I Can’t Understand How Anyone Can Write Without Rewriting Everything Over and Over Again

Leo Tolstoy? A. B. Goldenveizer? Apocryphal?

tolstoy10Dear Quote Investigator: November is National Novel Writing Month; a participant is supposed to commit to writing 50,000 words during the 30 days of the month. Sustaining that pace would be difficult for me because I am irresistibly drawn to rewriting. The brilliant Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once said something about feeling compelled to rewrite his own published words whenever he saw them. Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please trace it?

Quote Investigator: In 1922 the diary of a Russian Music Professor named Aleksandr Borisovich Goldenveizer was published in Moscow. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Goldenveizer had been friends for nearly 15 years, and in the pages of the diary Tolstoy was referred to with the initials L. N. In 1923 selections from the diary were translated into English and then published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Goldenveizer recorded a remark made by Tolstoy about his compulsion to rewrite. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Yesterday L. N. spoke of the process of creative work:
“I can’t understand how any one can write without rewriting everything over and over again. I scarcely ever re-read my published writings, but if by chance I come across a page, it always strikes me: All this must be rewritten; this is how I should have written it.

Tolstoy also made clear to Goldenveizer that he did not trust the judgement of his audience about the completeness of his work:

“I am always interested to trace the moment, which comes quite early, when the public is satisfied; and the artist thinks: They say it is good; but it is just at this point that the real work begins!”

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  1. 1923, Talks with Tolstoi by A. B. Goldenveizer (Aleksandr Borisovich Goldenveizer), Translated by S. S. Koteliansky and Virginia Woolf, Chapter: 1899, Quote Page 26, Published by Leonard & Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press, Richmond, England. (Verified with scans)

Horticulture Pun

Dorothy Parker? The Virginia Spectator? The Daily Standard of Sikeston, Missouri? Alexander Woollcott? Anonymous?

garden11Dear Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker was famous for her coruscating wit, and she once employed a notoriously bawdy pun based on the word horticulture. Was she responsible for originating this pun?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker created the horticulture pun while she was participating in a word game at a party. She may have spoken it during a meeting of the famed Algonquin Round Table. These gatherings were held regularly by a group of columnists, playwrights, actors and other bright individuals at lunch within the Algonquin Hotel in New York City between roughly 1919 and 1929.

The earliest evidence, however, appeared several years later in 1935 in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell. The actual pun was too taboo to print in a newspaper in the 1930s; hence, Winchell’s comment was curiously cryptic. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Dorothy Parker can make up a sentence containing the word “Horticulture,” but hardly here.

A month later another gossip columnist named Harrison Carroll printed an elliptical comment that also linked Parker to the pun without sharing with readers the details of the witticism: 2

What was Dorothy Parker’s priceless offering when the gang at the James Gleason party were playing one of those “make a sentence with a word” games and someone suggested “horticulture”?

Special thanks to top researcher Bill Mullins who located the two citations given above.

The earliest account presenting a full version of Parker’s remark that QI has located was published in 1962 in a magazine of arts and literature called “Horizon”. An article by the prominent drama critic John Mason Brown referred to two puns. The first quip was based on the word “meretricious”, and an exploration of its provenance is available in another entry here. The second jest was ascribed to Parker. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

Frank Adams’s solving the problem of building a sentence around “meretricious” with “Meretricious ‘n’ a Happy New Year,” and Mrs. Parker’s solving the same problem with “horticulture” by coming up with “You may lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think”—these and a hundred others of their kind may by now have become enfeebled by familiarity. But they were born of a moment, and meant for that moment, and at that moment they were triumphant.

In addition to wordplay with “horticulture” Parker cleverly refashioned a very old English proverb about stubbornness: You may lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. As noted previously, when Parker delivered her joke it was too racy to be reprinted in contemporaneous books or periodicals published for a wide audience.

Interestingly, the first full instance of the pun known to QI was printed in 1952 embedded within a different sentence in a student periodical at the University of Virginia. The joke was not credited to Parker; details are given further below. Social mores have changed over the decades, and in 1990s protesters argued that the jest was insulting to sex workers.

