Wednesday, September 30, 2009


By Chuck Miller

Lux Interior was the sort of person who invited the most outlandish rumor and speculation about his personal life. Which is ironic, since he was probably considerably more stable than most of his fans-- this reporter included. I mean, how many people do you know who stay married to the same person for 37 years because they really want to?
I am just now getting around to slogging through everything that has been written about his life and death since February. I just did not have the heart for it through the spring and summer. But there's something about the Fall that makes things easier, or at least more tolerable. It's almost October, and that means Lux's birthday, my birthday and Halloween. Time to buck up and take a look. I discovered, not surprisingly, an early rumor that Lux was a victim of autoerotic asphyxiation. I suppose the heroin overdose he was rumored to have died of in the 1980s was no longer sensational enough. I'm only surprised the rumor mill stopped there. It is fortunate indeed that he didn't live near a horse ranch in Seattle.

I'm a displaced Akronite myself. A little too young to have had firsthand knowledge of the Mad Daddy or Ghoulardi (though I was a huge fan of his successor, the Ghoul), but some of the other cultural (if that's the right word) icons (if that's the right word) that went into the crucible that produced Lux were still there. I actually lived in Cuyahoga Falls, which was right next to Lux's hometown of Stowe. For a few years there, we probably lived within five or six miles of one another.
And I, too, ended up playing in a band that was an homage to my inspirations-- in this case, the Cramps. I did not come up with a stage name, but I had this person in me that only came out on a stage in a club late at night, and it's a damn good thing. This person would do or say absolutely anything. He wasn't me, and yet he was. Possibly he was more me than the one who walked by day.
And I did not consciously invent him. More like I discovered him living down in my basement, so to speak. Which makes sense, when you consider the fact that most of us spend about 90 percent of our time refraining from doing whatever it is we REALLY want to do.
So, you can see that I'm not saying the Lux Interior stage persona was a phony, or even that it was artifice as such. In many ways, I suppose it was the purest distillation of what Erick Lee Purkhiser really was. However, it was a more complex and abstract creation than most people ever realized. Many observers took Lux's stage persona at once too seriously and not seriously enough, without really understanding just what they were seeing, and they got it hopelessly confused with the man behind it. Which it both was and was not.

As with most great fiction, it was closer to the truth than mere reality; it was authentic on a level the "real world" seldom reaches. And it is perfectly consistent with the man who was known and loved by his family and friends.

Now do you understand?

-- Chuck Miller

Sibling recalls Lux Interior, punk icon

Mike Purkhiser remembers artistic, music-loving brother who was a great inspiration

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal music writer

To a couple of generations of music fans, he was Lux Interior, lead singer for campy punk and rockabilly icons the Cramps, seldom seen without his guitarist and wife of 37 years, Poison Ivy.

But to Mike Purkhiser, Lux Interior was just Rick, his older brother by nine years (their eldest brother Ron, 67, lives in Florida) and friend.

Mike Purkhiser, a musician who played with the Action and the Walking Clampetts and is currently sound engineer for Beatles tribute band 1964, remembers the man behind the patent leather pants and mascara. Lux Interior, who was 62, died Feb. 4 of a pre-existing heart condition at a hospital in Glendale, Calif.

Purkhiser remembers the young man who used to watch, listen and absorb the antics of Ernie ''Ghoulardi'' Anderson and Pete ''Mad Daddy'' Myers, the talented artist who always loved music and shared it with his younger sibling, though not always with the most noble intentions.

''He always had a lot of records, and when I was a kid, I was always coming up in his room and I'm sure I was pestering him, so he would make me promise that if I could be quiet for 24 hours, he'd give me a record,'' Purkhiser said.

''And I'd think, 'Man, that's a really good deal, I don't have to say nothing and I'll get a record?' And it didn't dawn on me until years later when I thought 'Damn him, he was just trying to get me to shut up for a day.' I did get a lot of records,'' he said laughing.

Purkhiser says all three brothers shared a dark sense of humor.

''Rick was definitely the one into Ghoulardi and Mad Daddy, and basically what the Cramps became is what he was into his whole life,'' he said.

When Rick left Akron for California in the late '60s, he was still an artist, while Mike was already playing guitar in bands. Mike recalls a letter he received from Rick.

"Basically he said 'I want to do what you're doing, I want to play in a band and make music like you do,' '' he said.

"And I thought that was pretty cool because I always knew him as an artist and as a music lover but not as a musician or performer.''

While in California, Rick met Ivy, and in 1973 the new couple moved back to Akron while deciding what to do with themselves. They worked odd jobs, saw movies and concerts at the Akron Civic Theatre and scoured garage sales and flea markets for rare albums and 45s. They would bring their finds to the family home and excitedly listen to the new vinyl treasures.

When Mike Purkhiser thinks of his brother, he says he thinks of both Rick and Lux, because Erick Lee Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace were Lux Interior and Poison Ivy for so long and the personas were so strong, most folks probably think the pair went grocery shopping in leather pants and 6-inch stilettos, or slept hanging upside-down like vampire bats. But though they wrote kitschy, provocative songs such as All Women Are Bad and Beat Out My Love, the couple's love for each other was more storybook romance than horror movie.

''They seemed very much like soulmates,'' Purkhiser said. ''They just loved each other, they were always seen together and they might have had disputes between the two of them, but I never heard them say a bad word about each other the way some couples do.''

During that transitional time, the pair started the Cramps, and Purkhiser recalls watching early rehearsals with drummer Miriam Linna shortly before they moved to New York and joined the punk scene centered around CBGB's. Though Purkhiser doesn't remember the first time he saw the Cramps onstage, he fondly recalls his band, the Action, playing a few gigs with them at the fabled club in 1977. Interior's wild stage antics managed to shock even the hardened NYC punk crowd, though Purkhiser was less surprised.

''It was so Ghoulardi, so Mad Daddy, it was that whole kind of schtick and I knew that was what Rick was all about and Ivy, too. So that didn't surprise me. The music surprised me because it was so raw, and I was the Beatles fan and he was the Stones fan, he liked the raw stuff. But later I realized what it was all about — it was about the feeling and the emotion just like those early records were. They weren't really doing anything too different than the early rockabilly or blues records, they just put their own twist on it,'' he said.

Mike Purkhiser said his brother and sister-in-law never aspired to be rock stars but were wholly dedicated to the rockin' beast they created.

''I think if they never got any notoriety out of it and they were just bound to play basements the rest of their lives, they would have been happy doing that. It wasn't about the money or about the fame. They just wanted to play rock 'n' roll.''

Purkhiser says it's hard to believe his big brother is actually gone.

''I was his first fan. He was pretty much preaching the rock 'n' roll gospel at a young age, like 'listen to this record' or 'listen to that record,' and I just always looked up to him,'' he said.

''I just thought he was the greatest, he was so inspiring and so alive. It's hard to think of him as dead right now because he was so alive. It just seems like he was somewhere else right now. And it's the same with Ivy, I swear I never heard those two down,'' he said.

Purkhiser said Rick and Lux were two sides of the same coin, and he has found some comfort in reading the many comments online praising his brother and the band for touching fans' lives. But while he knows the most indelible images of his brother will always be Lux Interior writhing on the floor in black leather briefs or hopping like a bunny on speed while singing to mental patients at Marin County Hospital (a popular video on YouTube) while Ivy bangs out three-chord rock, he also hopes people realize that underneath all the makeup, leather and B-movie schtick were two real people.

Purkhiser said that when he would take friends to meet Lux and Ivy, they would usually assume they were going to step into a horror-movie funhouse where the pair would play the creepy hosts. But unfailingly, those folks would come back and tell Purkhiser how surprised they were that the two were so ''normal.''

''They were so kind and so down to earth, and you'd expected that when you went to see them it would be some kind of horror show or they would act real creepy. But they were just very, very genuine people.''

