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WRIGHTSVILLE

In Calamity Town (1942) the New England town of Wrightsville
 is introduced, the place where many of Ellery's novel-length and short story adventures of the next three decades take place. Wrightsville was a place in the U.S. where people lived, worked and died in an atmosphere of decency and independence.   A typical American town, buried in the great American heartland, up to its collective neck in good old American corn. One could freely breath the air here, although the industry has had his influence. As to it's origin... on the criminous level, the central  influence seems to have been Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 film Suspicion. Of course Wrightsville's milieu, people, plot, details, overall framework, and everything else about it are fully organic to Queen's own vision, not yanked bodily from any prior source but shaped in part by earlier work just as everything we say and do is shaped at least in part by what others have said and done before us. And so Wrightsville seems to be influential on later work in the mystery genre and especially on another extraordinary film by Alfred Hitchcock Shadow of a Doubt (1943) It's primary scenarist was Thornton Wilder. His famous play Our Town (1938) surely influenced The girl Charlie (played by Teresa Wright) is a near-perfect cinematic image of Pat Wright Wrightsville but in the movie, although some resemblance to Grover's Corners in Our Town is a fact even more this is the case with Queen's Wrightsville. The girl Charlie (played by Teresa Wright) is a near-perfect  cinematic image of Pat Wright even to the point that both their fathers were bankers...
Richard and Douglas Dannay have since stated that it was poetry which inspired Wrightsville: 'Spoon River Anthology(Tragedy of Errors, 1999). This is a book by Edgar Lee Masters from 1914-15 which consists of a collection of poems/epitaphs. In it the dead on 'the cemetery on the hill' relay details from their lives. The fictional town of Spoon River was named after the river which ran near his hometown. This innovative approach was interwoven with childhood memories Masters' had of former residents of Lewistown and Petersburg, Illinois.

"Of course what made Spoon River Anthology immediately popular was the shock of recognition. Here for the first time in America was the whole of a society which people recognized - not only that part of it reflected in writers of the genteel tradition. Like Chaucer's pilgrims, the 244 characters who speak their epitaphs represent almost every walk of life--from Daisy Frazer, the town prostitute, to Hortense Robbins, who had travelled everywhere, rented a house in Paris and entertained nobility; or from Chase Henry, the town drunkard, to Perry Zoll, the prominent scientist, or William R Herndon, the law partner of Abraham Lincoln. The variety is far too great for even a partial list. There are scoundrels, lechers, idealists, scientists, politicians, village doctors, atheists and believers, frustrated women and fulfilled women.  The individual epitaphs take on added meaning because of often complex interrelationships among the characters. Spoon River is a community, a microcosm, not a collection of individuals."
                 
                                  (Ernest Earnest, Spoon River Revisited, 1967)

Being the writing duo they were, it was only a matter of time before Manfred influence in the Wrightsville saga was unearthed. Patricia Lee Caldwell recalls: Uncle Hy Miller attended college at New York University and there met Manny Lee. Uncle Hy had a great singing voice and may also have played some instrument and some time later they formed a band with three or four other students and performed in various venues, including on some cruises and at some vacation spots. This was the five piece jazz-band Manny directed for a while (he was an excellent violin player). At some point in 1926 Hy brought his friend and fellow band member Manny Lee to Philadelphia for a weekend to meet the family. That weekend, Manny Lee met Claremont-born Betty Miller. One year later the couple was married (1927-1928).
When the Queen cousins decided to place sleuth Ellery into a small-town setting in New England, they created Wrightsville, which incorporates many features of Claremont.
I remember clearly that my mother told me that Wrightsville was based on Claremont,” says Patricia Lee Caldwell.
In fact, the old Claremont Eagle newspaper provided front-page coverage (on July 10, 1959) of a talk Manny Lee gave in Claremont, in which he revealed that the Wrightsville setting for several Queen books was indeed based on Claremont. The state’s Union-Leader newspaper covered that talk too.
The first three Wrightsville novels are first-rate mysteries and far superior to the others, but Double, Double offers a special treat to Claremonters. Its original end papers are decorated with a map of Wrightsville, which looks remarkably like Claremont.

Map of Wrightsville as included on the inside cover of Double, Double (1950, Little & Brown)

Both towns have a round Square with five streets hooked up to it, like spokes from a wheel. (Claremont has Main, Sullivan, Pleasant, Broad, and Tremont; Wrightsville has Washington, Lincoln, Upper Dade, State, and Lower Main.) Both towns have a bandstand right off the Square. References to High Village and Low Village in Wrightsville have a foundation in Claremont. The Hollis Hotel in Wrightsville could easily be The Hotel Moody in Claremont. Wrightsville and Claremont each has a small airport. Wrightsville and Claremont share a similar size. Even the distance from Claremont’s Amtrak station into town matches the distance for a corresponding train in Wrightsville.
Plus, certain circumstances about Wrightsville — such as the railroad’s coming all the way into town for an additional stop, and the daily newspaper’s offices being located on the Square —were true in Claremont’s mid-20th century days though not today.

