Saturday, April 22, 2017

Binny Koras, "The Gypsy Poet" (ca. 1895-?)

Psychiatric Nurse, Journalist, Poet, Translator, Teacher, Occultist
Born ca. 1895
Died ?

Binny Koras, known as "the Gypsy poet," was born in about 1895. According to a newspaper article of 1922, Koras
grew up on the highways and byways of middle America, lived in Australia for several years, served during the war as a psychiatric nurse and since returning to the United States in 1919 has been engaged in newspaper writing, teaching and work with boys. A student of oriental languages, he has translated verses from the Japanese, Arabic, and Urdu. (1)
Koras had poems in Dial, Nation, Pagan, Pearson's, Shadowland, and Survey. His poem "Growing Up," originally in the Rock Island Argus and reprinted in The Literary Digest, The Bookman, and Anthology of Newspaper Verse for 1921, was called by the same article "perhaps the most widely printed verse of 1921." He had one poem in Weird Tales, "For Clytie," in the issue for November 1926. Oddly enough, Koras was also an occultist and was listed in Who's Who in Occultism, New Thought, Psychism and Spiritualism, compiled and edited by William C. Hartmann, and published in 1927 by The Occult Press of Jamaica, New York. Here is the entry on Koras in its entirety:
SEVENTAN FELLOWSHIP. Based on the Book of Seveta (Arabic, Seventh Century, A.D.). Missionary for North America, Binny Koras, A.M., Ph.D.
Binny Koras wrote from Davenport, Iowa; Mattoon, Illinois; and St. Paul, Minnesota. His nickname as "the Gypsy poet" may have come from his wandering ways. It may also have referred to a possible ancestry in eastern or southeastern Europe. But what I have written here is all I know of him.

Binny Koras' Poem in Weird Tales
"For Clytie" (Nov. 1926)

Further Reading
None known except for the newspaper article noted below and the poems that follow.

Note
(1) From Des Moines Sunday Register, May 14, 1922, page 31.

Some poems by Binny Koras, perhaps his complete poems extant:

Growing Up
by Binny Koras (1921)

Gee! But I wanted to grow up.
I wanted to put on longies 
And smoke cigars, 
And be a man 
With a pay-day on Saturday. 
I wanted to grow up 
And have somebody to buy sodas for,
And take to the circus 
Once in a while. 

We all did, then: 
Pat, who could throw any kid in town, 
And Don, who went to the Advent church. 
And said the world was coming to an end 
In Nineteen-hundred, 
And Brick Top and Eppie and Skin and Spider.

We all wanted to grow up 
And become pirates and millionaires and 
Soldiers and Presidents and 
Owners of candy stores. 
And all the time we were eating home-cooking 
And wearing holes in our pants, 
And talking Hog-Latin 
And doing what two fingers in the air 
Stood for;
And saving stamps. 
And making things we read about 
In The Boys' World
Do you know how to play mumble-de-peg, 
And skim rocks, 
And tread water, 
And skin the cat? 
Do you know what a stick on the shoulder stands for 
And what "Commggery, wiggery, meggery" means? 

Skin is running a wheat farm, now,
Up in North Dakota. 
Pat is on the road 
Selling something or other. 
Brick Top never grew up, quite, 
And was making darts for a kid of his own 
When I saw him last. 
And Spider is yelling his head off 
About Socialism and the class struggle 
On street corners. 

Don was with the Rainbow Division when the world ended. 

Yesterday I heard a little freckle-face 
Whistle through his fingers 
And tell a feller called Curley 
What he was going to do when he grew up. 




"Smoke" from 1922, "Evolution" from 1927, and "To One Departed" from 1922.