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  1. 1935 March 1, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1935 April 19, Bradford Era Friday, Quote Page 12, Column 6, Behind the Scenes in Hollywood by Harrison Carroll, Bradford, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1962 July, Horizon: A Magazine of the Arts, Volume 4, Number 6, High Spirits in the Twenties by John Mason Brown, Start Page 32, Quote Page 38, Column 1, American Heritage Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

Love Triangles Generally Turn Out To Be Wrecktangles

Jacob M. Braude? Robert Byrne? Sally’s Sallies? Mary Pettibone Poole? Bob Burns? Jimmie Fidler? Anonymous?

triangle11Dear Quote Investigator: I love terrible puns and the following is a great example: 1

Most love triangles are wrecktangles.

The quotation collector Robert Byrne included this statement in “The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said” with an attribution to Jacob Braude. Would you please tell me more about its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Jacob M. Braude published a large number of compilations of sayings, quotations, and anecdotes. In 1955 he placed an instance with a slightly different phrasing into one of his books, and a detailed citation is given further below. However, this form of wordplay has a much longer history.

In 1866 “wreck-tangle” was used in the maritime realm instead of the domain of amour. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

How can you describe the cordage of a vessel, which has run ashore and broken up? By a wreck-tangle.

In 1877 “The Boston Daily Globe” engaged in more elaborate maritime wordplay by adding the groan-inducing terms “try-angle” and “rye-tangle”: 3

The unlucky captain of a New Bedford mackerel smack says he doesn’t want any more geometry in his. The fishing season coming round he went out for a try-angle and brought back a wreck-tangle.—Graphic. His misfortunes were probably caused by an overdose of rye-tangle.

By 1889 “The Weekly Pantagraph” of Bloomington, Illinois published another seaworthy geometrical variant: 4

It is no wonder that a square-rigged ship becomes a wreck-tangle in a storm.

Finally, by 1921 an anonymous joker applied the pun to illicit liaisons, and the result was printed in multiple newspapers such as “The Wichita Daily Eagle” of Wichita, Kansas and “Brooklyn Life” of Brooklyn, New York: 5 6

Al. Bert: “How do these love triangles usually end?”
Phil. Bert: “Most of them turn into a ‘wreck-tangle.'”

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  1. 2012, The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said by Robert Byrne, No Page Number, Quote Number 283, Touchstone: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1866 June 9, Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Local and Other Items, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Bangor, Maine. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1877 January 16, The Boston Daily Globe, Table Gossip, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1889 September 27, The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington Weekly Pantagraph), (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Bloomington, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1921 January 29, The Wichita Daily Eagle, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1921 March 26, Brooklyn Life: An Illustrated Home Weekly for Brooklyn and Long Island, Week in Society, Start Page 10, Quote Page 10, Column 1, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Suppose You Call a Sheep’s Tail a Leg, How Many Legs Will the Sheep Have?

Abraham Lincoln? John W. Hulbert? Pious Clergyman? George Bradburn? Anonymous?

sheep08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous riddle about the difference between a supposition and a fact:

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?
Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

There are different versions of this puzzler, and each is based on a different type of animal, e.g., a sheep, a calf, a horse, or a pig. But the template for the question and answer remains the same. Abraham Lincoln has usually been given credit for this instructive brainteaser. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Abraham Lincoln did employ this comical riddle by 1862, and detailed citations are given further below. But Lincoln was referring to a conundrum that was already in circulation.

The earliest evidence located by QI was published in multiple newspapers in 1825. The “Berkshire Star” of Massachusetts published a set of “Legislative Anecdotes” while acknowledging the “Washington County Post” of New York. One tale was told by John W. Hulbert who was a member of the New York House of Assembly. The story was about a parson who was interrogating a job candidate whom he disliked, so he employed a trick question to embarrass the jobseeker. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In the course of the debate, Mr. Hulbert remarked that the attempt to call the thing what it was not, reminded him of the story of a good old clergyman in Yankeetown who, though very pious, was fond of a joke.

The parson was sent for, to examine a young man who had offered himself for a school-master, but on his appearance before the trustees, the parson did not like his looks. When it came his turn to speak the parson said he would put a single question.

“Suppose,” said he, “you call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs will the sheep have?” “Why five, to be sure,” answered the would-be-school-master with an air of wisdom. “Very well” said the parson: “So if you call a sheep’s tail a leg, it is a leg, is it? But never mind, if the trustees say so, you may keep the school for what I care!”

