2014 06-08 p002

In Dark Valley Destiny, L. Sprague de Camp says, “Early in 1929 a professional colleague had told Isaac Howard of a cotton boom in sparsely-inhabited Dickens County.” And, after a description of the area, this:

Dr. Howard learned that many new people would be coming into the region to grow cotton by irrigation. Undoubtedly they would have need of a physician. Thinking this a chance to make some quick cash, Isaac Howard went to Spur, a town of moderate size in Dickens County, 112 miles northwest of Cross Plains.

On May 4, 1929, he took out his license to practice medicine in Dickens County. He transferred his letter of membership in the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains, which he had joined in 1924, to the Baptist Church in Spur. He evidently meant to stay for some time in Spur, one of those places on the fringe of things to which he had always been drawn. We can only guess what part was played in Isaac’s move by his discomfiture over his wife’s royal pretensions, his son’s animosity, and the necessity of sharing his small house with a roomer.

While the dates of Isaac’s moves are uncertain, it appears that his sojourn in Spur lasted at least half a year. He must have come back often to Cross Plains to visit his family, for the townsfolk of Cross Plains seem to have been unaware of his absences. In mid-1929 he probably returned home to stay for at least half a year, because of Robert Howard’s absence during this time. We do not know whether the doctor returned to Spur during the first half of 1930; in any event he transferred his church membership back to Cross Plains on August 28, 1930.

The last sentence ends with the following footnote: “Interview with J. Scott, 21 Feb. 1980; letter from Rev. T. Irwin, 25 Aug. 1977.” De Camp’s notes on his talk with Jack Scott say, “The reason for IMH’s stay in Spur was a cotton boom in that region, which he thought would give him a chance to make some money.” I haven’t seen the letter from Rev. Irwin, but I assume that is where the information regarding church membership comes from.

That all sounds pretty squishy, and I’ve never been a fan of speculation. Here are the few nuggets regarding Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur that I’ve seen. First up is Norris Chambers’ July 7, 1978 letter to de Camp:

Received your letter asking about Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur. I heard a little about this, but all I knew then (I was pretty young in 1929), was that he was thinking of moving his practice out there. I remember he talked some in later years about the country out there, but I never really knew that he went out there with the intention of “taking out.” However, this could easily have been the case. He often spoke of moving to various parts of the country, but we had heard this talk so much that we just listened to it and figured that nothing would come of it. The Dr. talked of doing many things that he never did. Sometimes he would start on something, but usually got other interests or changed his mind before he went very far with the actual act.

Besides de Camp’s notes on the 1980 Jack Scott interview, there’s also an earlier, August 31, 1978, letter to de Camp’s partner, Jane W. Griffin, which has this:

I was in college in 1929 at the time you say Dr. I. M. Howard moved to Spur and opened temporary practice. Consequently, I have no knowledge of that. Neither am I familiar with any unhappiness in his marital life.

And there are these items:

Cross Plains Review – May 3, 1929 (page 8)

1929 05-03 CPR p8 IMH to Spur

Cross Plains Review - June 7, 1929 (page 8)

1929 06-07 CPR p8

Cross Plains Review – July 5, 1929 (page 1)

1929 07-05 CPR p1

Cross Plains Review – July 5, 1929 (page 8)

1929 07-05 CPR p8 IMH ad

So, de Camp’s “at least half a year” looks more like two months, though I can’t explain the late membership renewal at church. I suppose it’s possible Dr. Howard went back to Spur, but I think it’s more likely he just didn’t get around to renewing. Speculation—yuck. During a recent trip to the area, my folks and I stopped in Dickens County and visited the courthouse in the town of Dickens. There are no land records for Dr. Howard, but I did get a copy of his medical registration. I also talked to local historian Erick Swenson. He told me that the cotton boom was over by 1929 and couldn’t think of anything special that would bring someone to town at the time.

Just a tad south of Dickens, we also visited Spur itself. I learned that the local newspaper, The Texas Spur, has been in business practically since the town was created due to the cotton boom in 1909. All of its holdings are archived at Texas Tech; unfortunately, it appears that no issues from 1929 survive. The town has a small museum, but other than a few old photographs of Spur, I didn’t find much of interest.

IMG_1225

madamelalaurieI first saw her face on a beignet break in the French Quarter. My native New Orleans tour guide/friend lay sleeping off our binge at a wine bar appropriately named Bacchanal, so I decided killing some time eating deep fried goodness to be a bonne idea. After reveling for the umpteenth time in the sinful caffeine orgasm that is French fried donuts sponging up some frozen coffee, I puttered around a few shops in the area. In a little bric-a-brac cluttered window on Royal Street my gaze froze on the face of a woman pale as death and a pair of hypnotic eyes that quickly reeled me into the overpriced tourist trap.