Original text 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sybla Ramus (1874-1963)

Musician, Playwright, Librettist, Musical Arranger, Teacher, Artist
Born October 3, 1874, probably or possibly in Chicago, Illinois
Died January 1963

Sybla Ramus was born on October 3, 1874, probably or possibly in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents were Charles Emil Ramus (1827-1891?) and Sybla Faulds Ramus (1844-1934), who were married in Chicago in 1871 (on Halloween). Charles E. Ramus was a native of Denmark and a veteran of the U.S Army. His wife, whose name was misspelled "Sybilla" and "Sylvia," was born in London, Ontario, Canada. The younger Sybla Ramus' brother was a prominent physician and surgeon, Dr. Carl Ramus (1872-1963), who served in Honolulu, Hawaii, and at Ellis Island in New York.

The Ramuses were a musical family. Carl played cello and maintained a string quartet while stationed in Hawaii. Sybla Ramus was a pupil of a Madame Rounseville of Chicago and gave a piano recital at the age of twelve. She also studied under Max Bendix (1866-1945) in Chicago; Arno Hilf (1858-1909) at the Royal Conservatorium of Leipzig; Otakar Ševčík (1852-1934) at the Prague Conservatory; and others. She played piano, violin, and viola, and was herself a teacher at the Chicago Musical College (ca. 1899) and the American Violin School, also in Chicago. Sybla Ramus played in St. James' Orchestra at St. James' Parish in Chicago. She also wrote the libretto for an opera, Armand, with a musical score by Gerard (or Gerardo) Carbonara (1886-1959), published in 1921. Her Girl Friend, a comedy drama in three acts, from 1923, was also a product of her pen. Her lone story for Weird Tales was the three-part serial "Coils of Darkness," printed in the issues of February, March, and April 1924. As a musician and a former Chicagoan, she may have been in contact with Farnsworth Wright, who was a music critic in Chicago, though not yet the editor of Weird Tales when her story was published.

In addition to Chicago, Sybla Ramus lived in Lincoln, New Mexico, with her mother and brother (1900), and in New York City with her mother (1915, 1920, 1925). She died in January 1963 at the age of eighty-eight.

Sybla Ramus' Story in Weird Tales
"Coils of Darkness" (three-part serial, Feb., Mar., and Apr. 1924)

Further Reading
  • "Dr. Carl Ramus (1872-1963) Physician and Surgeon," a biographical sketch of Sybla Ramus' brother, at the website of the National Park Service, Ellis Island, here.
  • Biographical highlights for Dr. Ramus at a website here.
Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bertrande Harry Snell (1882-1949)

Telegrapher, Poet, Newspaper Columnist
Born June 6, 1882, Fort Plain, New York
Died June 26, 1949, Syracuse, New York

Bertrande Harry "Bert" Snell was born on June 6, 1882, in Fort Plain, New York, to Jacob and Mary Snell. He graduated from Parish High School in 1898 at age sixteen and went to work as a Morse code telegrapher the following year. Snell worked for railroads in Pennsylvania for many years before moving to Syracuse, New York, in 1917. He spent the rest of his working life with Western Union in Syracuse.

Snell was a poet and had his verse in various newspapers over the years. He wrote three poems published in Weird Tales, "Starkey Strang" (Aug. 1926), "Vampire" (June 1929), and "In the Valley" (Dec. 1929). I wonder if Snell knew Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981), who also lived in Syracuse for many years and who was also a railroad enthusiast.

Bertrande H. Snell started as a columnist with The Post-Standard of Syracuse on January 13, 1945. His popular column was called "Just Around the Corner," and he kept it up until his death. Snell's last column was in the typewriter when he had a stroke in June 1949. Taken to the hospital, Snell died on June 26, 1949, and was buried at Pleasant Lawn Cemetery, in Parish, New York. He was sixty-seven years old.

Bertrande Harry Snell's Poems in Weird Tales
"Starkey Strang" (Aug. 1926)
"Vampire" (June 1929)
"In the Valley" (Dec. 1929). 

Further Reading
"Biographical Sketch of Bertrande H.  Snell, Parish, Oswego Co., NY" by Richard Palmer at the following URL:

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyoswego/biographies/snellpt1.html

In the centennial year of the American entry into the Great War, here is a poem from Betrande Harry Snell.

