Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button & other items of interest

It has been awhile since I've updated the Basement Blog, so I thought this might be an opportune time. Long time listeners to the Basement may have noticed that I have not been following my usual schedule of posting a new Episode every single day. Essentially, there are a lot of technical issues at the moment preventing this, as the Podcast Server I use,, is being updated and tweaked to handle the huge amounts of traffic the client podcasts generate (in actuality, Mister Ron's Basement has been grabbing incredible amounts of bandwidth, with an average of twenty-thousand downloads a day).

Anyway, I did manage to get in a couple of wonderful Episodes before the uploading door shut for a while, and you are highly encouraged to download these and give a listen.

The first was posted on Christmas Eve. It was a truly rare Spoopendyke Christmas story that was apparently written for the Washington Post. I have not been able to find it in the Brooklyn Eagle archives at all. It's called 'Mrs. Spoopendyke's Christmas Gift.' You'll find it at:

or you can directly download the audio file at:

What really makes this exceptional is that I absolutely was positive that there were no more Spoopendyke stories to be found anywhere. So far, I have read over ninety different Spoopendyke tales by Stanley Huntley on the Basement podcast, and this may be most comprehensive collection of these works anyone has ever put together. Huntley's career as a humorist was cut short by debilitating illness and an early death, and he apparently sent these stories out to a number of publications besides the Brooklyn Eagle.

Once we get new Basement episodes going again, I have another Spoopendyke story ready, that appeared in The Washington Post late in 1884, long after Huntley was replaced at the Eagle by Robert J. Burdette.

Meanwhile here's a short, intriguing item the Post reprinted in 1882 from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

American Humor

It is a sad fact that American humorists, as a class, resemble precocious children, Let them do one thing at which the world laughs, and they will repeat the performance over again with a persistence and a mad hankering to please which makes justifiable homicide a relaxation as well as a duty. Stanley Huntley's "Spoopendyke Papers" were good at first, but anybody could write them now. The humor is strictly machine work, but "Mr. Spoopendyke" grinds at his comparison mill with a fresh and breezy conviction that his fund does not pall upon repetition. Mark Twain's jokes are the result of a plain, chemical formula; given a man's chair, a dark night and a tumble, and a grammar school boy could construct a witticism which Mr. Clements (sic) would swear was his own. Bill Nye has little receipt for humor just as George W. Peck has his, and Peck could write Nye's stuff just as Nye could write Eugene Field's, or Aleck Swart write Josh Billings's. What we complain of is that there is no spontaneity about recent humorous writers. These amusing gentlemen would as soon think of tampering with the Lord's prayer as altering the form made or expression of their wit. They seem to think that that when they have a good thing they should stick to it. A patented style of humor may, as the country grows older, pass as an heirloom in certain families, and it would be no surprise to us were we to revisit the pale glimpses of the moon five centuries hence, discover a descendant of Stanley Huntley writing that all "Mrs. Spoopendyke" needed to be Eve was to add a few years to her age.

While there is certainly much that can be taken issue with in this article, at the least with its comments on Mark Twain's work, I kind of like the idea of the inheritors of Huntley's mantle on the moon, well, four centuries from now, attempting to crank out tales of the Spoopendykes.

Anyway, the second Christmas Episode I managed to post was number 1246, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." This is complete, original, lengthy short story as published in Collier's Magazine in 1921. Christmas Day also saw the public opening of the movie somewhat based on this story featuring Brad Pitt as the title character, and Cate Blanchett in a terrific role that was not in the original tale.

The movie is terrific, and I recommend seeing it, at the least, for the wonderful set and costume designs. But as fine as the movie is, the story is a work of genius, a rare indulgence in pure fantasy for F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had a lot of fun reading it, and attempted to make it lively and interesting to hear. It is almost an hour long and can be found at:

If you want to download the sound file directly, point your browser to:

Your comments are more than welcome.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

1905 Ghostbusters story

Back in 1905, Gellet Burgess (most well known today for his poem Purple Cow) published a little tale called The Ghost-Extinguisher, about a scientist who discovers a Japanese technique for disabling ghosts and putting them in jars. The scientist refines the process a bit:

