Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, April 30, 2011


     Joanna Russ, Nebula-winning author, essayist, and critic died in hospice yesterday.  She was a strong and courageous voice for reason and for feminism.  Agree with her or not, one has to admire her vision and intellect.

     Here's her obituary from Locus Online:

     And Todd Mason posted this touching appreciation (you may have to scroll down for this):

     To get a taste of her work, here's a 1979 performance of Shockwave Radio Theater, with Laramie Sasseville reading the short story "When It Changed':

     Her influence was widespread.  Here ia a 2010 operatic performance of fragments from Russ's novel The Female Man:

     Magic Mommas and Trembling Sisters are weeping today.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Today is Arbor Day, a celebration that originated in 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska.  The holiday went global in 1883 and is now observed in at least 34 countries on different dates, depending upon suitable times for planting.

     Here's some data from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation, which is underwriting the planting of 50 million trees in 50 years:

  • one million trees can generate up $162 million dollars in environmental benefits over 50 years
  • one million trees can absorb one million tons of CO2 during their lifetime
  • one million trees can help restore habitats of hundreds of species of animals, many of which are endangered or threatened
  • one million trees can provide oxygen for over 4 million people in one day

     Timberland has a Virtual Forest on Facebook:  plant a virtual tree and the corporation will plant a real tree (up to one million trees) in kind in Haiti.

     You don't have to be a corporation; there are a lot of ways to celebrate today.  If you happen to stop the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. today, you can celebrate Arbor Day by taking part in a Save the Frogs Day rally.  You could plant a tree yourself.  You could watch a child climb a tree and dangle from its limbs.  Or, you can just sit back and admire the majesty and variety of these magnificent creations. 

     (Speaking of majesty, you could always celebrate the day by getting married in Wetsminster Abbey.  But then again, I couldn't find England listed as one of countries that celebrate Arbor Day or Plant a Tree Day.)

      To close this post, here's John Denver, who explains it all:


"Some of those hats are intruding on other people's personal space." -- my pragmatic wife.


McGillicuddy McGotham by Leonard Wibberley (1956)

Thomas Patrick Fergus Kevin Sean Desmond McGillicuddy is not his full name (that would take several hours and quite a few pages to document), but it's a short enough name for an inch-high leprechaun -- especially one who has been sent as the Envoy Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary, With or Without Portfolio (as the fancy takes him) from the Kingdom of the Little People of Erin, with which are allied all the Giants, Ogres, Banshees, Water Spirits, Will-of-the-Wisps, Lucky Spiders, and Divers Other Stange and Remarkable Creatures to the King of the Vast Continent of America.

     McGillicuddy faces several challenges, not the least of which is that America doesn't have a king.  He can't be seen by anyone who is not Irish, for one thing, and then by only one Irisher at a time -- and that Irisher happens to be 10-year old Brian O'Connor of West Eighty-Sixth Street.

     McGillicuddy was sent to America to stop the construction of an airstrip planned on a tract of sacred leprechaun land.  Along the way he encounters Brian's parents (Brian's father managed to stop a potential curse that would make all beer hot), Miss Tottenal (speaking of hot), a secretary in love with her boss, Mr. Cnitweitz (her boss, the President of the New World Airlines, and whose name may possibly be pronounces "nitwits"), and the President of the United States (whose golf game is about to improve).  Before the novel's end, he earns another name to add his already long, long name:  McGotham.

     McGillicuddy McGotham is a delightful Irish romp that is highly recommended for fans of Crockett Johnson's Mr. O'Malley, Herminie Templeton's Darby O'Gill, and James Stevens' The Crock of Gold.  Great fun.

     Leonard Wibberley, of course, is the acclaimed creator of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick (The Mouse That Roared, The Mouse on the Moon, and others), author of Feast of Freedom (in which a tribe of cannibals inadvertently eat the Vice President of the United States), Take to Your President (in which a canny Yorkshireman negotiates world peace), and many other novels -- including eleven mystery novels featuring Father Joseph Bredder and written as by "Leonard Holton."


     Doing the round-up honors for this week's Friday's Forgotten Books is Richard Robinson at his blog, The Broken Bullhorn.  Stop by for many more great reading suggestions.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


He could sure play the guitar.

I can listen to him all day.  Couldn't you?


For more Forgotten Music, check out Scott's blog, Scott D. Parker.


I loved The Fighter, the movie about boxer Mickey Ward.  I grew up in the town next to Lowell, Massachusetts; in fact, before the Industrial Revolution, Lowell had been part of my home town.  So, when the movies opened with a scene from Cupples Square, I knew I had come home.

     The portrayal of Mickey's large family was spot on, each representative of the many people who lived in Lowell -- the look, the talk, the attitude.  For a long time, Lowell suffered from the collapse of the mills and from the economic despair that came with it.  Yet the people of Lowell remained strong and loyal to each other.  All of this was reflected in the film.

     In a film marked by so many great performances, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won awards for their portrayals of Mickey Ward's mother and brother, respectively.   Alice Ward, Mickey's mother, came across as a fierce, protective, no-nonsense person who -- rightly or wrongly -- felt she had her son's best interest at heart.

     Alice Ward died yesterday at age 79 after being taken off life support.  She had suffered a massive heart attack early this year.  A woman of limited resources, limited education, and limited opportunities, she did the very best she could for her family.  "We have lost the leader of our family...She was a great woman, a strong woman.  She taught us all what it means to be strong because she never gave up on any of us," her son Dicky said.

     When any person dies, there is a hole in humanity:  a hole that can only be filled by memories and by the actions of those the deceased affected.  I suspect there is a large hole now where Alice Ward's life was; it is being filled by the love and respect of those who knew her personally and through a film that showed just how extraordinary people can be.

     In a corner of my mind's eye, I can picture Alice Ward in Heaven, nonchalantly dropped f-bombs at the angels.  And the angels smile knowingly and embrace her.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Phoebe Snow, the phenomenon who who walked away from singing stardom just after her 1975 hit "Poetry Man" has died.

     Snow quit show business to care for her new-born daughter who had a sever brain disorder.  The daughter passed away in 2007 at age 31.

     Phoebe Snow's music had inspired many people, but she called caring for her daughter her greatest accomplishment.

     She was right.

     As a musical talent and as a person, she was outstanding and will be missed.


This week's contribution to Todd Mason's Overlooked Films may not be so much overlooked as it is lost in the crowd.  The Gaunt Stranger (1938; aka The Phantom Strikes) is the third of least four films based on Edgar Wallace's book of the same title.  (The others are The Gaunt Stranger (1931; aka The Ringer, from the US title of the book); The Sorceror (1932), and The Ringer (also 1938).  IMDB lists 214 titles based on Wallace's work -- no wonder this one is lost in the crowd.

