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Letters to Planet Slade: February 2010

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Murder Ballads
Secret London

January 5, 2010: Glancing through PlanetSlade's stats in early January, I noticed a new name in the list of links referring people over here: a flickr page showing this 1903 Tit-Bits postcard.
    It's a souvenir card commemorating the Hitchen spot where one of the magazine's buried money tubes was found. The sign reads: "This is the exact spot where the 500 sovereigns were hidden". The people gathered round have, I assume made the trip simply to bask in the glory of visiting such a remarkable site.
    I was delighted to see this, because the Tit-Bits competition directly inspired the Weekly Dispatch scheme I wrote about in Treasure Hunt Riots. I'd never seen photographs from either hunt before, so I e-mailed Catherine Feely, the Manchester PhD student who'd posted the card on flickr, asking if she'd like to sell it. She wrote back as follows:

"Thanks for your e-mail. No worries about giving your site a plug - your article was fascinating. Having written my MA thesis about Tit-Bits a few years ago, I knew a little about the Tit-Bits competition but not about the Weekly Dispatch.
    "I'd be very happy for you to reproduce the postcard on your site, with credit to my full name. I haven't got my act together enough to put anything on the web about my work on
Tit-Bits (I am now doing a PhD on something entirely different!), but I would be happy for this e-mail address to be put on there with an invitation for people to e-mail me if they want to talk about the paper.
    "I don't really want to part with the original as I am now building a little collection of
Tit-Bits ephemera. My boyfriend found the card on Ebay a few weeks ago, so I am afraid there is no romantic discovery story about it being in my grandfather's attic or somesuch!
    "Anyway, very glad to be in touch and I will continue to scan
Tit-Bits competition/advertising stuff if I come across it. I think these are artefacts that should be shared."

The e-mail address Catherine gave me is, where I'm sure she'd be glad to hear from other Tit-Bits collectors ar anyone with an interest in the magazine's history.

January 11, 2010: Elsewhere in the forest, my Lobby Lud article led a couple of message board folk to recommend a piece in the December 2009 issue of Wired (the American edition rather than the British one). The magazine hired a freelance writer called Evan Ratliff to erase or disguise all traces of his digital identity, sent him off on a mystery tour of the US and challenged its uber-nerd readers to locate him by whatever on-line means they could devise. The first person to find him and utter the code word "Fluke" would win $5,000.
   Evan managed to stay undetected for a full month, making him the closest thing we have yet to a Lobby Lud for the digital age. When I read the Wired piece, I was amazed by the similarities between his own experiences and Lobby's, so I dropped him a line asking if their two stories struck him the same way. Here's what he had to say:

"Many thanks for the note, and the link to the piece. Fantastic, and well told! I'd seen a couple people reference Lobby Lud while I was on the run, and had looked up the basics of it, but your account is wonderful.
   "Completely fascinating, and in so many ways similar to what I went through: the false accusations (there were less in my vanishing, but still quite a few I heard about); his standing in proximity to the poster with his photo on it (I did that at a newsstand in Santa Monica, standing there reading the
Wired issue with my picture in it); the growing fear on the newspaper's part that nobody would find him (Wired had the same, and started releasing more info as a result); the depression that set in after a while on the "run;" people taping his picture up and studying it (I heard from people who did exactly that for me).
    "Many of them also told me how difficult it was to walk up and challenge someone in public. It's a very awkward interaction. And the Mrs. Lobby Lud feature, growing out of women feeling uncomfortable challenging men, is a more extreme period version of that.The parallels, as you say, are uncanny.
    "You'd think I'd have heard of Lobby Lud before I started, but I hadn't! If I had, I might have borrowed a few ideas from it. I love the standard reply for someone using the wrong phrase: 'You are making a mistake'. I also had never heard the Agatha Christie story before. Fascinating as well.
    "Love the way you are producing your own long-form reporting at your site. In any case, thanks again and all the best."

   You can read Evans full account of his life on the run here at and his subsequent updates on its aftermath at
February 13, 2010. Darlene Spears writes: "I am the great, great niece of Martin Van Buren Bates from Kentucky. My great, great grandfather was his brother Robert Bates. You've done an excellent job documenting Martin and Anna's story. I have learned so much from your work!
    "I grew up in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and heard many stories about Martin throughout my childhood. My grandmother told of how her parents would put two beds together to accommodate his size when he came to visit. My cousin has an old worn-out shoe sole of Martin's that was found in a field on the old homestead. Needless to say, it is huge. I will photograph it when I return to the States and e-mail it to you.
    "I am presently in London and am interested in visiting sites and getting information about my uncle's life here. We were here for three weeks last fall, and I visited St-Martin-in-the-Fields several times. It was such a treat imagining them walking down that aisle! We are going to Trafalgar Square now for a walk, and I hope we can find Craven Street while there.
    "Again, thank you for the great work you have done on Martin and Anna."

Paul Slade replies: You're very welcome, and how nice it is to hear from one of Martin's own relatives. Please do send me a photo of that shoe sole when you get back home, as I'd love a chance to post it on the site.

Message board round-up

I took advantage of the Christmas break this year to put some of PlanetSlade's Murder Ballads material up on a Harper Collins site called Authonomy. The idea of this site is that would-be authors post their work there and the site's users vote on its merits. The five books which get most votes from the 5,000 or so titles it has on-line get a professional read and a written report from Harper Collins' editors. Once in a blue moon, they might even publish something they find there.
    As I write this, my own efforts have peaked at 910 and been steadily dropping ever since. The exercise did produce a few encouraging comments, though, which I've extracted with my usual rampant egotism and included in the box to your right. You'll find my Authonomy page here ( and the rest of the box copy's sources below.




The Straight Dope

Time Out

Ukulele Cosmos

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Fans (Germany)

Warmest words witter wisdom while we wallow

On Stagger Lee
“A clear and thorough account. Well written and fascinating.” - Peter Tarnofsky, Authonomy.

On Hattie Carroll
“That's really excellent.” - Lostchords, The Never Ending Pool.

“I greatly admired your analytical and informative essay.” - MtheGM, Mudcat

“Interesting article, Slade.” - Koeeoaddi, The Straight Dope.

“Looks good.” - Jackobob, The Never Ending Pool.

“Very interesting.” - Mrrzy, Mudcat.

On Lobby Lud
“A fascinating read.” - Peter Watts, Time Out London.

“Wonderful stuff, Paul. A great article.” - EnglishFolkFan, Mudcat.

“Astonishingly exhaustive.” - Holly Gramazio, Sandpit.

“Fascinating and meticulously researched.” - Chris M Dickson, Haloscan.

“Excellent.” - Chez Guevara, The Straight Dope.

“A fascinating and entertaining story.” - Ximenean, The Straight Dope.

“Highly entertaining.” - Andrea Prandenberg, Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Fans (Germany).

“Fascinating story.” - Kevan Davis, Sore Eyes.