And for Easter, a poem on life and death, from 1916.

Snell also wrote an acrostic poem to a fellow poet, "To Mahlon Leonard Fisher," dated May 9, 1914.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Island Theory of Zombiation

The concept of the zombi(e), like much of our culture, was brought to America aboard a slave ship. The word is African, the idea is African, and the culture in which zombie-ism in America developed is African. Once here, zombi(e)s evolved from perhaps one common original to a number of different species. The speciation of zombies--the zombiation of the title here--seems to have happened on islands of African-slave culture, separated from each other by the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In Martinique and other smaller islands, the concept was of the zombi, an evil spirit who creates discord in the night. In Louisiana, it was Li Grand Zombi, the great serpent god and perhaps the closest to the original African concept of zombi. And in Haiti, it was the zombie we know today, the walking dead, a slave to some external agent. Coming from a common origin, zombi(e)s in America, evolving in separate island habitats, became separate species. For whatever reason, the undead zombie of Haiti proved to be the strongest or most adaptable of them and has spread throughout our culture and throughout the world.

Author William B. Seabrook (1884-1945) appears to have been the first to describe the zombi(e), species undead. His reporting from Haiti, published in newspaper accounts in 1928 and issued in book form in The Magic Island in 1929, is sober and evenhanded. It doesn't appear to be sensationalized. I think we have three choices when it comes to Seabrook's writing: First, to consider that he was telling the truth. Second, that, though he may have worked from a kernel of truth, he embellished or exaggerated stories of zombies for the reading public. Or, third, that he made it all up himself. I think we can discard the third possibility. The tone of his writing suggests the unlikelihood of the second possibility. That leaves the first possibility, namely, that he reported more or less truthfully on what he heard, saw, and experienced for himself. That would mean that stories of zombie-slaves in Haiti were true, or at least true to the people who passed them on to Seabrook. I haven't found anything to contradict any of that, and I think we have to conclude that Seabrook reported the truth or something close to the truth as he saw it and, consequently, that he was the father of zombies in America.

Seabrook's account of zombies in Haiti, "Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields," opens not on the island of Haiti, but on a smaller island, Île de la Gonâve, located in the Gulf of Gonâve, west of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Although it is the largest of the islands in the waters of Hispaniola or Santo Domingo, Île de la Gonâve is dry and barren, a poor place to live or to try to make a living. William B. Seabrook visited the island in 1928 and interviewed a prominent local citizen, Constant Polynice. It was Polynice who first told Seabrook about zombies and who first showed him zombies at work in a cotton field on the trail to Picmy. Seabrook described them in various terms, saying among other things that they were "like automatons."

Constant Polynice also told his American interlocutor a story of zombies working on mainland Haiti, in the "big cane season" of 1918, when the Haitian-American Sugar Company--Hasco--"offered a bonus on the wages of new workers." A man named Ti Joseph took advantage of that offer by recruiting what Polynice said were zombies. In Polynice's telling, the zombies escaped in the only way they can escape, and Ti Joseph met a fitting end. The point of all this is that zombie-ism in Haiti seems to have been a response either to economic hardship, as on Île de la Gonâve, or economic opportunity, as with Ti Joseph and his work for Hasco. It was not capitalists who made or exploited zombies, but other Haitians, black Haitians for whom the affair of zombie-ism was their own. As Lamercie, the overseer of the zombies chopping cotton on the trail to Picmy, said to the American Seabrook, when it comes to zombies, "Z'affai' nèg pas z'affai' blanc"--the affairs of blacks are not the affairs of whites.