The vampirish woman emblazoned the cover of a book entitled Madame Lalaurie — Mistress of the Haunted House. The tome by Carolyn Morrow Long basically purported to be the true story of the notorious haunted mansion just a few blocks further down Royal Street. I vaguely remembered picking up something of the story on my last trip to NOLA. It is a twisted tale of diabolical evil a carriage driver took much joy in relating to me with his own sanguine embellishments. Something about a woman who tortured her slaves and let her doctor hubby conduct all kinds of unholy experiments upon their innocent flesh before trying to burn all the evidence in a catastrophic fire. Something to that effect. But with much focus on the tortures of the damned, maggots, whips, hellfire and Nicholas Cage — he happened to be the owner of the house at the time.

Thumbing through the book I quickly figured out this was a legitimate history book and not just a retelling of urban legends. The author makes use of original documents, genealogies, newspaper accounts, etc. to build a compelling case for the true story about Madame Lalaurie and her ghoulish goings on. Turns out, the urban legends weren’t too far off the mark from reality. This was one sadistic bitch of a Creole and apparently very guilty of most everything she was accused of. Madame was a member of the original New Orleans blue bloods, had been married to the Spanish Governor as a tender teen, married a second time to a slave trader who did quite a hopping business with the Lafitte brothers, and finally getting hitched a third time to a young doctor about 20 years her junior. And this was about a year after he got her pregnant. She was already a fairly fascinating lady before you even get to the slave abuse aspect of her tale. Things turn pretty dark pretty quickly.

houseNot only was she notorious throughout the city for abusing her slaves, she had even been taken to court over the accusations which, in those days, should tell you how absolutely awful she was. The Code Noir of 1820’s New Orleans was far more liberal that the rest of the South but slaves were still slaves and couldn’t bear witness against a white person. She was acquitted of the charges but her neighbors still despised her and spied on her. One night she was seen chasing a screaming young serving girl with a horsewhip off the edge of her roof. The unfortunate young lady’s broken body mysteriously disappeared. Then the fire happened. After the cruel Creole and her family escaped the flames, the nosy neighbors quickly realized that many of her slaves were unaccounted for. The heroic Samaritans charged inside amongst the smoke and flame finding to their horror ten or so slaves chained in a small attic like room. The poor wretches were emaciated and covered with sores, maggots gnawing at their insides. The slaves were taken immediately to the doctors to be treated but not before a growing mob had seen the nasty result of Madame’s hobby. They were none too pleased. When the authorities allowed her to escape the city, the grumbling mob exploded into flame.

A thousand screaming demons rushed the empty Lalaurie mansion and tore it almost entirely to the ground. The destruction was so complete that the house had to be entirely rebuilt – meaning the famous haunted mansion of today isn’t really the same building where the poor slaves lived out their terrible existence. The author of the biography using what’s left of the slave records figured out that at least twenty of Lalaurie’s slaves died between 1816 and 1833. Another nineteen simply vanished from all records after the fire in 1834. Even accounting for some natural deaths in a time without modern medicine, that’s a big pile of corpses. Oh, and they never caught up with the mistress of that house of horrors. She fled to France with the aid of her loyal butler and lived out the remainder of her days in the motherland with her family, exiled by the scandal but otherwise unharmed. Her young hubby left her and she was eventually forced to live off others’ charity the rest of her days. But after she died in her early 60’s (according to some tales gored to death by a wild boar!) her body was returned to New Orleans and there her ghost festers to this day.

Now, as I read this sordid tale, certain aspects of it seemed to strike sparks in my synapses:

(1.) A savage Creole mistress of an old family abuses not only all her slaves but focuses on a young slave girl in particular;

(2.) The slave girl and other slaves eventually disappear;

(3.) A grim attic hiding the loathsome secret of chained bodies;

(4.) The evil woman disappears and is never heard from again.

I couldn’t put my finger on what seemed so familiar about it. But fortunately I had Rusty Burke’s history of REH in New Orleans from several mailings of REHupa with me. One of the articles talked about Howard’s three landladies, the Durell sisters, whom he believed to be the inspiration for the three Blassenville sisters in “Pigeons from Hell.” Reading over that material lit my imagination and I quickly realized why Madame Lalaurie seemed so familiar — she’s basically the monstrous Celia Blassenville of “Pigeons from Hell!”

In Howard’s tale, the Blassenvilles are of French-English descent and from the West Indies, moving to their home before the Louisiana Purchase. They, like many wealthy Southerners, were ruined in the War Between the States. Celia is described as a fine, handsome woman in her early thirties. The family was unusually brutal towards their slaves, an idea picked up from their time in the West Indies. Celia whipped her mulatto serving girl just like a slave. She also tied the unfortunate young beauty naked to a tree  and lashed her with a horsewhip.  In the story, a hidden room was built in the manor house where the three sisters’ mummified bodies would be found, hanging by their necks from the ceiling in the windowless chamber.

lalaurieGoing back to the biography of Madame Lalaurie, I found that her family was of French-Irish descent with connections to the West Indies. Her story takes place a good thirty years before the War Between the States but she certainly does lose pretty much everything because of the fire and the scandal. The bonne vie of Creole plantations and grand parties and balls were no longer in her future. Madame Lalaurie was well known as a great beauty and must have been quite seductive and charming to have a love child with a much younger man in that day and age. She was certainly no Kathy Bates — the actress who portrayed her in American Horror Story: Coven. The one known portrait of her is striking. She became infamous for horsewhipping a young slave girl as she chased her off the roof. Then of course both women’s homes have secret attic rooms convenient for storing bodies. Also, her house is on Royal Street — the same street that the Durell sisters lived on for a time. Oh and Madame Lalaurie’s first name is Delphine, the same name as one of the Durell sisters.