In 1825 the riddle was further disseminated when it was reprinted in newspapers such as the “Woodstock Observer” of Woodstock, Vermont and the “Massachusetts Spy” of Worcester, Massachusetts. 2 3

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  1. 1825 April 28, Berkshire Star, Legislative Anecdotes, Quote Page 3, Column 3 and 4, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1825 May 24, Woodstock Observer, From the N.Y. Washington Co. Post Legislative Anecdotes (Acknowledgement to Washington Co. Post, New York), Quote Page 1, Column 3, Woodstock, Vermont. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1825 June 1, Massachusetts Spy, Legislative Anecdote (Acknowledgement to Washington Co. Post, New York), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Worcester, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

Why Not Go Out On a Limb? Isn’t That Where the Fruit Is?

Mark Twain? Will Rogers? Frank Scully? Arthur F. Lenehan? H. Jackson Brown? Mother of H. Jackson Brown? Shirley MacLaine?

apple09Dear Quote Investigator: To succeed one must be willing to take risks and to enter the precarious realm of punishments and accolades. Here are four versions of an expression that appears in many self-help books:

1) Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.
2) Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?
3) Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.
4) Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.

This notion has confusingly been attributed to two famous humorists: Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence supporting the linkage to either Mark Twain or Will Rogers.

The earliest instance located by QI was printed in the show business periodical “Variety” in September 1950. The journalist Frank Scully coined the memorable phrase and included it in his column “Scully’s Scrapbook”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

To people who urge you not to go out on a limb I have a new twist. I gave it to Ken Murray and before he can use it I’m giving it to my public. It’s this: Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?

Within a week the powerful and widely-syndicated commentator Walter Winchell reprinted the saying in a section of his column called “Quotation Marksmanship”, and Winchell credited Scully: 2 3

Frank Scully: Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?

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  1. 1950 September 20, Variety, Scully’s Scrapbook by Frank Scully, (Dateline: Dare’s Wharf, California, September 15), Quote Page 61, Column 4, Published by Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1950 September 25, The High Point Enterprise, In New York: Winchell, Winchell, Plus Winchellisms by Walter Winchell (Syndicated), Quote Page 4, Column 7, High Point, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1950 September 25, Lincoln Evening Journal, Walter Winchell Your New York Correspondent (Syndicated), Quote Page 11, Column 5, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)

If What You Gave Me Last Was Tea, I Want Coffee. If It Was Coffee, I Want Tea

Abraham Lincoln? Traveler? John Randolph of Roanoke? Apocryphal?

drink07Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend when Abraham Lincoln was served a cup of unpalatable brew he made the following hilarious remark:

If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.

I have not been able to find a solid citation for this saying. Are these really the words of Old Abe?

Dear Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this quip known to QI appeared in January 1840 in the “Madison Courier” of Madison, Indiana. The speaker was an unidentified “distinguished citizen of North Carolina”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It is said, that once, on an occasion when a distinguished citizen of North Carolina, was disgusted by the taste of some beverage or other which was placed before him at a public table to answer the place of coffee or tea, he exclaimed, ‘boy! if this is tea bring me coffee, and if it is coffee bring me tea.’

The same jocular item was disseminated in other newspapers in 1840 such as “The North-Carolina Standard” of Raleigh, North Carolina and “The Camden Journal” of South Carolina. 2 3

By 1852 the witticism had been assigned to a Congressman from Virginia with the moniker John Randolph of Roanoke. This ascription became common, but the supporting evidence was weak because Randolph had died many years earlier in 1833.

Special thanks to the fine researcher Barry Popik who located the January 1840 citation and the earliest citation crediting John Randolph. Popik’s webpage on this topic is located here.

By 1902 the remark had been re-assigned to the famous statesman Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865. Nowadays, this unlikely ascription has become prevalent. It is true that the joke was circulating while Lincoln was alive; thus, it was conceivable he employed it; however, QI has found no contemporaneous citations to support this possibility.

This entry presents a snapshot of what is known. The joke was initially linked to an unknown “distinguished citizen of North Carolina”, but the anecdote was prefaced with the locution “it is said” signaling that the tale was being relayed via indirect knowledge. Indeed, the scenario might have been concocted by an anonymous jokesmith. More may be learned by future researchers.

