Clara Barton, the Thinking Machine detective, and Kurt Vonnegut on book banning: newsletter, August 18, 2023

August 18, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, August 18, 2023.


This year, at my house, has been officially declared The Year of the Tomato. Home-grown tomatoes take a prominent place in our garden each year. They are planted carefully and with a real sense of anticipation. We have standard favorites (cherry tomatoes topping that list), but we also usually try a couple of new varieties. We generally set out between 20 and 30 plants.

Last year, our tomatoes were a great letdown. They produced very little, had a short season, and many of them never made it off the vine.

This year was different. Even though we had a dry spell late in the spring (which severely hampered our bean and corn), we kept the tomatoes watered and prayed for rain. Those prayers were answered by mid-June, and the tomatoes have been rolling steadily in ever since. The garden and the tomatoes are about finished this year, but our tomato crop will be something we talk about for a while.

Have a great and literate weekend.


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Clara Barton

The name Clara Barton is all too often accompanied by the appositive “founder of the American Red Cross.” That is certainly a correct description, but her work as a nurse, educator, and humanitarian spanned far beyond that organization and set a standard of care and kindness that was unsurpassed in the 19th century.

Many of the humanitarian practices that we take for granted today, particularly relating to military service and war, were unknown in the 19th century—until Clara Barton thought of them and used her considerable managerial skills to put them into practice.

For instance, Barton began or developed the following practices:

Field nursing. Barton defied the social norms of the day to venture, as a woman, onto the battlefield even while the guns were still ablaze. She did not mind getting her hands dirty or her clothes bloody as she cared for the wounded and the dying. She set an example for other women whose humanitarian instincts could not be contained.  

Orderly distribution of medical supplies. Barton set up an organization that made sure the army was well-supplied with bandages, clothing, food, and medicine. These items were often neglected as officers planned for battle with flags, uniforms, guns, and ammunition. Barton’s work reminded them that there would inevitably be wounded soldiers during and after the battle who needed care. 

Identification of missing soldiers. Barton recognized what the war departments and army officers often missed: that many soldiers carried no identification, or that they could be so badly wounded that no one would recognize them or their uniforms. Through her efforts, the Missing Soldiers Office was opened in Washington D.C., and she was the first to make considerable and specific efforts to provide information to families on what had happened to their loved ones and to receive and respond to requests for information from those families.

Documenting the war. Barton spent a great amount of time writing about her experiences and the conditions that she encountered on the battlefield. These accounts, with vivid and detailed descriptions in letters, diaries, and articles, describe the battlefield encounters in terms that civilians, rather than military men, could relate to. Her many writings left us with a better understanding of what it was like to march with an army, await an encounter with the enemy, live through a battle, and survive while fellow soldiers fell.

Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children. Her parents were prosperous farmers, and she was well educated as a young girl.

By the age of 18, Barton was teaching school, a profession she followed in Massachusetts and New Jersey for several years. In 1854, she became the first woman to be hired as a clerk at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Barton wanted to serve the Union Army, but, of course, she was turned down because she was a woman. That initial rejection did not dissuade her, and she kept trying to convince the army to allow her to work as a nurse. Eventually, the army relented, and Barton found herself on the battlefields of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, among many others. Her courage was exemplary. So was her compassion. There are many accounts of her risking her own life to help wounded soldiers.

When the war ended in 1865, Barton turned her attention to helping locate missing soldiers and reuniting them with their families. She also helped many families find out exactly what had happened to their loved ones.

In 1881 she founded the American Red Cross, and she served as president of that organization for more than 20 years.

Barton died in 1912 at the age of 90. The soldiers whom she served never forgot her efforts, and among them she was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

Kurt Vonnegut to those who burned his books:

“If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books—books you hadn’t even read.”


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


From the archives: The incomparable Jacques Futrelle: A writer’s life cut tragically short

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Great Hiatus of Sherlock Holmes, the eight years between 1891 and 1903 when Arthur Conan Doyle insisted that the world had seen and read enough of his great detective creation. Other writers took this as their cue and stepped into the breach, creating many memorable detective characters. Some of them appeared to mirror Holmes, and others were decidedly different. They kept showing up even after Holmes returned to life. The reading world couldn’t get enough. The decades that followed became the Golden Age of the Detective Short Story.

Two of the best to come from that period were G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Jacques Futrelle’s Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen a.k.a “The Thinking Machine.” Earlier this summer, I provided a link to some of the Father Brown stories. Beginning this week, I am going to link to some of the Van Dusen stories.

The last time anyone saw mystery writer Jacques Futrelle, he was standing next to John Jacob Astor smoking a cigarette while Astor puffed on a cigar. It was April 15, 1912, and the two were on the deck of the Titanic.

Futrelle was 37 years old and well on his way to becoming one of the giants of mystery fiction on this side of the Atlantic.

Futrelle had created as the main character in his mysteries Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen a.k.a “The Thinking Machine.” Van Dusen was less flamboyant than Sherlock Holmes in solving the problems presented to him, but the problems he had to solve were far more intricate than the ones that Holmes tackled.

Futrelle was born in 1875 in Pike County, Georgia into an educated family with a love of literature. Futrelle began working at an early age as a printer’s devil and spent much of his formative years in newspapers in Atlanta, New York, and Boston. He was also the manager of a theater in Virginia where he wrote, directed, and acted in plays the theater produced.

He is credited with forming the first sports department for the Atlanta Journal and was a telegraph editor for the New York Herald during the Spanish-American War.

While in New York, he and his wife Lily May Peele, also a writer, lived in the Gramercy Park neighborhood that included novelist Edith Wharton and short story writer O. Henry.

All this time, Futrelle was writing and developing his stories and his main character. In 1905, his first collection of stories was published featuring The Thinking Machine. It was titled The Problem of Cell 13, taking the title from the first story in the book. The next year Futrelle quit the newspaper business altogether to live in Massachusetts and devote himself full-time to writing novels.

In an effort to expand the market for his work, Futrelle and his wife traveled to Europe in January 1912, but they cut their trip short to return to America aboard the maiden voyage of the world’s largest passenger ship. When the ship began to sink, Futrelle insisted that his wife take a final seat in a lifeboat while he stayed aboard the ship.

In a short article about Futrelle on, Olivia Rutigliano describes the last moments of Futrelle’s life:

Mrs. Futrelle gave a statement to The New York Times upon arriving to safety: “Jacques is dead, but he died like a hero, that I know. Three or four times after the crash, I rushed up to him in class to be in my arms and begged him to get into one of the lifeboats. ‘For God’s sake go!’ he barely screamed at me as he tried to push me away, but I could see how he suffered. ‘It’s your last chance, go!’ Then one of the ship’s officers forced me into a lifeboat, and I gave up all hope that he could be saved.” Later that year, she arranged for the publication of his final book. But she wrote the dedication, herself: “To the heroes of the Titanic, I dedicate this my husband’s book.” Source: Mystery Writer Jacques Futrelle Died Onboard the Titanic, but His Greatest Detective Creation Lives On | CrimeReads

Futrelle’s work is easily accessible today at a website devoted to his work and also at Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg. Some of his work is on audio files at LibriVox.

His stories are entertaining and well worth reading, especially if you are already a Sherlock Holmes fan.


The Problem of Cell 13 (a novel)

By Jacques Futrelle

Although the standard format at this time was the short story, this is a novel-length work that is considered one of Futrelle’s best.

Practically all those letters remaining in the alphabet after Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen was named were afterward acquired by that gentleman in the course of a brilliant scientific career, and, being honorably acquired, were tacked on to the other end. His name, therefore, taken with all that belonged to it, was a wonderfully imposing structure. He was a Ph.D., an LL.D., an F.R.S., an M.D., and an M.D.S. He was also some other things—just what he himself couldn’t say—through recognition of his ability by various foreign educational and scientific institutions.

In appearance he was no less striking than in nomenclature. He was slender with the droop of the student in his thin shoulders and the pallor of a close, sedentary life on his clean-shaven face. His eyes wore a perpetual, forbidding squint—the squint of a man who studies little things—and when they could be seen at all through his thick spectacles, were mere slits of watery blue. But above his eyes was his most striking feature. This was a tall, broad brow, almost abnormal in height and width, crowned by a heavy shock of bushy, yellow hair. All these things conspired to give him a peculiar, almost grotesque, personality.

Read the rest of the story here.

You can listen to some of the Jacques Futrelle stories on LibriVox.


Group giveaways for August

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

A Thrill a Minute (Aug. 1-22)

Blood Tingling Reads

Edge-of-Your-Seat Thrills: Enter to Claim the Best Mystery & Suspense Books

August Cozy Mystery Freebies

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.


Check out last week’s newsletter

I asked last week if any of you readers wanted to try your hand at writing a clerihew, and I received a couple:

Gary H.:

Writer and artist Jim Stovall
Who loved all things baseball,
Spent extra time at the library
When life became too contrary.

Vince V.:

Growing up in the hometown of Elvis
I watched him shake his pelvis
They said it was all for the bad
It turns out his life was just sad

Plus this from Vince: If James Baldwin originated the term “draining the swamp,” he was much more proficient at it than modern-day swamp drainers who only seem capable of increasing its depth.

This week’s clerihew

From Biography for Beginners by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the inventor of the clerihew:

Karl Marx
Was completely wrapped up in his sharks.
The poor creatures seriously missed him
While he was attacking the capitalist system.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Masonic Hall, Maryville

Best quote of the week:

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it. Margaret Fuller, author (1810-1850)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in Hawaii and Canada, hot weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Alfred Thayer Mahan and the might of seapower, James Baldwin on the role of the artist, and the clerihew: newsletter, August 11, 2023



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