1997 CRAMPS interview- free MP3 download:

Erick Lee Purkhiser (October 21, 1946 – February 4, 2009), better known as Lux Interior, was an American singer and a founding member of the legendary garage punk band The Cramps from 1976 until his death in February 2009. Born in Akron, Ohio, he grew up in the Akron and Stow, Ohio area. He met his wife Kristy Wallace, better known as Poison Ivy, a.k.a. Ivy Rorschach, in Sacramento in 1972, allegedly while she was hitchhiking. The couple founded the band and moved from California to Ohio in 1973 and then to New York in 1975 where they became part of the flourishing punk scene. Lux Interior's name came "from an old car commercial", having previously flirted with the names Vip Vop and Raven Beauty, while his wife's name change was inspired by "a vision she received in a dream". The couple called their musical style psychobilly, originally claiming it to have been inspired by a Johnny Cash song, and later saying that they were just using the phrase as "carny terms to drum up business." Lux Interior died at 4:30 a.m. on February 4, 2009, in Glendale, California. The cause of death was aortic dissection. He is survived by his wife Ivy and two brothers, Michael Purkhiser and Ronald "Skip" Purkhiser. The memorial service for Lux was held on February 21st at the Windmill Chapel of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. This was a very private ceremony but a report of it, agreed to by Ivy, has been posted for fans of Lux by long time friend Jonny Whiteside. Lux's brother, Mike, also provided insight into his relationship with Lux in a newspaper article. (Wikipedia)

Aortic dissection is a tear in the wall of the aorta that causes blood to flow between the layers of the wall of the aorta and force the layers apart. Aortic dissection is a medical emergency and can quickly lead to death, even with optimal treatment. If the dissection tears the aorta completely open (through all three layers), massive and rapid blood loss occurs. Aortic dissections resulting in rupture have an 80% mortality rate, and 50% of patients die before they even reach the hospital. If the dissection reaches 6 cm, the patient must be taken for emergency surgery.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Le Morte d'Intérieur II

Lux Interior's Astral Ascension: Jonny Whiteside's Report from the Ceremony

The death on February 4 of Erick Lee Purkhiser, BKA Cramps singer Lux Interior -- singer, writer, artist, 3D photographer, daredevil, shape shifter. Mojo Man from Mars, Ding Dong Daddy from Diddy Wah Diddy (as his surviving longtime partner in crime Poison Ivy described him) was as numbing and unacceptable a trauma as can be imagined, a black hole of tragedy that pulled the hearts of innumerable fans and friends down to the bitter deep end, but there had to be a formal farewell.

A public observance was unthinkable. Just picture the teeming, tearful confederacy of scum who'd show up. But Ivy hit on the perfect spot. Tucked off Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, the Self Realization Fellowship - Lake Shrine, a fave Elvis hang when he was in town during his mid-60's extracurricular spiritual quest, is an unspeakably beautiful setting and was ideal for Lux Interior's send-off, administered via an appropriately offbeat ceremony, the Astral Ascension.

Held on February 21 inside a reproduction of a 18th century windmill, the trans-denominational service was performed before an ornate sandalwood altar with a backdrop of six portraits -- Jesus, Krishna and the Fellowships own assorted founding gurus; the mood was muted, bleak, and Ivy's entrance brought a flood of tears; clad in form fitting leopard print, she placed a Hurrell-style glamour portrait of Lux beside the rostrum where speakers would address the crowd of 50 or 60 people.

Minister Brahmachari Dale explained their hope-filled transitional view of death, read from the Bhagavad-Gita, recited the 23rd Psalm, and exhorted attendees to concentrate on sending messages of love to Lux's spirit -- and damn, kiddies, it felt like he was right there in the room (when Ivy was arranging the service, she mentioned a similar predisposition, and the coordinator replied, "Oh, he will be there").

Next, a musical interlude, Mary Mayo 's "For All We Know," an evocative, psychedelic R&B ballad with simmering bubble sound effects and eerie theremin runs; musician and longtime Lux and Ivy chum Dave Stuckey spoke first, and his recollections brought booms of laughter: "We had gone to see [R&B star] Young Jesse at a very fancy French restaurant, and when Lux sat down at the table, he immediately picked up the elaborately folded napkin and put it on his head. It made a very nice hat." At a Swap Meet, Lux came across a huge table of bootleg rock videos, one of them a Cramps tape. As Stuckey described it, he said "Watch this," approached the seller, who was busy organizing his wares, held up the video "and asked him -- in that voice -- 'How much for this one?' The guys eyes bugged out and he stammered "It's . . it's . . free."

