|n 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 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."
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).
early Wrightsville stories unmistakably identify
it as being in upstate New York
as do several short-stories. But
Howard Van Horn is said to live in a New
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
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.
How about law and justice in Wrightsville?
Wrightsville Murders" are: