Friday, May 3, 2013

Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy (Jerry Todd #1)

Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy (Jerry Todd #1)
Leo Edwards
Grosset & Dunlap, 1933

Genre: Mystery, Humor, Adventure


Jerry Todd and his best friends, Scoop Ellery, Red Meyers, and Peg Shaw, are out selling ice cream sandwiches for five cents a piece to make some money. Jerry's gang is rivals with the Stricker gang of Jimmy and Bid, two cousins who do nothing but play evil tricks. A rowdy college student coming back into town at the train depot offers to buy their entire ice cream cart. Scoop demands five dollars and the college student actually gives him $5.25. Scoop isn't too upset about losing his cart and tells the boys that they'll wait until nightfall and head up to the college campus to retrieve it. While they're heading back home Peg discovers a funny gold pin with a mummy that has a Sphinx head on it. The boys recall last fall a certain item in the local newspaper about the Golden Sphinx frat house with crazy initiation rites. Red thinks that the odd writing on the pin must be the mummy's name. The boys immediately think of the mummy name Ramses who is up at the college museum. The boys decide to go and check out the mummy. This mummy was donated to the museum by Mr. Dickson White, a man on the waterpower committee with Jerry's father, who acquired the mummy originally for $2,000.

On their way to see the mummy they encounter an old man on the side of the road polishing police stars. He tells the boys that they are detective badges and asks them if they would like to join his Jupiter Detective Agency. He introduces himself as the president, Mr. Anson Arnoldsmith. The boys all agree to spend their five dollars on membership and their very own detective badges. Jerry especially can't wait for everyone to find out about it because he knows that they will be jealous and look at him in an appreciative and respectful way as not every boy gets to be a junior detective. Unfortunately, the boys wonder when they'll get a chance to detect since their town is rather small and notorious for having absolutely no crime or anything of interest happening.

On their way to the museum they stop by the frat house first and return the mummy pin. In gratitude the frat boys offered to call on Jerry and his friends to work on small jobs around the frat house and get paid. The boys finally make it to the museum and see the hideous mummy of Ramses II who reigned during the XIX Dynasty. While they are staring at the mummy they hear a sudden groan and a voice whispering that it is not just sleeping. The boys run away. Peg thinks that was just a trick of the frat boys whereas Scoop ventures a guess that this might be the mystery that they are looking for. They decide to go back but on their way they stop at the police station and speak to Bill who, after hearing about the mummy, agrees to give them some old handcuffs to take with them because he would like to see the frat students get caught by one of their own tricks. Right then Bill gets a phone call stating that a man at the museum has gotten hurt. Since it is an anonymous phone call he sends Red to the train depot where the call came from a payphone to see if he can possibly get a clue to the caller. Peg is sent to go get the doctor while Jerry and Scoop accompany Bill to the museum.

They reach the museum and find a man lying unconscious in front of the mummy case. Jerry realizes that it is Mr. Arnoldsmith. Next Jerry notices that the mummy is gone. Bill is confused because the name that the anonymous caller gave him was Ramses. The only type of “clew” they find is a small wooden statuette that is on the floor behind the case. They deduce that that is probably what knocked the old man unconscious. Jerry crawls behind the case and discovers a handkerchief. Unfolding it he discovers a gold watch, gold hairbrush, and a fancy gold comb. He shows them to Scoop who notices a Sphinx-headed mummy just like the frat boys' pin. Bill automatically believes that the students are responsible, but Scoop thinks that that is illogical because why would someone bother to take a mummy and leave behind a bunch of evidence? Jerry agrees because he believes that the college kids just like having some clean fun but they wouldn't have hurt someone. The big mystery seems to be how the mummy has disappeared. The boys remember the frat boy who bought their ice cream cart and set off to look for it in a nearby bush where they last saw it. It is now gone. After a few phone calls Bill discovers that the golden items were just reported stolen from the frat house tonight while students were off at dinner. The university is willing to up pay $200 for any information regarding the mummy so the boys are determined to solve this mystery.

The boys head to the hospital but are informed that Mr. Arnoldsmith has not regained consciousness. Jerry wants to spend the night in order to interview him the moment he wakes up but his parents make him go home. His dad compromises though and lets him set his alarm for 4 a.m. to head to the emergency room first thing in the morning. On his way to the hospital he runs into a milkman who mentions something about seeing an old man that he nearly ran over. When Jerry finally gets to the hospital the nurse decides to go in and check on her patient when they discover that he is missing. Jerry remembers what the milkman said and they know that that must've been Mr. Arnoldsmith. The gang gets together and heads toward the old Morgan house, an abandoned house were they do indeed find Mr. Arnoldsmith.

