Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cleveland Moffett (1863-1926)

Journalist, Novelist, Playwright, Short Story Writer, Translator
Born April 27, 1863, Boonville, New York
Died October 14, 1926, Paris, France

Cleveland Langston Moffett was born on April 27, 1863, in Boonville, New York. He graduated from Yale University in 1883 and worked on the staff of the New York Herald, first in Europe (1887-1891), then in New York (1891-1892). Moffett followed that assignment with work for the New York Recorder from 1893 to 1894 and thereafter with various magazines. He returned to the Herald as Sunday editor in 1908-1909.

Moffett was a prolific and versatile writer. His books include Real Detective Stories (1898), Careers of Danger and Daring (1901), A King in Rags (1907), The Battle (1909), The Hand of Mystery (1913), The Conquest of America (1916), and Possessed (1919). He also wrote a number of prose poems and plays. Although Cleveland Moffett is almost unknown today, his story, "The Mysterious Card," and its sequel, "The Mysterious Card Unveiled" (both from 1896), generated a sensation among readers of the early story magazine The Black Cat. The pair was reprinted in a small hardbound edition in 1913 and in Weird Tales in 1973. (1)

In strong contrast to his role as a muckraker, Cleveland Moffett was also a fantasist. His novel, The Conquest of America, is a future-war story, a genre of great popularity from the 1870s onward. The "Mysterious Card" stories also contained fantastic elements, as did Possessed, a novel of the supernatural. Moffett also predicted the invention of color television in a story called "Seeing by Wire" (1899).

Although he lived into the Weird Tales era, Moffett went unpublished in the magazine until 1973. It's interesting to note that the companion magazine to Weird Tales, called Detective Tales (later Real Detective Tales), bore a title very similar to that of Moffett's first book, Real Detective Stories. That could be intentional or merely coincidental.

I would like to quote the New York Times on a curious item from the resume of Cleveland Moffett:
He was a trustee of the American Defense Society, and in the first months after the United States entered the World War, he was Chairman of the American Defense Vigilantes and a leader in the suppression of seditious street orators. (2)
The Times chronicled Moffett's continuing attempts to shout down or shut up soap box orators during the war. It's interesting that a newspaperman and author would attempt to suppress free speech, but then the president at the time, a former college professor, was engaged in the same kind of activity. In any case, Cleveland Moffett returned to Europe after the war and spent the last year and a half of his life there. He died in Paris on October 14, 1926. He was sixty-three years old.

Cleveland Moffett's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Mysterious Card" (Winter 1973, originally in The Black Cat, Feb. 1896)
"The Mysterious Card Unveiled" (Winter 1973, originally in The Black Cat, Aug. 1896)

(1) Once again, Sam Moskowitz had problems with proper nouns: in his introduction to "The Mysterious Card," Moskowitz called the sequel "The Mysterious Card Revealed," while the actual title is given as "The Mysterious Card Unveiled." The latter appears to have been the true title of Moffett's tale.
(2) From his obituary, October 16, 1926, page 17.

Cleveland Moffett caused a sensation with his puzzle-story "The Mysterious Card," which first appeared in this issue of the magazine The Black Cat in February 1896. That was the same year in which the pulp magazine was born.
Before the TV show Dirty Jobs, there was Moffett's book Careers of Danger and Daring (1901).  I apologize for the poor image, but at least it will give you an idea of the ground Moffett covered in his book.
Finally, a more recent cover of The Reign of Terror in the French Revolutiona book by Moffett's grandson, also named Cleveland Moffett. See the comment below and thanks to Mr. Moffett for the correction. (I don't know the name of the cover artist.)
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Cleveland MoffettApril 16, 2013 at 5:49 AM

    I am delighted to see that you have discovered and appreciate my grandfather and namesake. Unfortunately he died before I was born (1930), although I don't know how well we would have got along -- some of his ideas were pretty far right of center. I note only one error in your otherwise fine coverage. The author of the book on the Reign of Terror is me, the second CLM. Incidentally, his son, my father, Langston Moffett, wrote an excellent novel, Devil by the Tail, about his career as an alcoholic.... Thanks for your evocation of mygranddad, Cleveland Moffett

    1. Hello Cleveland Moffett -- I recently discovered your grandfather's writing while researching for my next novel. His CAREERS OF DANGER AND DARING provided me with excellent historical insight into diving. I was delighted to find your comment here, and to learn that you are an author, too! I hope you are well and still writing! Best wishes, Bernadette Pajer (author of the Professor Bradshaw Mysteries: A SPARK OF DEATH, FATAL INDUCTION, CAPACITY FOR MURDER, and coming Fall 2014, EDISON'S INQUIRY, featuring historical diving detail mined from your grandfather's investigating research.)

  2. Dear Mr. Moffett,

    I am very happy to hear from you. Thanks for your message and thanks for the correction. It's a demonstration of the fact that research is never complete.

    I would like to write something about your father, Langston Moffett. I hope that what I write here is accurate.

    Langston Moffett was born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1903, and attended schools in the eastern United States. He was at Dartmouth University from 1921 to 1923. Like his father before him, Langston Moffett was on the staff of the New York Herald and lived in Paris, in 1929 and 1930 or 1928 and 1929. According to a blog called Broken Turtle (http://brokenturtleblog.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html),
    Moffett was friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda among others. He returned to the United States in the early 1930s.

    In addition to being a journalist, Moffett was an artist and, according to AskArt, painted in the naive tradition. He was a member of the art colony at St. Augustine, Florida, from 1940 onward and also painted at Provincetown, Massachusetts. I believe he would have been associated with the author and actress Susan Glaspell (1876-1948) there during the last decade of her life.

    Moffett continued to write for newspapers and was heard on the radio in St. Augustine during World War II. His novel, Devil by the Tail, was published in 1947. He spent the early 1950s in Italy.

    Moffett was married to Claudia Read, a singer, pianist, and newspaper reporter. They lived in St. Augustine for many decades. Langston Moffett died in 1989 in Jacksonville, Florida.

    Mr. Moffett, please feel free to comment on my comment. I would like to hear more about your career and your father's career. Thanks again for writing.

    Terence Hanley