Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, January 24, 2021


 Openers:  There were times during the investigation of the case of the Dead Magicians when the New York Police Department's official attitude toward the infernal arts of witchcraft and sorcery was damnably inconvenient.  It had the annoying disadvantage of leaving us with no explanation at all.

Some of the evidence in the case would have seemed vastly more appropriate had it been reported from the forbidden interior of Tibet or from that other famous home of magic, mystery, and tall stories -- India.  A murderer who apparently leaves the scene of his crimes by walking straight through solid walls of brisk and plaster and b yfloating in midair out of second story windows would, however, be uncanny enough even in Lhassa or Hyderabad.  In modern Manhattan he becomes doubly incredible and rather more frightening.

As recently as two hundred and fifty years ago the authorities would have ended the matter by simply applying those bloody and infamous instruments for crime detection, the pincers and the rack, and obtained a confession of sorcerous activity from the nearest innocent bystander.  But this easy technique was denied us, and we were left, armed with logic alone, to do battle with irrational dragon shapes....

Inspector Gavagan's ordinarily jovial and assured  blue eyes held an angry worried look that stayed there until Merlini finally exorcised the demons and produced a solution that satisfied the inspector except as to one thing:  he couldn't understand why he hadn't seen it all along.  I knew exactly how he felt.  I was in the same boat.  All we need have done, as Merlini pointed out, was to realize exactly what it was that all the suspects had in common and just what the two things were that one of them was able to do that no one else could possibly have done.

-- Clayton Rawson, Death from a Top Hat (1938)

That's pretty neat, if you ask me:  in the fourth paragraph of this mystery novel, the Constant Reader is told exactly how to solve the mystery.  In the hands of such a a talented writer and magician as Clayton Rawson, though, even with such hints, the reader remains flummoxed.

Rawson (1906-1971) saw an advertisement in The American Boy when he was twelve:  100 Magic Tricks for 10 Cents.  He spent the dime and he was hooked on magic.  One of tricks was to take a lit cigarette and put it into his left fist and it would disappear.  His college roommate said he had just hidden the cigarette in his sleeve, so Rawson bet that he could do the trick in the nude, and he won.  In college, he became the art editor of the Ohio State College humor magazine, The Sun Dial, and was editor during his senior year.  After college, he married, moved to Chicago, and attended the The Institute of Art for a year.  Then it was off to New York to become a commercial artist, illustrator, and art director.  One of his assignments was to illustrate the book jacket for the first American edition of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Calais Coach (Murder on the Orient Express).  while in New York, Rawson gained a reputation as an up-and-coming magician, performing at the Society of American Magicians and writing columns for The Jinx and Hugard's Magic Monthly.  He performed both under his own name and as "The Great Merlini." 

Rawson entered the mysrery field in 1938 with the publication of  Death from a Top Hat, a locked room mystery featuring The Great Merlini, magician and proprietor of THE MAGIC SHOP, Miracles for Sale.  In short order, Merlini appeared in three other novels:  Footprints on the Ceiling (1939), The Headless Lady (1940), and No Coffin for the Corpse (1942), as well as in a dozen short stories published between 1946 and 1971.  

The Merlini novels led to another career as editor.  He was associate editor of True Detective Magazine (1942-46), mystery book editor for Ziff-Davis Publishing (1946-47), director of the Unicorn Mystery Book Club (1948-1952), art director for Unicorn Books (1952-1959), editor of Inner Sanctum Mysteries at Simon & Schuster (1959-1965), and managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (1963-1970).  He was a founding member of the Mystery Writers of American and coined their motto, "Crime does not pay -- enough."  He also founded MWA's first newsletter, The Third Degree, and received both the Edgar and the Raven Awards from that organization.  

Rawson also worte books on magic and co-authored a book on dice with gambling expert John Scarne.  Magic remained a major interest for Rawson, hosting two large picnics each summer -- one for mystery writers and one for magicians.  He had a full outdoor stage built in his back yard, complete with curains, a trapdoor, and spotlights, where he would perform his magic acts using his children (each in turn) as assistants, piercing them with swrods and floating them in midair.  Rawson also formed an elite group of magicians, The Witchdoctors Club.

