The First and Only Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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ISSUE 0101
Getting Stoked Over Greystoke
Back in 2000, Oak Park celebrated the resident who gave birth to Tarzan
Reprinted from
The Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest ~ September 6, 2000
Wednesday Journal ~ April 6, 2010 ~ by Ken Trainor

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Birthday
The punch was jungle green ("Lord Greystoke's private recipe," purred June Atkinson in her impeccable English accent). So was George McWhorter, bespectacled, sitting quietly on a bench in the Oak Park Conservatory annex, looking every bit the pensive academic -- well, a pensive academic dressed like a leprechaun. Green sportcoat, green patchwork tie, Irish tweed hat.

Well, every bit the pensive academic until he suddenly let out an ear-splitting, lobby-amplified Tarzan yell.

That's how he called his dum-dum to order-well, his lecture anyway, last Thursday evening, the kickoff of the local celebration of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 125th birthday.

Burroughs isn't around any longer, of course, but his most memorable creation, Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan, has shown remarkable staying power. And to think he emerged from the imagination of a man who spent some of his most productive years writing about the savage jungles of Africa while firmly anchored here in the Victorian reality of early 20th Century Oak Park.

That was pretty much the subject of McWhorter's talk-Burroughs' Oak Park years. McWhorter oversees the world's largest public collection of Burroughs' "stuff," much of which he donated himself, located at the University of Louisville.

But he isn't just a collector. He's a devotee, as are many of the others here in attendance, some of whom came all the way from Minneapolis for the event. McWhorter described Burroughs as "one of the most prolific writers America has ever produced" and also one of the best selling. He was, in fact, the best-selling author of the first half of the 20th Century, writing what McWhorter described as "adventure stories laced with philosophy and humor." He puts Tarzan's papa in the same category of storytelling genius as Isak Dinesen, Hans Christian Andersen and Scheherazade ("The Arabian Nights").

Here's a sample of vintage Burroughs to give you an idea of what they're talking about. It's from "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar" (the name may have been inspired by "Oak Park" since it was written here):

"And so Tarzan always came back to Nature in the spirit of a lover keeping a long deferred tryst after a period behind prison walls. His Waziri, at marrow, were more civilized than he. They cooked their meat before they ate it, and they shunned many articles of food as unclean that Tarzan had eaten with gusto all his life, and so insidious is the virus of hypocrisy that even the stalwart ape-man hesitated to give rein to his natural longings before them. He ate burnt flesh when he would have preferred it raw and unspoiled, and he brought down game with arrow or spear when he would far rather have leaped upon it from ambush and sunk his strong teeth in its jugular; but at last the call of the milk of the savage mother that had suckled him in infancy rose to an insistent demand-he craved the hot blood of a fresh kill and his muscles yearned to pit themselves against the savage jungle in the battle for existence that had been his sole birthright for the first 20 years of his life."
Sounds a lot like climbing the corporate ladder, doesn't it?

And that was just exposition. To an audience of readers rankling against the restrictiveness of Victorian mores, this was great stuff. Liberating even. Hemingway appealed to the literati in much the same way. Who knows? Maybe he was inspired by Burroughs. He did after all go on safari. But that's another story.

"You can't teach this kind of talent," McWhorter observed. Burroughs was Harvard-educated (Harvard Elementary, that is, on the West Side of Chicago). His brother had a ranch in Idaho, where Burroughs spent time, but his romantic visions of military glory were somewhat stymied. He was turned down by West Point. Even TR rejected him as a Rough Rider. He worked for Sears for awhile and they wanted him to stay, but he insisted on working only for himself (do you think Tarzan would have worked for anybody -- except maybe Jane?). He kicked around in various enterprises, mostly unsuccessfully, until he came across the popular pulp fiction magazines of his era and realized that he could probably write stuff "just as rotten," as Burroughs put it.

Turns out he had a real talent for it -- and he was prolific to boot. He wrote 33 stories and books while in Oak Park, then moved to California, where his 450-acre ranch in the San Fernando Valley is now the town of Tarzana. What a country.

McWhorter said that the night before Burroughs left for the Golden State, his friends at the White Paper Club, a local literary group (as in "transforming white paper into art"), threw him a roast. McWhorter has a copy of the program. One of his friends was the estimable Otto McFeely, editor of the Oak Leaves. Legend has it, says McWhorter, that Burroughs was the one who came up with the Oak Leaves name (if so, it happened before he moved to Oak Park).

As a gag, Burroughs had earlier written a fictional autobiography for his bibliobuddies, saying that he was moving to California for the purpose of "breeding pedigree pigs." His friends gave him a picture of a winged pig with a monkey on its back.

"They say no man is a prophet in his own country," McWhorter said, "but Ed disproved that."

