Sunday, June 24, 2018

Swanson of Dakota By Karen Joan Kohoutek

Carl Swanson
with his wife, Evelyn
North Dakota, where I have lived for many years, is an under-represented state in the history of weird fiction. So one of my favorite footnotes is the elusive Carl Swanson (May 25, 1902 — November 16, 1974), who corresponded with Lovecraft, inspired The Fantasy Fan fanzine, and collaborated with Jerry Siegel, all while living in Washburn, ND. One of his best-known ventures is an attempt to start a magazine called Galaxy, although, judging by references in the letters of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, the idea swiftly rose and fell.

            Lovecraft commented on Swanson in several of his letters to Robert Barlow, starting in January 1932: “I am told that a new weird magazine is about to be started by one Carl Swanson of Washburn, North Dakota. I’ve sent in ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep,’ but am doubtful about their acceptance” (21). Later that month, he added that he had “just heard from Swanson—the new magazine man. He has accepted both ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’” (22).

            In March 1932, Lovecraft provided more information. “Swanson’s plans are slowly taking form. The new periodical will be called Galaxy, & Derleth understands that the rate of pay will be about ¼ (cent) per word. The magazine will sell for 10 (cents), or $1.00 per year. Wright of W.T. is rather worried about the coming competition, & tends to resent the sale of reprinting rights to Swanson by his authors” (25).

            This would come up again in March 1935, when, speaking of Wright and reprint rights from Weird Tales, Lovecraft says, “The only smallness he ever displayed in a matter of reprinting was some years ago, when Swanson of Dakota intended to found a magazine of second appearances” (217). Also in March, Howard wrote to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith that “a man named Swanson is publishing a magazine in one of the Dakotas, on the weird order. I’ve neglected my chances, until I wonder if the thing’s about up ten years ahead. Lovecraft wrote me that he’d placed a couple of yarns, and evidently the old weird tale buccaneers have descended on it like a horde of vultures” (315).

H.P. Lovecraft
The same month, Howard asked Lovecraft, “By the way, what luck did you have with Swanson’s new magazine?” (303). Then in April 1932, he followed up with “Swanson’s venture seems rather amateurish, but he may make something of it. I let him have a yarn, ‘The Hoofed Thing’ which Bates had previously rejected” (328). By the time that letter was written, though, Lovecraft had already told Barlow that “it appears that the Swanson magazine was a false alarm. Swanson now informs me that financial difficulties will prevent its publication – though he says something about possibly trying to issue a mimeographed magazine or series of booklets” (27) (italics, or underlining, his).

On May 24, 1932, Howard said, “Sorry to hear Swanson has had to give up his Galaxy” (356), and the failure of the project seems to have been common knowledge among the potential contributors.

Mike Ashley provides more substantial information about Swanson, in the context of early attempts to publish what we would now call fanzines. “The first plans in this direction had been explored by Carl Swanson, a bookdealer in Washburn, North Dakota. In December 1931 he circulated a number of writers with a proposal to issue a magazine of weird-science fiction to be called Galaxy. Swanson was after new fiction if he could acquire it, but otherwise sought the option of reprinting stories. Swanson was unable to raise the necessary finances, however, and by May 1932 had dropped the idea.

Jerome (Jerry) Siegel
“Swanson had struck up correspondences with a fan from Cleveland, Ohio, called Jerome Siegel. Siegel had been a long time fan … the two decided to publish some small booklets. Siegel issued his own Guest of the Earth under the alias of Hugh Langley, whilst Swanson put together a copy of Edmond Hamilton’s The Metal Giants, which had been made available to him for Galaxy. Both of these, issued in 1932, were rather poor mimeographed copies” (216 – 217).

Ashley also mentions Swanson in conjunction with Charles Hornig and The Fantasy Fan. Hornig “acquired back issues from a variety of sources, including Carl Swanson’s mail-order business and it was Swanson who alerted Hornig to the appearance of The Time Traveller. Through that Hornig encountered fandom …” (219)

Multiple Carl Swansons lived in western North Dakota during his lifetime, but the online Fancyclopedia seems to have pinpointed the correct one, identifying him as Carl Swanson: May 25, 1902 — November 15 (sic), 1974. Later research shows his date of death as November 16, 1974. This entry includes the information about introducing Hornig to fanzines, and his publication of The Metal Giants, again stressing its “poor mimeography.” It also contains more biographical detail. “Carl W. Swanson of Washburn and Velva, ND, was one of the earliest fans, his interest in SF dating to 1910 … He hoped to publish SF, and he contacted a number of writers with a proposal to issue a magazine of weird-science fiction to be called Galaxy. He wanted new fiction if he could acquire it, but would also take the option of reprinting stories. He was unable to raise the necessary finances, however, and by May 1932 had dropped the idea.”

This source also conclusively identifies his business as the Swanson Book Co., “which advertised in fanzines. It was probably a very small mail-order operation. He was to some extent still active in the 40s.
Swanson was in business by 1933, when this ad was printed in Fantasy Fan: “SCIENTIFIC and weird fiction (books and magazines) bought, sold, exchanged. Send want list and stamp for prices.
            "The Metal Giants," by Edmond Hamilton, 
           10 cents postpaid.
            Swanson Book Company
            Dept. FF, Washburn, N.D.”

            A 1934 issue of Amazing Stories contains an ad for “Back Numbers of Amazing Stories for Sale. Many of the Monthly issues and Quarterlies as well as the Annual can be supplied by the Swanson Book Company, Washburn, North Dakota.”

As late as 1952, Swanson was listed in the American Book Trade Directory. In addition to “used” and “per.” (periodicals), the company is also said to deal in autos, tractors, and other farm equipment; logical, given his rural environment, but not something usually associated with weird fiction and the Weird Tales circle.

            The full entry reads:
“Swanson Book Co. Box 141
Carl W. Swanson, owner
Mail Order
1st eds, gen, early autos, tractors, steam traction engines, threshers, per, rpt, used” (384)

With dates of birth and death, and a middle initial, Swanson can be identified in The W. in his name stood for “Wilhelm.” His father was Frank Elof Swanson, born in Sweden; his mother, Josephine Mahalia Swanson, was born in Kentucky. He would eventually marry Evelyn Viola Jenson. He served in the Army, with an enlistment date of September 1, 1942, and a release date of May 28, 1945.

According to the US Census, Swanson was still single and living at home in “Township 146, McLean, North Dakota, USA” in 1930, and his record contains the following information:

            Attended School: No
            Able to Read and Write: Yes
            Able to Speak English: Yes
            Occupation: Farm Labor
            Industry: Farm
            Class of Worker: Wage or salary worker

            Household members:
            Frank E Swanson 75
            Josephine M Swanson 65
            John Swanson 39
            Carl Swanson 28
            Emma Swanson 23

            The town of Washburn, in McLean County, is Township 144, and with the placement of Township 146, and “Industry: Farm,” it’s a safe conclusion that the family lived on a farm near Washburn. At the time of the 1930 census, Washburn had a population of 17,991 people; the 2010 one found only 8,962.

            The following text is from Swanson’s obituary in the McHenry County Journal-Register, November 21, 1974:
“Carl W. Swanson
            VELVA – Carl W. Swanosn, 72, Velva, died Saturday, Nov. 16, 1974. Funeral was Tuesday at 11 at Oak Valley Lutheran Church, Vlva (sic). Vela Cemetery.
            Born May 25, 1902, at Washburn and reared there. Worked on farms in Washburn area until World War II. Served in the war for three years. Married Evelyn Jenson Aug. 15, 1944, at Seattle. They returned to Velva and had since lived there. Mr. Swanson was an antique dealer and interested in antique cars.
            Survivors: wife, a brother, Frank, San Diego, Calif., and four sisters, Mrs. Helen Ryan, Minneapolis, and Mrs. Esther Isaacson, Mrs. Hilda Janke, and Emma Swanson, all of Velva.”

            Swanson was buried in the Velva Cemetery, in Velva, McHenry County, North Dakota.

            Washburn and Velva are over an hour drive apart, but there isn’t much of anything in between, so his life was spent in a relatively limited rural area, even by North Dakota standards. I would like to think that further research could turn up manuscripts or correspondence, but – prejudiced, I know, by my own experience with pragmatic rural Scandinavians -- I strongly suspect that, upon Swanson’s death, his family wouldn’t have given any surviving papers a second thought before discarding or destroying them. Still, one never knows.

Works Cited:

Amazing Stories.
American Book Trade Directory. New York, N.Y: R.R. Bowker Co, 1952.
Ashley, Michael, and Robert W. Lowndes. The Gernsback Days: A Study of the Evolution of Modern Science Fiction from 1911 to 1936. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2004.
“Carl W. Swanson.” Social Security Death index..

Howard, Robert E, Rob Roehm, and Rusty Burke. The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Vol. Two. Plano, Tex: Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2007.
Lovecraft, Howard P, Robert H. Barlow, S T. Joshi, and David E. Schultz. O Fortunate Floridian: H.p. Lovecraft's Letters to R.h. Barlow. Tampa, Fla: Univ. of Tampa Press, 2007.
McHenry County Journal-Register. Velva, N.D: Joseph C. Linnertz.
U.S. Department of the Census, Fifteenth Census, 1930. 

About The Author: 

Karen Joan Kohoutek's essays on Robert E. Howard and other weird writers have appeared in The Dark Man, Skelos, Two-Gun Raconteur, and On an Underwood No. 5. She was a 2018 winner of the Robert E. Howard Foundation's award for best online essay. In 2017, she published Ici Repose: A Guide to St. Louis Cemetery #2, Square 3 through Skull and Book Press. Her thoughts on cult horror, Bollywood films, and how to solve the world's problems can be found at her blog, October.

1 comment:

Kandor Archives said...
This comment has been removed by the author.