Rediscovered: Edward Whymper, 155 Years Ago Today

Jeez. Talk about your social distancing. . . .

Autograph Hound Brian Leno has been as busy collecting as ever, despite the pandemic and the lockdown, and pops in today to explain what happened to the guys on the rope.

In addition to that mountaineering moment, he reports that he “ordered a biography of the fellow who killed John Wilkes Booth, Boston Corbett. Interesting guy, very religious.

“Seems like one time he passed a couple of prostitutes and it must have excited him. Got himself home, started reading the Bible, fetched himself some scissors and castrated himself.

“With a pair of scissors.

“Apparently no one really knows of his passing, but it’s thought he died in a big fire in Minnesota.”

Among other notable acquisitions for the Leno trove he got the John Hancock of the Frankenstein play author Richard Brinsley Peake (Mary Shelley was in the audience for the premiere). The suicide or murdered Jack the Stripper suspect. Boxer Freddie Mills, rumored sexual partner to one of the Kray Brothers.

Brian says, “As with your Arkham ephemera collection they don’t take up much room. One scrap of paper and a signed small photo of Mills, getting ready to duke it out with someone. A smaller triumph was the purchase of another Freddie, Freddie Jones who played the carnival barker in The Elephant Man and the monster in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed.”

The multifarious joys of autograph collecting.

Here’s Brian to give us the scoop on the hot news of 155 years ago:

I have been to the mountain top. Just finished my own shootout for an Edward Whymper autograph, and that baby is coming to the states! I guess during the bidding you could say I started with a bang and got a Whymper. Wasn’t cheap.

The image above captures the moment the rope broke and four of Whymper’s companions, just after completing the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn, went tumbling to their deaths. Whymper, I believe, is second from the top and the print is by the great French artist, Gustave Dore. (Coincidentally, I also have Dore’s signed business card.) The chromolithograph appeared in the March, 1867 issue of Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine, a couple of years after the event.

The auto came in a shot-to-shit copy of Whymper’s 1896 guide to Chamonix and Mont Blanc. Once I got the book, I cut the page free and framed it.

On the Dore artwork, by the way, the guy with his arms outstretched, right at the break of the rope, is Lord Francis Douglas. Francis was the brother to the Marquess of Queensbury of the sponsor of the boxing rules fame. His nephew, it would follow, was then Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s boyfriend.

Of the four that perished, Douglas was the only body never found. Still not, as far as I know.

All this happened July 14, 1865. The fall off the Matterhorn occurred about two months after the end of the Civil War, to put things in perspective.

Of the incident, Whymper said, “Every night, do you understand, I see my comrades of the Matterhorn slipping on their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, in perfect order at equal distances. . . .”     

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