Of course much of this could be circumstantial. A decadent old southern family guarding dark secrets is a pretty familiar cliché in the horror genre. Howard could have easily tapped into that whole traditional Southern gothic atmosphere. I have no evidence he ever mentioned Delphine Lalaurie or had read any of the books she is featured in. But she is a legendary figure in New Orleans and a precocious kid like Howard who loved local legends and ghost stories would have quickly learned about her. The building had been a haunted tourist attraction since the 1890’s and it’s not far from where he briefly lived on Canal Street when he was 13. There were also several popular New Orleans history books published at that time which mentioned her that Howard could have easily found at the local library. Maybe not concrete evidence but I think it builds up an interesting case.

We will never know for sure, but I feel pretty positive that he mixed Delphine Lalaurie’s evil shadow with the Durell sisters, sprinkled in the ax works from a ghost story he heard as a child, stirred in a little double double toil and trouble and before you can say zuvembie, Howard had cooked up “Pigeons from Hell,” recognized today as one of the best horror stories ever written.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, Howard's Travels, Rusty Burke.

IMG_0001Paula Raymond, the pretty woman to the left, once stated in an interview that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright was her uncle.  However, it would seem that wherever I look on the Internet, and of course I haven’t looked everywhere, I am informed that Ms. Raymond was the granddaughter of Wright.  Indeed, in Screen Sirens Scream, the authors preface her interview by listing her as Farnsworth’s granddaughter, ignoring her remarks entirely.

But considering that Wright was born in 1888, and married in 1929, and that his son Robert was born a year later, and that Paula Raymond was born in 1924 I have a lot of trouble envisioning her as his granddaughter, no matter what I may find on the Internet.  If any of the readers of this blog are proficient on the ancestry sites, which I most certainly am not, I would appreciate any verification one way or the other.

However this may end up, this beautiful actress was related to the famous editor, and if he had lived past 1940 he would undoubtedly have been very proud of her.  She appeared in many of the top-rated television shows of her time, including 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Maverick, and Rawhide.  She was also apparently picked to play the role of Kitty on Gunsmoke but turned it down.

IMG_0003But the movie that probably would have meant the most to Farnsworth Wright was Paula’s starring appearance in the Ray Harryhausen classic, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  One of the great giant monster movies, the lighthouse scene, based on the story “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury, is undoubtedly one of the high points of the film, and that takes us full circle, as Bradbury was one of the great contributors to Weird Tales. 

Another interesting movie Ms. Raymond starred in, along with John Agar, was “Hand of Death,” which was considered “lost” for a time.  Perhaps the most notable moment in this flick is the transformation of John Agar into a monster that looks like a cross between The Fantastic Four’s The Thing and the repulsive night-watchman in Robert W. Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign.”

After this film Raymond was involved in a horrific automobile accident, which I’ll let her relate in her own words.  “All I can remember is me screaming…and then the impact.  The rear view mirror crushed my face, taking my nose off completely.  Then the car overturned six or eight times, and I was later told that I was pulled out of the car seconds before it exploded.” She explains that even though the surgery to repair her nose was mostly successful she “never worked so much after that.”  Ms. Raymond passed away in 2003.

This entry filed under Farnsworth Wright, Weird Tales.

Fists_3_cover

Okay boys and girls, time to start flipping couch cushions and looking for those wayward pazoors because the newest offering from the REH Foundation Press is on the way. Coming soon is the third of four volumes of the collected boxing fiction of REH, Fists of Iron, Round 3. Ordering details have not yet been posted on the Foundation’s website, but you’d better keep a close lookout for the information, because if you are a Sailor Steve Costigan fan, this is one volume you must have. Hell, you really need all four of them! Here is the pugilistic fight card for Round 3:

Introduction: “Big Talk Don’t Bust No Chins” by Chris Gruber

“Circus Fists”
“Vikings of the Gloves”
“Night of Battle”
“Sailor Costigan and the Yellow Cobra”
“Sailor Costigan and the Jade Monkey”
“Alleys of Darkness”
“Sailor Costigan and the Destiny Gorilla”
“A New Game for Costigan”
“A Two-Fisted Santa Claus”
“The Slugger’s Game”
“General Ironfist”
“Sluggers of the Beach”
“The Honor of the Ship” (originally untitled)
Untitled story (“A sailorman ain’t got no business…”) (aka “Flying Knuckles”)
“Iron-Clad Fists”
“Sailor Costigan and the Swami” (originally untitled)
“Alleys of Treachery”