Such elusive spirits are able to pass through walls and elude pursuit with ease. It became necessary for me to obtain some instrument by which their capture could be conveniently effected. The ordinary fire-extinguisher of commerce gave me the hint as to how the problem could be solved. One of these portable hand-instruments I filled with the proper chemicals. When inverted, the ingredients were commingled in vacuo and a vast volume of gas was liberated. This was collected in the reservoir provided with a rubber tube having a nozzle at the end. The whole apparatus being strapped upon my back, I was enabled to direct a stream of powerful precipitating gas in any desired direction, the flow being under control through the agency of a small stopcock. By means of this ghost-extinguisher I was enabled to pursue my experiments as far as I desired.

Yeah, it sure sounds like the devices Bill Murray & pals were using in the film Ghostbusters. There's some other interesting similarities to the movie as well, although the story is obviously different. So let's just call it inspirational and enjoy.

Since the story is in the public domain, I Bowlderized it just a tad -- my apologies to purists who feel this thing shouldn't be done, and to people who are sensitive to the 1905 language that wouldn't be tolerated today. In the story, Burgess uses the term "Japs" much more than the designation "Japanese," so I changed them all to Japanese (the nationality is kind of crucial to the story). He also utilized racist dialogue like:

“You hully up, bling me one pair bellows pletty quick!” he commanded.

That I tried to change as much as possible in my reading. I hope I succeeded.

I welcome your comments on this discovery. It is Mister Ron's Basement Episode Number 1189, and can be found at:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Counterfeit Spoopendyke Stories?

Mister Ron's Basement Episode # 1157 features some very funny Stanley Huntley stories and two Spoopendyke curiosities from 1882. The first one is called Spoopendyke at the Telephone, which we found in the Brooklyn Eagle, but not in the regular Sunday Salad column, and credited to the Portland, Oregon Welcome. This piece is obviously not a real Spoopendyke story (it doesn't even try to sound like one), and nobody back then would have confused it with the real thing.

The second oddity is called Spoopendyke Starts a Fire, and it presents a bit of a conundrum. This tale almost sounds like an authentic Huntley piece, and the North Carolina newspaper I found it in claims to have gotten it from the Brooklyn Eagle. Yet, there is something...wrong with it!

First of all, diligent searching has not turned the piece up in the Brooklyn Eagle archives. Secondly, the story is simply too short, and really does not make any point. Mr. Spoopendyke's sarcasm is not as sharply biting (or as clever) as usual. The author calls the characters "Mr. S." and "Mrs S." which Huntley simply did not do. There is a reference to the story taking place "the morning after the sardines had been disposed of," referring to the famous Opening Sardines story from the previous year. Yes, Huntley did sometimes refer to previous events in older stories, but this reference seems uncharacteristic.

There are other parts of the story that don't quite make it either. 

The question, then, is why would the Raleigh News and Observer create a fake Spoopendyke tale? Well, these stories were immensely popular, and they sold newspapers. Copyright laws were not too rigidly enforced back in the 1880s, and in fact, most newspapers reprinted from each other on a widespread basis without payment. Almost every newspaper of the period had a scissors man on staff. Huntley certainly engaged in this practice as did many other well-known writers of the 19th Century, including Mark Twain.

An 1880 story, Mr. Spoopendyke's Free Seats, had Huntley himself as a character (The Salad Man), complaining how his creations were being stolen by a long list of newspapers. So, at least IMHO, it is a good possibilty that Spoopendyke Starts a Fire was a fake, written by someone on staff at the Raleigh News and Observer to generate circulation during one of Huntley's many dry spells.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Indexing Blues

Yes, Mister Ron is still alive, but hasn't updated this blog for months (the podcast is still being updated daily, and the stories are as good as ever!).

We are working on building a complete Index of all the episodes, and it is coming slowly. Nevertheless, we are well over halfway finished, encoding the thing in raw html. Once it is done, you will be able to click on lots of individual author indexes, such as the one we have built for Stanley Huntley.

So hang in there!

Comments are always welcome...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Spoopendyke Index!

While awaiting the August switch to a new server and the resumption of new episodes of Mister Ron's Basement, we have put together a menu of ALL Stanley Huntley/Spoopendyke episodes! 

