Arthur Vidro first encountered Ellery Queen back in 1975 when he tuned in to the debut episode of NBC’s Ellery Queen television show. All evidence indicates that it was love at first sight. Arthur quickly began reading all of the Queen library and even discovered (ahh, the magic of coincidence, even in the real world) that his math teacher was Frederic Dannay’s daughter-in-law, who was the wife of Douglas Dannay, through whom Arthur became acquainted with the Dannays and the Lees. As an adult Arthur has embraced the works of Ellery with a fervor. He publishes the thrice yearly detective magazine (Give Me That) Old-Time Detection, several issues of which have been devoted in their entirety to the works of Queen. Arthur was instrumental behind the scenes in the publication of Crippen and Landru's newest Ellery Queen volumes, The Tragedy of Errors and The Adventure of the Murdered Moths. Most recently, in September of 2013 Arthur directed the world premiere of Joseph Goodrich’s play Calamity Town, based on the first Wrightsville mystery by Queen. If that were not enough, Arthur also stepped up to the plate and appeared as Wrightsville realtor J.C. Pettigrew in the production.
Arthur’s 87th Street Irregular essay is a great one -- his treatise on why Claremont, New Hampshire (where Arthur lives and where Calamity Town was staged by the Off Broad Street Players) may, in fact, be the model for Wrightsville. All should enjoy this intriguing exercise.
So, a well deserved welcome to our newest 87th Street Irregular, Arthur Vidro. (Oh, did we mention that Arthur’s home address in Claremont happens to be . . . on Ellery Street?)
CLAREMONT: THE REAL WRIGHTSVILLEMystery writer Ellery Queen frequently visited Claremont, and fictional detective Ellery Queen solved several cases in a town based on Claremont.
Who was Ellery Queen and why would he often find himself in Claremont?
Ellery Queen was a top-rank author of mysteries. His first mystery novel was published in 1929, his final one in 1971. The detective featured in most of the cases was also named Ellery Queen.
From the 1930s through the 1970s Ellery Queen was one of the most famous and popular of fictional detectives. He appeared in novels, short stories, movies, radio, television, and even comic books.
“Ellery Queen” was created in 1928 by Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred B. Lee (1905–1971), a pair of first cousins in New York who collaborated to enter a fiction contest. Their submission, titled The Roman Hat Mystery, was published in 1929 and featured as its hero Ellery Queen, an amateur sleuth who solves crimes.
The contest’s rules required that every manuscript be entered under a pseudonym. The cousins chose Ellery Queen as their joint byline for the book. The fictional character of Ellery Queen is himself a writer of detective stories. Now let’s talk about Claremont.
The Miller Family
Manny Lee is Claremont’s connection to Ellery Queen. Manny Lee would visit Claremont because he married into Claremont’s Miller Family.
The Millers emigrated from Russia at around the turn of the twentieth century and settled in Claremont because they knew people there. At the time, Hirsch (also known as Harry) and Dore (also known as Dora) Miller had five children, all born in the old country. Those kids were Baruch (Bert), David (Dave), Hyman (Hy), Benjamin (Ben), and Goldie. Two more girls were born in Claremont: Ida (May 25, 1907) and Bess (July 30, 1909). Those two births are recorded in Claremont City Hall’s Vital Records department.
A Claremont directory from 1914 shows Harry Miller having a dry goods and clothing store at 147 Main Street, with a house at 145. A Claremont directory from 1923 shows Harry B. Miller having a dry goods, clothing, and grocery store at 162–164 Main Street. Possibly the house was 162 and the store 164.
The youngest child, Bess, was known to her friends as Betty. She lived in Claremont into her teens. In 1927 Betty Miller married Manny Lee. By that time many of the Millers, including Betty, had moved to Philadelphia, but there were still kinfolk in Claremont that prompted several visits.
How did a Claremont gal hook up with a New York City man? Betty’s older brother Hyman provided that link. In the words of Patricia Lee Caldwell, a daughter of Manny Lee and Claremont-born Betty Miller:
My Uncle Hy attended college at New York University and there met my father [Manny Lee], also a student there. The story goes that they met on a subway platform, where my gregarious uncle introduced himself to Dad. It turned out that they were both musical (Dad played the fiddle and Uncle Hy had a great singing voice and perhaps played some instrument), and some time later they formed a band with three or four other students and performed, I think, in various venues, including on some cruises and at some vacation spots.
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. The next year Manny and Betty were wed. Soon after, Ellery Queen was born.
Manny and Betty would separate in 1938 and divorce in 1941, but Claremont left its mark on Manny. 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.
Fran Weiss, who now lives in New Jersey, lived on Sullivan Street in Claremont from November 1958 until the Spring of 1960. Fran attended that 1959 talk. She recalls:
I was surprised to discover that the famous EQ was actually two different men. During my stay in Claremont, I was bureau chief for the Manchester Union-Leader, so the article I wrote appeared there. As an underpaid reporter, I also enjoyed a free meal. I took photos whenever I could, as I was paid $3 for each one the paper printed. (I paid for film, and the camera was my own.) I’m pretty sure they used the one of “Ellery Queen”.
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.
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.
Sole Mention of Claremont
The earlier Queen books all featured a foreword by a fictitious judge named J.J. McC, who added to the misbelief of many that Ellery Queen was a real person.
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.”
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