John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

"It's easy enough--perhaps too easy--to memorialize the dead," Stephen King wrote in 1981's Danse Macabre. "This book is for six great writers of the macabre who are still alive." Included in that list of very select company, alongside Jorge Luis Borges and Ray Bradbury, was St. Paul's DONALD WANDREI. Master of the occult H.P. Lovecraft called the work of Donald's younger brother HOWARD "the greatest fantastic art ever produced." On and off through much of the 20th Century, the Wandrei brothers lived in the family home at 1152 PORTLAND AVE. in St. Paul, where they produced a sprawling repository of work that stands as a monument to the glory days of weird science and pulp.

Donald, born in 1909, was a year older than his brother, and attended the University of Minnesota, where he served on the editorial board of the Minnesota Daily and published his first story, "The Red Brain," in Weird Tales. He continued to publish in all the influential pulp magazines of the time--Astounding Stories, Argosy, and Black Mask, among others--and also produced volumes of poetry, screenplays, and collaborations with his brother. Howard was convicted of burglary--he was allegedly doing research for a writing project of his own--and spent three years in the St. Cloud Reformatory (1928-1930), where he took extension classes through the university and worked on his art. In 1939, along with August Derleth, Donald founded Arkham House, the first publishing company in the country devoted solely to fantasy, with the purpose of publishing the works of Lovecraft.

The brothers left behind thousands of pages of letters, drafts, contracts, report cards, grocery lists, circus programs, receipts, greeting cards, legal papers--they kept everything, it seems, and the Minnesota Historical Society archive contains an irresistible trove that reveals two of the most fascinating and eccentric characters in the annals of literature. In a classic case of profiling, Donald's University of Minnesota report cards show an A-and-B student who nonetheless received a C in physical education and a D in hygiene. Howard was a clock repairer, alley scrounger, and mushroom obsessive, whose usual breakfast, he reveals in one letter, consisted of dill pickles and milk. Included in Donald's papers at the Historical Society is the handwritten manuscript of a story detailing a sexual union between six eunuchs and a giantess, and later between a woman and a lascivious pony named Snowman.

The unsolved murder of his father haunts the work of writer GERALD VIZENOR, who studied at the University of Minnesota and was the director of the AMERICAN INDIAN EMPLOYMENT AND GUIDANCE CENTER in the 1960s. Vizenor won the American Book Award for his novel, Griever: An American Monkey King in China, but he has returned to his father's 1936 murder often in his poems and writings. On June 28, 1936, CLEMENT VIZENOR was murdered in AN ALLEY BEHIND A BUILDING AT 425 WASHINGTON AVE. S. in downtown Minneapolis (now, apparently, the site of a large parking garage). The death certificate lists Vizenor's race as white, and his occupation as "wallpaper hanger." The cause of death, as recorded by coroner Gilbert Seashore, was "homicide--deep laceration of throat."

In Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors, Gerald Vizenor writes of his father's death: "He was a house painter who told trickster stories, pursued women, and laughed most of his time on earth. He was murdered in a narrow street in downtown Minneapolis."

During the university's literary glory days of the 1940s, cartoonist CHARLES SCHULZ was studying art at the FEDERAL SCHOOL (later the ART INSTRUCTION SCHOOL) at 500 S. FOURTH ST. in Minneapolis. Schulz grew up in St. Paul, where he attended CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL (AT LEXINGTON AND MARSHALL) and started building the chip on his shoulder that would later fuel the psychodynamics of his Peanuts comic strip. Rejection drove the young cartoonist, and he had plenty; his illustrations were rejected for the Celisean, the school annual and, later, his comic strip was turned down by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

It was while he was an instructor at the Art Instruction School, in 1948, that he met Donna Wold, a secretary in the accounting department who would provide the inspiration for "The Little Red-Haired Girl" of Charlie Brown's dreams. Schulz wooed Wold for a time, but was crushed when she broke off their relationship to marry another man. Schulz would long recall, down to the last detail, a June 24, 1950 date in which he accompanied Wold to the HIGHLAND THEATER (760 CLEVELAND AVE., ST. PAUL) to see My Foolish Heart, starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. "I think about it now, or hear the score, and it just about breaks my heart," he would tell an interviewer decades later.

No writer ever cut so wide a swath of self-destruction across the landscape of the Twin Cities as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet JOHN BERRYMAN. From Berryman's first night in town, October 3, 1954, when he had dinner with fellow poet and university professor ALLEN TATE at the RAINBOW CAFÉ (LAKE AND HENNEPIN), his sad orbit took him through a series of apartments, houses, classrooms, bars, hospitals, and treatment centers until that fateful day--January 7, 1972--when he jumped to his death from the WASHINGTON AVENUE BRIDGE. Berryman's first Minneapolis apartment was at 2509 HUMBOLDT AVE. S., near Lake of the Isles. He would live in nearly a dozen different apartments and houses around Minneapolis, but perhaps the most significant among the locations associated with Berryman are the bars and hospitals where he sought refuge on a regular basis. THE BRASS RAIL (422 HENNEPIN AVE.) was a favorite haunt, as was the now gone WAIKIKI ROOM (235 HENNEPIN AVE.). Between binges he endured frequent hospitalizations--which would provide the glum inspiration for his novel, Recovery--at ABBOTT (110 E. 18TH ST.), ST. MARY'S (2417 S. SEVENTH ST.), GLENWOOD HILLS, and HAZELDEN. The most beleaguered man in the Twin Cities during Berryman's time here was undoubtedly his personal physician, DR. BOYD THOMES, who is credited with saving the poet's life on innumerable occasions. Thomes's office was number 411 IN THE DOCTOR'S BUILDING at 90 S. NINTH ST..

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