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by Dennis Crenshaw

Most of us lead an ordinary life, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but mostly ordinary. However ever so often two people come together and the impact of their union is felt worldwide. Abbot & Costello; Elvis & the Colonel; Stanley & Livingston; are just three of the best known of these partnerships that come to mind. And then there's Ray Palmer and Richard Shaver. But for the magic to happen the timing of their meeting must be perfect. And it takes a catalyst. Comedy, music and adventure were the catalysts for the first three pairs mentioned. With Palmer and Shaver it was science fiction.The period between the late 1930s and the early 1950s became known as “The Golden Age of Science Fiction.” It was the age of pulp-magazines. As Isaac Asimov wrote in the introduction to Before the Golden Age: A science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s (1974): That Golden Age began in 1938, when John Cambell became editor of Astounding Stories and remodeled it, and the whole field, into something closer to his heart's desire. During the Golden Age, he and the magazine he edited so dominated science fiction that to read Astounding was to know the field entirely. Other magazines of the era like, Thrilling Wonder Stories and Amazing Stories didn't have the numbers of readers as Astounding, but their readers were just as loyal. The oldest of these “pulps” was Amazing Stories; one of its most loyal fans was a young man named Ray Palmer.When I first decided to be a writer, I had to begin by dealing in fantasy, which came naturally to me because of my vivid imagination. In 1926 Hugo Gernsback brought out the first science fiction magazine called Amazing Stories and when I saw the first issue on the newsstands, I snatched it up. The same day I sent my story to him for consideration for the magazine. My first story, I realized, was science fiction. The story sold for forty dollars, and it was published some years later in a magazine called Science Wonder Stories. But as every aspiring writer learns (yours truly included) the first one can be the easiest. Call it beginners luck if you wish. At any rate, out of the next 100 stories Palmer submitted to different pulps, 99 were rejected. Palmer became so frustrated he swore that someday he would be the editor of Amazing Stories. As Walter Kafton-Minkel wrote in his excellent history of the belief in an underground world Subterranean Worlds: 100,000 years if dragons, dwarfs, the dead, lost races & UFOs from inside the earth (1989): He also wrote countless fan letters to Amazing, and in 1938 just after his twenty-eighth birthday, Ziff-Davis, Amazing's publisher, offered him the editor's chair. Palmer achieved almost instant success at the magazine by stressing straight, fast-action fiction . . . He negotiated a contract with Ziff-Davis which gave him a percentage of the magazine's profits as salary - at a time when most pulp editors earned twenty to thirty dollars a week - and he proceeded to raise Amazing's circulation so much that he took home more money than the publisher's vice president. Ray, or “Rap” as his fans liked to call him, was able to achieve his success because he loved what he was doing and was a huge fan of science fiction to start with. Palmer is credited with starting the first ever “Fanzine”, The Comet, in 1930. As editor he also published Asimov's first story, Marooned off Vesta, and some of the early works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. By 1943 he had increased Amazing's circulation by such a margin that he pretty much had full control of the magazine's editorial department. As Ray explains in Invitation to Adventure, his introduction to the Hidden World, Issue A-1 (spring, 1961):I had free rein with the pulps, and was answerable to no one except Mr. Davis . . . thus, when one day a letter came in giving the details of an “ancient alphabet” that “should not be lost to the world,” it was opened by my managing editor, Howard Browne, who read it with typical orthodox attitude, and tossed it into the wastepaper basket with the comment “The world is full of crackpots.” I retrieved the letter from the wastebasket, examined the alphabet, and made a few casual experiments. I went about the office to those who were familiar with other languages than English, and came up with a few more interesting results. That was enough. I published the letter in Amazing Stories.Another loyal reader, Richard S. Shaver, had sent in the letter. The worlds of Ray Palmer and Richard Shaver were on a collision course, and publishing history was about to be made.Shaver: The Early YearsRichard Sharpe Shaver was born in Berwick Pennsylvania in 1907. His parents, Ziba and Grace had five children all together. Richard was the fourth child born to them and the family seems to have been close, with Taylor, or Tate four years older than Richard, his closest family member. Some of that could be due to their mutual interest, writing. Tate sold adventure stories to Boy's Life, The American Boy and other popular boy's magazines of the era. It seems that teenager Richard may have been sort of wild. As Jim Pobst reported:Feuds with teachers, especially with one, Enoch Ryder, led to several episodes of corporal punishment. This lasted until his mother visited the school and complained He stole a skull on a midnight ramble to an old graveyard; he caused a breakup in the local scout troop; he was kicked off the