Saturday, December 23, 2023

Guy Graybill Presents Biography and Analysis of Henry Wharton Shoemaker: Scoundrel of the Susquehanna



In the western United States, during the late 19th century, the national government was still trying to ‘tame’ the Native Americans, with General George Armstrong Custer trying to pave his path to the White House on the corpses of native Americans of all ages and genders. However, an interest in romanticizing the Native Americans was building in the eastern part of the country. 

In the 1840s, a woman named Marion Dix Sullivan, who had journeyed by canal boat on Pennsylvania’s Juniata River, was inspired by the journey to write the music for a celebratory song about the river. Mrs. Sullivan of New England wrote the music, and her husband, J.S. Sullivan, wrote the words, and the song became so popular that Marion Dix Sullivan became the nation’s first commercially successful female songwriter! Her song was a very popular song that romanticized the Native Americans. Her song was entitled “Blue Juniata.” The reader is urged to find several internet versions of the song to better understand the song’s considerable popularity. The American Civil War has accounts of “The Blue Juniata” being heard in both Union and Confederate army camps. Similarly, Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the famed Little House books, wrote of her mother singing that song and of her father playing the song on his fiddle. 

Wondering how likely it was that the song “Blue Juniata might have influenced Henry W. Shoemaker,” this author checked the distance of Shoemaker’s McElhattan estate from the Juniata River, the subject of the song’s lyrics. The Juniata River is a large tributary of the Susquehanna River, and the Juniata’s nearest waters (Jack’s Creek) would flow near Bannerville, Pennsylvania, just about three dozen miles due south of Henry Shoemaker’s Restless Oaks estate in McElhattan. However, I later found evidence that Shoemaker was, indeed, not simply familiar with the song; but that he worked some of its lines into one of his own stories, the one cited as “The Siren.”

In the early 20th century, when Shoemaker was very much involved in his writing projects and manufacturing his versions of ‘folklore,’ American composers were known as “Indianists” who wrote considerable popular music based on American Indian themes. From my old personal copies of the era’s Etude music magazine, I can pluck the following songs: “Indian Love Song” by Charles Wakefield Cadman (June 1924) “By The Waters of Minnetonka” by Thurlow Lieurance (September 1922)... “March of the Indian Phantoms” (E.R. Kroeger) (October 1920)

This author would recommend that the reader find versions of any of these songs on the internet. My opinion is that Lieurance’s “By The Waters of Minnetonka” is among the most beautiful music of its type. A 1907 Indian-flavored song is “Redwing.” The music seems to be ‘Indian sounding,’ although the melody was borrowed from a European composer (Robert Schumann). The result is lovely, in any case. 

Random finds in the music field also enriched this listing of possible influences on Henry Shoemaker’s choice of the Native Americans as a topic for many of his tales. The Etude magazine, in one lone issue (February 1927), told us (page 91) that the Royal Albert Hall of London was offering a season of the cantata “Hiawatha” with a noted Mohawk baritone in the cast. That same issue (page 132) offered readers two musical selections suitable for movie houses, one of which is a brief allegro feroce composition that carried the simple title: “Indians.” 

INSPIRED BY THE CLASSICS? It appears doubtful that Henry Shoemaker learned little folklore in backwoods hunting camps or rustic taverns. What does seem evident is that some of his plots were plucked from other uncredited sources, including a couple of the world’s most notable earlier plots. One, in particular, seems to have been lifted from an old Roman tale, and another borrowed from either Homer or Heine. Let’s consider these. 