So the first accounts of zombies as the undead--the first of the firsthand accounts--came not only from an island but also from an island off the coast of an island. As with the evolution of any new species, zombies as the undead came about through (literal) isolation. Diseases, too, often develop in isolation, often, by our experience, in tropical or sub-tropical fastnesses, where they jump from an animal host to a human host with little notice. HIV/AIDS, which has done such harm in Haiti, is an example. (1) These diseases may operate at low levels for decades before being transmitted to larger populations, after which point they proliferate, sometimes exponentially, becoming in the process plagues or pandemics. That was the case with HIV/AIDS, which claimed its first known victims--known in retrospect, that is--in the 1950s. The same process seems to have occurred, on a far more trivial scale, with the concept of the zombie. Purely by coincidence, the first zombies caused by disease--zombies in retrospect, that is--also appeared in the 1950s, in Richard Matheson's science fiction novel I Am Legend (1954). These were scientific zombies, caused by disease, moving in hordes, and always seeking to infect the uninfected. In short, they were a plague--or pandemic--in human form.

George Romero gets the credit for the first movie--Night of the Living Dead (1968)--showing zombies as we know them today. (It might be more accurate to say that Mr. Romero invented zombies as we know them today.) But two years before, in 1966, Hammer Films released The Plague of the Zombies, a movie far less well known today, but perhaps equally important or more important in evolutionary terms. I have never seen this movie, but by description, it was or may have been the first to show a zombie plague and the first to show threatening zombies rather than harmless zombie-slaves. In fact, The Plague of the Zombies seems to have been a bridge or the bridge between the harmless Haitian zombie-slave (i.e., what I have called the Seabrook zombie) and the lethal scientific zombie horde as in Night of the Living Dead (i.e., what I have called the Matheson-Romero zombie). The bridging effect is made obvious in the movie in that there seems to be a combination supernatural/scientific explanation for its zombies. There is also a zombie-maker who has been to Haiti and has returned to his native Cornwall, carrying zombie-ism from one population to another and from one island to another, where he puts them to work, as Ti Joseph put his zombies to work, this time in a tin mine. Because I haven't seen the movie, I don't know the answers to some key questions: How exactly are the zombies in The Plague of the Zombies threatening--are they murderous or cannibalistic? How are they made? How exactly are they a plague--does the disease of zombie-ism spread from zombie to person somehow? And how exactly are the zombies destroyed? Curiously, The Plague of Zombies is set in 1860, more than two generations before William Seabrook's trip to Haiti.

A long time ago, I read of the concept of the meme, a sort of gene of culture that is propagated, like genes, through a population. Zombies and zombie-ism can be interpreted as memes. As in the evolution of a species, they developed in isolation. (Evolution is defined as a change in gene frequency.) As with any successful species, they have shown themselves to be well adapted for survival. Like a pandemic or an invasive species, they have proliferated in a host or in an environment not like their original host or environment, one in which there are no natural controls on their populations. So what will be the controls on zombies and zombie-ism? Or will they be uncontrolled and continue to adapt and proliferate in our culture? If zombies are, as William Seabrook described them, like automatons, will they simply evolve into a different form, that is, into the form of the robot-zombie, as on the graph of the uncanny divide? Will they cross over from the world of fantasy (or at least allegory) into the real world? And will they eventually overwhelm us, as so many people fear, once robots reach a technological singularity?

Note
(1) Oddly enough, the origin of HIV/AIDS in humans coincides roughly with the American occupation of Haiti, though HIV/AIDS originated in Africa and is not supposed to have reached the New World until after World War II. The first known victim of HIV/AIDS died in Africa in 1959.


Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, April 10, 2017

Zombibliography-Muse Magazine


Muse: The Magazine of Life, the Universe, and Pie Throwing
(October 2012)
Cover art by Jimmy Giegerich

