Friday, May 3, 2013

Girls of Central High at Basketball; Or, the Great Gymnasium Mystery (Girls of Central High #3)

Girls of Central High at Basketball; Or, the Great Gymnasium Mystery (Girls of Central High #3)
Gertrude W. Morrison
World Syndicate Publishing, 1914

Genre: Sports, Mystery, School, Realistic


Mrs. Case, the new basketball coach, really has it out for Hester. She complains that she is so good at book matters that none of the other teachers ever get to see her temper. In the locker room after basketball practice, Hester confronts Bobby about talking behind her back. She goes to slap her and accidentally hits Nellie who is trying to prevent a fight. Bobby says that if it wasn't for Gee-Gee's favoring of her she would have been kicked out of Central High long ago.

Later that night Nellie tells her father, a doctor, about the fight in the locker room and he tells her that it would be best if she just ignores Hester. The next day when the girls arrive at school they discover that their gym has been broken into and vandalized. Bobby and Nellie know exactly who hates the girls so much they would do this—Hester. Bobby quickly spreads the gossip and soon all the girls are talking about how Hester declared her hatred of the girls. Luckily, when Principal Sharp calls a meeting he declares that the vandalism and the intent behind it is well beyond any hatred of the students. After school that day, Hester goes to the park and sees Rufus and Johnny Doyle. Rufus, an “innocent” and “half-whitted” young man (the 1914 “polite” way of saying mentally handicapped), does not see three-year-old Johnny fall into an open sewer grate. Hester follows him down into the six-foot water because she can swim and saves Johnny's life.

Many of the girls at school believe Hester did do the damage to the gymnasium or possibly hired someone else to do it for her. Luckily for her the adults in charge don't believe she is responsible and everyone wonders how the culprit got in and out of the building without the custodian noticing. The girls seem to have better things to worry about as their first game of the season is against East High, who beat them last season. It is also Bobby's first game on the team. When the ball goes to Hester, her opponent quickly snatches it and the referee yells at her for over guarding. The captain is forced to replace her. They end up losing the first half. Nellie discovers that Hester has left the locker room and won't even be around for the second half. They end up tying the game. The referee admits that if Hester were in the second half they probably would've won. Naturally, the girls blame Hester for their loss and decide that they want her off the team. A number of the girls get together to write a petition to give to Mrs. Case.

Later that night, Nellie feels bad when her father tells her how Hester saved Johnny Doyle's life. When she arrives at school the next day she discovers another raid has occurred in the gym but this time it is a case of arson. The police did find some tracks to an open window this time so they think they know how the culprit got in but they still do not know how he got out. Mr. Sharp tells Mrs. Case to remove Hester from the basketball team but rumors about her involvement in these attacks need to be stopped. Laura, Nellie, Jess, and Bobby decide to investigate. They quickly discover that the footprints outside the window can't be Hester's as they are clearly a man's. Laura deduces that the man did not get inside the building from the window; in fact, he exited the window. She points out how the scuffs on the footprints show that the man was actually walking backwards.

On Saturday a number of the girls go to visit Eve Sitz's farm and they learn that her new $150 colt, Jinks, was stolen. They decide to head to the Four Corners, were notorious gangs hang out, and see a boy riding Jinks. They give chase. Laura yells at him and he says that the horse belongs to his brother, Hebe, one of the most notorious liars in town. Eve smacks him. As the girls are fighting with a gun holding Hebe, Hester's mother shows up in a car. Hester is there too but won't even look at the girls. Her mom looks at Hebe and says that he's never had the money to afford a cult like that and demands that he give the horse back. She yells at the women who were gawking at the scene and tells them to clean themselves up. She comments about how she can't believe she used to live here among these people who are a disgrace, which embarrasses Hester. The reason why Hester refused to knowledge the girls is because earlier that morning Mrs. Case showed up at her house with the petition to remove her from the basketball team. Because of all the gossip and rumors Hester has found herself shunned by everyone, including her best friend Lily.

Hester discovers that her father has finally bought a car for her and she demands that she should be taught how to drive it immediately. When she is out with the chauffeur she kicks him out because she doesn't need him chaperoning her. As she is driving along by herself the car stalls. As she's trying to fix it a car with Laura and her friends drive by and save her. They're coming back from a game they won without Hester on the team. She decides to head back the way she came from despite the warnings of a forest fire nearby and proceeds to get caught right in the path of the flames. She runs across a man and helps him get into her car. They decide to take a short cut road to warn other farming families of the danger. For two hours they drive around the small town and save more than 40 people. It takes a few days for her parents to learn that she is considered a hero even though she didn't want her name in the paper.

The big game against Keyport High is upon the basketball team. Halfway through the girls are behind by two points. Some girls lament at Hester still being gone (Nellie and Laura) while some of the girls are happy (Jess and Bobby) and don't think they need Hester to win the game. Nellie then informs them of Hester's latest daring deed—saving people from a forest fire. The girls end up winning by six points. The next Saturday all the teens are gathered at Eve's farm. Laura tells Nellie that Jackway, the school custodian, admitted that the night of the first act of vandalism Rufus had slipped into the building somehow. Could Rufus be the culprit? While laughing and telling stories, they hear some shouts from some fishermen. It turns out that Hebe was out on a rock which twisted and rolled onto his leg trapping him under with his head barely above the water line. Laura sends the boys to look for rope so that they can hopefully get enough leverage to move the rock and free him. They succeed in getting him out and they take him to the hospital.

The girls’ next game is against Lumberport. They do alright but at halftime Nellie sprains her ankle. Mrs. Case refuses to let her play. Nellie, however, bandages of her ankle and demands to play and they end up winning by eight points. It is the beginning of a winning streak for them. One of the boys, Chet, goes to visit Hebe in the hospital and discovers that he is mad that he didn't get the job at the school as Jackway should have been fired. Billson, the old man Hester saved from the fire who happens to be Hebe's roommate, tells Chet that that job is all the man talks about. He can tell that Chet believes Hester is responsible for vandalism and he tells him that he is going to prove that she didn't do it.

Meanwhile, Nellie is terrified and disgusted at the same time to learn that Johnny has developed anemia and needs a blood transfusion or he'll die. Hester volunteers for the procedure. The girls keep winning but they can't move beyond third place in the rankings. Bobby declares that while she hates Hester she does kind of wish she was back on the team so that they'd win the championship. Nellie informs them of Hester's latest daring deed—saving Johnny's life again. Chet has been trying to get more information out of Billson but the man refuses to talk to him because he thinks Chet is against Hester. The girls decide to sign a new petition to request Hester being put back on the team. Hester agrees. The girls soon face off against East High again, this time winning and moving up to second place.

The final game is between Central High and Keyport High. This will determine the championship. After a tough game they end up winning all because of Hester's final goal. Billson is released from the hospital and decides to talk to Chet. He admits that everyone is praising her because of what she did for Johnny but they still think that she is the one that vandalized the gymnasium. Rufus is there with his mother to visit Johnny and Billson tells Chet to go and get Rufus. Rufus comes into the room and Billson shows him Hebe sitting in the bed. Rufus starts shaking and crying while Billson asks Rufus why he is scared of the man in the bed. Rufus replies that the man is a bad man who said that he would kill him if he told. He says that he saw the bad man in the gym the night of the vandalism and Hebe, knowing he had been caught, admits to causing the damage in an attempt to get the job as the custodian. He gets transferred to a prison hospital and after he is healed he looks forward to three months of hard labor.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

This book was a fun read. I enjoyed how Hester kept doing daring deeds! The book mainly focuses on physical descriptions of the girls and some major sexist and gender stereotypes when it comes to girls and sports.

Let’s start with the physical descriptions.

Hester is the main character and a lot of time is spent talking about her, her temper, and her family’s economic status.

On page 1 Hester is described as “a rather heavily built girl for her age, with a sturdy body and long arms—well developed in a muscular way, but without much grace.”

She is the “only daughter of the very wealthy wholesale butcher . . . She was one of those girls who fairly ‘boss’ their parents and everybody around their homes. She had bought the friendliness of some weak girls by her display in the lavish use of spending money” (p. 8).

Page 36-37 – description of Hester's family:
For some years now, her daughter had grown quite beyond her control and Mrs. Grimes had learned not to comment upon Hester's actions. Yet, oddly enough, Hester was neither a wild girl nor a silly girl; she was merely bold, bad tempered, and willful.

Mrs. Grimes was a large, lymphatic weighty, given to loose wrappers until late in the day, and the enjoyment of unlimited novels. “Comfort above all” was the good lady's motto. She had suffered much privatization and had worked hard, during Mr. Grimes's beginnings in trade, for Hester's father had worked up from an apprentice butcher boy in a retail store—was a “self-made man.”

Mr. Grimes was forever talking about how he'd made his own way in the world without the help of any other person; but he was, nevertheless, purse-proud and arrogant.

Page 38:
Under these circumstances it may be seen that the girls home life was neither happy nor inspiring. The kindly, gentle things of life escaped Hester Grimes. She unfortunately scorned her mother for her “easy” habits; she admired her father's bullying ways and his ability to make money. And she missed the sweetening influence of a well conducted home where the inmates are polite and kind to one another.

Hester was abundantly healthy, possessed personal courage to a degree—as Dr. Agnew had observed—was not naturally unkind, and had other qualities that, properly trained and molded, would have made her a very nice girl indeed. But having no home restraining influences, the rough corners of Hester Grimes's character had never been smoothed down.

Her friendship with Lily Pendleton was not like the “chumminess” of other girls. Lily's mother came of one of the “first families” of Centerport, and moved in a circle that the Grimeses could never hope to attain, despite their money. Through her friendship with Lily, who is in a miniature already a “fine lady,” Hester obtained a slight hold up on the fringe of society.

Nellie gets an earful from her father about women in sports (p. 19):

Loyalty. That's the kernel—loyalty. If athletics and games they don't teach you that, you might as well give 'em up—all of you girls. The feminine sex is not naturally loyal; now, don't get mad! It is not a natural virtue—if any virtue is humanly natural—of the sex. It's only the impulsive, spitfire girls who are naturally loyal—the kind who will fight for another girl. Among boys it is different. Now, I am not praising boys, or putting them in iota higher than girls. Only, long generations of working and fighting together has made the normal male loyal to his kind. It is an instinct—and even our friends who call themselves of the suffragettes have still to acquire it.

The background into why it is important for girls to compete in sports is contradictory in nature. On one hand, one would think how awesome a book in 1914 is for promoting sports for girls. On the other hand, when one reads the rational for it one realizes it is horribly sexist.

Page 12:

The Girls' Branch Athletic League of Central High had been in existence only a few months. Gymnasium work, folk dancing, rowing and swimming, walking and some field sports had been carried to a certain point under the supervision of instructors engaged by Centerport's Board of Education for the organization of the girls themselves into an association which, with other school clubs, held competitions and all beams, and other, athletics for trophies and prizes.

Page 13:

Public interest had long since been aroused in the boys' athletics; but that and girls' a similar development had lagged until the spring previous to the opening of our story.

Page 53 – 55:

Basketball is perhaps the most transparent medium revealing certain angles of character in young girls. At first the players seldom have anything more than a vague idea of the proper manner of throwing a ball, or the direction in which it is to be thrown.

The old joke about a woman throwing a stone at a hen and breaking the pain of glass behind her, will soon become a tasteless morsel under the tongue of the humorist. Girls in our great public schools are learning how to throw. And basketball is one of the greatest helps to this end. The woman of the coming generation is going to have developed the same arm and shoulder muscles that man displays, and will be able to throw a stone and hit the hen, if necessary!

The girl beginner at basketball usually has little idea of direction in throwing the ball; nor, indeed, does she seem to distinguish fairly adverse between her opponents and her team-mates. Her only idea is to try to propel the ball in the general direction of the goal, the thought that by passing it from one to another of her team mates she will much more likely see it lands safely in the basket never seemingly entering her mind.

But once the girl has learned to observe and understand the position and function of her team mates and opponents, to consider the chances of the game in relation to the score, and, bearing the things in mind, can form a judgment as to her most advantageous play, and act quickly on it—when she has learned to repress her hysterical excitement and play quietly inserted boisterously, what is it she has gained?
It is self-evident that she has one something besides the mere ability to play basketball. She had learned to control her emotions—to a degree, at least—through the dictates of her mind. Blind impulse has been supplanted by intelligence. Indeed, she has gained, without doubt, a balance of mind and character that will work for good not only to herself, but to others.

Playing basketball seriously will help the girl player to control her emotions and her mind is far higher and more important matters than athletics.

Lastly, there is one minor racist element featuring Mammy Jinny, the Beldings’s old black cook (p. 145):

“It's jest de beatenes' what disher fambly is a-comin' to. Gits so, anyhow, dat de hull on youse is out 'most all day long. Eberything comes onter Mammy's shoulders.”

Peggy Parker, Girl Inventor

Peggy Parker, Girl Inventor
Ruby Lorriane Redford
Whitman, 1946

Genre: Realistic


Peggy Parker is a girl genius when it comes to mechanical gadgets. For example, the room that she and her mother share is full of mechanical apparatuses that Peggy has created, such as an automatic button that will put the window shade up or down and a gadget on the fireplace that will automatically start a fire. As the story opens Peggy is being honored for the second year in a row at the Dodson's banquet. She has made half a dozen time and labor saving devices for the plant and she is only 20 years old.

Peggy and her mom live in a small apartment since Joe, her brother, is in New Mexico. It costs so much to keep him in a sanatorium but he should be home in six months. It was lucky that an x-ray of all the boys at Pender High caught the spot on his lung. Their father died two years ago. They had moved northward and Peggy, who adjusted graduated, got a job at an airplane parts plant where their mother got a job as a stenographer. Along with her award Peggy is also getting a $500 bonus. She attends the banquet with Jerry Newton, a nice but non-mechanical fellow.

She returns home to find a letter from the sanatorium informing her that her brother is better and has to come home at once to make room for other patients. It is unfortunately midwinter and Peggy is concerned that if he comes home he will get sick again. If they have to move to a warmer climate Peggy is scared that she will have to leave the Dodson factory. Her mom has an idea. They can send Joe to his great uncle's plantation in the South until spring as he has been asked to visit before. They write to the great uncle the next day and quickly receive a telegram saying that their uncle has just died. A few days later they receive another message that informs them that the Pine Island plantation has been left to Peggy and Joe. Peggy’s mom thinks that their problems are solved but Peggy isn't too happy because she is now sure she's going to have to give up her job and be stuck on a boring island.

A few days later finds the family in Atlanta meeting up with Joe's train to head towards their new life. Joe informs Peggy that her mechanical mind will actually be a boom to the farming industry because everything is being turned to mechanical means of farming. When they get to Fair Port the driver who meets them, Ike, is the son of two people who worked for their uncle. They also meet Mr. Marshall, their uncle's friend and lawyer who turns out to be a handsome young man just out of law school who is the son of the local judge. They also discover some sad news. No actual farming has happened in the past few years. All they really are inheriting is the island and a house. Everything else went to a formal auction to pay off the funeral expenses. The house, while a mansion, is an utter disrepair.

Peggy wants to check out the farming equipment and discovers it is just as dismal. They have a few animals but they don't even have a tractor. Ben and their uncle did all of their farming the old-fashioned way. They don't even have a real working motorboat to get them back to the mainland—it has been allowed to rust over the years from no use. Ted Marshall is surprised to hear from Peggy that they plan to stay on and not sell the place. They refuse to sell because that is not what their uncle wanted. Trying to help them out, Ted invites them to see his father's plantation and their 15 machines. He also has a 19-year-old sister, Carol, who he wants Peggy to meet.

The family soon has a visitor, a man named Andrew Bateman from Gull Island, their nearest neighbor. He has stopped by to make a bid for their land before they sell it to anyone else. Peggy dislikes him immediately. Before leaving he warns them not to plant anything south of Waco Crick and Peggy remembers Ben saying that a lot of wild hogs roam there. Bateman offers one more time to buy up anything if they change their minds, especially that southern tract of land. Ben tells Joe that Bateman has been eyeing the island for a long time and that his uncle had always hated him. No one can understand why Bateman is so interested in that one piece of land.

Meanwhile, Peggy uses her mechanical skills to fix the motorboat and everyone heads out to see this southern tract of land. Teneh, Ben’s wife, goes with them because she swears she saw their uncle's ghost a few nights ago and refuses to be left alone. The area has a lot of timber and Peggy believes that they can sell this to finance their crop production.