football team. The stories have the same tone; a misunderstanding led to antagonism; pranks went wrong, or mistakes were taken amiss. It ran like a self-exculpatory thread through his life. As a very young child, he had given himself an imaginary friend and an imaginary enemy, both with names. They haunted his childhood and fifty years after, were more real to him than past acquaintances.As a boy he spent his summers selling ice door to door and one year, according to the research of Mr. Pobst, he worked on the state roads. After school Richard had several jobs in Philadelphia including cutting meat at a packing house, and with a tree surgeon as a “gardener.” In 1929 he rejoined his family who had relocated to Detroit. While in Detroit, and after seeing an ad for the Wicker School of Art, he signed up for art class. “I'm out of work, and my hands want to draw,” he told the director, John F. Wicker. He also worked part-time as a nude model for 35 cents an hour (which dropped to 25 cents as money got tighter). Shaver made extra money by hiring his own male nude model, paying him $10.00 a day. He then sold tickets to his fellow art-students for $1.00 each, making about $30-$40 a day. After being offered a job driving a beer truck across the border from Canada, Richard refused. Instead he started making up his own bathtub brew using “water and flavor and alcohol and juniper berries.” In 1930 Shaver joined the John Reed Club, named after the U.S. correspondent who had covered the Russian Revolution, one of the many communist organizations that sprang up as a way for “radicals, intellects and those interested in new ways to deal with the business disruptions, like the depression.” They, along with the other “Red Groups,” had planned a demonstration in Cass Park. In the days prior to the planned demonstrations there were several riots and free-for-alls between the Reds and onlookers. Many were arrested and put in jail. On May 1st the weather was warm in Detroit and, as in other cities around the country; the Communist sympathizers held their planned rally in Cass Park. Jim Pobst tells usThe Detroit News on May, 2, said two hundred man and about an equal number of patrolmen and detectives listened to the orations of six Communist speakers. . . . The Detroit Times said one thousand sympathizers chanted “The Red Flag,” and that a cordon of 114 police had been thrown around the park to prevent parading or the carrying of placards in the street. Both accounts agree there had been no trouble, and both papers ran photographs from other cities, where rioting took place. The Detroit Times account featured a group of pictures, long shots and close-ups, of demonstrators. One photograph, over the caption, “Orator Haranguing Crowd” is remarkable. A young man, coat-less, tie flapping in the wind is leaning over the 2x4 railing of a small platform presumably making a speech. His stance is argumentative; controversial - the man is Richard Shaver.As the depression grew during the 1930s, the parades were better attended. But in the mean time, Shaver had turned to other things, other pursuits. Shaver's short-lived communist experience was over. Meanwhile back at the Wicker School the depression was taking its toll, aspiring artists couldn't pay for lessons and there was less money to pay teachers. Many left and Shaver became a part-time instructor. Ever the entrepreneur, Shaver set up a stand in a city park and for 25 cents a shot, made quick sketches of people on the street. He took some of the money and bought a ready made suit for $22.50. He remembered it felt like a million dollars. The star student at the Wicker School was a young woman who had been born in Kiev, Russia in 1901, Sophie Gurivinch. Before coming to the art school she had studied at the Chicago Art Institute. She and Richard soon becomes an item. By 1932 Richard was out of work again. He soon found work at Briggs Body in Highland Park, working on the assembly line making bodies for the new V-8 Fords. While they always had work it was hot dirty and dangerous. As there was always someone waiting to take your job you did what you had to do, even if it meant working 10 hours for four or five hours pay - and the pay Ten cents an hour for men, four cents for women. Shavers job was repetitive, mind numbing and noisy. As Shaver explained: Overhead conveyors shot diagonally across the spaces which are the light wells, around me were welding jigs, and every few seconds I had to duck a welding gun, Two of them hung on swivels and were used in succession for two different sizes and shapes if welds. The swinging gun timed our action, and gave a pulsating to our movements. As Shaver explains:I was the man doing the welding. I grabbed the gun as it swung, welded, pushed it away and ducked its mate as it swung into position over men, then straightened and shot the juice to the next weld. Shaver worked this job “off and on” for three or four years. This job was to figure heavily in what, years later, would become known as the Shaver Mystery. In 1933 Shaver spent a lot of time in Chicago attending the International Exposition called Century in Progress. Also in 1933 Shaver married Sophie and by the end of that year they had a daughter, Evelyn Ann. Then, on February 24, 1934 his brother Tate died. According to Mr. Post's research report, Richard said, when he heard of his brother's death, he opened a bottle and drank until he passed out. Then Richard Shaver's life took a turn for the worst. Mr. Pobst explains:On July 16, 