Tune in here every Friday for Tea’s Weird Week.
Today starts my 3-day vacation, where I’ll be doing nothing but laying in a hammock drinking pina coladas. Just kidding. I will be doing some kicking back at the Moonlight Retreat, but I’ll also be taking a red pen to a couple manuscripts and leading a ghostlore workshop.
Being somewhat in vacation mode (and looking forward to fall), for today’s column I thought it would be appropriate to round up of some stories I’ve studied this summer. I’m working on finishing up a book about conspiracy theory (American Madness) and 2019 has been a helluva year for it. This summer in particular feels like the one where we collectively lost our damn minds. [I included links to further reading.]
Here’s my top 5 Summer of Conspiracy stories:
(1.) Storm Area 51: I wrote about the viral “Storm Area 51” event in this column a few weeks ago. Now there’s going to be a 3-day “Alien Stock” music fest, already drawing comparisons to the disastrous Fyre Festival. As I wrote before, I’ve been through the area and Rachel, the town the fest is happening in, has a population of 58 people, no infrastructure, no shelter, no nothing– the nearest gas station is 50 miles away! Not the best place for an EDM festival. [USA Today]
(2.) QAnon Vigilante: One of my editors sent this article to me and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more in the news cycle. Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, who was head of the Gambino crime family and spent most of his life avoiding death, had his ass capped by a vigilante conspiracy theorist named Anthony Comello, inspired by QAnon. I’ll be dissecting the story more in my book. [New York Times]
(3.) Flight of the Flat Earther. After aborting his mission last weekend, Flat Earther and rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes is set to blast 5,000 feet into the stratosphere in his homemade rocket tomorrow, which reads “Research Flat Earth” on the side and was funded by a hook-up dating app called Hud. The attempt will be filmed for an upcoming show called Homemade Astronauts for the Science Channel, which sounds fun. At first I was completely confused as to how launching 5,000 feet in the air could prove anything about Flat Earth as we have planes, hot air balloons, and hang gliders that can rise higher than that, but then I realized this is more about publicity. It’s not the journey, it’s how you get there. [Space.com]
(4.) V is for…Anti-vaxxer? This year’s San Diego Comic Con featured an appearance by a large group of protesters dressed as V, the character from V for Vendetta in a protest appearance made popular by Anonymous. A couple months earlier, the same (or similar) group protested outside of Disneyland for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, dressed as Star Wars characters. [respectfulinsolence.com]
(5.) Epstein Suicide Conspiracy. The most interesting news story of the last week for me was the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. It was just crazy to see conspiracies explode and proliferate online within minutes of his death being reported. Because Epstein had some connection to both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, the theories were partisan– Trump had him rubbed out or the Clintons had him whacked (to fit the Clinton Body Count theory) or a Deep State cabal did. I even saw theories that Epstein made a getaway, leaving a dead hobo’s body in his place (a theory spread by the band Foster the People, among others, who tweeted “Epstein’s on a private plane to somewhere in the middle east getting prepped for plastic surgery right now”). [NBC News]
Alright, enough conspiracy– I’m off to the Moonlight Retreat. Have a good weekend!
My favorite barbershop is Jose’s. Sad to hear of namesake Jose Ortiz’s death. Here’s an “Off the Cuff” I wrote on him for the Shepherd Express back in 2008, after someone suggested I stop in and talk to him because he was an interesting person. Indeed he was.: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/off-the-cuff/barber-extraordinaire
My latest book is Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers. You can find it here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Tea laughs it up and weirds out here every Friday.
This column (and my life) focuses a lot on Funny Weird, but today I thought I’d talk about another interest of mine, Funny Ha Ha. People tend to know I’ve written about subjects considered unique or unusual like Real Life Superheroes, paranormal investigators, doomsday prognosticators, conspiracy theorists, etc. But as a freelance writer, I’ve written about a lot of things that wouldn’t be considered to be fringe. Topics I’ve written at least a couple articles on include local music, burlesque, roller derby, food/drink, theater, comic book artists, authors, and interviews with a wide range of Milwaukeeans for the Shepherd Express and other publications.
And I’ve always had a fun time writing about comedy. Really, how can you go wrong? You sit around and laugh, then write it up.
I’ve written a few articles on the local comedy scene here in Milwaukee, including a round-up of local open mics and an article on Milwaukee Comedy Festival back when they were on year 2 or 3 (they just did their 14th year!) In more recent years I wrote on the Milwaukee comedy scene in general in 2015 and did an “Off the Cuff” interview with Matthew Filipowicz of Laughing Liberally earlier this year. Fun stuff.
Anyway, one of my favorite publications to freelance for is Scandinavian Traveler. I was contacted by them years ago when Risto Pakarinen editor (and author of a new novel, Someday Jennifer— congrats, Risto!) read my book Heroes in the Night and asked if I would be interested in penning an article on Real Life Superheroes.
Since then I’ve written a few articles for Scandinavian Traveler, including one on Chicago chocolatier Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat (a very delicious assignment), the Mars One program, and some checklists I compiled while I was on vacation in San Francisco.
Risto gave me an extremely delightful assignment for the July issue of Scandinavian Traveler, asking if I’d write about the improv school at the legendary Second City Chicago for their “10 Trips with a Purpose” cover story. I took a trip down to Chicago and participated in an improv class. I also interviewed artistic director Mark Hovde about the comedy biz and Second City’s amazing legacy as the starting point for comedians like Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Meyers, and so many other comedians that went on to Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central, and other comedy careers onstage and in writing rooms.
