Updates, elaborations and stuff I forgot the first time

Back in the day, when an article was published in a book or journal, I had to find another book or journal willing to add newly found materials or correct earlier perceptions. Now, through the wonder of the interwebs, it’s possible to revisit earlier ideas with a few taps of the keyboard.

As we approach the end of the calendar year, I wanted to update information published here during 2014 on two topics: John Bennett Shaw and Vincent Starrett and the death of Starrett’s mother in Vancouver, Canada.

JBS and VS

From left, Vincent Starrett, Robert Mangler and John Bennett Shaw. A 1964 photograph, from The Last Bookman edited by Peter Ruber and published in 1968 by The Candlelight Press.

A few months back, I wandered from the usual Starrett-centric discussions to honor the memory of John Bennett Shaw, who had passed away 20 years ago. John was a seminal figure in my early Sherlockian life and it was an honor to offer up some personal recollections.

But it wasn’t until recently that I found out that Starrett was aware of John’s collecting passion in the 1940s!

I was hunting through Karen Murdoch’s exhaustive anthology of Starrett’s “Books Alive” column and came across the following note, which I was then able to hunt down to its original May 9, 1948 source.

John Bennett Shaw, Tulsa bookseller and bibliophile, is the subject of a recent article by Martin Gardner of Chicago, in the Tulsa Magazine, that strikes me as very amusing. According to Gardner, Shaw collects books, sells books, and lets the customers fall where they may.

As a bookseller, Gardner says, Shaw’s sense of humor sometimes urges him to unorthodox practices. He once had in the shop a copy of a book by H.V. Kaltenborn, one of his pet aversions. The book would not sell, so he cut the price in half, then to a quarter of the publisher’s figure, and finally marked it 10 cents. When it sill remained unsold, he wrote on the inside cover, “Five cents will be given to anybody who buys this book.”

A few days afterward a well-dressed man approached with the despised volume in his hand. Whether he had seen the penciled note inside is still a mystery, for without a moment’s hesitation Shaw snatched the book from him, wrapped it with scrupulous care, handed him a nickel from the cash register, and watched the stranger depart — flabbergasted.

The anecdote certainly sounds like Shaw, and gives an insight into a stage of John’s life that was over long before I met him.

Loyal readers will recall that I discussed the Martin Gardner/Vincent Starrett/John Bennett Shaw relationship in the very first post to this site.

Starrett’s mother, may she rest in peace

A few months back, I was in Indiana for the terrific Gillette to Brett IV conference and there I met Fran Martin. Fran mentioned that she was from Vancouver, and I told her how much Joan and I had enjoyed our brief visit there. And, because I love bragging, I told her the story of picking up a copy of Starrett’s Banners in the Dawn, inscribed to his mother, Margaret Dennison Starrett. Regular readers will recall my telling the story of this successful book hunt a few months back in the article titled “Dear Mother—“

The grave market of Vincent Starrett's mother, Margaret, at Capilano View Cemetery in Vancouver, Canada.

An article about Margaret Starrett's disappearance from the Vancouver Sun for Oct. 4, 1933.

Fran, who is a leading member of the Stormy Petrels in Vancouver, said she was well aware of Margaret Starrett’s story. In fact, the Petrels visit her grave once a year. The group plans a trip to Shannon Falls Provincial Park (about an hour north of Vancouver), which is a local analog to the Reichenbach Falls. After a picnic lunch, they head back to town, stopping at Capilano View Cemetery off the Upper Levels Highway to visit the grave of Margaret Dennison Starrett.

Fran has graciously supplied the image of the grave marker for Starrett’s mother at Capilano View Cemetery. Before departing, one of the Petrels will read Starrett’s sonnet “221B”.  I can’t help but think that Starrett would have been touched by this kind and thoughtful action by those who never knew him or his mother.

Fran also pointed to an article on the front page of The Vancouver Sun for Wednesday, October 4, 1933 on the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a local ferry. The woman’s body was recovered and later identified as Margaret Dennison Starrett.

Finally, she forwarded a copy of the death certificate on file for Mrs. Starrett. The document indicates Starrett’s mother was staying at a home on Third Avenue West in Vancouver and she had been living there for nine years. (This would seem to conflict with Starrett’s account of his mother being a missionary to the area, not a resident.) This information likely came from Hugh Miller, a cousin of Mrs. Starrett, who lived on Cypress Street in Vancouver.

It appears from the death certificate that Mrs. Starrett’s body was found in Burrard Inlet, which is north of Vancouver. The coroner’s inquiry took place in October 1934, more than a year after she disappeared over the side of the ferry, and burial did not take place until Oct. 27, 1934. Death from drowning was the coroner’s ruling.

The death certificate for Vincent Starrett’s mother.