If you haven't heard these, you owe it to yourself to discover the writings of the funniest, most brilliant of 19th Century American Humorists! You can read more about Huntley in some of the earlier entries in this blog, but your best bet is to jump to the index and start listening to these stories in any order.

Through diligent research we have found over eighty Spoopendyke stories, and have included many other classic funny gems that appeared in newspapers and magazines around the planet in the early 1880s. The menu is easily accessible at:

Don't miss them!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Somewhat fixed -- taking a short vacation!

Okay! The Mister Ron's Basement web page is back up, BUT please note -- as a temporary fix for some technical problems, only the most recent 100 episodes will appear on the web page for a while. All 1100 plus episodes are still available via iTunes using the "Subscribe" button. Also, the George Ade and Fortunate Island indexes still work. We will hold off on posting new episodes after this for just a while as we wait for the repairs... 

UPDATE (7-15-08) -- Actually, at this point, the 100+ episodes are only available if you already subscribed while they were up on the web site. If you subscribe now, you can only get the last 100 episodes. The indexes of older episodes and links to specific episodes from, say, Wikipedia entries, still work! With a bit of luck, this will all be fixed ASAP. If there's a particular episode you need a direct link to, let me know.

Confused yet?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Podcast Host Down (sort of)

Most of the listeners to
Mister Ron's Basement know that I have performed the podcast episodes daily, as in seven days a week, for most of the last three years.

The hosting service I have used is, and it has been incredibly reliable for most of this time, and the most amazing bargain in all of podcasting. The owner of the service is currently dealing with some technical difficulties that are making things just a little flaky, and they probably won't be solved for a couple more weeks. 

This is understandable. Things happen. Running a podcast server is only slightly less difficult than running a national television broadcast network. maybe more so, because he is doing it without the help of hundreds of highly paid engineers.

Okay. So I am asking Basement listeners to be patient. I will post new episodes when I can, but it may take a while. 

However (this gets interesting), the server's XML feed still works like a charm. This is where the actual episodes are stored. For example, the most recent episode can still be heard by clicking here

The only problem is with the web site that you normally go to if you want to read about and get the episodes.  That is fried right now. If you do manage to get in (sometimes it comes up for air for a few minutes), you can leave it up in your browser, and click on the "Listen" links in a new window or tab.

Also, you can go to iTunes by clicking here, and you can get any of the existing episodes there. The most recent 300 episodes are on that main menu page, and all of the 1100 plus episodes are available by clicking on the "subscribe" button. 

So unless you've heard every episode so far, there's still plenty to listen to until things get back to normal.

By the way, the above image of Mister Ron was drawn by the extraordinarily talented veteran comics artist Jose Delbo. I've been a huge fan of his for ages. Thanks Jose!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Peck's Bad Boy

We have been featuring stories about Peck's Bad Boy by George W. Peck in the Basement. They're pretty funny and worth a listen. Of all Peck's humorous writing, the Bad Boy stories, first appearing in the 1880s, were the most popular, staying in print for over a century. The Bad Boy wasn't the first character of that sort, and certainly not the last. Mischievous kids have been a staple of television and comic strips for a long time. But Peck's nasty kid was probably the nastiest of them all. He played truly mean pranks on his father and others, such as the Grocery Man, but they were always clever and imaginative.

In 1921, a feature film was made of Peck's Bad Boy, starring Jackie Coogan, fresh from his co-starring role in Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. Coogan later achieved fame as an adult, playing the role of Uncle Fester on the TV series, The Addams Family. The silent film, directed by Sam Wood, who would later achieve lasting fame as the director of the Marx Bros. movie A Night at the Opera, was full of great gags. Coogan was marvelously full of spunk and nastiness.

Ten years later, another version of the story was filmed starring young Jackie Cooper as the Bad Boy, but it was marred with too much sentimentality and toned-down pranks.

No doubt, Peck's Bad Boy could easily be updated to modern times in a new movie, and if properly handled, would be extremely funny, and outrage stuffed shirts around the nation again.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stephen Leacock

From time to time, we feature stories by Stephen Leacock in the Basement. This week, we've spotlighted four stories written very early in his career (from the 1890s), including one that was not reprinted in his 1910 collection, Literary Lapses

While Mister Ron's Basement primarily focuses on American authors, Leacock is a great big Exception To The Rule. Much too simplistically, people refer to him as "the Canadian Mark Twain," yet there is some truth to that generalization. Even though he began his humorous writing career decades before, his fame really began to spread dramatically in 1910, right about the time of Twain's passing.

