Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bernard Austin Dwyer (1897-1943)

William Bernard Augustine Dwyer
Poet, Artist, Fantasy Fan and Correspondent, Farm Worker and Farmer, CCC Camp Worker, Sign Painter
Born May 29, 1897, West Shokan, New York
Died August 19, 1943, presumably in Kingston, New York

Bernard Austin Dwyer is known now among fans of weird fiction as a correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) of Providence, Rhode Island. I don't know that the two ever met, but I don't have many sources on Lovecraft's biography or voluminous correspondence. What I can say is that Bernard Austin Dwyer, who has largely escaped the investigations of biographers, is a little more known today than he was yesterday.

Bernard Austin Dwyer was christened William Bernard Augustine Dwyer--or at least that's the name he claimed on his draft card in World War I. His parents were Philip or Phillip Dwyer (1862-?), an Irish-born farmer and factory worker, and Mary A. Dwyer (Aug. 1863-?), a native of New York. We can speculate that her maiden name was Augustine, thus the origin of her son's second middle name, and, by contraction, his assumed middle name. Dywer had a sister, Katherine or Catherine A. Dwyer Sherman (1899-?), a widow later in life who nursed him when he was sick. He also had a brother, Charles P. Dwyer (1901-1973), possibly nicknamed "Zip."

The Dwyer family moved from place to place in New York State. In 1900, they were in Claverack in Columbia County (which may have been Mary Dwyer's native county). In 1905, Olive, in Ulster County, was their home. By 1915 and through 1920, William B. Dwyer was working on the farm in West Shokan, a place evidently within the town of Olive and in the area of the artist's and writer's colony of Woodstock and Bearsville. By 1925, he was calling himself Bernard W. Dwyer, though still working as a farmer, again in Olive. And by 1930, Dwyer had an industrial job working as a polisher in a factory in Kingston. He was then living with his widowed sister Katherine Sherman.

In the 1930s, Dwyer worked at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps at Peekskill and Cornwall, New York. Described by the Kingston Daily Freeman as a "powerful giant, talented writer and what not," he was a farmer, gardener, woodcutter, and all-around worker in the outdoors. Dwyer was also an artist, a poet, a writer, and the proprietor of Dwyer Sign Shop in his hometown. For a time, there was a place called Dwyer's Corner where his parents lived, worked, and entertained frequent visitors among their family. For a time also, Dwyer was on a live radio program called "Soph and Joseph" with Sophie (Pinkosz) Miller (1910-1997), who also wrote the script. The show was on WKNY of Kingston.

Dwyer, who modified his name to Bernard Austin Dwyer, had a brief career as a writer in and for pulp magazines. His only work for Weird Tales, other than his letters to "The Eyrie," was a poem, "Ol' Black Sarah," from October 1928. He also had a letter in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror.

Dwyer died on August 19, 1943, presumably in Kingston, New York. Like his friend by mail, H.P. Lovecraft, Dwyer was forty-six years old at his death, an event that occurred on the eve of the anniversary of Lovecraft's birth more than half a century before.

Bernard Austin Dwyer's Poem in Weird Tales
"Ol' Black Sarah" (1928)

Bernard Austin Dwyer's Letters to "The Eyrie" (plus one to Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror)
Letter  (June 1929)
Letter (June 1930)
"Oy! Oy! Oy!" (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Oct. 1932)
"Quinn's Masterpiece" [i.e., "Roads"] (Mar. 1938)
"A de Grandin Movie" (Sept. 1938)

Further Reading
  • "Quinn's Masterpiece," Dwyer's letter to "The Eyrie" from March 1938, at Wikisource, here.
  • "'A Mighty Woodcutter': Bernard Austin Dwyer and His Possible Influence on Lovecraft" and comments, posted by David Haden on the blog Tentaclii:: H.P. Lovecraft Blog, July 13, 2014, here.

A group photograph of Red Cross workers and others from the Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman, June 15, 1943. Bernard Austin Dwyer is the tall man on the far left. His co-worker in radio, Sophie Miller, is on the far right. A little over two months after this picture was in the Kingston paper, Dwyer was in his grave.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

2 comments:

  1. Good to see a photo of him, even if photostat-ed. There's a final expanded and footnoted version of ""A mighty woodcutter": on the trail of Bernard Austin Dwyer", as the lead essay in the book 'Lovecraft in Historical Context: the fifth collection' (2014). Followed by newly unearthed poems by Dwyer.

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    1. Dear Borrowind,

      Thanks for the notification. I hope that what I have written here is accurate and that it goes along with what David Haden has written in his book.

      TH

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