[Elmer Brown Mason wrote only one story for Adventure. I came across him in the excellent collection, The Golden Anaconda, from Off-Trail Press. John Locke, the editor of the book, mentions that there is some mystery about the author, and I was intrigued enough to try and find out more.
He wrote stories set around the world, in Borneo, Africa, South America and the swamp country in the US. Some of his stories centred around animals – with the heroes usually trying to collect rare animals for one reason or the other. These rare animals included an albino otter, a white gorilla, a dinosaur and a large black butterfly. The stories are usually set in places that he had personally visited, so there is an authentic flavor to them. More after the break.]
|Elmer Brown Mason c. 1903
Elmer Brown Mason was born September 30, 1877, in Deer Lodge, Montana. Even the date of birth is a puzzle. He put down 1880 as his year of birth in official documentation, but the 1880 census has him listed as a 3 year old in his family, indicating 1877 is correct.
He was the son of Captain Roswell Henry Mason, surveyor general of Montana, captain in the 72nd Illinois in the Civil War and recorder of the Illinois Commandery of the Loyal Legion, and Mary (Brown) Mason of Rome, N. Y. His grandfather was the Hon. R. B. Mason, mayor of Chicago at the time of the Chicago fire and builder of the Illinois Central Railroad. Sometime in his childhood, his family moved back to Chicago.
He had a younger brother, Roy Murdock Mason. It looks like his family was well off, for he was educated at a prep school (University School in Chicago), and studied abroad as well. A count by his brother (who also attended Yale) listed nineteen Yale graduates in the family, and he says he may have missed five or six more. He was admitted into Yale in 1898, studied there till 1900, and is listed in the class of 1902 and 1903 – looks like Yale didn’t know for sure either when he was there. He mentions that he served in the Spanish American war of 1898 as second lieutenant of Company B of Colonel Koch’s regiment of United States Provisional Volunteers.
While at Yale, he contributed to the college magazine, The Yale Literary Magazine. In 1900, he switched to Princeton, and graduated from there with a B.A. in 1903. While there, he wrote articles for magazines, including one that appeared in the Nassau Literary magazine.
For the next ten years, he took many jobs, while roaming around America. This was the time he was travelling, with the general pattern being that he would accumulate a stake, toss a coin to pick one of two places he wanted to go to, and travel there while the stake lasted. Then he’d come back and get another job to build up another stake. His travels took him to Borneo, the Sunderbans in India, Europe, South America and the South of America.
Immediately after graduating, he went to New York, where he “wrote up French towns for the international Encyclopedia until the blamed thing got to Z”. He worked with Dodd, Mead & Co., working on Book Prices Current for them. He then joined Harper Bros., working in their subscription book and advertising departments.
His next job was as a reporter on the New York Sun for a short time, and from there he went to Scribner’s subscription book department. After that, he roamed around the Adirondack woods one winter. Then he tried to setup a real estate and advertising business on his own in New York. This led to his becoming the manager, mortgage loan department for White & Tabor in Chicago.
Another interval was spent in the woods (he doesn’t say which woods). Then he returned to New York where he was engaged in advertising a literary work. In 1909, he went to the Yale Forest School, Milford, Pa., for one summer then up into the New Hampshire lumber woods where he worked for the International Paper Co. as a common lumber—jack, working his way up to landing boss, checker to scaler and head chopper. He was finally put in charge of a job on the Connecticut River where he put a million b.f. of spruce into the drive. At this time, he also sold a story on lumberjacks to the Hampton’s Magazine in 1911.
The next year, he spent spring and winter at the Yale Forest School. New Haven, Conn., and then went into the Bureau of Entomology, U. S. Department of Agriculture. He was assigned to the Forest Insect Field Station 7, Spartanburg, S. C., to fight the Southern Pine Beetle. He went there as the most junior man and came away in charge with the high sounding title of Entomological Assistant, Branch Forest Insects, Bureau of Entomology, U. S. Department of Agriculture, in charge of South Atlantic and Gulf States, but was more widely known as “the bug man”, so christened by Governor Blease of South Carolina. While on the job, he started writing “scientific articles” and “unscientific stories” for magazines to supplement what he called his “meager government salary”.
