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/
Today is the official release date of Apocalypse Any Day Now, and I’m glad to say the title has gotten some good media hits over the last week. Here’s a round up:
Milwaukee Record: I wrote an article here speculating on the top 5 places to bunker down in if the Shit Hits the Fan in Milwaukee: https://milwaukeerecord.com/city-life/top-5-places-to-ride-out-the-apocalypse-in-milwaukee-from-the-author-of-apocalypse-any-day-now/
The Morning Blend- TMJ 4: What a fun time! Who knew the Apocalypse could be perky morning show material? After the cameras were done rolling I hung out with the hosts and talked about Sasquatch and conspiracy theories. Here’s the interview: https://www.tmj4.com/shows/the-morning-blend/deep-underground-with-americas-doomsday-preppers
Milwaukee Magazine: A nice Q and A feature with Archer Parquette here: https://www.milwaukeemag.com/interview-milwaukee-author-tea-krulos-about-his-new-book-apocalypse-any-day-now
See You on the Other Side podcast: I always love being on this podcast, and Mike and Wendy (who are also in a band called sunspot) wrote a new song for the episode called “Fire and Brimstone.” It’s a scorcher, mate! Listen here: http://www.othersidepodcast.com/blog/2019/03/30/241-apocalypse-any-day-now-surviving-the-end-of-the-world-with-tea-krulos/
Riverwest Currents: Lee Gutowski, editor of the paper wrote a book review. You can find a digital version of the newspaper here (or find a print copy in Milwaukee): https://riverwestcurrents.org/2019/03/riverwest-currents-april-issue.html
Here’s my favorite takeaway from the review:
“All in all, Apocalypse Any Day Now is a thorough, fascinating, sometimes scary and often funny look at this serious subject. Krulos treats his subjects with respect- he isn’t laughing and pointing at anyone here. But he certainly has a knack for lightening up some very heavy information with his observations and tone in this uniquely Krulos-ian read.”
Oh yeah, unrelated to this book, but I was also thrilled to see the Outdoor Wisconsin episode featuring Milwaukee Krampus and Milwaukee Krampusnacht, I’m featured in the episode along with many other participants. You can see it online here: https://youtu.be/pb6o07pvQNs
Find out more ways you can support me and the book in my previous blog post: https://teakrulos.com/2019/03/12/ways-you-can-support-me-and-my-new-book/
Buy the book direct: https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
I saw my friends Wendy and Ellie commenting on a graphic that talked about ways you can help an author with a new book and wanted to share some of those ideas. I’ve learned I need to be more vocal about asking for help when I need to. This is something I’ve failed to do in the past because of pride, ego, self-doubt, and fear. My new book Apocalypse Any Day Now is out April 2, and I’m hoping you might help support it. There’s some simple ways you can help listed below.
Buy the book: That seems pretty obvious, but pre-sales and the first week or so of publication is an important time to support me by buying the book. People ask me for the best way to buy the book, and here’s the best ways in order…
-Buy the book direct from my publisher: https://chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
-Buy the book from me/ a bookstore I am appearing at (I have a link to events below).
-Buy the book (ask them to order it if they don’t have it in stock) at an independent bookstore near you!
Library: I love librarians so much and have since I was a kid. Most libraries have a simple material request form on their websites, or are glad to talk to you in person. Getting my books into libraries is a huge help to me and also makes me happy to know that it is available to anyone who wants to read it.
Reviews: Even if you don’t buy the book from Amazon, leaving a review there helps, even if it’s a short one. If you get 50 reviews, the Big A will more actively promote your book. Leaving reviews anywhere like Barnesandnoble.com or Goodreads is also good. Here’s the link to the book on Amazon.
Social media/share: Social media is an important part of promotion. Please do add/like my pages:
Facebook (author page): https://www.facebook.com/theTeaKrulos
Sharing links to my books/social media is always appreciated!
Events: I would love to see you in person! Between my day jobs and staying in to work on projects, I don’t get out much. My (The End of the) World Tour includes appearances coming up in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, West Bend, and Wisconsin Rapids in April and May and I table at events here and there year round. Here’s a list of my upcoming appearances: https://teakrulos.com/upcoming-appearances/
Word of mouth: Even in a social media age, word of mouth is still really helpful. If you like a book, tell people about it. If you know a blogger, podcaster, book reviewer, radio host, etc., tell them about it.
