It was the winter of 1956. I was 9 years old, riding in the back of our brand new Chevrolet wagon, with my parents, taking my sister back to UConn.
We were going through Norwich when my father stopped and went into a bookstore. When he came back, he handed me a copy of Tom Swift and His Jetmarine by Victor Appleton. That started me on Tom Swift.
Over the years I was able to collect all but one of them. When I retired from teaching and needed more shelf space for the serious books I was bringing home from my classroom, I donated the Tom Swift books to the silent auction at the churchs Christmas bazaar. The high bidder was a high school student who is now in his third year of college.
What many people dont realize, including some school librarians, is that there is no such person as Victor Appleton. Neither was there a Carolyn Keene nor Franklin Dixon. Those were simply the pen names used by whomever wrote the various books in the series owned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
Edward Stratemeyer wrote some of the books, such as the original Rover Boys, but for the most part he simply outlined the books and then turned them over to editors who hired writers to create the final story.
Some of the best-known series include the Bobbsey Twins, with mean Danny Rugg, and Nancy Drew, with her yellow roadster and summer frock. All told, there were over 100 different series published by the syndicate.
One series that was particularly successful was the Hardy Boys, which Day columnist Rick Koster wrote about several weeks ago. This was another set that I collected in both the originals and the revisions produced to update the books. (And, make them shorter). One reviewer called the revisions an act of literary vandalism.
I once had a couple of my eighth grade boys compare two books with the same titles but different publication dates, to see how they changed. While their friend Chet was still getting involved in new hobbies and eating a lot of snacks, Frank and Joe went from riding motorcycles to driving a convertible, contacted their father by short wave rather than pay phone, and flew from city to city instead of going by rail.
Once again, however, when I needed shelf space, I boxed up the Hardys and headed for the Book Barn. Someone else could have the fun of trying to find them all.
I did keep one title, not for its literary value, but for the location. Mystery of the Whale Tattoo, published in 1968, is set, in part, in Mystic. This book was outlined by Andrew E. Svenson and written by the late Jerold Mundis, who was better known for self-help financial books.
The whale tattoo volume is the only one he ever wrote in the Hardy Boys series. Reading the book would suggest that either Svenson or, more likely, Mundis, must have visited Mystic at some point.
The story begins, as do many of the books in the series, with Chet taking up a new hobby: scrimshaw.
Chet explained how the ivory was softened by a soaking in brine, how its roughness was removed with a rasp, and later how it was polished with pumice and finally rubbed to a gloss with the palm of the hand. Somebody did his homework, and this was before the days of Google!
Only a few pages later two of their high school friends become owners of a stuffed whale that was found buried where a new shopping center was being built and which they intend to exhibit. Not many pages later the whale is stolen.
Chapter VII begins with Chet explaining the different types of whales, a talk that many of us have heard when visiting the Seaport or Aquarium.
On page 62 the young sleuths, while working as detectives for a carnival, one of whose employees is suspected having something to do with the theft of the whale, discover a card postmarked Mystic, signed Beluga. Hence, the boys decide it is time to visit our village.
Before they reach Mystic, the Hardys manage to overtake a large tractor-trailer that they suspect may be carrying the missing cetacean, only to learn that it is hauling a load of salted fish, and, coincidentally, that the driver grew up in Mystic where his mother runs a boarding house. Best place in town belongs to Mrs. Elmira Snow, my mother! She rents rooms, sets the finest table you can find, and her place is within walking distance of the Marine Historical Museum.
I remember when the Seaport was the Marine Historical Association. In trying to place the fictional boarding house, my guess is that it would be on Greenmanville Avenue, or one of the adjacent side streets, probably between the Seaports north parking lot and Route 1.
Before they reached Mrs. Snows house (using a map, not a GPS), the boys were run off the road and the right front fender hit an elm tree. The passengers were not injured. As Frank said, Lucky we had our seat belts fastened. Their car must have been fairly new as seat belts werent standard equipment until 1964.
When they finally reached Mrs. Snows establishment, they parked the car in a rickety clapboard garage, not a description the Chamber of Commerce would appreciate. The bad guys continued to drive past the house and the boys recognized one of them who was wearing a blue work shirt, which is or was, of course, the uniform of the day at the Seaport.
The next day the boys visited the museum including the Shipsmith Shop and the Spouter Tavern as well as the scrimshaw collections. Around eleven oclock they strolled toward the wharf at which the old whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, was moored. A group of leathery-skinned men in seamens garb was congregated on a nearby bench.
They also met a man in a uniform, Captain Flint.
It would seem that Mundis took a little literary license in his description of the Seaport. The Morgan wasnt moored. In 1968 it was still held in place in the mud and sand with a hold full of cement blocks. The author makes it sound as if the ship were still in the whaling business with a crew and captain who could order sailors around, including a fellow named Spike Marlin.
After returning to the boarding house and having supper, they were off in search of the evildoers. They searched in seamens meeting houses and in cheap restaurants. Even in 1968 I dont know of any such meeting houses in Mystic and very few cheap restaurants. There were three reasonably priced places to eat, Maes Snack Bar, the Modern Grill and Teds Pizza.
Finally the trio stopped at a drugstore and ordered sodas. I can only remember one drug store on West Main and it did not have a soda fountain. Kretzers, on the corner of West Main and Pearl, did have one and, given the next part of the story, that may have been the place.
While having an ice cream soda, the Hardy Boys spotted the person they were looking for and began to follow him. They tailed the man through a labyrinth of twisting streets until he arrived at a clapboard shack close to the waterfront[t]wo dark formswere approaching the ramshackle structure. This sounds like a description of the old Fort Rachel neighborhood before Mystic became yuppified, back when Factory Square really was a factory.
When the boys returned to the drugstore (or Kretzers), Chet was just about to take on the King Sized Wonder ice cream soda. Im reminded of Friendlys Awful Awful, a name later used by Newport Creamery.
The next step was to go to New York to review old newspaper accounts of the history of the stuffed whale. The following sentence proves that the book is indeed a work of fiction; They arrived in the midafternoon, [and] parked near Times Square... And they didnt even have SpotHero!
Mundis was obviously familiar with Mystic and had a good imagination. Im surprised, however, that he didnt have Joe and Frank lose the man they were trailing when the bridge went up!
Robert F. Welt of Mystic is a retired Groton public schools teacher.
Originally posted here:
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