The next day, Peggy is in town and runs into Bateman who once again asks them to name their price. He is disgusted when she denies him. He briefly even threatens her—“reckon you'll rue the day you make that decision.” She sees Ted who disappoints her when he says that she should probably just sell the land because they need the money for their farming. He does like her timber idea and offers to drive her to the pulp mill. The man in charge of the mill says that he can't help because he's already low on workers but if Peggy can get the timber to him he will buy it. Peggy decides that they will build their own barge and she will advertise for her own workers and provide them with transportation and lunch.

Bateman comes nosing around and wonders were Peggy got the labor from. Later that afternoon a number of the workers quit because the island is supposedly haunted. While Peggy is certain that Bateman scared the men off, Joe is certain that he didn't see Bateman talking to any of the workers. That evening there is a bad storm and Joe discovers their barge missing in the morning. There are signs pointing to it being stolen.

They visit Ted who takes them to his house where his father will probably let them borrow his own barge because this is an emergency. His grandfather believes that Bateman would possibly want the land to build a road connecting the two islands. Luckily, with the borrowed barge, work continues on the timber. One day a man, Luke Harper, is working on the top of the tree when the other men say he just disappeared. This causes more men to leave.

Peggy is invited by Ted and Carol to go to a yacht club dance. At the dance Peggy sees a waiter who looks exactly like the missing Luke. Ted tries to talk to the club's owner about the waiter while Bateman's son, Andrew Junior, tries to get Peggy to dance with him. He then has the audacity to propose to her which she flat out refuses. Ted tells her that Andrew proposed because it would be one way for the family to get Pine Island. The owner of the club says that the waiter is new and is supposedly named Mose Wallace.

The next today, Joe excitedly tells Peggy that he thinks he has found a way that someone could get from their island to Gull Island even though it is supposedly impossible. He discovered that at low tide a secret plot of land is made visible. Even more shocking it is a man-made path out of shells. He believes that Andrew made it so that he could reach the island without a boat. Peggy makes Joe pay off some of the past taxes on the island so that they have less of a chance of losing the land. She also decides that she might look into getting a cotton gin. Later that night and Andrew Junior visits. Joe accidentally lets it be known that Peggy has been working on a new invention in her shop that could bring lots of money. The next morning Peggy discovers her invention is missing. She is very sad because she was going to use the money as a down payment for the cotton picker.

Spring soon passes into summer and luckily Peggy's missing invention came to nothing as whoever stole it didn't try to cash in on it. Soon a Mr. Meyer visits them. He says that he saw their ads for labor repeatedly and he recently took a cotton picker from a heavily mortgaged estate and is willing to sell it for cheap. They get to ride it and test it out. He is selling it for $1,500. He convinces Peggy to talk with the bank about a loan and the possibility of putting up part of the land as security. He convinces her to put up the land south of Waco Crick. While it is risky Peggy decides to buy the cotton picker. The day that Mr. Meyer delivers it is raining. He picks a row to make sure that it works and it seems fine so Peggy pays him. The next morning when they get to work they notice that all of the batches they pick are dirty. Peggy knows that Mr. Meyer will claim they did something wrong because he physically tested it to make sure it worked. She knows that she is been scammed. Joe wants Peggy to try to fix it but she is wary of harming it even more. She heads to the mainland to find that Mr. Meyer is gone for parts unknown. Ike says that he took Meyer to the train station and that he said he was headed to Savannah and he looked mighty pleased with himself. He says that he also saw Meyer talking to Bateman. Peggy makes an appointment with Frank Dillard, a picker mechanic, in the hope that he can help. Dillard mentions that Sheriff Johnson was put into office by a political ring with a dark history. Peggy now understands why the sheriff hasn't been of much help him. It seems as if Bateman owns the whole town.

Dillard finds the broken parts of the machine but he doesn't think he can fix it. Peggy calls the manufacturer to see if she can get a replacement part but never hears back from them so she decides to take the matter into her own hands. She notices that the part appears to have been sabotaged. As she thinks of a solution Joe informs her that he believes he knows why Bateman wants their land. He thinks that the soil south of Waco Crick is valuable. Joe is going to take a soil sample to a chemist. Ted returns from a vacation and yells at Peggy for being stupid enough to be duped into buying the cotton gin, but she's feeling pretty good because she believes that she has created an even better cleaning component for the picker.

Peggy soon receives bad news. It turns out that Bateman owns shares of the bank that they borrowed from and if they can’t pay their loan back in 30 days he will get their land. The soil test comes back and shows that the soil is high in phosphate. Peggy also eventually gets a letter from the parts manufacturer that informs her that those models aren't even made anymore. As if it seems that nothing can get worse a hurricane hits and destroys most of their cotton crop. When Ted comes to see how they fared after the storm he is upset to see Peggy apparently obsessed with the part she's attempting to make. He finally confesses that he loves her and says that he would do anything for her. She tells him that she needs a field to test her new machine on. He offers up his father's farm.

When she finally gets to test for machine everyone is happy at how much of an improvement Peggy's cleaner is. Her new component puts even the newest models to shame. However, Peggy is not happy because she believes she can make it even better.

Days pass until it is Friday the 13th and people from the picker company have come to see a demonstration of Peggy's model. Peggy hopes that it will work as their loan is due the following day. Unknown to her, Ted's father tested the machine once again and it worked perfectly. Coming to the demo are a lot of company individuals in the farming business. He hopes there will be a bidding war over her invention. The test again is a success creating a bidding war with an offer of $1,800. At the celebration dinner, everyone is shocked to hear that Peggy has declined a job offer and Ted announces that he wants to marry her. She now has the money to pay off the loan and then some. She is informed that while she was so busy with her invention some people from a fertilizer plant showed up wanting to buy the land south of Waco Crick. It turns out that Judge Marshall believed in her invention and he actually already paid off their loan so that Joe could begin negotiating mining rights of the land.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The main issues in this story are those of gender expectations and a few racist moments. The gender expectations tend to focus around Peggy and her very usual talents for all things mechanical. Let’s look at some examples, some of which are positive and forward thinking while some are of the “girls should be in the home” mindset.

Page 15:
The Dodson officials gave every encouragement to inventive ability. Before Peggy had been with them a year, she made a suggestion that saved them a hundred hours a month on the assembly line. When she invented a gadget that doubled the efficiency of her own machine, she received personal commendation from the president himself. “It's not often a 19-year-old girl shows such inventive genius,” Mr. Frank Dodson said at the annual banquet for the employees, when he was giving Peggy her first award.

Page 17:
“Peggy should have been a boy,” Mr. Parker had often said.
There was nothing she liked better then to don a pair of overalls, tear down an automobile motor, and put it together again. In spite of that, Peggy had a girl's fondness for pretty clothes and gay parties. Joe, on the other hand, was the retiring sort. He was satisfied to stay at home with his books and painting, since he was not strong enough to enter school sports. They were glad he had such tastes now. It gave him something to occupy his time and thoughts during the long months of convalescence.

Page 58:
Judge Marshall – “I've heard you're one of those new-age girls with lots of brilliant accomplishments already to your credit.”

Page 61:
After supper Peggy offered to help Teneh clear the table and wash dishes. The old Negress seemed shocked at the mere suggestion. “Dat my wuk, li'l Miss. You jes set dere by de fire and toast yo' toes atter yo' long journey.”

Page 68:
The man laughed rudely. “Farmin's no work for women and young ones,” he burst forth. “It takes a lifetime of experience to make good on the East Coast farms.”
“We're sure of that,” admitted Mrs. Parker. “We wouldn't go into it if we didn't have a very experienced person to take charge.”
“You mean old Ben? Why, that nigger's got one foot in the grave already.” . . . “What does that old man know about modern farmin'? He's still usin' the same methods his grandpaw used before the Civil War.”

Page 90:
“You’re different from any girl I ever met. I can't get used to a girl who likes machinery. My sister doesn't know the first thing about anything like that.”
“The war has proved that a girl can be just about as good at mechanics as a man. Soon as I get things sort of lined up on the island, I'm going to rig up a shop and go ahead with an idea I started working out for Dodson.”

Page 134:
“You'll laugh when you hear what I thought you were like.” (Carol)
“Do tell me.”
“I pictured you taking long strides, your hair rolled up tight, your voice loud and mannish.”
Peggy did laugh then. “Well my appearance would match my interests, eh?”