Here’s a PDF version of the magazine (my article is page 71-74): https://scandinaviantraveler.com/sites/default/files/st1907.pdf
ClownWatch 2019: 08/01/2019: IndieWire reports that the Alamo Drafthouse will have a “clowns only” screenings at 17 theaters on September 5 of It: Chapter 2.
“encouraged to come dressed as a clown – the wig, the makeup, the oversized pants and suspenders, the blood-curdling makeup — and sit through this coulrophobia-inducing fright fest with a theater full of fellow clowns.”
Great googly moogly, what could go wrong?
The Week in Links
The Apocalypse Blog Book Club’s late summer selection is Feed by Mira Grant. Next selection will be made early October. The groups meets in person in Milwaukee and has online discussion world wide. Join the club here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482975718409410/
Milwaukee Paranormal Conference 2019 is happening Sept.13-15. See a speaker line-up and get tickets here: https://milwaukeeparacon.com/2019/07/26/milwaukee-paranormal-conference-2019/
The Milwaukee Krampusnacht 2019 event page is live!: https://www.facebook.com/events/520974881979502/
There’s weird talk from Tea here every Friday.
My friends just come up with totally dope stuff, I’m beyond lucky to know such creative people. Take for example the Moonlight Retreat, which “offers arts, play, learning, fun, wonder, and a deeper connection with nature and community for all folks within a summer camp environment.” It’s like summer camp for creative adults. How cool is that?
I’m glad to say I’ll be a guest at this year’s Moonlight Retreat, leading a workshop about Wisconsin ghostlore, not in a conference room, but around a campfire, which is of course one of the best possible places to tell ghost stories. For the rest of the camp I’ll be enjoying the many cool workshops, reviewing drafts of my manuscripts, and just hanging out– “chillaxing” as those kids today say. Looking forward to it!
If you’d like more info on the Moonlight Retreat, here’s the link: https://www.naomishersty.net/moonlight-retreat
For a long list of other ghost related stuff I’m doing, check out the links section at the end of this column. But first…
Who can forget the Great Clown Scare of 2016? Clowns appeared all over the country, threatening people and sometimes participating in random acts of clowness, oops, I mean violence. Over the past couple weeks there’s been two incidents of clowns meeting law enforcement, which means I am officially opening up the hashtag #ClownWatch2019.
07/20/2019: Report and video footage of a Joker style clown that led California Highway Patrol on a wild goose chase for an hour, sometimes taunting them through the sunroof while a passenger steered the car. The clown eventually ditched the car on Venice Beach, and frolicked in the sand with people before being arrested for reckless driving.
07/26/2019: Man dressed as a clown that started a “mass brawl” on a British cruise ship off the coast of Norway. “There was blood everywhere,” a witness reported. “Passengers used furniture and plates as weapons.”
Is nowhere on earth safe from a clown induced brawl? We’ll keep track in this column.
The Apocalypse Blog Book Club
While working on my book Apocalypse Any Day Now, I started a book club that reads dystopian fiction. A local group meets in Milwaukee and people from all over the world are part of the Facebook group. I’m keeping the club going and voting is now open for our end of summer selection. Join us, vote, and get a good end of the world book pick for your beach reading! Here’s the group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482975718409410/
More Links to Ghost Stuff
Milwaukee Paranormal Conference 2019— we just announced our speaker line-up. You can see that and get tickets here: https://milwaukeeparacon.com/2019/07/26/milwaukee-paranormal-conference-2019/
I lead the Milwaukee Ghost Walks Third Ward tour, which starting this week is every Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30pm (except Aug.16-17 cause I’ll be at the Moonlight Retreat!) Tickets here: https://americanghostwalks.com/wisconsin/milwaukee-ghost-walks/
I’ll be at the Old Baraboo Inn Sept.28 for the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt to talk about the Legend of Al Capone (including his ghost). See last week’s column for more info. The event link is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/379959039385127/
My book Monster Hunters (which made the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2015 “100 Books for Your Summer Reading List”) has a lot of ghost material: CLICK HERE
Tune in every Friday to read about whatever weird stuff Tea is getting himself into.
Well, I’m on my way to visit Chicago twice in the next few days where I’ll be profiling legendary ghost experts Ursula Bielski (Chicago Hauntings) and Dale Kaczmarek (Ghost Research Society) for a magazine piece. Both are interesting people who have been in this ghost biz for a long time. The last time I saw them might have been at a panel I lead on Chicago Ghostlore at Wizard World Chicago a couple years ago, glad to be visiting Chicago and seeing them again.
I got an appropriate Chicago-themed book to read on the train by master level biographer Deirdre Bair titled Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend, research for an upcoming appearance I’ll be making in September at the Old Baraboo Inn.
I wrote an article for Cult of Weird titled “Chasing the Ghost of Al Capone” in 2016 that documented 5 places the ghost of the famous gangster is said to haunt. After reading it recently, my friends at the Old Baraboo Inn have asked me to join them in the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt there on September 28, as they’ve apparently heard whispers from Scarface himself.
