Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ralph Allen Lang (1906-1987)

Poet, Author, Editor, Boy Scout
Born August 11, 1906
Died September 1987

Ralph Allen Lang was born on August 11, 1906, and though he lived past eighty, he seems to have spent a good part of his life being a boy and doing the things boys do. In the 1920s, he was a Boy Scout after having been a Lone Scout. In his middle years, he worked for Holgate Brothers Company of Kane, Pennsylvania, a maker of wooden toys. And, in the mid-1940s, he wrote this sonnet about youth, longing, and sanctuary:

Sanctuary 
by Ralph Allen Lang

I have a chamber where the walls are hung
With all the splendid sunsets I have seen
Surmounting somber banks of forest green
Where, through the long sweet days, the birds have sung;
Here, too, Aurora's brightest rays are flung 
In golden mist upon a dew-drenched scene 
The wine of Hebe glistens in her sheen, 
A draught of health that ever keeps us young--
And in my room are skies and clouds and rain
And many a star and many a rainbow glows 
And laughing streams leap onward to the main, 
And moonlight weirdly gleams on crusted snows.
Here Beauty waits, and here I may regain 
My youth, and find a balm for all my woes. (1)

The sentiment is the same, I think, as in the Beach Boys' song "In My Room" from two decades later.

The Lone Scouts of America were founded in 1915 for boys who lived in rural areas, away from others with whom they might form a troop, or as the Lone Scouts called them, "tribe." There weren't any adult leaders and no age limit. The boys were on their own and communicated with each other by mail and through their organizational magazine, Lone Scout, to which they contributed articles, stories, photographs, and cartoons. "The magazine," wrote Robert Peterson in Scouting, "was . . . the spawning ground for thousands of future writers, editors, and printers." (2) Ralph Allen Lang was one of them. In 1965, Lang was awarded a gold merit medal for his poem "Ah, Wilderness," written for the 50th anniversary issue of Lone Scout magazine. The Lone Scouts by then existed only in the memories of the boys who were once members, for they had merged with the Boy Scouts in June 1924. (3)

If you look into old issues of Boys' Life, you will see the name of Ralph Allen Lang from time to time. In 1924, in response to the merger of the two scouting groups, he noted, "The Lone Scouts of America has developed into more of a literary organization than anything else," whereas the Boy Scouts had practiced more in woodcraft. (4) He pledged his loyalty to the Boy Scouts, and by the end of the year, he was being recognized for his accomplishments:
Another name has been added to the small number of Supreme Scouts, that of Ralph Allen Lang. Scout Lang is present Scout Chief of District #3, Pennsylvania--and has won his set of Merit Medals and Quill through his poetical efforts. (Boys' Life, Oct. 1924, p. 47)
The Council Fire, ALSAP 10, edited by Ralph Allen Lang, SS, of Kane, Pennsylvania, has been designated by the Council of Ten as official organ of Council Three . . . . (Boys' Life, Nov. 1925, p. 17)
There are other items as well, but these show Scout Lang's interest in writing and editing.

In the early 1930s, Lang contributed three stories to Weird Tales. Two have been reprinted in hardback. "The Silver Knife," from January 1932, is a werewolf story of the Far North. Strangely, there is an allusion to the Cthulhu Mythos in the mention of "an ancient temple of Dagon." "On Top," from November 1933, is a very brief tale of the Old West. It has an amusing twist at the end and reads like a story from the comic book House of Mystery or House of Secrets from the early 1970s. 

In the 1940s, Ralph A. Lang was associate editor of Highlights of Holgates, the house organ of Holgate Brothers Company in Lang's hometown of Kane, Pennsylvania. The company started making wooden toys in 1929 and specialized in finely made educational playthings for preschoolers. The logo used from 1938 to 1945 reads, "Educational, Sturdy, Safe." Norman Rockwell's brother, Jarvis Rockwell, Jr., is supposed to have worked there for a time. As for Ralph Allen Lang, I know nothing more about him except that he died in September 1987 at age eighty-one.

Ralph Allen Lang's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Silver Knife" (Jan. 1932)
"On Top" (Nov. 1933)
"The Thunderstones of Nuflo" (July 1934)

Further Reading
  • "The Silver Knife" was reprinted in 100 Creepy Little Creature Storiesedited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg (1994).
  • "On Top" was reprinted in 100 Wild Little Weird Tales, edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenberg (1994).
  • You can read about the Lone Scouts of America and Holgate Brothers Company elsewhere on the Internet. The story of the Lone Scouts is especially interesting.
Notes
(1) The text of the poem is from a document made using text recognition software. I have had to edit it. I hope I have done so accurately.
(2) "The Way It Was: Where the Past Is Ever Present: The Museum at a North Carolina Council Scout Camp Commemorates the Lone Scouts of America." by Robert Peterson, from Scouting, September 2002, online here.
(3) See the article in the Kane (Pennsylvania) Republican, October 12, 1965, page 4.
(4) From Boys' Life, June 1924, p. 3.

The symbol of the Lone Scouts of America was an Indian with his arms raised.

This cover of Weird Tales from February 1924 is not very much different. It came just four months before the Lone Scouts were merged with the Boy Scouts of America. I wonder if the artist, R.M. Mally, was a Lone Scout.

Ralph Allen Lang in his days with the Lone Scouts, from Boys' Life, May 1924, page 50. 

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

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