The Charlotte News

Monday, October 31, 1938


Site Ed. Note: The apparent hysteria of the previous evening's radio broadcast by that notorious practical jokester-genius, Orson Welles--who once nearly ran for the Senate from the state of Wisconsin, against Joseph McCarthy, one of the Martians indeed who landed on that fateful Sunday, October 30, 1938, in fact--, perhaps more hyperbole of the press bent on filling newsprint to take the public's mind off the European situation than anything of reality, may have been, to whatever degree it was real, a proper warm-up for what was to come, which hadn't yet been. Too bad, of course, that The Pearl could not have been broadcast on say Friday night, December 5, 1941. And that the tocsin could have been thus rung and rung loudly there. But, such is life, such is humanity. We believe sometimes that which we wish to believe, that which gives a tingle. And by the same lights of roulette tick-tick, as opposed to reasoning sensibility, we sometimes likewise choose not to believe that which we find discomfiting, challenging to our waged battle with the world to cling to familiar circumstance and trappings of that circumstance, tenaciously clinging to the floating board, even with the landings at Grover's Mill plain before us, in reality--though not exactly Martians.

Once upon a time, an October night not unlike this one, in 1973, as the troops were placed on alert, a radio message came through: Flying Saucer In Mayberry!

So, a few of us hearty collegians, wanting to greet the aliens, piled in our jalopy and sped on down the macadamized ribbon to the little spot in the North Carolina Piedmont. Oh, don't look on the map for it and waste your time. It is there though, just not on the map.

Well, we got there at around midnight. The Sheriff, yes, Sheriff Taylor, was having himself a press conference, with alllll kinds of press from everywhere, all around world, big ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones, and assorted college pranksters. How many were there? How many horns? What color? How tall? How many eyes? Ears? Did they sing? Did they carry lanterns?

Well, the Sheriff was canny and knew that this highly classified information could not be imparted just then to regular uninitiated public and so remained largely mum as to the observations of which plainly he had made many. He only told everyone where the sightings had been and insured everyone police protection upon going out to the fields in the countryside where the saucer was sure to land.

So we trekked out, our variegated assemblage of persons from alllll around the world. We waited in the starry moonlight, the crisp autumn air, coolish now in the time following bewitching hour. And we waited. And we waited awhile. And we waited. John Cameron Camron was there doing a Timey advertisement, we remember. He was testing to determine how long we would wait and whether the Timey would last that long. The Eyyon people happened by, too, wanting to know what the fuss was all about, but happy that the fuss was, for it assured them oil futures. Then the Man with the Star told us all that we'd have to move along, that the Martians had apparently gone on about to Mars for now and that he would surely let us know when he saw some more.

Well, we are glad those Martians didn't land suddenly like that.

But one time, we were out in Pahrump, Coldaho, after looking for the longest time for something to eat in Lone Pine, you know where little Pard was in those days--you remember--and we did see some strange food, which apparently had been cooked on Mars and transported, for it was not very good, even the coffee was hardly potable.

Then, there was the time we were headed to Roswell, Mercurado, in late August, 2001. Oh, we'll save that for later, it being Halloween and all. We wouldn't wish to scare you too much. And that one just might.

But, so that you won't go away empty-handed and then trick us, here's a little offering, written on an October night, not unlike this one, a long, long, long time ago, way, way back in 1991. The author has given us his kind permission to use it exclusively for this occasion, so treat it likewise and don't go trick us now.

Ya'll drive careful.

As he let his spectacles rove over the street below, he suddenly caught a movement, just off the street, in an alleyway, two blocks to the south. He strained to his left and pressed his spectacles harder to the bridge of his nose.

He saw a small puff of smoke coming from the alley. He could not make out the figure in the alley darkness. Enchanted by the almost beseeching mystery of the dream, Wilbur was restless to discover its true, and maybe even trite, meaning, and maybe thereby shed some light on other manifestations that night to put the convoluted, dissonant thought pattern to rest or stir it more to a rational conclusion, one or the other...

He obeyed some inner voice and walked down the alley between brick walls, tarnished in black grease covering piedmont earthen colors. There was a German hofbrau restaurant on one side of the alley. On the other, there was an Italian eatery. That explained the blackness of the alley. Wiener schnitzel on the one side and rich red sauces on the other produced billows of smoke to the lee side to be captured in grease spots on the bricks.

Wilbur was lost in thought about the irony of the two culinary nationalities sitting coincidentally side-by-side separated but by an alley of darkness right there a few blocks from his apartment.

"Have patience on the barber's ward. She'll see the mystery in time. Warn them. Warn them of the sand floating down the stream so they'll see it when it's time."

Wilbur turned abruptly at the whispering, raspy voice uttering these phrases from the darkness. "Who's there?" Wilbur called in a stunned, but a stern voice. "Who's there, I said. What did..."

His words were intervened when an individual in a dark raincoat stepped from out the shadows, looked toward Wilbur for an instant and then walked briskly the other way down the alley. Wilbur could not see the face. It was cool that night and the man had a wool shawl around the bottom of his chin and mouth. He wore a black felt hat. So did a lot of people.

"Who are you? Who is 'the barber's ward'? What do you mean? Warn them of what?" Wilbur followed a few steps. The man kept his head lowered toward the ground and increased his ambling gait before turning a corner off Tryon.

As he did, without looking up or at Wilbur, he stated softly under his breath, in matter of fact fashion, "Tell them or be the damned inexcreble dog, wren-man."

Wilbur rushed to the corner where the man had turned out of sight. He arrived to find no one in sight, save a blind man feeling his way toward Wilbur, brushing his white stick of sycamore on the concrete to insure a path free.

"Good evening there, soldier. Brisk nights pose no risk. The thieves like the warmth." The man spoke in clear, resonating tones.

Wilbur spoke excitedly. "Did you just hear someone rush past?"

"Can't say that I did. The only thing rushing though, soldier, is time. I wish we could slow them--those lame brains on the limb-bough, possessed of their baubees and Baum books, thinking themselves alright bawcocks, while fighting the current from sea to headwater hatching ground, back up the river of no return..." As he expounded, the man expended all his breath effortlessly, expanded his chest again and then breathed out frustratedly. "...And why? To spawn with the last of their strength and die..."

His eyebrows began to lift and fall in twitching excitement as, in trilling mock-Scotch, he added, "But they tell me the rainbows have of late reduced the cutthroat varieties, though some very great fat, glistering greenbacks are still abounding. And the latter are still as batty and unbathed as the believers in the great Baltimore Bathtub Hoax." He closed his mouth for a moment on a face on which expression was replaced by reposing lines of life's full measure of experience.

The man's countenance appeared slowly to relax and the words came more softly but unfalteringly, as if from deeply challenged verity held fast against the fight.

"Well... Look to your fingers for the strength of your mind... Have a pleasant evening, soldier. And don't go to those trenches...those blood-muddied trenches... Remember the evitable spectral evidence by the side of Young Goodman Brown's companion in the burning, dark forest. Please don't allow him to introduce his Joker's running, crying 'Ha! ha! ha!'; for he is a mendicant of wealth and a parvenu of taste. Be he throwing to the tank's corpse-cauldron 'the finger of the birth-strangled babe' or digging ' little graves in the gardens' of the 'fair damsels' or appearing as Babylon's Lucifer in the sky dropping diamond-backs to Salem Town or Kensington Park, he is the same wretched hellion of old. Remember his guilefully scolding entreaty to guilt: 'You are late, Goodman Brown... The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston and that is full fifteen minutes agone.' Faith and only she had slowed him... And it is that impatient rush which every soldier knows brings him to the point of loss. For God's sakes, don't go unless they make you--and even then, I would persevere to resist the fate by all lawful means. I was an English teacher."