Take a minute to say hi: I’m sure other writers feel this way, too– there are some days where I just feel I got no momentum, that no one reads my stuff or gives a damn, on bad days I feel like a reject or a loser. So when someone does take time to tell me they enjoyed something I wrote, either on social media, e-mail, or in person, it really goes a long way.
I am making a resolution to practice what I preach here and drop authors a message to tell them I enjoy their work when I read a good book. A simple message can make someone’s day and encourage them to keep going in a biz that can be really rough.
Thanks to everyone who supports me and my writing!
Another way to support me is to buy me a coffee.
I was recently a guest on See You on the Other Side podcast, where I discussed a somewhat unusual annual tradition I’ve had the last couple years while working on my new book Apocalypse Any Day Now, due out in April.
Every January I’ve been tuning in to the live reveal of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday Clock, which is the basis for the introduction of Apocalypse Any Day Now. The Bulletin uses the clock as a metaphor to how close the world is ticking to a apocalyptic-level disaster (symbolized by Midnight on the clock). A board of scientists take into consideration factors like nuclear threats, climate change, and merging technologies.
Last January we ticked as close as we’ve been since the invention of the H-bomb…2 minutes to Midnight. What time are we at now? My prediction is that we are going to remain hovering ominously at 2 to Midnight, but we’ll see.
You can join me! The clock reveal is tomorrow at 9am Central/ 10am Eastern and is streaming live from the National Press Club in Washington DC on Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/BulletinOfTheAtomicScientists/ and Twitter: https://twitter.com/BulletinAtomic
I’ll be posting some live reactions on my Twitter page: https://twitter.com/TeaKrulos
Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers is out April 2, available wherever books are sold and can be pre-ordered online at www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
You can see J.Jason Groshopf’s original layout for this article here: http://www.j-jason.com/#/boozehound/
Reposting this article is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m not sure where I first heard of the Brass Rail, but I became a little fascinated with it about ten years ago and spent hours looking through old articles at the Central Library. I tracked down and interviewed people who had knowledge of the place, including Milwaukee jazz greats Berkeley Fudge and Manty Ellis. This article was first published in the Alcoholmanac in 2009, but wasn’t posted online. I edited it here to add some info, and fix choppy language. At the end I’ve added some bonus material like short newspaper articles I found on the notorious club and an interview with someone about the Princess Theater next door.
COLD-BLOODED MOB MURDER! SEX! RED HOT JAZZ!
THE STORY OF THE BRASS RAIL
The infamous Brass Rail jazz and striptease club was opened in 1956 on 3rd and Wells in downtown Milwaukee. It was located next door (and, it’s been said, connected by secret entrance to) the Princess theater, a former 900 seat movie palace that fell from grace to become a XXX adult film theater.
1960 started with a murder mystery of the colorful owner of the club, Isadore “Izzy” Pogrob. After his murder the club was run by “Mr.Slick,” aka Frank Balistrieri, head of organized crime in Milwaukee. For almost thirty years, the bar grabbed headlines before being torn down in 1984.
On Wednesday, January 6, 1960, around 3am Izzy was closing the Brass Rail, along with his employees. These included bartenders Vito Aiello and Henry “Hooks” Hanscher, and master of ceremonies Hugh Patton. He decided to take them all out to breakfast down the street at the Belmont Hotel. Izzy was 320 plus pounds, and eating was his favorite thing to do next to flashing his giant roll of cold hard cash. It was reported that Izzy “loved the feel of money.”
Accounts of what type of person Izzy was vary.
“He was a desperado, but he and his brother always made a good living. He was a character,” says Simie Fein, owner of Fein Brothers restaurant supply store on King Drive. “I knew his brother, Irv, better than I knew Izzy. Irv had a pawn shop, about a block away (from the Brass Rail). We used to hang out there in the back room and play cards.” Fein says the Pogrob brothers also managed a liquor store in the same area.
“I remember him. Oh man. He was a fucking idiot. I hate to say it. He was big, dumb. Tried to be a bully. He was obnoxious,” says Manty Ellis, a jazz guitarist and pianist that frequented and played the Brass Rail. “He was like 6’7, 6’8. And he must have weighed like 550 pounds. 400 hundred or 500 pounds [he’s actually reported to be about 320 pounds]. Couldn’t keep his mouth shut!” Ellis recalled with a laugh.