Appendix:

“Night of Battle: (synopsis)
“Sailor Costigan and the Turkish Menace” (incomplete)
“Sailor Costigan and the Turkish Menace” (synopsis)
“Sailor Costigan and the Jade Monkey” (3rd person version)
“Alleys of Darkness” (synopsis)
“Sailor Costigan and the Destiny Gorilla” (synopsis)
“A New Game for Costigan” (synopsis)
“A Two-Fisted Santa Claus” (synopsis)
“The Slugger’s Game” (synopsis)
“General Ironfist” (synopsis)
“Sluggers of the Beach” (synopsis)
“Iron-Clad Fists” (synopsis)
“Alleys of Treachery” (synopsis)

“The Lord of the Ring,” (part 3), by Patrice Louinet

And let’s not forget Round 3 has a knockout of a cover by Tom Gianni. Tom was a special guest at Howard Days this year and while there, he snagged the 2014 REHF Rankin Award for best Howard artist. Indeed, it was well deserved for all the fine work he has been doing on the Foundation books dust jackets.

Speaking of the Foundation, they recently changed their mailing address. All correspondence may now be addressed to:

Robert E. Howard Foundation
PO Box 2641
Sugar Land, TX 77487-2641

The web site remains the same at: www.rehfoundation.org.

IMG_0002Last heard from around Christmas 1913, Ambrose Bierce probably died sometime in 1914, somewhere in Mexico.  His disappearance has spawned many theories, ranging from death by a firing squad under Pancho Villa’s orders, to, perhaps acting under the influence of his motto, “Nothing Matters,” a suicide.  One of the wildest explanations for Bierce’s vanishing occurs during a segment of Ancient Aliens, which I’ll touch upon in a bit.

We do know, for sure, that Bierce was one of Robert E. Howard’s favorite writers—the Texan, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft states it.  For further affirmation we need only look to Don Herron’s The Dark Barbarian where Steve Eng, in his list of Howard’s library, notes that judging from a sheet found among REH’s papers he paid 49 cents for Bierce’s Fantastic Fables, and Eng adds that the pulp writer’s shelves, at one time, contained a copy of Adolphe de Castro’s Portrait of Ambrose Bierce. 

Called “Bitter Bierce” for a variety of reasons, this writer displays a softer side in a recent addition I picked up for my autograph collection.  Agnostic or atheist, Bierce took the time out, in a card from 1912, to wish an acquaintance “Easter Greetings.”  He was apparently one of those fine people who are able to honor a religious holiday, not because he believes in it but because a friend does.  Perhaps Bierce wasn’t such a misanthrope after all.

I’m fairly certain that many of Howard’s fans watch Ancient Aliens, a production of the History Channel 2.  The photography is stunning, and the information about vanished civilizations can be enlightening, and entertaining.  However, some of the theories advocated by the ‘talking heads’ on the series can be pretty lame-brained.

While I haven’t seen every episode, it would seem that aliens have pretty much done everything in the history of our planet, making all the great accomplishments of Mankind merely the result of helpful extraterrestrials.  I can’t believe that, and neither can I swallow the supposition that I’ve heard came up in one program—namely that Ambrose Bierce’s disappearance happened because he was able to contact aliens who guided him into another dimension.

Bierce, much like Williamson in “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” was there one minute, gone the next.   So, if these aliens really can do everything, perhaps they’ve kept Bierce alive, and he’s working on some damned thing in an aircraft hovering hundreds of miles above Earth.  I wonder, can such things be?

pphm1_credit

Howard continues his narrative about the Panhandle trip in his letter to HPL as the family heads south from Amarillo on Highway 87:

At Canyon, eighteen miles south of Amarillo, we turned eastward and drove several miles to the Palo Duro Canyon, the eastern-most of the great gorges of the west. A narrow road, a mile long, meandered down into the canyon, which is a thousand feet deep and perhaps eighty miles long, and we drove along the canyon floor for several miles, seeing some of the most vivid and rugged scenery I have ever seen anywhere, even in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico

Howard proceeds to tell the story of a famous Indian battle on the floor of the Palo Duro canyon. Last December I posted “The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon — The End of the Indian Wars in Texas” about that battle here on the blog.

After their visit to Palo Duro Canyon, the family got back on track as Howard recounts in his letter to HPL:

Returning to Canyon City, the home of the West Texas State Teachers Normal, we wanted to visit the museum,which I understand is the most complete thing of its kind in the State; but it is open only on certain days in the summer, and that wasn’t one of the days.

The museum Howard refers to is the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, which opened in 1933. West Texas State Teachers Normal was part of the first university system in Texas, The Texas State University System. The term “normal school” originated in the early 16th century from the French école normale. The French concept of an “école normale” was to provide a model school with model classrooms to teach model teaching practices to its student teachers.

