Archive for the 'Novalyne Price Ellis' Category

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Another enjoyable Howard Days has come and gone, and it is safe to say that any who attended were glad they did.  The number of attendees on June 10th and 11th seemed to be a bit above average, reflecting a trend toward straining the capacity of current venues and program formats.  The panel audiences are already larger than could be served by formerly used facilities like the Cross Plains Library and the Howard House Pavilion.  Panels this year were held at the CP High School and the CP Senior Center.  Many new faces were evident at the banquet in the Community Center.  The weather was hot but otherwise pleasant, though mosquito repellent was sometimes required.

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The day before the festivities began, the staff of the Cross Plains Review newspaper kindly offered a tour of their old facilities, complete with antique printing press and other equipment.  Original copies of editions containing articles about or by Robert E. Howard were on display.

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On Friday, following the bus tour of the CP area hosted by Project Pride veteran Don Clark, a panel composed of Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, and Susan McNeel-Childers discussed the first 30 years of Howard Days celebrations.  REHupans Burke and Vern Clark made an initial foray to Cross Plains in 1985.  Impressed by the wide open spaces of Texas and even more by how imaginative Howard must have been to have envisioned stories in such settings, Burke thought that other serious fans might be lured to visit Cross Plains, and so organized a trip there the next year by ten REHupans, including Cavalier and Glenn Lord.  The Friends of the Library, headed by Joan McCowen, gave a gracious reception to those they called international scholars on June 6th, which the mayor proclaimed to be “Robert Howard Day.”  Those the visitors talked to included Cross Plains Review editor Jack Scott, head librarian Billie Ruth Loving, REH heirs Alla Ray Kuykendall and Alla Ray Morris, and Charlotte Laughlin of Howard Payne University in Brownwood.  Laughlin would act to preserve what remained of REH’s personal book collection that his father had donated to HPU and which now resides in the Howard House.  Seeing the commercial possibilities in attracting more such visitors, the founding members of Project Pride (originally created to spruce up the downtown area of Cross Plains) bought the Howard House in 1989, which Project Pride then renovated and operated as a museum with the aid of donations.  Alla Ray Morris contributed $10,000 to Project Pride just before her death in 1995. The money was used to install central heat and air conditioning and to remodel the inside of the house. Project Pride also received a portion of Alla Ray’s estate and that money was used to build the pavilion next to the house and finish the remodeling. The pavilion was completed in 2000 and dedicated to Alla Ray. By that time Howard Days had become an annual 2-day event organized by Project Pride and REHupa, who have done so much to welcome and educate fans of the Texas author and to change the once-low opinion of many of the residents regarding Howard and his admirers.

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Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers spoke at the banquet and was interviewed by REHupan Mark Finn at a Friday panel marking the 20th anniversary of the film The Whole Wide World, which Myers had adapted from the memoir One Who Walked Alone, written by Howard’s sometime girlfriend Novalyne Price Ellis.  Myers was a speech student of Ellis during her last years at Louisiana State University.  As a movie publicist, Myers saw the potential in making a small independent film based on her book, but many individual factors have to align before such a movie can be made.  Myers optioned the book for $20 and wrote the script between 1989 and 1994.  Director Dan Ireland and the actor portraying REH, Vincent D’Onofrio were on board early on.  Replacing actress Olivia d’Abo, who had become pregnant, in Novalyne’s part was Renee Zellweger in her first major role.  TWWW was filmed over 3 and a half weeks in the summer of 1996 for $1.2M.  While it did well at the Sundance Film Festival, an unfavorable release date held the film back until positive reviews led to its success on home video and cable TV.  It served as many people’s introduction to REH, and the film helped to bring a less narrow, more nuanced, and very human portrayal of the author to the fan public.  Ellis did see and enjoy the movie.  After the interview, TWWW was screened in the high school auditorium.

The Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards were bestowed Friday afternoon.  The winners are spotlighted elsewhere on this blog.

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REHupans Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeffrey Shanks staged another of their always entertaining “Fists at the Ice House” presentations outdoors at the site where Howard boxed with his friends and locals.  This sport, REH’s part in it, and his boxing fiction were the subjects.  Experts on these stories, the speakers recommended them highly to all.  Even if one is not into the sport, the surprisingly good humor of the yarns will be enough to get one through them.  And Howard’s enthusiasm and versatility shed light on important aspects of the author’s personality that one might have no clue about if one is familiar only with his fantasy tales.  Howard’s boxing and boxing stories served as vital releases for the pressures and frustrations that were dogging him at the time.

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The first panel on Saturday concerned REH and artist Frank Frazetta, who painted the covers of most of the Lancer Conan paperbacks of the late 1960s which did so much to attract readers to Howard’s fiction.  The panelists were REHupans Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Gary Romeo, and Jeff Shanks.  Cavalier called the publication of Conan the Adventurer the single most significant event in the history of Howard publishing and the one that drew him in personally.  Shanks noted that this was the 50th anniversary of that event.  Frazetta had illustrated comic books, but it was his covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks that got him noticed.  Frazetta’s artistic resonance with the material made for an impressive product that was greater than the sum of its parts.  Burke said that the Conan stories had come out earlier in book form as Arkham House and Gnome Press hardbacks.  Writer L. Sprague de Camp was a fan of REH and, working with agent Oscar Friend, took on the editing of the Conan reprints.  Romeo explained that de Camp assiduously shopped the stories to publishers, finally hooking Lancer’s Larry Shaw, as well as Frazetta by letting him keep the ownership of his art.  Romeo thinks that Frazetta’s art was a big part of Conan’s appeal, but not as much as the prose itself.  Burke added that, though you can’t judge a book by its cover, the cover can be important in providing an essential good first impression of and introduction to the character.  Shanks observed that, even though the images were static, Frazetta’s dynamic, exciting poses were a game changer for fantastic art.

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Here is the schedule of panels and events for this year’s Howard Days to be held in Cross Plains, Texas on June 10th and 11th.

Thursday, June 9th

The Robert E. Howard Museum & Gift Shop will be open from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. The adjacent Alla Ray Morris Pavilion is available all day for Howard Fellowship.

Friday, June 10th

NOTE: All panels on Friday to be held in the Cross Plains High School Library

8:30 until gone: Coffee and donuts served in the Alla Ray Morris Pavilion, compliments of Project Pride.

9:00 am to 4:00 pm: The Robert E. Howard House & Museum and Gift Shop are open to the public for viewing and tours.

9:00 am to 4:00 pm: The Cross Plains Post Office is open for REH Postal Cancellation souvenirs. Note: Friday only for this event.

9:00 am to 11:00 am: Bus Tour of Cross Plains and Surrounding Areas. Bus leaves at 9:00 am sharp from the Pavilion. Note: Friday only for this event.