I’m developing a presentation called “Legends of Al Capone.” It’ll premiere at Old Baraboo Inn and then entered into a roster of presentations called “Tea Talks” that I’m developing that will be available for library appearances, conferences, etc. See the Tea Talks page I’m developing here: https://teakrulos.com/teatalks
Here’s the event page for Old Baraboo Inn’s World’s Largest Ghost Hunt: https://www.facebook.com/events/379959039385127/
Unrelated to ghosts but much related to Al Capone, I’ve slowly been collecting some short stories about my life for an untitled book project. I don’t know when or where or how it might be published, but for now I’m just slowing adding to a Word doc whenever I have a memory I want to get down. I’m glad to share with you this short story I wrote about my overwhelming disappointment in Geraldo Rivera.
Al Capone’s Vaults
I can pinpoint my disenchantment date exactly. April 21, 1986, primetime, where you have found me, 9 years-old, excitedly sitting in front of a small but heavy television set in the living room, eating dinner at a TV table. This was a rarity—my parents insisted that dinner be at the dinner table except for Saturday nights, when we cooked frozen pizzas and watched movies in the living room. I was not allowed to watch more modern movies, so what we watched were a lot of old horror and sci fi movies—Dracula and Godzilla movies and old comedies starring the Marx Brothers and Abbot and Costello.
This was a special occasion, though, as my parents recognized my extreme excitement to see a two-hour Geraldo Rivera television special, THE MYSTERY OF AL CAPONE’S VAULTS. Wikipedia says about 30 million other people were also watching that night. I sat there eating maybe frozen pizza or fish sticks and French fries, with milk or orange soda.
Oh boy! Al fragging Capone, I knew who that was! [Breaking into a cartoon gangster impression] Yeah, see, I bet he had a lot of treasure in those secret vaults, see! I bet he had literal treasure chests filled with gold, see! Dead bodies—tommy guns—a stash of Cuban cigars—pictures of naked women! Who knows?! But we’ll find out soon as a construction crew behind Geraldo slowly worked to tantalizingly chisel through the wall to [TV announcer] AL CAPONE’S VAULTS!
I also knew who Geraldo was. My grandpa had angrily waved his hand in dismissal and said “ahhh, he’s just a ham,” which does actually sum up his career nicely.
Geraldo yakked on about Capone and his crime career and how you never know what’s just on the other side of this wall and wow maybe it’s filled with gold and cash! Each commercial break was an agonizing step closer.
Finally, after building suspense for two hours, the construction machinery burst through the wall of Al Capone’s vault! And there, Geraldo discovered the lost treasures of Al Capone—a few dusty, empty bottles. Trying to save face he commented that the bottles were antiques and might be worth something. A bitter smartass even at that age, I was like “yeah buddy, they’re worth 5 cents in Michigan.”
What a huge disappointment! It severely killed my expectation of things for life, which I suppose is kind of a good thing… life will let you down, get used to it.
But I’m glad to say those hard moments made the good ones all that much better.
Throughout my life there were also times of enchantment—moments where I believed in magic and ghosts and the wonders of the universe. But that goddamn Geraldo gave me this curse of a skeptical arched eyebrow, one that will expect a pile of dusty beer bottles in your alleged magical treasure vault.
Here’s some links!
RIP Rosemary Ellen Guiley, paranormal author and speaker. I met her briefly at a conference in Rockford and she signed one of her books, which is one of the favorites in my library– The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Loren Coleman wrote an excellent retrospect of her career here: http://copycateffect.blogspot.com/2019/07/Guiley-obit.html
My book Apocalypse Any Day Now is available here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Speaking of, the Apocalypse Blog Book Club, which selects dystopian fiction to read will have a poll on a new title next week. You can find the club here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482975718409410/
Tea reports on his weird week every Friday.
Every week is a little weird for me, but this week felt especially weird for everyone. The FaceApp (the one that makes you look old) is being called for investigation for it’s potential ties to Russian data mining, you can buy a drone-mounted flamethrower now, the trailer for the Cats movie is freaking people out, a five foot alligator (nicknamed “Chance the Snapper”) was caught in a lagoon in Chicago and in other weird alligator news, there was another story about flushed drugs creating “Alabama Meth-gators,”
But two other stories really grabbed my attention this week, both conspiracy related.
“Lets see them aliens.”
Wow, that Area 51 thing really blew up, huh? Started as a joke, the “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” Facebook event page now has over 1.5 million people saying they are “going” with more joining all the time. It’s produced a lot of hilarious memes, jokes, and genuine interest in the Area 51 story. A 2018 Netflix doc, Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, is likely what helped inspired this.
As I watched the number of people saying they were going to the event rapidly rise, I suspected that although the majority were just in it for a laugh, by mathematics alone there had to be some people who actually will show up at the Area 51 site on September 20 (the event date) to try to pole vault over the fence wearing homemade body armor.
Forbes reports in an article titled “Some People are Taking ‘Storming Area 51’ More Seriously Than Others” that:
“Hotels and campsites in the area have reportedly received a boost in reservations because of the event, and the Air Force issued a stern warning to potential raiders.”
I’ve already been there (but not inside, I’m sad to say). I’m working on a book about conspiracy theory (out Aug. 2020 from Feral House) and in 2015 I joined the main subject of my book, a conspiracy theorist (among other things) named Richard McCaslin, in a trip down the Extraterrestrial Highway. We stopped at the Li’l Ale’ E’ Inn, and cruised by the perimeter of Area 51, which is a lot of desert and chain link fence. You’ll be able to read all about my desert adventure in the book, including the similarities between Richard and this “Raid Area 51” event.
Here’s a picture I took of the Extraterrestrial Highway sign. I was amused to see that a local bar’s “I Closed Wolski’s” sticker, an omnipresent sight here in Milwaukee, made it all the way down there (in the upper left corner of the sign).