     The plot of the melodrama is simple:  a master criminal who is a genius at disguise vows to murder someone in a daring fashion.  Can the police catch him?  The film, although dated, holds up well and is still well received..

     Edgar Wallace is somewhat disdained today as a hack (in many ways, he was), but during his time he was one of the world's most popular thriller writers.  Wallace wrote at least 90 thrillers and 65 collections of short stories; this doesn't count his many plays, non-fiction works, poetry, journalism, and feature articles.  He invented many of the cliches in the genre.  His characters included The Just Men, Sanders of the River, and Mr. J. G. Reeder; lesser-known characters were The Sooper, Inspector Elk, Superintendent Minter, and T. B. Smith.  His most famous character?  King Kong.  He died at age 58, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th Century.

     The Gaunt Stranger was directed by Walter Forde, a journeyman British director who would also direct the 1931 version.  (Interestingly, he recast the same actor, John Longden, in the same role, as Inspector Bliss, in both movies.)  The screenplay was written by Sidney Gilliat, whose other writing credits include The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, Wee Geordie, Green for Danger, A Yank at Oxford, Waterloo Road, and The Belles of St. Trinian's.

     The cast of The Gaunt Stranger includes Patrick Barr, Peter Croft, Charles Eaton, Sonnie Hale, Arthur Hambling, Louise Henry, Alexander Knox, Wilfred Lawson, the aforementioned John  Longden, George Merritt, and Patricia Roc.

     So, without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, we present The Gaunt Stranger:


     For more Overlooked Films, visit Todd at Sweet Freedom.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Our grandson turned 11 today, amazing me at how fast the time flies and at how very lucky we are.

     Mark's birth was a difficult one and we came frightenly closed to losing both him and his mother.  In the end, the doctor had to use forceps and all his strength to deliver this child.  The forceps scarred the right side of his head and (we found out later) damaged a number of facial muscles.  He was born with a thick head of black hair and, with the scar, looked like a pirate.  (The scar has faded until it is almost invisible.)  I lost count of how many medical staff were there trying to help with the birth -- at least seven, plus my wife and the doctor.  During the delivery, my daughter's blood pressure zeroed out.  I consider it a miracle that mother and child made it through that ordeal alive.

     Mark was born with a number of holes in his heart -- seven, maybe nine, I can't remember.  This evidently can happen and is a cause for concern but not necessarily worry.  Over the first few months, the holes closed one by one as he grew.  A larger concern was his development.  He seemed unable to drink from a cup or to form words.  He was tested and at fifteen months had the development of a nine-month baby.  Much of this problem seemed to stem from the damage of his forcep delivery.

     We found an early intervention program.  Three times a week, we took Mark to therapy, where we played with bubbles and tried to train his facial muscles; we taught him basic sign language so that he could express some of his needs.  (A significant fear was that he would become frustrated and angry if he had no way of communicating.)  Mark's first word was "bubbles".

     Soon he was ready for the next step in early childhood intervention.  Our daughter Christina took him to the corner of her street and watched he two-year old son climb alone on a school bus with a backpack containing diapers and his bottle.  After a half day of school, the school bus dropped him back on the corner. Five days a week.  Mark's progress was rapid, although it seemed agonizingly slow to us.  Christina cried when she first heard him say "Mommy"; he was two and a half.

     It was during these early years that his teachers had a glimpse of his personality:  he was cheerful, curious, patient, and kind.  He made friends easily.  By the time he began pre-school, he could name and differentiate at least 30 kinds of dinosaurs and 20 kinds of sharks.  When he entered kindergarten,  there was no sign that he ever needed early intervention.

     Mark loves animals and is the proud owner of a ball python.  He has been taught to be respectful of animals and helps take care of the menangery at home (three dogs, one cat, the python, two goats, eight fish -- all soon to be joined by chickens, I'm told).

     Mark is all boy.  He climbs ever higher in the tree in our back yard.  He runs like the wind.  (In second grade he proudly told us he was the "next fastest" in his class.)  He enjoys team sports.  He's a good offensive soccer player who prefers defense.   He does well on the lacrosse field.  Because he is one of the smaller kids his age, he didn't really care for football, although he gave a large effort when he played.  He loved wrestling.  (His first wrestling match had him stunned though.  His opponent was a boy with no arms and no legs.  While Mark stood stunned and wondering what to do with this kid with no arms and no legs, his opponent charged on his stubs and pinned Mark.  This is a story that will follow Mark for the rest of his life.)  Mark loves to go fishing with his other grandfather and his grandfather loves to take him.  Mark was slow to take to swimming, but he worked hard and getting better and better at it.

     He does well in school, also.  He gets along well with everyone and is even polite to the mean kid.  He earnestly practices his bells (sort of a xylophone; you have to start off on bells in order to move on to drums in the school orchestra) and was super proud that he was chosen to play three different instuments at the Holiday concert (public schools no longer have Christmas concerts).  He will be taking all advanced classes when he enters middle school in the fall.

     Yes, I am a proud grandfather.  This kid is a delight and a joy.  His laugh is infectious and his smile will melt your heart.  He loves River Monsters, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Ghost Hunters.  Bugs and snakes fascinate him; girls (eww!) do not.  He is warm and kind and loving.  He actually cares for his younger sister.  He loves to laugh.  He's eleven.

     And soon he'll be twelve, then thirteen, and so on until he is ready to go out into the world and make it a much better place.  This world needs a lot more Marks in it.  Luckily, there are Marks all over the place.  I happen to be focused on my particular Mark, but if you look you'll find many other Marks, needing to be nurtured and loved.  And they are the glorious future.

     Happy birthday, Mark.  We love you.


Six good mysteries this week:

  • Christianna Brand.  Tour De Force.  Inspector Cockrill solves another one.  Need I say more?
  • The Medieval Murderers.  The Lost Prophecies.  From 574 A.D. to the year 2135, these six interlocked mysteries by "The Medieval Murderers" (Philip Gooden, Susanna Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, and C. J. Sansom) concern a book of prophecies written by an obscure Irish monk.
  • Arthur W. Upfield.  Murder Down Under, Sinister Stones, and The Widows of Broome. Three mysteries featuring Australian half-cast Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte.  Years ago, for a mystery group I was part of, I suggested Upfield and his Bony mysteries; to a person, everyone else hated them.  I still can't understand why.  I know some were upset by the pre-P.C. tone of some of the books, but Bony still stands out as one of the great detectives.  Anthony Boucher called Bony his "favorite fictional detective of the past twenty years.'  I side with Boucher:  the novels are full of great Australian detail and are well constructed and engaging.
  • Patricia Wentworth.  Through the Wall.  One of Miss Silver's later adventures, and very well regarded.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Hazel Dickens passed away today, taking a large piece of Americana with her.