Much of his writing centers on Canadian culture and people, especially his 1912 masterpiece, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, dealing with the inhabitants of a fictional rural place he called Mariposa. Some day we may serialize the story in the Basement.  Meanwhile, there is a spoken word version of Sunshine Sketches produced by Librivox here. Since 1947, the most prestigious award for Canadian humorists has been the Leacock Award. Generally speaking though, many of his humorous tales strike a Universal Chord, and hold up remarkably well, almost a century after they were written.

Of course, Leacock was once as popular in the U.S. as any American humorist. His work appeared in American newspapers and magazines, and his books sold like hotcakes.  Somehow or other, his fame in the U.S. slipped over the years. I first learned of him decades ago, when I discovered that he was a huge influence on Groucho Marx and Jack Benny. I found dusty, unread volumes of his in the public library, checked them out and became a fan. Mister Ron's Basement Episode Number One is a Leacock story. 

Most Canadians will talk about Leacock as an old friend when you bring him up. Most Americans today say, "Who?" when you bring up his name. This is a shame. This guy needs to be taught in American schools right along with Twain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rube Goldberg

The Basement is featuring some extremely short, but sometimes very funny recipes from the 1922 collection The Stag Cook Book -- Written for Men by Men. The recipe in episode number 1096 is for Hash, written by cartoonist Rube Goldberg -- if ever a Rube Goldberg contraption could be put in a recipe this is the man who could do it. Give it a listen, and if you'd like some more Goldberg, there's a copy of his 1912 sheet music for the song I'm the Guy over here. You can hear the song as recorded by Billy Murray around 1913 at this link.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bill Nye

No, not "Bill Nye, the Science Guy," but the original, whom I like to call "Bill Nye, the Nineteenth Century Guy."

His real name was Edgar Wilson Nye, and he was one of America's most popular humorists until he died at the age of forty-six in 1896.

His pen name was actually taken from a character in one of Bret Harte's most famous (or infamous, if you will) poems, "Plain Language from Truthful James," published in the Overland Monthly in 1870, and later on widely reprinted for decades as "The Heathen Chinee." Harte himself said it was "the worst poem I ever wrote, possibly the worst poem anybody ever wrote."  The poem is about a Chinese card sharp pretending to be totally ignorant of the game, and a cowboy named Bill Nye, whom he tries to trick. Here is the poem, for better or worse:

Which I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to explain.

Ah Sin was his name;
And I shall not deny,
In regard to the same,
What that name might imply;
But his smile it was pensive and childlike,
As I frequent remarked to Bill Nye.

It was August the third,
And quite soft was the skies;
Which it might be inferred
That Ah Sin was likewise;
Yet he played it that day upon William
And me in a way I despise.

Which we had a small game,
And Ah Sin took a hand:
It was Euchre. The same
He did not understand;
But he smiled as he sat by the table,
With the smile that was childlike and bland.

Yet the cards they were stocked
In a way that I grieve,
And my feelings were shocked
At the state of Nye's sleeve,
Which was stuffed full of aces and bowers,
And the same with intent to deceive.

But the hands that were played
By that heathen Chinee,
And the points that he made,
Were quite frightful to see, --
Till at last he put down a right bower,
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me.

Then I looked up at Nye,
And he gazed upon me;
And he rose with a sigh,
And said, "Can this be?
We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor," --
And he went for that heathen Chinee.

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed
Like the leaves on the strand
With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game "he did not understand."

In his sleeves, which were long,
He had twenty-four packs, --
Which was coming it strong,
Yet I state but the facts;
And we found on his nails, which were taper,
What is frequent in tapers, -- that's wax.

Which is why I remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar, --
Which the same I am free to maintain.

The nickname stuck to Edgar Wilson Nye like glue for the rest of his life. He was an educated man, born in Maine, who spent a good number of years in Wisconsin, and after migrating to the wilderness of Laramie, Wyoming, set up shop as postmaster and the proprietor of a weekly newspaper called "The Laramie Boomerang" in 1881 (which is still being published to this day).

