Since the last days of the twentieth century, nothing has been heard from...
Famous last words…
At the end of my contribution to ERB-APA #66, I wrote the following…"There was a time when I wanted to tour the world and to some extent I have. But I had other places I wanted to visit like the Himalayas and Africa, seeing the ancient Greek and Roman ruins in Southern Europe. In the end I opted to attend conventions in honour of Edgar Rice Burroughs instead. I think I made the right choice."…and with those stirring words now on paper, I packed my contribution along with other belongings into a suitcase and embarked upon my latest trip to the U.S. in time for the annual Dum-Dum to be held in Michigan.
Actually I had two suitcases with me - and both filled with all kinds of Disney Tarzan related items some of which I had bought specifically for certain people plus some additional items that I hoped that I could sell. Encumbered as I was, I tackled with some ease the minor problem of the monorail at Newark airport being out of action as I did the long queue to get my rental car. An hour or so later, I was placing my luggage into the car and began my journey to Binghamton, NY to pick up Elaine Casella. I have lost count of the number of times that I have exited the car rental company at Newark Airport only to immediately miss the turn off onto I-95. But today was somehow different and I caught the signpost just in time and I was on my way. For some reason or other, entering Binghamton has also been another disaster area for me as I have continued to take the wrong exit ramp. This time I was prepared for the occasion as I had on a previous trip bought a map of the local area and laid it open beside me. It was so easy that I could not understand how I have missed it before.
Unfortunately I was so busy congratulating myself on the smooth journey that I had not noticed my wallet was no longer in my possession. Whether it was when I first got into the car at Newark, or when I stopped just outside of the car rental company to retrieve my sun glasses from my bags, or even when I stopped at a rest area that the wallet fell out of my trouser pocket onto the road, I'll never know. The loss of my credit cards meant several phone calls back home to cancel them. The second problem was the loss of all my English money that I would need on the return journey for train and taxi fares. This was solved by a call to my brother Ashley who volunteered to pick me up when I returned. Fortunately my U.S. money was separate from my wallet, but without my credit cards, my spending power would be severely restricted.
Losing my wallet was careless, getting ripped off at a gas station either by design or otherwise is just plain stupid. Elaine and I had travelled perhaps 150 miles on our way to Michigan when I needed to refuel the car. The small gas station that I pulled into only had one service…full - so I left it to the attendant to operate the pump. I should have been more careful and taken notice of what was happening, but the next thing I knew he had replaced the hose and was asking me for the $18.00. Back on the road and another 20 or so miles behind me, I happened to look at the dashboard only to find to my horror that the fuel gauge was on empty. Whether the pump had really failed to work or I was deliberately ripped off I will never know and I certainly did not have enough fuel to turn around and argue the point.
That was enough mishaps for one trip (or so we thought) as we completed the 600+ mile journey in about 10½ hours arriving at the home of Brian and Judy Bohnett shortly before 9:00pm. Our initial greetings over and meeting their latest addition to the family - their beautiful daughter Llana Jane followed by a recap of our adventures to date, we settled down for an enjoyable evening together. By 11:00pm, Judy took the children upstairs as it was way past their bedtime leaving Brian, Elaine and myself to look over his ERB acquisitions of the past year.
It was shortly after 1:00am and our conversation was still flowing with no one feeling the effects of fatigue when Brian asked if I had looked carefully at the flyer he produced for the convention. I had to admit that I hadn't, to which Brian pulled out a copy that has a picture of a chimpanzee carrying luggage. Brian had doctored one of the address labels to read: Property of Laurence Dunn. Big laugh all round.
Suddenly Brian's laughter turned into a gurgling snoring sound and he collapsed onto the floor unconscious. At first Elaine and I thought he was just playing around, but his body was convulsing and we realised that this was for real. My immediate assumption was that Brian was having an epileptic fit and figured that Judy had probably experienced this before and would be the best person to deal with the situation. Sending Elaine upstairs to fetch Judy, I took a closer look at Brian. Still unconscious and the gurgling sound combined with the obvious breathing difficulties he was having led me to the suspicion that Brian had swallowed his tongue. As I forced open his mouth, I placed my finger inside to clear any possible blockage. But Brian's jaw snapped shut on my finger such that I had to pull it away sharply. Judy and Elaine arrived moments later and with a cry of horror, Judy picked up the phone and dialled 911. After giving them the details, I asked Judy to inquire what was the best recovery position we should place Brian in until the paramedics arrive. By placing him onto his side and supporting his head, it immediately began to ease Brian's breathing.