2-door[3]It is too bad the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum was closed that hot July day. I have no doubt Howard would have enjoyed it immensely.  Exhibits in 1935 featured everything Texas, from dinosaurs to the oil boom and beyond. When it first opened, it was 12,500 square feet, but has grown during the ensuing years to 285,000 square feet today,  making it the largest State supported museum in Texas.  The brainchild of this massive undertaking was an educator named Hattie Anderson who taught history at West Texas State Normal College in the early 1920s. These days it is considered by many as the Smithsonian of Texas.

Leaving Canyon City (today known as simply “Canyon”), the Howards began their journey back to Cross Plains, ending their brief stay in the Panhandle with some new memories of the great state of Texas. But there were still many more miles to travel before the Howard family reached their home.

Read Part One, Part Two                    

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

Mooney

[Not counting this, the above is the earliest photo of Mooney that I've been able to find; it's circa the late 1950s.]

[It's been a while. Part 5 is here]

Early in 1929, Junto editor Booth Mooney was beginning to get bogged down.  He wrote to Clyde Smith:

I, too, find that college is a terrible bore, and I’m not learning a damn thing. I don’t think that I shall go next term. As Bob says, “about the only thing colleges is good for is that they enable one to get a line-up on semi-humanity.” Hell, I don’t see why I ever wanted to attend a Baptist college, anyway.

No more nom de plumes will be used in The Junto. I’m not sure whether the magazine will be continued or not, for it takes up so much time. I’m trying to do a little writing now, and I need all the time I can get.

By February, he was clearing the way:

I’d like to continue “The Junto,” but I’m afraid that I just can’t do it. It surely takes lots of time—more than I have to spare. I may get out another issue or so to clear up the material that I have on hand, but I can’t make a definite promise.

And that spring he was done:

Yes, I have discontinued “The Junto.” I hated to do it. It was necessary, though. My time is limited. However, Lenore Preece is going to revive it, I believe. She asked me to send her all material I had on hand. Some of your stuff was in the bunch I sent her. If you have time, send her something pretty often. I should like to see the Junto continue to come out. I don’t know whether you know her address. Capitol Station, Austin.

How long The Junto was on hiatus is unclear, but by the end of May, Lenore Preece was ready to send out the June issue:

[handwritten]

Capitol Station
Austin, Texas
May 24, 1929
Mr. Tevis Clyde Smith
c/o Walker-Smith Co.
Brownwood, Texas

Dear Mr. Smith:

The June issue of “The Junto,” containing your “Fragmentary Portrait” and “God” should reach you within the next two weeks. As Booth may have informed you, I am editing the travelogue. I now have nothing to be published which is written by you.

Since, while “The Junto” was compiled by Booth, you were a frequent contributor, I trust that, under my management of “The Junto,” you will continue to submit manuscripts. Could you send me anything for the July issue? Also, I do not think that an autobiography of yours, with the accompanying picture, has appeared. Any material which you care to mail me will be appreciated.

I hope to edit “The Junto” as much like Booth as possible. Should it seem that I am not conforming to the standard evinced by him, please do not hesitate to point out the deficiency. I will welcome any criticism.

I regret that, last fall, I did not get to see you and the young lady (whose name, with my usual aberration, I have forgotten) before your departure. Thinking that I would have the pleasure of seeing you all that night of your arrival, I did not have an opportunity to invite you back, and tell you how glad I was to meet you.

Sincerely,
Lenore Preece

Unfortunately, we’ll never have a chance to peruse Lenore’s first offering as editor, as this note in the July issue explains:

J-01a

But despite her desire to reprint the issue, her August 15, 1929 letter to Clyde Smith reveals that, “On Booth’s advice, [she] did not re-issue the June number.” That same letter gives us a little more information about what was contained in the lost issue:

If Vinson wishes to send me “Canal Street,” Howard, “Nocturne,” and you, your sketch which described those gentlemen “occasionally saluting Bacchus,” (all of which were published in the lost “Junto”) I shall be glad to re-print them in subsequent “Juntoes.”

In his last surviving letter to Smith (circa Summer 1929), Booth Mooney mentions the Preece-edited Junto:

I haven’t had time to do more than glance over the Junto, but it looks like a good issue. By the way, has Lenore told you about the Juntite convention which she hopes to throw about the last of December—in Dallas, I believe? I hope you’ll be able to come.

We’ll have a look at the first surviving Preece issue next time.

Amarillo

Continuing north, the Howards reach Amarillo as Howard relates the journey in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935:

We got to Amarillo well before sunset, having driven nearly 400 miles since morning. My mother had not regained her strength from her operation, but she stood the trip remarkably well. Amarillo is a town of some 43,000 people, and extremely modern and up-to-date, though somehow it doesn’t seem like a typical Texas town. It had a remarkable growth, springing from a small village to about its present size in just a few years. It spreads over an amazing territory, but, like most West Texas towns which have grown up since the beginning of the machine age, it has broad, straight streets, easy to drive on, and is very clean in appearance. It may some day be the biggest city in the State, if the Great Plains are ever developed as they should be. With its close proximity to the “Bread Belt of the Nation” it has great possibilities as an industrial center.

