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More winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for pretentious writing — the best of the worst.

Snoopy-4

2013

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palpable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.

— Christ Wieloch, Brookfield, Wisconsin

GRAND PANJANDRUM’S SPECIAL AWARD

“Don’t know no tunnels hereabout,” said the old-timer, “unless you mean the abandoned subway line that runs from Hanging Hill, under that weird ruined church, beneath the Indian burial ground, past the dilapidated Usher mansion, and out to the old abandoned asylum for the criminally insane where they had all those murders.”

— Lawrence Person, Austin, Texas

WINNER, ADVENTURE CATEGORY

“I told you to wear sensible shoes, but no, your vanity would not allow it!” he yelled at me, as if that had something to do with the airplane crashing into the jungle and all the bodies draped in the trees, but it was just the sort of nonsense I was used to from him, making me wish one or the other of us was hanging dead above us, instead of Rodney.

— Thor F. Carden, Madison, Tennessee

WINNER, CRIME CATEGORY

It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole in my car trunk.

— Tonya Lavel, Barbados, West Indies

DISHONORABLE MENTION

The dame was stacked, both conventionally and in that she was the third of five bodies piled against the wall, the wall’s earth tones reminding me of Grandmother’s house, which figured, since it was her house, she having stacked the bodies there after poisoning them, so I studied the bodies as I munched on Grandmother’s ginger snaps and felt a twinge in my stomach.

— Kenneth Bennight, San Antonio, Texas

DISHONORABLE MENTION

The dame that walked into my office was statuesque and looked like she ought to be standing on a bed of roses… in other words, she looked exactly like the garden gnome my ex-wife had stuck in our flower bed, next to a bird bath that attracted a whole lot of bills, much like my in-tray, which was lousy with them.

— Jackie Fuchs, Los Angeles, California

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2014

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

When the dead moose floated into view, the famished crew cheered — this had to mean land! — but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear-headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.

— Elizabeth Dorfman, Bainbridge Island, Washington

WINNER, ADVENTURE CATEGORY

“Listen, Control!” snarled Captain Dan McMurdo across the ether, “I’ve got one engine shut down, the other running on fumes, a seriously wounded co-pilot who won’t last an hour, 53 refugee orphans down the back, and a nun for a radio operator, so turn the goddam landing lights on goddam pronto — sorry, Sister.”

— Gavin Dobson, no address

WINNER, PURPLE PROSE AWARD

He was a stolid man, prone to excessive and extended bursts of emotionlessness; but when Maurice loved, he loved with the passion of a dog itching its face against the grain of a firm-pile carpet.

— Stephen Sanford, Seattle, Washington

DISHONORABLE MENTION

My name is Caroline, and if you’re reading this I’m either dead or I’ve gotten lost in some alternate dimension where Liverpool has exploded and been replaced with a fancy water park… though it’s probably the first one.

— Aiko Baker, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

DISHONORABLE MENTION

I will not repeat what she said when she came home and found out I’d been straying Endust on her dog and throwing treats under the bed to get him to harvest the dust bunnies, but you wouldn’t think a young lady would even know any words like that.

— J. Andrew Cleland, Gray, Tennessee

DISHONORABLE MENTION

“One cannot easily shake off old habits,” was all that retired Detective Tim O’Hara could say when, after rifling through the dead old man’s pockets (which, as he expected, were all empty), inspecting his throat, and forcing open his cold, stiff hand to get fingerprints, he was gently but firmly pulled away from the coffin by his brother Harry and piloted out of the parlor under the perplexed stares of Uncle Mel’s friends and relatives.

— Jorge Stolfi, Campinas, Brazil

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With that, you are fully up to date on the BLFC. The winners for 2015 will be announced soon.

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I have been seriously remiss. Too much time has passed since I last reported on the winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for pretentious writing.

The BLFC, sponsored since 1982 by San Jose State University, is a bad writing contest. It is inspired by the purple prose of Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1872).

How purple? This is the opening sentence of Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel “Paul Clifford”:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Awesome.

The contest challenges the writing public to compose their own equally bombastic opening sentence of an imaginary novel. Each year, entries pour in by the thousands. Here are some of the recent winners.