1934, Richard Sharpe Shaver was admitted to the Detroit Receiving Hospital Emergency Ward, as case No. 200014. On the admitting sheet, it was stated that he refused to cooperate with attendants and had to be forcibly restrained. The facts in the Physician's Certificate upon which the allegation of insanity is based were given as statements that “people are watching him, following him around” and that the “physicians are trying to poison” him. On July 27, Sophie Shaver petitioned the state of Michigan for his admission to a state asylum. His assets on the petition, were given as less than $100 real property and from all sources, his income was estimated at less than $10.00 a week. He was next examined by a Dr. Agins, who heard that Shaver believed people were calling him a homosexual and a communist. Ignoring his protest, on August 17th arrangements were made to institutionalize him at the Ypsilanti State Hospital. Richard wrote about his stay in the mental hospital in an article published in Ray Palmer's publication Forum in November 1971: This tale about the mental institution has just enough truth at the back of it to make it embarrassing. Jonathan Winters can afford to say he was in “that place,” but I can't afford it, because it tends to discredit what I have to say. I am not a humorist. I am a man who has a wild story to tell, and it is useless to tell it if people think I am a nut, so “they” spread this one about the bughouse.Yes, I had a heat stroke when I was away from home working. Yes, they put me in a sanitarium for two weeks because I was unable to talk. This form of shock treatment is common with heatstroke.You can probably find that sort of thing in anybody's background if you look for it in the same way mine has been investigated. I am a bad character and if I play a little poker, I will hear sooner or later that I'm a notorious gambler too. While Mr. Pobst could find no discharge papers from the hospital for Mr. Shaver he did find evidence that “Richard probably responded well to treatment.” From what I gather from Mr. Pobst's research report Shaver was probably institutionalized considerably longer than two weeks. In December of 1936 Sophie Shaver, now separated from Richard, died from an accident in her apartment. The news devastated him. Sophie's parents, Benjamin and Anna Gurivinch gained custody of the Daughter Evelyn Ann. In a letter the Shaver family offered to take her in if for any reason the Gurivinch family could no longer stay with Sophie's parents. [NOTE: In a phone conversation in 1997 with Ray Palmer, son of Raymond “Rap” Palmer, I learned that Evelyn Ann had recently contacted his mother Marjorie. Richard's daughter informed her that she had grown up thinking that her father had died when she was young. She explained that she had discovered the truth about her father through a magazine article. Shortly after the phone call she visited the Palmers in Amherst and was able to see pictures of her dad and get information she hadn't had before. Ray also informed me that Evelyn Ann made abstract paintings not unlike Richard's. . . . Dennis Crenshaw] Over the next seven years the movements of Richard Shaver are harder to trace, but it is known that he traveled around working where he could. One incident of note, a stowaway on the SS Nova Scotia of Halifax, Newfoundland using the name “Leonard Hogan,” later turned out to be Shaver. Sometimes during this period Richard was married a second time, but could find no information on this marriage. Shaver said, “she found some papers indicating I had been in a mental hospital,” and left him. It was during this time that Shaver began to try his hand at writing, but nothing came of it. He married for the third and last time. From what many people I know who knew Shaver have told me, Dorothy, or Dot as her friends called her, was a very sweet and pleasant person. Dot said of her attraction to Shaver: I never saw anyone like him before He used such big words. Took him and I about four weeks to get acquainted. I thought he was rather shy and really different than anyone I ever met or knew. About this time he started to work on a project concerning an article that appeared in Science World in 1936 by Albert F. Yeager, The True Basis of Today's Alphabet. As Pobst explained:Yeager claimed that six letters in the alphabet stood for concepts, and that each word in the language could be deciphered, with the use of his concepts. Shaver had gone further than Yeager, taking 26 letters in the alphabet, assigned them his own meaning and developed what he believed to be a language. He called it “Mantong.” It was not as might be expected, a new language, but an old one - one he claimed to be the oldest in the world. The theory runs counter to every accepted notion of history and the origin of that language. He ran an ad in Writer's Digest appealing for an expert's “care, advice” on further development of the language.In 1943 Shaver sat down in front of his typewriter and wrote a letter to the editors of Amazing Stories. His and Ray Palmer's worlds were about to meet and sparks were going to fly. Continue to part 2 . . .

Bonus Link: Fantasy Review & Science Fantasy Review Archives

From THE HOLLOW EARTH INSIDER Vol 3 #6 [first part of The Shaver Mystery]

Research Books

The unemployed demonstrate outside Detroit City Hall in January 1930. Richard Shaver may have been somewhere in there working the crowd.
Part 1
Richard Shaver photo thanks to Tim Cridland
Ray Palmer photo thanks to Marjarie Palmer