PulpFest 2017 recordings don’t appear to have made it onto YouTube, but there’s a 50-minute panel discussion of Weird Editing at “The Unique Magazine” recorded at PulpFest 2015, on the editorial policies and practices at Weird Tales. The sound quality is listenable, given that it’s a convention panel recording and that those are usually notoriously bad (despite all the microphones present on the tables). But ideally you’ll still want good headphones and the volume turned up.
About ten minutes in there’s a rather curious five-minute monologue by someone who manages not to say very much about anything, but don’t be put off — after that the rest of the discussion is precise and very well informed.
Where exactly was this ‘weird editing’ going on? Chicago. I thought I’d do a brief survey of the actual addresses there, and along the way I discovered a highly likely reason why the editor Farnsworth Wright so inexplicably rejected Lovecraft’s “Cool Air”.
854 North Clark Street:
This address was noted by The Editor magazine in 1923 and O’Brien’s Best Short Stories in 1924. The address was also that of the Newberry Theater in Chicago. The new book Secret Origins of Weird Tales book gives the magazine’s 1923-24 years a detailed business history, if you want the full story of their time here.
450 East Ohio Street:
The later address of the Weird Tales editorial office in Chicago was then the Dunham Building, 450 East Ohio Street, seemingly from some point in 1926.
Interestingly this was the building of the Dunham company, “Manufacturers of Sub-Atmospheric Steam Heating Systems” and Air Conditioning. So this move to new offices may play into Lovecraft’s story “Cool Air” (written March 1926). Though perhaps only partly, in terms of the addition to the story of the technology involved, as there was an obvious precursor story in Arthur Leeds’s tale “The Man Who Shunned The Light” (1915). I suspect this story was used at one New York coffee-and-buns meeting, as a starting point for discussion on how the impoverished Leeds might improve it into a newly saleable story (see my book Lovecraft in Historical Context #4 for all the details and the story itself).
So far as I can tell, I’m the first scholar to notice the trade of the main occupants of the Dunham Building, and to connect that with “Cool Air” and the magazine’s move to a new office in 1926.
This then seems to neatly explain the decision of Farnsworth Wright to reject “Cool Air”…
Farnsworth Wright incredibly and inexplicably rejected “Cool Air”, even though it is just the sort of safe, macabre tale he would have liked” — S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence.
He may have rejected it not only because it was too close to Leeds’s 1915 story (published in Black Cat a decade earlier), but also for fear that his building’s owners would get to hear of it. And that they would then think that Wright had asked for the story from Lovecraft, in order to poke some macabre fun at them and their trade. In which case, they might even have given Weird Tales notice to quit. One can understand how Wright might have wanted to play it safe and reject the story.
840 North Michigan Avenue:
After a few years the editorial office moved to the new ‘Michigan-Chestnut’ building at 840 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago. The building was formally opened in 1929, according to the city’s architecture books.
This was a 20,000 sq.ft. corner lot, with shops at street level and elegant offices and studios above. The upper floors were said to be designed with two floors of light and high-ceiling studios that were intended to accommodate the area’s burgeoning artists’ scene. Though there doesn’t appear to be much exterior evidence of such studios on this later picture.
Judging by this plan, the studios were at the back, away from the clangour of the street noise…
Built 1927-28, by the time the building formally opened in 1929 the artists had been priced out of the booming district. As is often the case with such art studio complexes, the studios were instead occupied as offices by more professional creative services such as architects and magazine production. (Stamper, Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue: Planning and Development, 1900-1930). The ‘Michigan-Chestnut’ building was the home of the editorial offices of Weird Tales magazine until 1938.
Finally, a 1930s or 40s postcard of North Michigan Av. at night, looking like a very suitable home for Weird Tales…
Today, 840 North Michigan takes the form of an early-1990s historical folly-store, and is a far cry from Weird Tales darkness… unless you count a Hitler-saluting teddy-bear as sinister…
* Robert Weinberg’s The Weird Tales Story (1977) was a short 144-page fannish survey of the magazine’s history to 1974. It was stitching together fragments and hazy memories about the early days in the 1920s, and apparently it got a lot wrong on the early history.
* Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies (1988) was a story anthology, but also had an introduction that surveys the entire history of the magazine to 1988, with notes on where further information might be found.
* Scott Connor’s “Weird Tales and the Great Depression” in The Robert E. Howard Reader (2010).
* The Thing’s Incredible: The Secret Origins of Weird Tales (2018) is a proper in-depth business history of the magazine, but only of the turbulent 1923-24 period.
Don’t bother with the litcrit The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales (2015) if you’re looking for business history.