The Boomerang catapulted Nye to fame. It was filled with witty stories, and rough and tumble crude frontier humor. The stories were often reprinted in other newspapers around the world. and circulation of the Boomerang rose to record levels. 

Nye went on tour, often with poet James Whitcomb Riley, and eventually moved to New York and North Carolina, where he died of meningitis (there were some contemporaries who claimed he drank himself to death after a string of disappointing stage performances).

We will go into more detail here regarding Nye in the future, but it really is worth going to the Basement podcast web site and searching out his many fun stories that I have read. As ever, your comments are welcome.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Running Out of Spoopendykes

I think the count may be close to about eighty now, but it seems that we are fast running out of Stanley Huntley's Spoopendyke stories! Huntley only did these things for the last five years of his life, and many of them did not appear in the Brooklyn Eagle, but in the extremely hard-to-find Drake's Traveller's Magazine. We have managed to get some Spoopendyke stories that were reprinted from Drake's in contemporary newspapers, in New York and New Zealand, but there aren't many of those left to read.

Still, Huntley wrote lots of funny stuff besides tales of Mr. and Mrs. Spoopendyke, and we usually try to feature some of those pieces in the Basement's Sunday Salad feature. These include his tales of cowboys, miners, and other wild and wooly folk from out west, stories of con men, gamblers, crooked politicians and preachers, nutty inventors, and other loonies from Brooklyn. He also did a handful of stories of Mr. and Mrs. Breezy -- not as well-defined as the Spoopendykes, but generally making fun of modern life and manners. And of course, there are lots of spoofs of popular authors of his day, such as the "Jules Verne, Jr." story we read a while back.

So the big question to you, the listeners of Mister Ron's Basement, is whether we should continue with Sunday Salad without the Spoopendykes (except when we stumble into an undiscovered story), or should we put the series on the shelf, and replace it with something else -- maybe the poetry of Eugene Field?

Please post your reply here, or send an email to We'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Podfinder UK!

Well, Mister Ron's Basement has become the subject of review in a fun British video podcast called Podfinder UK. It's one of five programs covered in Episode #45, which can be found at The program is pretty entertaining and is well worth watching lots of episodes...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Once A Week is BACK!

Our companion podcast, Mister Ron's Once A Week, after a hiatus of almost two years, is now back with a new format that ought to work! The earlier episodes each featured multiple items, reviews of books, comics, movies, television shows, music, and included fiction. This got to be too much for me, and never was practical to do on a weekly basis (especially while doing the Basement podcast seven days a week).

Nevertheless, the nine episodes done in 2006 remained posted, and surprisingly pulled in 200-300 downloads a day up through the present!

Our new format will offer one item or so per episode. The first one with this format is episode number 10, featuring a review of the IRON MAN movie. Our next one will cover a graphic novel or two, and so on...

Please drop by and check it out. Your comments are welcome.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ready, Set, Start Your Research!

Once in a while I like to give away secrets, and this is one of those times. To your left, you will see a bunch of links called Research Sources for Public Domain Writing. Some of these took years for me to find, and here they are for you to use all wrapped up neatly like a birthday present! These are not, by a long shot, all of my sources for Public Domain material, but they are a real good starting point. You'll find plenty there to get you started, at least, and bit by bit, I will be adding more to this resource list.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Strange Coincidence in Mister Ron's Basement

This one is just plain odd. If you take a look at the Basement episode featuring the second part of Stanley Huntley's Jules Verne spoof, A Trip to the South Pole, you might notice that was posted on the evening of April 15th, and just happens to be Episode Number 1040!


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Another Rarity Found!

Back on March 9th, I wrote about a Stanley Huntley story that I had been searching for unsuccessfully:

The other rarity that has so far been beyond my reach is his science fiction story, A Trip to the South Pole, which was collected in the 1973 book At the Mountains of Murkiness and Other Parodies, edited by George Locke. The book claims the story was originally published back in 1899, fourteen years after Huntley died, so it may be something that Florence dug out of his papers and published somewhere to raise money, or it may have been reprinted in 1899 from someplace else, or may have been by someone else named Stanley Huntley! In any event, I have found copies of this book on some dealers lists for outrageous amounts of money, so I will probably have to wait a long time to see it.