Rawson's shorter mysery work can be found in four collections:  The Great Merlini (1979), and three collections published as by "Stuart Towne" -- Death Out of Thin Air (1941), Death from Nowhere (1943), and The Magical Mysteries of Don Diavolo (2005, which collects the stories of Rawson's other magician detective, who had first appeared as a minor character in one of the Merlini novels).

Rawson loved mysteries and magic.  We are fortunate that he found a way to combine the two.

A Bad Idea:  I live in Santa Rosa County on the Florida Panhandle, smack-dab in the middle of Trump territory.  Although he is no longer president, Trump is greatly revered by some here.  Case in point, newly-elected County Commissioner James Calkins, a Trump fanboy extraordinaire.  Calkins recently pointed out (falsely) that this month's Capitol Hill riot was caused by Antifa.  To back up his claim, he pointed to a recent (false) statement by our showboating U.S. representative Matt Gaetz, another Trump fanboy.   Evidently there was an insurrectionist who claimed to be Antifa; he turned out to be a California weirdo whose views were so extreme (and the opposite of what Antifa believes) that Antifa has been actively disowning the little Fascist.

At the same County Commisioners meeting, Calkins tried to get the board to vote to support a number of Republican-sponsored bills introduced in the statehouse, including one that would eliminate all restrictions on concealed carry for guns.  The Commissions rejected that idea, saying that most of the bills did not affect the county and publicly supporting them would not be in their pervue.

Calkins then propopsed that the County rename the Navarre Beach Bridge to the Donald J. Trump Bridge.  The bridge spans the Santa Rosa Sound to connect the town of Navarre with Navarre Beach on the Gulf of Mexico.  Calkins stated that since the County voted for Trump, this would be a fitting way for it to honor "our great president."  Yes, the majority of the County voted for Mr. YMCA, but there is this little thing about inciting an insurrection against the United States that may preclude honoring the guy in such a way.  (There is a bill sponsored in congress that would ban naming any building, school, or project for Trump, but that wouldmprobably not affect a local bridge, even if the bill passed.)  And there is the probabilty that Trump will be facing prosecution on criminal charges in the near future, not to mention the second impeachment that is looming.  So, let's not honor this "great president."

Santa Rosa County runs north to south from the Alabama border to the Gulf of Mexico and covers quite a bit of territory.  It is divided into five districts (the northernmost being Calkins' district).  The two smallest districts in size are the southernmost districts touching on the Gulf and Santa Rosa Sound.  In a special meeting in December, the representtives of the three northern districts voted to rescind a critical drinking water protection clause that would endanger the drinking water for some 86,000 residents.  The vote would eliminate restriction on the epansion of borrow pits and allow the extraction of natural resources in a protected area.  Basically what has happened is this:  a private individual purchased the mining rights to the area, knowing that further mining was prohibited; further mining of the area would endanger the aquifer that supplies water to the southern part of the county, potentially leaving its citizens without any potable water.  The vote has been opposed by the three water companies that supply water to the southern part of the county, environmentalists, real estate agents, biologists, local governments and citizens.  At the December meeting when the vote was taken it was indicated that the vote was taken to appease a single special interest.  Ah, corruption can be classic in Florida.

How Soon They Forget:   Meanwhile, in Washington, the second impeachment of Donald Trump goes apace.   The article of impeachment is to be delivered to the Senate taody and the trial is scheduled to begin on February 9.  Already Republican senators appear to be drifting toward exonorating Trump, including some Republicans who had spoken out against him immediately following the riot.  The charge, of course, is incitment.  Many of the rioters who now say they had been deceived have said they acted because the president urged them to.  Trump's words and actions clearly display his intent.  Recent revelations that he had conspired to remove the Acting Attorney General in order to replace him with a man who would try to force the state of Georgia to reverse its electoral college vote do Trump's case no good.  Republican senators are now trying to present as united a front as possible to protect Trump.  They will claim that Trump's words were taken out of context and that Trump did not intentionally incite the mob.  They will claim that the impeachment trial is not legal because Trump is no longer president.  They will parse words and split phrases to show that they themselves have no culpability.  They will point to the constitution and proudly say how they support it.  They will hope that America's short-term attention span will allow the events of little more than a month before be lessened in the public eye.  They will try to salvage their careers through Newspeak and Doublethink. In short, they will be weasels.

