Happy Halloween from The Black Cat, Vol. 2

I promised a second set of stories from The Black Cat for Halloween, but I’ve almost run out of holiday season. 😉 Here’s a link to the first five stories.

Mr. Williamson, a mysterious jeweler, has gone missing and after a period of time, his massive safe is being removed from his former place of business. Between the time of Williamson’s arrival in town and his disappearance, a series of burglaries and robberies have taken place, including Williamson himself being mugged. But after Williamson disappeared, the robberies stopped. What happened? And is the answer to be found in his safe?

Link to “The Williamson Safe Mystery” by F. S. Hesseltine

Mr. Jones is a bit nosy. He noticed the rather smart family who lived in the building across the street and when he noticed their absence, he was quick to inquire about their apartment. After he moves in, he befriends Mr. Flemming, the second floor’s only other resident. Since the other rooms on the floor aren’t locked, they make light use of them. During one lazy evening, Jones notices that the width of two apartments is shorter than the hallway is long. Is there a secret room? And the better question, why is there a secret room?

Link to “The House Across the Way” by Leo Gale

Prof. Linwood was a collector of seaweed. Until he got married. But now his wife is dead and the seaweed room is kept locked. No one knows why, so surely it would be okay if a late-staying guest spends the night there, right?

Link to “The Seaweed Room” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

Link to “The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam of a treasure on Mustery Island. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam encounters a dog that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…

Happy Halloween from The Black Cat, Vol. 1


For the past year, I’ve been reading through issues of The Black Cat, a magazine that began publication in October of 1895. It might sound a little sadistic, but I wanted to read popular literature from the turn of the 19th century, but not just “the good stuff” that has survived to be anthologized. Some of the stories I’ve read in the past year were not very good. Some were very…problematic. And some were quite good. Not all the stories were speculative, but many were and almost every month included a “spooky” story. I figured October would be a good time to share some of my favorites. Below are links to five stories and I’ll post another five later in the month.

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…

Link to “The Secret of the White Castle” by Julia Magruder

Our narrator assures us that he never would have thought to go into the house if the lady he were with hadn’t confidently let herself in. They go upstairs and sit down to dinner. Around the table are a group of strange characters including a man that our narrator thinks is his old friend, Bill, from college. Except Bill has been dead for eight years…

Link to “The Interrupted Banquet” by Rene Bache

Our narrator falls in love with the beautiful Aidu. When he meets her she seems to be in some trouble. She agrees to help (and later to marriage), under the condition that she be allowed her freedom and she not be followed when she leaves the house. Aidu is a strange woman; she is never seen eating and once a week she goes for a walk alone and returns re-invigorated. Of course, we know how this story goes. Our love-struck narrator, follows her one evening…

Link to “Aidu” by Hero Despard

A friend finds Mr. Paul Fancourt in a state. What’s wrong? Fancourt tells of his marriage to the lovely and tempestuous Leila. His wife’s temper drove him away for five years and, when he returned, Leila was a different woman. Possibly, quite literally.

Link to “The Little Brown Mole” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

It’s a “very attractive modern house with a history.” The (presumably) first owners of the house die mysteriously, leaving behind a tale and ghosts.

Link to “To Let” by Alice Turner Curtis

Find out more about the Black Cat Project

The Black Cat, No. 12, September 1896

Welcome to the September 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

Over the last month or two, I’ve wondered if continuing with the Black Cat Project is worthwhile. Some issues have been…not so great. But then there are issues like this one with two really interesting stories and one that’s pretty fun.

Stories

“The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

This is perhaps the most well-written story I’ve read in The Black Cat. I couldn’t find much biographical information on (Annie) Batterman Lindsay, but she does have a novel Derelicts of Destiny that I’m interested in reading

“A Kindergarten Hold-Up” by Mabell Shippie Clarke

Young career criminal Sam Murphy coincidentally meets up with this sister who was put into a foster home after he left home and their mother died. And it turns out he’s not such a bad guy after all.

Was Clarke’s other tale this sentimental?

“The Guardian of Mystery Island” by Dr. Edmond Nolcini

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam (Lenartson, this time) of a treasure on Mustery Island (in Maine, according to Google). It’s guarded by a dorg, in Tom’s words, which Sam assumes to mean “dog,” but said with a really bad accent. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam does encounter a dog, a fairly friendly one, that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid  woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…

There are a lot of things in this story that I would consider Jamsean or Lovecraftean if this story were written 40 years later. According to Urban Dictionary, which I’m not sure is reliable, there is a thing called a dorg. It “bears similarities to both a plant and a canine animal.” There’s no other information though.