Here, she and Mike Seeger join Kilby Snow in "Tragic Romance":

Here Hazel sings "A Few Old Memories":

And "West Virginia, My Home":

Her music reverberated over the years.  Here, "Coalminer's Grave" is used to mark last year's tragedy:

And from 1967, the haunting "Pretty Bird":

Hazel Dickens, born in poverty in West Virginia,  died today in Washington, aged 75.  May she continue singing with the angels.


The Golden Eagle Mystery by "Ellery Queen, Jr." (1942)
The Green Turtle Mystery by "Ellery Queen, Jr." (1944)
Portrait of Ambrose Bierce by Adolphe de Castro (1929)

Frank Belknap Long (1903-1994) is best known today as a friend (and fellow horror writer) of H. P. Lovecraft.  Long was the first writer to contribute to Lovecraft's Cthuhu Mythos with the mention of the Necronomicon in a 1925 story and in his 1928 story The Space Eaters; many of Long's Lovecraftian stories are included in the classic collection The Hounds of Tindalos.  Despite a loyal fan base, Long never found the commercial success that many of his contemporaries did.  He served as associate editor (sometimes uncredited) for at least five fiction magazines, including The Saint Mystery Magazine and Mike shayne Mystery Magazine.  He published a few small poetry books, a number of run-of-the-mill SF novels, a series of gothics written under his wife's name, comic books scripts, and at least one television play.  He also ghost-wrote several books, including two in the Ellery Queen, Jr. series.

     The Ellery Queen machine, at one time, seemed to be everywhere.  Novels, short-stories, radio, movies, television, comic books, criticism, non-fiction, anthologies, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  Most of these endeavors were undertaken by the two men who were Queen, Manfred Lee and Fred Danney.  Some, like the Big Little Books, the various paperback originals, and some of the later novels, were ghost-written by others, usually following a detailed outline.  In 1942, the first juvenile appeared under the name "Ellery Queen, Jr."

     Between 1942 and 1966, there were eleven novels under the "Queen, Jr." by-line, nine of which featured young detective Djuna.  In the Queen canon, Djuna was a young Gypsy orphan who was taken in by a lonely Inspector Richard Queen while son Ellery was off to college.  Djuna's background and surname were never revealed.  Djuna served as cook, housekeeper, and valet.  His place in the series was always ambiguaous and he disappeared forever from the later books.  In the Queen, Jr. novels, Djuna is about eleven years old and is staying with a Miss Ellery in a small town.

     The Queen, Jr. books were contracted to writer James Holding.  Holding's contribution to the series is questionable.  He, without the knowledge of Lee and Dannay, sub-contracted the books to other writers.  Six of these were written by Samuel Duff McCoy and two by Long.  (Lee reported blew his stack when he found out some of the books we not written by "Queen-approved" writers.)  Long's contributions were the second and third books in the series.

     The Golden Eagle Mystery takes place in a fishing village.  Djuna has been sent by Miss Ellery to spend the summer with a friend of hers who seemed troubled.  Miss Ellery has asked Djuna to try to find out what the problem is.  The detail on a fishing community and on boating is pretty good, the mystery is fair, and the characters are well-drawn.  Djuna makes friends with a young boy who has trained his imaginary dog to do all sorts of tricks; Djuna's acceptance of this strained my credibility.

     The Green Turtle Mystery takes Djuna to the city, where he earns some extra money by shining shoes.  Djuna soon makes friends with a cocky newspaper reporter and with a copyboy his own age.  The mystery involves a haunted house, counterfeiting, and a confidence game.  Djuna does a credible job solving all this.

     Djuna is in the mold of many juvenile heroes of the time -- just too good to be true.  He just wouldn't make it in today's YA market.  I can't recommend these to young readers, but adult readers of a certain age, such as myself, may find them charming and nostalgic.

     The complete Djuna series is:
  • The Black Dog Mystery (1942) *
  • The Golden Eagle Mystery (1942)
  • The Green Turtle Mystery (1944)
  • The Red Chipmunk Mystery (1946) *
  • The Brown Fox Mystery (1948) *
  • The White Elephant Mystery (1950) *
  • The Yellow Cat Mystery (1952) *
  • The Blue Herring Mystery (1954) *
  • The Purple Bird Myustery (1966)
     * Ghost written by Samuel Duff McCoy; authorship of The Purple Bird Mystery is uncertain.

     Two additional books were published by "Ellery Queen, Jr."  Again, authorship is uncertain; both featured Gulliver Queen, who is supposedly Ellery Queen's nephew:
  • The Mystery of the Merry Magician (1961)
  • The Mystery of the Vanished Victim (1962)
     As with his friend and mentor Lovecraft, Long also offered himself out as a "revisionist", editing unpublishable works for publication.  This usually involved a complete rewrite asnd restructuring, or creating an entire work out of an idea suppliled by the client.  One client of both Lovecraft and Long was Gustaf Adolf [sometime spelled Adolphe] de Castro Danziger (1859-1959).

     From Donald Tuck's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy:  "U.S. writer, poet and philosopher.  He mastered 14 languages, and was the U.S. Consul General to Madrid in the adminstration of Theodore Roosevelt.  He knew Mark Twain and H.P. Lovecraft"..."For 20 years he was a familiar figure in Los angeles fantasy circles, attending special meetings of the LASFS and the various conventions in the area.  He died peacefully just after his 100th birthday."

     Lovecraft "revised" several of his stories for Weird Tales and considered him an irritating humbug.  Danziger's major claim to fame had been The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter, a novella supposedly written with Ambrose Bierce and included in many collections of Bierce's works.  Actually, this turned out to be a poor translation by Danziger of a story by Richard Voss and which Danziger had convinced Bierce to rewrite.  (My understanding is that Bierce had thought this an original work, not a translation.)  In any event, when Danziger began to pester Lovecraft for another revision, HPL foisted him off on Long.

     Portrait of Ambrose Bierce is Long's revision and is most likely completely ghost-written.  The praise for Bierce is effusive and reminiscent of some of Lovecraft's praises of other writers.  The book provides an interesting and inflated view of Bierce.  Danziger is inserted in the book as an all-knowing, heroic figure.  The section where he goes to Mexico and faces down Pancho Villa about his role in Bierce's death is priceless.  (Bierce did vanish in Mexico and among the many theories of his death, being killed by [or, at least, on the orders of] Pancho Villa is the most likely.)  This is a fun book to read, on several levels.

