Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Two C. M. Eddy Letters Uncovered

This is a bit belated, but dates from the week of 25 September, 2008. :)



Hotel Owyyhee
Boise, Idaho
November 7, 1924
To C. M. Eddy, Jr.

Read your story, "Weapons of Stone," and liked it very much. I had written a pre-hist love story. I'll show it to you when I get back.

My story, The Charlatan Supreme, is my next "work of art." It's a beaut and true!

How is your song work getting along, and what can I do for you?

On train and it's a' rocking.


The Fort Steuben
Steubenville, Ohio
November 18, 1924
To Eddy

I wrote you I had received the revised copy of my story re the Witch Doctor.

By the way, I have a full Keith tour, starting Jan. 5 in Newark, then two weeks at the New York Hippodrome, and if you wish I'll stick in some of your music. All you have to do is say so and 'tis done. Naturally, you must not let people know that I am doing this to boost the music; if they think so, out it will be thrown. I suppose you get the idea.


I had an opportunity to go to Lexington for a conference Thursday (25 Sept 2008), and made my first trip to their Half-Price book store. A nice store. However, on the way back, about 10:30 PM my wife turned to me, and said, "Did they put the discs in the cd and dvd?" Not a good time to notice, but no they hadn't. Friday when I called, they were so nice, so I asked them to just shuttle the discs to my Louisville store.

Flash forward to Saturday, when I'm in a tiny little place in Southern Indiana at a pumpkin festival (maybe a new pumpkin horror story will come of it). I get intermittent cell service, but I look at my phone and there's a message that the discs are in the store. A one day trip from Lexington for USPS is phenomenal.

We go over to the store (which at this point, is about 50 miles from Huber's, so I could have almost driven back to Lexington to start with!) Anyway, I'm there, and we start perusing the store. My wife grabbed a new romance she's had in mind, along with a few other things, and I spied a ppbk copy of Houdini The Untold Story (circa. 1969) by Milbourne Christopher. It was marked $1, and I had a 15% off coupon, so for 85 cents I thought it would add it to my small Houdini collection. Once home, I flopped in a chair and wondered if Christopher mentioned Lovecraft. Nope. Oh well. Then I flipped to the appendices, and nearly fainted. TWO Houdini letters to C M Eddy Jr were included.

Lovecraft writes quite a bit about Eddy coming to NY to see Houdini who then had some clandestine midnight meeting between Eddy, HPL< and Houdini, but Lovecraft stops short of telling WHY! We know why, for the most part, now. Houdini needed help.

Lovecraft had written a story for Houdini, at the request of J C Henneberger in late 1923 to go in Weird Tales. Houdini was extremely generous to his friends, and once he knew you, he would do anything he could for you Рand as wealthy as he was, he usually did plenty. These two letters flesh out the details of how much he liked and wanted to help Eddy. Mrs. Eddy said in a memoir that Howard introduced Cliff to Houdini, and she said that Eddy worked for Houdini for quite a while. We now know that Eddy was a spy. He infiltrated spiritualist s̩ances and made field reports (other people were hired by Houdini for the same work).

Lovecraft, one day, late Summer 1923, walked across town and met Eddy after some correspondence. His 'noblesse oblige' kicked in immediately. Though Lovecraft was in near-poverty, what he saw at the Eddy household made his realize how bad it was for them. (He mentions giving them some furniture, and some hint of a 'note', i.e. Loan?).

Lovecraft immediately rewrote some of Eddy's stories to make them publishable. Eddy, in turn, made reference to Lovecraft to Edwin Baird, a friend and then editor of Weird Tales. (I think many people conspired to let Baird and Henneberger know of Lovecraft). In short order, Houdini (who was then backing Weird Tales, in part), and Henneberger asked Lovecraft to churn out a Houdini yarn. (Lovecraft lost the manuscript, and he and bride Sonia has to retype it from scratch).

Houdini asked Lovecraft to meet him, and it's pretty sketchy what transpired at those first meetings. I think I can guess, based on circumstantial evidence.

Houdini was on a very public and very nasty crusade to expose spiritualists as both frauds and criminals (money laundering, bilking, and such). I'd speculate that Houdini, who was getting rebuked for a weak presentation in his recent book, saw a kindred soul in HPL and may have asked him to help. I'd also speculate that Lovecraft had no interest in "work" of any kind so foisted off Eddy as being more appropriate for it.

What did Houdini see in Lovecraft? They both adored Poe (Houdini bought Poe relics). HPL was a materialist atheist, and loathed spiritualism on any hint of supernaturalism. He was a terrific writer, had become a seasoned pro at ghost writing and revisionism. It was a perfect match. Houdini declared he'd find Lovecraft a great job, and lo and behold, Henneberger pops up to New York and offers HPL the pick of a magazine. (Frank Long thought it was Weird Tales, others though it was a humor magazine, or ghost story magazine). He rejected all of it (no doubt to Sonia's dismay).

What did Lovecraft see in Houdini? He saw that Houdini had a great and clever mind, but HPL was not keen on show business, hard work, or being used by anyone. It looks like the compromise was Eddy. They went on to write a few things for Houdini, and were in the midst of writing a huge expose – The Cancer of Superstition – when Houdini was killed.

Their last meeting was in Providence in 1926, and de Camp declared in his book that Houdini wanted Lovecraft on stage with him in Detroit (where Houdini was to be attacked). Lovecraft, his aunt, Mr. & Mrs. Eddy all laughed at Bess' parrot, but declined the offer.

OK, kind of long winded, but it was fun to find these neat antiquarian letters showing how interested Houdini was in horror stories.

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