The Word of the Week for August 25, 2014 is slavering
According to Paul Herman’s The Neverending Hunt, this week’s poem “Song of a Mad Minstrel” first appeared in Weird Tales in February-March 1931. In REH’s letter to Clyde Smith ca. February 1930 (Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard v2, p 17), he mentions Farnsworth Wright paid him $8 for the poem. REH sold Weird Tales two other poems at the same time: “Black Chant Imperial”, $6, and “Shadows on the Road” with which he seemed much pleased and offered me $11.50, considerably more than I ever got for any other poem.”
The total for the three poems was $25.50. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money but in 1930, it was quite a bit. I checked the internet to see what it could buy:
1930 average prices:
hamburger meat: 12 cents
a loaf of bread: 9 cents
gallon of gas 10 cents
new car $600
Average wages/year $1,970
new home: $3,845-$7,000
Firestone Tyre (1932) from $3.69
Complete Modern 10 piece bedroom Suite $79.85
Emerson 5 tube bedroom radio $9.95
With $25.50, he could have bought four tires and a spare for his car and with gas at ten cents/gallon, he could have then driven the car quite a distance and still had enough to buy a week’s worth of groceries.
However, in 1930 REH didn’t have a car yet. According to Rob Roehm’s article “Robert E. Howard’s Automobiles: License and Registration Please”, REH bought his first car in 1932:
There’s not much mention of Howard’s cars in his correspondence, other than him saying he went here or there. Even the description of his accident in Rising Star doesn’t provide much information about the car, though it does describe the incident involving his ’31 Chevy and a flagpole placed “in the middle of the street” in graphic (some say “exaggerated”) detail. This was my starting point.
Next on the checklist was Rusty Burke. I emailed Rusty some follow-up questions about Bob’s ’31 Chevy. Burke responded that Lindsey Tyson, a Cross Plains friend of Howard’s, had said the following in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp dated February 18, 1977:
Bob, Dr Howard and I went to Arlington Texas in about 1932 and Bob bought a used 1931 model Chevrolet. I drove the car home for him and then taught him to drive; after he learned to drive, he had a lot of fun driving on short trips around the country. I can not understand why Dr. Howard had never taught him anything about driving a car. (And by the way, Bob gave $350.00 for this car, about a year old.)
Burke had a wealth of information. His transcription of de Camp’s August 1977 notes from a phone conversation with Tyson revealed that the ’31 Chevy was purchased “second-hand after Lovecraft’s visit to New Orleans in the spring of 1932.” In a different interview with de Camp, Tyson described the car as “Dark Green,” and that it “had a glove compartment” rather than a door pocket: “This is where he carried his gun.” Upon further question, in 1978, Tyson added that the car was “a Chevrolet coach”; a “Two-door.” And, regarding the flagpole incident in Rising star, Tyson told de Camp in his 1977 letter that he and Dave Lee “were both in the car [. . .] that was involved in the wreck in Rising Star, Texas. It was a misty night when we were returning home from Brownwood. What we hit was a flag pole located in the middle of the street and did not have a light on it. We had been to Brownwood to see the Golden glove tournament. It was not because of Bob’s driving, none of us saw the thing before we hit it, we were traveling slowly and none of us were seriously injured.”
To read Rob’s complete article and see photos of a 1931 Chevrolet and as well as an equivalent of the 1935 Chevrolet he had when he died, see: http://www.rehfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/reh-cars3.pdf Rob also quotes the gas station attendant where REH brought his car and gives a wealth of other information relating to REH’s two automobiles.
REH wrote his version of the Rising Star accident in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, ca January 1934! (Collected Letters, v3, pp. 188-191.) There is quite a difference:
This answer to your letter has been delayed considerably, partly because of an accident that proved non-fatal to me only by the merest chance. Three other young men and I were returning from Brownwood late in the night of December 29th, at which time it was raining, with a heavy fog on, making ordinary driving extremely difficult. We passed through a small town about fifteen miles from Cross Plains, where a steel flag pole was planted in concrete in the middle of the street. [NOTE: Rising Star, at the intersection of what was then Texas Highway 206 (now Texas 36) and US Highway 283/Texas 23 (now US 183). The three men in the car with Howard were Dave Lee, Lindsey Tyson, and Bill Calhoun.]
