Monday, July 11, 2011

Robert E. Howard: 75 Years of Silence - Part 1

"They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided."
Robert E. Howard Family Gravesite
[PART 2] [PART 3]

June 11th, 2011 marked the 75th anniversary of the passing of one of America’s great writers and poets, and without question, one of the father’s of Modern Fantasy - Robert E. Howard. Those not familiar with his writing or his name will most assuredly know his creations. You’ve probably read comics, played video games, watched movies and Saturday morning cartoons inspired by his work and not even know it. Robert E. Howard was the creator of legendary characters like, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull the Conqueror, and his most infamous character, Conan the Barbarian.

Robert E. Howard's earning in 1935
Howard was a pulp fiction writer who thrived and excelled during one of the most economically challenging times in American history, the Great Depression. He wrote stories in many different genres, but gained most of his success, and money, writing stories for the pulp magazine Weird Tales. At a time when most people were struggling to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads, Howard was earning in excess of $100 a piece for his published stories; a pretty healthy sum even for today’s standards.

Unfortunately, like many gifted – and troubled - writers, artists, and entertainers, Howard’s life ended tragically and far too soon.  On the early morning of June 11th, 1936, Robert E. Howard took his own life after receiving the news that his mother, Hester Howard, would not survive her latest bout with tuberculosis. He calmly walked out to his car, with his mother’s nurse watching out the kitchen window, retrieved his gun and shot himself in the head. He was only 30 years old.

To honor him, Alisha and I wanted to visit his homestead in Cross Plains, now The Robert E. Howard Museum, and his family gravesite in Brownwood, TX. As I mentioned before, we made a day trip out of it; our first stop being the Greenleaf Cemetery where Howard and his parents were buried. It took a little effort to locate the cemetery. Google Maps and the navigation feature on my Droid phone usually work great - when there’s a signal. No signal? No problem. Brownwood is a relatively small town, so someone should know where it is.
Robert E. Howard's Death Certificate

We stopped at a local watering hole (convenience store) to wet our whistle from the long drive (~3 hours from Austin) and I asked the clerk where I could find the Greenleaf Cemetery. No luck. She wasn’t “from around these parts.” No problem. There can’t be too many cemeteries around, one of the local funeral homes will know for sure. Nope! The funeral director had never heard of the Greenleaf Cemetery. Are you kidding me? What was complicating our search was the fact that the little sleepy town of Early, TX and Brownwood were anchored side by side, like the great cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Only these two great cities were not separated by a mighty river. They were just a stone’s throw away from each other.

After some thought and consideration, the funeral director said she thought there was an old cemetery off of Highway 377, but wasn’t certain because she had never buried anyone there. Interesting. I knew from studying the maps prior to our trip that the Greenleaf Cemetery was on the Northwest part of town, and the cemetery she spoke of fit the description. So off we went.

Robert Payne College as it would have appeared when Robert E. Howard attended back in 1924. 
As we sped towards our hopeful destination, we passed another noted landmark from Howard’s past – Howard Payne College. Robert E. Howard attended college there in 1924, and is also where he got his taste of fame when he published his first story, “Spear and Fang.” Howard received $16 for his efforts. Inspired by his success, he quit college to pursue writing, and never looked back.

Greenleaf Cemetery - Brownwood, TX
When we arrived at the Greenleaf Cemetery it became clear why the funeral director had not heard of it. It was established in 1868, and although it was extremely large – more than 10 acres with over 18,000 gravesites – it looked mostly full. Once there, Howard’s grave was easy to spot. It was located just off the main road that enters the cemetery, and marked with a large historical sign that stood adjacent to it. Howard’s mother died the day after he killed himself, and they were buried together that following Sunday on June 14th. His father, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard, a prominent doctor in the area, lived another 8 years before being added to the family gravesite.  

After paying our respects, Alisha and I decided to explore the rest of the cemetery to see if we could find any other interesting historical figures buried there. There were quite a few family gravesites sectioned off from the rest of the cemetery and, gauging by the ornately massive headstones, we gathered that many of them were fairly wealthy – old money. Surprisingly, one of the first large family headstones we came across was a Walker family buried around the same time as Howard and his family. Aside from the numerous Stonemasons and Confederate soldier gravesites we found, the most interesting one was of Captain Weston Lafayette Williams, son-in-law of Texas’ very own Sam Houston. That was definitely an unexpected find. History can be found anywhere you go. You just have to stop and look.

Captain Weston Lafayette Williams - Son-in-law of Sam Houston

With our tour of the Greenleaf Cemetery complete, we were off to Cross Plains, TX; the heart of our adventure. Our appointment with Anne Rone, one of the caretakers of The Robert E. Howard Museum, was nearing and we didn’t want to keep her waiting.

Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more photos and the highlight of our adventure - our personal tour of The Robert E. Howard Museum - in upcoming posts.

Read [PART 2] and [PART 3] here.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

Have you ever visited Robert E. Howard’s grave? What famous gravesites have you visited? I want to hear about them.HiHisHist

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