Mr. Arnoldsmith tells the boys a fantastic story about the mummy itch, a weird type of bug that causes extreme cases of itching that can live for years and years. He warns the boys that they need to find the mummy as soon as possible because he believes that these bugs are hiding in the corpse. Jerry has a little bit of a hard time believing this tall tale. Mr. Arnoldsmith says that he is the chief mummy inspector for the US division of the American Egyptian Mummy Importing Association. He tells the boys that he has no idea who hit him over the head and stole the mummy, but that he needs the boys’ help to find the mummy so that he can inspect it. The boys promise to try to find the mummy and he gives him one last warning not to let the mummy get wet because that will cause that itchers to come out. The boys head back to where they last saw their ice cream wagon and follow the trail which leads all the way to a concrete sidewalk in the cemetery.

The boys read in the detective handbook that Mr. Arnoldsmith gave them that criminals are notorious for returning to the scene of the crime so they decide to set a trap. The boys stakeout the museum and hide. A man eventually approaches where Jerry is hiding and in a panic he hits him with a kitchen poker. The boys decide to handcuff him and give him the third degree. They drag him to an empty boxcar and attempt to start asking questions when the train starts to take off. Having no other choice, they are left to abandon the man and jump off.

The next after school Jerry sees the Stricker gang and overhears one of them mention that they found a map that says something about a mummy being concealed. Supposedly the mummy is being kept at Deacon Pillpopper's barn in the old incubator. Jerry decides that he needs to get to the barn before the other boys. Unfortunately, the rest of Jerry's friends are nowhere to be found so he is going to have to head off the Stricker gang himself. Jerry gets to the barn and crawls inside the old incubator. Right then he hears feet running and discovers that he has been duped as the Stricker boys proceed to lock him inside. After about 15 minutes Scoop shows up—not to rescue Jerry but in fact to fall for the same exact trick. They're halfway home when they intercept Red and Peg headed towards the barn because they have also fallen for the trick.

The next day Jerry and his friends get out of school early to attend the wedding of Bill and Jerry's teacher, Ms. Skinner. Unfortunately, they discover that Bill was supposed to have left town to get the marriage license yesterday but hasn't returned yet. All the women assume that poor Bill has decided to abandon Lulu. The mayor finally arrives and appears very anxious. He announces that he just received a telegram saying that Bill is confined to the insane asylum at the county infirmary. They said that they had found a man handcuffed and “blacked up like a negro” (p. 166) aboard the boxcar. The boys quickly realize their mistake as Jerry's father heads out of town to go retrieve Bill. Scoop doubts that they will get into much trouble and speculates that at most their badges will be taken away. Jerry can't help but notice all the trouble that they seem to have been getting into since becoming detectives. When Jerry's father and Bill get back to town Jerry overhears Bill relate a story about how he was overtaken by a gang of “hunkies” who hit him over the head when he wasn't looking.

The following Tuesday Jerry and his friends realize that they almost forgot that they had promised to work a dinner at the frat boys fraternity for their latest initiation. Jerry and Scoop secretly watch the initiation process and are shocked when two students bring in Scoop's missing ice cream cart. They deliver the cart to the frat's basement door. They discover the mummy inside the cart and later overhear the students say that they are glad that they didn't hurt the man too much. They follow the two frat boys as they cart the mummy to the graveyard and start setting up an elaborate hoax where they string the mummy up alongside a tombstone in the attempt to later pull the strings and make the mummy appear alive.

When the frat boys disappear after having set up their trick Jerry and Scoop quickly unrig the mummy and go and retrieve Red and Peg. They decide that they're going to take the mummy back to Mr. Arnoldsmith so he can inspect it. The easiest way to get to the Morgan house is by the river so the boys grab a boat, load the mummy into it, and push off. As they're floating down the river they pass by the Stricker gang's hideaway. They immediately decide to use the mummy to pay them back for trying to lock them all in incubator. They unload the mummy and walk him in front of the window while making moaning sounds. The boys succeed in scaring the crap out of them. On the way back to the boat the boys stumble and the mummy ends up getting wet.