The pole was painted grey and was practically invisible. None of us saw it until we had hit it, head-on. Naturally the car was wrecked. The fellow on the seat beside me, a Tennessean, was thrown through the wind-shield, head and shoulders, and struck his belly terrifically against the dash-board, and a piece of glass gouged out most of his eyebrow and a piece of scalp larger than a dollar, and left it hanging over his eye by a shred of flesh. Of the men sitting behind, one was practically unhurt, but the other suffered a badly wrenched and almost broken leg, and some veins and tendons were evidently ruptured. As for me, I was driven against the wheel with such terrific force that I crumpled it with my breast-bone and my head was driven down against a jagged shard of glass with a force that would have fractured or dislocated a more fragile jaw than mine, and a gash two and a half inches long was ripped along the under part of my jaw, laying the bone bare the full length of the cut. I also received a deep cut — to the bone — across the middle knuckle of my left hand, and the flesh inside the joint of my right thumb was literally mangled. My knees caved in the solid steel instrument-panel, which naturally bruised and tore them considerably. But the worst hurt was to my breast. The arch of my breast was flattened and for hours it was only with the most extreme pain that I could draw a breath at all. Well, the instant I recovered from the blow — which was almost instantly — I shut off the engine and leaped out to see what damage had been done to the car, and though I don’t remember my remarks, my friends say my profanity was fervent and eloquent when I saw the crumpled bumper, the ruined radiator and the other damages. I didn’t know I was cut until, during my remarks, I happened to put my hand to my jaw and felt the bare bone through the gaping wound. At about that time the other boys piled out, and the man who had gone through the windshield, evidently having been numbed by the blow, suddenly was made aware of his plight by his awakening sensations. He was bleeding like a butchered steer, and was really a ghastly spectacle, with that great flap of flesh hanging down over his eye, and the contour of the skull, covered only by a layer of membrane, showing beneath. But he was suffering most from the terrible blow of being hurled against the dash-board. He was suffering internal pain, and apparently unable to straighten up. He was convinced that he was dying, and indeed I thought it quite likely, and he was making considerable noise about it; indeed I was so taken up with his injuries that I didn’t even know the other fellow was hurt — of old Texas stock, and stoicism being part of his instincts, he didn’t even mention the agony he was enduring with his leg, so I didn’t even know he was hurt until the next day. I don’t reckon I was making much noise about my injuries, either, because he didn’t know I was hurt, until the next day, either. But the fact is I didn’t think much about them at the time. It was about midnight, and a small town; we made an effort to get a doctor, but they were all out on calls, and not even a drug store open. But a young fellow offered to take us anywhere we wanted to go, and the man whose head was laid open wanted to go to the nearest hospital, which was in a town about twenty miles from there. I tried to persuade him to come on to Cross Plains, and let my father bandage him, which wouldn’t cost him anything, but like many people he had something of a hospital complex; so I told him and the fellow with the hurt leg to go on to the hospital, and I’d see about getting my car towed home. So they went, but it was useless trying to get anybody to see about the car; everything was closed, so I phoned my father, at Cross Plains, and he came over after me and the other fellow, who, as I said, wasn’t hurt. When we got home he put five stitches in my jaw and one in my thumb, which is the first time I was ever sewed up, though I’ve been ripped open before. I’m rather fat-jowled, and the gash on my jaw presented a rather ghastly appearance, gaping widely and the white of the bone showing through. The other fellow who was cut had fourteen stitches taken in his head, and it left a rather horrible scar, which, however, may become less obvious as time goes on. He had accident insurance, which was lucky, though I offered to pay his hospital bill, which he refused. A funny thing happened while my father was sewing me up; the watchman was holding his flashlight for my father to work by, and a young drug-clerk was standing