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Win tickets to see Masquerade's golden hare

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

Those nice people at London's Victoria & Albert Museum are staging a British Design show later this year, and one of its prize exhibits will be the exquisite golden hare medallion Kit Williams made for his 1979 puzzle book Masquerade.
Aside from one very brief appearance when it was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1988, and another at Williams' 2009 gallery show, this will be the hare's very first public display. It'll be on show at the V&A from March 31 to August 12 this year, and they've donated two pairs of exhibition tickets for me to give away.
The hare spent 30 months buried in a park near Bedford, sparked a global craze among the world's treasure hunters and sold over a million books. It launched a scandal when it was finally found, had to be sold in a bankruptcy auction and was then spirited overseas by the anonymous buyer. It took two BBC documentaries - one of which I helped to make - before the hare could eventually be brought back to England and reunited with its maker. You'll find the full story here.
All you have to do to enter our competition is answer this question:

Who was the veteran rock star who wrote the songs for Masquerade's 1982 run as a London stage musical?

Was it:    a) Rick Wakeman     b) Rod Argent     c) Pete Townshend     

Send your answers to PlanetSlade, using the e-mail link here.

The tickets are valid for any date during the exhibition's four-month run. I'll draw two entries at random from all the correct answers received by midnight on March 31, 2012 (London time), notify the winners by e-mail and get their tickets in the post next day.
The V&A show, titled British Design 1948-2012 will have more than 300 items on display, including a 1961 E-type Jag, a Brownie Vectra camera, the original photo from David Bowie's Aladdin Sane LP, and an Alexander McQueen evening gown. It will also include work by David Hockney, Laura Ashley and Brian Long.
The period it covers has been chosen to span the years from Britain's Austerity Olympics of 1948 to the Games' return here in July. "As people around the world will be focussing on the UK in the summer of 2012, this is an ideal moment to showcase British innovation, taste and creativity," says V&A director Martin Roth.

Letters to Planet Slade: March 2012

October 27, 2011. Stephen Miller, an explosives consultant with Live Action FX in Newbury, Berkshire, writes:
"I just stumbled across your account of Masquerade, and spent two hours reading it all in detail. Being a fan of Kit William's work and the original treasure hunt, I knew most of the story already, but had never seen such an eloquent portrayal of the whole saga.
"Thank you very much for producing this excellent write-up and spawning the radio documentary which eventually led to the hare returning briefly to Britain. I happened to catch the BBC Four programme, and I remember the emotion from John Rousseau when the hare was revealed at the Portal gallery. Would you mind if I suggested that the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club linked to your write-up from their website?"

Paul Slade replies: I really enjoyed writing and researching the Masquerade story in all it's various incarnations, and I'm delighted you enjoyed it. I don't think I've ever had a letter from an explosives consultant before either, but what a great job description to have on your business cards!
The more people link to PlanetSlade, the happier I am, so please do contact the ATHC guys and recommend the site by all means. Any PR help I can get is always much appreciated, and that's why I've just added the Twitter buttons you'll now find at the top of every PlanetSlade page.
So far, my bulletins have included news of fresh content on the site, updates from my research trips, capsule reviews of the hundred-odd plays I see every year, love-struck gibberings about various new albums and any little snippets I think might make people laugh. To sign up, just click here.


December 3, 2011: Robert McLaren of King's College, London, writes:
"I'm writing a piece on The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and I'm using your essay as a source, since it seems to me to be the most detailed and well-sourced account.
"I'm interested in the reactions of the guests of the Spinster's Ball to Zantzinger's behaviour. In the Washington Post profile of 1991, it's written that "when a black waitress failed to address him [Zantzinger] as 'sir', he hit her across the buttocks with his cane, then hit her again, harder, until somebody grabbed him and she fled in tears to the pantry" (my italics).
"As you know, nothing in this profile is referenced - and it makes some factual errors elsewhere - so I am little sceptical. Do you know anything about this? And is there anything more you could tell me about what you have learned about the reaction of the staff and guests at the time? This would be a great help."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter - I do try to research and source my stuff as carefully as possible, so I'm glad you found that useful.
I've just looked through my Hattie Carroll file to check the earliest newspaper reports of her death, but I can't find anything that seems to provide a source for the italicised section of the
Washington Post paragraph you quote.
The waitress in question was Ethel Hill, and there's several reports published immediately after the ball itself which mention Zantzinger hitting her with his cane and her fleeing to the pantry as a result. I can't find any reference confirming that someone grabbed Zantzinger at that precise point of the evening, but the suggestion is consistent with other first-hand accounts from the ball. Efforts to restrain Zantzinger may well have been sporadic or half-hearted, but they were there nonetheless.