As for attempting to raid Area 51, let me say that despite the event title, I’m pretty sure the base can stop you all, probably with a couple of well placed machine guns. So please just stick to making funny memes and keep yourself out of jail and free of bullet wounds.
Thanks to my friend Wendy who shared a link with me to an article titled “House orders Pentagon to say if it weaponized ticks and released them,” (and it’s been picked up by many news outlets over the last few days) which alleges that Lyme disease could have been part of an experiment to see how it could be spread in a military lab creation. It immediately reminded me of my conspiracy research. While working on the book, I’ve been studying programs that might sound like a conspiracy theory, but turned out to be true. Among the most bizarre were military attempts to weaponize bugs and bacteria in the 1950s.
These included the wonderfully titled Operation Big Itch, a 1954 deployment of cluster bombs filled with hundreds of thousands of fleas, dropped on a controlled testing site in Utah.
Operation Big Buzz was launched the following year, an experiment to see if 300,000 mosquitoes and dispersed from an airplane above Georgia. Further tests with mosquitoes in Georgia and Florida occurred 1956-58 including Operation Drop Kick and Operation May Day.
Another bizarre experiment was Operation Sea-Spray in 1950, in which the unsuspecting population of San Francisco was sprayed with bacteria, which led to at least 11 people getting serious urinary tract infections (one died) and was possibly responsible for heart valve infections and infections to intravenous drug users.
The catalyst for this recent inquiry to the Pentagon about ticks comes from a book published this year titled Bitten: The Secret History of Lime Disease and Biological Weapons by Kris Newby, which is now at the top of my “to read” list. I’m curious to see Newby’s research and if she lays out a compelling case. I’ll follow up in this column when I’m done reading it.
This Week’s Links
I had a great time leading a discussion with Linda S. Godfrey at Boswell Book Company for her new book I Know What I Saw. I wrote about the book for the Shepherd Express here: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/books/linda-s-godfrey-looks-for-monsters-in-i-know-what-i-saw/
Next tours I’m leading: Milwaukee Ghost Walks Third Ward tour tomorrow (7/20) and next Saturday, 7/27. CLICK HERE for tickets. I’m also doing the Cream City Tours Riverwest Pinball Wizards tour on 7/28, Facebook event HERE.
My new book Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers can be found here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Tea shares his weird week with you every Friday.
When I was a kid, my family knew I was into “weird stuff,” so my parents and grandparents sometimes saved newspaper articles they thought I might be interested in.
The ones I remember vividly were the Tallmann House poltergeist of Horicon, Wisconsin, that grabbed headlines in 1988 (and appeared on Unsolved Mysteries) and the Beast of Bray Road, which howled and broke loose in 1991. They were probably the first newspaper reports I read, and I thought about them a lot, drawing pictures of what the apparitions in Horicon might look like, and imagining werewolves lurking in the Wisconsin cornfields my family drove by.
Not shared with me, by the way, were reports on Jeffrey Dahmer and his arrest the same year, 1991. I would learn about that by eavesdropping on my grandma and mom talking about the case in hushed tones as they drank coffee at the kitchen table, while I hid around the corner.
Many years later, I was thrilled to meet Linda S. Godfrey, who was the reporter to break the story of the Beast of Bray Road and has since become a prolific author. Me and my friend, photographer Lacy Landre, drove out to meet her for lunch in Elkhorn and then me and Lacy cruised down Bray Road to see the stomping ground of the Beast. I wrote about Linda and the Beast in my book Monster Hunters: On the Trail with Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists, and Other Paranormal Investigators (2015, Chicago Review Press) in a chapter titled “The Accidental Werewolf Chronicler.”
An excerpt of that chapter was also part of a werewolf themed issue of Fortean Times magazine (July 2015).
Linda has gone on to write many books and I’m glad she’s also been a part of the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference every year, and was presented with the first “Wisconsin Researcher of the Year” award at our year one event.
The Beast, meanwhile, has become a permanent part of Wisconsin lore, still very much talked about. For proof go no further than Seth Breedlove’s excellent The Bray Road Beast documentary, part of his highly recommended Small Town Monsters doc series.
I was happy to be asked to lead a discussion and Q and A with Linda for her new book I Know What I Saw: Modern Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore (Penguin/Random House), a great new collection of weird monster sightings. It’s happening Wednesday, July 17, 7pm at Boswell Book Company.
Here’s a short article I wrote on the book for the Shepherd Express: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/books/linda-s-godfrey-looks-for-monsters-in-i-know-what-i-saw
And a link to the Boswell appearance event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/454343315368924/
It’s sure to be an interesting discussion!
I’m glad to say I’ll get a chance to revisit the Beast myself (along with the Tallmann House poltergeist and much more) in my book Wisconsin Legends & Lore, out early in 2020 (I have two books out next year!) from The History Press.
The Week in Links
I’m the tour guide for the Milwaukee Ghost Walks Third Ward Tour (almost) every Saturday evening. Friday tours will be added starting next month. You can get tickets here: https://americanghostwalks.com/wisconsin/milwaukee-ghost-walks/
I’m still working on developing Cream City Tours. We’re doing a Riverwest Pinball Wizards tour Sunday, July 28 at 5pm, Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/727504021015028/
Get a copy of my new book Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
One of the best experiences I had working on my new book Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers was attending Wasteland Weekend out in the Mojave Desert. A chapter titled “Wastelanders” relays my experiences and all the good times I had there as I explored the end of the world in pop culture.