Snoopy-1

2010

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

— Molly Ringle, Seattle, Washington

RUNNER-UP, PURPLE PROSE AWARD

The wind whispering through the pine trees and the sun reflecting off the surface of Lake Tahoe like a scattering of diamonds was an idyllic setting, while to the south the same sun struggled to penetrate a sky choked with farm dust and car exhaust over Bakersfield, a town spread over the lower San Joaquin Valley like a brown stain on a wino’s trousers, which is where, unfortunately, this story takes place.

— Dennis Doberneck, Paso Robles, California

DISHONORABLE MENTION

— Elaine was a big woman, and in her tiny Smart car, stakeouts were always hard for her, especially in the August sun where the humidity made her massive thighs, under her lightweight cotton dress, stick together like two walruses in heat.

— Derek Renfro, Ringgold, Georgia

DISHONORABLE MENTION

As Ethel arranged the list of company phone numbers under her clear plastic desk cover, perfectly aligning the lower right corner of the list with the lower right corner of the plastic, then swiveling her chair to file one more inter-office memorandum on trimming the budget, she considered how different her life might have been if her parents had named her Tiffany.

— Judy Fischer, Prospect, Kentucky

Snoopy-2

2011

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

— Sue Fondrie, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

WINNER, WESTERN CATEGORY

The laser-blue eyes of the lone horseman tracked the slowly lengthening lariat of a Laredo dawn as it snaked its way through Dead Man’s Pass into the valley below and snared the still-sleeping town’s tiny church steeple in a noose of light with the oh-so-familiar glow of a Dodge City virgin’s last maiden blush.

— Graham Thomas, St. Albans, U.K.

DISHONORABLE MENTION

She gazed smolderingly at the mysterious rider, his body cloaked in enough shining black leather to outfit an Italian furniture store, wrapped so tightly each muscle stood out like a flamboyant Mexican hairdresser at an Alabamian monster truck rally; and he met her gaze with an intensity that couldn’t have been matched by even a starving junkyard dog in the meat aisle of a suburban supermarket.

— Chris Kemp, Annapolis, Maryland

DISHONORABLE MENTION

Day broke upon the Baroness von Hestach with the pitiable insistence of all that she despised — a gray and unattractive intrusion into her sumptuous bedchamber, much like the Baron.

— Holly Kohler, Concord, Massachusetts

Snoopy-3

2012

WINNER, HISTORICAL FICTION CATEGORY

The “clunk” of the guillotine blade’s release reminded Marie Antoinette, quite briefly, of the sound of the wooden leg of her favorite manservant as he not-quite-silently crossed the polished floors of Versailles to bring her another tray of petit fours.

— Leslie Craven, Hataitai, New Zealand

WINNER, ADVENTURE CATEGORY

The stifling atmosphere inside the Pink Dolphin Bar in the upper Amazon Basin carried barely enough oxygen for a man to survive — humid and thick the air was, and full of little flying bugs, making the simple act of breathing like trying to suck hot Campbell’s Bean with Bacon Soup through a paper straw.

— Greg Homer, Placerville, California

WINNER, CRIME CATEGORY

She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on… not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and — just like that cheap paint — the dress needed two more coats to cover her.

— Sue Fondrie, Appleton, Wisconsin

DISHONORABLE MENTION

Ronald left this world as he entered it: on a frigid winter night, amid frantic screams and blood-soaked linens, while relatives stood nearby and muttered furious promises to find and punish the man responsible.

— Rebecca Oas, Atlanta, Georgia

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The awesomeness continues in my next post.

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Last month, I wrote a very subjective post about the subjective topic of poetry.

In it, I presented several poems considered to be among the great works, and I rudely dismissed them as being pretentious and a waste of time.

I also presented several other poems that, in my subjective judgment, are examples of GOOD poetry — clear in meaning and eloquently presented. Plenty of good stuff is out there, my friends.

Here are more poems that don’t suck. I picked out short ones, so you can enjoy them like Skittles or popcorn.

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First Fig

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light!

