Tidbits from The Tattler

 

Brownwood High School’s student newspaper, The Tattler, holds the distinction of being the first publication to print the work of Robert E. Howard—the first that we know of, anyway. Readers of the December 22, 1922 issue received a double shot: “West Is West” and “‘Golden Hope’ Christmas.” According to an editorial in the preceding issue—November 24, 1922—the Christmas number was going to be something special:

Begin saving your stray pennies now, students, for that big Christmas number of The Tattler which will surpass anything you have ever seen in the way of a High School Christmas edition. There will be from ten to sixteen pages of interesting, snappy, Christmas stories, articles, poems, etc., and it will furnish you enough good reading to last during the entire holidays. You will always regret it if you miss this big number. Some nifty surprises await you in this monster edition which will be off the press on December 22nd.

Unfortunately, miss it we have; other than the pages with Howard’s work, this edition appears to be lost. A shame, really, especially in light of the following, from the community paper, The Brownwood Bulletin:

The current number of “The Tattler” issued yesterday, is a big special holiday edition of 12 pages, in periodical form, and contains in addition to the usual news of student activities a large quantity of special Christmas matter that is both timely and interesting.

While it is unfortunate that the bulk of that issue appears to be lost (probably bagged and tagged in some collector’s vault), we can at least say with certainty when those stories were published: the date—December 22, 1922—appears at the top of each page containing Howard’s work. This is not true for some of the other items published in The Tattler.

Up until very recently, copies of the actual pages from The Tattler were difficult to obtain. Glenn Lord had received at least some copies as early as 1962, since “West Is West” showed up in The Howard Collector that autumn. Another tale from The Tattler, “Aha! Or the Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” appeared in 1963. Two more Tattler items appeared in the ’70s, but it was not until The “New” Howard Reader, published by Joe Marek in the 1990s, that all of The Tattler yarns had been reprinted.

So, where did all these copies come from? In Costigan #13, Glenn Lord’s contribution to REHupa mailing #21 (May 1976), Lord explains that there “is no known file of The Tattler; the only copies known to exist belong to Tevis Clyde Smith and thus we are indebted to him for preserving his copies.”  As all collectors know, newspaper doesn’t age well, so while we are truly indebted to Smith for a variety of things, we also owe Glenn Lord a debt of gratitude for finding those papers before they crumbled to dust.

Not that we need to verify that Smith’s are the only copies that remain, but if we did, we’d only have to look at one story. “The Sheik,” as published everywhere after March 15, 1923, is missing a little hunk of text. Tevis Clyde Smith’s copy of the March 15th number is missing two short lines at the bottom of one column of newsprint that just happens to be the same text missing from all the reprints.

Anyway, Glenn received copies of the stories, probably with a list of publication dates, and ran them in The Last Celt. Those dates were repeated in The Neverending Hunt and at Howard Works—and why not? The information came from the only person who actually had copies to get the information from in the first place. Well, it turns out a couple of those dates are wrong.

When the Robert E. Howard Foundation was informed that Tevis Clyde Smith’s papers had wound up at Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, to say we were excited doesn’t do the feeling justice. Besides the actual letters Robert E. Howard had written to Smith, there were piles of other material: rare books, fanzines . . . newspapers.

I’ve had copies of the tales from The Tattler for years—faded, blotchy, third or fourth or maybe even tenth generation copies. Having the opportunity to acquire shots made from the original was a dream come true. About a week after I requested them, the copies arrived. Ah, glorious high school newspapers. Then, while making notes on what I’d received (yes, I take notes on everything), I noticed the discrepancy.

Every list I’ve got says that “Unhand Me, Villain!” first appeared in the February 15, 1923 issue of The Tattler. But here in my hot little hands were copies of that paper and the story I was looking at was “Aha! Or the Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” not the former title. A quick check of the March 1, 1923 issue, where I was used to seeing “Aha,” revealed “Unhand Me, Villain!” instead. But there was a problem: none of the pages in question had dates on them; it was entirely possible that the sheets had been mismatched at some point, that someone had inadvertently put the story pages back in the wrong newspapers.

Luckily (and I know you’re all holding your breath out there; these bibliographic details are like manna from Olympus!), luckily, I say, the back side of “Aha” contains the clue that verified the dates. If “Aha” had been published in the March 1st issue, why in the world would it be advertising an upcoming Washington’s birthday event on the back side of the page? Washington’s birthday, as we all know, is in February.

Finally, to put any doubt to rest, in REHupa mailing #121 (June 1993), Tom Munnerlyn reprinted both “Aha” and “Unhand Me” (Austin vol. 4, no. 1). Munnerlyn is the guy who ended up with Smith’s material and eventually donated it to A&M. As the second guy with access to those papers, Munnerlyn got the dates right: “Aha” in February, “Unhand Me” in March.

Hmm, what else is in these newspapers?