I really really want to go back, maybe do a book signing in the Thunderdome, make a few caps writing for The Wastelander, hang out at Wasted Saints, and enjoy all the Waste has to offer. It looks my travel budget is going to take me elsewhere this fall, but I’m shooting for 2020 if anyone wants to join my camp.
Fortunately, there’s a small slice of Wasteland pie to be enjoyed here in Sweet Home Milwaukee with the annual Mad Max Run, which celebrated ten years last Sunday. It’s a post-apocalyptic motorcycle ride that cruises around Milwaukee shaking shit up, organized by Cormac Kehoe, who also attends Wasteland and is a badass photographer. He has a few of his Wasteland photos featured in my book. Check out his incredibly beautiful Wasteland and Mad Max Run photos on his Flickr.
I hung out for the ride launch at Fuel Cafe so I could give Cormac and Mizz Breakbones (featured in one of his photos in the book) copies of the book. You can order your own Wasteland vacation reading material here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Tomorrow I’m going to spend some time at ye olde Bristol Renaissance Faire with my dear Kate and her sister. Kate is the person who prevents me from lighting myself on fire while I run down the street shouting obscenities. We go to Ren Faire once a year.
I told Kate this story, and I’ll tell you, too. When I was young, my parents brought me to what was then King Richard’s Renaissance Faire (according to the Internet, it operated as such from 1972-1988 before switching to Bristol). It was a little more rough around the edges than Bristol is. I remember a lot of people drunk on beer, and a row of muddy, shitty port-a-potties. The mud wrestling show, which now has it’s own little amphitheater, used to happen in the middle of the walkways.
Anyway, me and my parents are walking along when we see Excalibur, the sword in the stone. There’s a bunch of burly 80s bikers sweating and grunting, trying to muscle the sword out. There was a sign that probably read something like: “Thou whost pulleth the sword from the stone shalleth be declared rightful King of England.”
My parents told me I should try, so I gripped the sword handle and to my surprise, I pulled the sword out from the stone! The thing felt like it weighed 100 pounds. My memory of what happened next is a little fuzzy. A man dressed as a monk or a wizard came running over. He said I had magic powers and placed the sword back in the stone, showed me that it was stuck, then waved his hand around the handle and pulled it out again. My chief suspect for this magic power: a big ass magnet.
This monk or wizard made a lot of grandiose pageantry about my accomplishment and told me I was King of England.
“How about this,” I told him. “I’ll give up my title if you let me keep the sword.”
A royal NO was the answer to that.
The Week in Links
-I host the Milwaukee Ghost Walks Third Ward tour every Saturday evening (Friday dates will be added next month). You can find tickets here: https://americanghostwalks.com/wisconsin/milwaukee-ghost-walks/
-How about that new “Tea’s Weird Week” columnhead, what a beaut, right? The photo was taken by Megan Berendt Photography and the weirdo design was by Margot Lange.
-Very excited this month to be hosting a conversation with Linda S. Godfrey on her new book I Know What I Saw, coming up quick on July 17 at Boswell Book Company. Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/454343315368924/
-I was glad to see my book Apocalypse Any Day Now included in Milwaukee Magazine as part of a pile of books with local ties to read this summer. Post-apocalyptic living makes for good beach reading!
Hello, friends. I’m starting this weekly blog every Friday (except when I don’t) just to throw some random weirdness at you. I’m almost constantly researching some topic that has a level of strangeness to it, so I’m going to share some flotsam and jetsam of stuff I’m reading, hearing, and links to things I’m doing.
Right now I’m hard at work on a book that is about conspiracy theory (title reveal soon, out August 2020 from Feral House) and for years I’ve been in deep researching conspiracy. One of the final topics I’m looking into is Flat Earth Theory. Flat Earthers were the subject of a really good Netflix doc titled Behind the Curve (recommended). I wanted to learn more on the legacy of the concept and found an excellent book titled Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea by Christine Garwood (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008).
My favorite chapters so far involve the birth of a Flat Earth movement in England in the mid to late 1800s started by a “travelling lecturer and quack doctor” born Samuel Birley Rowbotham, who went by the pseudonym “Parallax.” The movement was born out of a reaction against Charles Darwin and other new emerging scientific ideas.
The parallels to modern Flat Earthers is uncanny. Flat Earthers use YouTube and blogs to convey their messages, and Parallax and others (some other pseudonyms of Flat Earthers of this era were “Common Sense” and “Square”) gave talks at lecture halls and produced their own cheap pamphlets that shared their ideas. Parallax wrote a Flat Earth classic in 1865 titled Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe! and peddled snake oil “miracle cures.”
Inspired by his teachings, others took up the “Zetetic” flat earth philosophy in England, including a Bible-literalist with an explosive Alex Jones type of demeanor named John Hampden, and Lady Elizabeth Anne Mould Blount, who founded the Universal Zetetic Society and liked to compose poetry and songs about the Flat Earth.
Speaking of names that would make good metal band names, try this one on for size: Cthulhu Power Zone, which would make for a great occult rock group, a little prog, a little psychedelic, I’m thinking something like a band I really like called Purson (check out their video for “Leaning on a Bear“).
This came from a conversation on Facebook I was tagged in with my great Fortean friends Loren Coleman, Allison Jornlin, Mike Huberty, Kevin Nelson, and others. There were apparently attempts at magick rituals at Devil’s Lake (which is a Cthulhu Power Zone, you see) here in Wisconsin in attempt to awaken Lovecraft’s ancient Deep Ones.
