Welcome to the first issue of The Black Cat and the first post of the Black Cat Project!
Something that I find interesting about 19th and early 20th century fiction magazines is that most of them were not “niche.” While there were plenty of specialized nonfiction periodicals, genre magazines don’t seem to gain traction until the late 1910s. So, a short story magazine of the this period might include stories of different genres. What we’d now classify as mysteries, adventures, romances, horror, and science fiction might all be included in one magazine that a subscriber might read cover to cover.
“In Gold Time” by Roberta Littlehale
A western-ish story set in Gold Rush era California. While a contractor and an civil engineer ride through the desolation of Northern California, one tells the tale of two men vying for the hand of the most/only eligible woman in San Francisco. More of an anecdote than a solid story, but Littlehale does a nice job setting the stage with a night-time ride. Robetra Littlehale will appear again as a Black Cat author, but I wasn’t able to find any other information about her.
“The Unturned Trump” by Barnes Macgreggor
Oh, 1895, your prejudices are many… In this story, while adrift on the foggy and iced-over East River one morning, several men sit down to an impromptu game of euchre. Before the trump is turned though, the supplier of the cards goes on a tangent about a story he heard of an American who was travelling in Syria and ended up being taken captive by a group of blood-thirsty (and not too bright) “Mohammedan” robbers. Turns out he was the American. Macgreggor will be a return author as well, but also otherwise did not have much of a writing career.
“The Secret of the White Castle” by Julia Magruder
Julia Magruder was known outside of the pages of The Black Cat. The Virginia author had a fairly successful career as a novelist and children’s writer. “The Secret of the White Castle” is a nice piece of gothic literature. Our unnamed narrator rents the Chateau Blanc in hopes of curing his melancholy. The house appealed to him due to the strange picture of the previous owner that hangs in the bedroom and the stuffed pet swan that somewhat floats on the lake. He’s sure there is a mystery to these objects…and there is!
This was my favorite of the issue. I might even seek out some of Ms. Magruder’s novels.
“Miss Wood,—Stenographer” by Granville Sharpe
“Miss Wood,—Stenographer” is a nice little mystery too. Miss Wood’s story is related by Detective Gilbert as a story she told him bout a job she was hired to do. Abruptly, she was from her stenography school classes because she is proficient in sign language (her little sister is a deaf mute). She is sent to take down the dying words of a metallurgist. Since his sister-and-law and nephew believe Miss Wood is deaf as well, they freely discuss their plan to gain the old man’s secret formula for smelting steel-hard copper. I’m going to assume that the author, Granville Sharp, is not the same Granville Sharp as the abolitionist who died in 1813…
Runner-up for favorite story of the issue.
“Her Hoodoo” by Harold Kinsabby
This is actually a rather sweet story about “a real Rocky Mountain cow-girl, in all her glory”. Our narrator is a tender-foot who goes to Colorado to “hunt ozone” for his bad lungs. He gets lost in the wilderness and is found by the cow-girl, a woman educated at Wesleyan, but type-cast locally due to her soft heart and affinity for animals, especially a naughty, spotted heifer. Kinsabby has a couple stories in future issues, but I find no other biological references to him.
“In a Tiger Trap” by Charles Edward Barns
“The royal Maylay tiger is no gentleman” begins this adventure anecdote, which seems to be a general form of story in this era. And it pretty much details a story of attempting to retrap a tiger that had already been captured and let loose once. Thankfully, this story isn’t too cringe-worthy toward the peoples of Malaysia. Charles Edward Barns was a writer, journalist, astronomer, and publisher. He has at least one more story included in a future issue of The Black Cat.
“The Red-Hot Dollar” by H. D. Umbstaetter
A newlywed accidentally misses his train (is bride sent on without him) and ends up becoming obsessed with a silver dollar he is given as change. Why? We don’t know until the last page. Actually, “The Red-Hot Dollar” could have been a really nice mystery if it had been told a little better…maybe through the wife’s point of view. I suppose the reader is meant to wonder and try to puzzle out what’s going on, but we’re not really given enough information. H. D. Umbstaetter is the editor of The Black Cat as well as being a contributor.
Not many ads in the first issue. American Hair Cloth Company had pretty much the entire last page. Click to read all about their “light as air” crinoline.