The Brass Rail had become a sizzling hot venue for local and national jazz acts. Some of jazz music’s biggest names played there. Jazz saxophonist and Wisconsin Conservatory of Music teacher Berkeley Fudge played the club and recalls seeing the legendary Dizzy Gillespie with trumpeter Lee Morgan play there as well.
“I played there three or four times in the 60s, with a guitar and piano. That was when I was with the Jack Rice Trio,” Fudge told me in a 2009 interview. “We were just there backing up those strippers, you know. There wasn’t much attention paid to the band.” He guessed the musicians might have been paid about 15 or 20 dollars a night at the club back then.
Some Brass Rail ads for Miles Davis and a fire eater named Zana. I pulled these from Bobby Tanzilo’s great article “Chasin’ the Trane to Milwaukee: When John Coltrane Did and Didn’t Play Here” for OnMilwaukee.com
So back to Big Iz. It’s just after 3am and he was eating and flashing his roll of cash (about $1500 worth) at the Belmont Hotel’s cafe, while a mysterious man with “long dyed blond hair”, sat near the group, eavesdropping. The man then conferred with two men sitting in a booth nearby, the waitress working that night reported to the Milwaukee Journal.
After eating, Izzy crawled in his huge white Cadillac and headed home. It was the last he was seen alive.
The next day the Cadillac was found splattered with blood. Later in the day Izzy was found, too. He was blindfolded, shot 9 times in the head and neck, and dumped in a drainage ditch, off highway 167 in Mequon. The murder has never been solved.
Izzy’s death wasn’t the first murder with ties to the club. Christina Calligaro was a “22-year-old, thrice married exotic dancer” according to a 1959 Milwaukee Sentinel report. She stripped under the name “Brenda Baye” at the Brass Rail for eight weeks in fall of 1959, and worked other strip clubs as well. On Dec.20, 1959 she was found shot four times on a gravel road outside of Peoria, WI, dressed in her “dance costume.” Pogrob and Calligaro were murdered about a year apart, both shot and ditched, both unsolved.
Izzy’s brother Irvin Pogrob took over the Brass Rail after Izzy’s death, but by all accounts wasn’t as flashy as his brother. He eventually sold the business to someone better suited for it.
Someone better suited like “Mr. Fancy Pants” aka “Mr. Slick” aka the sharply dressed Frank P. Balistrieri, head of the Milwaukee mafia. Among other things, he ran casino skimming and vending machine rackets. One of his reported favorite methods of disposing of someone was by car bomb, which gave him the nickname “The Mad Bomber.”
To many people Frank was the one who actually ran the city, all the way up until his conviction in the mid 80’s.
“I met em. But, you know it was like meeting anybody else. You meet them then go about your business, you know. A lot of them hung out there,” Berkeley Fudge told me about the mafia clientele at the Brass Rail. Manty Ellis’s response was similar.
“Sure, I knew the guys from the mafia. Well, I didn’t know them, but they knew me. See, the mafia owned all the clubs. So if you wanted to play the clubs, you had to know them. They owned every club downtown,” Ellis told me.
Although Balistrieri ran the joint, like most of his businesses, he kept his name off the paper. The tavern licenses for the Brass Rail and nearby La Scala restaurant on Wells Street belonged to Rudolph Porchetta. FBI affidavits, though, made it clear that it was a front business for the real owner, Frank. Porchetta said that he “was like a son to Frank Balistrieri,” despite actually being four years older than him.
The city pounced on Porchetta and sentenced him with two felonies and six months in jail when they discovered he had engaged in “false swearing” on his tavern licenses. He had claimed he had not been convicted of a crime on the tavern applications, but in fact had been convicted of six misdemeanors in 1973.
After a long legal battle, Porchetta tried to transfer the Brass Rail tavern license to Jack Scardina. Scardina listed his residence as the Shorecrest Hotel, which was owned by Frank and his sons Joe and John Balistrieri, and was sort of the family fortress. Scardina also got in trouble for giving false information on his license, and was fined $500 in 1982.
The city bought the Brass Rail and the Princess Theater and tore both down in the summer of 1984.
The site is now a parking lot.
THE BRASS RAIL CASE FILES
I was able to find a few newspaper articles on the murder of Izzy Pogrob. One of the funniest things was the newspapers frequently commented on how remarkable Izzy’s “gigantic” 300 plus pound weight was, novel at the time, but not so much anymore. I was especially struck by a January 8, 1960 Milwaukee Sentinel article, which had a strangely poetic reporting style.