9:00 am to 5 pm: Pavilion available for REH Swap Meet.

10:00 am to 5 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open to view REH manuscript collection.

11:00 am: PANEL: 30 Years of Howard Days. The origins and history of Howard Days will be discussed, along with a showing of photos from over the years. Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier and Susan McNeel Childers of Cross Plains will tell their tales. Panel held at the Cross Plains High School Library.

12:00 Noon: Hot Dog Luncheon at the Pavilion. Sponsored by Project Pride.

1:30 pm PANEL: The Whole Wide World and One Who Walked Alone. Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers will discuss the movie, the book and Novalyne Price Ellis, as interviewed by Mark Finn. Panel held at the Cross Plains High School Library.

2:30 pm: PANEL: Presentation of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards. Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier and a cast of several. 30 minutes. Panel held at the Cross Plains High School Library.

3:15 pm TO 5:15 pm: Presentation of the feature length movie The Whole Wide World at the Cross Plains High School Auditorium, with commentary by Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers.

5:30 pm to 6:30 pm: Silent Auctions items available for viewing and bidding at the Banquet site.

6:30 pm: The Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet at the Cross Plains Community Center. The keynote speaker is Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers. The title of his speech is “From Memoir to Screen.”

9:00 pm: PANEL: Fists at the Ice House. Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, Jeff Shanks and Patrice Louinet will entertain you with a spirited discussion of the Pugilistic Bob Howard, complete with readings from Howard’s boxing tales. Held on the actual site of the Ice House where Howard boxed, which is outdoors now on the concrete slab behind the Texas Taxidermy shop on Main Street.

Around 10:00 pm: Robert E. Howard Porchlight Poetry. Direct from the porch of the house where he wrote them, we will have extemporaneous readings of REH poetry. This event will be highlighted by a reading of “Cimmeria,” where Howard’s famous poem will be read in multiple languages.

Howard Fellowship will continue into the late hours at the Pavilion.

Saturday, June 11th

All panels on Saturday to be held at the Cross Plains Senior Center

9:00 am to 4:00 pm: The Robert E. Howard House & Museum and Gift Shop are open to the public for viewing and tours.

9:00 am to 4 pm: Cross Plains Barbarian Festival in Treadway Park, 3 blocks west of the Howard House on Highway 36.

9:00 am to 5 pm: Pavilion available for REH Swap Meet.

10:00 am to 3:00 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open to view REH manuscript collection.

11:00 am PANEL: REH and FRAZETTA: Celebrating the Fifty Year Legacy of the Lancers. Come hear a lively discussion about this benchmark event in Howard Publishing along with the importance of Frank Frazetta’s iconic cover paintings for the series. Panelists to include: Gary Romeo, Special Guest Val Mayerik, Jeff Shanks and Rusty Burke (with an opening monologue by Bill Cavalier). Panel held at the Cross Plains Senior Center.

12:00 Noon: Lunch at the Barbarian Festival or any restaurant in Cross Plains.

1:30 pm PANEL: The Life of Robert E. Howard – A discussion of Howard’s life, his working habits, his mannerisms, his routines, his quirks, his interests. We’ll talk about Howard the Man as opposed to Howard the Writer and also show some rare Howard artifacts (typescripts, photos etc.). Panelists to include: Mark Finn, Patrice Louinet, Chris Gruber and Paul Herman. Panel held at the Cross Plains Senior Center.

 2:30 pm PANEL: The First Annual Glenn Lord REH Symposium. A presentation by several REH scholars regarding Howard the Writer, with special essay readings by Daniel Look,  Jonas Prida, Todd Vick, Dierk Guenther. Moderator: Jeff Shanks. 90 minutes. Panel held at the Cross Plains Senior Center.

5:00 pm to 8 pm: Sunset Barbeque at the Pavilion. Hang out at the Howard House and enjoy a fully catered Texas BBQ dinner with all the fixins as part of your registration package.

Afterwards, we’ll  reflect on a wonderful weekend and enjoy our final Howard Fellowship time, which will include an encore presentation of a reading of “Cimmeria.”

For any changes or updates to the schedule, stay tuned to this blog, the Robert E. Howard Days Facebook page and the Robert E. Howard Days blog.

With Howard days just four months from today, here is the panel schedule for the two day event happening June 10th and June 11th:

Howard Days 2016 Panel Schedule

FRIDAY June 10. Panels to be held in the Cross Plains High School Library

11 am: 30 YEARS OF HOWARD DAYS. The origins and history of Howard Days will be discussed, along with a showing of photos from over the years. Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier and Susan McNeel-Childers of Cross Plains will tell their tales.

1:30 pm: The Whole Wide World and One Who Walked Alone. Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers will discuss the movie, the book and Novalyne Price Ellis, as interviewed by Mark Finn.

2:30 pm: Presentation of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards. Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier and a cast of several. 30 minutes.

9:00 pm: Fists at the Ice House. Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, Jeff Shanks and Patrice Louinet will entertain you with a spirited discussion of the Pugilistic Bob Howard, complete with readings from Howard’s boxing tales. Held on the actual site of the Ice House where Howard boxed.

SATURDAY June 11. Panels to be held at the Cross Plains Senior Center

 11:00 am: REH and FRAZETTA: Celebrating the Fifty Year Legacy of the Lancers. Come hear a lively discussion about this benchmark event in Howard Publishing along with the importance of Frank Frazetta’s iconic cover paintings for the series.

Panelists to include: Gary Romeo, Special Guest Val Mayerik, Jeff Shanks and Rusty Burke (with an opening monologue by Bill Cavalier).

1:30 pm: The Life of Robert E. Howard – A discussion of Howard’s life, his working habits, his mannerisms, his routines, his quirks, his interests. We’ll talk about Howard the Man as opposed to Howard the Writer and also show some rare Howard artifacts (typescripts, photos etc.). Panelists to include: Mark Finn, Patrice Louinet, Chris Gruber and Paul Herman.

2:30 pm: The First Annual Glenn Lord REH Symposium. A presentation by several REH scholars regarding Howard the Writer, with special essay readings by Daniel Look,  Jonas Pridas, Todd Vick, Dierk Guenther. Moderator: Jeff Shanks. 90 minutes.

More details and a complete schedule of Howard Days events will be forthcoming. Stay tuned to the this blog, the Robert E. Howard Days Facebook page and the Robert E. Howard Days blog for updates.

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Big News: Here is the announcement of the Guest of Honor for this years Howard Days from the Howard Days Facebook page:

The Robert E. Howard Foundation and Project Pride of Cross Plains, Texas are proud to announce the dates and Guest of Honor for the 2016 version of Howard Days, to be held June 10th and 11th at the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains.