Well, it has turned up! The Brooklyn Daily Eagle archive never showed it in a search, but I stumbled into it. Apparently, even though the story (presented over the course of three Sunday editions in 1880) was put into Huntley's Sunday Salad feature, the author was credited as "Jules Verne, Jr." 

A Trip to the South Pole is a great spoof of the French Science Fiction master's works from a contemporary satirist of the first rank! Keep an eye out for it to begin on April 15th!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mr. Bowser

We have been presenting stories about Mr. Bowser since August of 2006 every Saturday, and it seems that we will continue to do so for quite a while longer. Created by Charles Bertrand Lewis for the Detroit Free Press back in 1886, Lewis, writing under the pen name of 'M. Quad,' continued relating the old grouch's adventures every week until his death in 1924! Afterward, his son continued writing Bowser tales (and stories about other M. Quad characters) for a while longer under the name of "M. Quad Jr." Of all the humorists we have featured on Mister Ron's Basement, Lewis's career was among the longest lived (other funny folks vying for that title include George Ade and Stephen Leacock). 

Lewis was not a genius by any account. He fell back on formula writing for much of his career. In 1903, H. L. Mencken was mystified that he had to keep running the M. Quad weekly feature due to reader demand, even though he thought it was old fashioned even then. He also noted that Lewis provided extra work for freelance ghost writers to crank out his material, much like many comic strip artists have done over the years.

You can read a bit more about M. Quad in a previous post on this blog here. While he began his long  humor writing career by barely surviving a tragic explosion, he became wealthy and admired, lived a long and happy life, and raised a family who aided his efforts into his old age.

For the past few weeks, we have been featuring the very first Mr. Bowser stories ever written, starting in 1886. Many of them are actually quite funny and fresh, undoubtedly because Lewis was writing them himself, and for the first time.  They began with Basement episode #1022, and get funnier every week. Check them out!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fan Mail from some flounder?

As Bullwinkle would ask, of course. Yes indeed, we do get the occasional bit of fan mail, and a review here and there as well.

For example, Maria Lectrix, whose charming podcast (not on iTunes) covering public domain novels, epic poetry, and Catholic religious books, hit the one thousand mark long before we did, wrote this on her web site:

Mr. Ron’s Basement, for those unlucky enough not to know it and fortunate enough to have it all before them, is one of the earliest and best literary podcasts. Its mission is simple: to read forgotten short stories. The Basement is mostly full of funny tales, but there are also a good many serious ones. Occasionally Mr. Ron branches into novels. He adorns each podcast with good public domain or podcast-safe music, and discusses his unknown authors’ biographies. Mostly, though, he appears to have a lot of fun.

Maria Lectrix is not, to be honest, a podcast in what has come to be the full meaning of the word. I use podcasting as a method of distribution, not an artform; what I provide is something like a serialized audiobook service. That’s not a bad thing, but that’s all it is.

Mr. Ron has been creating something quite a bit more artistic, civilized, and difficult.

My thousandth segment was a mere matter of endurance. His thousandth episode will be a milepost of rare beauty and joy. Be sure to be there.

To Mr. Ron’s Basement, and to Mr. Ron! Ars longa!

Maria Lectrix's podcast can be found at

Pete Anderson, known as Pete Lit, from Chicago, writes fine fiction, and writes about fiction on his blog (, and has commented on Mister Ron's Basement a couple of times in the past. His comment on The Best of Mister Ron's Basement three CD set was music to my eyes anyway:

I was quite pleased to see that the collection includes Ade's "The Fable of the Author Who Was Sorry for What He Did to Willie", which is quite possibly the most laugh-out-loud-funny story I've ever heard, in terms of both Ade's brilliant writing and Evry's impeccable delivery.

Thanks Pete!

Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Most Famous Man in America (a gripping and remarkable book about Henry Ward Beecher -- a must read!) wrote to me:

These people, the forgotten popular writers of the mid-century, were a centerpiece of my Ph.D. dissertation so I am, perhaps, your ideal listener.  It's really neat!  I wish I'd known about this when I was writing the book....

and you can read a sample chapter of her book there and order one afterwards if you like.