Muse magazine did a zombie cover story in October 2012, "Zombies on the Brain" by Doug Stewart. A quote:
Blogger and "monster scholar" Jeanette Laredo, a graduate student at the University of North Texas, has another explanation for why people--young people in particular--are drawn to the idea of a zombie apocalypse. "At their core, zombies represent our fear of becoming part of a homogenous mass, our fear of conformity," she says. "That applies especially to teenagers, because they're struggling with that. They want to be 'in,' but at the same time they want to be themselves."
          The important thing about zombies, in other words, isn't that they're creepy. It's that they move around in big, creepy hordes. (p. 12)
It seems to me that Dr. Laredo (what a great name for a professor in Texas) has drawn her six-gun and shot the prevailing academic "narrative" full of holes, as an ultimate conformity is one of the end-points of the leftist-socialist-statist program. It seems to me also that the author Doug Stewart seems to recognize the threat represented by conformist hordes, another feature of that same program. The upshot of all of this--of all of my series relating to zombies, going back to January--is that the leftist attempt at a theory of zombies in favor of their own program falls apart upon examination, as all of their theories eventually fall apart. But that's enough of all of it. I have beaten this undead three-legged horse enough. I have one more entry on zombies, then I'll get back to biographies of the writers and artists who contributed to "The Unique Magazine," Weird Tales.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, April 7, 2017

Zombibliography-Zombies!



Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead by Jovanka Vuckovic
(New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2011), 176 pp.
Cover art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead is a popular, pictorial history of zombies in movies, television, comic books, and popular fiction. The author, Jovanka Vuckovic, is a Canadian writer, editor, and moviemaker. She was editor of Rue Morgue Magazine for six and a half years. I'll leave the details to her, but I would like to provide these quotes from Ms. Vuckovic's book:
It's not surprising belief in the zombie flourished during that time [i.e., during the French colonial period], given the large number of seemingly mindless, and near lifeless, drones working on plantations. Robbed of their individuality and free will, the beaten-down African slave worker would have surely had the appearance of the living dead. (p. 20)
Because a person's most valued possession--especially in a cruel slave nation--was their [sic] individuality, the Haitians' primary fear was not of being attacked or eaten by a zombie, but of becoming one themselves. It was considered a fate worse than death, the ultimate horror, particularly after the Haitian revolution, during which the nation finally overthrew its European oppressors. (p. 20)
I don't think I have to remind anyone at this point that those "European oppressors" were, first, feudal-statist overlords, afterwards, leftist-statist overlords. Contrary to the most fervent hopes of American academia, they were decidedly not capitalists.

Ms. Vuckovic again brings up a good point, that zombie-ism is, at its heart, about a loss of freedom, humanity, and individuality. The modern state, whether socialist, communist, fascist, or nazi in its permutation, seeks to reduce its populace to interchangeable (and highly dispensable) ciphers, essentially to zombies, hence, I think, the fear of zombie-ism in the world today, at least in a large part.

Two more points: First, Jovanka Vuckovic also points out in her book the sensationalism of zombie stories of the 1920s and '30s. In my research, I have sensed the same thing, that there may be more sensationalism than reality in those stories. I wonder how much of the beginning history of zombies in America was true and factual and how much of it came from the imagination--or at least the exaggerations or interpretations--of William B. Seabrook. 

Second, she writes about an author I hadn't encountered before: Captain John Houston Craige (ca. 1886-1954) of Pennsylvania. Like Arthur J. Burks, Captain Craige served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Haiti during the American occupation. And like William B. Seabrook, he wrote about his experiences and observations in non-fictional form. His books included Black Bagdad [sic]: The Arabian Nights Adventures of a Marine Captain in Haiti (1933) and Cannibal Cousins (1934).

According to the website Encyclopedia.com, Captain Craige read up on Haiti in the works of "the French historian Moreau de Saint-Méry (1750-1819), the Haitian historian Thomas Madiou (1814-1884), and the Haitian writer Louis-Joseph Janvier (1855-1911), among others." The source is suspect, but those authors might be a good place to start in pushing the origins of zombies as the walking dead to before 1928. For example: Moreau de Saint-Méry used the word zombi, meaning revenant, in writing, in French, in 1792. Knowing that leads me to the book White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film by Gary D. Rhodes (2001), an even more thorough and scholarly book than Zombies! (1) In fact, Dr. Rhodes' book might be the last word on the history of zombi(e)s in America. It also includes a tantalizing discussion of H. Bedford-Jones' novel Drums of Damballa (1932) and its sources, which are supposed to have been documents or materials, brought from Haiti to the United States in 1803, that mention zombi(e)s. I wish we had more on this. There is no telling what those materials might reveal. One thing all of this reveals is that some American academics, like Dr. Rhodes, do their homework, and some--too many to name here--apparently don't.