     Long was a good writer who produced some remarkable readable stories.  A good subject for a future Forgotten Book is his John Carstairs:  Space Detective, a collection of stories featuring a future biologist.  Long never made the big time, or even the not-so big time.  He died in poverty, selling off pieces of his memorabilia to make ends meet.  He deserves rediscovery.


     The ever-delightful Patti Abbott has the round-up of this week's ever-delightful Forgotten Books at  Check it out.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


The Quilt of Valor, that is.  Soon to be on it's way to a wounded soldier in Afghanistan.  Kudos to all the ladies who worked on it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


So here's the dead stepfather story in all it's gory glory:

     First, you have to picture Ann.  Whip-smart, pragmatic, organized, able to do just about anything and to deal with just about everything.  Her mother's second marriage (long after Ann had moved out and was on her own) was to a man who was only about ten years older than Ann.  Then her mother got cancer and passed away a  disgustingly early age.  The widower, Bob, took his duty as a stepfather very seriously and viewed Ann as his daughter.  (Bob, by the way, was a very nice guy.)  Then Bob met Nancy and remarried.  Nancy took her role as stepmother-once-removed very seriously also.  Thus Ann kept in contact with both and visited for the occasional holiday and so on.

   Okay.  Neither Bob nor Nancy ever had the word "practical" in their vocabularies.  They lived in the house Bob and Ann's mother had bought for an amazingly low price.  They refinanced a number of times and the house is now worth only a small percentage of their mortgage.  There were a lot of other things going on that were the antithesis of practical.

     Then came the phone call in the middle of the night that Bob had died.  We gave Ann a ride to the airport and she went to help Nancy with the arrangements.  This was Ann's first e-mail:

          $11,000 before the burial plotThis is completely insane. I'm just watching the madness.

     Before Ann left for the funeral, we discussed the possibility that perhaps some of the relatives (both he and she come from very large families) might be able to help with the cost of the funeral.  Here's Ann's second e-mail:

          Sweet Jesus on a breadstick.

          Funeral lunch for 75 with a full open bar.

          No money in the cards either.

          Nancy is her own worst financial enemy.

     And we replied:

          Holy Moses on a vanilla wafer.

          Open bar?

          Methinks there is a predisposition to imbibery on both sides of the family.

         Will there be enough liquor in the entire state?

     Nancy decided that she wanted to impress relatives on both sides of the family.  Ann's next e-mail:

         Well, since one person managed to drink a litre of Absolut in 48 hours in this household,
         there is a wee possibility that there is some imbibing going on.  And it wasn't the widow
         (or me).

          She paid $560 for a cleaning service on Monday.  Bounced the cheque twice.  What
          happened to female relatives cleaning the house and stocking the fridge?  Oh wait, she
          doesn't want to "look bad".   Maybe I should hit the vodka.

         ...Rechecking my IQ might be a good idea.  I seem to have lost a lot of points somewhere
         along the way.

     The litre of Absolut went into a non--relative, who also happened to be an absolute (Absolut?) racist.  Nice.

     Ann put in $5000 toward the cost of the funeral.  Bob had wanted to be buried with Ann's mother's ashes in his coffin.  This provided another set of problems because the funeral home had been under charges for mismanagement and they couldn't guarantee that Ann's mother's ashes were actually Ann's mother's ashes, so legally they couldn't put the ashes in the coffin, especially if it turned that Bob would be sharing his coffin with a  complete stranger.  (Understand?)  Ann's solution was simple:  bury Bob and sprinkle the ashes on his grave.  That, at least, for some reason, would be legal.  Luckily, before the funeral the funeral home discovered papers proving that Ann's mother was Ann's mother, so into the casket she went.  The cost?  One hundred dollars for Ann's mother and a thousand for Bob.  Don't know why.  But Nancy told Ann that it would cost her (Ann) $1100 to bury her mother's ashes with Bob.  (Enter Ann's thought balloon:  **Hmmm.  No.  It will cost me $100.  It will cost you $1000.  Should I make a stink?  No, it's worth an extra thousand to get her off my back.**  End thought balloon.)  Ann wrote a check for $1100.

    So much more happened.  A niece of a cousin-in-law was upset she wasn't named as a survivor in the obituary, so she called Nancy to complain, rather than the funeral home.  Every member of both sides of the family had the middle name of Drama.  Some of the drama is mentioned in a note Ann sent to a friend:

          We had the youngest son of the family as the funeral director and let's just say I was not
          impressed.  Funeral home guys are usually so suave and unflappable.  This twit?  Not so
          much.  Okay, so there's a  paperwork issue with Mom's ashes because I didn't have all
          the certificates.  So I pay buddy boy to track them down.  Well, the funeral home Mom
          used had a scandal and lost its license for improper disposal of bodies.  He can't find the
          paperwork and tells me all this and that Mom can't go in the casket and that she may not
          have been cremated.  GRAND.  So I say fine, give me the ashes back and I'll deal with
          everything myself.  Two hours later, the shmuck calls me back - he opened the
          decorative box and copies of the certs were taped inside.  He double checked the
          certificate numbers with the crematory and everything was fine and Mom was cremated
          properly with all the state requirements.  Can you believe it?  I don't get that upset
          because I'm not the one who cares about these things.  Put me in a hole in the ground
          wrapped in a sheet and plant a tree.  The body is just a shell and not the person, let it go
          back into the cycle of life.  But imagine telling a regular person that Mom might be in a
          backyard somewhere.

     (Let me interject here that the young funeral director wore a cheap, dirty suit that made him look like a stereotypical used car salesman.  Back to Ann:)

          Other highlights of the week:  Funeral lunch for 75 with an OPEN bar.  Not wanting Bob's
          siblings in the first or second pew, that was for her family and friends.  Alcohol 
          everywhere.  $560 for a cleaning service to do the house - and she bounced the cheque
          twice, so it's going to be more.  An unshowered relative with 3 teeth.  Spending $150 for
          a sports coat for a 12 year old.  Nancy's sister-in-law pushing me out of the way so that
          she could sob and carry on.  A fight over whose flowers went on the casket - seriously!
          The 11 year old eating all the tops of the muffins and putting them back in the box -
          and NOT getting smacked to within an inch of her life.

     (Me again.  Really?  Eleven is way too old for that sort of nonsense.  Back to Ann:)

          A litre of Absolut being drunk by ONE person in 48 hours.

          Oh, and the hearse was baby blue.
     Ann was a brick and a doll and a fantastic help when Michael passed away five years ago.  I'm sorry she wasn't allowed to do the same for her stepfather.  She deserves better.  At least she has a lot of stories to tell now.


Deepwater Horizon.

One year.

Eleven dead.

Economic devastation for an already hard-hit Gulf.


When will we learn?


From a birthday celebration Monday to a different one today:  my daughter's anniversary -- the fifteenth, I think.  Unfortunately her husband isn't with her; he died of a sudden heart attack five years ago at aged 31.  Michael was the love of her life and her loved her and their two girls more than anything.  He was a good guy, and filled their lives with laughter.  Then, suddenly, the laughter was gone.

     It's been a long five years.  At first Jessie and the girls stayed with us.  We moved to Southern Maryland because Jessie couldn't face living in the town where Michael had died.  She became active in the girls' school.  Her Girl Scout leader training helped her segue into Sea Scouts when the girls joined.  She discovered Amy was part fish and encouraged her when she joined a swim team.  She took a number of terrible jobs, often with businesses that were on the verge of going belly-up.  She was a cake decorator, a bookkeeper, a tax consultant.  And every morning when she woke up, her first thought was of Michael.

     After almost four years with us, she moved out and went back to her home town, got a low-paying job with a large hotel, watched the hotel go bankrupt, and is now back at the same hotel (under new management) and seems to be back on track and much better paid.  The girls are beginning to get it together also.  Both have made friends and are doing well in school.  Amy swims at 0-Dark Hundred in the morning; Ceili has discovered she's fairly good at basketball and is into cosplay and steampunk.  There's some light at the end of the tunnel.

     Of course, when a spouse dies, there really is no end to the tunnel.  But the light gets brighter and brighter.  So today we remember Michael with love and respect, while also calling him a sonovabitch for dying.  One of the best memories of him was a year before he died, when we took both daughters and their families on a Carribean cruise; our first look on deck, shortly before we sailed, was of Michael holding an umbella drink, laughing and smiling, in a conga line and dancing to a calypso band. 

     After his death, through organ donation, Michael gave people the gifts of sight, of mobility, and of life.  He gave Jessie almost ten years of a loving marriage, and the two of them gave the world two beautiful and talented children.  That's something some people don't accomplish through their three score and ten.  So happy anniversary, Jessie.  Hold on to the memories.  And look toward the future.  Life is for the living and it's an amazing thing.  Enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Not really a forgotten movie because it's being shown today on Turner Movie Classics at 1:00 p.m. EDT, but if you are reading this after that time, maybe it is forgotten after all.

     Forty Naughty Girls (1937) is a Hildegarde Withers mystery, based on the character created by Stuart Palmer.  Withers was (and if there is any justice in this world, still is) a popular character in 1940's and 1950's mystery novels, a nosy spinster schoolteacher who was the bane of Police Inspector Oscar Piper's life.

    Since I will not have seen the film until after 1:00 today, let's let IMDB explain the basic plot for us:  "Police Inspector Oscar Piper and Hildegarde Withers attend the opening night of a Broadway play in New York City," [where else? - JH] "and the show's press agent is murdered before the curtain goes up.  But the show must go on while Piper is busily investigating the killing while the play goes on, the play's librettist is shot.  Piper and Withers are in and out of dressing rooms, in audience cubicles belonging to the producer and the press agent, and in the basement storeroom and far stage left and right working on finding the killer before the curtain draws."  The movis clocks in at 63 minutes.

     For what it's worth, according to Leonard Maltin, Forty Naughty Girls " just plain awful."  For that accolade alone, it's a gotta see.

     This time around Withers is played by Zasu Pitts while thin, mustached James Gregory plays Inspector Piper as usual.  Marjorie Lord (The Danny Thomas Show) appears as Jane Preston.  The rest of the cast includes George Shelley (Bert), Joan Woodbury (Rita Marlowe), Frank M. Thomas (Jeff "Pop" Plumber), Tom Kennedy (Casy), Alan Edwards (Ricky Rickman), Alden chase (Tommy Washburn), Edward Marr (Windy Bennett), Ada Leonard (Lil), Barbara Pepper (Alice), and Donald Kerr (Call Boy -- a role he may not want to have on his resume).

    This beauty was directed by Edward Cline, who came up through the ranks from Mack Sennett comedies and directed a number of minor and sub-minor films.  Screen writer John Grey adapted this one from Palmer's short story "The Riddle of the Forty Naughty Girls."  According to IMDB, Grey had 32 credits from 1934-1952, half of which were short features.  (One of his credits, Private Snuffy Smith, based on the Barney Google comic strip character, is worthy of a Forgotten Film entry of its own.)  Grey capped out his career with three episodes of Sky King.  (Apropos of nothing, Gloria Winters, who played Penny in that series, died last August at 78.  How could one of my childhood crushes be that old?)

     Eight movies were made about Hildegarde Withers.  Edna May Oliver took the lead role in the first three:  The Penguin Pool Murder (1932), Murder on the Blackboard (1934), and Murder on a Honeymoon (1935).  Helen Broderick did the honors in Murder on a Bridle Path (1936), after which Zasu Pitts did two turns:  The Plot Thickens (1936) and the film under discussion.  In 1950, Hildegarde Withers was renamed (but not Craig Rice's John J. Malone) in Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone (1950, from a short story by Palmer and Rice).  In 1972, Eve Arden starred in a television movie, A Very Missing Person.

      Palmer also has a number of screenwriting credits, many of which are of passing interest:  One Frightened Night, The Nitwits, Yellowstone, Hollywood Stadium Mystery, Bulldog Drummond's Peril, Arrest Bulldog Drummond, Bulldog Drummond's Bride, Death of a Champion, Emergency Squad, Seventeen, Opened by Mistake, Who Killed Aunt Maggie?, "The Smiling Ghost", Secrets of the Lone Wolf, Pardon My Stripes, Home in Wyomin', Halfway to Shanghai, The Falcon's Brother, X Marks the Spot, The Falcon Strikes Back, Murder in Times Square, Petticoat Larceny, Step by Step, and one episode of The Millionaire.  All sound like good Saturday afternoon watchingOr, you could pick up an old Stuart Palmer mystery.  That's entertainment.


     Stop by Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom today for a continuing updated and always fascinating list of today's Forgotten Films. 