This year’s Guest of Honor is Michael Scott Myers, screenwriter for the movie The Whole Wide World, the biographical film based on the book One Who Walked Alone, which recounted the relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price. We are happy to welcome Michael as our GOH, as he is the perfect person to blend with our Howard Days theme this year, Anniversaries.

2016 finds us with a number of important Robert E. Howard Anniversaries: 110 years since his birth, 80 years since his death, 70 years since the publication of Skull Face and Others, 50 years since Conan the Adventurer from Lancer, 40 years since Glenn Lord’s The Last Celt, 30 years since Novalyne Price Ellis’ One Who Walked Alone, 30 years since the very first Howard Days and 20 years since the movie The Whole Wide World (which was based on Novalyne’s book).

Michael’s involvement with The Whole Wide World began with his being a student of Novalyne Price Ellis in Lafayette, LA. Having read her book about Howard, he knew what a wonderful movie it would make. So, our Guest of Honor is doubly qualified this year and we’re thrilled to have him.

There is lots more information to follow and you can read about it here and at the Howard Days blog. While the cold winds of January are blowing now, make plans to come to Texas in June where the warmth will be in both the air and in the fellowship of Robert E. Howard fans!

Howard Days is less than five months away! More exciting news to come, so stay tuned!

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Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas

Tuberculosis Operations

On December 5, 1935, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft about his mother’s condition:

About the middle of November my mother’s health became so poor we took her to the Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas, where more than a gallon of fluid was drawn off her pleura. She stayed at Marlin two weeks. (Roehm REH Letters 3-388)

Just a few months later, in another letter to HPL, dated February 11, 1936, REH again discusses his mother’s illness and her trips to the hospital.

After our return from Marlin we stayed at home for about two weeks, and then my mother’s pleura filled again, and we took her to a hospital in San Angelo, 105 miles southwest of Cross Plains… Her condition is very bad and she requires frequent aspirations, which are painful, weakening and dangerous. (Roehm REH Letters 3-415)

The difficulties of removing fluid from the pleura is confirmed when Novalyne asks REH if the operation on his mother was successful.

He shook his head. “She’s suffered so much…and she has tried to keep it from interfering with my life. She’s very brave.” (Price Ellis 194)

From the descriptions given by REH in his letters, the types of operations that Hester underwent were the painful aspirations and perhaps the Artificial Pneumothorax (Lung Collapse Therapy) which by the mid-1930s had become a more popular solution for pulmonary TB. And, if the symptoms of tuberculosis were difficult to read, some of the procedures performed on TB patients are straight out of one of REH’s horror stories.

Aspirations

The aspirator, a needle and pump-syringe device for drawing off fluid or gas by suction, was also popular. According to a sarcastic observer in the Medical Record, “The aspirator replaced the stethoscope as the medical novelty of the day.” (Ott 26) With aspiration, physicians cautiously began to explore treatments actually inside body cavities. The limitation of thoracentesis (a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the outside of the lungs—pleura—and the wall of the chest) was that it was directed at the secondary effects of already established disease processes. Thoracentesis was not preventive; it was a fix but not a cure. There were interesting ethical debates about when and how often to aspirate the chest…By the 1890s advocates of thoracentesis generally agreed that in cases of empyema (inflammation with pus) one should aspirate as early as possible…(Ott 66)

Artificial Pneumothorax (Lung Collapse Therapy)

This procedure was based on the work of Robert Koch whose research concluded that the “tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. Operations were aimed at resting the affected lung or lungs by reducing the patient’s ability to take a full breath” (Ryan 28):

Because the two pleural sacs enclosing the two lungs do not communicate with each other, one whole lung can be collapsed, without affecting the other, by repeatedly injecting air into the potential cavity between the lungs and the chest wall. (Dormandy 250) This was the oldest and most common of the operations. Some patients promptly felt better, lost their fever and coughed less and the tubercle bacilli disappeared from their sputum. No longer a hazard, the patient could recover at home or return to work. The lung was kept in semi-collapsed position by weekly or biweekly refills. This procedure was not for patients with scar tissue that prevented the collapse. Complications included infection, coughing up blood, and even sudden death. (Bates 286) The rationale for this operation is that if rest benefited the patient, it would also benefit the lung. (Ott 95)

The Artificial Pneumothorax procedure required weekly or biweekly refills and hospitals equipped to do this were quite a distance away. However, Hester could have undergone these treatments during one of her hospital or sanitarium stays.

In the letters above, REH mentions taking his mother to Marlin for aspirations and then when she needed another in two weeks, they took her to San Angelo where she stayed for six weeks.

If she was receiving the Artificial Pneumothorax procedure, this would have been the routine Hester endured. Patients were given morphine the night before.

[T]heir chest was pierced under local anesthesia, usually Novocain. In Hungary, Arpad Toth, the consumptive poet who had the treatment in the early 1930s wrote that though the needle prick in the skin did not hurt and the morphine had in any case induced a happily drowsy state, the needle entering the pleura felt like being kicked by a mule: “There was a crunch, a stab and a prayer, O God, let me die quickly. The real pain began a few hours later (after the anesthetic had worn off and the operator had departed.) It was sharp and unresponsive to drugs and kept patients awake. (Dormandy 261)

And if the pain and suffering from one of these treatments wasn’t enough, according to REH’s letters Hester had several aspirations done over a period of two or more weeks.

Although aspirations became a common procedure for TB, they weren’t without risks

The technique was both dangerous and painful. Many things could go wrong including perforation of the lung, stomach, heart or liver, or in the case of an accidental puncture of the pulmonary vein, instant death. The procedure could be frightening as well as exhausting for a patient. Some had adverse reactions such as horrible pain, fever and hallucinations (Ott 97-98).…By the turn of the century, putting a needle into the chest under local anesthesia to aspirate an effusion or pus from the pleural cavity had become well established as a useful and sometimes even life-saving procedure but the intervention was not without risk. The main difficulty lay in distinguishing the location of the pleural cavity. This was done by tapping on the chest to find the pleural cavity or the areas in the lung where the breath was absent. (Dormandy 205)

By 1921 good x-ray machines were available to make the location of the pleural cavity more accurate; however, not many tuberculosis centers or doctor offices had access to x-ray facilities.

In 1949, Gosta Birath of Sweden wrote one of the last comprehensive reviews of the Collapse Theory: “The pneumothorax needle was the most dangerous weapon ever placed in the hands of a physician.” (Dormandy 351) By the 1930’s, artificial pneumothoraces were being performed, often in incompetent operations in tens of thousands of unsuitable cases and the results were predictably dismal.”  It might be thought that the patients or their families would rebel, but the opposite was true. Almost anything active was better than just waiting and hoping. (352)

And survival of these procedures and the disappearance of symptoms did not mean the tuberculosis was cured.