Page 138 – conversation with Bateman Jr.
“Ah, come off it now! Why does a girl like you want to worry your pretty head with work? If you'd marry me, you never have to get those pretty hands dirty with work again.”
“I can't imagine anything more boring than never to work again.”
“You sure don't look like the kind of girl they say you are.” He laughed. “Never saw one who likes to monkey with machinery.”
“Then you must've been asleep as long as Rip Van Winkle. The war produced literally thousands of women with a flair for mechanics.”

Page 149 – The sheriff – “Women and young ones got no business trying to farm a big place like that anyhow. You'd be better off to sell out and move to town.”

Page 162 – “They seem to have a notion in that little old town of Fair Point that a woman isn't cut out for anything but housekeeping. They give me a pain!”

Page 170-171:
Peggy didn't care a rap for what Carol had told her about women from the best families not going into the fields. The war years had taught her that there was nothing to be ashamed of an honest work anywhere. Maybe she could help break up those foolish ideas still held by some women of the South's first families.

Page 198 – Mr. Dillard – “Believe I did hear something about your inventin' things.” He laughed. “Never thought a woman with that kind of turn would be pretty, gray eyed miss.”

Page 248 -
“She’s already promised me a dozen or more improvements on machines I have here at the plantation,” said Mr. Marshall. “And now that she's going to be my daughter, I'll see that she gets to work.”
As Ted slipped his hand over hers under the tablecloth, Peggy thought one heart couldn't hold all the happiness she felt. She was glad there was another to share it.

And the racist comments:

Ben, Ike's father
Ike's racist dialect:

“Yassum. Sho do. My Paw and Maw live dere. I'se Ike Grubbs—son o' Ben and Teneh Grubbs. Dey wuz borned and live all dey life on Pine Island wid Mr. Joe and he fambly” (p. 39)

“I knowed it wus y'all de minute you step off dat train. De young Massa dere is de very spit of his paw” (p. 40).

 “Dat you, Mr. Ted, wid my new white folks?” asked the old Negro on reaching the porch (p. 49).

 “Yas'm, I sho got a good son. Many's de time when rations git low he turn up here wid somep'n fer us to eat, so Massa don't never know 'fore he die how low us wuz” (p. 50).

Page 140 –
“You know, Peg, you could easily be mistaken. People who are accustomed to lots of Negros have difficulty in distinguishing one from another.”
“But I went all the way from Fair Port to Pine Island with him that day he started work. I believe Luke did have a mustache and kinky hair. This man's hair looks smoother, and he's clean-shaven,” Peggy replied.
“He could easily change all that. They often get their hair pressed for special occasions,” explained Ted.

Page 148 – The sheriff – “You better forget the whole matter,” advised the county official, a note of impatience in his voice. He bent and shot a stream of tobacco juice into the spittoon at the right of his desk. “Most niggers are slippery as eels when it comes to pinning anything like that on 'em.”

Page 164:
“Peggy, it seems rather certain the thief was a white person.”
“What makes you think that?”
“These Negros around here wouldn't realize the value of an invention—or know how to cash in on it if it was stolen.”

Tom Stetson and the Giant Jungle Ants (Tom Stetson #1)

Tom Stetson and the Giant Jungle Ants (Tom Stetson #1)
John Henry Cutler
Whitman, 1948

Genre: Adventure


Tom is spending his summer vacation cruising on the Amazon River with Uncle Leo Jason, a medical missionary. They are floating down the river when Tom suddenly sees smoke rising from a supposedly uninhabited island. Leo decides that they should check it out. As they explore the jungle, Manolo, an orphaned native Leo found on one of his many trips and effectively adopted, falls into a pit made to capture enemies. They succeed in pulling him out. Tom notices some odd footprints that appear to be human but are missing the big toe. Leo is reminded of the Motilon Indians. As they continue exploring they run across another hole but inside this one is a man. Leo is pretty sure that he is not of the same tribe and must be a captive of whoever inhabits the island. Leo suggests heading back to their boat because the man seems hostile. He suggests that they try to set up an attraction post and see if any of the Indians come and accept his offerings.

Leo and Manolo take a nap and soon Tom sees a canoe with “several half-naked Indians” in it with huge bows and arrows coming their way. Tom wakes everyone up and they start the boat. The small canoe full of Indians can’t keep up. They try to shoot arrows at the boat to no avail. When setting up their attraction post later that night the Indians appear and start shooting arrows at them again. Luckily they all escape to their boat safely. Tom learns that Leo had found Manolo in a deserted village that was left because of an ant invasion. He tells Tom that if the Indians except their attraction post they will go ashore in the morning and “see what we can do about civilizing them” (p. 58).

They discover a large Indian accepting the gift basket left at the attraction post. He breaks some of his arrows and waves for the boat. Leo takes this as a sign of them being welcomed ashore. Leo talks to the large Indian and discovers that he might actually be related to the Parintin Indians that speak a slightly different language. He understands that the large man's name is Picasto and his brother, Tagana, is the head of the tribe.

They are taken to a ceremony where Tom counts at least 149 males and 205 females in the tribe. It turns out that they are being allowed to witness a marriage. Tagana pulls a tocanderia [really spelled tocandira] ant from a basket. It is one of the largest ants in the world being at least an inch long and having poisonous stings. He places a number of these ants inside the glove and gives it to the groom to wear. If the groom flinches there will be no wedding. After the ceremony they are taken to a settlement where Leo sees tattered clothes tied to trees and realizes that he has seen this pattern before in the village where he found Manolo. Could these people be Manolo's people? Leo further investigates the huts and discovers that their design is very similar to the village where he found Manolo.

Tagana takes Manolo and leaves Leo and Tom to explore the village. Leo is very confused. Some of their customs he has never witnessed before while some of the other customs he has seen from other tribes. This tribe seems to be a mishmash of various natives he has encountered. As they are exploring they discover the prisoner from the pit they found now surrounded by four South American Eagles who could easily rip him to pieces if he attempts to escape.

Tagana invites them to his hut. Leo learns that his people are called the Tapintin. The captive is from a rival Pomora tribe, a headhunting tribe that steals from Tagana's tribe. He also says that Manolo is one of their missing tribe members and that he wants him to stay with the tribe now and marry his daughter, Kalena. They learn that the captive is to be put to death tomorrow. Leo hopes that they can stop his death and save Manolo from a life with this tribe. The captive's death is to be administered by tying him to a tree, pouring syrup all over him, and releasing the ants to eat him alive. In an attempt to trick the tribe Leo plays a radio which the tribe believes is magic and temporarily interrupts the ritual. Tagana is mad but Leo tells him that he should release the captive. Tagana believes that the radio is a God speaking to him and his angry so he reluctantly releases the prisoner for now.

Tom and Leo wonder what they're going to do about Manolo who is currently with the tribe’s medicine man who is ridding him of evil spirits. They worry about angering Tagana and insulting him by trying to take Manolo back, which might be read as an insult by refusing to let Manolo marry his daughter. Leo decides that he should go ahead and attempts to set up a mission in an attempt to delay the wedding. Their conversation gets interrupted by an alarm that signals an outsider has triggered a security trap. Tom and Leo discover that it appears someone actually left the area and did not enter it and they fear the Manolo has run away as the footprints are those of someone wearing sandals.

Tom and Leo attempt to search for Manolo and get trapped in the jungle during a storm. Tom gets separated from Leo and lost. He sees some monkeys and decides to follow them down a trail where he finds a lone bamboo building. He investigates this and can't find any windows or doors. He hears some footsteps and finds Leo. Tom takes him to the building and then notices some pringamona—a type of poison ivy. Tom believes that the tower was built there on purpose with the plant to act like some type of natural security. They hear some footsteps and hide. They see one of the natives approach the building with three dead monkeys. He starts to remove some branches and leaves from the bottom of the building. The man has exposed the entrance which leads underground. They wait for him to come back and leave and then decide to investigate the entrance. The building turns out to be a gigantic underground pit full of the tocandeira ants.

When they make their way back to camp, they discover that Manolo has been found and is being kept guarded by the eagles. Leo fears that Tagana is planning on killing him. They speak to Manolo the next day and discover that he would rather die than marry the chief's daughter. They believe Manolo and go in search of their radio. They discover that it is not where they thought they last left it. They confront Tagana and he says that the medicine man told him that he needed to hide the speaking box.