Most of J.J.’s forewords bore the dateline New York. However, the foreword in The Siamese Twin Mystery (1933) bears this dateline: “Claremont, N.H.” (
Claremont info thanks to Arthur Vidro)

Claremont, NH, has a Square which was round... with five streets hooked up to it. Bandstand and statue included...

The early Wrightsville stories unmistakably identify it as being in upstate New York (2) as do several short-stories.  But Howard Van Horn is said to live in a New England town (3), and Double, Double, the last full-fledged Wrightsville story, places it against the slopes of the mighty New England mountains. To get to New York one could get a connecting plane at Boston (7).

What else is there to know of it's surroundings? Wrightsville's Airport is situated in the valley North between Twin Hills (cemetery)-Bald Mountain and the hills on the foot of the Mahogany-Mountains. The North Hill Drive runs straight south. Fidelty was a small poor town west of Wrightsville. Even further one could find Shinn Corners
(5). And...Shinn Corners we remember as being 'The Glass Village'!
The 'Wrightsville record' won some customers in Bannock, Slocum, Limpscot, Fyfield and even in Connhaven. A trip to Connhaven was described as being 120 km long through Slocum, Bannock, Algonquin, Scottsdown and Fyfield.

At least it is clear that the area East of New York plays a special part in Ellery Queen's life. The creators lived there for most of their life and many of there stories are situated in that area. No wonder that in 'The Finishing Stroke' their main figures traveled through this region...

A typical American town with a Memorial Park which was once called the Green and the river 'Willow'. On the town's Square (which was actually round) one could found Jezreel Monument. 'Great-great-great- great-something of John F.Wright (banker) had founded Wrightsville in 1702. The thoroughfares which radiated like spokes from the hub of the square. One spoke was a was a broad avenue:  the Wrightsville National Bank (on the Northern Arc of the square), the red-brick Town Hall were State Street began, Carnegie Library and beyond WPA-looking buildings. Another spoke was Lower Main: stores, the 'Wrightsville Record' offices, a Five-and-Dime, the 'new' Post Office buildings, 'Bijou Theater', J.C.Pettigrew's real estate office and Al Brown's Ice Cream Parlor.


Wrightsville was populated with easy recognizable characters:

  • Miss Emmeline DuPré, known to the cruder element as the Town Crier, taught Dancing and Dramatics to the children.

  • Tom Anderson, city drunk.

  • Miss Gladys Hemmingworth, society editor of the 'Record'.

  • Frank Lloyd editor of the 'Wrightsville Record'.

  • ...

How about law and justice in Wrightsville?

  • Chief Dakin

  • Chief Anselm Newby, he took over after the retirement of the Chief of Police Dakin (6). Selectmen brought him in from Connhaven, where he was a police captain with a mighty good record. He's young and tough and as far as Dakin knew honest and knowledgeable of modern police methods. "But maybe he's not as smart as he thinks". Dakin warns Ellery to stay clear of him. Dakin once told him about Ellery and Newby stated "No New York wiseacre is going to mix into my department." The fact is there isn't much to like about Anse.
    Anselm was short and slight, almost delicately built. He spoke with a quiet voice which covered a sting; it was like the swish of a lazily brandished whip. His eyes were of an inorganic blue, unfeeling as mineral. The little police chief's interrogation of the company was surgical.
    (6)
    After a while whilst still reserved we saw a somewhat more friendly Anselm towards Ellery. Ellery calls him Anse. Newby smokes cigars.
    (7)

  • Prosecutor Odham was more friendly towards our hero as was his predecessor Art Chalanski.

"The Wrightsville Murders" are:
  1  Calamity Town 1942
 
2   The Murderer Is a Fox 1945
 
 3  Ten Day's Wonder 1948
 
 4   Double, Double 1950  
 
 5  The King is Dead 1952  (one chapter)       
 
6  The Robber of Wrightsville
1953 (short story, in Today's Family, 2/53 as
   
  "The Accused" and  in EQMM, 12/54)
  7 
GI Story 1954 (short story in EQMM, 8/54)
  8
 Eve of the Wedding 1955 (short story, EQMM, 8/55, as "Bride in Danger")   
 
 9  The Wrightsville Heirs 1956 (novelette, Better Living, 1/56 reprinted in
     
 EQMM, 11/57)

 
 10  The Death of Don Juan 1962  (novelette, Argosy, 5/62 reprinted in
       
 EQMM, 8/64
)
  11
Mum is the Word 1966  (novelette, EQMM, 4/66)
 
12 Wedding Anniversary 1967   (short story, EQMM 9/67)
 
 13 The Last Woman in His Life 1970

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Introduction | Floor Plan | Q.B.I. | List of Suspects | Whodunit?  | Q.E.D. | Kill as directed | New | Copyright 

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