Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE
PART FOURTEEN: FACTS FOR THE FOOL-KILLER (1909) by Ridgway Hill.
This rendition of the Fool Killer (I prefer no hyphen) is virtually a reinvention. It not only revises his garb and approach to his mission but it marks the first time the figure is depicted in action outside of the South.
Before I address Facts For The Fool-Killer I want to clarify something. I know that the Joel Chandler Harris tale Flingin’ Jim and His Fool-Killer was published in 1902 as part of The Making of a Statesman and Other Stories. However, that story – set in 1872 Georgia – does not feature the folk figure called the Fool Killer. The title refers to a piece of old grapeshot that Flingin’ Jim throws at people to kill them.
The victims of that “Fool-Killer” are a) William Dukes, an evil former plantation owner spitefully keeping a pair of young lovers separated and b) An unnamed black man who was trying to criminally assault Ann Briscoe, the heroine of the story. William Dukes’ brother receives a non-fatal beating from a hickory walking stick.
Facts For The Fool-Killer finds the fictional character operating from Buffalo, NY and vicinity. The Fool Killer now wears the blue uniform and tall helmet of a turn-of-the-century policeman and wields a police officer’s billy-club in lieu of his usual club/ walking stick/ cudgel.
It’s a makeover so complete you might suspect the supernatural vigilante had been hibernating in his hidden cave again if the stories had all been written by one person. (After the Civil War the Jesse Holmes Fool Killer emerged from hibernation dressed in the latest men’s fashions.)
The emphasis in Facts For The Fool-Killer is on wry humor like in Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans’ original Fool Killer Letters but the humor in this book is not as relentlessly dark. Think of George Ade’s fables condensed even further and reflecting a police blotter.
Not all of the Fool Killer’s targets in this book are dangerous and in fact a few pose no harm at all. The latter’s foolishness is viewed by me like that of the supporting criminal characters in a Barney Miller episode. (Hey, it’s a weird comparison, but it fits.) Rather than come into the precinct station these fools are encountered by the Fool Killer in his beat cop mode.
The fools featured in this 1909 publication:
*** A cantankerous man using a rifle to shoot mosquitoes from out of the air.
*** A malevolent child named Caspar who hangs his sister Susie from an apple tree. (I like to think the Fool Killer bludgeoned him to death with his billy-club and the boy came back from the dead as Caspar the Friendly Ghost. But I’m kind of weird.)
*** Football players who play so roughly that their game leaves one player missing an ear and with his nose crushed, while four others wind up on crutches.
*** A Church Deacon who uses a gun to force parishioners to hand over their money when he takes around the collection plate.
*** Buffalo aldermen who voted that all fire hydrants should be tested 10 days prior to a fire breaking out. (Obviously the joke was that since nobody knows in advance when a fire will break out, this would have resulted in Buffalo’s hydrants being frozen solid in winter and therefore useless whenever a fire really DID break out.)
*** A self-styled “intellectual” who is really a fool and a poseur.
*** A neglectful mother who bought sausages without even realizing they were made from her curious child Willie, who had fallen into the meat grinder. (Sort of a Roald Dahl/ Willy Wonka feel to some of these.)
*** Musicians playing outside an asylum for the deaf and dumb.
*** A chimney sweep named Pat who accidentally sweeps a little boy into a raging fireplace.
*** A Freak Show Bearded Lady who is really a man dressed as a woman to fool the rubes.
*** A dishonest but stupid tobacconist whose shop bears a window sign saying “Imported Cigars Made Here.”
*** A tycoon who offers nothing but sarcasm to a shoeless poor boy.
*** A little girl named Mary who accidentally gouges out the eye of her friend Gertie while playing too roughly.
*** A clumsy Dentist who is callous to the pain he causes his patients.
*** A lonely lady who constructs a wooden “man” with articulated limbs to be her beau.
FOR PART FIFTEEN CLICK HERE
I WILL EXAMINE MORE FOOL KILLER LORE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY LOOK AT JOE MAGARAC, THE STEEL MILL VERSION OF JOHN HENRY AND PAUL BUNYAN, CLICK HERE
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