SCENE: MAN, BIG AND DEAD
January 8, 1960
By Robert F. Jones
From a cloudless sky, the sun threw a gloss on the winter hills, on the brown water of Menomonee creek and on the equipment and uniforms of the Mequon police.
It was a fine day if you kept your eyes away from the broad pool of blood which lay, darkening, on the bone -white culvert.
And if you forgot about the man who lay, big and dead, under the quiet water.
More of a Ditch
The Menomonee creek- really a sort of drainage ditch glorified by the name of the river it feeds- slices neatly through the Mequon farmland west of Thiensville. Weeds and willows are reflected on its surface.
The throngs of citizens, newsmen and Mequon Emergency Squad volunteers who crowded around the spot where Highway 167 crosses the creek had ample opportunity to look at the scenery as Mequon Police Chief Robert Milke and his men sized up the situation.
Milke, a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s police officer course, was in no hurry to move until he knew exactly where he stood.
He handled the pres vaguely and easily, never raising his voice when eager cameramen crossed the ropes he had set up, but merely telling them to move back.
“Okay,” he said to one of his men, (4 or 5 words unclear on microfilm) of blood, and pick up some of it.”
The man knelt over the puddle and ladled blood into a plastic bag.
“Looks like when you slaughter a hog,” said one of the on-lookers, a small wrinkled man in overalls.
“Yep,” said his companion, a large wrinkled man in overalls.
Eight Emergency Squad men loped down to the water and snagged the body up toward the bank. A pale hand floated like a lotus near the surface, then sagged to the enormous stomach as the body came clear.
Someone grunted, “Okay now pull! Pull! Pull’m on up.”
Blood thinned away from the face as the body was beached. Then canvas covered the huge body.
The eight men strained at the handles of the stretcher, and the big man was carried up to a waiting station wagon. The station wagon roared off toward Thiensville, and everyone followed.
From a bare sky, the lowering sun threw a gloss on the winter hills.
This editorial appeared in a January 19, 1982 Milwaukee Journal. My favorite line is they say the “sham ownership” “needs thorough ventilation.” This was pretty much the end of the line for the Brass Rail. Frank Balistreri began a long series of trials for casino skimming in 1983. He spent the last years of his life in prison, getting early release in 1991 for poor health. He died in 1993. The Brass Rail and Princess Theater were demolished in 1984.
TAVERN OWNERSHIP FAKERY
Milwaukee Journal editorial, Jan 19, 1982
Milwaukee tavern licensee Rudolph Porchetta has been sentenced to jail after conviction of false swearing in connection with a tavern-license application. So far, so good.
Judge Ralph Adam Fine sentenced Porchetta to six months in jail on work –release. The sentence was stayed pending appeal, a common practice.
However, Porchetta seems one piece in the puzzle of who really runs some Milwaukee taverns. A Common Council committee is expected to hold a hearing early in February on the possible revocation of Porchetta’s licenses. In view of his conviction, revocation appears in order.
Meanwhile, a larger issue is raised by an FBI affidavit alleging that the taverns in question were actually controlled by Frank Balistrieri, the reputed Mafia boss of Milwaukee. A federal grand jury has indicted Balistrieri and others on charges resulting from an extensive probe of organized crime in southeastern Wisconsin.
The issue of sham ownership, particularly as a front for alleged organized criminal activity, needs thorough ventilation. That is a task for committees of the Common Council and for law enforcement agencies. Consequently, it is encouraging to hear Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Schneider’s pledge that the investigation of this problem will continue.
One of my favorite interviews while working on this article was talking to my former co-worker Maureen Jamieson, aka Mo. We worked at a place called the Brady Street Pharmacy together as cashiers about 5 days a week and she was one of my favorite people to hear stories from. I recorded the following conversation about the Brass Rail’s seedy neighbor, the Princess Theater, in 2009. I miss you, Mo.
Tea: Didn’t you say your grandmother was mad at your granddad for going to the Brass Rail?
Mo: No, that was for going to the Princess Theater, next door. Which was really bad and because– we’re talking the early 50’s– to have these nasty, dirty, filthy movies showing at the Princess Theater was just…shh-wew! And of course, if you ever saw the clientele, which I think was Grandma’s other objection, that my grandfather was going among these el sleazoids… they were really creepy, these were the guys that were beating off in the dark theater, I mean you knew they were just by the way they looked. Just the ultimate in sleaze!