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Hester Jane Ervin Howard with Robert’s dog Patch outside the Howard home in Cross Plains, Texas, ca. 1924.

1. The Shadow of Tuberculosis

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s death certificate states she died of tuberculosis on June 12, 1936. A puzzling diagnosis and difficult to understand when TB is never referred to in any of the letters written by either her son, Robert E. Howard or her husband, Dr. Isaac M. Howard.

To understand why it is not mentioned by REH and his father, it’s essential to know about tuberculosis, its history, causes, symptoms, pain and suffering and especially the stigma and fear that surrounded it.

A Short History of TB

The girl sits propped up on pillows. Her face has become almost transparent. She turns towards the window. Cold winter sunlight streams in. Faint dashes hint rather than depict her eyes; yet the wistful gaze is miraculously caught. Her orange hair glows against the white linen of the bedclothes. A green curtain billows into the room. Next to her the mother’s head is sunk on her chest, hardly more than a shadow. It is the image of inexpressible grief…This is the picture of Sophie Munch, aged fourteen…a few months before her death from tuberculosis. [Two years later Munch’s mother also succumbed to the same disease.] Painted by her brother Edvard, it is one of the graven images of what was for millions a personal experience. (Dormandy Introduction)

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A Sick Child by Edvard Munch, who also painted The Scream

A thousand million people died of tuberculosis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Ryan 3) Nor was it a new disease. Paleontological records tell us symptoms of tuberculosis appeared in a Neolithic grave near Heidelberg dated at 5,000 BC during the Stone Age, as well as in the spines of Egyptian mummies. (4) The disease was already established in mainland Europe by 2,500-1,500 BC and it is likely it came to England about a thousand years later. (6) TB even predates Columbus in the new world where it has shown up in the skeletons of Native Americans and Peruvian mummies as well as in the bones found in countries around the world, including Japan. (8) In fact, “Dr. John Stanford, who has spent his life studying TB, believes that the tuberculosis germ is very ancient, and may well have fought for its survival in the primeval mud of the earth at the very beginnings of time.” (Ryan 6)

Tuberculosis was called by many names: phthisis, consumption, wasting disease, weakness of the lungs, graveyard cough. (Dormandy 22) During the late nineteenth century there was a growing fear the disease might destroy European civilization. (Ryan 8)

It is a remarkably enduring disease. Once it arrives in a community, it stays. (6) By mid-seventeenth century, one in five deaths was due to consumption, which is an older and rather more descriptive name for the pulmonary form of TB. As a result, it became known as the “White Plague of Europe.” (7) Although the death rate had been declining since the 1840’s in the year 1900, the world’s death rate from tuberculosis was about seven million people a year with fifty million more openly infected and at least half the world population had come into contact with it. (Ryan 8)

There were popular misconceptions about tuberculosis, even as late as the 1970s and 80s. According to L. Sprague de Camp, a Robert E. Howard biographer and author of Dark Valley Destiny,

Tuberculosis is a strange disease. Relatively rare today, in 1900 it was second only to pneumonia as a major cause of death. Whenever people move about a lot, whenever there is crowding, unhygienic living conditions, poverty, or privation, tuberculosis becomes epidemic. (de Camp 32)

De Camp’s statement that TB was second to pneumonia as a cause of death is incorrect. In the early 1900s, it was the primary cause in the USA for many years. (CDC “Leading Causes of Death”) He was also wrong that it was an epidemic.

Unlike most epidemic diseases, TB did not sweep through a city or region and then disappear for several years. TB was endemic – it was a debilitating constitutional illness to which people succumbed slowly over a period of years, infecting and being re-infected, leaving the afflicted compelled to stop work, enter hospitals or sanitariums, and lie and dissemble for self protection. (Ott 6)

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Above is a depiction of TB statistics in Kentucky during WWII. Below are two examples of the Christmas Seals campaign for fighting TB. Both of these were probably familiar to the Howards in Cross Plains.

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1924 Christmas Seals Campaign

 

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Christmas Seals Campaign, ca. 1935

Tuberculosis Infection

Dr. Frank Ryan in The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis was Won and Lost, explains how the body reacts to TB and how some survived while others did not.

We are infected by the germ that causes tuberculosis in two ways, either by inhaling it in the air we breathe, or by swallowing it food or drink. Inhalation is the commonest way in which it gets into our bodies, taking in bacteria which are suspended in dried dust or in tiny droplets. If a tiny colony on a culture plate contains in excess of a billion tuberculosis germs, consider the numbers of germs flung into the air by the single cough of an infected patient. Unlike AIDS, which is spread only by sexual penetration or by intravenous injection of blood products, tuberculosis is contracted simply by the act of breathing. Everybody is therefore susceptible. (Ryan 17-18)

But it is the pulmonary form of the disease which is by far the commonest and it was in this form that tuberculosis blighted the lives of billions of people. What happens is basically simple if dreadful. The bacteria inhaled in water droplets settle in the periphery of the lung and grow very slowly until they form a small local collection, like a cheesy boil. From this boil, the continuing infection spills over into nearby small airways and forms more of these tiny boils. It was the appearance of these small cheesy collections (like little tubers) which, in the early nineteenth century gave rise to the modern name, the disease in which you find tubercles in the lung or tuberculosis. This replaced the much older and more descriptive name, consumption…From this primary infection in the lungs, several things may happen. (Ryan 19)

In many, the first infection is fought off by the body. The white cells mop up the bacteria and the abscess is walled off from the rest of the lung by a fibrous shell. But our white cells have difficulty disposing of these ingested bacteria. That waxy shell can be as impervious to the digesting chemicals of our white cells as it is to acid, and tuberculosis has the horrifying ability to eat our white cells themselves from the inside and to grow and multiply while actually within the cells. In order to contain the disease, our body decides to accept stalemate and just wall it off. If we succeed, we lull ourselves into a false sense of security: we tell ourselves that we are cured. But tuberculosis remains alive within the fibrous shell and can burst out into life-threatening virulence at any time in the infected person’s subsequent life. (Ryan 19-20)

Where tuberculosis is common, most of the population will encounter germs when they are children. Yet here we discover another of its mysteries: the majority wall it off when it is still just a spot on the lungs and they never know they were infected. But if the body fails to contain it, which is the case in about ten percent of people, the disease continues to invade the lung tissue about it. (Ryan 21)

How tuberculosis infects the body is shown in the following chart:

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Tuberculosis Symptoms

A cough that refuses to go away; perhaps a sudden agonizing pain on breathing that marks the beginning of pleurisy; exhaustion, an unrelievable breathlessness, the appearance of bright red arterial blood in the persistent foul sputum. In others, death arrives in one fell moment; for example when an abscess in the lung or intestine erodes into a major artery. (Ryan 22)

Tuberculosis patients lost weight, were overwhelmingly tired, at times felt overwhelmingly irrational and exuberantly gay, and were anemic. (Dormandy 220)

Tuberculosis could not only be transmitted to another person, it could easily infect other parts of the body. It wasn’t a simple disease that affected everyone in the same way. Almost no organ or tissue in the body was immune.