Howard gives a pretty description of Amarillo, however the actual altitude is 3,600 feet, not the 4,500 feet Howard mentions elsewhere in his letter. A minor point — I am not sure the health benefits, if any, would be affected by the difference.

sanbornhouseActually Amarillo was founded twice. First in April 1887 by J. T. Berry, who named it Oneida. Then a year later, Henry B. Sanborn,  the Texas sales agent for barbed wire, and his partner Joseph Glidden bought up thousands of acres of land a mile east of Oneida and created a new town they named Amarillo, and Sanborn became the “Father of Amarillo.” Sanborn was savvy enough to realize the original town site was built on low ground and would be predisposed to flooding during torrential rainstorms that were common in the area. Sure enough, in 1889 heavy rains almost flooded the original town site out of existence and motivated many residents to move to Sanborn’s new location. Around 1890 the railroads came to the town. By the late 1890s Amarillo had become one of the world’s largest cattle shipping points and the population grew larger as more and more jobs were created. Amarillians also proclaimed they were the helium capital of the world for having one of the country’s most productive helium fields. Amarillo’s economy continues to thrive on cattle along with agriculture, oil and natural gas. Little wonder it is the largest city in the Texas Panhandle.

There was an odd incident in Amarillo three years before Howard’s visit involving an inmate in the county jail that might be the first instance of a suicide vest being denoted. The man’s name was A.D. Payne, a prominent attorney in Amarillo. Here is an account of the incident from the Amarillo Sunday News-Globe, August 31, 1930:

A.D. Payne of Amarillo, accused of murder in a June 27 car bombing that killed his wife and injured his 11-year-old son, blasted his chest out with “some kind of infernal machine” while housed in the Hutchinson County jail. Payne had most of his cell mates move to another cell before he committed suicide with a self-inflicted blast. Payne was believed to have smuggled nitroglycerin into the jail.

Payne had plead insanity in the killing of his wife, partly because of financial problems and an extramarital affair. But he never got his day in court, instead choosing to go out with a bang.

During the time the Howards took their trip, Amarillo was a favorite tourist destination with its easy access by being the location were highways of 60, 66, 87 and 287 merged. This hub of highways made Amarillo a major tourist stop. The city had a number of hotels, tourist camps, motels, restaurants and souviner shops. But as the depths of the Great Depression set in, the city — like the rest of the country — suffered economically.

Canadian RiverEarly the following morning, the Howards rose early and took a drive out to the Canadian River to have a look what Howard described as “…a treacherous, turbulent river, running through shallow, rugged canyons. In some places dry canyons parallel the main bed, cut out by overflows, or caused by the river changing its course.” They then drove the 25 miles back to Amarillo for breakfast before driving southward back toward Cross Plains.

I doubt if just spending one night in the higher altitude of Amarillo would provide any therapeutic relief for Hester — a longer stay might have — but the trip did allow the family some stress free time together. It was a brief respite from the dark days ahead for the Howards.

Read Part One, Part Three

boskop-skull-3

What you say of the pre-historic African race is most interesting and thought-inspiring, and I hope future research throws more light on the past. I feel a deep pity for that people – living in peace and friendliness – an unwarlike and pastoral race – and suddenly confronted by a horde of black slayers as rude and merciless as they were strong. It must have been a slaughter rather than a war, and it’s a damned pity that the Boskop people didn’t have some Aryan traits to stiffen their spines and train their hands in fighting. I hate to think of white people being wiped out and enslaved by niggers. How do you suppose these people got there in the first place? Did they wander down the coast until they came to a country that suited them, or do you suppose their trek took many generations as they slowly shifted southward?

Letter to H.P. Lovecraft, circa February 1931

I’m concerned that the above passage, with its obviously racist attitudes, is going to turn many potential readers off immediately. Some may say, “Oh blimey not another big discussion about REH’s racism in the offing,” while others with just as much justification may growl, “What bigoted crap!” and ignore the post right there.  This blogger thinks the subject has value, first because the subject of Boskop Man has gained a new lease of life lately, and second because I’ve never believed we should forget how recently bigoted crap like the above was acceptable in the most polite (white) drawing-rooms.

The whole idea of Boskop Man as a separate race began in 1913, when a couple of farmers found an ancient skull at Boskop in the Transvaal. The skull was rather big, its cranial capacity greater than normal, but it wasn’t complete and the estimate made at the time that its capacity would have been 1800 ccs had a margin for error – 1700 to 2000. Remember, this was 1913 and anthropology was a raw discipline still. The nineteenth-century pseudo-science of phrenology (assessing intelligence and character from the shape of the head) was having a revival in the early twentieth. London psychiatrist Bernard Hollander was its most influential proponent in England. His books The Mental Function of the Brain (1901) and Scientific Phrenology  (1902) were widely read by the middle classes and laymen as well as professionals.