Mr. Arnoldsmith discovers that the mummy is wet and says that the itchers will be out in no time. He thinks the only thing to do is to bury the mummy in the celler and demands the boys go down and begin digging a grave. After digging for a while, Scoop looks up and screams—the trap door to the celler has been closed and Mr. Arnoldsmith has left them down there with the mummy. They hear him moving around upstairs and can tell that he has started a fire but he won't answer the boys’ cries for help. The boys began to panic and start to feel themselves get bit by the itchers (they later find out that it is just in their imagination). After what appears like hours the boys finally hear other footsteps. It is Jerry's father and Bill. Bill proceeds to arrest Mr. Arnoldsmith who had been burning the mummy.

It turns out that the mummy was made of wood and paper. Mr. Arnoldsmith is actually a man named Amos Herzog and he happens to be running a scam where he sells fake mummies to people for lots of money and then proceeds to steal them back and burn up the evidence. It was the light from the fire that had finally attracted everyone's attention to the old house. Mr. Arnoldsmith is sent to jail.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

I was very lucky to come across a copy of this book as all the books that Leo Edwards wrote are among some of the most highly collectible youth series fiction books out there. Many of his books do not go for less than $40 a piece. I was lucky to get this book, which is the first in the Jerry Todd series, along with the sixth book for about $10—sans dust jackets. The reason why a lot of collectors really like Edwards's work is because he really knew how to write from a boy's perspective and most of his series were well-known not only for excellent writing but also for being some of the funniest series books in the history of series books. Of course, being that the books are printed in the 1930s, the Jerry Todd books are best used to present evidence of racism. No matter how well-written a book it was still the 1930s, a point in American history where Americans were unfortunately very racist.

Mr. Arnoldsmith, the Chief Mummy Inspector, is stereotypically described as a bum. When they first find him they think he is a hobo and it’s shocking that they actually trusted him to be an important government employee when he talks in horrible dialect which in series books is used to designate black servants, “savage” people, or the bad guys. On pages 17-18 he says:

Fur membership in my detective agency. Mebby as how I ain't told you 'bout me tourin' the United States and Canady app'intin' Juvenile Jupiter Detectives in the cities and towns what I stop off in. Thought at first you boys might be able to qualify and become detectives in my company, with sole and exclusive rights to do detectin' in Tutter. But I reckon you're a bit too young fur such a great responsibility. Then, too, you might not be able to pay the 'nitial membership fee, which fur one week only is reduced to a dollar and a quarter and you git a star and membership card and a book tellin' how to disguise yourselves and how to do detectin'. All fur only a dollar and a quarter, which is a big bargain. But when I see four smart, wide-awake young fellers like you be I ain't carin' if I was a little money if I kin git you in my company. I like to see smart boys like you be take a leadin' part in the affairs of your community; and every community the size of this ought to have four Jupiter Detectives. Of course if you could afford to pay the membership fee, which, as I say, is reduced to only a dollar and a quarter fur one week only, I might consider your applications fur membership in my celebrated advance company, even though you're a bit young.

Another piece of evidence in regards to race deals with the boys planning their stakeout in which they accidentally bag Bill whom they think is a black man. When they gathered clothes Jerry says, “We finally decided it would be best to disguise ourselves of the Italians. We can make for mustaches out for our red handkerchiefs about her necks. No one would recognize acidifying the sky like that” and when he hits Bill it reads: “A gasp broke for me when I saw that the fellow was a strange negro. Never had I seen a blacker man. He lay dead still and I was afraid I had killed him” (p. 123, 131). (Complete with horribly racist illustration!)

Bill with coal-black skin and puffy white lips

Another common staple of series books is the incompetence of the police force. It’s a wonder how any bad guys where caught in the 1930s because every town seemed to need a young teen detective to get the job done. Bill, the sheriff in the Jerry Todd books is no different. When Jerry is thinking about poor Mr. Arnoldsmith being in the hospital he thinks to himself (p. 63-64):

Bill is quick to jump to conclusions. I could see where he likely will would suspicion [sic?] Mr. Arnoldsmith. I knew better. Mr. Arnoldsmith wouldn’t do a thing like that. It is easy to tell the kind of people some folks are just by looking them over and listening to them talk. Some people have quality in class and character and show which enacted. Some others try to make you think they have it by saying things and acting things intended to keep you thinking that way, and all the time you know they're bluffing. Mr. Arnoldsmith wasn't the bluffing kind. No, sir-e! He was a kindly, honest man. I could tell it just by looking into his deep blue eyes and listening to his warm, friendly voice.

