Thursday, February 28, 2008

Episode #1000 - Erratum

 Well, all three parts of Episode #1000 are up -- I've never done anything quite like this. In fact, I doubt if anybody has ever done anything quite like this. Essentially, this is a three hour and ten minute long audio documentary, presented mostly with readings from period pieces of newspaper clippings and book excerpts. 

Believe it or not, I left a lot of stuff out that I wanted to include to shave down the running time. Maybe I'll include that stuff in the book. Yeah, there's going to eventually be a book about Huntley, M. Quad, Fanny Fern, Doesticks, and lots of other great 19th Century humorists.

An example of something I left out was any mention of the Morey Letter, although I did infer something about it in the beginning of the first part. Essentially, while James Garfield was running for President in 1880, a newspaper called Truth published what they claimed was a letter from then Senator Garfield to a man named Morey, where he stated that he thought immigration policy should allow lots more Chinese workers into the country. Today, that would be like a Presidential candidate saying there aren't enough Mexican immigrants in the USA.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Anyway, the weird thing about all this is that Garfield told the press that that he didn't remember writing the letter, but that he might have! It took teams of Republican Party political operatives and spin doctors to pull Garfield's fat out of the fire. They printed up hundreds of thousands of flyers showing the Morey Letter on the left, and an example of Garfield's handwriting on the right, and distributed them all over the nation. Garfield won the election, but didn't serve too long, as he got shot not long afterward. The odd thing here is that Garfield admitted publicly that he possibly could have written the letter, which meant that maybe he did not disagree with it!

An investigation followed, and some detectives told reporters that they believed that Stanley Huntley, a staunch Democrat, in cahoots with Stilson Hutchins, owner of the Washington Post, created the letters as an elaborate election hoax. Huntley denied this vehemently, going as far as to write a special article for the Chicago Tribune pinning the blame on a noted forger named Phillip. But at the height of the Morey investigation hysteria, one week before the 1880 election, he inserted a Spoopendyke story called "Not Altogether Satisfactory" into the Brooklyn Eagle, where Mr. and Mrs. Spoopendyke argue over whether the Morey Letters were real or a hoax. Whether Huntley wrote the letters or not, here he was thumbing his nose at everyone over them.

So, I had all this stuff printed out and was going to read it into the third part of Episode #1000, but simply didn't have enough room for it. I probably will include in in a Basement Sunday Salad Episode real soon.

Meanwhile, while listening to these episodes in my car, I encountered some other glitches and typos. In the first Part, I called Eugene Field Stanley Field by mistake once. Sorry.
I also apparently lost control of the volume in several portions of Part One as well. Really sorry!

In Part Two, I discovered a major error, but a little detective work revealed the source of it. This is fascinating -- When Sitting Bull first confronts Stanley Huntley, he is quoted as greeting him with "How Colonel."

The odd thing I noticed while listening to this is that Huntley was alone. He was not a military man, wore no uniform, and Sitting Bull had no reason to call him "Colonel." But the oddest thing was that the 1879 Chicago Tribune had that line in bold type no less!

So how did this happen? Well, Huntley telegraphed the story from the wilderness to the Tribune. The newspaper made a big deal out of the fact that they spent over a thousand dollars for the telegraph costs alone. Now the article is full of instances of Indians saying to Huntley (and vice-versa) the traditional greeting of "How Cola." No doubt the telegraph operator may have thought the "a" in cola was a period, and the typesetter at the Tribune thought it was "Col." the abbreviation for Colonel, and spelled it out. So there. I caught it. Not that anyone is left alive from 1879  to say, "thanks for catching that, Mister Ron."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Episode #1000 Is Up!

Well, at least partially...

Episode #1000, 'The Stanley Huntley Story' is so BIG, that it had to be broken up into three parts, which will be uploaded over the course of three days. The first Part is ready for you to download, and is just a tad over an hour long. Please do give it a listen. Huntley is a true American Original, and you'll have fun listening to all three parts.