Other large skulls were discovered in South Africa, along with greater numbers within the usual range. The latter were ignored. Any large skull from the region was labeled “Boskopoid”. Before long the enthusiastic belief prevailed that a separate race (or even species) had existed in the Transvaal between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago, characterized by large crania and small faces with childlike features.

boskop-skull-comparisonRobert Broom named the supposed species Homo Capensis. Broom, a paleontologist, made a new estimate of the skull’s capacity at 1980 ccs, against the modern average of 1400. But the original skull’s thickness made its precise capacity hard to assess, and in any case there are modern human beings whose brains have a volume of 2000 ccs. It’s big, but not unheard-of. And phrenology put in its ten cents’ worth at once. Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer. Not being a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, I can’t recall which Sherlock Holmes story it was, but Doyle had Holmes deducing, from an unknown man’s hat, just about everything about him except the details of his sex life – and he pronounced that the man was intellectual. Watson, as usual, asked how the deuce he could know that, and Holmes placed the hat on his own head, where it settled down to his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity” he explained. “A man with so large a head must have something in it.”

Some ideas that were taken for granted back then seem pretty quaint now.

Raymond Dart, the man who discovered and reported on the Taung skull in the journal Nature, had taken an interest in the Boskop skulls before that, and written to Nature about them too – in 1923. It was a respectable and serious subject at the time. Naturally, being a bit sensational, the idea of an ancient race with large brains and large intelligence to go with it was grabbed by tabloid newspapers, pseudo-scientists and interested amateurs. It became linked with half the favorite myths of the time from prehistoric super-civilizations to racial superiority.

20224-004-AD967DEFBy the early 1900s, “scientific” racism was a strongly entrenched attitude. It served to justify colonialism for one thing. Herbert Spencer wasn’t a scientist – he was a philosopher and political theorist, and one of the best arguments against Plato’s ideal of the “philosopher king” this blogger knows. He invented the phrase “survival of the fittest” and thought it should apply to human society. Madison Grant, a lawyer and strong believer in eugenics, crusaded for the elimination of “undesirables” and certain “race types”. In 1916 he wrote The Passing of the Great Race. Grant argued that the basically Anglo-Saxon and Nordic stock of the U.S.A. was being undermined by non-Nordic immigrants. I’m happy to report that it was largely ignored when it first appeared and never became a best seller, but it reflected widely held views just the same. (H.P. Lovecraft was nauseated by the mix of nationalities in New York and inveighed against its “mongrel hordes.”)

The African continent and its history was often an issue. Great Britain and other colonial powers found scientific racism a useful tool to justify conquest – the “White Man’s Burden” and so forth. In southern Africa the “White Man’s Burden” often consisted of a considerable weight in gold and diamonds. In southern Africa, too, the impressive stone-built ruins of Great Zimbabwe became a subject of hot dispute. One typical comment comes from J. Theodore Bent’s The Ruined Cities of Mashonland (1896): “… it is a well-accepted fact that the Negroid brain never could be capable of taking the initiative in work of such intricate nature.”  The Rhodesian government later tried hard to discourage journalists and scholarly writers from publishing any work to the effect that Bantu peoples did in fact construct Great Zimbabwe. It didn’t want this known. Along the same lines, some anthropologists from Europe rejected the idea that the Yoruba people of West Africa had really created the very fine bronze work characteristic of that culture. They didn’t believe them capable of it and assumed white artisans had produced the lost-wax bronze sculptures, sometimes even claiming the hypothetical whites had been refugees from Atlantis. Amazing how Atlantis finds its way into nearly every half-baked theory.

ValleyOfWorm-bw-wt2-34I haven’t read the letter from H.P. Lovecraft, to which REH was responding above. But Howard’s letter suggests that there were theories current in the early 1930s to the effect that the Boskop People must have been white. With high intelligence, what else?  And peaceful, friendly, and pastoral. Either Lovecraft theorized that they had been wiped out by ferocious black tribes moving into their territory, or he came across the idea in the course of his voracious and eclectic reading. Howard wrote a number of stories, those of James Allison’s many reincarnations especially, with the theme of restless white tribes wandering far across the world. He was fascinated by the idea, and as he wrote to Lovecraft in another letter (June 1931)  “What you say of the unfortunate Boskops interested me greatly … ”  He evidently believed they had been whites, but couldn’t have been Nordic Aryan whites like those in his story “The Valley of the Worm” or else they would have won the conflict.

Advances in anthropological knowledge since then pretty much assure us there never was any such conflict – or any distinct Boskopoid race. If there had been, the Boskopoids surely wouldn’t have been “white.” The region then was inhabited by remote ancestors of the Bushmen and Hottentots. There wouldn’t have been any Negroid tribes in the area to slaughter them, either. Not ten thousand years ago. Even granting that, they would have been hunter-gatherers as peaceful as the Boskopoids, most likely. Neither group would have been “pastoral”.  The crude beginnings of agriculture might have existed in Syria and Mesopotamia that early, and the domestication of sheep and goats, but nowhere on the African continent.

