Saturday, June 15, 1996
Conan the Barbarian Creator Remembered in Cross
By Brian Bethel
The memory of Conan creator Robert Howard's typewriter still lingers
in the mind of Cross Plains newspaperman Jack Scott.
Scott remembers rolling the paper in Howard's Underwood No. 5
typewriter up just slightly to better read the final words the
reclusive writer wrote the day he shot himself in 1936, the same
day his mother later died of tuberculosis.
Rather than a saga of the muscular barbarian that would become
his most enduring character, the words indicated Howard's desire
for his own death - something he had long spoken of - and a sense
of conviction to at last carry the deed through:
All fled, all done,
so lift me on the pyre:
The feast is over,
The lamps expire.
Faithful lovers of Howard's work gather in his native Cross Plains
each year to celebrate the man some knew as the "crazy"
son of well-loved local doctor Isaac Howard - a man others know
as a creator of fantastic worlds that endure today.
Scott, 86, remembers the day of Howard's death, and the man himself,
in vivid detail.
"I was out front, trying to get a story for the (Associated
Press) wire and the newspapers I was a stringer for," said
Scott, a longtime editor-publisher of the Cross Plains Review.
"I wanted something for the afternoon papers, and I had enough
to write it except for one thing: I needed someone to confirm
for me that he had committed suicide."
Scott stood in the yard of the Howard home, becoming increasingly
worried. He needed to get his news copy to the local depot agent
before noon, and it was already about 10:30 a.m.
"If I hadn't gotten it to him before noon, he would have
just left," he said. "So I stood there among a crowd
full of people until the (justice of the peace) walked out of
the house. He saw me in the crowd and said, 'Come here.' "
Sitting among the restored contents of Robert Howard's family
home just off of Highway 36 in Cross Plains, Scott quietly spoke
of his trek through the death-stricken house with Justice of the
Peace Drew Hill to the room where Howard had his typewriter -
the place where he created worlds.
"He led me in, right down this hall, into this room,"
Scott said, his eyes resting on the replica display of Howard's
typewriter. "He said, 'What's that in that typewriter?' "
Scott read the words.
"What does that mean?" Hill asked.
He explained the meaning as best he could. Howard's grief for
his mother - who he was certain would die soon - had perhaps consumed
him and given him an excuse to find the death he had so often
"All hope is gone for his mother, so 'lift me on the funeral
pyre,' " he explained to Hill. "The lamps - his eyes
- go out. That's his death."
Hill looked at Scott.
"He's writing about his suicide, isn't he?" he asked.
"Is that what you're going to rule it, Judge?" Scott
"Well of course, that's what it is," Hill replied. "Everyone
With confirmation in hand, Scott left to write.
Ms. Howard died several hours later.
The death of Robert Howard and the subsequent death of his mother
was a tragedy for the people of Cross Plains, Scott said.
His father, Isaac Howard, was the quintessential country doctor,
well liked in all the country 'round. He and Scott were good friends.
"We discussed everything in the world - from politics to
religion," he said. "But I was never intimate with Robert
Howard, and there's really no one that I know alive now that was."
Howard was always a loner, Scott said. With only a few friends
to his name, one of which owned the gun he used to commit suicide,
he was considered somewhat odd by some of the townspeople.
He was about five or six years older than Scott.
"We didn't have much in common," he said. "He didn't
play ball, he didn't go to dances, he didn't do most of the things
that guys his age usually did."
But when Howard and his mother died, their double funeral was
well-attended by mourners.
"They held the funeral in the tabernacle at the back of the
Baptist church at 10th and Main," Scott said. "The people
filled all the yard around. It was an enormous outpouring."
Scott ran his story as the banner on the newspaper's front page,
with a reprint of one of Howard's recent tales on the back page.
Despite the suicide, Scott said he thought Howard was sane, even
up until the end.
Howard's great love for his mother stemmed from the time he was
battling a childhood sickness, during which she told him he would
need to take care of her someday.
"He did have a strong attachment for his mother," Scott
said. "Old Doctor Howard was gone all of the time, and he
never had a chance to know his father as well as he did his mother."
Many Howard scholars believe his mother's death wasn't the true
cause of his death - merely the occasion.
Other stories tell that he told Novalyne Price - a girlfriend
of his for a brief time - that he eventually came to believe Conan
himself was guiding his fingers across his keyboard.
Scott said he didn't think that was the case, but he did say it
was likely that like all good writers, Howard put himself into
"If you're a good writer, I think you become enraptured with
what you're doing and become a part of it," he said. "I
think he probably did that."
Stories are still told of Howard shadow-boxing to get the feel
for a tale about boxing or staging a scene to write later in a
cape by the light of the moon.
Howard's fantasy sagas, not only of Conan but of characters such
as King Kull of Atlantis and Solomon Kane, became well-known in
magazines such as the venerable Weird Tales, a staple of
pulp fiction until the '50s that helped launch the careers of
writers such as Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch and horror master H.P.
He wrote stories for a wide variety of other magazines.
But while most of the people of Cross Plains knew he was a writer,
many didn't read the pulp magazines that frequently carried his
"I was not an avid reader of his stories," Scott said.
"A lot of people in town just knew he wrote 'strange stuff,'
not really what he did."
"Heroic fantasy doesn't mean that much to me," he said.
"I'd rather read the sports or something. But I've talked
to people from all around the world who love Howard's stories,
and they sometimes have an almost worshipful attitude toward him."
And that is the gift Howard gave to Cross Plains - world-wide
recognition, Scott said.
"He brought his hometown notoriety around the world that
seems to grow with every passing year," he said. "A
lot of people didn't know even know where it was before him. That's
what he did for Cross Plains."
All content copyright 1996, Brian Bethel,
The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine
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