ANDROCLES REBORN? How simple for Henry Shoemaker to refashion one of antiquity’s most popular legends into a backwoods adventure. Although I’m not a betting gent, I’d be quite willing to wager a modest sum on this likelihood: Shoemaker’s tale of “The View Tree,” cited previously, was inspired by a famous Roman legend of antiquity. The adventure of Shoemaker’s Peter Pentz character, surviving the threat of a 500-member wolf pack because Pentz had once helped an injured wolf, was the story found in the ancient classic Androcles and the Lion. The legend of Androcles told of Androcles’s life being spared because he had once removed a thorn from a lion’s paw. In his story of “The View Tree,”25 Shoemaker has his hero, a noted hunter named Peter Pentz, come upon a wounded wolf. Although he normally, almost naturally, killed wolves, Peter Pentz decided to fix this wolf’s mangled paw. He created splints and used them to aid the paw’s healing. Sometime later, Pentz is being pursued by nine Indians and barely escapes by climbing a chestnut tree of about 90 feet in height and obscuring himself in the tree’s branch-filled top. His savage pursuers guessed he was in the tree and eventually decided to create fire around the chestnut tree’s trunk, knowing that Pentz would be killed when the great fire-weakened tree toppled! However, Shoemaker creates an even-more imminent danger for his hero. A wolf pack emerged into the clearing where Pentz was treed!...

Author and historian Guy Graybill presents the mind-boggling analysis of the various falsehoods of folklorist, naturalist, and collector, Henry Wharton Shoemaker.

I found myself laughing as I got further and further into Guy Graybill's latest book, Henry Wharton Shoemaker, for which he gives the concluding title: Scoundrel of the Susquehanna...You see, Guy Graybill is an historian, a dedicated one, that, when he gets into a subject to be considered and written about, he moves deeply and strongly to ensure that he presents exactly what he feels is needed...

I laughed because I began to picture the "Guy Graybills" in, say, the year 3000, when they attempt to create a similar book on our immediate past president... But, as I contemplated this, I realized that it might be quite easy and not the extensive work that Graybill presents in this book. After all, I remember that CNN was keeping track of all the lies and pieces of misinformation that happen daily. Even though there are millions who now and probably will forever believe all of the false rhetoric that was spewed during the last years when Donald Trump, also a rich man, like Shoemaker, came to leave his "celebrity" of a TV reality show and moved into the White House...
All that is to say, folks, that I sensed a God Incident happening for me... I'll let you think through the chain of events... Sometime months ago I had heard from Guy about his new book. I'm assuming it was during some period of health issues which prevented me from doing reviews and I didn't respond. However, for the first time ever, Guy sent me a Christmas card, which arrived, the same day I completed and posted my last review. Yes, the one I called important (and still think so). But by the time I reached Guy's moving into music, the picture of Jesus laughing--at me--came to my mind... "This, too, shall pass away. Trust Truth...

I have to say, folks, that a weight has been lifted from my heart. I did my research, found my answer, and recognized that the task was beyond my capability to resolve... And, that, Truth will indeed come to His Time... Almost like He was saying, "I Got This..."

I could feel my similar tension in Graybill's writing and creating this book about a scoundrel who, for his own egotistical purposes, started writing books by taking themes, concepts, and other issues, including the signing of the constitution...and creating a book telling a totally different story than the truth, and then...building monuments to himself... They were small monuments, perhaps, but they were built on lies, fabrications, fiction... Graybill's book differentiates between the genre of Folklore by sharing from the scoundrel's own mouth and adding his own comment:
“The writer has endeavored to transcribe the legends exactly as he heard them from the very old people, but as in the case with his previous volumes of Pennsylvania Mountain folklore, he has exercised the right to change the names of persons, places, dates, etc.”
What? From whom did he obtain the right to alter any portion of his stories? By his own admission, he was reserving the right to change folklore into fact! What an astonishing admission! In the above paragraph, Henry Wharton Shoemaker told his readers that they had no reason to believe a single word he had ever written! One ponders: Where better to learn the value of literary truth than within the writings of a prolific scoundrel?

