Saturday, January 7, 2023

Chicory Hill

On December 10th 1926, Leonard Cline and his second wife Katharine Gridley (who were married only a month earlier on November 9th) purchased a large amount of land in rural Mansfield, Connecticut, to the north of Willimantic.

On December 23rd, The Willimantic Chronicle reported on the sale by the Tryson Real Estate Agency of “Koulaga place on Wormwood Hill, Mansfield, seventy-five acres of land with buildings, to Leonard and Katharine Cline of New York City.” The land had also been known as  Knoll Crest, but the Clines renamed it Chicory Hill.

Cline sent a small photograph of the house at Chicory Hill to his ex-wife, Louise, and their two children, Mary Louise and Leonard III. Cline wrote: “This is the house, perhaps 200 years old. All hand-hewn oak beams, doors of one plank, hinges and latches hand-wrought, four fireplaces and a huge Dutch oven. I built half the furniture. White roses around it; and in front an ancient haunted orchard.” 


On May 10th, 1927, Katharine Gridley Cline signed a quitclaim deed that released to her husband and his heirs “all her rights of dower and other interests” in the property. Less that one week later, in the early hours of May 16th, a tragic event happened that changed the entire trajectory of Cline’s life.

Wilfred Irwin, who was staying with Cline at Chicory Hill, was wounded by a shotgun after a drunken quarrel. When the authorities arrived, Cline was found carrying the shotgun. Irwin was taken to a nearby hospital, but he died some hours later, and the State of Connecticut, looking into the matter,  charged Cline with first degree murder. The trial began in September 1927, but ended abruptly after four days of jury selection when Cline pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to one year in jail, with a $1,000 fine.

Cline spent his sentence in the Tolland Jail. His second wife Katharine deserted him, and Cline re-converted to Catholicism—he had first converted to Catholicism in his youth, but in his college days at the University of Michigan he had become atheist. Cline was released from jail two months early, his sentence shortened for good behavior. On July 15th 1928, he returned to his home at Chicory Hill, where some friends had arrived to assist and support him.

On August 31st, he received three special visitors, his ex-wife, Louise, and their children Mary Louise and her younger brother Leonard. I believe these two small photos of the home at Chicory Hill were taken then.

Sixty-some years later Cline’s daughter reminisced about that summer at Chicory Hill: The house had a little entry, and a square staircase. There was a large middle room, a massive stone fireplace and a dutch oven. To the left there were two adjoining rooms, one used as a bedroom, the other as a sitting room or office. The house had no plumbing. On one side of the house was a carriage entry, covered to pull in a wagon. (Her father wanted to expand the house on this side.)  There was an old barn down the hill, with a stone foundation and a wooden top.

At some point in the latter half of 1928, Cline reconciled with his first-wife, and they planned to remarry after Cline could achieve some financial stability. Louise and the children returned to Baltimore, and in late November or December 1928, Cline went to New York City, where his friend Henry Luce, whom Cline had known in Baltimore, had given him a job on Time magazine.

While in jail Cline had made plans to turn Chicory Hill into a kind of artist’s colony, with writers, poets and artists in residence, but the idea never came to any fruition. Cline died of heart failure in mid-January 1929. Chicory Hill was sold to pay off some of the large debt he had left behind.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Donald Douglas reviews The Dark Chamber in 1927

A rather breathless and overwrought book review, from the 4 September 1927 issue of The New York Herald Tribune. The last paragraph is the best. Donald Douglas (1893-1966) was a journalist, teacher and author. His novels include The Grand Inquisitor (1925), a metaphysical and psychological thriller, and The Black Douglas (1927), a historical novel. 

Moon Magic

by Donald Douglas

There would be only wrong and error in calling Leonard Cline’s The Dark Chamber another one of those tales where men go down on all fours to howl like wolves or take white powders and change themselves into golliwogs. There would be as little use in comparing it to Algernon Blackwood’s best stories or, indeed, in comparing it to anything, for in both the loose and exact sense of the world it is incomparable. Don’t go in fear of the shuddery were-wolves of Dracula, of the spurious booby-traps of the “Gothic Romance” or even the supernatural visitations conjured up in Blackwood’s alarums ringing from the vengeful gods. Nothing of that sort appears in Mr. Cline’s exquisite prose poem, even if he does give you gooseflesh with a black hound named Tod, and even one of his women talks about astrology and turns the bright stars into green mold. One even suspects that Mr. Cline uses his device of vampirism and curious suggestion only as a frame on which to hang the shimmering cloak of his prose that shines like a web from the sun or sings in the ordered cadences of immaculate tonality.