TB starting in one area of the body could be transmitted to other areas. Once the TB patients began coughing up the TB bacteria, they became contagious and had to be isolated from other non-tubercular persons. As the germ was coughed up, it often lodged in the throat, causing TB laryngitis, which in its last stages reduced speech to a hoarse, agonizing whisper…If the TB germ was swallowed, it could cause overwhelming nausea, almost impossible to alleviate. The patient’s breath often became foul smelling. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea would be added to the already suffering patient…If the infected material went in the opposite direction, it could impinge on the pleura and start TB pleurisy. This was one of the most feared complications. Not only coughing but the taking of every breath became painful…Disturbed nights turned into nightmares: no pain-killer, not even laudanum or later, morphine, could entirely cope with the pain. The spread of the disease in this way could lead to the dreaded tuberculosis meningitis. (Dormandy 221)

One of the most lethal complications occurs when pus spills into the blood stream and quickly spreads to every organ in the body. Or, it spreads from the lungs or bowel and causes great pain and suffering elsewhere. In the skin and soft tissues it causes disfiguring sores and abscesses; in the internal organs such as the bladder and kidneys it causes an agonizing inflammation…In bones it settles into a protracted and gnawing destructive cavitation and the pus eventually finds its way through the soft tissue to the skin. Tuberculosis has the capacity to infect every internal organ from liver to brain, from the fingertips to the delicate structures of our eyes. (Ryan 23)

Even today, without effective treatment, sixty percent of sufferers will be dead within five years of the onset, their bodies wasted to skeletal proportions, their minds lucidly aware of the life that is being taken from them [emphasis mine]. (Ryan 23-4)

A look at the various types of tuberculosis and how they infect the body.

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According to Dormandy, pulmonary tuberculosis was the most common form. (22) The Medical Dictionary definition states:

[P]ulmonary tuberculosis is TB that affects the lungs. Its initial symptoms are easily confused with those of other diseases. An infected person may at first feel vaguely unwell or develop a cough blamed on smoking or a cold. A small amount of greenish or yellow sputum may be coughed up when the person gets up in the morning. In time, more sputum is produced that is streaked with blood. Persons with pulmonary TB do not run a high fever but they often have a low-grade one. They may wake up at night drenched with cold sweat when the fever breaks. The patient often loses interest in food and may lose weight. Chest pain is sometimes present. If the infection allows air to escape from the lungs into the chest cavity (pneumothorax) or if fluid collects in the plural space (pleural effusion) the patient may have difficulty breathing.

The symptoms for pulmonary TB according to The White Death also included “A harsh cough, hoarseness or loss of control of the voice, an audible wheezing, shortness of breath on exertion and coughing up of blood.”… Dormandy then adds “In 80 percent of the cases this form of tuberculosis was fatal in five to fifteen years[emphasis mine]. (22)

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s Symptoms

REH’s letters do not indicate any symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing up of blood. However, comparing the excerpts from his letters describing his mother’s symptoms against those of tuberculosis, the list is impressive.

Night sweats. On May 13, 1936, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft:

She started sweating in January and it’s just the last few days that there has been any appreciable lessening of it. Many a night she had to be changed six or seven times, and that many times a day—sometimes more. Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

Pleurisy—one of the most feared complications was mentioned earlier in the same letter.

She seemed to be improving a little when she had an attack of acute pleurisy on her right side, which until then hadn’t been affected. My father handled that, and she was definitely on the mend, although the sweats never ceased, when in the early part of April we had the worst dust storm I ever saw in my life, and she developed pneumonia.” (3-459)

Also present was the characteristic weight loss.

She is very weak and weighs only 109 pounds—150 pounds is her normal weight and very few kinds of food agree with her; (3-459)

The signature cough was mentioned in the December 5, 1935 letter to HPL.

My parents and I went to Amarillo in the latter part of July. None of us had ever been to that city, and I wanted to see if the high altitude, 4500 feet, might help a persistent cough that had been bothering my mother. (3-382)

From these descriptions plus the aspiration treatments she underwent, (Part 2 “Tuberculosis Operations”) it is probable Hester Jane Ervin Howard contracted pulmonary tuberculosis—a type of TB that “was chronic and even intermittent, with seemingly miraculous remissions and startling improvements followed by terrible relapses.” (Dormandy 22)

The bacterial cause of tuberculosis was discovered by Robert Koch in 1882 who found that it grew and divided much slower than normal bacteria. (Ryan 16) Koch had shown that the tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. (Dormandy 221)

After Koch’s discovery the “diagnosis now depended on the presence of the tubercule bacillus in the sputum, not the hollowness of the cough or the loss of weight.” (Rothman 17)

Hester’s diagnosis would have been confirmed by medical tests. No records of any such tests have been discovered. The only written confirmation of her diagnosis is in her death certificate (See right hand column about half way down.) It reads: “chronic ulcerative tuberculosis anemia”

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Note: that the term “senility” on her death certificate was used in that era to designate old age rather than lucidity. It appeared often on death certificates of elder persons.

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In 1936, regular readers of Weird Tales must have thought Robert E. Howard was having a good year. In the first seven months, Howard had serials or stories in six issues, of which two were voted the best story in their issues, and in July he had the cover, illustrated by Margaret Brundage. Even in May, when Howard didn’t have any stories in the issue, the Eyrie was filled with praise and criticism for the conclusion to Howard’s long serial-novel, The Hour of the Dragon. The announcement of his suicide the next month came as a shock, as shown by the outpouring of memorials and remembrances from his fellow pulpsters and fans. Yet behind the scenes, all was not well between Robert E. Howard and Weird Tales.

wrights_shakespeare_library_1935_n1Never a large operation, the Great Depression had taken its toll on the Unique Magazine. The bank that Weird Tales used reportedly closed and never reopened. (WTS 85) Various ventures failed to turn a profit: The Moon Terror (1927), an anthology, didn’t sell through until the 1940s; an effort at radio dramatizations ceased in 1930; a new weird pulp, Strange Stories, never materialized; Oriental Stories (later The Magic Carpet Magazine) did, but the oriental tales ended in 1934, taking with them another market for Robert E. Howard, and “Wright’s Shakespeare Library” (illustrated by Virgil Finlay) of 1935 likewise didn’t pan out. Writers were offered 1¢ per word—double the standard pulp rate—to be paid on publication; as was common at the time, the publisher usually retained all copyrights on the story, unless the writer specified “North American serial rights” only. However, by 1935 the magazine was badly behind on its payments to certain authors, most notably Robert E. Howard, and had been for some time.

