Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hoax Nobody Noticed

It was a hoax that I had perpetrated and it came from an overwhelming sense of frustration. It was shortly after I had finished writing the first edition of my novella, Poe’s Daughter, Pym’s Soul which was, in part, a piece of historical fiction about Poe’s visits to Delaware.

Two events occurred concurrently. One was my disappointment that my stories about Poe and his encounters with Delaware’s first literary figure John Lofland had such a weak public reception. My efforts had barely seemed worth the work I’d put into it, even though I earned $7,000 in fellowship grants from the Delaware State Arts Council for two of the stories. The second event was my discovery of an incident that occurred at Price’s Corner in 1903. I had stumbled upon it while doing research into Delaware’s Federal Writers’ Project papers at the University of Delaware library. The incident, only hinted at in a single page from an incomplete article, was the only lynching to have occurred in Delaware. I went to the microfilm archives to find out more. In the local daily newspaper I found the whole story. First, I was shocked to discover that my great grandfather had found the nearly dead girl who had been murdered. The event led to the arrest of George White, who was Black and even though he had not been formally charged, was incarcerated for his own protection in the New Castle County Workhouse, which used to stand in Price’s Corner. The other thing I discerned from a close reading of the newspaper articles of the time was the possibility that George White was innocent and the real killer was a stranger referred to as “The Avenging Cowboy,” who had conveniently shown up in time to incite a lynch mob. A sidebar article in the newspaper reported that he had been a part of several other similar incidents around the county, which led me to speculate that “The Avenging Cowboy” had been the real killer and that his modus operandi was to commit these crimes and then to frame an innocent victim. I thought about forming my research, which led only to speculative conclusions, into a novel. It was then that I said to myself, “Why bother? I’ll probably have to publish it myself in small numbers as I had with Poe’s Daughter, Pym’s Soul and afterward too few people will even want to read it to make my efforts worthwhile.”

However, the story was too juicy to give up on, so I perpetrated a hoax. I invented an unknown Delaware author, who I had discovered in much the same manner as I had discovered other little known but actual Delaware authors. I invented an author named “Tux Munce,” who had written a novel entitled Willow Run, which related the story of the lynching of George White and the activities of the real perpetrator who had got away with murder. Then I could turn around and report a shorter review of Tux Munce’s novel. A shorter piece would be more manageable. It would be short enough for people to read at a single short sitting, and it would be less costly to publish. This I did, published under the title, “Willow Run,” and told very few people I had invented “Tux Munce.”

I came clean with the hoax in a booklet, entitled The Secret Life of Tux Munce available elsewhere on this web site. In this booklet, I “used” Tux Munce to tell the story of some other events, like the story of how Upton Sinclair’s wife Meta, while the two where living the free love lifestyle in Arden, ran off to the bohemian scene in New York City with the American poet Harry Kemp. In later chapters of The Secret Life of Tux Munce, I mixed real life people who’d lived in Wilmington, like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, with lessor known but remarkable residents of the city, like Weeping Joe Smoleki, who had been written about in Wilmington author J. Saunders Redding's No Day of Triumph; and Three Gun Wilson who was Wilmington’s version of Eliot Ness of The Untouchables fame; Daisy Winchester who was a local speakeasy proprietor, cabaret singer and local radio personality; G. Peyton Wertenbaker, who wrote science fiction for Amazing Stories and who also sang as Crash Peyton on local radio as Wilmington’s answer to Bing Crosby. I mixed in characters from novels by local authors John Biggs, Christopher Ward and Charles Wertenbaker and had them interact with Tux Munce and actual people, like the Fitzgeralds. Tux Munce carried on his writing endeavors by publishing stories in Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s The Wilmington Advocate, during which time Munce was secretly in love with Pauline Young, Dunbar-Nelson’s niece. In one of the stories, Munce encounters the Vodou loa Ghedé on the east side of Wilmington. For The Wilmington Suburban News, in the early 1950s Munce writes an article about Charles and Eleanor Bostwick, former residents of Kiamensi Gardens near Stanton, who were driven out of the county by local perpetrators of the Communist witch hunts during the HUAC/Joe McCarthy era. In his travels Munce interacted with the tango poets in Argentina and writes about it in another actual Wilmington publication called CANDID. Later he writes about his encounter with Zora Neale Hurston during a stopover in Haiti for another short lived Wilmington Black newspaper from the late 1940s called FRONT PAGE. I even inserted people I actually knew into the mix. Beside Pauline Young, who I knew, I inserted my grandfather, John Gasser, former Delaware State Senator Wilmer F. “Rudy” Williams, and Charley Stone, an elderly Black man from my youth who used to cut grass for some of my neighbors in Richardson Park.

Writing these stories had been some of the most enjoyable literary work I ‘d ever done. Drawing on both the literary works of authors who had worked in Delaware, combined with interesting characters they created, along with actual fascinating people, both famous and obscure, all within the context of our obfuscated local history was personally rewarding. As it’s turned out, that has been my only reward. Too bad I felt the need to cloak it in a hoax, but after all, it may have all really happened –– in another universe!

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps inventing characters that flow in and out of non-fiction is one of the ways to break down that third wall between stage and audience. It's nothing new. Shakespeare threw many topical refernences in plays set in very un-Elizabethan times. The issue is, how do we get the audience to re-write the play, or, even better, re-write the reality?