Tea: So she found out he was going, and she got upset about it?
Mo: Oh God. God, she burnt many a candle over that one. And, uh, if you went past there during the day, they had matinees and that was the funny thing– that’s when the business men would go. So, you’d see all these sleazy guys coming out and then two or three guys in suits, so obviously it was their lunch break or something (laughs) and they’re going back to work. In fact, when we were kids we weren’t allowed to walk on the same side of the street that the Princess was on, lest we see something, I don’t know what we were going to see…
Tea: Maybe they were afraid you were going to get snatched up?
Mo: There you go, by some dirty old man. Oh God. That was, yeah, my grandmother. My grandmother never yelled. Never. Never raised her voice. That was old fashioned German, the whole deal. But when she found out that he went to the Princess, she yelled, she prayed, she called the priest. She did, I’m serious. My grandfather, I don’t know if he went to the Princess again, if he did anything naughty, because it probably scared him, the mere thought of getting caught again. She talked to the priest because she just didn’t know what she should do, if she should leave him because of it or…God. I’m sure whatever they saw at the Princess Theater I can see better than that on TV any day of the week now.
There was a movie called…oh shit…there was a movie called The Moon is Blue with, I don’t know if you’ll know these people, William Holden, I think, and David Niven.
David Niven and Maggie something-or-other [Mo is thinking of Maggie McNamara in the 1953 film]. Of course they’re way older than she is and she says- they’re trying to get her in bed and she says in the movie that she’s a virgin and they say something to each other that they hated dealing with virgins, and that made it an X rated movie. So yeah. My grandfather paid for that. (Laughs)
Ways you can support me as a writer…
-Buy or pre-order my books via my publisher’s website: https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/krulos–tea-contributor-296670.php
-Buy me a coffee. It takes a lot of coffee for me to get shit done:
Very exciting day here at Krulos Central as it happens to be my birthday and I’m glad to reveal the cover, full title, and release date of my next book Apocalypse Any Day Now as well as a link to pre-order.
Some fun facts:
-The original title of this book was THE END, but in talks with my publisher was changed to Apocalypse Any Day Now, which I think captures the tone pretty well. The subtitle is “Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers.” I talk about a wide range of people in the book, not just preppers, but they definitely are the most eye grabby language of the people I talk to.
-Release date is April 2, 2019. I assume April 1 was ruled out as I’m not joking around, people! Heroes in the Night had an October 2013 release, Monster Hunters was a June 2015 release. Chicago Review Press is the publisher of all three. The book is 74,752 words, longer than Heroes, but shorter than Monsters.
-Here is the beautiful cover. I love it! Is that a Tea Krulos impersonator on the cover? Good work if you can find it!
-Some tie-ins to the book release: I’m working on a mini-podcast series related to the book featuring some audio from my adventures. And the really fun part– I’ll be arranging a few appearances promoting the book at stores, libraries, whoever is interested in having me hang out. Definitely we need a book release party. More info on these appearances as the date draws closer.
Do you like Goodreads? I once read a bad review of one of my books there and fell into a depression coma for a week, so I don’t really go there. But here’s a link to the book’s Goodreads page if you “want to read” it: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41835781-apocalypse-any-day-now
It seems like people are always talking about the end of the world, doesn’t it? Y2K, the Mayan Apocalypse, Blood Moon Prophecies, nuclear war, killer robots, you name it. In Apocalypse Any Day Now, journalist Tea Krulos travels the country to try to puzzle out America’s obsession with the end of days. Along the way he meets doomsday preppers—people who stockpile supplies and learn survival skills—as well as religious prognosticators and climate scientists. He camps out with the Zombie Squad (who use a zombie apocalypse as a survival metaphor); tours the Survival Condos, a luxurious bunker built in an old Atlas missile silo; and attends Wasteland Weekend, where people party like the world has already ended. Frightening and funny, the ideas Krulos explores range from ridiculously outlandish to alarmingly near and present dangers.
And here is my author photo for the book, by Megan Berendt Photography. She captured my best side!