A plan suddenly occurs to Leo. Before heading to the clearing for Manolo's event, they're going to try to make a pit stop at their ship. It is July 2nd and he hopes that they can scare the tribe with firecrackers. As they watch the beginnings of the rituals they see Kalena enter the area and they discover that they are not going to kill Manolo but instead force him to marry the chief's daughter and force him to perform the test of endurance with the ants. Tom and Leo make it to their boat and back safely and Tom throws a bunch of firecrackers into the clearing which scares the Indians. When chaos ensues, Tom and Leo had toward their boat hoping the Manolo will follow. Unfortunately, Manolo gets away and heads toward where the boat was last kept—in the opposite direction. They know that they cannot rescue him now so they decide to set sail to Santarem and come back with more radios in the hopes of scaring the tribe to release Manolo.

As they're on the boat Tom decides to cook some pancakes and notices that they have three gallons of honey. He asks his uncle if they can possibly save Manolo with the honey. He proposes that they can release the ants and lure them to the clearing by the millions with a honey trail. Tagana and his people will be so scared the runaway and they can rescue Manolo. If he happens to be guarded by the eagles they will also take along some meat to distract the birds.

They turn the boat around and head back to the island to begin the rescue mission by sneaking into the village that night. They discover that Manolo is not with the eagles and figure that he is probably in the witch doctor's hut being guarded. They break into his hut and struggle with him but finally manage to chloroform him into sleep. Sadly, they discover that Manolo is not there. Soon Tagana and his brother appear. They search the hut and don't understand why the medicine man won't wake up. Eventually they leave and Leo decides that Manolo must be in the chief's hut. Their only course of action is to release the ants.

As they are preparing to leave, the Indians come back and attack them. Leo tackles Tagana and tells Tom to make a run for it. He hides from the pursuing Indians and eventually makes his way back to where they stored the honey. He discovers his uncle tied up and guarded by the eagles. Tom rescues Leo and they proceed with their plan to release the ants. They get to the bamboo building and release the ants and start stripping a honey trail back to the village. They wait on the outskirts of the village for quite a while, with Tom eventually going back to see the ants' progress. He's pretty sure that they will make it to the village by morning. The ceremony begins and Manolo is tied to a tree in preparation for death by ants. After number of minutes Tagana realizes that the man he sent to go and retrieve the ants is missing. After discussing what to do, a huge swarm of ants descend on the village. Tom watches as the Indians become panicked and stampede out of the common area. Tom rushes towards Manolo's side and gets stung. Manolo is covered in ants and is unconscious. As Tom is running away with Manolo he gets knocked on the head. When he comes to he's on his bunk aboard the ship. Unfortunately, Manolo was not with him or Leo. When Leo found Tom he was unconscious and there was no one around. Tom remembers seeing Tagana rushing toward him and hitting him on the head. He knows that the chief has taken Manolo. Tom will go and rest in the hospital while Leo gather supplies for a rescue mission to get Manolo back.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

There are a few interesting things about the Tom Stetson series, which consisted of three books. The first thing that really sticks out when reading it is that the series is very well written. To me, having read a number of series books, I know that the stereotypes of all series books being pieces of trash and being far cries from quality literature is not true as there are number of series books that are very well written. This was a very compelling adventure story and while I cannot find any information about the actual author he clearly did his research. An interesting thing to note of this series is that a lot of the narration between Tom and Leo includes a lot of background information on real animals, such as anacondas, electric eels, and piranhas. In fact, the ants that are a prime plot element are actually real and most of the information about the ants, including the ritual trials that the tribe members partake in, is all actually real.

The video talks about the indigenous tribes of the Sateré-Mawé people along the River Andirá in Brazil. Unlike the ritual of bravery to get married in this book, this real life tribe performs the ant endurance test as an initiation of growing up. For the occasion ants are stored in a cylinder of bamboo. The insects can not leave because the cylinder is sealed with leaves of white-cashew which the ants hate. In the preparation of the ceremony, the ants are introduced, one by one, inside a sleeve made of straw-caranã. The heads of the animals remain outside of the gloves, while the stingers are concealed on the inside the gloves. The whole process irritates the ants. When the gloves are ready, the young men wear the gloves for 15 minutes while their hands are being bitten by the ants. The ceremony of the Tucandeira is a religious rite that not only tests courage but is an act of bravery and protection for the body.

Another native tribe that performs the ritual is the Marubo. The ritual is designed to test the strength of the young warriors of the tribe. The Marubo believe that enduring the searing pain of the ant sting makes you a stronger person and a better warrior. For the ritual the warriors have red dots painted in strategic places across their bodies from a local plant dye. These are the spots where the ants are applied. The chief and the shaman hold the ants on the spot with a short stick until they sting the warrior. The red dots are painted mainly on the arms, legs and chest, though some young men have them on their throats, lips, and noses.

There are a number of other elements in the stories that are realistic as well. As already mentioned a number of animals that are commented on in the story are factual along with the area of Brazil, Santerm, which Tom and Leo almost set out for. Another example of something real is the comment about Emperor Dom Pedro II who was indeed a ruler of Brazil but he died in 1891 which, if the story is actually taking place in 1948 when it was written, might make it a little impossible for Uncle Leo to know that Pedro was a “nice fellow” (Leo says he is almost 57—in 1948 that means he was born in 1891 so he couldn’t have ever met the man!).

Another occurrence of real life information happens on page 19-21:

“The only Indians I know of that leave tracks like those are the Motilon Indians who make life miserable for white folk in the back lands of Venezuela. . . . The Motilon holds his bow with his big toe when he shoots arrows. As a result, his big toes—both of them—are bent almost at right angles. I was dead sure there were none of those murderers in this neck of the woods.”
“Hope we never run into any of those Indians,” Tom said. “They sound a lot more dangerous than the North American Indians used to be.”
“They are.” Mr. Jason stopped for a moment. “The Motilons are so deadly the employees of the oil companies in Venezuela wear bulletproof vests. Some even wear armor, and only a fool would go around in Motilon territory unarmed. No Motilon has ever been known to attack the person who has firearms. They still are never seen when they trail a victim. They slither through the underbrush without breaking a twig.”

The Motilon Indians are another real tribe. They are a Native American ethnic group, part of the Chibcha family, remnants of the Tairona culture concentrated in northeastern Colombia and western Venezuela in the Catatumbo River basin. The poor people have had a long history of being exploited by foreigners. First in the 16th century the Spaniards came to the area believing the lightning strikes turned stone in the area into gold so they began to settle the area extensively. They stopped a German company from looting gold in the area. Most recently in the 20th century oil was discovered in the area and the territory was subject to oil drilling from 1913-1926 and 1996-2001. While they may have been nasty people when defending their territory from outsiders wishing to exploit them, I didn’t find anything about them being “murderers”.

The last big instance of nonfiction in this series book is in relating the story of Colonel Fawcett, a real explorer who disappeared. The story is told on pages 31-33:

In 1925 Fawcett, his son, and another Englishman set out from the last outpost of civilization and headed into an unknown, unexplored region in the Central Brazilian Plateau. That's the last that was ever heard of any of them, although since then travelers have often claimed that they ran across members of the expedition.

He was looking for what he called the lost world. He sincerely believed that he would find the remains of ruined cities in the interior of the wild region he was penetrating. The general area is known as the Motto Grosso, which means big wood. Much of that region is still unexplored, especially around the tributaries of the Amazon west of the Xingu River. That's still virgin territory, too. At least, I thought it was until I saw that smoke.

Well, Tom, it's a matter of historical record that about two centuries ago an expedition consisting of six Portuguese explorers and some Negro slaves and Indian guides made a startling discovery in the interior of the Central Brazilian Plateau. They came across a mountain range, and when they scaled it they found themselves on a grassy tableland on which were the outlines of an ancient city. It was completely deserted, of course. But they saw tremendous blocks of stones and all kinds of buildings and monuments. There were inscriptions on some of those monuments.

Nobody knows, Tom. The city seems to have been destroyed by an earthquake. Anyway, Fawcett believed the story, and his chief ambition was to rediscover the lost city. The exploring party also reported that they have found gold coins and mine shafts. They sent word back of their findings, but they never returned to civilization. Nobody knows what their fate was, either. They were either lost or killed. Your guess is as good as anyone else's.

