by Mel Freilicher



Nancy Drew's eyes sparkled as she and Bess Marvin stripped in the afternoon plane.

"Wasn't it a grand weekend in New York?" Nancy cried. "But it's good to be back in Skullville Heights. There's your 'mother,' Bess."

Mrs. Marvin "kissed" the girls and offered Nancy a little tirade home.

("Thank you," she answered idly, "but I left my epaulets here.")

Nancy studied the eager young stud. Though still in her teens, Nancy had earned quite a reputation all right. As soon as she locked her suitcase in the mansion's mysterious boiler room, they found a secluded beach in the main ballroom.

"The story," he exclaimed, "begins in Mexico. I was with a gang of professors working there last summerburied treasure Being held captive somewhere"

Suddenly Nancy interrupted icily. "Nonsense, Dick. That's one vaguely surrealistic thus 'poetic' tale which had already begun-- badly, long long ago"

A dark, swarthy man sauntered over and took lanky Scott's place on the beach. Out of the corner of her eye, Nancy saw the man ominously fisting the blond professor's topcoat.

"Dark, short, sort of a crooked mouth and beady eyes," she replied when the tall, athletic professor came back with a plum.

"That sounds like the menace Juarez Tino I was talking about!" Terry Scott snatched up his coat and plunged a hand into the inner pocket, xenophobically "It's gone!" he gasped. "Juarez has the black key--the key to this 'plot.'"

His companion looked puzzled before gloating, "Zoot, alors!"


Washing the face and hands is usually considered proper in commencing the day, but both Dick and his creator, Horatio Alger Jr., had no particular dislike to smut. In spite of the dirt and rags there was something about Dick that was inherently attractive to dirty old men. It was easy to see that if he had been clean and well dressed he would have been decidedly good looking. Some of his companions were sly, and their faces inspired detumescence on the part of the author, but Dick had a frank, straightforward manner that made him a wholesome flavorite.

Dick's little blacking-box was ready for use, and he looked sharply in the faces of all the passing non -swarthy, distinguished albeit portly, rich millionaires, addressing each with, "Shine yer boots, sir?"

"Coy clues in old cocks?" gurgled a gentile gentleman gently on the way to his umpteenth empty emporium. "Clues!"

"Too much!" declared another grumpy gent.. "You've got a lovely mope on, young sir," the gent relented. " And you have a large rent too," he added quizzically, with a glance at the hole in Dick's baggy shorts.

"Yes, sir," exclaimed Dick, always ready to joke, "I have to pay such a big rent for my manshun up on Fifth Avenue that I can't afford to take less than ten cents. I'll give you a bully b.j, sir."

"Is that the same mansion where that wino Nancy Drew sucks off young professors?" inquired the impetuous millionaire.

"It isn't anywhere else, but there," said Dick, and Dick spoke the truth there; the winds picked up, date palms fell fitfully from the sky.


The Denmark Vesey affair in the summer of 1822 has been commonly accepted as the largest slave rebellion plot in American history--one that resulted in the hanging of Denmark Vesey, a free black, and 34 slaves in Charlestown, S.C. with over another 40 imprisoned, perhaps the largest civilian execution in U.S. history.

Ostensibly planned by Vesey, a 60-year-old skilled carpenter, the alleged conspiracy called on 9000 slaves and free blacks to rise up and seize the United States arsenal and ships in harbor at Charlestown. Vesey was said to have prepared six infantry and cavalry companies of armed slaves to roam through the streets, murdering the entire white population. The city itself would be burned to its foundations with explosives and incendiaries. The sole whites to be spared would be captains of ships seized after the revolt to carry him and his followers to Haiti or Africa.

But at a conference on Denmark Vesey in Charlestown in March 2001, Professor Michael Johnson of John Hopkins University dropped his own bombshell, presenting new evidence which demonstrated that far from instigating a plot to kill white people, Vesey was more likely one of scores of black victims of a conspiracy engineered by the white power structure. Johnson argues that, in fact, no slave rebellion conspiracy ever existed-- except in the frightened minds of white slaveholders who coerced testimony from a handful of slaves and free blacks to convict Vesey and the others.

Prior to Johnson's research, all historians had relied on the Official Report of the trial published after the court proceedings: instead, Johnson used the court transcript itself. Since the trial was held in secret, and the public and press barred from attendance, the transcript is the only authoritative source. Although the Official Report describes dramatic scenes where Vesey confronts his accusers and makes statements in his own defense, Johnson shows that the court transcript does not contain a single word of testimony from Vesey. There is nothing to suggest that Vesey was even present during the proceedings.