The Howards too were hard-hit by the Depression. As a country doctor where cash was scarce, Dr. I. M. Howard was often forced to accept barter for his services. (CL2.450, 3.307) In 1932, Fiction House, publisher of Fight Stories and Action Stories suspended publication—this ultimately caused Robert E. Howard to acquire an agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, who broke Howard into new markets for a commission, though Howard kept Weird Tales as a market he had built up himself. (CL3.404) Some of these ventures, like the adventures of Breckinridge Elkins in Action Stories, proved a success. Others, like the Conan the Cimmerian novel The Hour of the Dragon, written for British publisher Denis Archer, didn’t pan out, and Howard eventually sold the 70,000-word novel to Weird Tales in December 1934 or January 1935, to be serialized in 1936. (CL3.255, 302)

Dr. HowardBetween January and May of 1935, matters came to a head. Weird Tales owed Howard $860 for stories published; unable or unwilling to pay the whole amount on publication, the company had settled on sending “half-checks” every month—these would, from notes on payments received that Dr. Howard kept in a ledger, appear to be half-payments for stories (i.e. if a story sold for $150, a half-check would be $75) (CLIMH358-373, CL3.306). The Howards depended on the steady income for medical expenses. Hester Jane Howard, long suffering from tuberculosis and associated illness, required surgery to remove her gall-bladder and reduce adhesions from an appendicitis operation, and the wound later developed an abscess; being far from major cities and hospitals, these operations required lengthy trips and stays away from Cross Plains. (CL3.306, 309) At a time when the Howards needed it most, Weird Tales missed a payment.

In May of 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to Farnsworth Wright begging for money. (CL3.306-308) There was no reply, and in desperation Howard sent a letter to his agent, asking “Is Weird Tales still a legitimate publication, or has it become a racket?” (CL3.309)

It was a fair question; other pulps had treated their writers as badly or worse, with Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories having a particularly poor reputation in the circle of Weird Tales correspondents, and Howard was far from the only writer for Weird Tales in a similar predicament. E. Hoffman Price noted of his own situation:

It is only fair that the most W.T. owed me at any time was never in excess of $300. This peak was achieved only because of a two-parter, and a short. They were not favoring me. When their indebtedness reached a certain point, they got no more scripts from me. My production went to cash customers. Belatedly, Howard, on his own initiative, adopted the same approach. (BOTD 72)

Other writers also noted that backlog of payments got so bad that some payments were made more than a year after publication. (CLIMH 178)

At the time, the staff at Weird Tales consisted of William Sprenger, the business manager; B. Cornelius, the printer, majority shareholder, and treasurer; and Farnsworth Wright, the editor who did everything else, from art layout to writing ad copy. Of the three, Howard had direct dealings with both Wright and Sprenger (though none of the latter’s letters survive), and it is likely that Sprenger made the ultimate decision as to whom would be paid and how much; certainly he signed some of the checks. (CLIMH 79) After Robert E. Howard’s death, Wright responded to Dr. Howard’s criticism of their business:

I must correct the impression that I or anyone else connected with Weird Tales “put in our pockets” the money that was due your son during the period when Weird Tales was in the throes of the depression. Fact is, I often did not know from one month to the other whether I would receive any money at all from the magazine; and I often received nothing (a serious condition, with my wife and son Robert to take care of); and it has been years since I received more than a fraction of the salary I used to get. […] Your son understood this state of affairs with the magazine, for both Mr. Sprenger and I explained it to him in our letters. (CLIMH 103-104)

The rumors that Wright went without a salary added something to the myth of Weird Tales in later decades, though E. Hoffmann Price, who visited Wright and the WT office in Chicago, poo-pooed the idea, and later even claimed:

A good many years after this dialog, I learned from an employee of the bank which had handled W.T. funds from the beginning and on until another outfit bought the magazine, that the publisher had money by the ream. The outfit had always pleaded poverty, and had found the “Great Depression” a handy device to exploit writers who could not, or fancied that they could not write salable yarns for any other than W. T. (BOTD 72)

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He had thought of the South as a sunny, lazy land washed by soft breezes laden with spice and warm blossoms, where life ran tranquilly to the rhythm of black folk singing in sun-bathed cottonfields. But now he had discovered another, unsuspected side – a dark, brooding, fear-haunted side…

— “Pigeons from Hell,” The Horror Stories of Robert E Howard, p. 430

In his writing, Robert E. Howard made frequent use of subjects from history and folklore, especially — in keeping with his Southern heritage and Texas upbringing — that of both the American Southwest, and the Deep South. This includes elements from the African-American folk magic practices popularly known as conjure (or hoodoo) and voodoo, which turn up to create fear and atmosphere in various tales of horror and “weird mystery,” most famously in “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons from Hell.”

Where “voodoo,” a ceremonial religion involving a group of people with a defined hierarchy, has a place in the popular imagination, many people tend to be less familiar with “hoodoo.” Even the name isn’t agreed upon: the most famous collection of folklore on the subject is called Hoodoo – Conjuration – Rootwork – Magic, and those are all equivalent synonyms. Someone who practices “hoodoo” can be called a root doctor, a root worker, a trick doctor, a spiritual worker, a two-headed doctor, or a conjure-man or -woman. We’ll primarily be using “conjure,” in honor of Howard’s atmospheric essay “Kelly the Conjure-Man.”

mojo_rootworkUnlike voodoo, traditional conjure is not organized in any way, but is a loose collection of magico-spiritual practices used by individuals as they see fit. Familiar props include candles, herbs, graveyard dirt, and the “mojo bag,” which is usually made of red flannel, and contains various objects, from coins to literal roots. Conjure can be practiced as part of everyday life, but often workers are professionals, who charge for their services, and who sometimes – like Howard’s conjure men — generate actual supernatural awe.

While voodoo and conjure have many differences, there have always been practitioners who mix up elements from both types of magical practice. New Orleans, in particular, is known for a spiritual heritage that partakes of both, with practical conjure techniques (such as spells including red pepper, red brick dust, salt, and honey, which are all conjure-derived) that are dressed up with voodoo theatricality. Even in groups that perform communal drumming, and/or veneration of snakes (traditions associated with formal voodoo), a lot of their actual magic activities, especially if done privately, without a direct ritual element, can still be more accurately described as conjure.