I first learned of literary truth when I began working with a publisher over a decade ago. I was reading and editing a book which was about Vietnam... I loved it. The publisher scanned it and started talking about mistakes... I was, of course, thinking of proofreading mistakes. No, these were about dates, places and people... For me, reading fiction, I rarely considered whether specifics like this were real. I was to learn that day of "literary truth" that when an author writes an historical novel, even as fiction, some basic research had to be done to place the scenes, plots, This was truly a wakeup for me because I realized just how important and time-consuming such research would be for those who chose to write about history.

As Graybill blasted through story after story, debunking details, I soon became mind-boggled, just as the book description stated! The extent of this man's disinformation carried throughout his writings, just as disinformation carries through Trump's rhetoric... 

But, Graybill, rightly presents a fairly extensive biographical sketch of Shoemaker. He was born in 1880 in New York City and into an affluent family. He was the oldest so was to inherit a considerable fortune, as well as the privilege afforded to those in the right circles... At one point Henry owned six newspapers in Pennsylvania. His grandparents owned several thousands of rural land, which they called Villa Vista, but, as the ownership finally reached Henry, he quickly changed the name to Restless Oaks. 

It was during Shoemaker's college years that Graybill began to find discrepancies. For instance, he would list himself as a graduate of Columbia. When attempting to verify this basic information, the school identified him as a non-graduate as of 1901. While attending, he did, however, become very active socially and this was to continue into his older years when at one time he was a member of many different organizations, which, it appears he joined in order to make a name for himself, because it was shortly after he left college in 1901 that he was appointed as a diplomat to Cost Rica by President Theodore Roosevelt. Then moving on to Lisbon, Berlin, and finally as Ambassador to Bulgaria...

The parallel to Trump seemed to end at the point where Shoemaker never really held a real point of power and, perhaps, this led to what he began to do... By merging his property interests, his traveling, and his love of writing, Shoemaker maneuvered to make his name known into posterity... Through, again, connections and memberships, he was able to become involved in creating historical monuments for the State of Pennsylvania--each one to include his full name and position...

So, bottomline, this is how it worked. He wrote a story(ies) that could be considered Folklore--those stories which were spread by word of mouth as to events that happened early in history... For instance, a story about the buffalo which once roamed across the state of Pennsylvania... Add a little fiction about meeting a man who had killed 2000, add that he did it in some part of the State...and, in his other capacity, Shoemaker would create a memorial sign, or in this case, a stone
This is real; book has pic of stoned!
buffalo... with sign with, of course, Shoemaker's name of authorization and verification!

I wanted to point out something that I wouldn't have normally known, except I'm having trouble with reading small print... I read the ebook version, and, the pictures were able to be studied as they appear on our phones... a horn, for instance, that was found with printing on it, can easily be enlarged and studied. I found this much more interesting than just looking at the book pictures... So depending upon just how much time you want to invest, to survey the debunking work of Guy Graybill debunking Henry Wharton Shoemaker, I'd recommend the ebook copy.

On the other hand, attempting to document an ongoing activity makes the book tedious and somewhat difficult to follow. For instance, the story of the bison, first was reviewed by experts who confirmed no physical evidence of the bison within the State of Pennsylvania. Also, each area within the folklore story had to be checked against historical sites as well as present... And, as Shoemaker often did, he would change his story's information from one story to the next, and finally, the "possibilities" of what was being written had to be studied. For instance, evaluating the place of the buffalo herd in relation to the amount of open land where the buffalo would have roamed... Considerations may include source of water as being available...

I learned much about the actual process used in documenting historical information, sites...and more. Enough to know that I'll leave it to Historian Guy Graybill! You might want to search in the right-hand column of my blog for "Guy Graybill," the range of his interests and books is extensive and I've read most of them. My favorite is his book covering Italian music of all kinds... Here's an easy click for a sample of that book and music! In fact, it's been years since I've shared from that book... Watch for something soon...

I applaud Graybill for taking on this monumental research task... Especially since we are in a period where lies and false stories are acceptable for many... For those who want Truth ONLY. We need those who will work to do the research and then be courageous enough to speak out! Kudos, Once Again! To Author!


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