The man began vigorously to nod affirmatively. "The fresh flesh market of the Marne gave me the curse of the disjunctive son, Cain... Evenin' again. And remember, lock y'ur doors. See you in the stony fields of Salisbury's cheery moors."

While the man spoke, Wilbur had kept apace for a few feet but now stopped as the heresiarch's increasingly volant movement seemed to suggest a wish to be let on his way. Wilbur had noticed that the wrist-end of the cane had on it a sky blue oval which reminded of a robin's egg. It poised a thought; as the canny man walked ahead, Wilbur called out, "You are not cursed, good fellow. You see much for my eyes."

As the man's voice responded in fading, echoing relucence, Wilbur heard the shadow places speak: "Semplice, the macadamites' macaronics and the alack-caster-aster's winze are but a con and both a sin. They will only ask, 'Are you now or have you ever been?' Answer 'no' to insure license to print octodecimos and avoid the press of Giles Cory. But it is only the effer-bin to which they will provide the paper-burning focal lens and thus recapitulate the esurient trials' story." He waved his walking stick high over his head for an instant and then returned it to its tapping place.

Wilbur turned back to Tryon and walked to his apartment, intriguing himself with the notion that this whole block of space had become some fata morgana.

After recording the incident in his journal and thereby relieving his mind of the echoes of the alley-creep hissing whispers, he thought no more of it.

Following the fools of September, he began recording more and more only slightly askew activities; not from paranoia but for the sake of maintaining an accurate log to connect any of the seemingly disparate events to some long-term pattern of occurrence.

Henceforth, however, not possessing any gluttony for such infra-natural episodes, he began walking on the other side of the street opposite the alley when returning to his apartment by nightglow.

Not Without Sin

The marrying parsons in Elkton, Md., who work in day and night shifts are dismayed. The Free State is to vote in the general election on a law requiring a lull of 48 hours between the issuance of a marriage license and the ceremony. This would put a severe crimp in the gin marriage trade, unless somehow the couples could manage to prolong their impulsive mood, and it would curtail the trade that has come to Elkton since New York and New Jersey passed laws making freedom from syphilis a condition of marriage. Ineligibles have been running down to Elkton and running straight back. Under that new law they would have to make two trips or spend a while.

Well, we should throw up our hands, of course, at the crass, un-Christian behavior of the marrying parsons of Elkton. And then we should bring them down slowly again to our sides. For the commercial good thing Elkton is making of unholy wedlock is precisely what the State of North Carolina is making of it, with this difference in our disfavor: that we once had a law prohibiting the marriage of the venereally diseased, and we repealed it because the counties of the state were losing marriage license fees to Virginia and South Carolina.

And whereas in Maryland this disgraceful business is at least to be brought to a vote, in North Carolina there is only a supine apathy toward it.

Diagnosis of the Railroads

Noting the number of railroads in process of reorganization for inability to meet fixed charges (a third of the first-class mileage), President Roosevelt's fact-finding board sardonically observed:

"It may, indeed, be desirable from a broad standpoint that the percentage [undergoing reorganization] should increase provided only that the processes of reorganization will result in real and not make-shift readjustments. No sacrifices of note may be asked for to preserve values that already have been long dead and whose burial is now merely a matter of the proper amenities of finance."

With the board's recommendation against any general and horizontal wage cut, this adds up to an injunction to the railroads to dehydrate their capital structures. It adds up precisely to the statement of President Hoover's National Transportation Committee, Calvin Coolidge, chairman, which in 1933 reported on this phase of the railroad problem that:

"A cause contributing to the present crisis is the unwieldy proportion of interest bearing debt and railroad capitalization, much of it representing facilities long ago scrapped.... The present debt structure must be reused and losses written off."

It adds up, let us say, to the example of the Chicago-Great Western, which recently was reorganized. During that process the road's capitalization was reduced from 139 millions to 62 millions, its annual fixed interest charges from $1,705,532 to $787,071. It adds up in the majority of cases to bad news for common stockholders.