Occultists Michael Bertiaux and Kenneth Grant corresponded about these rituals sometime before Grant wrote his 1975 book Cults of the Shadow. Authors Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce write this in their book Necronomicon Files: the Truth Behind Lovecraft’s Legend:
The impression Grant gives of Bertiaux’s activities in Cults of the Shadow makes La Couleuvre Noire sound like an American version of his New Isis Lodge– complete with beautiful priestesses copulating with scaly Mythos monsters on the shores of deserted Midwestern lakes.
When I was a kid, my grandparents took me on a couple of summer trips to a campground on Devil’s Lake in their RV. Grandma watched soap operas and read tabloids while my grandpa whittled wood and got fresh air. I think my grandpa was probably disappointed I didn’t spend more time fishing and hiking, choosing instead to bury my nose in books about monsters and mystery for the whole trip. I thought Devil’s Lake was kinda boring at that age, and my fiction books were much more interesting.
If I only knew beautiful priestesses were copulating with scaly monsters after the sun went down!
The Week in Links
I’m hosting a Riverwest Pinball Wizards tour today with my new enterprise Cream City Tours! It’s at 5pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/2479858658743880/
Milwaukee Paranormal Conference is happening Sept.13-15 (main conference is Sept.14) and tickets went on sale this week: mpc2019.brownpapertickets.com
I wrote an “Off the Cuff” column for the Shepherd Express this week on IndependenceFirst’s new gaming system. This is a great program and I’m glad I had a chance to write on it: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/off-the-cuff/gaming-for-everyone-with-independencefirst
Chicago Review Press rounded up some of their books and paired them with Netflix binge watching. They paired my book Apocalypse Any Day Now with Black Mirror. Not bad, not bad: https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/blog/bookalike-netflix-binge-edition-2/
See you next week!
Note: this article originally appeared on the site Third Coast Digest in 2013.
Just outside of Sauk City, there is a quiet road that leads to an estate. On that estate, there is a cozy-looking sandstone house, surrounded by trees, called the Place of Hawks. And within the Place of Hawks, one of the most quietly influential publishing houses in the United States was born.
Both houses – publishing and domestic – were built by August Derleth. From his first published story in 1926 to his death in 1971, Derleth established himself as one of Wisconsin’s most prolific and diverse writers, the author of over 150 books. His output spans a vast array of genres, including poetry, non-fiction, mystery, juvenile adventure, historical fiction and biography, but his best known works are the “Sac Prairie Saga,” a series of books that take place in Sac Prairie, a fusion of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. The saga’s crown jewel is often considered to be 1961’s Walden West, Derleth’s attempt to emulate Thoreau’s similar East Coast chronicle through journal writings about his fellow Midwesterners.
Derleth was larger than life in his writing legacy and in life itself. One writer noted that he looked more like a football player or lumberjack, and when fellow Wisconsinite Frank Lloyd Wright told Derleth that the Place of Hawks looked more like a barn, Derleth himself had the witty reply: “Why not? A bull’s going to live in it!”
Yet this bull’s biggest contribution to American literature came not from his own writings, but from the writings of others, carefully curated and edited. And those writings couldn’t have been more different from his own. While Derleth’s works focused on the very real world of middle Wisconsin, the works he edited and published talked of terrifying ancient monsters, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, aliens, barbarians and all other things that go bump in the night. These stories now make up the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, but at the time Derleth began his career writing for the pulp magazines, they were often lumped together in one category: “weird fiction.”
For 32 years, Derleth oversaw Arkham House, a specialty publishing imprint that offered the rare opportunity for authors of weird fiction to have their works published in book form. From Derleth’s office inside the Place of Hawks came a catalog of historically significant publications. The first book by Ray Bradbury, one of science fiction’s most famed and read writers. The first book by Robert Bloch, the Wisconsinite better known as the man who wrote Psycho. An early work by Robert E. Howard, crafter of Conan the Barbarian; the U.S. debut of British horror writer Ramsey Campbell.
And, most significantly, The Outsider and Others, the first published collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, a man now considered second only to Edgar Allan Poe in his importance to American horror writing.
It’s a powerful legacy to leave behind, and it all began with one story – the one a young Derleth sold in 1926, at the age of 16. The story was a vampire tale titled “Bat’s Belfry,” and he sold it to a publication that billed itself as “the unique magazine”: Weird Tales.
DAYS OF PULP FICTION
Even beyond its role in publishing Derleth’s early stories, the history of Weird Tales is tied tightly to that of Arkham House itself. Many of Arkham House’s early books were collections of stories that had first appeared in the pages of the magazine and similar pulps – inexpensive magazines published up until the ’50s that commonly were themed to focus on the maxi-genre of “weird fiction.”
Robert Bloch, one of Derleth’s colleagues and a future Arkham House author, first encountered Weird Tales as a young boy at the Northwest Railroad Station in Chicago when his aunt offered to buy him a magazine to read on a train trip. It was an experience he would later chronicle vividly in his autobiography, Once Around the Bloch.
“Literally hundreds of periodicals — including the popular weekly and monthly pulp magazines — ranked in gaudy array. Row after row of garish covers caught the eye — romance, mystery, detective stories, westerns, and every variety of sports. There were even pulps devoted exclusively to railroad yarns, pirates, WWI air combat. I stared at them, fascinated by the abundance of riches.”