I have received many other emails from both academics and listeners who download the podcasts just to enjoy them. Last month the Basement averaged around 3500 downloads a day, seven days a week. So far this month (it's still early), we're pulling in 4000-5000 downloads a day. Somebody is listening!

Mister Ron's Basement was recently reviewed by Greg and Clea in their podcast about podcasts (and other things) called Upon Further Review. It is episode number 57, and can be found at They had an interesting take on the Basement, and they do make some valid points. It is true that the Mister Ron web site is something of an unorganized mess, the result of popping one episode after another on the page for over three years. This does indeed make it hard to find things a listener may be looking for without resorting to using a browser's "find" command. Sorry. I would love to fix this up and index everything. One of these days, if I get enough time, I will get around to it.

Meanwhile, my suggestion is for new listeners to just randomly browse around, much as they might glance through a crammed old bookstore, and see what strikes their fancy. If you're looking for, say, stories by Stephen Leacock, you will need to press "Control-F" on a Windows machine or "Command-F" on a Mac and dig up the episodes that way. Chances are good, that most casual listeners will not have heard of most of these authors, so a bit of exploration may be in order.

One thing mentioned in the Upon Further Review podcast that I may take issue with is their claim that most of these authors are not remembered today because they weren't as good as, say Charles Dickens, to use their example. This is hardly the case. In fact, all too many of Dickens's works would be met with total confusion by the average American today, and only the most persistent of academics make the effort to read everything he has written. There is no doubt in my mind that film and television versions of his stories have made it likely that more Americans are familiar with and comprehend the Mr. Magoo cartoon of A Christmas Carol than such dialogue as:

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

Still, there is no doubt that some of the language in many of the stories read in the Basement is old-fashioned, but they are, by and large, English. And it should be just as likely to find something funny in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1846 tale of women cramming below deck on a slow riverboat, or George Ade's turn of the century Fables in Slang, or Stanley Huntley's eminently satirical Salad pieces, as it would be to laugh at Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, in its original form.

Many of these authors have become forgotten for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they fall out of fashion and nobody is left alive with a financial interest to bother keeping the works in print. As an example,  even though Stanley Huntley died in 1885, his Spoopendyke stories remained in print and were quite popular until about the time his wife Florence died in 1912. She died childless, and there was nobody to handle the legacy. George Horatio Derby died in 1861, and he never received a dime for the books of his newspaper writings during his lifetime, yet they remained in print continuously to this day! The average reader may not have heard of the guy, but his writing is still funny. 

In 1906, Ellis Parker Butler (whose Perkins of Portland stories could have been written last week, as far as topicality goes), wrote this about Brick Pomeroy, an author we featured in the Basement last week:

"In the field of pure nonsense I know nothing funnier than "Brick" Pomeroy's introduction to his book, 'Nonsense.' It is too long to quote, but the desired effect is gained by keeping up the nonsense at great length." 

So here is the introduction he mentions, from 1868. I think it's a scream:

My father determined to bind me out as an apprentice to a fine old gentleman whose daughter was in love with a young man who lived with his father down the river which in the spring time was so swollen by the rains that it was important not to cross it except in a skiff tied to a buttonwood tree by a chain which cost five dollars at the hardware store on the corner of the street in the village where each Sabbath morning the minister told his many congregation which would have been larger had it not been for the habit so many people had of staying away from all places of good instruction without which not a single person in the village would have been safe for a moment from the members of a band of desperadoes whose retreat was in the bowels of a huge mountain, on whose healthy sides the birds sang all the day long as if to remind the weary passer-by that in all well-regulated families there exists a cause for the effect be it great like the late war which was a fearful struggle on both sides for the original position held by the covered wagon of my father. 

Who can wonder at the infatuation of the youth when he saw his own true love in the power of the Indian whose scalping-knife hung suspended from a tree over the grave where a small picket fence had been erected by a boy who saw the fire burst forth devouring in an hour the fruit of a lifetime of toil which unrewarded leaves no recompense to strengthen the soul of man as he wars with evils that beset the path which led to the trysting-tree which had by this time been cut down to make room for a large hotel where the sound of revelry by night was heard booming over the still waters of the lake as the moon shone down upon the sailor-boy stood on a burning deck! 