Self-Realization Center - Lake Shrine, scene of Lux Interior's Ascension Ceremony.

Former Mumps keyboardist Kirstian Hoffman, who had first allied himself with the couple at CBGB's almost 35 years ago, spoke next and began by pointing first at Lux's photo and then the portrait of Jesus, saying "I want to put this picture over there." He also drew gales of additional yucks by talking about what a great visual artist Lux was, a fact emphasized when he produced a long player album by NYC rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon, whose head shot cover art had been magnificently vandalized, a la Mad Magazine, with blacked teeth, a van dyke beard and a Rat Fink style swarm of flies (Lux's ire was raised by Gordon's choice to cover Cramps staple "The Way I Walk"). Hoffman also read a message from guitarist Kid Congo Powers (on tour in Europe), an affectionate, slightly skewed homage that reinforced just what a profound affect Lux had made on the lives of anyone who saw him perform or was fortunate enough to know him.

Dale proceeded; a flower ceremony, a fire ceremony, the Astral Ascension Prayer, a closing benediction and a final song, the Charades' version of 1939 Duke Ellington hit "Flamingo." A severely cramped doo-woppy arrangement fraught with trashy guitar that, taken with the song's surrealist lyrics, provided a perfect coda. The stunned crowd, including Russ Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough, comic-Sponge Bob voice Tom Kenny, In the Red Records' Larry Hardy, Johnny Legend, Charmin' Allan Larman, a slew of local underworld rock types and 3D camera buffs (an abiding passion of Lux's), wandered outside.

A reception followed at Silver Lake's Edendale Grill, much grimly carouse, a looping slide show of Lux baby and childhood shots, candid snaps (i.e. Lux wearing panties on his head -- they made a very nice hat) and assorted live combat action photography. Muted chatter ensued and in an unexpected twist, I met the guy who was driving the day he and Lux famously pulled over to pick up a hitchhiker, who turned out to be Poison Ivy. "I only knew Lux for about three years, but I knew Erick very well," he said. "Back then, I was his psychedelic partner, you might say, and a few years ago I got an e-mail from him saying "you don't know who this is" -- of course I did -- "but do you remember when we picked up that really pretty girl hitchhiker and your dog Wheezer jumped all over her? Well I've been jumping all over her for the past 35 years and we have a band called the Cramps."

A first hand account of that fabled meeting was a knock out, but the finality of the day's tone overrode all else. As Poison Ivy herself wrote in the service-accompanying program, "Lux seemed like a creature from another world, with one foot already out of this dimension. As much as we might wonder 'Where are you now?' we can also wonder 'Where on Earth did you come from?' Now that's a mystery!"

Monday, September 28, 2009



"For novelty use only, not sold for prevention of disease!"

Seduction of the Innocent is a book by American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, published in 1954, that warned that comic books were a bad form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book was a minor bestseller that created alarm in parents and galvanized them to campaign for censorship. At the same time, a U.S. Congressional inquiry was launched into the comic book industry. Subsequent to the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, the Comics Code Authority was voluntarily established by publishers to self-censor their titles. Seduction of the Innocent cited overt or covert depictions of violence, sex, drug use, and other adult fare within "crime comics"—a term Wertham used to describe not only the popular gangster/murder-oriented titles of the time, but superhero and horror comics as well. The book asserted, largely based on undocumented anecdotes, that reading this material encouraged similar behavior in children. (Wikipedia)

The Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, and The Haunt of Fear are three bi-monthly horror comic anthology series published by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The Vault of Horror hit newsstands with its April/May 1950 issue and ceased publication with its December/January 1955 issue, producing a total of twenty-nine issues. The title was popular, but, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, comic books came under attack from moralizing parents, clergymen, schoolteachers, and others who believed the books contributed to illiteracy and juvenile delinquency. In April and June 1954, highly publicized Congressional subcommittee hearings on the effects of comic books upon children left the comics industry shaken. With the imposition of the highly restrictive Comics Code Authority, EC Comics publisher William Maxwell Gaines canceled The Vault of Horror and its two companion titles in September 1954. All three titles have been reprinted at various times since their demise and have been adapted for television and film.