Some contemporary practitioners display frustration with the common confusion of terminology, viewing the different practices as substantially different, but the labels have always been used loosely by people in the community. When African-American writer Rudolph Fisher wrote The Conjure-Man Dies, frequently cited as the first black detective novel, in 1932, the “Conjure-Man” was an African who performed spiritualist séances for mostly white clients. So in a story like “Black Canaan” (1933), where Howard depicts voodoo-like ceremonies led by a character referred to as a “conjer man,” his usage of the term seems entirely in line with his contemporaries.

Historically, most conjure folk were either knowledgeable about traditional herbal medicines, or were perpetuating folk traditions based on remembered African spiritual lore, or both, and much of what they practiced was benign. There is evidence, though, from slave narratives and other historical sources, that some conjure men and women, reputed or real, did indeed use their magical reputations to gain power and intimidate others — both fellow slaves and white authority figures. For example, in his authoritative book Conjure in African-American Society, scholar Jeffrey Anderson states that “The power of hoodoo translated into enormous influence within black society for successful conjurers … fear of conjure had a profound effect on individual blacks,” and “the fear of hoodoo was present in a significant portion of white southerners.” (p. 79, 86, 78)

4f29e60f0c317d34cc98e8bb508b0f24To some extent, therefore, the “sinister figure” of folklore described in Howard’s brief “Kelly the Conjure-Man” essay doesn’t seem particularly exaggerated, although Conan fans will note that he’s is  both “a fine figure of barbaric manhood” and “supple like a great black panther,” (p. 377)  physical descriptions which echo those of his more famous specimen of barbaric manhood.

Kelly, “son of a Congo ju-ju man” and “born a slave” (p. 376), develops a reputation as a healer, and gains power over others by frightening them with his reputed abilities, ultimately becoming more feared than respected. All of which sounds like a perfectly plausible career for a local conjure practitioner of his age. Howard steeps the tale in mysterious atmosphere and speculation, but much of the material in the essay —  such as how “the black folk came to him to have spells lifted from their souls where enemies had placed them by curses and incantations” (Horror Stories, p. 377) — would be right at home in any collection of folklore on African-American conjure.

That some people “obsessed by the horrible belief that their stomachs were full of living snakes” (p. 378) is also a well-known phenomenon in the history of conjure. In Yvonne Chireau’s overview Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition, referring to interviews with former slaves and other first-person accounts, she says that “African Americans described Conjure sickness as an intrusion of entities within the body…physical affliction is portrayed as a state in which the body becomes a living menagerie” (p. 104). She quotes a source as saying “My wife Hattie had a spell put on her for three long years with a nest of rattlesnakes inside her.” (p. 104)

Blog REH CanaanKelly, the non-fiction character, fairly obviously inspired the fictional Saul Stark of “Black Canaan,” another “giant,” intimidating magical practitioner. In this story, interconnected rural communities of former slaves and slave owners are threatened by the activities of a Conjure Man who performs voodoo-type ceremonies in the swamp. His goal is an uprising that would kill all the white people, although he’s equally willing to kill (or perform horrible magic on) any of the black members of the community who don’t bow down to his power. And his greatest weapon is the threat to “put (them) in de swamp,” (Horror Stories, p. 386) an act which transforms them into “mindless, soulless semi-human dweller(s) in the water” with elongated legs, webbed hands, and expressions “no more human than that of a great fish.” (p. 408)

More famous than “Black Canaan” is “Pigeons from Hell,” another of Howard’s stories that makes use of elements and ambience from African-American folk magic. After a bizarre murder, the investigators research the crumbling old Southern mansion where the crime took place, and end up at the hut of Jacob, a now-elderly one-time “voodoo man.”

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When Robert E. Howard pulled the trigger on June 11, 1936, he left behind a mass of papers that, years later, helped fuel the “Howard Boom” of the 1970s and has provided fodder for countless publications, both professional and amateur, well into the current century. These previously unpublished stories, poems, fragments, letters, etc. were ushered into print by Glenn Lord, who spent much of the late 1950s and ’60s tracking down the remnants of Howard’s collection. We all know the debt that we owe to Glenn, but how many of us know the circuitous route that Howard’s papers took before ultimately ending up in his capable hands? Thanks to Glenn’s massive correspondence collection, his own writings published in the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association, and L. Sprague de Camp’s interviews housed at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, we can piece together the wanderings of Howard’s papers, the contents of the historic Trunk.

The de Camp interviews are filled with references to Howard’s trunk. Novalyne Price Ellis told de Camp that Howard “had a trunk filled with things.” Norris Chambers remembered “a great big old trunk” that “was completely full of manuscripts, letters and stuff.” According to Kate Merryman, one of the ladies helping out in the Howard house during Hester Howard’s last days, Robert Howard generally kept his room tidy, but the day of his suicide there “were more papers on the floor than he usually had. He spent quite a bit of time in his room the night before.” Following the deaths of Robert and Hester, Doctor Howard had Merryman help him sort through the mess.

According to de Camp’s interview notes, Merryman “came upon a handwritten sheet, which she read and saw it was a will leaving all [Robert’s] property to Lindsey Tyson. She said: ‘Look at this, Doctor!’ He took it, read it, and said: ‘Don’t say anything to anybody about this.’ This was the last she or anyone ever saw of it.” But Cross Plains is a small town, and, as de Camp found out, Tyson learned of the will shortly after its destruction. In his interview notes, de Camp says that Tyson “said, a few days after the suicide, a lawyer stopped him on the street and told him that Robert had willed everything to him. But that the doctor had destroyed the will. Tyson was disturbed and upset and didn’t even ask for details. He did not want to profit from his friend’s loss anyway.” While it is hard to imagine what would have happened to Howard’s papers if Tyson had ended up with them, it could hardly have been worse than what did eventually occur. Whether the destruction of the will was small town gossip or historical fact makes no difference at this late date—Doctor Howard retained possession of his son’s papers. In his July 11, 1936 letter to E. Hoffmann Price, Dr. Howard says that “I have at home now a large fire proof steel trunk which I purchased immediately after [Robert’s] death, placing his carbon[s] of different stories as also his rejected and returned stories, and his poems.”

In the weeks that followed, Norris Chambers helped organize those papers; he also typed letters for Doctor Howard, notifying Robert’s correspondents of his death. On July 29, 1936, Isaac Howard asked family friend Reverend B. G. Richburg for more help with his son’s papers:

Can you spend Monday, Tuesday, and perhaps Wednesday in my home reading and helping me arrange Robert E. Howard’s poems of which there are one hundred twenty eight and about thirty two unpublished stories? Agents and publishers are clamoring for this work. I have it pretty well catalogued. They are asking weekly that I submit it.