Then it was time for the eagerly awaited Tarzan Yell and the Tarzan and Jane Lookalike Contests, which, of course took place in the conservatory proper in order to create the proper steamy ambiance, with parrots making the appropriate background racket. Young and old alike took part, believe it or not -- an amazing thing in itself when you consider the Post-modern cynical sensibilities of 21st Century America, as restrictive in its own ways as the Victorian era. Fiona Madigan looked fetching with the large red hibiscus flower (courtesy of conservatory director John Seaton) tucked behind her ear. Marcus Shenouda-Coburn, looked positively foppish in a corduroy suit with stuffed snake and gibbon accessories dangling from his neck.

Herb Beck entered as a considerably older version of Tarzan, wearing a floppy safari hat and likewise sporting a stuffed gibbon. Performed a pretty fair Tarzan whoop, too. Former Oak Parker Jerry Spannraft, who may have the largest private Tarzan memorabilia collection in the world, asked the Jane lookalikes to shout "Tarzan, save me!" and Herb's daughter-in-law Paula obliged, but Fiona, showing her sophistication, was having none of it.

Meanwhile poet Charlie Rossiter's son, Jack Rossiter-Munley, was on hand, along with Sonja (didn't catch her last name) who headed to the bridge over the goldfish pond in the "Tropical Room" to attempt the yell. Jack learned it watching old Tarzan movies, said proud papa Charlie, but he never actually practiced one out loud as far as he knew. A connoisseur of such things, Charlie said the secret is how long you can go between warbles. And Jack does have good breath control. His warble ain't bad either, though Sonia clearly outwarbled him. One tiny observer covered her ears at the sound.

The adults took a crack at it next, with Peggy Madigan performing an impressive, high-pitched, banshee-like warble. Dave Furey had better amplitude, but not as much breath control. He's the "ringer" from Minneapolis, a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, a group of passionate Burroughs aficionados who come from all over the Midwest for gatherings like this. Furey just published a book titled, Johnny Weissmuller, Twice the Hero, so he has a built-in advantage, but Peggy practiced at home. In fact, a neighbor stopped by while she was doing it, said her husband, Jim, and asked who was yodeling.

The judge, diplomatically pronounced the contest a tie, and awarded the prize, which, as Charlie Rossiter put it, is "the adulation of the crowd."

Out in the hall, a table has been set up, covered by a leopard-spot-pattern sheet (Jan Dressel, historical society president, found it at T.J. Maxx), and piled high with Tarzan T-shirts and laminated movie posters from Tarzan films. Did you know there was actually a film titled, "Tarzan and the Mermaids?"

Herb Beck says he got hooked on Tarzan as a 12-year-old. His cousin began sending him a Tarzan book every year for about five years. The former OPRF grad has read "Tarzan of the Apes" three times. The best thing about Burroughs? "Imagination," he says. "That was adventure." Paula Beck is more familiar with the movies. Her favorite Tarzan was Buster Crabbe. "He could swim and dive," she recalled.

Joan Bledig, a Bibliophile, has been reading Burroughs since she was six. Every year she attends the "Dum-Dum" (the name comes from Burroughs' ceremonial gathering of apes where they would beat on an earthen mound with tree limbs). It's the group's annual convention. Last year it was held in Tarzana, Calif. The other gathering is called ECOF, which stands for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Chain of Friendship. There's also a group called "Normal Beans," which was Burroughs' initial pen name, chosen because he didn't want people, after reading his yarns, to assume that he had an abnormal "bean."

Jerry Spannraft, OPRF grad and avid Burroughs collector, described the difference between McWhorter's collection and his: "George has more books. I have more toys and games." He also has a "jungle room" in his Palos Park home where he displays much of it.

Elsie Jacobsen was involved in the group that organized the Burroughs Centennial back in 1975. She recalled that they had one event at the high school where OPRF gymnasts did Tarzan swings onstage. They held the Tarzan yell contest at Rehm Park, she said. "The clear winner came all the way from Ohio."

Burroughs' Biblio Files 
Greg Phillips, a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles group, compiled a map that shows Edgar Rice Burroughs' many residences in Chicago and Oak Park, and lists the books he wrote at each. 

Here's the list of books by Oak Park location:

414 Augusta (1914-17)
Books written: Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Cave Girl (part two), The Maid King Pellucidar, The Son of Tarzan, Beyond Thirty and The Man-Eater, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, The Rider, The Mucker (part two), Jungle Tales of Tarzan

700 Linden (1917-18)
Books written: The Oakdale Affair, The Land That Time Forgot (part one)

325 N. Oak Park Ave. (1918-19)
Burroughs also rented an office during this period at 1020 North Blvd.

Books written: The Land That Time Forgot (parts two and three), Tarzan the Untamed (part one)

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