The fact remains that eight of these senators objected to the electoral college count and voted to overturn the election.  I'm looking at you Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tommy Tuberville, Roger Marshall, John Kennedy, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cynthia Lummis, and Rick Scott.  Others, including Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell, did what they could to overturn the election without specifically voting against the results.  These are some of the people who tried to destroy our country for their own political purposes and they should be held to account, along with Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Rudy Giuliani.

I cannot forget, nor can I forgive.  I hope you feel the same.

Celebrate!:  Today is National Bubble Wrap Day, something we can all celebrate.  It's also Robert Burns Day and tonight is Burns Night, so break out the haggis.  If that is not enough celebrating for you, it is also National Irish Coffee Day, A Room of One's Own Day, Observe the Weather Day, Flouride Day, National IV Nurse Day, Opposite Day, Thank Your Mentor Day, and Macintosh Computer Day.  If you are not into organized celebrations, just enjoy the day and the fact that you're here in this magical and marvelous world floating about in a magical and marvelous universe.

He's 'Enery the Eighth, 'e Is:  If Henry the Eighth of England did nothing more than marry six women (and dispose of five of them) he would still have a place in history.  But Henry intiated the English Reformation, splitting the Church England from Catholicism.  He also managed to make changes to the  English Constitution, iniating the concept of "divine right of kings."  Henry invested greatly in the Royal Navy, and is considered the "father of the Royal Navy."  He united England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542, and he was the first English monarch to rule as King of Ireland.  He was a charismatic and active leader when younger, and only when he became older was he the obese, lustful, egotisitic, paranoid, and tyrannical monarch who comes to mind when his name is mentioned.   The turning point seems to be jousting accident when he was 44.  That accident left him with a wound in his leg that never healed properly.  It has been speculated that the accident may have given him a brain injury the affected his body morphology and his future actions; certainly he began to display mood swings following the accident.  

But it is the wives that most people remember Henry for.  He married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, just days before his coronation in 1509.  Catherine was the widow of Henry's brother Arthur, who had died when he was 15.  (They married them off young in those days.)  Henry became disillusioned when Catherine could not produce a viable male heir.  (Two sons died shortly after birth and one died at two months; the only child to survive the marriage was Queen Mary, who married Philip II of Spain and died with no issue.)  Henry became convinced that the marriage was "blighted by God" because he has married his brother's widow.  Henry had an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine's lady-in-waiting, and it has been speculated that Mary's two daughter may have been sired by Henry, but this has never been established or acknowledged.  In 1519, Henry did have a son, Henry FitzRoy, with another mistress, Elizabeth Blount; Henry FitzRoy was acknowledge by Henry as his illegitimate son.  Henry FitzRoy died at age 17.

Henry then set his eye on Anne Boleyn, Mary's younger sister.  Ann, however, refused to become Henry's mistress.  Desperate for an heir, Henry had three choices:  declare Henry FitzRoy his legitimate heir (which would involve the intervention of the Pope), marry his daughter off and hope she would have a male son (unlikely considering their ages), or annul his marriage to Catherine and marry someone else.  The fact that someone else was available and had refused to become his mistress led Henry to the third choice.  The Pope was not in favor of the proposed annulment and this led to Henry's English Reformation.  Henry's marriage to Catherine was officially annulled on May 23, 1533.  Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn took place a few months prior, on January 25, 488 years ago to this day.

