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...

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