Later, he comments how if they report finding Mr. Arnoldsmith that “Right way Bill would plunk him into jail. We don't want to put him in jail, do we? Course not. He isn't a criminal like Bill tries to make out. He's a good man but unfortunate and getting mixed up in this thing. It's more manly for us to help an old man like him out of trouble then to help him into jail" (p. 85).

And, lastly, when Jerry overhears Bill’s story of getting attacked he thinks: “Bill had made up an awful yarn. Sometimes a kid with a big imagination gets to tell and things double; but it isn't to be expected that a man would do a thing like that. A man is supposed to have judgment and know always what is right and what isn't, and wasn't right for Bill to let on that he had just been jumped onto by a dozen husky hobos and had only been put out of the fight when he was hit from behind with the gas pipe” (p. 182).

There is an interesting moment from a gender point-of-view in which Jerry, a pretty strong willed boy, admits to feeling embarrassment. It deals with getting caught dressed in the clothes from their stakeout. He narrates:

My thoughts jumped to the Quaker pants and my face burned when I recalled how everybody had laughed at me. A fellow hates to be made fun of that way. Mrs. Meyers said it was all a joke about our wearing Mr. Meyers's pants—she said that boys would be poison for her but she'd rather have Donald doing Juniper [sic] detecting and practicing circus stunts on his gas pipe trapeze and likely to get his neck broken, or something. It would soon be all over town about me wearing the Quaker pants hind side to. And at school the girls would look at me and put their hands over their mouths and giggle. You know how girls act about a thing like that. The boys would poke fun at me, too. I didn't mind that so much. Take the Stricker gang. If they got to fresh record turn in and clean up on them. But you can clean up on a girl, no matter how mean and smart-acting she is. (p. 142-43)

The only other really gendered moment is a comment in passing to Jerry’s teacher marrying Bill: “Miss Grimes was to be our new teacher now that Miss Skinner had resigned to marry Bill. I didn't like to change a bit. Miss Skinner was pretty and good-natured and Miss Grimes was kind of old and awfully cross” (p. 144). This implies that even though Miss Skinner was a good teacher she is leaving the profession just because she is getting married. There is also mention of Jerry’s mom when she is helping Lulu on her wedding day: “Mother wasn't in sight. Very likely she was in the Sunday school room fussing around Miss Skinner with a mouth full of pins and a powder puff. Women like to do those things” (p. 163).

Lastly, for a series book, the Jerry Todd series actually features positive appearances from the parents—both Mr. and Mrs. Todd. Usually, as we know, in series books the parents are either absent or dead.

When Jerry comes home with his fancy new detective badge, Mrs. Todd gets a bit of a laugh at Jerry’s expense:  “‘A—dollar—and—a—,’ Mother didn't seem able to get any further than that. She quit laughing and stared at me, a teacup halfway to her mouth. She acted as though I had dropped into something she couldn’t pull me out of. Dad choked and hid his face in his napkin. After moment mother said: ‘Maybe, Jerry, you won't mind telling your pa and me who stung you for the dollar and a quarter’” (p. 24).

Jerry describes his parents in positive ways: “Dad's a good pal, like Mother, and just as quick as she is to help me out when I get in a scrape. Yes, sir, I bet I got the best pa and ma in the whole state of Illinois” (p. 26).

Lastly, there is a pretty touching moment when Jerry’s dad gives him an impassioned speech about being a man. He says (p. 74):

 “You know, son, in this old world there are leaders and followers. And I kind of figured it out if your mother and I believed in you and let you do things and encouraged you to act and think for yourself, you'd become a leader among your boy pals and then, later on, a leader among men. That's why we won't kick when you go jumping into something that strikes your mother as being a bit risky. We don't do it because we’re careless about what might happen to you; we do it because we've got a lot of confidence in you. We just know that when you're out of sight you'll do only those things that we would want you to do if we were right there with you—things that don't cause you to take foolish risks—things that are manly and clean and on the square. That's the kind of leader we want you to be, Jerry—clean and true and honest and fair all the way through.”

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