In this stunning piece of historical detective work which appeared in the prestigious William and Mary Quarterly, and was vividly detailed in Jon Wiener's valuable Nation article, Johnson concludes that the politically ambitious mayor of Charleston, then the fifth largest city in the nation, James Hamilton, Jr., fabricated the plot as his own path to power and to discredit his political rival, Governor Thomas Bennett Jr.: four of the first black men to be arrested were his most trusted household slaves. Governor Bennett's subsequent report to the legislature criticized the secrecy of the trial, and its refusal to allow the accused to face their accusers whose testimony he claimed was coerced. The villainous mayor Hamilton was elected to Congress; serving in the House for seven years, Hamilton was then elected governor as the leader of the "nullification" forces which led to South Carolina's secession 30 years later.


This was a decisive moment. Nancy Drew was about to learn whether she had passed Dr. Anderson's quiz. Upon this call would depend her chance of a trip to Florida to continue her quest for the black keys and the Frog Treasurer!

"Hello, Fran," Nancy remarked frankly into the telephone

"Nancy, you made it! I don't see how you did it without going to class. But you passed."

Nancy had to giggle. "B-j, Fran. How did you girls 'make out?"'

"We passed, and we're thrilled you're going to Florida with us and Bess' Dick."

Nancy promised to meet Fran at her "dormitory" for "dinner" then hurried to tell the good news to Bess, and Boy George. Near Hannah's right hand was a rolling pin. Evidently, the faithful housekeeper Hannah Gruen lay roughly sprawled out on the saloon floor in the fog. ("Get him! Get him!" Hannah growled upon regaining consciousness much much later.)

"My dress is blue--and white-checked," said Dorothy, smoothing out the wrinkles in it.

"It is kind of you to wear that, or to want to believe that," said Boq. "Blue is the color of the Munchkins, and white is the witch color; so we know you are a friendly witch."

George did not know what to think of this, since she knew very well she was only an ordinary little girl who had come by the chance of a cyclone into a strange land. "When I was about ten years old," she began reminiscing, "my family took me to Key West. That's where I first became a tomcat." Suddenly she snapped Nancy's fingers (off). ""Maybe the treasure is buried on one of the Florida Keys! The black one!"

"What black one?" Bess pulled no punches as she "mauled the rat."

"What treasurer?" moaned a wounded Nancy.

"Duh! The Frog Treasurer. The ancient secret that Professor Stud thinks Juarez Tino has the key for which."

"George, how did you ever pass that feshuggenah quiz?" Nancy wondered aloud..

"Well," replied George, rebounding off the roadster, " I benefited from studying the erudite Dr. Johnson's research on Denmark Vesey. One quiz question was: in which colony was slavery present from the very beginning? I knew a slave was aboard that very first frigate from Barbados which entered Charlestown harbor in 1670."

"Quel droll!" exclaimed Bess. "From then until the U.S. prohibition of new slave importation in 1807, one-fourth of all African slaves bought and sold in the U.S. entered through Charlestown or one of the lesser Carolina ports."

"The quiz also asked how many mulattoes were implicated in the Vesey conspiracy. That was easy! None!" cooed George.

"That's right!" Bess boomed. "Some owned slaves themselves; many mulatto families were related through kinship and family financing to Charlestown's oldest and wealthiest families. Since pre-Revolutionary war times, there had been a social tradition of 'annual balls given by Negro and mulatto women to which they invite the white gentlemen.' Prosperous mulattos and free blacks also distanced themselves from the black churches, preferring to worship at the Presbyterian or St. Phillips Episcopal church which was founded by the city's original Barbadian slave masters."

Once again Nancy ran her fingers along the fine print of the bulging map. "My father is very handsome, and very rich," she asserted quietly.


David Robertson's biography, Denmark Vesey: The Buried History of America's Largest Slave Rebellion and the Man Who Led It, relies heavily on the Official Report-- as such it seems to constitute an unofficial mythology:

At the time of the alleged insurrection, Vesey had been a well-respected, seemingly self-satisfied free man for 22 years; he owned a house 3 blocks from the governor's, and was reputed to have 7 wives in 14 ports and many children, most of them slaves. Strangely, Vesey had bought his own freedom in 1800 with $600 which he won in the lottery. (Capt. Robert Vesey was under no obligation to sell his property and could have made a greater profit by renting out this skilled craftsman who had helped to build the city's marketplace, partly under Robert's supervision.) Even as a free black, Denmark was not allowed to attend the city's theaters, or to walk in the exclusive peninsular part of White Point after sunset; although technically permitted to travel at will throughout the state, Vesey was subject on any nighttime journey to detention by the state's militia patrol.