After careful scrutinizing, Bloch picked up a copy of Weird Tales and was hooked.
Weird Tales was founded in 1923 and ran for 279 horror-filled issues before folding in 1954. It featured the work of hundreds of pulp fiction writers. Some writers were so prolific that they would write multiple stories per issue, using pseudonyms. Derleth was one of the magazine’s most frequent contributors, writing under his own name and as “Stephen Grendon.”
Robert Bloch’s family moved from Chicago to Milwaukee, where they settled on the East Side. Bloch continued to read Weird Tales, later recalling in his autobiography that he would wake up early on the first of every month to rush down the street to the Ogden Smoke Shop. There he would plunk down 25 cents (a quarter of his monthly allowance) for a copy, then rush home and ravenously read it.
Bloch’s favorite Weird Tales writer was a man relatively unknown outside of the magazine’s readership: Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Eager to read more of his work, Bloch sent him a letter, asking where he might be able to find more of his stories. To his surprise and delight, Lovecraft not only wrote back, but gave a detailed listing of his magazine stories and offered to send him some tearsheets to borrow and read.
Much of Lovecraft’s work was dubbed by Derleth as the “Cthluhu Mythos,” a series of connected storylines where curious minded explorers uncover godlike beings known as “the Ancient Ones,” like the squid-faced, bat-winged Cthulhu, or the space entity Yog-Sothoth, depicted as a mass of tentacles and glowing spheres.
Lovecraft’s life became a mythology of its own. His is the classic and tragic story of a writer who lived in poverty, with his work largely unknown during his life. After his death, his work slowly became popular and celebrated around the world, a huge influence on future horror writers like Stephen King and Clive Barker.
Most of Lovecraft’s life was spent in Providence, Rhode Island, where he boarded with his elderly aunts, living off a meager inheritance and occasionally selling his writing. His own output was small as he focused a lot of his time on letter writing, ghostwriting and revision work. One of Lovecraft’s ghostwriting collaborations was penning a story for Weird Tales credited to magician Harry Houdini titled “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs,” in 1924.
Most of what is known about Lovecraft, everything from his writing habits to his great love of cats, is from examining the thousands of letters he wrote in his lifetime. The people he corresponded with were fellow weird fiction writers or would-be writers. This group is known as the “Lovecraft Circle” and would exchange story ideas and offer opinion and criticism (and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.) Although he met some of his pen pal colleagues, Lovecraft corresponded with others for years and never met them in person.
Derleth first wrote to Lovecraft in 1926, and the two writers went on to exchange approximately 1,000 letters over 11 years, but never met. Derleth was a fan and promoter of Lovecraft’s work and Lovecraft, likewise, was a fan of some of Derleth’s work. He boasted of Derleth’s diverse skill in a letter to Lovecraft Circle writer E. Hoffmann Price, telling him he would send him copies of some of Derleth’s regional themed short stories.
“You will see in these things a writer absolutely alien to the facile little hack who grinds out minor Weird Tales junk,” Lovecraft wrote. “There is nothing in common betwixt Derleth A and Derleth B- no point of contact in their mental worlds- and yet one brain houses them both…artist and businessman, standing back to back and never speaking!”
Robert Bloch also continued his correspondence with Lovecraft, who encouraged him to try his hand at writing. Bloch sold his first story — “The Secret of the Tomb” — to Weird Tales in 1934. Early in their correspondence, Lovecraft suggested that Bloch show some of his work to Derleth, who wasn’t impressed.
“I sent one of my efforts to August Derleth, whose reaction was not quite as favorable,” Bloch wrote. “To put it bluntly – and he did – Derleth told me flat out I would never be a professional writer.”
Despite this initial rejection, Derleth soon re-evaluated Bloch’s work and the two became friends. Derleth would go on to publish Bloch’s first book, The Opener of the Way, in 1945.
By 1953, Bloch and his family had moved from Milwaukee to Weyauwega, where he would pen his most famous work, Psycho. The book was inspired by a ghastly true crime story from a neighboring city, Plainfield, in 1957: The mentally ill Ed Gein was revealed to have had robbed graves and murdered two women, then used their body parts to make furniture and other artifacts in his home. Bloch used this horrifying taxidermy and small town setting to create his most memorable character, Norman Bates.
Despite his move far north, Bloch often visited Derleth out in Sauk City. On one such trip, he and Derleth discussed subsidizing a trip for Lovecraft to come visit Wisconsin over the summer. It never came to pass. On March 15, 1937, Bloch got a somber phone call from Derleth — Lovecraft was dead at age 46.
PRESERVING THE LOVECRAFT LEGACY AND NOTABLE FINDS
Lovecraft’s sudden death came as a shock and loss for his entire circle. Derleth found out about Lovecraft’s death in a letter from Howard Wandrei, one of Lovecraft’s correspondents.
“I read (Wandrei’s) letter on my way into the marshes below Sauk City, where I frequently went to sit in the sun and read, and where that day I had along a volume of Thoreau’s Journal. Instead of reading, however, I sat at a railroad trestle beside a brook and thought of how Lovecraft’s best stories could be published in book form,” Derleth later recalled in the introduction to his retrospective book Thirty Years of Arkham House.
Derleth began speaking to Howard’s brother Donald Wandrei, who was living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, about collecting Lovecraft’s stories into a book format. After the two writers collected a 553-page volume of Lovecraft’s stories from Weird Tales, they took turns showing it to their respective publishers. They were both rejected.