Monday, April 18, 2011


  • Still trying to find out if the person who hit me two week's ago had insurance.  The insurance information given to the police didn't pan out:  the policy number didn't exist and the company said it doesn't insure private cars.  The state police managed to come up with another insurance company and policy number, but it turns out this policy was cancelled a year ago.  In the meantime, my car appears to be totalled and is racking up all sorts of storage charges from the towing company and the hospital is salivating for payment.  Oh, and we had to buy a new car.  Payments for the next six or seven years.
  • Jason Statham as Westlake's Parker?  He'd make a great Parker, but I doubt Hollywood will make a great Parker.
  • Income tax time.  Thank you IRS for making me realize how little money is coming in.
  • On Randy Johnson's blog Not the Baseball Pitcher, he points out an old Dick Cavett show where Mickey Spillane, Evan Hunter, Robert B. Parker, and Sister Carol Anne O'Marie were interviewed.  Who on television today would have that type of interview?  Craig Ferguson, maybe.  Nobody else.
  • Words I would rather not have heard:  "Let's biopsy this, anyway.  Just to make sure."
  • My GPS does not like Baltimore.  If it had it's way, I'd still be driving around in circles.
  • On pulpetti, Juri Nummelin informs us that Finland has just elected a right-wing Parliament.  He's not happy.  he'll be even unhappier if I'm able to send over the American politicians I want to.
  • Two James bond movies in the works?  O, joy!
  • Best movie I saw recently:  Fair Game.  Best book I've read recently:  The sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Best television show I've watched recently:  a tie between Law & Order: UK and the MHz International Mystery Movies with Inspector Montabano.
  • I have come to the realization that some day I will have to buy a Kindle or some other e-reader.  Dammit.
  • I missed the World Folk Music Concert this year with Peter Yarrow, The Limelighters, Carolyn Hester, Schooner Fare, Steve Gillette, and many others.  I am appropriately bummed.  Even more so because I missed the follow-on concert with The Chad Mitchell Trio and Side by Side, two of the very best groups EVER.I will be walking around witha dark rain cloud over my head, like the Li'l Abner character, for at least a month.
  • The adventures of a dead step-father may be an upcoming blog if I can get permission from the live step-daughter.
  • I can't decide which has the prettiest tone, a violin or a cello, but every once in a while I'd put my money on a mandolin.
  • Donald Trump for president?  Are you kidding me?  Or is just a ploy to keep Celebrity Apprentice on for another year?


Shortly after I posted about her birthday, in pranced the birthday girl, her sister, and her mother, here from Massachusetts for a few days for Spring vacation.  Amy brought her cello.



I have three very beautiful granddaughters.  I'm not bragging, mind you, just stating the facts.  Since I have only three granddaughters, common logic should tell you that I have no ugly ones.  Nope, just the three, each more beautiful inside and out than the others.  (OK, so maybe I'm bragging just a little.)

     And on this momentous day, one of them, Amy (Amanda Frances when her mother gets mad) enters her teenage years.  Amy (alternatively known as Blondie Girl, Swim Chick, Smarty-Pants, Ames, and Amy Daisy) has circled the sun thirteen times and I think the sun (and we) are the better for it.  How can one pint-sized girl, seemingly made of styrofoam, bring so much joy and happiness?   I guess it just comes naturally to her.

     Here's wishing her an awesome, fantastic, glorious thirteenth year!  May her eyes be filled with wonder and her ears hear and appreciate the songs that the universe wishes to sing for her.  May her heart be filled with love coming to her and exiting from her, spinning madly through the revolving door of her generosity and kindness.  May her breath take in the green scents of spring, the glittering scents of summer, the rainbow scents of autumn, and the white scents of winter, gratefully blessing each for their unique beauty.  May her brain delve into extraordinary challenges and puzzles and experiences and come out much wiser.  May her soul shine brighter, if that be possible, than ever before.

     May she rock.  May she roll.

     Happy birthday, amy.  I love you.


Two weeks worth here, although only three are from the first week.  Heavy on fantasy series here.

  • Steve Alten, Goliath.  Thriller.
  • Stuart Bailey, editor, with Mai Abu ElDahab & David Reinfurt - Dot Dot Dot 13, or Report of the DDDepartment of Science Fiction & Economics.  A strange "little" magazine, published at The Hague; this issue evidently underwritten by The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design & Architecture.  It strangely includes a "screenplay" of a Playboy Panel that included Asimov, Budrys, Sturgeon, Anderson, Pohl, Clarke, Heinlein, Tenn, van Vogt, and Blish.
  • Greg Bear, Strength of Stones.  SF novel.
  • C. J. Cherryh, Wave Without a Shore.  SF novel.
  • Harlan Coben, Just One Look.  Thriller.
  • Ralph Compton, The Dodge City Trail.  Western,  #8 in The Trail Drive series.
  • John Dalmas, The Orc Wars:  The Yngling Saga, Books I and II.  SF omnibus, containing The Yngling and Homecoming, plus a short story.
  • Suzette Haden Elgin, Twelve Fair Kingdoms. Fantasy novel, first book of the Ozark Fantasy trilogy.
  • Esther Friesner, editor, Chicks in Chainmail.  Fantasy anthology.  Any book with a Muffy Birnbaum story by George Alec Effinger is aces to me.
  • George G. Gilman, Edge:  The Blind Side.  Adult western, #44 in the series.
  • Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule.  Fantasy novel, volume one in the Sword of Truth series.
  • Terry Goodkind, Stone of Tears.  Fantasy novel, volume two in the Sword of Truth series.
  • Terry Goodkind, Chainfire.  Fantasy novel, volume nine in the Sword of Truth series.
  • Robert Jordan, The Great Hunt.  Fantasy novel, volume two in The Wheel of Time series.
  • Robert Jordan, The Dragon Reborn.  Fantasy novel, volume three in The Wheel of Time series.
  • Robert Jordan, The Shadow Rising.  Fantasy novel, volume four in The Wheel of Time series.
  • Robert Jordan, Lord of Chaos.  Fantasy novel, volume six in the Wheel of Time series.
  • Robert Jordan, A Crown of Swords.  Fantasy novel, volume seven in The Wheel of
    Time series.
  • Robert Jordan, The Path of Daggers.  Fantasy novel, volume eight in The Wheel of Time series.
  • Robert Jordan, Crossroads of Twilight.  Fantasy novel, volume ten in The Wheel of Time series.
  • Murphy & Sapir, creators, The Destroyer:  Wolf's Bane.  Action, #132 in the series.  This one appears to be by Mike Newton.  Remo and werewolves?  A great combination.
  • Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, The Relic.  Horror.  The first in a long line of bestsellers.  I think I already have a copy of this, but I'm not sure, so to be on the safe side...
  • Lewis Shiner, Glimpses.  Fantasy novel.  Winner of the World Fantasy Award for best novel.
  • Dan Simmons, The Terror.  Historical thriller and doorstop.
  • James Swallow, Judge Dredd:  Whiteout.  SF tie-in to the comic series.  Hope the planned movie reboot turns out better than the Stallone train wreck.
  • Natsuki Takaya, Fruits Basket 2.  Manga.  I don't do manga, but whenever I see one for a quarter, I pick it up...grandchildren, you know.
  • Dave Wolverton, editor, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume IX.  SF anthology.  Hubbard has a lot to answer for, but some of his pulp work and this ongoing contest/series almost redeem him in my eyes.

