Monday, March 5, 2012

Volney G. Mathison (1897-1965)-Part 7

Personal Life and End

Less than a month after his nineteenth birthday, on September 6, 1916, Volney Mathison married in Columbia County, Oregon. Unfortunately I don't know the name of his bride. It's safe to assume that she was her husband's first wife but not his last. However, there is some confusion on the Internet as to Mathison's marriages. I think that confusion comes from an odd article in the Los Angeles Times from 1935, odd only in light of other facts about his life. Unless Mathison played games with the truth (and if I interpret the facts correctly), the situation was this: Volney Mathison married Dorothy Jean Ashley, nicknamed Jean, in about 1929. The two remained married for the rest of their lives.

Born in Huntington, Indiana, on July 18, 1907, Dorothy Ashley was the daughter of an Illinois barber who died sometime between 1920 and 1930. At the time of the 1930 census, Volney and Dorothy Mathison were living in Berkeley, California, with her mother and her sister, Roberta A. Ashley, also called Audrey. (1) In 1935, the Los Angeles Times unintentionally threw a wrench in the works of this account by reporting:
Jean Darrell, music librarian for the local N.B.C. headquarters, returned from her vacation with a husband--Volney Mathison, who is engaged in [the] shortwave radio business.
The situation is confused further with this, from the same paper, thirty years later:
MATHISON, Jean, beloved wife of Volney Mathison, loving daughter of Mrs. Theodore Warkentin, sister of Audrey Ashley. Services at Pierce Brothers' Los Angeles Mortuary, 720 W. Washington Blvd. (2)
The California Death Index reports that Dorothy J. Mathison, born July 18, 1907, in Indiana, died on November 9, 1964, in Los Angeles--obviously the same woman. (The cemetery where she was buried gives her full name: Dorothy Jean Mathison.) So how is it possible that a woman named Jean Darrell fetched back a husband from her 1935 vacation when that same man was married to Dorothy Jean Ashley from Indiana? Did he divorce Dorothy Ashley, then remarry her after a hypothetical marriage to this Jean Darrell ended? Was Mathison a bigamist (like L. Ron Hubbard)? Or did Jean Mathison go by the name Jean Darrell? If so, why? Maybe the Times meant to say that she returned from her vacation with her husband instead of with a husband. Or maybe the couple had kept their marriage of circa 1929 secret, only to make it public in 1935. The simplest answer may be the best: the article from 1935 is misleading. Who did the misleading? Probably the Mathisons. And who has been misled? Everyone who believes Volney Mathison was married just once to a woman named Jean Darrell in 1935.

In any case, Jean Mathison, Volney Mathison's wife, died on November 9, 1964, at age fifty-seven. Ten years her senior, Volney outlived her by only two months, dying on January 3, 1965, in Los Angeles. He was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park as she was before him. There weren't any survivors listed in Mathison's death announcement. L. Ron Hubbard survived however, and on June 7, 1965, while the flowers on Volney's grave were practically still fresh, the founder of the Church of Scientology filed a patent for a "Device for Measuring and Indicating Changes in the Resistance of a Human Body." The patent--U.S. Patent 3,290,589--was issued on December 6, 1966. Hubbard had finally wrested the Mathison Electropsychometer from its inventor. (3)

Volney G. Mathison
Radioman, Seaman, Labor Spokesman, Inventor, Author, Chiropractor, Psychoanalyst
Born August 13, 1897, Paducah, Texas
Died January 3, 1965, Los Angeles, California

Volney Mathison's Story in Weird Tales
"The Death Bottle" (Mar. 1925)

Further Reading
Because of his association with L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics, and the Church of Scientology, Volney G. Mathison has received mention in books on those subjects. If you would like to read more about him, I would suggest finding books on Hubbard and his followers. For more on wireless telegraphy and radio, start with a history of radio or a biography of Guglielmo Marconi, David Sarnoff, or other pioneers in the field. For more on radio in Southern California, see an interesting website called Radio City Hollywood, here. You can find out more about Anthony Cornero Stralla by looking at books on organized crime, the Mafia, and the history of Las Vegas. Going farther back, you can read about Henry George and the single tax in any number of books and on any number of websites. Wikipedia might be a good place to start. Finally, to find out more about Hugo Gernsback and the origins of science fiction magazines, see a history of science fiction such as Alternate Worlds by James Gunn (1975), A Pictorial History of Science Fiction by David Kyle (1976), or Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction (1963) by Sam Moskowitz.

(1) A woman named Audrey Ashley is credited as co-author of the story on which the movie Raw Deal (1948) was based. Her collaborator was Arnold B. Anthony. That may be the same pseudonymous author of the novel Parched Earth (1934), a story about agricultural workers in California (perhaps like Volney Mathison's father) and dedicated to the author's mother, "Who has known the heartbreak of lean harvests" (like Mathison's mother). My feeling is that Arnold B. Anthony was not Volney Mathison, but it's always good to consider possibilities.
(2) Theodore Warkentin was a boatbuilder, carpenter, and stevedore in California.
(3) The following year, Hubbard--like Tony the Hat before him--took to the sea where he could operate away from watching eyes.
Postscript (Aug. 14, 2016): It seems likely to me that--given his father's interest in intellectual ideas--Volney George Mathison was named after the French author, intellectual, and politician Count Constantin de Volney (1757-1820). Although he was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Volney also associated himself with the intellectuals behind the French Revolution and with their ideas. These men tended to be religious skeptics, materialists, or atheists. They also tended--as history has shown--towards pseudoscience and otherwise crackpot ideas about economics, politics, philosophy, science, and human nature.
"Looking North on Vine Street from Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California," a postcard of the 1930s or '40s. This was the milieu of countless stars, executives, and technicians, as well as Volney and Jean Mathison, the fictional Philip Marlowe, and the infamous real-life case of the Black Dahlia.

Original text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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