——————

Those Winter Sundays

By Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

——————

If

By Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

——————

Requiem

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

——————

Funeral Blues

By W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message “He is Dead.”
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

——————

Resume

By Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

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My previous post was about the late Margaret Wise Brown, an author of children’s books who bequeathed her future royalties to the nine-year-old son of a family friend.

Brown’s will stated:

“I give and bequeath all of my right, title and interest of every kind and nature in and to all books written by me and published by D.C. Heath & Co., William R. Scott Inc., Harper & Bros., Simon & Schuster, Lothrop Lee & Shepard & Co. Inc., Cadmus Books Agency, Harvill Press and Thomas I. Crowell & Co., and in and to all contracts for the publication thereof, to Albert Clarke, if he survives me.”

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In 1957, when Albert Edward Clarke III was 13, the executors of Margaret Brown’s estate estimated that the 79 titles Brown left to Albert would be worth about $17,500 when he turned 21. They valued the copyright to “Goodnight Moon” at $500.

But the Clarke family had more immediate concerns. As young Albert entered adolescence, his behavior was changing from mischievous to criminal.

At age 15, Albert was arrested twice, first for smashing a traffic light and then for taking a car on a joy ride. He was kicked off his high school wrestling team for fighting.

At age 17, he dropped out of school and left home. Living in an abandoned railroad car a few miles from his parents’ house, he stole milk and bread from the doorsteps of nearby homes. He used a sledgehammer to break into parking meters. He sneaked into his family’s kitchen at night to take food.

At 19, Albert joined the Merchant Marine, but was discharged after a confrontation with an officer. When he returned home, he was arrested at various times for burglary, vagrancy, assault, resisting arrest, criminal trespass, criminal possession of a weapon, and grand larceny.

Most of the charges were resolved with a fine, but once, after fighting in public, Albert was sentenced to three months in jail for disorderly conduct. Owing to a jail  fight, the sentence was extended to six months.

In 1964, on Albert’s 21st birthday, he and his father went to the office of Manhattan attorney Samuel Nadler to discuss Margaret’s Brown’s estate. They learned that about $75,000 had accumulated since Brown’s death.

Nadler appealed to Albert to invest the money. Instead, Albert gave half to his family and went on a spending spree with the rest. He was broke within a year.

But the royalties from Margaret Brown’s book rights were still trickling in. Nadler insisted on banking the money and starting Albert on an allowance of $125 per week.

Albert began a life of aimless wandering. Nadler sent the weekly checks by Western Union.

As the years passed, Albert lived idly and comfortably. His weekly allowance went up regularly — to $250, $300, $400.

His run-ins with the law continued. He faced charges of malicious mischief, attempted burglary, and marijuana possession. Nadler dutifully bailed Albert out of jail, represented him in court, and managed his affairs.

In 1970, Albert married a woman in Puerto Rico. Four years later, just days after their second daughter was born, Albert fled Puerto Rico to avoid prosecution on drug charges, leaving his family behind.

His ties with his parents and brothers also faded. Every few years, he spoke to one of his brothers by phone. In the fall of 1984, he learned of his father’s death months after the funeral.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Margaret Brown’s books was increasing. By 1987, the 40th anniversary of “Goodnight Moon,” sales surpassed two million copies. Nadler increased Albert’s weekly allowance to $800.

Albert began wandering the streets of Manhattan and sleeping in an old Dodge van. There, he met a homeless woman, took her in, and sobered her up. They married and had two children.

When Samuel Nadler died in 1992, his records showed that Albert’s accumulated royalties, minus the weekly checks, left some $500,000 in savings.

By then, Albert had not been arrested in five years. He began dealing directly with the publishers, who sent his royalty checks twice a year. Albert was still aimless and had never held a job, but he seemed stable and content.

By 2000, Albert was divorced again and living in a New York suburb. After an ugly custody dispute, in which he accused his wife of child cruelty, the family court gave him custody of the two children, Sharmaine and Albert IV.

In an interview that year, Albert told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he had spoken to his mother Joan only a few times over the years. She died of cancer in a nursing home in Maine in 1998.