Nothing has been heard directly from Colonel Fawcett since May 30, 1925. On that day he sent his last dispatch back to the United States. He said he was penetrating a strange Indian country and that he might not be able to send out any more dispatches. But in 1928 an American exploring party did find some traces of him. Well, they followed the same trail Fawcett had taken. When they reached a village of the Anauqua Indians the chief’s son had a small brass plate hanging around his neck, and it was stamped with the name of the manufacturer that had supplied Colonel Fawcett was some equipment. The chief himself took the expedition to the territory of the Kalapalos Indians, who revealed that they had seen Fawcett and his two companions in 1925. The Kalapalos Indians said that when the party pushed further into the interior smoke from their fires could be seen for five days as they moved forward. Then, the Indians explained, the party was massacred by some hostile Indian tribe. The Kalapalos tribe blamed the massacre on the Anauquas, but the Anauquas said the real murderers were the Suya Indians.

Lt. Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett was a British artillery officer, archaeologist, and South American explorer. Along with his eldest son, Fawcett disappeared under unknown circumstances in 1925 during an expedition to find "Z"—his name for an ancient lost city, which he (in all likelihood, accurately) believed to be El Dorado, in the uncharted jungles of Brazil.

In 1925, with funding from a London-based group of financiers, Fawcett returned to Brazil for an exploratory expedition. He had studied ancient legends and historical records and was convinced a lost city existed somewhere in the Mato Grosso region. On April 20th, 1925, his final expedition departed from Cuiabá. The last communication from the expedition was on May 29th, when Fawcett wrote a letter to his wife that he was ready to go into unexplored territory with only Jack and Rimmell, which was delivered to the outside world by an Indian runner. They were reported to be crossing the Upper Xingu.

Many presumed that local Indians had killed them, several tribes being posited at the time included the Kalapalos, who last saw them, or the Arumás, Suyás or Xavantes tribes whose territory they were entering. In 1927, a nameplate of Fawcett was found with an Indian tribe. In June 1933, a theodolite compass belonging to Fawcett was found near the Baciary Indians of Mato Grosso. During the following decades, various groups mounted several rescue expeditions without results. They heard only various rumors that could not be verified. In addition to reports that Fawcett had been killed by Indians or wild animals, there was a tale that Fawcett had lost his memory and lived out his life as the chief of a tribe of cannibals.

The second interesting thing about the Tom Stetson series is that its format is very different from other series of its time. I would say that nearly 99% of series books are considered series only in the way that it has recurring characters but each plot of each individual book is completely different. Typically in series books the only thing that is recurring is certain personality characteristics and maybe occasionally a villain that just won't die. The thing that really shocked me about the Tom Stetson series was that when I reached the end of the first book there were clearly a lot of unanswered questions. Since I have the other two books in the series, I immediately went and grabbed the second volume and discovered the very unique nature of this series. In the first book Tom and Leo are separated from Manolo and throughout the second and third volumes they’re on the constant search for Tagana in order to rescue Manolo. So what we have here is not only a very well written series but also a very rare one in the fact that is a vintage series that technically is a true trilogy and not connected stand-alone adventures.

Being that this is an adventure boy series written in the 1940s the biggest elements of evidence for my research fall under the realm of racial stereotypes. Just taking one glance at the copy written on the dust jacket reveals the overall tone and volume: “Tom Stetson and his uncle, Leo Jason, watched the smoke rise in a thin column above the South American jungle. That smoke could mean but one thing—a tribe of natives whose camps were not far away. Perhaps at that very moment, someone was watching their every move. How Tom and his uncle strive to rescue a friend from the primitive customs of the savage tribe, and at the same time natural enemies—fierce animals, poisonous plants, and stinging insects—makes exciting reading. John Henry Cutler, the author, has expertly woven into the background of the back waters of the Amazon, a thrilling story of tense mystery and adventure.”

So let’s look at the racist elements.

Manolo’s history (p. 10): He turned to Manolo, an Indian youngster, who, like Tom, was in his early teens. Leo Jason had adopted Manolo eleven years earlier when the Indian was three or four years old. He had found the sad-faced child in an abandoned settlement not far from the headwaters of the Xingu River were headhunters and other wild savages roamed. Manolo, he knew, belonged to one of the primitive tribes haunting the rain-soaked forest in that uncharted region, but Mr. Jason had never been able to find out which one, for Manolo could speak only a few words when he was found.

In regards to the attraction posts (p. 27): “I only set one up when I try to convert the Indians if they've never been contacted by missionaries before.”

About Indians, those “savages!” (p. 29):
 “Well,” Tom grinned as the skiff quieted swiftly towards the Paloma, “I'm certainly glad to hear that those Indians in there eat fish. I was afraid they might be cannibals.”
“Don't be too sure they aren’t cannibals, Tom,” the missionary said grimly as they reached the Paloma. “Cannibalistic Indians eat fish and all kinds of wild animals. If they had to depend on the human enemies they capture, they'd starve to death. Not many strangers ever get very close to them, remember. Wait until we see what the tribe in there does with the captive Indian we saw in the pit. If they're cannibals, we'll soon know.”
“Gosh, Uncle Leo, everything seems so unreal down here in the jungles of Brazil. Just think, we may be the first white men who ever saw this part of the world.”

About Manolo (p. 46-47):
During the whole exciting chase Manolo had remained below, calmly preparing supper, as if nothing were happening. Tom never ceased to wonder at the Indian youngster’s coolness and courage. He was always friendly and courteous, but he rarely displayed any emotion.

It suddenly occurred to him that his uncle and Manolo were closer than even a father and son were ordinarily. The missionary, after all, was the only father Manolo had ever known. The bond between them was so close that they would probably never part company. Wherever the missionary went, the faithful little Indian would follow. He knew that his uncle had spent long hours tutoring his ward, who was no longer a pagan savage, as his tribe had been.

From Leo (p. 54): “But it's just as well, perhaps, that he never finds his people. I could tell from their settlement that they were wild and barbaric. I saw piles of monkey skeletons, which means they ate monkeys. Their malokas, or huts, which looked like big beehives, were filthy, and Manolo himself, when I found him, was a little savage. He looked as though he'd never heard of soap and water.”

Also from Leo (p. 85): “The Tapintins are so crude and savage Manolo could never be happy with them.”

After setting up the attraction point (p. 49): Tom felt for the first time that he was on the threshold of his first real jungle adventure. They were invading hostile Indian territory where one false move might prove fatal. What if the Indians had heard the Paloma's motors as they returned? What if they were lurking in the underbrush, waiting to shower them with arrows? It was a scary thought, and the closer they came to the shore, the higher the tension rose.

About the savage (or native) nature of the tribe (p. 93): “Don't forget they are savages, Tom,” his uncle answered. “They don't consider murder a crime, nor do they believe in a trial of any kind. One of my jobs is to teach them justice and forgiveness. They are cruel, and like many other tribes down in this part of the world, they enjoy seeing others tortured and killed, and the more gruesome the spectacle, the better.”

Page 63: “When I try to teach these heathens I often begin by showing them movies and let them listen to a radio. At times the radio is a very useful gadget, because it mystifies Indians even more than motion pictures do. As a result, they are a lot easier to handle. The first time I showed the Parintin tribe movies they were so scared they all ran off into the woods.”

Page 86: “I told Tagana I'd show him some magic first and then all his tribe could see it. As far as the Tapintins are concerned, movies are magic.”

Page 143-144:
“And remember, Tom, as a missionary and physician I am not allowed to use weapons against the Indians of Brazil, even to save my own life. I'm required to use peaceful measures.”
“Well, uncle,” Tom said seriously, “I didn't have any idea in mind of using weapons against the Tapintins. But I noticed that they don't take their weapons along when they go down to the clearing for ceremonies. Couldn't we hide them while they are busy down there?”
“I suppose we could, but when Tagana found out he probably would never forgive us. And don't forget that I still have hopes of making Christians out of these pagan Indians.”

The general life of a missionary according to Tom (p. 30): The life of a medical missionary was anything but easy, Tom reflected. It was a solitary existence, patrolling the silent backlands of Brazil. There was always the danger of malaria or hookworm or some other disease common in the area near the Equator. And, of course, the jungle was full of wild animals and primitive savages.

To make Tom’s life sound exciting for young male readers, we get a few glimpse into Tom’s background and thoughts that will make any guy wish they were just as lucky as Tom to lead such an exciting life!

Page 9: Tom was an ordinary American youngster in the third year of high school. He liked adventure, the more daring the better!

Page 11: Tom gazed too dreamily at the gigantic wilderness that sprawled out before them. Here he was, in plain view of an unmapped jungle, on the threshold of the largest remaining unexplored area in the world. In the jungle were birds of brilliant plumage and snakes of every description and size. Here were the uncontrolled forces of the untamed wilderness.

Page 35:
“I wish I didn't have to go back to high school next fall. I like school and football and of course it will be wonderful to see Mom and Pop and the family again, but after all this excitement, life in Boston is bound to seem dull.”
“Well, my boy, when you finish school maybe you can come down here and explore places that have never been seen by white men—places, perhaps, but have never been seen by Indians or anyone else, either.”
“Maybe I'll become an explorer at that, Uncle. Nothing would give me more of the kick. Mom won't want me to be a doctor or lawyer or an engineer when I tell her about the wonders of Brazil.”

The Vanishing Shadow (Judy Bolton #1)

The Vanishing Shadow (Judy Bolton #1)
Margaret Sutton
Grosset & Dunlap, 1932

Genre: Realistic, Mystery


Judy is from Roulsville but is spending a part of her summer with her mother's parents. As the book opens, she and her friend, Edna, are watching some construction men build a new road for the town of Dry Brook Hollow. As she watches, she sees two men get yelled at by the overseer. They back down and Edna calls them sissies like Horace (p. 4). Judy does not like Edna calling her brother names since as a child he was very, very sick and very timid.

When Judy gets home she discovers that she has received a letter from an unknown sender. It encloses 10 tickets to a dance and a spelling bee. The only other thing it contains is a small slip of yellow paper with a cross on it. Judy thinks she has two mysteries on her hand. Who sent the letter? And what about the argument the construction men were having about a dam that was recently built and a “pit” they don't want anyone to know about? Judy really wants to go to the dance and the spelling bee and hopes that her grandma can lend her some of the money her father had left her and Horace for the summer. However, she finds out that her grandmother has gone and given all of that money to Horace for him to buy a new suit.

Angry, Judy heads back to the grove to find one of the angry men from before there waiting for her. He tries to bribe her to keep quiet about what she heard them arguing about by giving her a pearl necklace. She refuses and realizes that what she heard about the dam and the pit must be important. As she is walking home a number of questions fill her mind. She sees an odd shadow and believes she sees someone disappear into some bushes. She tries to follow the shadow which eludes her and she eventually sees Horace. She calls out but he doesn't hear her and she suddenly finds herself grasped from behind by a strong arm that puts a bag over her head. Her hands are tied together and she is thrown into the backseat of a car.

She hears one man say that they've got to get rid of Judy. They take her to a place and keep her there until they decide how to fix the problem. She once again hears them say something about a dam and how no one can find out about it. She listens around her and hears sounds like roaring water and wooden planks the men walk on. They unlock a door and dump her on the floor of what appears to be shed. She also hears insistent hammering. The men untie her and say that they will see her in the morning. Judy searches the room and finds no way out. She wonders where the heck she's been brought.

In the morning she attempts to look out the keyhole but a chair has been propped up blocking her view. She hears a dog in the distance and tries calling to it but it sounds mean when he growls back. Soon she hears footsteps approach the shed. The man talks to her and says that she must make a promise that she won't repeat any of the conversation she overheard the day before. Judy attempts to word her promise in such a way that she could expose them later without truly speaking about it. She asks the men to take her to her house in Roulsville so no questions will be asked about her disappearance. She falls asleep in her father's office and three hours later Horace and her grandfather find her. Horace thinks his selfishness is what caused Judy to run away.

The next Sunday Judy and Horace go out for a picnic. Horace is surprised to see the brook is dry. Each year for years and years every summer it would go dry but then about 25 years ago it stopped refilling and no one knows why so that is why the town is called Dry Brook Hollow now. Judy persuades Horace to try to locate the head of the brook. Judy stands on some tall rocks and discovers what appears to be a stone quarry in the distance that they've never seen before. As she looks at the surroundings she begins to discover other weird things, such as a hill that splits into two and in one direction a slanting rock with falling water that is new and a muddy trail that appears to have been an older brook. They decide to investigate and discover an area that is not very pretty. It is all muddy and appears as if someone was digging there. The spring appears to have been tampered with. The water is the color of dirt and the brook is nearly all but gone. Judy discovers what appears to be a mini dam constructed and realizes that someone has purposely changed the course of Dry Brook. Could this be the dam that the men were talking about?

Later that night Horace presents Judy with a dress, necklace, shoes, and stockings along with one dollar for her entrance to the spelling bee. She refuses to keep the dollar saying that she will try to sell blackberries to earn her own money. She is shocked to learn that Edna already has a ticket to the dance and spelling bee because Charlie Austin, a well-known businessman in the area, asked her to go with him. Edna shows Judy the dress that she will wear to the event and admits that she got money for it from a strange man who wanted her to keep quiet about what she Judy had overheard. All of a sudden Judy puts two and two together and realizes that Charlie, the new manager of the paper mill in town, is quite possibly the instigator of this plot as he certainly has the money for the bribes.

Later that day as she attempts to make her way back to the head of Dry Brook, she finds an alternative path with a new road and discovers tire tracks. She luckily finds the miniature dam and undigs it so that the brook will run naturally again. She then picks are berries that she will sell the next morning. In the morning, she puts part two of her plan into action. She believes that the president of the paper mill will be interested to know that a trusted official is actually a treacherous criminal. As Judy heads into town her horse gets scared by the local train and she falls off. She is helped by Peter Dobbs, the grandson of the president. He informs her that his grandfather is no longer president of the paper mill and that he is retired and sold his shares. The new manager is a man named Mr. Rubin who basically gives all of the work to Charlie. Peter doesn't like him and says that his grandfather wouldn't have ever sold if it weren't for that scoundrel. Judy decides to let Peter in on the plot she has discovered. When Judy meets Peter's grandfather she discovers that he is the man who sent out tickets to everyone. One mystery solved!

Peter offers to accompany Judy to the paper mill. They stop by the new dam and Judy sees her horse in the fields. As she walks up to him she begins sinking ankle-deep into the grass and she instantly remembers the squishy sounds that her captors' feet made. Could the mysterious pit be located somewhere around here? She discovers a shack in the distance and instinctively knows that that was where she was kept. At the paper mill she tries to see Mr. Rubin but the man's mean secretary says that Mr. Austin will see her instead. She escapes but runs into him outside.

At home Judy tells her grandfather about the spelling bee and he informs her that he needs both of his horses all day long Friday. She has to stay home because he can't take her. Judy, being determined not to miss the dance or the spelling bee, decides that she will walk all the way to town. On her way a car holding Arthur Farrington-Pett and his friends Lois, Lorraine Lee, and Donald Carter are driving by and offer to give her lift. Arthur wants to make a pit stop at the mill to see Austin or Rubin. He is an engineer and stated that he originally wanted the contract to build the new dam but the company didn't give it to him. The construction company that did win the bid was so low hisis pretty sure there's something crooked going on and he believes that the dam is not as strong as it should be.

Judy enjoys herself at the dance and participates in the spelling bee. The competition goes for a very long time until it is just Mr. Dobbs versus Judy. Judy goes on to win and receives $10 in gold. Later Judy and Arthur talk about their mutual distrust of Austin. Judy mentions the mysterious road she found in the woods and Arthur says that it might lead to this mysterious pit. Judy is shocked that he appears to know what this pit is. He says that he knows that the construction was built out of low-quality sand to build the dam and must've come from a natural pit instead of a building supplies company. Judy also tells him that she discovered the brook was dammed up and is shocked to hear Arthur say that he is glad someone did it because the brook is dangerous. On their way home, Arthur points out cracks in the dam's foundation and how they appear to be getting larger by the day. Arthur says that a man at the gravel works said that no sand was purchased for the construction of the dam which is what leads him to believe that there is an old sandpit somewhere in the hills. That sand is not safe to build the roads let alone large dams. He is worried that the dam will break and flood the valley. Judy has learned a lot of information and is horribly confused. If Charlie dammed the brook why is he acting all shifty? Judy needs to undo her work ASAP.

The next morning she sets out in an attempt to stop up the brook again. Horace wants to help Judy so she tells him to deliver a note to Peter. Judy warns him not to look at it or let anyone else have it. He is only to read it if he cannot deliver the note to Peter. On his way to the church in Roulsville, Horace passes the dam and sees the crack in the side has gotten larger and the little shack below the dam is now standing in water. After the church service, Horace learns that Peter is not home. He decides to read Judy's note. He learns that Judy promised not to talk about what she heard but had said nothing about writing it down and the letter contains all the information about her abduction. She asks for Peter's help to try to re-stop the brook.

Right then the atmosphere changes. A big storm is coming. It begins to pour and lightning strikes. Horace hears what sounds like thunder but realizes somehow that he knows that the dam has just broke. Instead of running to safety or becoming a scaredy-cat like everyone would expect, Horace calls out to everyone that they need to evacuate the valley.

Back at home Judy sees the water of Dry Brook running swiftly and she knows that it is too late to stop it. She suddenly sees lots of cars rushing toward Roulsville with the exception of one which happens to be driving to the safety of Farringdon—Charlie Austin's car. Judy decides to head down to see if she can help in the wake of the disaster. As she walks the miles she finally sees the dam now broken into three large pieces. The pieces have crushed the paper mill. Judy finds everyone on top of the hill out of harm’s way and learns that they were all saved by Horace and that they consider him a hero. The only person that they know is dead is Mr. Rubin who was inside the paper mill. Judy runs into Peter and they decide to brave the waist high water and attempt to walk to the other side of the valley to find Horace. They unfortunately can't make it past the river but a man signals to them that Horace is not there. Judy and Peter see their houses—or what remains of them. They decide to search the woods and they run into some policemen who are looking for a man named Christopher White. This man was in charge of building the dam and Judy realizes that he's the man who helped kidnap her. In the woods they find Ginger, the horse that Horace was riding. A little ways away they find Horace who was just a bit dazed.

Horace tells Judy not to feel guilty. Dry Brook wouldn't have stopped the dam from breaking. The media want to interview Horace later that night because he is the hero that saved everyone. He confesses to the press that he was scared and just lost his mind but no one seems to care. He says that Judy is the real hero and ends up spilling the story of her kidnapping. The police admit to holding Austin for questioning because of a mysterious phone call they received warning them of his behavior. Judy admits to making that call when she saw him leaving town. The Rite-Way Construction Company, the ones who built the dam, are already out of business, their offices abandoned. White is still missing. The police decide to bring Charlie to Judy's house because he won't talk to them. She mentions how he tried to blackmail her and he loses his temper and accuses her of squealing which gives the police enough evidence. Judy takes a closer look at Austin and notices a few unusual things. She tells the cops to remove his black hair, rub off his penciled eyebrows, and remove his makeup. In doing so they discover that Charlie Austin is really Christopher White.

Judy's father tells her that she will have to be available to testify and that she will have to talk about how she unblocked Dry Brook because that proves that Charlie knew about the dam being unsafe.

Horace has received a number of gifts from the townspeople. Not wanting to take anything from anyone he tells Judy to open them all and return them to their owners. Judy does just that but decides to keep one. A Mr. Vincent has offered them a rent-free house in Farringdon. Since their house was destroyed she really can't refuse such a generous offer. It is a house located at 1365 Grove Street. Lois knows exactly how to convince Judy's family to move when she tells them that the reason Mr. Vincent can't rent it is because it is supposedly haunted. Horace decides that he will accept the house since it is clear no one else is going to use it and maybe encountering a ghost will be exciting.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Judy Bolton is considered by many series book collectors to be the archrival of Nancy Drew. Written by a real person (and not a ghostwriter) the series is often considered of higher literary quality and Judy could be an independent girl not having to bow to a Syndicate’s ideas of what was prim and proper for young ladies of the 1930s.

Judy’s spirited attitude is seen early on when her grandmother complains that it is “about time you learned to help without being asked. . . . Now when Horace is here I don't have all this work to do alone. He always helps just like a girl” (p. 8).

Her grandmother is also the epitome of old-fashioned values. In the act of taking the money that Judy’s father left for them to enjoy over the summer and using it all to buy Horace a new suit, she lets Judy know just how unimportant a young girl is compared to a young man (p. 9-11):

 “That's all gone,” her grandmother interrupted. “Horace wanted a new suit and I gave it to him. His salary’s got to be kept for college and he needs to look nice if he's going to be a successful newspaper reporter. Now what are you sniveling about?” . . .

 “Oh, no,” she retorted, her eyes flashing, “I never had any use for new clothes. It's always Horace. It's his silly ideas of right and wrong that influence the whole family.”
“He's a conscientious boy, my dear,” her grandmother chided.
“Conscientious nothing! It's because he’s a weakling himself and hates to see other people enjoying themselves. That money was partly mine and he had no right to take it. Any boy with an ounce of courage would've refused it. You had no right to give it to them either, Grandmother Sneed!” . . .

Just because he had been sickly as a boy he seems to think he could dominate the whole family with his ridiculous whims.

There are other instances of Judy’s usual behavior for a girl:

It had not occurred to Judy, during the night of suspense, that she was acting courageously and trying to figure things out instead of giving way to despair. The one thought that preyed upon her mind more than any other was the fact that while she was in prison she was helpless to defeat the wicked schemes of her abductors (p. 27-28). (It is interesting to note Judy’s emotional and self-doubting state here—it is for this reason that she is considered by many to be a more believable and realistic role model than Nancy Drew—a character who seems like she can do no wrong.)

“If you're a girl and live in Roulsville you wouldn't be asking who Charlie Austin is. He drives a sporty yellow roadster and it is considered a rare privilege to ride beside him. Every girl in high school is sentimental about him. That is, every girl but myself,” she added as an afterthought. “I don't fancy his type” (p. 53).

“Sometimes I wish I were a boy.” (Judy)
“And you would be—” (Horace)
“A detective,” she broke in quickly. “A great one who goes into all kinds of dangers. I wouldn't mind that—afterwards. There would be that thrill of finding out things. You can't imagine what a satisfaction there is in hitting on a real-live clue” (p. 53).

“Do you wonder that the girls all have an eagle eye on him? I suppose there's something unnatural about me, but once I actually turned down an invitation to go for a ride in his yellow roadster. I feel safer in dad's car or behind grandpa's horses” (p. 54).

“Gee!” Peter exclaimed after a long silence. “You're a plucky girl, Judy. Did it ever occur to you that thwarting schemes like that one might be dangerous?”
“It never occurred to me that it was anything but dangerous. I like dangerous things” (p. 73).

While Judy is an unconventional girl, those around her are still pretty typical and Judy herself does a little naughty judging too. When she discovers that Edna has been asked out by Charlie she thinks to herself, “It seemed incredulous. Edna Jenkins was about the last girl in the world that a conceited young spendthrift like Charlie Austin would be apt to choose. She was neither pretty nor sociable while he was able to mingle with the most charming of girls” (p. 60). There is also an off comment about Mrs. Dobbs and her household: “Although in comfortable circumstances, Mrs. Dobbs still did her own cooking. With her it was an art—something to be attempted only by experts” (p. 78)

Lastly, there is one tiny nod to technological advances of the car as shown by Judy’s grandfather’s reluctance to move away from horse drawn carriages. On pages 39-40 we see that Judy’s:

Grandfather still uses horse and carriage as he does not trust the newfangled cars. Fannie and her colt were hitched to a shiny black carriage. Judy was never sure whether this vehicle looks old-fashioned and funny or whether it resembles a modern coach, the kind that men with tall silk hats drive through the city parks. At any rate, her grandfather insisted that as long as buggies were to be had, he would never trust his feeble hands driving an automobile.

Overall, Judy Bolton has been called a better feminist role model than Nancy Drew because Nancy (especially the revised one) was more apt to maintain an ideological status quo, while Judy was more likely to focus on restoring moral order. Also unlike Nancy, Judy Bolton often enlisted the aid of her family and friends in solving mysteries, whereas Nancy liked to work alone and begrudgingly accepted “help” from others like Ned and later Bess and George.

There were 38 titles in the original Judy Bolton series, all written between 1932 and 1967. The final 12, particularly the last one, had limited printings and as a result are hard to find. Collectors often find themselves paying upwards of $200 for a volume in good condition. The series ended before the 39th book, The Strange Likeness, could be published. (It was finished in 2013!) According to author Margaret Sutton, the series was killed due not to poor sales but due to pressure from the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which wished to lessen competition for the Nancy Drew series.