Henry's first child with Anne was a girl, who would become Queen Elizabeth I.  the three sons Anne would later carry were all stillborn.  Anne marriage, while it lasted, was a fiery one.  Anne was opinionated and refused to be subservient to Henry.  She also had a quick temper.  Henry thought Anne's failure to give him a son was a betrayal.  While Henry considering ways to get rid of Anne, he had a six-month affair with one of the Shelton sisters -- either Madge of Mary -- who were Anne's cousins.  In January of 1536, Catherine of Aragon died.  Later that month, Henry was gravely wounded in the jousting accident that would follow him for the rest of his life.  Anne, pregnant and knowing that if she did not produce an heir this time her marriage was over, miscarried from the shock of Henry's accident.  That was it for the marriage.  There were allegations of treason, adultery, and witchcraft.  Five men, including Anne's own brother, were arrested for treasonable adultery and having sexual relations with the queen.  Anne was then arrested for treasonable adultery and incest.  Although there was little or no evidence, she was found guilty.  Henry's marriage to Anne was annulled on May 17, 1936.  Two days later she was beheaded.

 Henry was then free to marry his latest mistress, Jane Seymour, who had been one of anne's ladies-in-waiting.  Henry and Jane were married eleven days after Anne was executed.  Jane gave birth to a male son for Henry, the future King Edward VI.  Jane died twelve days laters from complications from the childbirth.  Henry's thrid marriage lasted a little under a year and a half.  Edward VI eventually inherited the crown from Henry but died, without issue, at age 15.

Henry's fourth marriage was to Anne of Cleves, the 25-year-old sister of the Duke of Cleves, who would be an important ally if there were a Roman Catholic attack on England.  Henry agreed to the marriage after seeing a flattering portrait of Anne painted by Hans Holbein the Younger.  Very shortly after their marriage in 1540, Henry wanted out -- he had become enamoured with another woman, 17-year-old Catherine Howard, the niece of the Duke of Norfolk.  Anne was agreeable to dissolving the marriage and it was annulled (Anne claimed the marriage was never consummated) some six months after the ceremony.  Anne made off with two houses, a generous allowance, and the title of "The King's sister."

On July 28, 1540, Henry married Catherine Howard, just 17 days after the marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.  Henry's young wife then went on to have an affair with Thmas Culpeper, a courtier, and she also placed her former fiance and lover, Francis Dereham, as her secretary.  Discretion was evidently not part of Catherine's vocabulary.  Accused of having an affair with Dereham, Catherine said that her had forced her into an adulterous relationship.  For his part, vexed at Catherine, Dereham revealed her affair with Culpeper.  Culpeper and dereham were both executed and Catherine was beheaded on February 15, 1542.

Henry's sixth wife, Catherine Parr, was a wealthy widow.  They were married July 12, 1543.   She managed to reconcile Henry with his daughters, Mary and Eizabeth, and they were included in the royal succession after Edward.  The marriage lasted until Henry's death on January 28, 1547, at age 55.  Folowing Henry's death Edward VI, then only nine, became king.  Sixteen executors were appointed to a council of regency until Edward should turn 18, with Edward Seymour, Jane Seymour's older brother, named Lord Protector of the Realm.  When Edward died at age 15, the crown went to Queen Mary I (Henry's daughter with Catherine of Aragon), but she died without an heir a year later, and the crown was them passed to Elizabeth I, who ruled until 1603.

Modern Homes:  Once upon a time you could buy a do-it-yourself home from the Sears catalog.  We can harken back to those days with the Fall 1914-Spring 1915 Beautiful Homes Catalog from Sears. Roebuck and Co., Chicago.  For as little as $393 you can get the materials to build your own home.  Sears also sold barns, corn cribs, hog houses, chicken houses, silos, and more.  What a bargain!  (Assuming you had some skill and knowledge to assemble all the pieces.)

Check them out.

Little Audrey:  Little Audrey began as a folklore character in the early 20th century.  She often had other names (Little Emma, Little Gertrude) and was typically the instigator or the butt of cruel jokes.  She was known for having "just laughed and laughed."