Note
(1) That book reveals, surprisingly, that there is a connection between zombie-ism and the consumption of Jamestown weed, also called jimsonweed or Datura, in the form of "concombre zombi," a concoction for inducing the condition in an unsuspecting person. Once again, jimsonweed raises its (seed)head in relation to the supernatural and weird fiction.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Zombibliography-Monsters and Mad Scientists


Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie
by Andrew Tudor
(Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989), viii+ 239 pp.
Cover design by Miller, Craig and Cocking Design Partnership

When Monsters and Mad Scientists was published, Andrew Tudor was Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of York. He was film critic for New Society from 1975 to 1982, head of his university Sociology Department from 1988 to 1995, and head of its Department of Theatre, Film and Television from 2006 to 2010. He is now retired.

Dr. Tudor is a scholar and a sociologist. Consequently, Monsters and Mad Scientists is scholarly, sociological, and at least semi-scientific. He begins his study by laying out three pairs of what he calls oppositions, all in regards to the threat in the horror movie. These pairs are: 1) The supernatural vs. the secular (what I have called the scientific); 2) The external vs. the internal, that is, threats that are external or internal to the individual person; for example, a vampire is an external threat, but disease is an internal threat; and 3) dependent vs. autonomous; for example, the slave-type zombie is dependent, whereas the vampire, again, is autonomous. Dr. Tudor presents these oppositions in tabular form. A subsequent table lists types of monsters by the number of movies in which they appeared from 1931 to 1984. Zombies ranked eleventh, with forty-eight movie appearances. (Psychotics were first with 271 movie appearances.)

In his analysis of horror movies, Dr. Tudor discusses White Zombie. It's worth noting that, although sociology as a discipline tends to be leftist in orientation, Dr. Tudor's discussion is entirely absent of political content or interpretation. (1) Instead, he writes:
That there is an underlying sexual element to [Legendre's] domination [of the film's heroine], however, can hardly be doubted. In turning Madeline into a zombie he makes her entirely compliant to his will, although nowhere does the film fully draw out the implications of that absolute power. (p. 32)
Later, the author relates zombie movies as a group to "the psycho-movie":
Ultimately descended from the hugely influential Night of the Living Dead (1970) [sic], this group includes The Crazies (1978), Zombies (1980), Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1980) and Zombie Creeping Flesh (1982), all of which postulate the spread of dehumanizing 'disease' and present an apocalyptic vision of total social collapse. In effect, they create a world of mass psychosis in which we are doomed to decline into a subhuman state. Unsurprisingly, given their thoroughly apocalyptic tone, they all end with the implication that the 'disease' will continue to spread unchecked. (p. 71)
Again, as in Caligari's Children, there is the implication that the zombie apocalypse movie appeals most to viewers who are already living in a state of despair, extreme alienation, or at the ends of decadence, and that those viewers may also be essentially nihilists or extreme anarchists, not in a political sense, but in a philosophical and ultimately spiritual sense. Again, the zombie apocalypse seems to be a positive fantasy for those who would like to see the world destroyed or who, in their descent into "psychosis," would like to take the whole world down with them.

There is a good deal more on zombies in Monsters and Mad Scientists, too much, really, to discuss here but all of it piercing in its analysis and fascinating in its insights. It's clear that Andrew Tudor is from a previous generation of scholars, those whose work seems to be unpolluted or undistorted by Marxist interpretation. Now, in 2017, it may be too late for anything like it.

Note
(1) This is in no way to imply that Andrew Tudor is or was leftist in orientation. 

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley