Monday, August 10, 2009

Uncle Zeke Rides the Tail of Halley’s Comet

by David Parmer

Uncle Zeke was no stranger to controversy. His humorous columns and biting humor sometimes rankled readers of his column and frequently riled his fellow correspondents. His bitterest foes wished his dismissal from the ranks of newspaper columnists and the demise of the Buzzardtown News. From time to time, Uncle Zeke took a break from the writing of his Buzzardtown news column and on those occasions, some fellow correspondents surmised that he, at last, had been fired from his journalistic duties. Uncle Zeke however outlasted all of his critics and enjoyed a long career as a writer for the newspapers of central West Virginia.

The great American author, Mark Twain, achieved lasting fame with his many books which embody a slice of American culture, such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. But, as a sidelight to his fame, his life was marked by being born at the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1835 and dying seventy-five years later in 1910 on the re-appearance of the same celestial event. This incredible coincidence was particularly significant because Mark Twain supposedly vowed that his death would not happen until Halley’s Comet reappeared.

Uncle Zeke decided he would attempt to surpass his idol Mark Twain and instead of achieving a mundane distinction, such as dying at the appearance of Halley’s Comet, he would metaphorically ride the tail of Halley’s Comet and live to write about it. Uncle Zeke also used the excitement of the appearance of Halley’s comet to respond to the Walkersville correspondent of the Weston Independent, one of his frequent critics among his fellow correspondents, who was prematurely rejoicing Uncle Zeke’s supposed departure from the pages of the Weston Independent. In his June 14, 1910 Buzzardtown news column in the Weston Independent, Uncle Zeke explained the absence of his column from that newspaper the previous week.

The Tale of the Tail of Halley’s Comet
“For the benefit of our brother correspondents, and especially Mr. John Henry Walkersville, I shall relate the cause of my absence. Imagine a person sitting on the tail of Halley’s comet, spinning through space at the rate of forty-seven million miles a minute, expecting a wreck or collision at any time. We traveled on and on at this velocity of speed until we came to the home of old Mr. Moon, who was suffering with a severe attack of eclipse. After staying all night and applying one of our porus plasters, we soon had the cause removed. We received a letter that morning from Sally Ann (that’s my wife), stating that all was well in Buzzard Town ‘cept ‘tater’ bugs, and went on our way rejoicing. We soon came to a place called Capricorn, where a primary election was being held, the candidates being Harry Woodyard and Mike Duty for Congress. It seemed that some of the people there did not know much about Duty, and it reminded me so much of our own town where some do not know even their own duty, or if they do, they fail to perform it. However, we applied one of Uncle Sam’s corn removers and soon had everything in proper shape. At this point, we received a letter from O. P. McCord stating that two of his best honey bees had died of heart failure, caused by the appearance of the great comet which had caused so much disaster among the people. After selling a few boxes of Nature’s herb cure to the natives of the upper regions, we started home by way of Weston to get some correspondence paper, but finding no one home at the Independent office, we flopped our wings and took flight for Buzzard Town, where we found the whole buzzard family awaiting our coming.”

From a perusal of the early newspaper columns written by community correspondents during the early 1900s, it appears that Uncle Zeke was much on the minds of his readers and his fellow journalists as well. The absence of his column apparently created a cause célèbre among his readership and amongst his fellow writers, many of whom seemed to have strong opinions about him, some negative and others positive. Uncle Zeke was aware of the mixed feelings about his writing and frequently poked fun at his detractors but in an amusing way, such as the tale of riding the tail of Halley’s comet. Uncle Zeke wanted all to know, including Mr. John Henry Walkersville, that he was alive and well and right at home in Buzzardtown, but just returned from an interplanetary excursion

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