While the emergency services continued with their advice to Judy to coax him out of his state of unconsciousness, the paramedic from the Sheriff's department arrived. He quickly took control by judging the situation for himself with tests on his blood pressure and blood oxygen levels plus asking Judy about Brian's medical background. Was he epileptic? "No". Was Brian an alcoholic? "No". Did he use recreational drugs? "No". After a couple of more minutes, Brian's breathing had returned almost to normal, his body had stopped shaking and he was showing the first signs of waking up.
Surprised to find strangers in the house (the ambulance paramedics had also arrived by this time), Brian found it difficult at first to answer their questions. Slowly his senses returned to near normal and he was led out of the house to the waiting ambulance. It was decided that I should ride in the ambulance while Elaine and Judy would follow in the car behind. Meantime a neighbour offered to stay at he house until one of Judy's sisters arrived to take care of their son David who was still sleeping soundly upstairs, totally oblivious to the drama unfolding below.
It was while I was sat in the front of the ambulance that I first noticed blood on my hand and upon my white T-shirt. On closer examination, I realised that when Brian bit me, he had actually broken the skin and my jerking the finger away had torn the flesh even more. Showing the wound to the driver, he gave me a dressing and said that the hospital would clean it up on our arrival.
Brian was taken away to be examined as Elaine and I waited in the reception area. Several minutes later we saw doctors and nurses rushing to some emergency only for us to discover that Brian was having a second seizure. While they worked on Brian, I was called aside to give my details to the hospital prior to them cleaning the wound to my finger. After they gave me a tetanus shot (apparently a human bite is worse than an animal bite) plus a large antibiotic pill (I suspected they took one look at Brian and were just being over cautious J ). It was all minor stuff compared with what Brian was going through, but what was significant was that they diagnosed me with high blood pressure for which I would suffer the consequence in the near future. A short while later I found Brian wide-awake and completely unaware that he had suffered another attack.
By 4:00am it was thought that Elaine and I should return to their home while Judy waited in the hospital alongside her father-in-law. The hospital wanted to carry out a series of tests that would require Brian to stay in hospital for at least two days or perhaps longer until they discovered the reason for his attacks.
The streets were quiet as we headed down the main high street driving Judy's car. Just then I noticed a police car pull out from behind and began to follow us…
Fortunately it passed us by and turned off somewhere ahead. But the appearance of the police vehicle made Elaine and I stop and think just what kind of conversation might have taken place had they stopped us…Policeman: Excuse me sir, may I see your driving licence?
Laurence: Sorry, I don't have it on me.
Policeman: Any identification sir?
[recognising my accent he continues…]
Policeman: [continuing to look for alternative means of ID]
Credit cards maybe…?
Laurence: Hey! Stop taking the p***!
Policeman: [ignoring the insinuation]
Is this your car sir?
Policeman: [who now suddenly notices my blood stained T-shirt…]
And where is the owner sir?
Laurence: He bit my finger! He's now in hospital (that'll teach him!), so I took his car…
Policeman: Step out of the car please sir.
[Clink! as handcuffs are snapped upon my wrists]
Two days and a dozen or so tests later (not helped by my playing with the remote car lock/alarm outside the room where Brian was having an ECG test [just kidding J ] ), he was finally allowed home with still no firm diagnosis as to why the attacks occurred.
Surely we now had more than our fair share of mishaps; it was time to enjoy our holiday. Two years earlier when I had last visited the Bohnett's, Brian and myself tried unsuccessfully to locate the former Michigan Military Academy where Burroughs spent his early years as a cadet. Unfortunately we had left it too late in the day and only found what we now know to be the Orchard Lake Historical Society Museum - but they had already closed for the day.
Map of West Bloomfield: 1896: Courtesy of Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society
Click on the map to go to the more-detailed, large scale version.