It is not known if Richburg was able to help, but not long after the above letter was mailed, Dr. Howard sent Robert’s papers to agent Otis Kline to see what was worthy of publication. On September 17, 1936 he wrote Kline: “I note that you completed the checking of the material in the trunk, and enclosing a list of the stories and poems you have retained.” The Kline lists survive, and, based on their content (see The Collected Letters of Isaac M. Howard), the agency retained the cream of the unpublished crop and reams of poetry. We’ll hear more about the Kline Agency’s stewardship of these materials.

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Doctor Howard also made arrangements for Howard Payne College to receive Robert’s library of books; the news was published in both the Brownwood Bulletin and Cross Plains Review. On June 29, 1936, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Doctor Howard hints at an expansion of the school’s Memorial Collection: “The Howard Payne College of Brownwood has asked for letters from correspondents. If it is agreeable with you, I will furnish them with some of your correspondence to him as he has some in his files and they are interested in letters.”

Lovecraft’s “In Memoriam” (Fantasy Magazine, September 1936) announces the collection: “Mr. Howard’s library has been presented to Howard Payne College, where it will form the nucleus of the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection of books, manuscripts, and letters.” Not mentioned here were Howard’s magazines; these, too, went to Howard Payne, but by December, Doctor Howard was having a change of heart. In his December 19, 1936 letter to Lovecraft, he complains that readers “are wearing the backs off of his magazines.” In his February 19, 1937 letter to Otis Kline, Doctor Howard says, “I went to Howard Payne this week, and I brought all of Robert’s filed copies of Weird Tales that I had given to Howard Payne. I put them in a place of safety, and they are now in my possession.” Whatever papers were part of the collection remained, for a time.

Following the death of H. P. Lovecraft, Arkham House co-founder August Derleth wrote to Dr. Howard (April 21, 1937):

Donald Wandrei and I are putting together three volumes of Lovecraft’s work for early publication, and that the third of these is to be a volume of Selected Letters. I know from both HPL’s letters and from Bob’s letters that Lovecraft wrote at length to Bob, and that you must still have some of these letters from Lovecraft. We should like very much to see these for copying, after which we will of course return them to you promptly.

The doctor responded on April 27:

I have, I presume, most of the letters [Lovecraft] wrote to Robert during his lifetime. There are volumes of them. He, of course, has all of Robert’s letters on file. In as much as I contemplate having a book of Robert’s life done, I will have to depend on someone perhaps who never saw Robert, or at least had not a very extended personal acquaintance with him, to write the major part of the book. I am thinking his letters to Mr. Lovecraft would furnish an excellent basis from which one might write a very good book. I will only be too glad to exchange files with Mrs. Gamwell [Lovecraft’s aunt], in case she would do so, in order that I may use Robert’s letters in the book of Robert’s life we now have in mind.

On May 15, 1937, Dr. Howard tells Otis Kline that “H. P. Lovecraft’s letters from Robert E. Howard, I have ascertained are with Mr. Barlow in Kansas City. He will send them to me. These letters will help furnish a basis from which to make a book of his life.” And on May 22, 1937, the doctor tells August Derleth, “Today I am sending to you H. P. Lovecraft’s letters to Robert E. Howard. They will go by express. There might be more, but in case I should find them I would send them. But unless there should be some in the Robert Howard Memorial Collection at Howard Payne College, I guess this is all there is.” Shortly after this, the good doctor reclaimed whatever of his son’s papers remained at the school, leaving only the collection of his books, more than 300 titles. Today, only 68 books remain in the collection.

In a February 18, 1977 letter to de Camp, Lindsey Tyson said, “After Bob’s death, Dr. Howard took the trunk full of manuscripts over to Howard Payne University at Brownwood. After they had been there for some time, he picked them up [. . .]”

By June 12, 1937, Doctor Howard was becoming impatient with Barlow’s delay: “Since Mrs. Gamwell has given her consent for me to have the letters written by my son to H. P. Lovecraft, and at same requesting that I send August Derleth H. P. Lovecraft’s letters which I have done. May I not urge you to send my son’s letters to me at once. I am asking that you do this even though it may inconvenience you to do so. We have been trying to secure these letters for weeks and I feel that since so important a matter that you should do me the kindness to get them to me at once.”

Unfortunately, it seems that no other letters from Doctor Howard survive from this period. We know that Robert’s letters to Lovecraft did, in fact, end up with Doctor Howard; Lovecraft’s letters to Howard, well, that’s a story for a future post. I’ll end this time with the state of affairs at the end of 1937: Doctor Howard was in possession of his son’s papers; he had, according to Merryman, purchased a new, larger trunk to hold them all. The Kline Agency had the typescripts of what was considered the best of this material. It is possible that some of Howard’s papers were lost or destroyed while they were housed at Howard Payne, but the doctor’s retrieval of those papers saved the greater portion, and through his wrangling with Derleth and Barlow, he insured that Robert’s letters to Lovecraft returned to Cross Plains. Things were looking good.

[Go to Part 2]

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The above grisly postcard was sent by Howard from Santa Fe, New Mexico to  Novalyne Price, postmarked June 20, 1935 with a simple handwritten message on the back:

Santa Fe, N. M.
19/6/35

Dear Novalyne;

Cordially,
Bob.

Also on the back of the postcard was a description of the front of the card:

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The postcard was sent while he was on a trip to New Mexico with Truett Vinson. It is believed that Howard had found out just before the trip that Novalyne was dating Vinson secretly behind Howard’s back. While it is impossible to say what his reason was for sending the card with just a lighthearted greeting on the back, obviously his hurt feelings played some role in prompting him to mail it to her. Perhaps Howard felt a bit like the rabbit. And, of course, there is that old idiom: “a snake in the grass,” defined as “someone who betrays you even though you have trusted them.”

Just the day before, on June 19th, Howard sent her this more benign postcard from Roswell, New Mexico.

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Dear Novalyne; Roswell.

The weather is good but the beer is lousy. Hoping you are the same.

Bob.

As above, the back of the postcard has a description of the front of the card:

Postcard Back

Interestingly, here Howard makes a contradictory statement followed by a sarcastic remark. So what is his true wish for Novalyne? To feel good or lousy? Of course, being a master of the written word, he could be trying to be humorous, but there is a tinge of bitterness.

Of course, no one knows what was really going on in Howard’s mind during the trip, but it would have been interesting to have been along for that ride. By all accounts, (based on his letters) Howard enjoyed himself. Hopefully Vinson did too. Of course, Howard was a master at masking his true feelings. The hours leading up to that fateful morning of June 11, 1936 attest to that.