Monday, September 24: Cull Your Collection (CBLDF Benefit), Vennture Brew Co., 5519 W. North Avenue, 6:30-8:30pm
I will be attending this event, hosted by the fine folks at the Comic Book Panel and will be selling copies of my book Heroes in the Night. All proceeds will be given to the night’s cause, supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization that has helped protect First Amendment rights of comic creators, publishers, and retailers since 1986 (Milwaukee tie-in: the organization was founded by Kitchen Sink Press president Denis Kitchen. You can read my 2003 interview with Denis here: https://riverwestcurrents.org/2003/07/the-compelling-art-of-denis-kitchen.html )
Members of the Comic Book Panel will also be selling from their collections to benefit the cause.
Saturday, Oct. 6: Sci-Fi Family Day, Discovery World, 500 N.Harbor Dr., 10am-4pm
This fun annual event has a great round-up of groups that celebrate a variety of fandoms, including Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Lego groups, comic creators, and much more. I’ll be tabling with Milwaukee Paranormal Conference/ Milwaukee Krampusnacht and will have copies of my books Heroes in the Night and Monster Hunters.
I’m also leading Third Ward Ghost Walks here in Milwaukee. The next one is this Sat., Sept. 8 and starting next week, they are every Fri and Sat. Check out the Milwaukee Ghosts page for more details: https://www.facebook.com/milwaukeeghosts/
Hello, hope everyone’s been having a good summer. Just wanted to give an update on my next book. It’ll be out in early 2019 and has an official title change. I had titled it THE END, but after discussions with my publisher (Chicago Review Press), it was changed to APOCALYPSE ANY DAY NOW. I have seen cover art and it looks pretty great, but won’t be available to share for a little while. I’ll have an official cover reveal here on the blog when I’m able.
After turning the manuscript in, I went through the next step with my editor Jerry, line edits. Going through notes on the book reminded me of all the crazy moments I had working on it, but as it turns out I don’t need the manuscript in front of me to remind me of impending end-of-the-world-doom, I run into reminders all the time.
First, it really cracked me up to read again about fears of the Blood Moon Prophecy on July 27– the longest total lunar eclipse this century. Cool moment in astronomy or end times? Former, it turns out. I wrote in Apocalypse Any Day Now about the hype around the supposed Blood Moon doomsday on September 27, 2015. Prognosticators then were convinced then that the Blood Moon tetrad of 2014-2015 was lining up the apocalypse like a slot machine. The world kept turning and it looks like every future Blood Moon will stoke some kind of end days fears (but probably diminishing returns as more and more pass). Another blood moon tetrad will roll out in 2033-34, so be prepared.
Another oddball story is the case of Milwaukee Sheriff candidate and Doomsday preacher Richard Schmidt, who is on the ballot here for an election this Tuesday. Even if you’re not from Milwaukee, it’s likely you’ve heard of cowboy hat wearin,’ venom spewin’ former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, rabid Trump supporter, FOX News media personality, and overseer of a prison horrorhouse where 7 inmates died from harsh treatment in 2016-2017 before he resigned. As it turns out, acting Sheriff Schmidt isn’t such a great replacement.
When he’s not touting his degrees from unaccredited fundamentalist colleges, Schmidt likes to spend time behind the pulpit, preaching fire, brimstone, and end times. As I discovered while working on my book, many doomsday predictors turn to the Book of Daniel to try to make mathematical equations to find the Apocalypse date, and they’ve been predicting and failing at this for hundreds of years now. Schmidt’s dissertation paper was an examination on his theory of why the Rapture is taking so long to happen, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.
Schmidt operates Prophecy Focus Ministry, and travels the Midwest preaching sermons with titles like “The Apocalyptic, One-world System” in which he argues that the European Union could be the ten-nation confederacy that aligns with the Anti-Christ during the end times.
Did I mention there’s an election on Tuesday? If you live in Milwaukee, please vote and vote anti-Apocalypse! I need the world to keep rolling until early Spring or all my work on this book will be for naught.
It’s been a few months since I’ve had anything published. I’ve been overworked with other things, but fortunately, that’s about to change and I’ll be working a lot more on writing.
I was able to write up a lead A & E piece for the Shepherd Express recently that explores a trend of arcade themed bars here in Milwaukee. You can read it here: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/ae-feature/back-to-the-future-80s-arcade-bars-are-a-new-favorite/
I also finished a draft of a chapter for an anthology book about Milwaukee that will be out next year on 4/14 Milwaukee Day.
It’s good to be back.