Last year, George McWhorter was invited to give a talk on Edgar Rice Burroughs at St. Mary's College (the name now given to the former MMA). This gave Brian the opportunity (along with Mike Conran and Jerry Spannraft) to locate the college and it was our intention of visiting there prior to the convention. Before Brian's illness, he had arranged with Nancy Reid who is a member of the museum staff not only to give us a tour of the museum but also a tour of the college. But Brian had to re-visit the hospital to pick up a heart monitor that he had to wear for 24 hours leaving Elaine and I to make our own way. I had spoken to Nancy earlier in the week and her directions were excellent such that we found our way back to the Orchard Lake museum without complication. We arrived only moments before our host pulled up in her car and we each gave the other a warm greeting.
Elaine Casella and Laurence Dunn at the barracks where Ed Burroughs was stationed.
Inside are many artefacts that date back to the times when Orchard Lake was home to the Native American Indian that are warmly cherished by the staff. But Nancy knew our interest lay with the Academy and brought out a large folder of clippings and brochures that date back to its early days. Also among their archives is a diary by a young cadet who served at the Academy a few years after Burroughs was there which gives an insight of life over 100 years ago. In the short time we were there (about 90 minutes) I was able to quickly scan through his notes. I had to smile when he talks about one morning meeting a young lady on the way to a farm and "checked out the oats". It was also a reminder of how far medical science has advanced when he received a letter from home telling him that a close friend had died after an operation to remove his appendix.
Nancy had graciously arranged that we meet and have dinner with the President of St Mary's College, Thaddeus Radzilowski. So after taking a final look around we journeyed back through time to walk in the footsteps of a young Ed Burroughs. Brian had earlier allowed me to take along two books that he had found of the Michigan Military Academy. One of the books both Nancy and the College staff had knowledge of, but the other was completely new to them and included photographs and plans of the grounds that they had never seen before. What is more remarkable about these books is that one of them has the name Charles H. Campbell signed on the inside front cover. Campbell was the cadet that Ed Burroughs had arranged to have a hoax duel with and the two of them came very close to being thrown out of the Academy. After meeting with the President, we were on our way to the dining hall when we met science teacher Dr Thaddeus (Ted) Gish who spends a great deal of his spare time researching the history of the college. Since our principle interest was of the college over a century before, he was delighted to share his enthusiasm of its history with us. Fortunately most of the original buildings from the time of the Academy remain although most have gone through minor alterations over the years. The College has committed itself to a preservation program for any refurbishment that now takes place. Set on the north-east coastline of Orchard Lake, the former MMA overlooks the lake where at one time the cadets would fire their cannons at targets set on floats several hundred yards from the shoreline. As we began our tour of the grounds after dinner, one of our first stops was at the two houses near the front entrance to the complex. At the time of the Academy, these would have been the quarters for the superintendent and the commandant respectively. The first house is now the home to several Polish ladies (now retired), each having their own room but they were very pleased to see us and invited us to view inside. The second house is currently under going some remodelling but we managed to have a quick look inside. George McWhorter stayed at this house during his visit last year, as did Pope John Paul several years ago. The house also apparently has a ghost but there were no strange apparitions while we were there. At one side of the front entrance is a circular turret that is accessed by a beautiful wooden door that is curved to the wall surface. The winding stairway inside was blocked by builders’ tools preventing us from investigating any further.
President Radzilowski then had to take his leave shortly afterwards but Dr Ted Gish remained with us to continue with the tour. Once Ted knew that Burroughs was a cadet at the Academy, he wanted to discover the exact room in the barracks where Burroughs was quartered. After contacting George McWhorter who in turn looked through Ed's notes, he discovered that he was in Room 48 on the 3rd floor. But the building has gone through a major change with two wings added since the days of the Academy and room numbers have altered over the years. At the moment, Ted believes Ed was stationed close to one end of the corridor but it will take more research to pin down the exact room.
Each time we entered a different building, we checked through the photos in Brian's book to compare the changes. One building once contained the library but is now a science laboratory, and here we found the original wall cabinets still standing over a century later. During the days of the Academy, the open parade ground lay in front of the gymnasium. Today the lush green lawns are lined with trees and bushes, and mask the once barren arena where Burroughs had to drill. The gymnasium is still much as it was except that part of the viewing gallery has been removed. At the front of the gymnasium is a square tower where pigeons now occupy the upper floor. At the rear of the building is the entrance to what were once the stables below the gymnasium where surely Ed and the other cadets attended to their horses.