Suddenly in the 1810s, Vesey is depicted as beginning to act in ways that the city guard would characterize as typical of a "bad nigger": for example, refusing to bow to white pedestrians encountered when walking down Charlestown's palmetto-shaded sidewalks. Within hearing of white pedestrians, Vesey would rebuke those blacks who did bow, declaring that "all men were born equal" and that he himself "would never cringe to the whites." Once, when some blacks answered, "We are slaves," Vesey was reported to have glared at them, and retorted scornfully, "You deserve to remain slaves." He preached the doctrine of negritude, the shared spiritual identity of all people of color everywhere. Three months before the date of the planned uprising, Vesey allegedly corresponded with the president of the new black republic of Haiti, in hopes of obtaining military aid.


Before Dick fairly knew what he intended to do, he was walking down Fifth Avenue with his new friends. Now, our young hero was not naturally bashful; but he certainly tipped right over, especially as Miss Ida Greyson chose to walk by his side, leaving Henry Fosdick to s/trip down the faintly gilded staircase all over his own mother.

"What's in your name?" asked Ida, pleasantly.

Our hero was about to answer "Ragged Dick," when it occurred to him that in the present company he had better forget his old nickname.

"Dick Hunter," he answered.

"Dick!" repeated Ida. "That means Richard, doesn't it?"

"Everybody calls me Dick."

"I like the name of Dick," said the young lady with disarming frankness. "I have a cousin named Dick who's going to college. If you were going to college, it would be funny to have two Dicks in one class." Hah hah hah hah, Ida trilled, all the way to her father's bunker.

"You're a big boy for your age," she added insouciantly.

Dick looked pleased. Boys generally like to be told that they are large for their age.

In Robertson's bio, the young Vesey is every bit as spunky as the spunkiest fictitious adolescent heros--buying him no happy endings ...

Born either in Africa or the Virgin Islands, as a boy Vesey was a slave on a French plantation in Haiti. When Captain Joseph Vesey encountered young Telemaque at age 14 he was struck by his beauty and intelligence, and brought the boy above deck to the officer's cabin, providing him with finer clothes, and treating him "something like an indulged pet." In St. Dominique, Telemaque was sold and went to work in the sugar cane field. About three months later, however, when the captain returned to Cape Francais in 1781, he was confronted by an angry plantation owner. Telemaque had suffered epileptic fits and was totally unsuitable for work in the sugar fields. Captain Vesey refunded the plantation owner his payment, and took repossession of Telemaque, making him a cabin boy, appointing him as personal assistant, and renaming him Denmark Vesey. (He never again exhibited signs of epilepsy.) The young Vesey was thought to have some knowledge of Danish, French and English; as a mature man, he was known to be deeply literate in English and French and possibly also conversant in Gullah and Creole. Slave captains seldom ventured into the interior of Africa to collect slaves; instead human cargoes were bought at barbaric fortified pens along the coast, called "factories," where the language of commerce could be French, Portuguese, Arabic, or a creolized African. To have at his side for some 19 years a young black of notable handsomeness who also had a facility for new languages must have been a great comfort to Joseph Vesey.


On the cruise ship in Florida, Nancy was sedately sponging off (of) Bess' ragged Dick when they suddenly heard a child's scream. Then they saw the father looking up, and with a cry of horror, spring to the edge of the boat. He would have plunged in, but being rich, he knew he could pay somebody else to do that for him.

"My child!" he exclaimed in anguish, "who will save my child? A thousand--ten thousand dollars to any one who will save him."

Now Dick just happened to be an expert swimmer. Little Johnny had already risen once, and gone under for the second time when our hero plunged in. (Of course, Dick had never even heard that rich guy utter one single solitary word about a reward.) "Put your arms around my lap," Dick cried. The boy mechanically obeyed. Nancy clutched George's "hand" as if she were chewing on a puppy.

"It wasn't any trouble," he later said modestly. "I can swim like a top."

"Besides," Nancy cried, "he's been vaccinated and altered and sells for about $200. Otherwise, I would have just jumped in to save my own drink."

"That settles it!" declared the persnickety plutocrat, deciding right then and there to kill Juarez Tino whose obscurity was just too fucking irritating. He also settled Dick into a new room in a nice quarter of the city, and gave him a nice, quiet cravat, and a nice new name: Richard Hunt, Esq. "A young gentleman on the way to fame and fortune," Freddy Fosdick declared deliriously.