“A Mental Mischance” by Thomas F. Anderson

One day Albert Reeves finds that he can read minds. What does one do with that ability? Crime fighting? Journalism? Stock trading? It’s always good to remember that sometimes thoughts are fancies.

“The Barber of the Alpena” by J. Harwood

J. Harwood provides a harrowing little tale. A barber, with a very strange visage, attends a dissection class and becomes a little obsessed with the potential to flay a client’s face instead of giving them a nice close shave. He confesses this tale to a group of travelers, one of whom meets the Barber of the Alpena again… or does he?

Like many of the horror stories in The Black Cat, this one doesn’t really “pay off” but it gives plenty of chills in the meantime.

“Which Was Like a Woman” by William Albert Lewis

This is another one of those inconstant women stories. Dorothy Moore’s husband is in prison for life. With three kids to support, she takes in a male boarder, which is unseemly. So, Dorothy procures a divorce (or rather the legal status of widow) and marries her boarder Brian Lett. Brian’s a good guy. Her kids like him. Everything is going well. Until her first husband is pardoned. And Dorothy is made to feel bad—how horrible that she should have sought a secure future…

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The ad is for Mellin’s Food, which was a infant formula.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. #, Month, Year

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

The Black Cat, No. 11, August 1896

Welcome to the August 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

I will admit, I’m a tiny bit disappointed in this issue of The Black Cat. Usually, I can rely on the magazine to provide at least one creepy story or one with a speculative fiction bent. This issue does provide the solution to “The Mysterious Card,” but as the second part of a bigger story, it’s not entirely satisfying.

Stories

“The Mysterious Card Unveiled” by Cleveland Moffett

Remember “The Mysterious Card” from issue 5? Yeah, me either. I had hoped the original story had to do with a magic trick, but it did not. Instead, the plot involved a man, Richard Burwell, who was given a card by a mysterious, beautiful French woman. Burwell can’t read French. Everyone he shows it to who can read French immediately shuns him. The beautiful woman dies before he can find out from her what it’s all about. We, the readers, are never told what is on the card and apparently Burwell doesn’t have access to a French to English dictionary… Which brings us to “The Mysterious Card Unveiled.”

We catch up with Burwell a decade later. While the first story was narrated by Burwell, this one is from his doctor’s point of view. It seems that Burwell has had blackouts in the past, has some sort of weird color blindness that leads to hallucinations, and has some very strange lines in his palm. But generally, Burwell has led a philanthropic life in New York. Therefore, the doctor is surprised that Burwell is shot in an altercation. On his death bed, he tells the doctor about the card, but when he does die, a mysterious Indian prince shows up and tells the doctor what has been going on this whole time. One one hand, I was kind of impressed with the occult twist of story. On the other hand, I still feel like there was some literary shenanigans.

“Mrs. Bilger’s Victory” by Emma S. Jones & Geik Turner

Geik Turner is a veteran Black Cat writer with two zinger stories in the past, both involving solitary people standing up against big, bad industry. This story is similar. “The railroad had killed her muley cow, and the railroad had got to pay for it…” Mrs. Bilger is a very resourceful woman and this story is much funnier than the others. I can only guess that Ms. Jones had something to do with that.

“A Defender of Faith” by John D. Barry

George Bird is having lady problems. Or maybe it’s religion problems. His girl, Alice, believes that his literature should have some moral lessons to it. (Or maybe she just doesn’t like him all that well since she used to write scientific articles…?) Bird and his friend go for a walk in Hyde Park and see an atheist on a soap box haranguing Christianity. While Bird isn’t very religious, he does think it unfair that no one steps up to defend God and Christ. He does so, pointing out the comfort and charity that Christianity provides. George thinks he made an ass of himself, but Alice thinks otherwise… So, I guess she likes him after all.

Barry is new to the magazine. A Google search reveals a John D. Barry, who was a Confederate officer and newspaper editor, but he died in 1867. Another John D. Barry is, at the time of this blog post, the CEO of Jesus’ Economy.

“Tim’s Vacation” by L. E. Shattuck

This was a maudlin, sentimental story about a poor young man named Tim who works as the elevator operator in the building of the Morning Post. Everyone love Tim and shows it by giving him extra work to do. Alas, tragedy befalls Tim before he’s able to take the vacation granted to him. And that’s the story.

“Wet Horses” by Alice MacGowan

After setting two eagles free, a cattle man in the Texas panhandle recounts his time as a horse rustler and a prisoner in a Mexican jail. And that’s that story. I was pretty surprised about a horse rustler not really getting his just deserts, especially considering he really wasn’t particularly remorseful of those acts.

Alice MacGowan collaborated with her sister Emma to write over two dozen novels and about a hundred short stories. According to Wikipedia, they lived for a time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, a literary enclave populated by Jack London, among others. Tantalizingly, though well-liked, she also had several attempt on her life…

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 11, August, 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

The Black Cat, No. 10, July 1896

Welcome to the July 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

This issue of The Black Cat features five writers new to magazine—unless there are some pseudonyms among the bunch. We’d have to go back to issue 6, in March, to find the previous issue of “newbie” writers.

Stories

“On the Last Trail” by H. W. Phillips & Rupert Hughes

The local marshal of Rapid City, a frontier town, forbids the possession of guns within town limits (due to the high death rate). This does not go over well—many of the town’s citizens become paranoid about being unarmed when someone *with* a gun comes to town. Bolande is that man. He’s friends with the Marshal, but that doesn’t make any difference. When Bolande refuses to give up his weapon, the Marshal calls him out. They duel, each shooting and mortally wounding the other. But before they die they agree that they’re still friends.

The story ends with “They were Americans… Of such were the builders of the West.” And I really can’t decide if this story is satirical or not.

While H. W. Phillips is noted in a 1908 issue of The New England Magazine as a writer magazine readers are familiar with, I couldn’t find any other credits. Rupert Hughes was a novelist and early filmmaker.

“A Message from Where?” by L. Francis Bishop

A locked trunk in the attic, a gravestone with his name on it, and lovers kept apart by the Civil War. This story was my favorite of the month due to its gloomy Southern Gothic nature. Mostly, it’s just a tale of a young boy discovering the truth of his history, of learning that the people around him all had lives before he was born.

“The Man with the Box” by George W. Tripp

“The Man with the Box” is science fiction-ish story. The box in question, when calibrated and pointed at someone, will make the target believe he is drinking a chosen beverage rather than a mundane one. For example, if the target were to choose Guinness ale from the dial on the box and then point and fire the box at himself, he’d taste Guinness when drinking a glass of water. But there is also a weird “snake” setting on the box… Shenanigans ensue. I also found this story interesting for its use of kodak and kodakist (in lower case form), presumably to denote the fad of photography and those annoyingly obsessed with it.

The only George W. Tripp I was able to locate with Google died as a high priest in the Church of Latter-day Saints. Same guy? Seems odd, but possible.

“What the Moon Saw” by Isabelle Meredith

This is the second sort-of creepy story in this month’s edition. Ned French has bet a large amount of money that Albert Turn will not at midnight pound a nail into the coffin of a recently buried man. The narrator of this story comes upon them as Turner is about to be lowered into the opened grave (dug up by servants), nails in hand. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well.

“In Miss Polly’s Pew” by Ellen Frizzell Wycoff

Jack Harrold returns after many years to the small town that was his childhood home. Many things have changed, and many things haven’t. He finds the initials he carved into a tree when he was a teenager: “J. H. + M. R.” It takes him a while(!) but he finally remembers who M. R. is—a.k.a. Polly—and how much he loved her(!). As luck would have it, Polly still lives in town and is single. And Jack’s still single too!

Ellen Frizzell Wycoff has a few other short story credits and may even show up again in the Black Cat.

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Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 10, July 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

The Black Cat, No. 9, June 1896

Welcome to the No. 9 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

Thankfully, this month’s issue annoyed me a lot less than the last. I guess that’s what happens when I don’t have to deal with a racial invective in the very title of a story.

Stories

“The House Across the Way” by Leo Gale

I was worried that I might not get another good creepy tale in The Black Cat until the autumnal/winter months. My worries were unfounded. There were two in this issue! The first was “The House Across the Way.” Mr. Jones is a bit nosy. He noticed the rather smart family who lived in the building across the street and when he noticed their absence, he was quick to inquire about their apartment. After he moves in, he befriends Mr. Flemming, the second floor’s only other resident. Since the other rooms on the floor aren’t locked, they make light use of them. During one lazy evening, Jones notices that the width of two apartments is shorter than the hallway is long. Is there a secret room? And the better question, why is there a secret room?