I have attempted to tell this story by mostly using original sources -- period newspaper articles by and about Huntley, books of the era, and an actual bound volume of the Bismarck Tribune from 1878-79 at the Library of Congress. Much of the research involved simply could not have been accomplished even five years ago. More and more, scanned newspaper runs are becoming available online, and these are generally fully indexed (although it often helps to know what you're looking for and when it appeared).

The drawing at the right may be the only known depiction of Huntley. He is probably the bearded man at the desk. No photographs have turned up yet. It is possible, that having Bright's Disease, which is quite disfiguring, Huntley always refused to be photographed.

Please leave your comments here, or send an email to


Saturday, February 16, 2008


We have fixed things up so you can now post comments without being a Google member. You can even post anonymously, if you feel the need.
Thanx and a tip o' Mister Ron's Hat...

Friday, February 15, 2008

George W. Peck

There is something altogether remarkable about George W. Peck -- Will Rogers probably took a few pages out of his book -- his characters are are often just a tad on the mischievous side ("Peck's Bad Boy" more than a tad of course), and he occasionally flirted with the boundaries of good taste, but by and large, Peck's stories left readers feling good about themselves. Harmless joshing with a bit of bite might be a good way to explain them.

When Peck took over Brick Pomeroy's LaCrosse Democrat in 1874 and renamed it The Sun, it took a few years for it to really catch on. Peck's humorous paragraphs and stories made up the bulk of the paper, and when he moved the newspaper to Milwaukee and put his own name on the masthead, the circulation rose exponentially. Subscriptions started to pour in from all corners of the nation, and Peck himself set the stage for a highly successful career in politics by the 1890s. Every issue of the paper bore this inscription:

"The funniest newspaper in America. What vaccination is to the smallpox, Peck's Sun is to the Blues,"

We will go into more detail about Peck soon. But treat yourself to a chuckle or two and listen to some of the stories we are reading in the Basement this week and next.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

One Thousand Episodes Approaching (part two)

As of today, we are fifteen episodes away from number 1,000, to be devoted to the life and writing of Stanley Huntley!

In the process, I have gathered more information than anybody else has in the last 100 years on Stanley Huntley. So far, we have posted sixty Spoopendyke stories, and about as many other pieces by Huntley in the Basement. I believe I may be able to come up with at least a dozen more Spoopendykes, many of which have not seen the light of day since the 1800s! There are at least some that were never collected in any of the Spoopendyke books. While Huntley died in 1885, his books remained in print and were popular well into the twentieth century.

His wife Florence died in 1912, and their confused estate probably left no one to care about re-issuing the books, and the characters fell into obscurity. Needless to say, the influence of Huntley on modern comedy is widespread, either directly or indirectly. 

If you haven't heard any of his stuff yet, go listen to some of the SUNDAY SALAD episodes in the Basement. You'll be glad you did.

I do want to thank all the thousands of listeners to the Basement. Very soon now, I hope to update the statistics page, which I haven't done since last April. Remarkably enough, I have been averaging close to 3,000 downloads every day, seven days a week, for years now, from listeners in every corner of the globe! 

All this has been done with very little publicity -- mostly by word of mouth -- and almost no help from Apple's iTunes. Mister Ron's Basement was picked up by iTunes the day it started carrying podcasts, and has never, as far as I can tell been spotlighted there. I understand that there's just a few overworked people who do all the choosing for the Top Podcasts, and what I have been doing has probably flown over their heads. It's easy to see that what I am doing is not their cup of tea. While Mister Ron's Basement offers (IMHO) unparalleled entertainment and a high degree of scholarship and research, it isn't "explicit" and doesn't offer imitations of the same old stuff you hear every day on television and radio, and doesn't feature modern celebrities hawking their latest piece of pop culture. It is not produced by a major corporation, so there's no need to butter me up.

Additionally, there are ferocious problems with iTunes updating Mister Ron's Basement's main menu. Subscribers get the latest episodes easily every day, but sometimes the main menu will update daily for weeks in a row, then not update at all for weeks in a row.