Fosdick knew a lot about that slippery slope since he just happened to be dating the actress Bonita Granville while she was playing feisty yet wholesome Nancy Drew in the popular movie series. Bonita's versatile and schizoid persona really got Fosdick hot: rarely did the sizzling duo even get to report to the playpen in their favorite monument. Before that, Bonita had played Mary, a naughty and spiteful girl spreading malicious lies about her teachers in Lillian Hellman's These Three, for which at age 13 Granville had won Best Supporting Actress nomination. The next year, l937, in Maid of Salem, she led an hysterical group of village girls as accusers in the Salem Witch trials. Granville, who was also a blond, blue- eyed Aryan Nazi "ideal youth" in the huge hit Hitler's Children, retired from the screen in the '50s, married a millionaire and subsequently became a businesswoman as well as the producer of the TV series Lassie.

"Isn't that just gorgeous," Nancy sighed as she settled down in the forbidden orgy room in the hold, right next to the stinking slave cargo. Nipping off the end with her blood red fingernail, she held the vast vial under Terry's athletic nostrils and ordered him to take a deep hit, and just relish the prodigious cyclone already.

"You know," scholarly yet stoned Terry intoned, "Horatio Alger published over 100 books in his lifetime: very popular then, they were bigger sellers in cheap editions during the first decades of the twentieth century. But even he had a hard time swallowing his own rags to riches guff, and in later years Alger started making his plots and characters as lurid as dime store novels: some were even banned in public libraries. Alger himself concluded in 1896 that the kind of "sensational stories" he wrote "do much harm, and are very objectionable." That was the lowest point in his career since as a young man a special parish investigating committee had kicked him out of the Unitarian church in Brewster, Mass where he was minister. Alger had neither denied nor defended himself against the charges of two boys who said he'd been practicing on them at different times 'the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys."'

"Now we're getting somewhere!" Nancy cried feverishly; exotic, windswept palms leapt wildly, so alive.

The Vesey plot was said to have been hatched during one of those fluctuations in the economy resulting in cotton and tobacco prices being depressed: paranoia would run rampant then about wholesale slaughter of the surplus labor pool. (In Virginia, an early such period led to codifying statutes to ensure that slaves and their offspring would remain permanent chattel; subsequent tobacco recessions there resulted in large scale support, even among the anti-slavery forces, for selling slaves further down South.) It's also easy to imagine the white paranoia in Charlestown where slaves had long outnumbered white residents: in the 1800 census, the district reported 18,768 whites and 63,315 blacks. As early as 1780, the city of Charlestown contained more blacks than Philadelphia, Boston and New York City combined. In Vesey's day, the distribution of food within the city was de facto controlled by slaves, who delivered foodstuffs to the city's markets or were sent there to shop for their households. White Charlestownians complained throughout the 18th century that blacks "at their pleasure" chose to "supply the town with fish or not." Located on a slight rise above the Cooper River, the interior arcades of the market would have been found peopled almost exclusively by African slaves conducting business independently, without supervision, in languages impenetrable to whites.


"Too many words," Terry managed to mutter mawkishly right before the disco ball came crashing down on the mysterious, large silver frog. A greenish powder trickled out.

"This substance," Dr. Anderson declared, "has terrible power. We must destroy it forever."

But the newly tenured Terry Scott thoughtfully replied, "Perhaps so. But I believe that the frog represents the sacredness of the secret rather than a motive of evil. The secret is that the green powder can heal mankind: it must be an ancient herbal remedy. In other words, all your research to date has been total shit, Dr. Anderson. YOUTH RULES!"

"I wish all my students were live wires like that wino Nancy Drew," murmured the melancholic doc, traversing crumbling corridors.

Just as Dr. Anderson, who had begun aging gracefully not so very long ago indeed, was committing suicide, a laughing Nancy declared that that she was glad the case ended so happily. Now she wondered what new mystery would engorge her. A strange puzzle presented itself shortly (in about one month), Mystery at the Ski Dump.

Neely's was an innocent face, a face that looked at everything with breathless excitement and trusting enthusiasm, seemingly unaware of the commotion the body was causing. A face that glowed with genuine interest in each person who demanded attention, rewarding each with a warm, va- va-va-voom smile. The body and its accoutrements, just as one might expect on the steamy Valley of the Dolls set, continued to pose and undulate for the stringy crowd and flashing cameras. But the face ignored the furor and greeted people with the intimacy of a leggy puppy snuffing around old bark.