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  1. 1840 January 18, Madison Courier, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 1, Column 6, Madison, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1840 February 12, The North-Carolina Standard, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 4, Column 2, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Chronicling America)
  3. 1840 May 2, The Camden Journal, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 1, Column 5, Camden, South Carolina. (Chronicling America)

I Am the Civilization You Are Fighting For

George Bernard Shaw? William Butler Yeats? Anonymous? H. W. Garrod? Lord Dunsany? Lytton Strachey?

britmuseum08Dear Quote Investigator: While the First World War was raging an unhappy woman approached a famous British scholar and poet and rebuked him for not enlisting. She stated emphatically that young men were fighting and dying to defend civilization. Here are two versions of sage’s response:

1) But Madam, I am the civilization for which they are fighting.
2) Are you aware, Madam, that I am the civilization for which they are dying?

In the version of the tale I was told the riposte was delivered by the Oxford classical scholar H. W. Garrod. But other possibilities have been mentioned, e.g., Lytton Strachey and Bernard Shaw. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this story located by QI was published in August 1914 in a London periodical called “The New Age: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art”. The disparager was a soldier, and the respondent was an unnamed artist. The passage below employed the British variant spelling for “civilisation” with an “s” instead of a “z”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I heard another good retort of an artist upon a volunteer who reproached him for not enlisting. I, he said, am the civilisation you are fighting for.

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  1. 1914 August 20, “The New Age: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art”, Volume 15, Observations and Reflections by A.B.C., (short filler-type item), Quote Page 379, Column 1, Published by New Age Press, Limited, London. (Verified with page images from brown.edu)

Suffering from Delusions of Adequacy

Who was speaking: Walter F. Kerr? Michael Foot? Erskine Johnson? Charlton Heston? David Brin?

grandeur08Who was criticized: Jay Robinson? Dwight Eisenhower? Charlton Heston?

Dear Quote Investigator: The complaint that someone is exhibiting “delusions of grandeur” has become a cliché. However, a clever modification of the phrase was memorably employed by a theater critic who was unhappy with an ostentatious performance:

The actor was suffering from delusions of adequacy.

Would you please reveal the name of the critic and the performer?

Quote Investigator: In 1951 the Pulitzer-winning drama critic Walter F. Kerr writing in the “New York Herald Tribune” reviewed a play on Broadway called “Buy Me Blue Ribbons”. Kerr noted that the main actor in the production had recently been dismissed from another key position, and the thespian’s reaction was eccentric: 1

Jay Robinson producer and virtually star of “Buy Me Blue Ribbons,” is a young man of twenty-one who was last season dispossessed of a leading role in a play which he had himself financed. Mr. Robinson is apparently not bitter about this. He has had Sumner Locke Elliott write a play for him a comedy about a young man who is similarly thrown out of his own production, and he is offering it, for his mortification and for ours, at the Empire Theatre.

Kerr’s critical judgement was harsh, and he employed the phrase under investigation to lambaste Robinson. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Mr. Robinson is not up to the course he has set for himself. In the play, the character concludes by giving up his dreams of overnight stardom and deciding to learn his trade from the bottom up. All Mr. Robinson can honestly do now is to take his own advice. At the moment, he is suffering from delusions of adequacy.

The passage above contained the earliest instance located by QI; hence, Kerr was probably responsible for its coinage.

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  1. 1951 October 18, New York Herald Tribune, The Theaters: Won’t Win Any Ribbons by Walter F. Kerr, Note: “Walter F. Kerr, drama critic of “The Commonweal,” will be the guest critic of the Herald Tribune during the fall season”, (Review of the play “Buy Me Blue Ribbons”), Quote Page 20, New York, New York. (ProQuest)

We Cannot Go Back and Start Over, But We Can Begin Now, and Make a New Ending

Zig Ziglar? Carl Bard? James R. Sherman? Philadelphia Eagles Football Team? Barrie M. Tritie? Dennis Reinhart? Maria Robinson? Jessie Jones?

start07Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I reach a dead-end or feel that I am stuck in a rut I can be re-energized by the following inspirational saying:

Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

These words have been attributed to the prominent motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and someone named Carl Bard. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: Zig Ziglar did employ this saying, and he credited Carl Bard. However, the earliest citation located by QI was written by another individual. In 1982 the author James R. Sherman, Ph. D. published a book titled “Rejection” which included the following prefatory statement:

All of us have been rejected more than once. We’ve been turned down for jobs, had applications refused, and lost out in romance.

