Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kelsey P. Kitchel (1881-1967)

Poet and Author
Born October 6, 1881, Perth Amboy, New Jersey
Died July 8, 1967, Ocala, Florida

Kelsey Percival Kitchel was born on October 6, 1881, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where her father practiced dentistry. She was an adventurer even as a young woman: in May 1905, she returned to New York City from Puerto Cortés, Honduras, on a ticket she had purchased herself. What drew her to Latin America at the time is an open question. She would later return with her husband.

Kelsey P. Kitchel began writing at a young age. Her earliest credit that I have found was called "Pirate Treasure," a short story published in Pearson's Magazine in June 1909. Even after she had married, she wrote under her own name. Magazines that printed her stories and poems included Adventure, The All-Story, The Crisis, Ghost StoriesGunter's Magazine, Prairie Schooner, The Smart Set, Tropical Adventures, and Young's Magazine. A story for The Crisis, "The Rains," was set in Jamaica. Her lone contribution to Weird Tales, the short story "Mummy," was set in Chile. Kelsey Kitchel lived in both places with her husband, and thereby hangs a tale.

Howard Green Bayles (1881-1948), descended from a very early immigrant to America, was the son and brother of engineers. His father, James Cooper Bayles, was an author, the first editor of Iron Age magazine, and president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Howard Bayles' brother, Lewis Condit Bayles, was a mechanical engineer and holder of more than fifty patents for his inventions. Howard Green Bayles married in 1905. His first wife was an actress, Janette Logan. The marriage was short-lived, however, for Janette divorced him in 1908, charging her husband with "misconduct with Beatrice Culbert, an actress, on April 30, 1907." (The quote is from the New York Times. Incidentally, Janette Logan Bayles was later subject of a lawsuit herself, when--as an heir to a mining company--she was sued for the alleged misconduct of her benefactor.) That divorce cleared the way for Bayles' marriage to Kelsey Kitchel, which took place on January 19, 1910, in Newark, New Jersey. Before the year was out, the newlyweds were on their way to Latin America, where they would spend the next seven years of their lives and where their first born came into the world.

Kelsey P. Kitchel's story for Weird Tales, "Mummy" from November 1929, reads like a tale told around a fireplace late at night. It takes place in a desert mining camp and in a nearby village and its ancient graveyard. The narrator is a man, a mining engineer, recently of New York and New Jersey. The man is nothing more than a grave robber and subject of retribution from the grave. It's a brief but effective tale, reprinted in 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories in 1994. It's clear that the author drew from her own experience and from the men whom she knew, for Kelsey Kitchel Bayles lived in Chile from 1914 to 1918 while her husband worked for the South American Export Company. In all, she and her husband seem to have spent seven years overseas, in Mexico, Jamaica, and Chile.

By 1920, the Bayles family had returned to the United States, living first in Norwalk, Connecticut, later in Houston, Texas. Howard Bayles worked as an insurance agent while his wife continued to write. Bayles authored a book of his own, The Bayles Families of Long Island and New Jersey (1944), and a supplement in 1946. He passed away two years later. In that same year, Kelsey Percival Kitchel Bayles contributed an article about her family to American Genealogist. She survived her husband by almost two decades and died in Ocala, Florida, on July 8, 1967. She was eighty-five years old.

It never was the face of you,
  (God's hand was in the making, though)
It never was your body's strength,
  That made my whole heart love you so.
It was no clever turn of speech;
  Nor master-craftsman's faultless skill;
Not for your tongue nor yet your work,
  Did my soul seek to do your will.
It was because you never lied;
  Because your heart was clean and true;
Because your face was toward the fight--
  It was the soldier's soul of you!
                               KELSEY PERCIVAL KITCHEL

(From The Craftsman, Dec. 1909, a month before Kelsey Kitchel was married. Was this a poem to her fiancé? If not, then to whom? If so, is the characterization of him as a man implicated in misconduct with another woman inaccurate? I'm inclined to think the latter. After all, Kelsey and Howard Bayles remained married until his death.)

Kelsey P. Kitchel's Story in Weird Tales
"Mummy" (Nov. 1929)

Further Reading
"Mummy" was reprinted in 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories, selected by Robert Weinberg, et al. (Barnes and Noble, 1994)

"Mummy" by Kelsey Percival Kitchel appeared in this issue of Weird Tales with a cover by Curtis C. Senf.  The cover story is by Everil Worrell, subject of tomorrow's posting. Senf's illustration is a variation on an inexhaustible theme: the eternal triangle of the damsel in distress, menaced by the fiend (or monster), and near rescue from the valiant hero.
Kelsey P. Kitchel (1881-1967) and her husband, Howard Green Bayles (1881-1948), from their passport applications.

Thanks to Randal A. Everts for providing Kelsey Kitchel's birthplace and death date.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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