You will find a tale as good as Dracula and as mind-curdling as “The Mark of the Beast” without the added nuisance of Bram Stoker’s unexciting prose, or Rudyard Kipling’s habit of stopping his plot to make nasty remarks about men who get married. Even Mr. Cline’s discourses on lycanthropy and music are mated to the central plot and his most rhapsodic painting of autumnal field and deep woods and dreary main holds in its form and color, all the intention of his art.

None the less why should we call The Dark Chamber by the dull name of a book? It is no book, but rather a sweep of clouds over the blue gulf of the sky and a nest of ferns hidden in the oozy marsh of a haunted wood and an arctic moon riding over the haunted gables of a house gullied with shadowy mysteries and the march and splendor of chords resolved into a diapason. It gets into your blood and rings in your heart and foams like a curl of waves on dark speeding oceans, or freezes the brain like a solitary walk over a road winding down toward the stricken silence of a space empty save for the dead ghosts of things. Try to tell its plot in a cold and sober prose and the whole being and essence of the book is gone like breath spent on air. Describe the family where the musician, Oscar Fitzalan, ran the gamut of fear and horror and the red clutch of vampirism and you make a tone poem sound like a calliope vibrating in a sick screech of tinny harmonies. In any genuine work of art you can not separate the atmosphere from the substance or divorce the plot from its lovely mesh of prose. That kind of thing can only be with justice in retelling the machinations of the indisious Dr. Fu Manchu.

You must imagine the composer, Fitzalan, going to the manor of Richard Pryde [sic, for Pride] because he has been offered a job at some kind of collaboration and wants some time to write his own music. He enters a mansion built near the upper reaches of the Hudson and falling, for all its magnificence, toward slow desolation. He meets Miriam, the wife with her blood-red lips, and the daughter, Janet, with her wayward impulse towards passion, and the secretary, Hough, with his death-mask of a face, and the dog, Tod, with his sinister name and black bristles and small yellow eyes staring into the horror of an indefinable dream. In time he meets his employer, Pryde, towering  like rocky cliffs over the river and with his face like the slate of grimness of a ledge plucked with two eyes peering like the lightless eyes of the blind. Believing that memory is indissoluble and that every image of one’s own life is recorded on the plate of the brain, Pryde uses Fitzalan as his aid in tracking down every event of the past. He broods in a study built into the heart of a hill with the door lifted like a snout. He has volumes and volumes packed into shelves’ and every volume is a record of a past experience evoked by a perfume, a chance song in the street, the least stir in the tight layers of the mind. At last his researches go back to events in the lives of his ancestors and by a non-Freudian analysis of dreams even into the dim lairs and green lagoons of the prehistoric past. By the aid of drugs and the force of his own will and other incantations Pryde achieves the end of his search; but that end must be left for Mr. Cline to tell in his own words.

Even from this first hour in a house cloaked in shadows thrown by the sputter of dim candles Fitzalan himself takes part in the drama of the wife and the mother and the secretary and the dog ringed around the inner drama played in the dark chamber of the master of the house. Miriam and Janet and Hough and the sinister Tod are drained of life by the tyrannous presence of Pryde and by his weird power to draw the energies and the very life of others into the net of his own purpose. Everything plotted by Miriam, at the expense of Hough and Fitzalan, has its origin in her hope to be freed of the stone monster who has lain like a sphinx on her breast. Janet’s unrest is not the unrest of youth. It is the protest and defiance of ordinary life against the unimaginable exactions of the man with a fixed idea. Shadows thicken over the hills and fear steals like snow into the hearts and pawns who exist only for the protection and life of the king. What if the queen rebels to seduce a knight and drive one of the bishops to despair and death? Behind the torn anguish of his pieces sits the implacable king like a fixed image wrought from stone and with a stone circling like  graven heart in the hollows of his breast.

It is most notable that Mr. Cline has wrought the miracle of combining a tale of terror with the sheer loveliness of golden song. That is why he makes Fitzalan a musician and why through the closing shadows shines the bright radiance of a beauty visible even in the murkiest gloom of the dark chamber. Even the excess of the plot and situation are made plausible with sound psychology and lustering, with hill and dale and human hearts caught in a garment of tenderness and pity and the power of love over the clutch of the obscene, Not the reality of life, perhaps; but the intense ache and the moon-haunted reality of a dream experiences in phantasmal meadows edged with the deepening gold of the ascending sun.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Polypimple's Apocalypse, a short story by Leonard Cline

Polypimple’s Apocalypse

The Rev. Horace Polypimple sat alone in his room, in the boarding house on Catherine street, just behind the red brick church of the Friends of Jesus. Late into the night he brooded, biting his nails and scratching his acne. These devices acted as a mild sedative upon him. He was pledged against tobacco and wine, but indeed he had never had any craving for these things. Only in the communion did the juice of the grape, sedulously watered, moisten his lips.