Time magazine's edition of February 22, 1963, for example, reports that someone punched Zantzinger in the stomach after he'd drunkenly lunged at the wine waiter and deliberately snagged that waiter's neck chain with his cane. The Afro-American of December 14, 1963, reporting Jane Zantzinger's disorderly conduct trial, quotes court testimony that another guest "knocked Zantzinger cold" when the drunken farmer took a swing at him.
Both those incidents happened before he attacked Carroll herself, and it was that attack which prompted Hal Whittaker to finally wrench the cane away from him and break it into pieces - an intervention first reported in March 23, 1963's Afro-American.
These are the closest we have to direct first-hand accounts of what happened that night, and while none of them directly confirm the Washington Post's assertion, they certainly suggest there's no reason to disbelieve it either. At this distance in time, I think that's about the best we can do.

October 26, 2011. Tyler Dolan of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, writes:
"I am currently researching the Pearl Bryan murder and I was wondering if you could help me out. I noticed that you included quotations from Dr. Carothers' unpublished memoir in your piece.
"If you could help point me in the right direction to obtain a copy of this transcript, or let me know where it is located, that would be very much appreciated. Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you."

Paul Slade replies: The only copy of Dr Carothers' memoir I've ever seen is a photocopy of some sheets in his own hand-writing, which I think I was given by one of the staff at Campbell County Museum in LaFollette, Tennessee. They have a small collection of Pearl Bryan material there, which I assume must include Carothers' original document.
Your other option would be to contact Cincinnati's Public Library, and ask them to dig out The Cincinnati Post of May 2, 1956, from their records. This issue includes an article headlined "Old Notes Bare Details of Pearl Bryan Slaying"which reproduces some long extracts from Carothers' memoir. He'd just died at that point, and no-one knew the memoir even existed until it was found among his effects.
Good luck with your research - it's a fascinating story, isn't it?

Message board round-up

The sources for my latest selection of blurbs (Lots of literate luminaries...) can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.


Bowery Boogie


Fortean Times

Lorne Bair

Moorcock's Miscellany


Sing a Song of Murder

Many masterful messengers mouth my merits

On Pearl Bryan
"Very impressive." - Robert Wilhelm, Murder By Gaslight, via e-mail.

"Great Research." - Becky in Tucson, Mudcat.

"Truly a fascinating read." - Fort Thomas Matters website.

"Fascinating!" - Nancy King, Mudcat.

"Good job." - John Mendell, via e-mail.

"Great." - 999, Mudcat.

On Murder Ballads
"An original spin.I've never come across anything quite like it." - Ross Brodie, Authonomy.

On Stagger Lee
Great article, well presented." - Cartoonist Kim Deitch, The Comics Journal website.

"Great article," - Patrick Ford, The Comics Journal website.

On Lobby Lud
"A marvellous feature." - Weaver, UK Game Shows website.

On Necropolis Railway
"Amazing to believe we have a history like this that has been largely forgotten."- VirginPRO, RailUK Forums.

"Very interesting, if a little strange." - DarloRich, Rail UK Forums.

A good, long article." -

"It is very interesting." - Klambert, Rail UK Forums.

On PlanetSlade
"Fascinating reading." - Spleen Cringe, Mudcat.

On Insect Horror
"Rather perverse." - Tim Hodler, The Comics Journal.

"Insects are weird." - Hayley Campbell, Gosh Comics.