In the interview, Albert referred to her as “Mrs. Clarke,” because he believed that Margaret Brown, not Joan Clarke, was his mother.

He claimed he learned the truth when he was 12, hiding behind the couch to eavesdrop on the adults. He said he heard Joan Clarke admit the truth to her sister-in-law.

“Margaret Wise Brown has left Alby an inheritance,” Albert quoted Joan as saying. “She’s left him about $15,000. And did you know that Margaret Wise Brown is his real biological mother?”

No one who knew Margaret Brown, personally or professionally, believes it. Friends said she could not have concealed a pregnancy, and probably wouldn’t anyway.

“It’s delusional thinking,” said Albert’s brother Austin. “It’s a fairy tale to make him feel better.”

At the time the Wall Street Journal profiled him in 2000, Albert was still living on his royalty checks, and he claimed to have about $27,000 in savings.

The Journal reported that Albert had been under investigation by a New York social services agency for verbally abusing the children. Albert denied it. The department declined comment.

After the 2000 interview, Albert and the children moved again and dropped from public view.

Today, if Albert is still alive, he is 72. Over the decades, he has gone through some $5 million in book royalties.

By law, Sharmaine and/or Albert IV will retain Margaret Brown’s copyrights until 2043.

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Fascinating stories are all around us.

Albert Edward Clarke III

Albert Edward Clarke III

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Fascinating stories are all around us.

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Margaret Wise Brown was a popular writer of children’s books in the 1940s. You know her as the author of the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon.”

Goodnight Moon

Brown was born in New York in 1910 to well-to-do parents. Her grandfather had been a U.S. Senator. The family lived in Brooklyn and summered in Maine.

In 1932, after graduating from college in Virginia, Brown took a job with a New York City publisher as an editor of children’s books.

Soon, encouraged by her employer, she began writing children’s books herself. She was so successful that in 1941, she left the company to write full time.

Brown was attractive, vivacious, socially prominent, and very much a free spirit. Friends called her Brownie and described her as whimsical and childlike. With her first royalty check, she purchased the contents of a street vendor’s flower cart and threw a party.

She once formed a group called the Bird Brain Society. Any member could declare a random day to be Christmas, and the others would gather to celebrate.

Although briefly engaged while in college, Brown never married. As her career blossomed, she had a succession of romances and affairs, often with men in her literary circle.

In 1940, she began a romantic relationship with the former wife of John Barrymore, actress and poet Michael Strange, who was 20 years Brown’s senior. They lived together from 1943 until Strange died in 1950.

Friends said the two were devoted to each other, but they quarreled often. Strange once said to a friend, “Why don’t you marry Margaret and take her off my hands?”

In 1952, Brown became engaged to James “Pebble” Rockefeller, the son of a Rockefeller and a Carnegie.  Later that year, on a book tour in France, while waiting for her fiancé’s yacht to arrive, Brown suffered sudden abdominal pains. She was rushed to a hospital, where she had surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

During her recovery, she performed a leg kick to show the doctor how well she was doing. The kick dislodged a blood clot that traveled to her heart and killed her instantly. She was 42.

Brown never had children of her own, but she always seemed insightful about their viewpoint and experiences. Her empathy was especially apparent with the children of Joan MacCormick, a close friend since the 1930s.

When Joan MacCormick married Albert Clarke, Jr. in the early 1940s, the Clarkes moved into an apartment next door to Brown. The three Clarke boys grew up thinking of Margaret Brown as part of the family.

Brown gave the boys gifts, encouraged them, and took them to her vacation home in Maine during the summer. The boys later recalled that Brown was more like one of the kids than a grown-up.

Of the three boys, Brown seemed fondest of the middle child, energetic and unruly Albert Clarke III.

In early 1952, Brown decided to make a will “so that the rapacious State of New York cannot take one-third of my horse brasses and Crispian,” her beloved dog.

Brown’s assets included real estate, stocks, jewelry, and her book rights.

She surprised everyone by naming nine-year-old Albert as the beneficiary of the rights to most of her books, effective when he became 21.