Derleth and Wandrei were determined to have the book, which they titled The Outsider and Others, see print. They soon agreed to self-publish the book, making it the first published under the Arkham House imprint. The title was a tribute to a fictional New England town that Lovecraft used as a backdrop for several of his stories.
The Outsider and Others was slow to sell, but the taste of publishing encouraged Derleth and Wandrei to encourage them to keep trying. They published a compilation of Derleth’s weird fiction, titled Someone in the Dark, in 1941, following it up with Out of Space and Time, by Lovecraft Circle member Clark Ashton Smith, in 1942 and their second Lovecraft collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep in 1943. With four books in print, Arkham House began to see a return on their investment.
Derleth’s best judgement as an editor was the risks he took on younger writers. In 1947 he published a collection of short stories by a young pulp writer named Ray Bradbury, titled Dark Carnival. Bradbury drove Derleth crazy with constant revisions on the volume up until the publishing date, finally sending the final manuscript in with this note attached:
“Dark Carnival was completed under severe strain. I’ve been having the devil’s own time with my personal life in the last six months and this is not conducive to continuous and productive writing. There are times when I am certain that all good writers should be castrated and chained to their typewriters, it would be much simpler.”
Dark Carnival was the only Bradbury book published by Arkham House, but it was far from the only work published: In the years to follow, Bradbury would gain acclaim for his novels The Martian Chroniclesand Fahrenheit 451, making him another successful writer with ties back to the Place of Hawks.
ARKHAM HOUSE’S SECOND GENERATION
Arkham House was never truly financially successful, but the publishing house grew in the decades following its founding nonetheless. August Derleth’s son, Walden, says his father’s success stemmed from his incredible work ethic, and helped the company grow far past the confines of his office.
“He stored books all over the house, but mainly the basement and upstairs in a spare room where he packed the books and got them ready to ship,” Walden said. “In 1968, business had grown so much that he built a warehouse on his land to operate out of, but from 1939- 1967, it was all done out of the house.”
And then one sudden event changed everything. On July 4, 1971, August Derleth returned from a walk to the post office feeling weary and ill. He laid down to rest, and died of a heart attack that same morning.
In the years since, Derleth’s impact on the sci-fi and fantasy genre has gone largely unrecognized, according to his son. “There’s so many times when an award is presented or a biography is written and they forget to mention Dad. I really wish Dad would get credit for what he has done – not just for Lovecraft’s popularity, but for the entire fantasy genre,” Walden said.
But Derleth’s large body of work lives on, thanks in part to the August Derleth Society, formed in 1978 to preserve his legacy. The group works to keep his books in print, and celebrates his work at an annual Walden West Festival held each year in Sauk City.
Arkham House lives on too, although its survival was not as certain. Derleth had predicted that Arkham House would likely die with him and he was nearly right, thanks to a legal battle that cropped up between his founding partner Donald Wandrei and Derleth’s law firm, both of which claimed the rights to the Lovecraft books’ copyrights, which temporarily derailed Arkham House’s attempts to move on in Derleth’s absence.
After a few interim hires, James Turner was named as Arkham House’s new editor in 1974. He began putting projects into production that had been laying dormant since Derleth’s death as well as acquiring new material, including a foray into projects more akin to traditional sci-fi. But after he and August Derleth’s daughter, April, came into conflict over creative differences in 1996, he left the company and she took over as president and CEO.
2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Arkham House’s founding, and while the company is still largely unrecognized, it is still offering an outlet for the publication of “weird fiction.” In 2009, Arkham House teamed up with Canadian publisher George Vanderburgh and his imprint Battered Silicon Dispatch Box to publish a four-volume book set titled The Macabre Quarto in 2009, celebrating what would have been Derleth’s 100th birthday. And while April Derleth may have passed away in 2011, her children Damon Derleth and Danielle Jacobs carry on the family legacy, guiding the little Wisconsin imprint that made a big contribution to American literature.
More articles I’ve written related to Arkham House and H.P. Lovecraft:
The Lovecraft Expert: An Interview with S.T. Joshi, Innsmouth Free Press, 2013
My new book Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers is out now from Chicago Review Press wherever books are sold. You can order a copy here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
The Milwaukee book release event for my book Apocalypse Any Day Now is happening this Friday (April 12, 7pm) at Woodland Pattern Book Center! The beautiful Woodland Pattern is more famous for being the heart center of poetry in Milwaukee than it is for books practicing doomsday scenarios.
To celebrate my appearance there, I took a couple of classified ads I found while working on my book and reworked them into a poem. Kind of a found object art, I suppose.
Prepper Classified Ad
Drama…save it for someone else, not our thing
We are not a typical militia
We are preppers as well
We also are a family and a community orientated militia
We have that bug out location if y’all don’t have one
We have a well that is never ending.
We ask that if y’all come, bring as much
i.e. pain killers
bring ammo and guns
The two people in charge are former military
We can and have the will power to protect you
I won’t mince words
I can not guarantee that you will be running around in a silk robe in a 20 story community with a shopping mall and a swimming pool on every floor…
Bring your chickens, your critters, your children
I offer protection
I offer the country
the combined resources
Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground With America’s Doomsday Preppers is available now wherever books are sold and online at: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Tea is appearing at Woodland Pattern Book Center this Friday at 7pm, with an after party at Landmark Lanes at 9. For more upcoming appearances (including West Bend, Madison, Wisconsin Rapids, and Chicago) click here: https://teakrulos.com/upcoming-appearances/