Adolf's Little Joke

In the recent Czechoslovakian crisis no nation has behaved more contemptibly than Poland in its eagerness to hog something for itself--an eagerness it had already greatly illustrated in its dealings with Lithuania--[indiscernible words] nation. Thus, no doubt thinking to please Mr. Hitler, it bethought itself that pogroms are among the oldest of its favorite sports, and proceeded to enact a law designed to deprive Polish Jews living abroad of their Polish citizenship.

But Adolf Hitler was not pleased. Adolf wants it strictly understood that Poland and none of the other countries in Eastern Europe are sovereign save with is benign permission. And undoubtedly that was what he was out to teach the Polish Government with his humorous game of rounding up all Polish Jews and setting them back on Poland's doorstep before the new law went into effect.

For the unfortunate Polish Jews who have to play the role of pawn in this game, the world will feel a great deal of indignant sympathy. But the spectacle of Poland having to eat crow and humble herself before Hitler will only inspire giggles. Nobody minds at all if Adolf takes Poland over in toto tomorrow. Poland has it coming.

We Grow Hysterical

The thing that happened last night is comic, but it is a little disquieting, too. The account of what transpired reads for all the world like something out of Rabelais or Swift or Anatole France--a gigantic burlesque of the credulity of the human race. The astonishing thing, moreover, is that acceptance of the broadcast as reality was by no means confined to small boys and very simple people who had been reading and seeing Flash Gordon but that it also infected "civic leaders" and "people of importance"--people who presumably ought to have had background enough to know that the Wellsian fantasy was preposterous.

It is not pleasant to think that such wild credulity lies so close to the surface in even the higher levels of society, and that the population can be so easily stampeded into mass hysteria. And yet, when you think about it, it is perhaps not altogether inexplicable. After all the preposterous has been happening thick and fast the last few years, and especially in this mad year of 1938. Who would have dreamed that we should be seeing nations deliberately and determinedly returning to barbarism as their chosen way of life? And that we should see what we have seen in Spain and China--the return of naked conquest, and the calculated practice of the wholesale murder of women and children with bombs from the sky? That we should have lived through the astounding ordeal that ended at Munich.

No, it is not inexplicable at all. Waiting each day to hear of ever more preposterous outrages, haunted by the thought that we may no longer be sure that tomorrow our own cities won't begin to crumble about our heads, our own babies lie dead in the streets--we all grow more and more neurotic. As the people of the Middle Ages, with portraits of demons staring at them from every church front, with talk of devils continually dinned in their ears, were ready at a moment's notice to believe that the end of the world was at hand, to go into wild frenzies that sent millions rushing away to starve and die in a crusade, so we grow more and more prepared to believe that almost any outrageous and unbelievable thing has now become possible.

Lost: One Grand Jury*

Most people have a hard enough time staying out of court but in Charlotte at the moment a man is virtually beseeching to be taken to court. It is Detective Chief Littlejohn, his cross-examination in another trial last week on a charge of attempted extortion--we suppose that's what you'd call it--brought out practically nothing about extortion but a whole raft of intimations and half statements about affidavits, "working on the City Attorney and the City Council," a specific affidavit which the Chief called false, said to have been drawn up by a firm of lawyers for its client to sign, a taxi-driving juryman in a case against the dime taxis whose automobile had been made ready for service with the defendant company--intimations in short, of political connivance, of breaches of professional ethics, of jury-tampering, vague hints of corruption that a community esteeming honesty could not endure.

The higher courts, to be sure, receive criminal cases only after they are docketed by indictment or appeal. The courts, however, have an agency to investigate rumor to the eyes and ears in the court's behalf and that agency to the Grand Jury has taken an inordinate interest in the cost of county government and the [indiscernible words]. The Grand Jury hasn't let out a single peep of interest.


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