Elaine and I had spent a wonderful time with Dr. Ted Gish and Nancy Reid touring the grounds. Eventually however, Ted had to run off as he was already 20 minutes late for a class. We then bade farewell to Nancy for giving so much of her time to spend with us. Both the Historical Society and the College gave us assurances that Burroughs fans were more than welcome to visit.
We returned to Brian and Judy's home just in time to help them pack the car ready to attend the Dum-Dum. With my two suitcases and Elaine's one, plus 3 book dumps that she had managed to obtain (but now wanted to sell), our car was almost full. Brian and Judy were having a slightly bigger problem with their luggage, two small children plus items that Brian had for sale… something just had to give way. After some discussion as to who was travelling in which car, it was finally decided that David would ride in between Elaine and I, and we kept him occupied for most of the journey playing ‘I Spy’ before he finally fell asleep. Brian of course has been ordered not to drive for at least six months, which therefore means that Judy now has to do all the driving. As we followed closely behind, we suddenly had to make a last second lane change in fast heavy moving traffic to make our final exit before eventually arriving at the hotel just about in one piece. It was shortly after our arrival that Brian discovered he was missing a box of goods which he wanted to sell and Elaine had removed several items of mine from our car because she thought that I was going to drive Brian's car. In the end they were left behind. Having already driven nearly 300 miles that day, Brian and I faced up to another 150 mile round trip back to their home to pick up our missing belongings. Perhaps I should have titled this trip, ‘A Comedy of Errors’.
Night had fallen by the time we returned to the Lands Inn hotel. Inside the main foyer were several old friends that had arrived during the intervening period. While we were sat talking, I noticed an elderly gentleman with long grey hair arrive with his wife but I gave them little thought. A short time later Bill Ross arrived with J.G. (Huck) Huckenpohler and Brad Vinson. They also managed to slip in a visit to St Mary's College earlier that evening but because they arrived unannounced, the staff had already left for the day, leaving no opportunity for a guided tour.
Early the next morning, those that had brought items along to sell were invited to set up their tables. The items that I brought from England generated a great deal of interest from other dealers such that I was in danger of selling everything before the huckster room had generally opened to the other attendees. Fortunately I had enough left over for other people to get a chance to buy a few of the items from across the water. Elaine's book dumps also sold straight away and could easily have been sold a dozen times over as they stood in the corner waiting to be collected.
Photo by Dale Monahan
Then I saw the grey haired gentleman that I had seen the night before setting himself up at one of the end tables. It was then that I realised it was Johnny Sheffield. A line was quickly formed and he began to happily sign his name to anything that was placed in front of him. I had brought along David Fury's new book Johnny Weissmuller, Twice the Hero that Sheffield had written the foreword for, plus several photographs from the Tarzan movies. Johnny Sheffield was very gracious to everyone that approached him and often had little anecdotes regarding the photos placed before him.
David Fury was another guest at the convention and I congratulated him on his book despite the fact that I had yet to finish reading it. David is currently researching his next biography on Maureen O'Sullivan. I would later be with David at the home of Jerry Spannraft where he asked me to record my memories of meeting Maureen at the 1995 convention in Rutland, Vermont.
Mike Conran had planned to have a debate moderated by Brian entitled, "Does Tarzan where Mouse ears?" But because of Brian's ill health, he was not up to the challenge and it was decided to cancel the event.
Unfortunately the convention hit a sour note when it was discovered that items from two tables had gone missing. The conventions are held for fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs to join together, to talk, to trade, to share with one another our love for the authors' work. It is sad to say that we may have one, perhaps more, bad apple within our group. The thieves in our midst are as unwelcome as are the unscrupulous dealers we occasionally hear about and are a slur on the face of Burroughs fandom.