Monday, April 4, 2011


The other guy's insurance company told me that they never heard of him and his policy number does not exist.  And so it goes...


Some fairly interesting books in the thrift shops this week.  (I've noticed, by the way, that every thrift shop in existence must have at least one copy of a Rod McKuen book on their shelves.  It must be a law, do you think?)
  • Carr, Terry, editor.  Creatures from Beyond.  SF anthology.  Nine stories, many familiar; still a very good collection.
  • Cerasini, Marc.  AVP:  Alien Vs. Predator.  Movie tie-in.
  • Cornwell, Bernard.  Stonehenge.  Historical novel with fantasy overtones.
  • Erdoes, Richard & Alfonso Ortiz, editors.  American Indian Myths and Legends.  Folklore, containing 166 American Indian myths.  Neat, huh?
  • Faucher, Elizabeth.  The Addams Family.  Movie tie-in, juvenile.
  • "Grant, Maxwell" (Walter B. Gibson).  The Creeping Death.  Pulp hero novel, first published in Shadow Magazine, January 15, 1933.  This edition is #14 in the Pyramid Books reprint series.
  • Kelton, Elmer.  The Time It Never Rained.  Western, winner of the Spur Award.  This edition is from Texas Christian University Press, #2 in their The Chishom Trail Series.
  • Little, Bentley.  The Collection.  Horror novel.
  • McDermid, Val.  The Grave Tattoo.  Mystery novel.
  • Navarro, Yvonnne.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  The Willow Files, Vol. 1.  Television tie-in, with three stories adapted from the television show.  Published as a YA novel.
  • Staten, Joseph.  Halo:  Contact Harvest.  SF novel, based on the role playng game.
  • Westlake, Donald E.  The Hook.  Crime novel.
  • Wilhelm, Kate.  Clear and Convincing Proof.  Mystery novel in the Barbara Holloway series.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Well, I finally had my first ride in an ambulance.  Very pleasant, all and all, but I could have done without it..

     Yesterday afternoon, while driving home with my wife and two of my grandchildren, it was raining like stink.  The vehicle in front of me signaled for a left turn into a driveway and stopped.  Being a right thinking sort of person, I stopped too.  The car in back of me?  Well, that's another story.  Luckily, we were all wearing seatbeats, but the force of the impact whipped me forward and did not-so-lovely things to my back.  Oh, well.

    I could have gotten out of the car, but I was advised not to.  So along came the EMT's and the state police.  I had a neck collar placed on me and they lifted me out of the car and onto a backboard and hustled me into an ambulance.  Although it was about twenty miles to the hospital, the ambulance had to take a couple of detours to find a way out the development we were in.

     A couple of interesting things.  In the back of the ambulance with were two young girls and a boy.  It's a sure sign of age when the cops, doctors, and ambulance personnel look like children.  One of the girls, the licenced EMT, proudly told me that I was her first car accident victim ever.  The other girl chirruped in, "Mine, too!"  The boy didn't say too much because he was completely unfamiliar with the ambulance and its procedures.  Great.  Luckily they strapped me down because the ambulance rocked and rolled and shimmied and shook the entire ride -- sensations I used to pay money for at carnival rides.  They were going over a checklist and decided they should give me oxygen even though I didn't need it, but "just in case."  They searched the ambulance but couldn't find an oxygen mask.  They settled on one of those thin oxygen tubes, inserting it in my nostils, but the shaking of the ambulance kept knocking it out.  I had to hold the thing in place for the entire ride, because they were all busy trying to find things, like a blood pressure cuff.  I switched hands holding the oxygen line so they could take my blood pressure.  150/80 -- pretty high for me.

     We arrived at the hospital, after they decided they couldn't stop at a local supermarket where a customer had passed out.  There was nobody waiting to meet us.  The two girls and the guy mumbled some bad words and tried to figure out how they were going to get me off the ambulance.  I'm a fairly big guy, 6'3" and weighing less than Charlie Stella, so I'm thinking these three 12-year olds weren't going to be able to lift me from the ambulance and they were thinking the same thing.  I was about to offer to get up and walk in when the EMT-girl said she would go in the hospital and see if she could find someone, preferably several hefty someones.  "You stay here," she said, as if we were actually thinking of going anywhere.

    In the meantime, my wife and grandchildren were standing by the side of the road in the raining-like-stink.  Our car was undrivable.  Rear end all smashed in and blocking the tires.  Both rear doors buckled.  My seat (the driver's seat) broken -- I had ripped it from the frame when I was whipped about.  (Interestingly enough, no air bags deployed.  Makes me wonder if there were any in the car when I bought it.)  Somebody towed the car away and I'll have to find out where tomorrow.  The car that hit us was driveable, not much damage.  Everyone in that car were also wearing seatbelts and none of them were injured, thank God.  There was a goodly amount of shimmery stuff on the road, so either my car or theirs (or both) peed out some sort of vital fluids.

     My wife was trying to contact our daughter and son-in-law.  He was working at a nearby Naval Air Base and my daughter was taking a class in Baltimore, an hour and a half way.  She couldn't get ahold of either one.  And the charge on her phone was dying.  She managed to get a call to my other daughter in Massachusetts who coordinated notifications from there.  It took a while, but soon wife, daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, and a niece from Virginia made it to the hospital.

     At the hospital, I was asked to sign something.  Don't know what; EMT-girl had taken my glasses.  I was told the nurse would check on my glasses when and if EMT-girl delivered someone else to the emergency department.  (Turns out the EMTs had put by glasses back in my car on the dashboard; my wife rescued them along with the current book I was reading, Legends of Highwaymen and Others by Richard Blakeborough.  Yea, Kitty!)  They took my blood pressure.  126/72  -- much closer to my normal pressure. I spent an hour or so lying around waiting to be told they were going to take x-rays, just to be sure.  Not quite as long to be wheeled down to x-ray, and about as long for the doctor to release me.  He pointed out some of the bad things the x-rays showed about my back, and I assured him they were all there before the accident.

      My daughter drove us to a pharmacy where I could get the happy pills the doctor prescribed for the pain, while my son-in-law picked up Chinese food.  I also picked up some ice cream and we had a party.

     The other guy's insurance company did not have 24-hour service and no weekend service.  So we are at home, carless, both a bit stiff and sore, and about to run out of Chinese food and ice cream.

     So how was your weekend?

Friday, April 1, 2011


Headline from today's Wasilla Messenger:

     Obama Flees To Mosque, Requests Asylum

     In a stunning development today, President Obama has fled to an Islamic mosques today, demanding asylum and that they "lock the doors, quick!"  A statement released by the White House Press Office stated simply, "Geez Louise, what do you expect?  Those blasted Republicans are out to get him!"  In a possibly related event, it was reported that political pundit Glenn Beck has died after breaking into uproarious laughter.  Beck was reportedly eating fried chicken at the time and choked on a bone.


Headline from today's news release from Publisher's Weekly:

     A Non-Electronic eBookIt's on the Way!

    Martin & Dobbs, a major British publisher has announced plans for a new line of non-electronic eBooks designed to offset the industry's losses due to the popularity of e-readers.  "This way, we protect the integrity of traditional publishing while, at the same time, meeting the public's need for eBooks," stated M&D's chairman Sir Humphrey Humphries.  "All we need to do is put out books consisting entirely of letter Es.  This plan is brilliant in its simplicity."  Fourteen-year old science fiction fan Freddy Blatz is one of many who respoded, "The stupid git doesn't know what he's talking about!"


Headline from today's Washington Post:

     Libyan Rebels Mistakenly Overthrow Liberian Government

     "Darn it all!" said one rebel, "For a while there, I was sure we had finally gotten Quadaffi.  I mean, who knew there was another country in Africa that kind of sounded like ours?"


Headline from today's Honolulu Hulagan:

     Hawaii Finds Donald Trump's Birth Certificate

     "It's the funniest thing," said Department of Vital Records employee Simon Poi, "We were just looking around for Barack Obama's birth certificate, like we do every Friday, and there it was -- Donald Trump's birth certificate!"  According to the certtificate, the presidential aspirant's birth name was George Pumalakapuu and he is really only 17 years old.


Headline from today's Wisconsin Tribulation:

     Entire State Now Living in Sin

     Attempting to defy a court order staying implementation of Wisconsin's controversial law banning collective bargaining for unions representing state workers, Governor Scott Brown accidently sign into law a bill outlawing all marital unions in the state.  "It was just supposed to be a joke," confessed Brown's secretary, adding,  "I didn't expect him to actually sign it!"  The new law has met with mixed reactions from the public.  A number of people are reported to be upset, while Governor Brown's wife was rumored to have said, "Well, it's about damn time!"


Headline in most of the world's newspapers, except The London Times:

     England Gone!  Entire Island Sinks!

     The entire body of land comprising England, Scotland, and Wales sunk today into the Atlantic Ocean.  Scientists speculate the cause to be the tremendous weight of news stories about the upcoming nuptuals of Prince William and Kate Middleton.   


From the Detroit Scandalmonger & Picayune Times:

      Local Woman Admits to Shameful Secret!

     "It's true," confesses Patti Abbott, "I'm illiterate.  I don't know how to read.  I've been faking it.  At one time, I may have known how to read a book, but it's forgotten."


Headline from page 1 of today's ALVIN BUGLE & CLARION CALL:
     Local Geezer Allows Kids on Lawn

     "We always thought "Cranky Crider" was a meanie, but he let us play on his lawn and gave us ice cream," claims moppet.



Ghosts Along the Mississippi by Clarence John Laughlin.  (Scribner, 1948; Bonanza, 1961)

    This week's theme of Forgotten Coffee Table Books was suggested by Patti Abbott, Empress of All Books Forgotten.  After a lot of consideration (and after deciding this was not an April Fool's prank) I settled on Ghosts Along the Mississippi, a marvelous collection of photographs and text subtitled An Essay in the Poetic Interpretation of Lousiana's Plantation Architecture.

     I first came across the work of Clarence John Laughlin when one of the photographs in the book was used for the cover of August Derleth's 1962 collection Lonesome Places.  Here was a cover that epitomized the book's title:  an eerie, haunting, and lonesome place, forgotten by man and enshrouded by the mists of time.

     There are 100 full-page black and white photographs presented in the book, each accompanied by a text from the author/photographer.  Most of the photographs are of crumbling plantation homes, some are of old cemeteries, bayous, sharecropper homes.  The entire work is an essay on "grandeur and decay", a title the author gave to several of the photographs.  Here is a land swallowed by Spanish moss and endowed with a sense of mystery.  Who lived in these now-ruined homes and why have they been abandoned to the ravages of time and nature?

     Laughlin gives us some of the answers, as well as details into the lives of the people who lived on these plantations.  Here is part of a description  from a photograph of Pine Alley Plantation's narrow tree-lined road, seeming leading off endlessly to nowhere:

     "The date of the establishment of his great house, again, seems uncertain; but the oak and pine alley leading to it is said to have been planted in 1829 by slaves.  But, unlike anything in Louisiana it led a full three miles from Bayou Teche to the house!  Among other things, his set of regal carriages, including even the harness, were ornamented with gold, and must have made a spectacle indeed when the family went driving.  Each morning, too, slaves woke them with sprays of perfume, and the family learned to delight in bathing in water strewn with perfume crystals -- an unheard of refinement at that time."  The owner of this large plantation, we are told, was Charles J. Durande, who had twelve children by his first wife and twelve children by his second wife.  He was a man who did everything on a grand scale:  "But it was in 1850, on the occasion of the simultaneous wedding of two of his daughters, that Durande's imagination soared to really superb heights.  For this event he had made special preparations.  Large spiders -- brought from China, according to some accounts -- had been set free in the oak alley several days in advance.  Great webs had been spun.  And on the morning of the wedding the slaves were given bellows and gold and silver dust.  With these the webs were coated.  Beneath this utterly fantastic canopy, aerial and metallic, that billowed in the moving air, that quivered and glinted in the torch light when the sun had descended -- and over carpets spread between the trees -- the couples were led.  Lasting until nightfall, the wedding festivities included food and wine for two thousand guests."  After the Civil War, Durande lost his wealth, the house was stripped and abandoned, fell to decay, and was eventually razed.  What remains is a section of the alley, now less than a mile long, a moss-covered ghost along the Mississippi.

     And from Laughlin's introduction:  "The dark mystery of time, the luminous and living mystery of light -- so intricately and strangely interrelated with time -- the snake-brown waters of the great serpentine Mississippi -- these are the chief protagonists now on the darkening stage occupied by the last structures of the doomed plantation system  They, and they alone, determine everything we see and feel.  Lost in a curious evocative pattern of light and shadow, lost in a nameless union of light and time whose intimations can never be completely phrased in words -- we find again a past which, cryptically, is no longer wholly dead, a splendor no longer wholly unreal -- but which lives tenuously, yet undeniably, in corroded walls, in empty and discolored chambers, in shadow entities, in the labyrinths of our blood...."

     A moody book.  A fascinating book.  A beautiful book.


     For a look at other forgotten books, coffee table and otherwise, visit Patti's blog, where there is always something of interest.