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Seduction of the Innocent
BY Dr. Fredric Wertham

1. "Such Trivia As Comic Books"
Introducing the Subject

"And I verily do suppose that in the braines and hertes of children, which be membres spirituall, whiles they be tender, and the little slippes of reason begynne in them to bud, ther may happe by evil custome some pestiferous dewe of vice to perse the sayde membres, and infecte and corrupt the soft and tender buddes."
- Sir Thomas Eliot (1531)

Gardening consists largely in protecting plants from blight and weeds, and the same is true of attending to the growth of children. If a plant fails to grow properly because attacked by a pest, only a poor gardener would look for the cause in that plant alone. The good gardener will think immediately in terms of general precaution and spray the whole field. But with children we act like the bad gardener. We often fail to carry out elementary preventive measures, and we look for the causes in the individual child. A whole high-sounding terminology has been put to use for that purpose, bristling with "deep emotional disorders," "profound psychogenic features" and "hidden motives baffling in their complexity." And children are arbitrarily classified - usually after the event - as "abnormal," "unstable" or "predisposed," words that often fit their environment better than they fit the children. The question is, Can we help the plant without attending to the garden?

A number of years ago an attorney from a large industrial city came to consult me about an unusual problem. A group of prominent businessmen had become interested in a reformatory for boys. This attorney knew of my work in mental hygiene clinics and wanted me to look over this reformatory and advise whether, and how, a mental hygiene department could be set up there. "Very good work is done there," he told me. "It is a model place and the boys are very contented and happy. I would like you to visit the institution and tell us whether you think we need a mental hygiene clinic there."

I spent some time at that reformatory. It was a well laid out place with cottages widely spaced in a beautiful landscape. I looked over the records and charts and then suggested that I wanted to see some individual children, either entirely alone or with just the attorney present. There was considerable difficulty about this. I was told that it would be much better if the director or some of his assistants would show me around and be present during any interviews. Eventually, however, I succeeded in going from cottage to cottage and seeing some boys alone. I told them frankly who I was and finally asked each child, "Supposing I could give you what you want most, what would you choose?" There was only one answer: "I want to go home."

The children's logic was simple and realistic. The adults said this was not a jail because it was so beautiful. But the children knew that the doors were locked - so it was a jail. The lawyer (who heard some of this himself) was crestfallen. He had never spoken to any of the inmates alone before. "What a story!" he said. "They all want to get out!"

I remember contradicting him. The real story is not that they want to get out, I said. The story is how they got in. To send a child to a reformatory is a serious step. But many children's court judges do it with a light heart and a heavy calendar. To understand a delinquent child one has to know the social soil in which he developed and became delinquent or troubled. And, equally important, one should know the child's inner life history, the way in which his experiences are reflected in his wishes, fantasies and rationalizations. Children like to be at home, even if we think the home is not good. To replace a home one needs more than a landscape gardener and a psychiatrist. In no inmate in that reformatory, as far as I could determine, had there been enough diagnostic study or constructive help before the child was deprived of his liberty.

The term mental hygiene has been put to such stereotyped use, even though embellished by psychological profundities, that it has become almost a cliché. It is apt to be forgotten that its essential meaning has to do with prevention. The concept of juvenile delinquency has fared similarly since the Colorado Juvenile Court law of half a century ago: "The delinquent child shall be treated not as a criminal, but as misdirected and misguided, and needing aid, encouragement, help and assistance." This was a far-reaching and history-making attitude, but the great promise of the juvenile-court laws has not been fulfilled. And the early laws do not even mention the serious acts which bring children routinely to court nowadays and which juvenile courts now have to contend with. The Colorado law mentions only the delinquent who "habitually wanders around any railroad yards or tracks, or jumps or hooks to any moving train, or enters any car or engine without lawful authority."

Streetcar hoppings like streetcars themselves, have gone out of fashion. In recent years children's-court judges have been faced with such offenses as assault, murder, rape, torture, forgery, etc. So it has come about that at the very time when it is asked that more youthful offenders be sent to juvenile courts, these courts are ill prepared to deal with the types of delinquency that come before them. Comic books point that out even to children. One of them shows a pretty young girl who has herself picked up by men in cars and then robs them, after threatening them with a gun. She calls herself a "hellcat" and the men "suckers." Finally she shoots and kills a man. When brought before the judge she says defiantly: "You can't pin a murder rap on me! I'm only seventeen! That lets me out in this state!"

To which the judge replies: "True - but I can hold you for juvenile delinquency!"

Some time ago a judge found himself confronted with twelve youths, the catch of some hundred and fifty policemen assigned to prevent a street battle of juvenile gangs. This outbreak was a sequel to the killing of a fifteen-year-old boy who had been stabbed to death as he sat with his girl in a parked car. The twelve boys were charged with being involved in the shooting of three boys with a .22-caliber zip gun and a .32 revolver. The indignant judge addressed them angrily, "We're not treating you like kids any longer. . . . If you act like hoodlums you'll be treated like hoodlums." But were these youths treated like I 'kids" in the first place? Were they protected against the corrupting influence of comic books which glamorize and advertise dangerous knives and the guns that can be converted into 'deadly weapons?

The public is apt to be swayed by theories according to which juvenile delinquency is treated as an entirely individual emotional problem, to be handled by individualistic means. This is exemplified by the very definition of juvenile delinquency in a recent psychopathological book on the subject:


"We have assigned the generic term of delinquency to all these thoughts, actions, desires and strivings which deviate from moral and ethical principles." Such a definition diffuses the concept to such an extent that no concrete meaning remains. This unsocial way of thinking is unscientific and leads to confused theory and inexpedient practice. For example, one writer stated recently that "too much exposure to horror stories and to violence can be a contributing factor to a child's insecurity or fearfulness," but it could not "make a child of any age a delinquent." Can such a rigid line be drawn between the two? As Hal Ellson has shown again recently in his book Tomboy, children who commit serious delinquencies often suffer from "insecurity and fearfulness." And children who are insecure and fearful are certainly in danger of committing a delinquent act. Just as there is such a thing as being predelinquent, so there are conditions where a child is pre-insecure, or prefearful. Would it not be better, for purposes of prevention, instead of making an illogical contrast between a social category like delinquency and a psychological category like fearfulness, to think of children in trouble - in trouble with society, in trouble with their families or in trouble with themselves? And is it not likely that "too much exposure to horror stories and to violence" is bad for all of them when they get into trouble, and before they get into trouble?


In the beginning of July, 1950, a middle-aged man was sitting near the bleachers at the Polo Grounds watching a baseball game. He had invited the thirteen-year-old son of a friend, who sat with him excited and radiating enthusiasm.

Suddenly the people sitting near by heard a sharp sound. The middle-aged man, scorecard in hand, slumped over and his young friend turned and was startled to see him looking like a typical comic-book illustration. Blood was pouring from his head and ears. He died soon afterwards and was carried away. Spectators rushed to get to the vacant seats, not realizing at all what had happened.

In such a spectator case the police go in for what the headlines like to call a dragnet. This had to be a pretty big one. In the crowded section of the city overlooking the Polo Grounds there were hundreds of apartment buildings in a neighborhood of more than thirty blocks, and from the roof of any of them someone could have fired such a shot. As a matter of fact, at the very beginning of the search detectives confiscated six rifles from different persons. Newspapers and magazines played up the case as "Mystery Death," the "Ball Park Death" and "The Random Bullet."

Soon the headlines changed to "Hold Negro Youth in Shooting" and the stories told of the "gun-happy fourteen-year-old Negro boy" who was being held the authorities. Editorials reproached his aunt for being "irresponsible" in the care and training of the youngster" and for "being on the delinquent side of the adult ledger."

In the apartment where this boy Willie lived with his great-aunt, and on the roof of the building, the police found "two .22-caliber rifles, a high-powered .22-caliber target pistol, ammunition for all three guns, and a quantity of ammunition for a Luger pistol."

This served as sufficient reason to arrest and hold the boy's great-aunt on a Sullivan Law charge (for possession of a gun). She was not released until the boy, who was held in custody all during this time, had signed a confession stating that he had owned and fired a .45-caliber pistol - which, incidentally, was never found.

In court the judge stated, "We cannot find you quilty, but I believe you to be guilty." With this statement he sentenced Willie to an indeterminate sentence in the state reformatory.