watching. In the midst of the job he asked me if I was getting sick, to which I honestly replied that I never felt healthier in my life, and presently he pulled out in considerable of a hurry. I asked my father what was the matter with him, and he said the young man got sick at the sight of blood and raw flesh. Can you beat that? I’d heard that there were people who got sick at the sight of blood, but I’d never seen one before. I’d always wondered how it felt to be sewed up like a piece of cloth, but a gash like mine was appears to offer no particular problem. I imagine other wounds might require a local anesthetic. I was forced to lead a very quiet life for a few days, because my knees and ribs got so sore I could scarcely move, and the bandages on my hands prevented me from doing much with them. Indeed we were all lucky to come out of the wreck alive and no worse injured than we were. People who have seen the wheel I wrecked with my breastbone have repeatedly expressed wonder that it didn’t kill me, or at least cave in most of my ribs. It was a heavy steel frame covered with very hard rubberish material; I bent the frame almost double, rim, spokes and all, and broke great pieces of the rubber off, in many places leaving the frame work bare. Indeed, it has only been a week or so since the soreness has entirely gone out of my breast bone and ribs. I was not only thrown against the wheel with all my weight and the velocity of the car, but the man behind me, a bigger man than I am, was hurled on my back — the car is a coach, with movable front seats — driving me forward with his weight against mine. That was one of the cases which sometimes do occur — when sheer muscular ruggedness meant more than intellectual development. Of course, it was only chance that kept a piece of glass from severing my jugular; yet even there my bodily build saved me; if I did not have a short, thick neck, if my neck had been an inch longer, the glass shard that struck my jawbone would have been driven in below the bone, and cut my throat. And what saved me from death or frightful injury on the wheel was simply an unusually powerful set of ribs, backed and braced by heavy muscles specially developed. A body stronger than the average may not be required by our modern civilization; but in that affair, as in others I have encountered, a powerful frame saved my life. There were no broken bones, though it is possible that some of my ribs were slightly cracked, yet this even is not certain; my breast has resumed its normal arch, and the cuts healed quickly; I have a rather large scar on my jaw, but as I never had any beauty to be marred, that doesn’t amount to anything. [NOTE: In a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, Lindsey Tyson wrote, “We [Dave Lee and Tyson] were both in the car you spoke of that was involved in the wreck in Rising Star, Texas. It was a misty night when we were returning home from Brownwood. What we hit was a flag pole located in the middle of the street and did not have a light on it. We had been to Brownwood to see the Golden glove tournament. It was not because of Bob’s driving, none of us saw the thing before we hit it, we were traveling slowly and none of us were seriously injured.” No contemporary newspaper accounts of this accident have been located.]
According to A Means of Freedom, v2, p. 722, HPL’s replying postcard has not been found.
REH’s responding letter (CL, v3, p. 193) says:
I deeply appreciate your sympathetic expressions in regard to my wreck. All parties made rapid and uneventful recoveries, and feel lucky it wasn’t worse. The town where the accident occurred helped me pay for having my car repaired, and the flagpole has been removed — though one of their own citizens had to wreck himself on it before that was done. He was hurt worse than I was. Strange; that pole stood there for years without doing any damage, but as soon as one car was wrecked against it, another shortly followed.
The discrepancy between the version of the accident given by Lindsey (Pink) and that of REH is probably entirely due to REH's great story telling abilities. Of course the need for this depends upon how late he was in responding to HPL's letter. The accident took place on December 29 and there is no definite January date shown on REH's letter. A Means to Freedom shows the letters previously written by HPL are missing.
Rob’s article also includes information about the condition of REH’s current automobile after his suicide.
And yes, by the time REH got his car in 1932, gas even as late as 1939 was still ten cents a gallon.