Undoubtedly, the suggestion of the programmers there would be to stop clogging up their RSS pipes with a thousand episodes. But it has been my intention to create a massive, easily accessible library of timeless classic American humorous writing, and I'm not about to let latecomers to Podcasting dictate what a Podcast is or isn't to me. Their main menu scrolls by the latest 100 episodes, and the subscriber menu makes all of them available. If they can't figure out how to grab my RSS feed in a reliable manner, either they're not too competent at this, or else they figure what I am doing is not worth their effort (I suspect it is the latter that is the case).

Anyway, I don't want to get the iTunes Gods angry at me and have them ban Mister Ron's Basement, so I do want to say that I am actually quite grateful for iTunes for helping to popularize Podcasting, and I hope they continue to do so.

While I am at it, I want to thank Roger Strickland, who runs Mister Ron's Basement's hosting service, Slapcast ( He provides a terrific, low-priced podcast hosting service that offers unlimited bandwidth at a remarkable price. You can even post three episodes totally free to try it out. Tell 'em Mister Ron sent you!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

M. Quad

This past week, we have been featuring short fables from M. Quad's 1884 book Sawed Off Sketches. M. Quad's real name was Charles Bertrand Lewis, and long-time listeners of the Basement will be familiar with his Mr. Bowser stories that we have been reading every Saturday for the last year and a half.

Lewis was a newspaper correspondent during the first months of the US Civil War, but later on became an infantryman, and served in almost every major battle until the war's end without receiving a scratch. Afterward, he found work as a typesetter in Detroit, until he accepted an editor's position in Kentucky in 1868. On his journey to that job, the steamboat Magnolia exploded, leaving many passengers dead or wounded. Bloodied, and with a big hole in his head, he was first thought to be another dead body, until his rescuers found him to be hanging on for dear life. After a long recuperation in the hospital, he returned to his typesetter's job in Detroit, having lost the editor job. While there, he wrote up a wildly hilarious account of his adventure called How It Feels to be Blown Up. This story was read in the Basement episode #328 and can be listened to here. It was picked up by newspapers from coast to coast. Lewis chose the pen name of M. Quad, which is a typographer's term for a double-wide letter (an N Quad is a single width letter).

Almost immediately, Lewis's humorous writing went into weekly syndication, and he used his lawsuit award from the steamboat company to buy a substantial interest in the Detroit Free Press. Often, his work was run in other papers with the byline of The Detroit Free Press Man. 

His weekly short stories covered every subject under the sun, and many of them stand up well today. Over the years, he created regular characters for his column. Mr. Bowser came into being in the mid-1880s, and was probably inspired by Stanley Huntley's Spoopendyke. A clever series of stories about a fictional newspaper called The Arizona Kicker lasted many years, and also may have been inspired by Huntley's work at the Bismarck Tribune in Dakota Territory. Huntley had run some M. Quad stories in the Tribune during his run there, and Lewis was undoubtedly aware of Huntley's work at the Tribune and the Brooklyn Eagle.

Another popular series in the M. Quad weekly package was Brother Gardner's Lime Kiln Club, which, at first glance seems to be crude stories making fun of negro dialect. But on closer examination, Brother Gardner (or Brudder Gardner in the stories) was of exemplary character, and extremely moral, and most of the humor came from his dealing with the odd characters who were members of the club. The Gardner stories were undoubtedly the inspiration for the old Amos and Andy radio and television programs.

So far I have totally avoided these kinds of stories on the Basement. I really do not find stories that rely on dialect for humor to be very funny. But I suppose if enough listeners demanded it I might read one or two of the better ones someday. 

After his brush with near-death in 1868, Lewis continued his career as a humorist until he passed on in 1924! His son continued the column for a short while under the pen name of M. Quad Jr., but the public had grown tired of his style of writing in the age of flappers, speakeasies, and hot jazz. 

What do you think? Please post your comments!