At this moment the breeching gave way and the horse plunged over the precipice, which at this point ran nearly a thousand cubic feet into the cave where the serpent had taken refuge from the coming storm which threatened to burst forth and destroy the entire plan of the temple on which if the workmen had been employed to save the child ere it struck, the bottom of the well down which the bucket descended bringing up the purest ice-water rivalling the alabaster neck of the wounded sufferer whose death happened to plunge the entire city in mourning.

So, yep, they don't write 'em like that anymore. To which I say (and maybe a few thousand other listeners), too bad they don't.

Anyway, thanks for the review, Greg and Clea. I wish you success with your podcast. I found it fun to listen too, and I do appreciate the positive and negative comments you made, and I do urge all my listeners to check out their show. Greg did mention that he might want to get back to commenting about The Basement when he's heard 150 or so episodes. I hope he does get that far.

Of course, comments are always welcome here in the blog, or via email at

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Secret of Max Adeler's Name

Regular listeners to Mister Ron's Basement are probably quite familiar now with the humorous stories of Max Adeler, who wrote some of the most outrageously funny stories of all time in the 1870s. Adeler's real name was Charles Heber Clark. In 1995, Professor David Ketterer issued a beautiful book called "Charles Heber Clark; A Family Memoir," containing Clark's autobiography, which he had written for his family between 1906 and 1912, and also included various notes and annotations by Ketterer, as well as a reproduction of of the novelette "Fortunate Island" (which we have read on the Basement). The edition is well worth owning, long out-of-print, and usually costs more on the used market than original 1870s editions of Adeler's books.

When Clark first started writing humor for newspapers, he used the silly punnish pen name of "Quill." Later he adopted a better pen name. In the autobiography, Clark states:

"I wrote under the name of "Max Adeler," which belonged to a character in a little story book I was fond of when I was a boy."

In the footnotes, Ketterer wrote:

"I have not been able to identify the "little story book" containing the "Max Adeler" character."

Well, I found it!

The book is called "Island Home Castaways" by Christopher Romaunt, who was actually James F. Bowman. It was first published in the US in 1852 (right about the time Clark was eleven years old). A British edition of the book can be found on Google Books for free download as a pdf file at  this site.

The raw text that was used in preparation for a Gutenberg edition can be found (at least for a while) at:

Essentially, the story concerns six castaway youths on an island. One of them is named "Max Adeler." Here is a revealing quote from the book:

"That now, is positively diabolical!" exclaimed Max, from his covert among the creepers, where he was completely invisible, except his heels, which were kicking in the air; "I wouldn't have believed, Arthur, that you were such a methodical, cold-blooded creature! I suppose now, that if I had tumbled overboard during that hideous time, and been gulped down by a shark, or if Shakespeare had starved to death, you would have made a regular memorandum of the event, in business-like style, and wound up your watch as usual. I think I see the entry in your pocket-book, thus: '1839, June 3rd-Mem. Max Adeler fell overboard this day, and was devoured by a shark-an amiable and interesting youth, though too much given to levity, and not prepared, I fear, for so unexpected a summons. June 5th-Mem. My worthy and estimable friend, John Browne, late of Glasgow, Scotland, died this day, from lack of necessary food. Threw him overboard. What startling monitions of the uncertainty of life!'"

Clark adopted the name of "an amiable and interesting youth, though too much given to levity."

Additionally, there are many instances of Clark's characters getting shipwrecked or abandoned on an island. I found three or four in "Random Shots," for example, and of course, there is the Professor and his daughter in "Fortunate Island."

The feeling I got when I discovered this was quite strange -- it was like reaching into the mind of someone 150 years ago, and for a few minutes at least, I had the experience of probably being the only person on the planet who knew this (and one of the few that cared).

The way I discovered this is kind of complex, but suffice it to say that a decade ago it would have been almost impossible to do. The power of the internet to find things long dormant and forgotten is amazing. In many ways, I am using twenty-first century technology to open up the lives and thoughts of people from the nineteenth in ways that are new and wonderful.

Your comments are welcome.