For the public the case was closed. The authorities had looked for the cause of this extraordinary event, which might have affected anyone in the crowd, in one little boy and took it out on him, along with a public slap at his aunt. They ignored the fact that other random shootings by juveniles had been going on in this as in other sections of the city. Only a few days after the Polo Grounds shooting, a passenger on a Third Avenue train was wounded by a shot that came through the window. But with Willie under lock and key, the community thought that its conscience was clear.

It happened that I had known Willie for some time before this shooting incident at the stadium. He had been referred to the Lafargue Clinic - a free psychiatric clinic in Harlem - by the Reverend Shelton Hale Bishop as a school problem. He was treated at the Clinic. We had studied his earliest development. We knew when he sat up, when he got his first tooth, when he began to talk and walk, how long he was bottle fed, when he was toilet trained. Psychiatrists and social workers had conferences about him.

Wille had been taken care of by his great-aunt since he was nineteen months old. His parents had separated shortly before. This aunt, an intelligent, warm, hard-working woman, had done all she could to give Willie a good upbringing. She worked long hours at domestic work and with her savings sent him (at the age of two) to a private nursery school, where he stayed until he was eight. Then she became ill, could not work so hard and so could not afford his tuition there. He was transferred to a public school where he did not do so well, missing attention he had recieved at the private school.

At that time his aunt took him to the Lafargue Clinic. He had difficulty with his eyes and had to wear glasses which needed changing. According to his aunt he had occassionally suffered from sleepwalking which started when he was six or seven. Once when his great-aunt waked him up from such a somnambulistic state he said, half-awake, that he was "going to look for his mother." He was most affectionate with his aunt and she had the same affection for him. She helped him to get afternoon jobs at the neighborhood grocery stores, delivering packages.

Thanks, Red Ryder

Willie was always a rabid comic-book reader. He "doted" on them. Seeing all their pictures of brutality and shooting and their endless glamorous advertisements of guns and knives, his aunt had become alarmed - years before the shooting incident - and did not permit him to bring them into the house. She also forbade him to read them. But of course such direct action on the part of the parent has no chance of succeeding in an environment where comic books are all over the place in enormous quantities. She encountered a further obstacle, too. Workers at a public child-guidance agency connected with the schools made her distrust her natural good sense and told her she should let Willie read all the comic books he wanted. She told one of the Lafargue social workers, "I didn't like for him to read these comic books, but I figured they knew better than I did." The Lafargue Clinic has some of these comic books. They are before me as I am writing this, smudgily printed and well thumbed, just as he used to pour over them with his weak eyes. Here is the lecherous-looking bandit overpowering the attractive girl who is dressed (if that is the word) for very hot weather ("She could come in handy, then! Pretty little spitfire, eh!") in the typical pre-rape position. Later he threatens to kill her:

"Yeah, it's us, you monkeys, and we got an old friend of yours here... Now unless you want to see somp'n FATAL happen to here, u're gonna kiss that gold goodbye and lam out of here!"

Here is violence galore, violence in the beginning, in the middle, at the end:


(This is an actual sequence of six pictures illustrating brutal fighting, until in the seventh picture: "He's out cold!")

Here, too, is the customary close-up of the surprised and frightened-looking policeman with his hands half-raised saying:


as he is threatened by a huge fist holding a gun to his face! This is followed by mild disapproval ("You've gone too far! This is murder!") as the uniformed man lies dead on the ground. This comic book is endorsed by child specialists who are connected with important institutions. No wonder Willie's aunt did not trust her own judgment sufficiently.

The stories have a lot of crime and gunplay and, in addition, alluring advertisements of guns, some of them full-page and in bright colors, with four guns of various sizes and descriptions on a page:

Get a sweet-shootin' [mfg's name] gun and get in on the fun!

Here is the repetition of violence and sexiness which no Freud, Krafft-Ebing or Havelock Ellis ever dreamed could be offered to children, and in such profusion. Here is one man mugging another, and graphic pictures of the white man shooting colored natives as though they were animals: "You sure must have treated these beggars rough in that last trip though here!" And so on. This is the sort of thing that Willie's aunt wanted to keep him from reading.