Before long it was time for the early evening barbecue at Mike's home and also a golden opportunity for all of us to see his magnificent collection. Mike had remodelled his basement just a couple of years previous because he was running out of room. With the release of the Disney movie, Mike is now back to square one! But what a room it is! Bookcases brimming with just about every edition and printing available in the English language. His foreign collection is equally as impressive with many editions from around the world. On the opposite side shelves line the wall from floor to ceiling with toys, games, models, pins, movies and a hundred and one other varieties of Burroughs memorabilia that is just impossible to recount. In the centre aisle of the room, Mike has his desk at one end, showcases in the middle and still has room for a couch that is needed to sit down and just look in awe of it all.
Outside, Mike's two sons Chris and Nick were manning the barbecue and once word got around that food was being served, it did not take long for a line to be formed. Despite the fact that most of the congregation were total strangers, Mike's wife Linda was a wonderful hostess to everyone as she moved about the group.
Towards dusk, the night air had become chilly and it was decided to call it a day. Saying a fond farewell to Linda and her family that I have known for over fifteen years, I gathered together a small group and headed back to the hotel in my car.
I was all set for a quiet evening in the hotel foyer talking to other members of the group when I was approached by Rob Greer, Tracy Griffin and Bob Woodley to see if I would like to see the film X-Men that was opening that night. In my early teens, I only ever read Batman and Superman in the comics and therefore knew nothing about the X-Men. There had been a lot of hype about this movie back home in England despite the fact that it would not be released for another month, but here was a chance to get the jump on some of my friends back home. It was a good movie with some incredible special effects and explained the presence of the X-Men very well to those of us ignorant of their origin. I cannot put a finger on why I do not call it a great movie because the characters, the storyline, action, romance were all there – but something did not gel and I just never felt the buzz that the great films do.
As Saturday morning dawned, activity in the huckster room picked up from where it had left off from the afternoon before. Elsewhere, the Board of the Burroughs Bibliophiles was having their meeting. Both Mike Conran and Bob Hyde were invited to join the Board. Bill Ross once again took the role of auctioneer at the two auctions planned. The first was for private sales with a percentage given to the hosts to help cover the cost of the convention. The second consisted of items donated free, the proceeds of which would go to George McWhorter to help pay the cost of publishing the Burroughs Bulletin. Shortly after lunch, Buzz Brown who teaches at St. Mary’s College came along to give a very interesting talk and PowerPoint slide show of the Michigan Military Academy. It is hoped that most of the information that Buzz talked about will be posted onto a website including the diary of the cadet that I mentioned earlier. There is currently a website that includes photographs of the MMA as it looked a century ago and the same scenes as they stand today. The site address is: http://www.mi5th.org/mmahome.htm
It was all too soon before the huckster room had to be cleared to make way for the hotel staff to set up tables for the evening banquet. Mike Conran had returned home to fetch his family at around the same time that I had a nagging doubt about an ATM card that I had lost with my wallet. I had not cancelled the card because I figured that without the PIN number, it would be useless. But I had a sneaking suspicion that it was also capable of being used as a credit card and wanted to make sure. With Mike returning home, I wanted to use his Internet access to get in contact with my bank. Bill Ross was staying with Mike and also needed to return to get changed, so I rode with him. Unfortunately I could not find a secure route to my bank without giving away personal details and decided that yet another long distance phone call would be required. Bill and myself then returned to the hotel several minutes behind Mike with his surprise birthday cake on my lap. But as we pulled up, Mike happened to come out to speak with Bill. Bill saw him coming and jumped out of the car intercepting Mike before he was too close. I did my best to hide the cake but I don’t think we succeeded in the deception at all. However, Mike was good enough not to say anything.
After an excellent buffet style dinner, Johnny Sheffield was invited to give a talk about his life, some of which he had told to individuals over the previous two days, but now we could all listen and enjoy them. I particularly liked the part where a few years earlier he was attending a convention when someone placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "Hello Boy". He turned around to find that he was facing his screen mother, Maureen O’Sullivan. After he had finished talking, George McWhorter took the stand and presented Sheffield with the Golden Lion award. David Fury was also awarded with a Lifetime Membership to the Burroughs Bibliophiles.
By the next morning, those that still remained convened in the huckster room for the traditional farewell breakfast. As cars were packed with bulging suitcases, one by one they left the hotel car park leaving a fast diminishing group behind. Mike and Brian had done a terrific job in organising this event and was worth the trials and tribulations I had experienced to attend. Well almost!