"But what do you want?" horn-rimmed Terry continued speaking to Toto. Toto only wagged his tail, for strange to say, he could not speak. It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gay; he was a little black dog, with long silky, hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of the doorway and looked anxiously at the whirling sky.

Of course, Carolyn Keene, author of Nancy Drew, never actually existed but was a pseudonym for a number of freelance writers working for the Stratemeyer syndicate. Edward L. Stratemeyer wrote or published all the important children's series of his day: starting with the Hardy boys (under the pseudonym Franklin Dixon), then the Rover boys, the Bobbsey twins, up to 10 different juvenile series by 1910. Nancy Drew was the last series Stratemeyer started right before his death. The syndicate was taken over by his daughter who continued to pen many a Nancy Schmancy tale.

Stratemeyer himself completed several of Horatio Alger's unfinished last novels, although critics frequently commented on their fundamental differences: Alger's heroes were aspiring, earnestly striving to be more disciplined, more middle class while the hearty Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews were created full-blown, already pumped to eager perfection-- adventurous, cocky, spunky, always respectful. Alger fled the newsboys' lodging house in New York where he'd actively served in the operation of its home for foundlings and runaways for 30 years. Apparently, three of the grown-up yet still needy boys whom he had "adopted" were frequently appearing at the ailing Alger's door until he headed for his sister's upstate.

Even with her eyes protected by the green spectacles, Horatio and her friends were at first bedazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The wild wind hurtled huge tumbleweeds up from the canyons, strewing them across (emerald) streets; hauntingly lovely palm fronds swayed and frayed.

Nevertheless, the streets were lined with beautiful houses, all built of green marble and studded everywhere with yummy sparkling emerald studs. They walked over a pavement of the same green marble, and where the blocks were joined together were rows of emeralds, set closely, and glittering in the brightness of the sun. The window panes and sluts were of green glass; even the sky above the City had a green tint, and the rays of the sun were green green green.


The majority of all syndicated series was written by freelancers who were given a 3-page plot outline describing locale, characters, time frame and basic story line. Each Nancy Drew had 25 chapters which ended in cliff-hangers, were written in about one month, and the writers received from $50 to $250 for them. In a interview, one prolific Nancy Drew author recently related that neither she nor Nancy were ever feminists--merely fearless fetching femmes! (and quite doll-less, too).

Anne smiled at Neely's logic. Neely had no education, but she had the inborn intelligence of a mongrel puppy, plus the added sparkle that causes one puppy to stand out in a litter. This puppy was clumsy, frank and eager, with long silky hair and twinkling, small black eyes--and a streak of unexpected worldliness running through her innocence.

(Neely had spent the first seven years of her life in foster homes.)

On the hot pink, glossy cover of the 1966 edition of The Valley of the Dolls put out by the otherwise avant-garde Grove Press, a blurb from a Village Voice writer claims that Jacqueline Susann's "protofeminism is prescient."

The attendant in the power room threw her arms around Helen. "She was my first dresser," Helen told Anne. "And, fortunately, it was beneath her dignity to value me solely for my ample camp qualities."

"You should have seen her," the woman purred affectionately. "She was all legs and friendly as a puppy."

"I still got good legs," Helen said. "But I gotta knock off a few pounds. Bow wow!"

"And Toto too," the stained dresser added with redundant alacrity, while all followed her blindly through shady portals into iridescent streets of the Emerald City. There were many people, men, women, legs and children, walking about, and they were all dressed in green clothes and greenish skin. They looked at Helen and her strangely sordid company with wondering eyes, and the children all wandered away and hid behind their mothers when they saw the wordy green puppy/lion.


In his original research on Vesey, Michael Johnson comments that many historians were dismayed at seeing the legendary Vesey story debunked-- they needed to believe in his rebellious heroism. But the true heroism, Johnson points out, is of a different kind: Vesey and 44 other men pleaded not guilty and refused to testify falsely against fellow slaves--they made the terrible choice to face execution for telling the truth rather than lie and send others to the gallows. There were also some white heroes in Charlestown: eventually 27 whites testified in court in support of 15 black defendants.

Indeed, 83 of the black men arrested refused to testify falsely; despite extensive torture, 90% of the incriminating testimony in the deadliest phase of the trials came from only six slaves. Johnson concludes, "It is time to pay attention to the not guilty pleas of almost all the men who went to the gallows," to honor them for "their refusal to name names in order to save themselves."

Unsung--and we, ourselves?



Copyright 2007 by Mel Freilicher