the partnership heretofore existing between the undersigned has been dissolved, Frank Ezzell having bought the interest of W. V. Ervin and will continue the publication of the paper,” though “Ervin & Ezzell, proprietors” continued to appear in the paper for months afterwards.

By March 1898, he had set up a new publishing venture in Shackelford County, the Albany Enterprise. This endeavor, however, didn’t last the year. On September 16, 1898, The Albany News reported that “W. V. Ervin packed the Enterprise plant and left last Friday morning for ‘greener’ fields.” On September 30, the News reported the first issue of the Enterprise out of Big Spring. The November 12, 1898 Ferris Wheel ran the following:

1898 11-12 Ferris Wheel

The December 3, 1898 edition of the Ferris Wheel has this item: “The Cake [sic.] County Rustler has this to say about our former partner and his paper: ‘Col. W. V. Ervin, once owner of this paper, [publishes] one the best weeklies on the Texas & Pacific.’”

Now settled in Big Spring, the Ervins had three more children: daughters Lesta (1902) and Maxine (1906), and a son, Frank Wynton (1903), who only lived two and a half years. And it is there in Big Spring that W. V. Ervin would live out the rest of his days, perhaps.

search_cimmeria_16

In a letter to Harold Preece, written in August of 1928, shortly after Preece had taken up residence in Waco, Howard mentions one of his sources for books:

Waco’s a Hell of a town, isn’t it? Likely you’ve discovered Von Blon’s bookstore already. The Prussian has some good books sometimes.

The photo above was taken by Gary Romeo for his excellent essay “In Search of Cimmeria.” Romeo travelled Texas in Howard’s footsteps some years back and had this to say about Von Blon’s:

Waco was also the home of a popular area bookstore, Von Blon’s. REH is known to have purchased several books there. The store was located at 416 Franklin Street.  Today a music store fills the building. There was a devastating tornado that hit Waco in 1953. Several of the downtown area businesses were destroyed. Franklin Street was relatively unscathed; and of course, the Alico Building survived, although it swayed as much as 6 feet during the tornado.

Back in Howard’s day, the Von Blon bookstore was an important place in the college town of Waco. Both public school and Baylor College students, along with facility members, depended on von Blon’s as a source for school books and research materials. The bookstore sold new, used and rare books, along with school supplies such as Crayons, paper, pencils, etc. Additionally, von Blon, was quite skilled at tracking down rare books requested by his customers. In those days, Texas did not provide any textbooks to schools, so all students had to provide their own. Of course, more traditional books and periodicals of interest to the general public could be found at Von Blon’s as well.

provdtThe original Von Blon’s operated from 1916 to 1938. His first bookstore was in the basement of the old Provident Building, which was previously known as the Peerless Building. Then he moved to 413 Franklin and operated there for a period of time. Next von Blon moved his business across the street to 416 Franklin, and later moved the bookstore a couple of doors down to 408 Franklin. Von Blon always wanted to open his store on Austin Avenue (the main drag in Waco in those days), but it was just too costly for him to do so.

Avery Festus von Blon, Sr. was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio on November 8, 1888. Around 1914, von Blon moved from Ohio to San Antonio. He was working as a switchman for a railroad when he met his wife to be, Lena Janek. The two married in 1916 and after a short honeymoon, the pair moved to Waco where von Blon began his career as a bookseller.

Prior to marrying von Blon, Lena lived with and worked for the Moos family, who owned and operated the H. A. Moos bookstore on Commerce Street in San Antonio. The Moos, gave the von Blons some books to get them started and they brought the merchandise with them to Waco.

In the early days of the bookstore, von Blon needed extra income and worked as a switchman for the Katy Railroad and later for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. Von Blon and his wife ran the bookstore themselves, occasionally hiring someone to help out during busy seasons.

The couple soon started a family, with Lena giving birth to three sons. Their first son, Avery Festus von Blon, Jr. was born on September 15, 1918, followed by Henry Moss, born on April 25, 1920 and John Herman, born on June 26, 1923. Sadly, Henry, the middle son was born with an autoimmune disease and died on February 15, 1924.

$(KGrHqN,!qcFBp69RQWSBQpUtB4CO!~~60_57

Von Blon’s bookstore was not the only bookstore in Waco. During the early to mid-thirties the city had a larger population than Austin. His competitors included Norman H. Smith who operated a store located on Austin Avenue that stocked mainly stationary and office supplies, but also carried textbooks, Ida Rand ran a bookshop on South Fourth Street, the Hill Printing and Stationery Company operated a rental library and there were other bookstores in town as well.

As was the case with everyone else in the country, The Great Depression took its toll on the von Blon family business. In 1938 he filed for bankruptcy and closed the bookstore, which was then back in the Provident Building, its original 1916 location. Reportedly, von Blon took the loss of his bookstore pretty hard.

Von Blon and his wife returned to the book business in the  early 1940s, moving to San Antonio and operating a used bookshop at several locations, first on La Salle Street and later moving to St. Mary’s Street.

On September 30, 1953 von Blon succumbed to aplastic anemia. He was 64 years old. His wife Lena moved back to Waco around 1957 and lived there until 1996 when she passed away at age 103. The von Blons are buried side by side in Waco’s Rosemound Cemetery.

Von Blon

This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.