Elaine and I had earlier spoken to Jerry Spannraft about visiting the Burroughs museum in Oak Park, Illinois that had opened 18 months earlier. Since we were not in any rush, we took a leisurely five hours to reach their home stopping occasionally on route. Linda and Jerry have moved home since the last time I visited Chicago and while I knew some of their plans, that knowledge did not prepare me for the final result. One part of the house has a two storey open area that is home to his collection. Bookcases faced with bamboo canes were only the beginning. On two opposite walls, the fronts of thatched huts have been built housing shelves filled with Burroughs memorabilia. In the centre of the room surrounded by cane furniture, stands a tree that stretches up to the roof. With appropriate toy animals lining the branches and surrounding area, a huge cardboard display of Tarzan reaching between vines, the setting is complete.
Just before we sat down for a steak barbecue, Jerry showed us the rhino that he has in his garden. Cast in metal, it took five people to lift it from the front of the house, traversing around next doors’ end of terrace house and into his own back garden. After some pleasant after dinner conversation, it was time for David Fury to take his leave. If his biography of Johnny Weissmuller is anything to go by, his work on Maureen O’Sullivan will be well worth waiting for.
Early the next morning we headed into Oak Park to visit the Edgar Rice Burroughs museum. With generous loans by several collectors, the Historical Society has created a wonderful environment that tells the story of Burroughs life during the years he lived in Oak Park. On September 1st, 2000 Jerry has planned yet another Burroughs gathering, this time to celebrate ERB’s 125th birthday.
With our tour over plus the minor acquisition of a commemorative T-shirt, we said our goodbyes to Jerry and headed back to Michigan to see Brian and Judy Bohnett. Brian had last year somehow managed to get a hold of the Tarzan displays that appeared in Target’s chain of stores at the time of the films’ release. The display consists of three panels each about 1200 x 1000mm, two of which have a motor driven animation. Brian had also acquired a second set of the animated displays that he offered to me. But getting these home to England was proving slightly troublesome, as they were larger than the Post Office would allow. Sending them by freight would have cost around $400 which meant the only alternative I had if I really wanted them, was to fold them in half. Postage costs were now down to a mere $27 (which I could live with) and it eventually arrived home three weeks later. I also remembered to mail my APA submission off to Ken Webber.
On our return trip to Binghamton, we narrowly missed being hit in the rear by another car as we stopped at a junction in Toledo and we heard the distinctive skidding of tyres behind us. Moments later there was the sound of broken glass and fearing the worst, I jumped out of the car to investigate. The car behind had braked late but managed to stop in time before hitting us, but the car behind them was not so fortunate and collided into the first. Realising that finally luck was on my side for once, I stepped back into the car and we continued our journey without further incident.
After returning home, I took the advice of the hospital staff in Lansing to have my blood pressure checked. My doctor confirmed their diagnosis and set me on a course of tablets that I will apparently have to take for life. Three weeks later I awoke in the early hours of Sunday morning with pains in my chest. Not knowing if I was having a heart attack or not, I decided to find out more by checking on the Internet before calling out the emergency services. Creating a picture of me with one hand clutched against my chest and the other trying to log on is probably too comical for words, but I needed to find out for my own satisfaction. Having found one site that gave symptoms of heart attacks, it suggested that I might be and so I dialled 999 (our equivalent of 911). When the ambulance arrived, my blood pressure was up to 190 over 145, which is dangerously high.
I spent nine days in hospital undergoing tests and observation. I came home to find a long list of emails from concerned friends, many of them having heard about my illness on the two ERB listservers. I would like to thank every one of you for your good wishes and plan to see many of you again next year in Tampa, Florida - home for the first ERB convention of the New Millenium.
This article first appeared in ERBapa #67
Visit the Laurence Dunn: ERB Traveller Site
Featuring Navigation Charts To The
Dunn ERBzine Appearances
ERBzine 0127: ERB and the Military
ERBzine 0132: Michigan Military Academy I
ERBzine 0133: Michigan Military Academy II
ERBzine 0364: Photos and Telegram from Commandant King (Re: ERB's desertion)
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL AND SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2004/2010 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.