“Mrs. Sloan’s Curiosity” by Mabell Shippie Clarke

Mrs. Sloan’s daughter is engaged to Mr. G. F. S. Simms. He is, by all accounts, a nice guy and a good match. But there is one thing: he won’t tell anyone what G. F. S. stands for. We do find out, but I feel like this is maybe a joke that made more sense in 1896.

Mabell Shippie Clark had quite a literary career including a series featuring a character named Ethel Morton.

“The Seaweed Room” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

Prof. Linwood was a collector of seaweed. Until he got married. But now his wife is dead and the seaweed room is kept locked. No one knows why, so surely it would be okay if a late-staying guest spends the night there, right? “The Seaweed Room” is the second creepy story of the issue and it does not disappoint. It’s my favorite story of the issue due to its atmosphere and its brevity.

This is Clarice Irene Clinghan’s third story for The Black Cat, each better than the last.

“The Second Edition” by Geik Turner

Last month, Geik Turner’s story highlighted how one lonely man can bring a railroad to his knees. This month a lonely night shift newspaper editor is coerced into printing a detraction at gun point. Mr. Turner definitely seems to have something to say about the state of the world.

“The Luck of Killing Day” by McPherson Fraser

The issue concludes with a Western. In order to impress the only unmarried woman at Ft. Niobrara, two lieutenants crash a Native American celebration. As one does. I guess.

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Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 9, June 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

The Black Cat, No. 8, May 1896

Welcome to the 8th issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

When reading stories that are 122 years old, I expect that a few of them will challenge my modern sensibilities.  In the first 7 issues of The Black Cat, usually one story a month has had some questionable element, often in the form of a “savage”: a character of Indian, Chinese, or Native American decent who has been written in line with every stereotype that, well, originated in the 1800s. On the feminism end of things, there have been some very traditional female characters, but also a few that were given agency and, you know, things to do.

This month though… Oh, 1896.

Stories

“For Fame, Money, or Love?” by R. Ottolengui

Two of the stories this month featured the inconstancy of women, faithless and fickle things that we are. Andrew Manning recreates the rooms of a dead college friend, Kraig, who believed that music could be a purer way of communicating. When Kraig’s fiance forsook him for a man with money (instead of the fame that his weird pipe organ invention will bring), he composes a song of grief and dies. It turns out Manning was the man with money, and he too was spurned by the woman when she left him near the alter for a third man, our narrator, who she is apparently, maybe going to marry for love.

R. (Rodrigues) Ottolengui was a writer of detective fiction and dentist with several novels to his name by the time this story was included in The Black Cat. This is a mildly creepy tale and is, therefore, my favorite of the month. (It was a low bar…)

“A No Account Niggah” by Leonard M. Prince

Yeah, that’s the name of the story. I’m sorry.

I read it. I’d like to say that the title, which is also a refrain in the story, is used with some irony: that the heroic actions of Rafferty—saving a young boy from bandits on the high plains—prove that the people around him are ignorant and prejudiced. It really doesn’t though.

“A Hundred Thousand Dollar Trance” by Eugene Shade Bisbee

Mesmerism was quite the fad in the late 1890s. This story proposes how hypnosis could be used to bilk people out of a lot of money. Rich men are mesmerized during a demonstration and convinced to write large checks. Pretty simple story, not terribly interesting from the guy who gave up a gems encrusted skull last month.

“The Misfit Gown” by Elmer Cook Rice

The Helping Hand Charitable Society is run by the wealthier girls of Brinkdale. Every year a new president of the society is elected. She has to be single and under 30 years-old. Every girl who has been president has ended up married. So, this story is about the rather tedious machinations of woman versus woman in a competition that will lead them to a husband.

If you look up Elmer Cook Rice on Amazon you will find that an author of the same name wrote books about making money by breeding small animals like squabs, hares, and ducks.

“The Shifting Sand” by C. C. Van Orsdall

“I need not tell you that my letter contained a story as old as love itself—the story of woman’s faithlessness.” Thus tells the story of a Southwestern prospector who went off to make his fortune for his fiance only to be spurned. He decides he might as well kill himself (and they call women hysterical…), but can’t decide how he wants to do it. Which leads him to find an Indian burial tomb complete with  jars of gold dust. But when he retreats from the tomb during a sudden storm, all that he grabs is a jar of glass beads. And, of course, he can’t find the tomb again.

I’ll admit, by this point I was just rather annoyed by this issue of The Black Cat and didn’t give this story much of a chance. I really hope the June issue won’t be so depressingly old.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 8, May 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project