Biting his nails he brooded; and all the strength of his ministry, he felt, depended on the resolution tonight of a horrible doubt. Things had happened recently that were undermining his faith.

The words of Christ, “When two or three are gathered together in my name . . . ,” flamed in Horace’s harrassed consciousness. Well, and what had happened when two or three had been gathered together in His name? Strange occurrences, recently; very strange, and inexplicable by any process of faith or reasoning that Horace could bring to bear upon them.

Just the week before, while Dr. Higbie Chaffinch’s con­gregation in the Episcopal church on Cross street was in the hoarse throes of a hymn, lightning had nipped the cross right off the steeple and; sprinkled splinters all over the neighborhood.

Then, at Wednesday night prayer meeting in the Rev. Lubly Phwat’s Presbyterian church, at Front and Catherine, when patriarchal Deacon Goodie, palsied and holy, arose to give his weekly prayer, the ceiling had given way and crashed down upon the old man’s lifted face.

These little episodes were disturbing in a general way, although of course, from the higher sanctity of the church of the Friends of Jesus, Horace smiled a little secretly at the discomfiture of his wealthier and more stylish colleagues. But only this past Sunday the most startling of  all the recent disasters had taken place, and it was in his own church.

His congregation swarmed forward to the communion table, Elder Beagle well in front, with Elder Gottwoof and Deacon Blum staggering hotly along behind him. Elder Beagle filled his glass and downed it. Elder Gottwoof filled his glass and downed it. Deacon Blum filled his glass and shuddered the wine joyously down. Then Elder Beagle gave vent to a most horrible oath and fell on his face. Deacon Blum, gagging convulsively, regurgitated on the communion table, and his spectacles fell down and broke into a million pieces. And Elder Gottwoof, who was still, in spite of his sixty years, robust enough, charged head-down into the on­coming flock, madly clasping his stomach.

He caught slim, shivering old Miss Pennystiff fair in the middle and floored her, gasping for breath. He trod full on the toes of choleric August Schmierle, fat and em­purpled; and August, fighting frantically back out of the path of the wild deacon, knocked little Tommy Jones out of his mother’s arms. Then, while Tommy’s god-forsaken squall shrilled piercingly above the general whoobub, Deacon Bea­gle disappeared out the front door.

Down Plum street he dashed, screaming curses. At the corner there was a watering trough. The Deacon did not hesitate. In he went, still head down. Only the quick work of an unreligious milk-man, somewhat tipsy with moonshine, saved the deacon from being drownded.

Horace arose and paced his threadbare carpet, picking his nose. Yes, drownded, and he might just as well have been, for it was doubtful whether the deacon would recover. By mistake, the communicants had been served varnish instead of wine.

There was, of course, an element of human carelessness behind all this trouble. But—and on this point Horace’s whole career depended—why had the varnish remained var­nish? Memory of the marriage feast persisted in Horace’s mind. Why did not the hand of Providence, intervening, rectify the error of the pastor on this one occasion, vouchsafe just one more miracle to vindicate the church before the scoffers? Was it more difficult for the Almighty to change varnish into wine than it was water? And was the occasion of holy communion less sacred than that of a plain wedding?

Horace, sweating, rejoiced dismally that his church had not adopted the doctrine of transsubstantiation. How could Dr. Chaffinch have explained such an accident to his flock?

But how, indeed, could he explain this negligence of Providence to his own satisfaction? If he had been Jahweh, would he not have been glad to say the word. Just say a word, and lo! the varnish would be wine. Horace itched and perspired, and frantically gnawed his nails. Then suddenly the truth burst upon him with a glory intolerable, and he sank to his knees and began to cry.

That was it, of course. Centuries ago, when the wedding guests slavered with tongues hanging out, wine was a good thing. Everybody used it. But now the world, hurtling on to a millennium of righteousness, had decreed that wine was raging. The church stood up unanimously against it, irrespective of creed. Heaven itself was undoubtedly convinced; prohibition, alleluia, prohibition, hosanna, amen! Should the Lord turn bootlegger? Here was a divine revelation that Volstead and Providence were of one mind.

Horace rushed to his desk, and feverishly began to write. What a sermon! The burning bush was out of date; the Lord had appeared to him in a jug of varnish. He would deliver the sermon next Sunday. Or, if Deacon Beagle should die, he would use it at the funeral.

And at the thought of that dramatic triumph the eyes of the Rev. Horace Polypimple shone with ardor, and his hurrying pen blurted great gobs of  ink on his paper as the inspiration fell into burning words. 


From: Laughing Horse, 1 No.7 (1923)