Michael Chabon goes up to the counter and orders an iced coffee. It makes sense to him. It’s cold outside and his drink should be, too. A shiver passes through him. He stares at his palm, where he’s incoherently diagrammed a series of complex chess moves. A bell tower in the distance strikes three times. His short, hairy companion lopes out into the street. The seventh-inning stretch is about to end.
When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another’s skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness - and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.
I felt happy – or some weak, pretty feeling centered in my stomach, brought on by beer – at the sight of the fading blue sky tormented at its edges with heat lightning, and at the crickets and the shouting over the water, and by Jackie Wilson on the radio, but it was a happiness so like sadness that the next moment I hung my head.
Art Bechstein (Michael Chabon - The Mysteries of Pittsburgh)
When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another’s skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness - and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments.
I smoked and looked down at the bottom of Pittsburgh for a little while, watching the kids playing tiny baseball, the distant figures of dogs snatching at a little passing car, a miniature housewife on her back porch, shaking out a snippet of red rug, and I made a sudden, frightened vow never to become that small, and to devote myself to getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
Sossie M. Brown, Sophomore, University of Pittsburgh
Last week professor Jessica FitzPatrick’s Detective Fiction class visited Special Collections. Students had the option to contribute a blog post to Tumblr for extra credit using materials from Special Collections.
“To whom this may
concern: on the 31st of May 1906
I killed a women in
my house of sin in Pittsburgh 2nd Ave.
I hope that you will
not find this till I’m dead.
On October 11, 1912, a telephone installer discovered a
piece of paper, folded up and stuck between two telephone bells at the Savoy
Hotel in Glassport, just outside of Pittsburgh. A letter from the District
Attorney’s Office in Allegheny County in Pittsburgh acknowledged the finding of
this note but states that there is not yet any evidence of a crime ever being
committed. Upon further investigation, it was found that in 1906 Millie M.
Bennett resided at the hotel where she ran a brothel for six years. Millie’s life had changed though by the time the note was discovered. She had recently moved to McKeesport and had an eight-year-old
Actual confession from the Mary Roberts Rinehart Papers, box 20, folder 7
Detectives decided to compare the signature from the note to the signature on Millie’s current lease. Because some of the letters in the signatures did not match, the evidence was deemed not useful. Furthermore, the detectives went to the
coroner’s office to see if there had been any sudden or mysterious deaths from
that time in Pittsburgh, but were unable to find any. Eventually the cellar
of the hotel was dug up, but still no body was found.
Report from one of the detectives on the case, box 20, folder 7
As the investigation continued, the District Attorney decided to
send the note to Mary Roberts Rinehart to ask her opinion on its authenticity.
Rinehart was a renowned American mystery writer and was best known
for her murder mystery novels. In her autobiography, My Story, Rinehart writes that it was very common for reporters and newspapers to write
or call her for her theories on certain trials and crimes that had taken place.
She writes that she usually ignored these requests but after reading the note
she was convinced that it was genuine. She writes in her autobiography that she
used the note as inspiration for her story, “The Confession”:
I lifted the jar and picked up the paper. It was folded and
refolded until it was not much larger than a thumb-nail, a rather stiff paper
crossed with faint blue lines. I am not sure that I would have opened it-it had
been so plainly in hiding, and it was so obviously not my affair- had not
Maggie suddenly gasped and implored me not to look at it. I immediately
determined to examine it… there are some things so incredible that the brain
automatically rejects them. I looked at the paper. I read it with my eyes. But
I did not grasp it… It had been raggedly torn. The scrap was the full width of
the sheet, but only three inches or so deep. It was undated, and this is what
“To Whom it may concern: on the 30th day of May, 1911, I
killed a women (here) in this house. I hope you will not find this until I am
dead. (signed) Emily Benton.” Maggie had read the confession over my shoulder,
and I felt her body grow rigid. As for myself, my first sensation was one of
acute discomfort- that we should have exposed the confession to the light of
-from “The Confession,” 1921
Rinehart kept the original copy of the confession
in her files and believed it to be valid. In her autobiography she states that for many years she could have called up Millie Bennett and told her that she had her confession and that the only thing saving her from
being charged with murder was the absence of a body. But, Rinehart felt
the women was now living a straight life and unless she somehow read Rinehart’s
autobiography, she would never know that her confession had been found: “I hope she does read it, and will know that God after all has had mercy
on her soul.”