She became an animated cartoon character from Paramlount Picture's Famous Studios in 1947.  The Little Audrey cartoons would run until 1958.  She appeared in comics books from 1948 to 1952 from St. John Publications, after which she was licensed by Harvey comicsand appered in  their titles uintil 1976.  she is now the property of DreamWorks Animation and has been modernized in the Networks animated show Harvey Street Kids (retitled in its second season as Harvey Girls Forever!).

Here she is in 1950's Goofy Goofy Gander:

Florida Man:

  • Nine Florida Men have been accused so far of participating in the Capitol Hill riots earlier this month.  Sme, like Bradley Weeks, a former Baker County Sheriff's Office employee, was stupid enough to video himself taking part in the seige and later admitted to a newspaper that he had entered the Capitol Building.  Joseph Biggs, of Orlando, is a Proud Boy organizer who was arrested by federal agents in Florida this week; Biggs stated that he had no knowledge of the planning of the attack and did not know who organized it. Police went to arrest Samuel Camargo of Broward County on Tuesday on four counts stemming from the riot, only to discover that he was in Washington.  He later told authorities he knew there was a warrant out for him but decided to attend the inauguration rather than turn himself in.  Other Florida Men arrested (and I have no problem naming them) were Adam Johnson, Andrew Williams, Mike Curizo, Gabriel Garcia, Daniel Baker, and Jesus Rivera.
  • Florida Woman Ashly Kesler, 27, of Boca Raton, was arrested after behind found passed out from alcolhol in her car while her seven-month old daughter was found outside the car with her head under the driver's side front tire; the infant was bleeding from the head and her clothing was covered in blood.  Found in the car were a loaded gun and a half-empty bottle of Hennesey brandy, both of which would have been within reach of the baby had she been in the car.  Kesler did not realize that her child was no longer in the car.
  • A bill has beennintroduced by Leon county lawmakers to strip the name of Florida Dead Man and late Florida Supreme Court justice B. K. (Bonnie Kaslow) Roberts from the College Law building at Florida State University.  Roberts authored a 1957 opinion that barred a black man from enrolling in the school.  A lwayer, land speculator, and car dealership owner, Roberts represented both moonshiners and the politically connected.  He managed a losing gubernatorial campaign for a former KKK member.  Colleagues who worked with Roberts described him as an unrepentant racist until his death.  So maybe it's a good idea to strip his name off the Law Center.

Some Happy News:
  • A rock has been found that, when opened, revealed the image of the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.  (Nothing earth-shaking here, but I thought it was cute.)
  • Salmon are spawning for the first time in eighty years in the Unpper Columbia River
  • In 15 months he went from 441 pounds to 216 pounds and now he's running marathons
  • Volunteers remove over 4 and 1/2 tons of trash from one of america's dirtiest rivers
  • Here are some plants to cultivate in your yard to help bees and butterflies thrive and pollinate
  • When a student could not pay tuition fees, these prisoners raised $32,000 to help
  • Capitol Hill Police Officer Eugene Goodman escorted Kamala Harris at the inauguration.  (Goodman was the officer who diverted a large group of rioters from where legislators were sheltering.  His bravery and deication should be an inspiration to us all.)
  • By the way, Amanda Gorman, the amazing young poet who inspired so many at the inauguration, had to overcome a speech impediment to find her voice

Today's Poem:

I love all films that start with rain:

rain, braiding a window pane

or darkening a hung-out dress

or streaming down her upturned face;

one big thundering downpour

right through the empty script and score

before the act, before the blame,

before the lens pulls through the frame

to where a woman sits alone

beside a silent telephone

or the dress lies ruined on the grass

or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source

alpng their fatal watercourse.

However bad or overlong

such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twanf shows through

or when the boom dips into view

or when her speech starts to betray

its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold

on a starlit gutter, running gold

with the neon drugstore sign

and I'd read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood --

all was washed clean with the flood

we rose up from the falling waters

the fallen rain's own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

-- Don Paterson

1 comment:

  1. I always wonder how long it takes to put all of this together. You should have been a professor! (Or maybe you were).