As part of his job, he went around and delivered 49 addresses on the Southern Pine beetle from Houston, Texas, to Raleigh. N.C. and had 68 articles in various lumber journals and other magazines on the same subject. He states that he “saw pretty much all of the darkest South, got shot at twice and stabbed once in an illicit whiskey still in North Carolina, and generally had a good time”. Then he returned to Washington where he was engaged in research work and publicity for the Bureau of Entomology.
In 1912, he resigned his job and came to New York where he was the Assistant Advertising Agent for the Lackawanna Railroad for six months. Then he rejoined the advertising business, possibly as an advertising agent for Vogue and Vanity Fair. He quit his job in October, 1914 and tried to earn a full time living from story writing. In 1915, his father died.
He was successful at selling his stories, and this was probably the peak period of productivity for him. He sold thirty-one stories in 1916. He was living in Abingdon, Virginia at this time. 1917 saw him enlisting in the army, and he attended the Officer’s Training Camp, Fort Meyer, Virginia. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He served with the K Company of the 120th Infantry in the 30th Division of the American Expeditionary Force.
He came home in 1918 and described his war experience in a letter to a Yale alumni magazine:
“Yes, I’m back in New York and darned glad to be sleeping in a bed instead of the mud around Le Mons, also I appreciate a bath a little oftener than now and then. In fact I’m glad that the sacré war is over.
I was on the other side for seventeen months, first at Ypres (where I got wounded and gassed) and later at the assault on Bellecourt (where I got wounded twice and gassed once). After that I spent six weeks in an English hospital In London. On November 11th I was in a small town called Eu and woke up the morning of the twelfth in the mayor’s bed with a hat very prettily trimmed with corn-flowers on my head. It was some party, believe me!
The 30th Division spent the winter freezing and swimming around Le Mons where I was claim adjuster, town major, and anything else that required a knowledge of French. When the Division went home I weighed only 110 pounds so got myself sent to the A.E.F. University at Beaune where I had a beautiful gold brick time and puffed out quite a bit. I was mustered out in July.
“My military record consists mostly of being wounded, (I was always too scared to run), and a Croix de Guerre which I am sure belongs to someone else. I got a German forester in one bunch of prisoners and also met Koomey at Beaune. He was in an engineer outfit. He wanted to go to Armenia but I don’t know whether he succeeded or not.
“I’m writing stories as usual, may or may not get married, and wish I could go to the School all over again—will if the spirit moves me much harder.”
The war wounds and his increasing age – he was forty one by the time he came out of the Army – combined to stop him travelling about. He didn’t like that very much, but continued selling stories, though not of travel and adventure anymore. His stories at this time are nothing outstanding, just regular, run of the mill stories that appeared in Munsey’s magazine.
He took up a job as a copy editor at around this time with Barton, Durstine & Osborne, better known to us today as BBDO. In this connection, he worked with the American Cancer Society. While I cannot be sure that this was the same person, I also think he shared a platform with Madame Curie as a speaker for a meeting on October 31, 1931. The meeting was organized by the New York City committee of the American Society for the Control of Cancer.
By 1926, he had stopped writing. 1926 saw only one story that I can find a record of. In 1926, a newspaper article refers to his wife, Mrs. May Stanley Mason (neé Finch), who was herself a writer for the magazines.
He retired from the advertising business in 1933, and moved to La Jolla, California. The next news from him is of his marriage to Mrs. Edith Hart Dunne. It was a second marriage for both of them; she already had three children from her previous marriage.
I could not find out what happened to end his first marriage, nor could I find out what happened to May Stanley. Update: I found out that May Stanley Mason passed away on 27 Jun 1938 in La Jolla, California. In his retirement, he took up book collecting, and collected first editions of American authors, among them Mark Twain and Thoreau.
The 1950s saw a mini-revival of interest in Elmer Brown Mason’s stories, with Fantastic Novels and Famous Fantastic Stories reprinting his early stories from the All-Story Weekly and The Popular Magazine. I wonder what he made of that, I did not see any comments from the author on the reprints in the four issues I looked through. These reprints are wonderfully illustrated by Virgil Finlay; here is an illustration from “The Albino Otter”.
|Illustration by Virgil Finlay for the Elmer Brown Mason story, The Albino Otter
Elmer Brown Mason passed away on 19 July, 1955, in La Jolla, California, leaving behind his wife, his three step-children, and a wonderful set of stories. Links to books in print: