Saturday, April 4, 2020

Know your Henry Whiteheads by Karen Joan Kohoutek

Readers of classic pulp literature, particularly in the world of Weird Tales, may be familiar with the tales of Henry S. Whitehead, collected by Arkham House in Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales (1944) and West India Lights (1946). Researchers should note that there were two Henry Whiteheads writing and publishing in the same time-frame, and it's easy to mix them up in casual searches. Both were clergymen in the Anglican (U.K.)/Episcopalian (U.S.) church, who traveled to far-off countries, then considered "exotic," as part of their religious duties, and are best known for their work on the local customs and perceived superstitions that they observed.
Henry S. Whitehead
The Weird Tales Whitehead, Henry S. (St. Clair), lived from 1882–1932. Born in New Jersey and educated at Harvard, he went to the Virgin Islands, where he became an archdeacon. He began publishing fiction in 1923, often based on his impressions of voodoo and supernatural beliefs in the West Indies. Like most Weird Tales writers, he eventually corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, as described in Bobby Derie's valuable essay "Conan and Canevin: Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead."
His father was another Henry, Henry Hedden Whitehead (1846–1937), who mainly appears in the public record as a naval veteran of the American Civil War, and as a member of the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution (Henry S.'s great-great-great-grandfather, Sergeant Joshua Marsh, served in the War of Independence).
Henry Whitehead
The elder contemporary, Henry Whitehead (1853–1947), was a British Anglican who emigrated to India, first to Calcutta, and then to Madras, where he served as Bishop for many years. His book The Village Gods of South India, originally published in 1916 and expanded in 1921, is still referenced in modern scholarship. This is a valuable early resource for his first-hand observations of South Indian religious practices, if you can squint around the framing prejudices and obvious misconceptions.
This Henry Whitehead came from a notable family: the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was his brother, and his son, J.H.C. Whitehead, also known as Henry, became a well-known mathematician. J.H.C. Whitehead lived from 1904-1960, and moved to Princeton, New Jersey, to attend the university in 1929. While born in New Jersey, Henry S. had moved several times, and in this same year was settling for good in Dunedin, Florida, where he'd be visited by H.P. Lovecraft, so the two Henry Whiteheads wouldn't have crossed paths.
Henry Whitehead
A Google search will likely bring to the top another, even more acclaimed Henry Whitehead, who was, yes, yet another Anglican clergyman. He lived from 1825-1896, and was featured in Steven Johnson's 2006 bestseller The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic, and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World. Serving a parish in the London slumbs, this Whitehead became invovled in researching the cause of a cholera outbreak. Converted by evidence -- grudgingly -- to the contamination theory, his painstaking documentation of cases and deaths, used to track the course of the disease, is considered an important milestone in the development of epidemiology.
I have been unable to find evidence that any of these three Henry Whiteheads were related, although it's possible there's a connection I haven't come across. If you have information, please pass it along!
Derie, Bobby. "Conan and Canevin: Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead." Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others. Hippocampus Press, 2019.
"Reverend Henry Whitehead." UCLA Department of Epidemiology, Fielding School of Public Health.

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