LEOne of the best known essays on the Boskop People was Loren Eiseley’s “The Man of the Future” in his 1958 collection of essays, The Immense Journey.  Eiseley thought that the Boskops were intelligent beyond any norms today, had childlike faces under their large crania, and were Negroid in general appearance. Eiseley concluded, pretty much as Howard and Lovecraft had done twenty-seven years before, that the Boskops perished in “a desperate struggle to survive among a welter of more prolific and aggressive stocks.”

He published his book at a time when the notion of Boskop Man was being shelved as disproven. Ronald Singer wrote his book, The Boskop ‘Race’ Problem, at the same time as Eiseley’s The Immense Journey, and it was published the same year. He (Singer) reviewed the evidence as it existed in his day. He reached the conclusion, that, “It is now obvious that what was justifiable speculation (because of paucity of data) in 1923, and was apparent as speculation in 1947, is inexcusable to maintain in 1958.”

The idea died hard, though. In fact it hasn’t died at all. Two contemporary neuroscientists, Gary Lynch and Richard Granger, published a book of their own on the subject in 2008. The title is Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence. The authors are distinguished and able men in their own field, and the neuroscience part of their book is probably well worth reading, accurate and informative. But they are NOT anthropologists or specialists in evolution. Although I haven’t read their book, if the enthusiastic review on Amazon.com gives a fair capsule description … they’ve stumbled on that aspect.

Lynch and Granger aren’t responsible for some of the responses to their book online, either. Discover Magazine headlines “What Happened to the Hominids Who May Have Been Smarter Than Us?” (The Brain, 2009 issue.)  The article hints at “rapid evolutionary changes” and reminds us that such faces “are often attached to ‘alien abductors’ in movies.”  It adds that the Boskops are now “almost entirely forgotten” and suggests this is because “the very fact of an ancient ancestor like Boskop, who appears un-apelike and in fact in most ways seems to have had characteristics superior to ours, was destined never to be popular.”  The word “fact” used twice in the same sentence on such an iffy subject, is typical. So is the insinuation of a cover-up.

Clearly we’re no less ready to buy doubtful theories now than people were in the ‘thirties.

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Fiction.

IMG_0001When I was no bigger than an Innsmouth tadpole I thought Weird Tales was the magazine for high literary thrills.  I haunted used bookstores, undoubtedly making a pest of myself, seeking any anthology containing yarns from “The Unique Magazine.”

Sure, in the reading of these precious books I stumbled upon some writing that was pretty awful, but I thought what the hell, it couldn’t be bad; it was published in Weird Tales right?  As my reading tastes grew a little more discerning I realized that this old pulp, great as it had been, had a few things wrong with it.

Some of the writers were just plain hacks, leagues away in literary ability from Howard, Lovecraft, or Clark Ashton Smith.  I figured editor Farnsworth Wright had probably gotten his head stuck in his nether regions when he refused to publish such classics as “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.”  And, of course, when he took magazine space for a reprinting of Frankenstein—something any reader of Weird Tales probably already had in his or her library, I thought Wright was just plain wrong.  Some of the artwork was pretty sad also, resembling grade school chalk drawings by wild-eyed children.

But, one of the best things the pulp ever did, and this is comparable to the publishing of Howard and Lovecraft, is when Wright introduced Finlay to the readership.

Now, on the 100th anniversary of Finlay’s birth, I’m sure he’ll be honored all across the Internet, and that’s a fine thing.  My humble little post can’t begin to do justice to a talent as great as Finlay’s but I couldn’t let the day go by without some sort of recognition on my part.  The beauty, and grace, of great illustration is evident in almost every piece Finlay produced, from bold, colorful magazine covers to a drawing for Howard’s “Skull-Face”, shown above.  In a class all by himself, his work was always, always,  of high quality, and frequently—very frequently—better than the story he was illustrating.

IMGWeird Tales was a great pulp, because, in spite of some of the egregious mistakes Wright was known to make, the old mag had a pretty good stable of talent, and some of the best horror/fantasy stories ever written first appeared inside the covers.   Damn near 100 years old itself Weird Tales continues to have a wide following and devotees of fantasy still meet to argue the merits of the Windy City Grab-Bag, as HPL once satirically referred to it.  It was like catching lightning in a bottle, and what a jolt Virgil Finlay gave the magazine, issue after issue. So take time to remember Mr. Finlay today—an artist whose imagination, and talent, places him as one of the greatest illustrators to ever put pen to paper.

The other Finlay displayed in this post is an example of his astrological drawings, and is part of my personal collection; something I purchased from his daughter a few years back.  Certainly not one of his greatest works, I still think it’s beautiful and it won’t be leaving my library without a fight.