Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Orville R. Emerson (1894-1945)-Part One

Teacher, Soldier, Author, Attorney
Born June 12, 1894, Burlington, Iowa
Died January 23, 1945, Los Angeles, California

Orville R. Emerson wrote just one story for Weird Tales. Called simply "The Grave," it appeared in the inaugural issue of the magazine in March 1923 and was selected by editors John Gregory Betancourt and Marvin Kaye for inclusion in their 1997 anthology The Best of Weird Tales: 1923. If there is such a thing as trench-art literature, "The Grave" might be an example. It's a simple but horrifying tale of the Great War. "The Grave" is set in Flanders in the final month of a conflict that ended one hundred years ago last month. The discovery of the manuscript that makes up the bulk of the story takes place on Christmas Day 1918. I would hardly call "The Grave" a Christmas story. Nonetheless, I have chosen to write about it today, Christmas Day 2018.

The author of "The Grave," Orville R. Emerson, was born on June 12, 1894, in Burlington, Iowa. His father was the Reverend Frank W. Emerson and his mother was Eva M. Anderson, both later of Bonham, Texas; Ontario, California; and Albany, Oregon. Orville R. Emerson graduated from the law school of the University of California with an A.B. degree and taught grammar at Page Military Academy in Los Angeles prior to the American entry into the Great War. Emerson received his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the Presidio in San Francisco before moving on to Camp Lewis in Washington State. On December 9, 1917, he married Lila Strait in Tacoma, Washington. A student at the University of Southern California, she had left school unbeknownst to her parents to travel to Washington for the wedding. Her intention was to remain there for as long as her husband did. The wedding itself was a surprise to them.

During the war, Lieutenant Emerson served as regimental intelligence officer with Company I of the 363rd Infantry, 91st Division, in Belgium and France. He was at Saint-Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne campaign in September-November 1918. His story, "The Grave," mentions Watou and Mount Kemmel. Both places are in Flanders, and it seems certain that Emerson was near there as well. He may even have fictionalized himself in his own story.

Once returned to civilian life, Orville Emerson organized the Redlands, California, post of the new American Legion in 1919 and became its first commander. He was at the same time executive director of Mutual Orange Distributors, a company run by his father-in-law, J.H. Strait. In March 1923, when his first and only known genre story was published, Emerson was serving as press representative of the American Legion post Redlands. He later returned to the office of commander.

Emerson seems to have devoted himself to public and community service. He was an officer in his local chamber of commerce and a member of fraternal and service organizations, including Kiwanis and the YMCA. In 1932, he ran for state assemblyman. In 1934, he spent six months as a commander at the San Juan Capistrano Hot Springs CCC Camp in California. And in 1935, he moved to Pasadena, California, and took the position of deputy district attorney for Los Angeles.

Emerson served a second stint in the army in 1941-1944. That stint began when then Captain Emerson was recalled to active duty in June 1941 to serve as commanding officer at an army recreation area in Savannah, Georgia. Promoted to major, he went from Savannah to Hamilton Field, California, in January 1942. He later served as commanding officer of an army recreation area in Panama City, Florida. Honorably discharged for ill health in November 1944, Emerson died of a heart attack at a luncheon in Los Angeles on January 23, 1945. He was only fifty-one years old. Emerson was survived by his wife and two daughters.

Orville R. Emerson's Story in Weird Tales
"The Grave" (Mar. 1923)

Further Reading
There are many newspaper articles on Orville R. Emerson, including his obituary, "Orville R. Emerson Stricken in L.A.," San Bernardino County Sun (CA), January 24, 1945, page 9.

Next: Connections.

Orville R. Emerson, 1932.

Merry Christmas to Readers of Weird Tales!

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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