Sherman’s work was designed to help readers constructively overcome the psychological pain resulting from rejection. A chapter called “How to Survive Rejection” contained an instance of the saying under examination. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

First of all, you have to accept the fact that your rejection is over and done with. There’s nothing you can do now to change what has already happened. If you spend time worrying about it, you’ll lose sight of the present and stumble into a cloudy future. You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.

This was the first instance located by QI, but the saying can be phrased in many ways; hence, earlier instances may exist. This entry represents a snapshot of what QI has learned, and other researchers may build on this information in the future.

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  1. 1982, Rejection by James R. Sherman, Chapter: How to Survive Rejection, Quote Page 45, Published by Pathway Books, Golden Valley, Minnesota. (Verified with scans)

The Crowd Came to the Funeral, Not To Mourn, But To Make Sure the Person Was Dead

Who Said It: Samuel Goldwyn? Mr. Jones? S. S. Van Dine? Joey Adams? Whispering Russian?
joey08Whose Funeral: Louis B. Mayer? Fogarty’s Brother? Joseph Stalin? W. Kerr Scott?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to Hollywood legend when the tyrannical chief of a powerful movie studio died many were surprised to see that his funeral was well attended. When the leader of a competing studio was asked for an explanation he said:

The turnout was large because so many people wanted to make sure he was dead.

Would you please explore this sardonic tale?

Quote Investigator: This questionable story was printed in the 1960 biographical work “Hollywood Rajah: The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer”. Mayer was a very successful movie producer who was a co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. He died in 1957, and the cutting remark above has been attributed to fellow mogul Samuel Goldwyn. The details for this citation are listed further below.

Interestingly, barbs of this type have been circulating for more than 125 years. For example, in 1889 and 1890 multiple newspapers recounted a story from the “San Francisco Chronicle” of California about a longstanding bitter quarrel between two people named Jones and Fogarty. Jones felt some empathy for Fogarty when he learned that his brother had died. So he made an effort to end the dissension by attending the funeral, but his gesture of reconciliation backfired. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1 2 3

He displayed becoming grief and sorrow, but he did not have a chance to speak to Mr. Fogarty. A few days after he met Mr. Fogarty and went up to him with outstretched hand and a sympathetic look on his face. To his surprise Mr. Fogarty drew himself up and glared at him:

“May I inquire, sir, what the devil you were doing at my brother’s funeral?”

The Christian feeling in Mr. Jones evaporated. He took in the outstretched hand, and said with considerable force: “I went to make sure he was dead.” The war is fiercer than ever.

The story above exhibited a comparable punchline and provided a thematic match; however, it did not refer to a large turnout at a funeral. A different thematic match appeared in multiple newspapers in 1934 when a serialized mystery called “The Kennel Murder Case” by S. S. Van Dine was published. A police officer questioned a suspect: 4 5

“If you think your uncle was such a wash-out and you were so glad to find he’d been croaked, why did you run over to him and kneel down, and pretend to be worried?”

Hilda Lake gave the Sergeant a withering, yet whimsical, look.

“My dear Mr. Policeman, I simply wanted to make sure he was dead.”

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  1. 1889 November 28, The Parsons Sun (The Parsons Weekly Sun), Why He Went to the Funeral (acknowledgement to San Francisco Chronicle), Quote Page 2, Column 2,Parsons, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1890 January 12, The Morning Reporter (Independence Daily Reporter), Why He Went to the Funeral (acknowledgement to San Francisco Chronicle), Quote Page 3, Column 2, Independence, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1890 May 20, Arkansas City Traveler (Arkansas City Daily Traveler), Why He Went to the Funeral (acknowledgement to San Francisco Chronicle), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Arkansas City, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1934 January 12, Valley Weekly (Valley Morning Star), ‘The Kennel Murder Case’ Thrilling Tale of a Man’s Death Twice by S. S. Van Dine, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Harlingen, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1934 August 31, The Alton Democrat, The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Alton, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)