At the time, book sales were modest. “Goodnight Moon” sold only 6,000 copies the first year and was expected to go out of print soon. Brown probably thought the royalties would give Albert a small financial boost in future years.

Margaret Brown died six months after she made the will.

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In my next post, the story of Albert Clarke III.

Margaret Wise Brown.

Margaret Wise Brown.

Brown with Crispian, her Kerry Blue Terrier.

Brown with Crispian, her Kerry Blue Terrier.

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The Bird Girl statue is, in my humble judgment, an elegant and tasteful work of art.

If you were a knockoff artist looking to cash in on the statue’s popularity by manufacturing and selling cheap replicas and trinkets, surely you would make some effort to retain its better qualities. Surely.

Alas, no. Most of the unauthorized merchandise has been gaudy and cheap. Of the many replica statues that surfaced, you could count those described as elegant and tasteful on a closed fist.

You have to sympathize with the family of Sylvia Shaw Judson, the sculptor who created the Bird Girl back in 1936. Along with the statue’s copyright, Judson’s daughter and granddaughter inherited the task of fending off a steady stream of unauthorized junk.

After the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” became popular, both the internet and the shops of Savannah were flooded with low-quality, hastily marketed Bird Girl stuff. Some examples:

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You get the picture.

For years, the family fought back against wholesale copyright infringement, but it was a game of whack-a-mole. Stopping the tide of opportunistic merchandise was nearly impossible.

The family’s only real success came in 1998, when they authorized the manufacture of faithful reproductions of Sylvia Judson’s original sculpture. They contracted with Potina, a North Carolina art company, to produce high quality versions of the Bird Girl in miniature. The result was very handsome.

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The Potina statues are made of fiberglass, marble dust, and resin. Versions are available from 15 inches to three feet tall, ranging in price from $100 to $400. Also available is a very nice Bird Girl fountain, if you have major bucks.

To appreciate fully the quality and craftsmanship of the authorized pieces, you have to compare them to some of the unauthorized knockoffs.

Brace yourself.

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By the way, the last photo in that cringe-inducing rogue’s gallery was taken two weeks ago in front of a store a few miles from my house.

You may recall that in 1997, Clint Eastwood directed a movie version of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Alice Judson Hayes, the sculptor’s daughter, later recalled that Warner Brothers asked for a copy of the statue to use in the film.

Hayes said she sent the production company a fiberglass replica and asked that it be returned after filming.

When the statue came back, Hayes reported, the arms had been broken off at some point and glued back on. Backwards.

She said she could tell because the Bird Girl’s thumbs faced the wrong way.

The production company offered no explanation. You stay classy, Warner Brothers.

A few years ago, I purchased one of the 15-inch versions of the Potina replicas, and she is a beauty. I proudly display her at home, like a fine museum piece, on a handsome walnut corner table.

I checked, and her arms and thumbs are on straight.

An old tourism bureau decal. Maybe authorized, maybe not.

An old tourism bureau decal. Maybe authorized, maybe not.

 

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Thanks to the success of the 1994 best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the Bird Girl statue at Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery gained national fame. And fame, as you know, can be both a blessing and a curse.

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The “Bird Girl” was created in 1936 by Sylvia Shaw Judson, a sculptor in Lake Forest, Illinois. A Massachusetts family had commissioned the piece for use as a garden sculpture.

Judson used an eight-year-old girl as the model. The four-foot bronze statue depicts a demure female figure in a simple dress, head tilted, elbows at her side. She holds two bowls that serve nicely as bird feeders.

Four statues were cast. One went to the Massachusetts family. Two others went to buyers in Washington, D.C. and Lake Forest.

The fourth was purchased by the Trosdal family of Savannah for use at the family plot at Bonaventure Cemetery. They called the statue “Little Wendy.”

In a cemetery filled with ornate Victorian statuary, Little Wendy was simple and modern, and she raised eyebrows among some traditionalists.

But she was undeniably striking, elegant, and appropriate for the serene setting at Bonaventure. She soon took her place as one of the many sculptures at the cemetery that residents admired and proudly showed off to visitors.

For five decades, the statue remained a familiar fixture at the cemetery. When I was growing up, the Bird Girl was a must-see when we went to Bonaventure. To me, she was no less a Savannah landmark than the beach, the downtown squares, and the seafood restaurants.

Then “The Book” was published.

In 1993, Savannah photographer Jack Leigh was hired to create the cover art for Berendt’s novel. Berendt suggested that Leigh look for a suitable subject at Bonaventure.

Late on his second day of searching, near dusk, Leigh came upon the Bird Girl at the Trosdal family plot. He took a photograph in the fading light.

Back at his studio, he set about editing the photo. He manipulated the contrast to suggest a moonlit night and accentuated the halo of light around the statue’s head. This is the result.

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The inscription on the footstone, a verse often used at graveside, is from Second Corinthians: We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the lord.

Midnight-mania had an immediate impact on Bonaventure, Tourism surged. Visitors came in great numbers, individually and in tours, to see the Bird Girl.

At first, the Trosdal family was flattered by the attention. But excess soon reared its ugly head. As the crowds grew, heavy foot traffic began to damage the ground and the vegetation.

At the request of a worried Trosdal family, the cemetery management removed the location of the plot from the public registry. Tourists found it anyway.

Finally, after several lowlifes chipped off pieces of the Bird Girl’s base for souvenirs, the Trosdal family removed the statue from Bonaventure.

Today, the Bird Girl resides on the third floor landing at the Telfair Museum of Art in downtown Savannah. She is under the protection of a guard seated nearby whose job is to prevent anyone from touching the statue or taking pictures.

It’s a sad ending to those of us who remember the Bird Girl when she was still at Bonaventure, at home among the oaks and moss and azaleas and gravestones.

The view down Bonaventure Way toward the Wilmington River.

The view down Bonaventure Way toward the Wilmington River.

Bonaventure Cemetery is an enchanting place. It occupies the site of Bonaventure Plantation, a 600-acre estate founded in 1762. During the Revolutionary War, the plantation was confiscated from its owner, a British loyalist, and sold off in pieces.

In 1869, the plantation’s old family burial site was expanded under the name Evergreen Cemetery. The City of Savannah purchased it in 1907, made it public, and restored the name Bonaventure.

In 1867, naturalist John Muir camped at the cemetery for six nights while waiting on money from home. He proclaimed Bonaventure “one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures” he’d ever seen.

“I gazed awe-struck as one new-arrived from another world,” he wrote. “The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, the undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light.”

My very thoughts.

The Bird Girl was whisked away from Bonaventure for her own protection, but plenty of exquisite statues are still there. Here are some of them.

The

The “broken angel” at the Taliaferro family plot.

The pensive angel contemplating a dove.

The pensive angel contemplating a dove.

The weeping angel.

The weeping angel.

The child angel holding a shell. My personal favorite.

The “shell girl,” a beautiful marble angel at the Baldwin family plot. My personal favorite.

Gracie Watson died of pneumonia in 1889 at age six. The statue's nose was chipped in the 1940s when a little boy hit it with a rock.

Gracie Watson died of pneumonia in 1889 at age six. The statue’s nose was chipped in the 1940s when a little boy hit it with a rock.

This is the grave of Corinne Lawton, who died in 1877 at age 31. According to legend, she was forbidden to marry her true love, who was beneath her station; then, on the eve of an arranged marriage, she threw herself into the Wilmington River. Not so. Documents proved that she died in bed at home after a long illness.

This is the grave of Corinne Lawton, who died in 1877 at age 31. According to legend, she was forbidden to marry her true love, who was beneath her station; then, on the eve of an arranged marriage, she threw herself into the Wilmington River. Not so. Documents proved that she died in bed at home after a long illness.

Sylvia Shaw Judson never saw her Bird Girl sculpture achieve fame. She died in 1978, and her daughter inherited the copyright to the statue.

The daughter spent years fighting copyright infringement, notably the marketing of cheap Bird Girl replicas. After the daughter’s death in 2006, the copyright passed to one of the granddaughters.

Some of the knockoffs are truly awful. More about that in my next post.

Springtime at Bonaventure.

Springtime at Bonaventure.

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