Travels With Andy

Out of this World Storage Locker in Arizona

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a book scout in Cottonwood, Arizona, Aaron Anderson. Book scouts travel to estate sales, yard sales, antique stores and just about any other place where books are sold. The scouts search out the good books, in turn, selling them to book dealers, turning a profit along the way.
Aaron told me about a recent storage locker sale. You know the scenario from the TV show Storage Wars...people bid on abandoned storage lockers, determining how much to bid based on what they can see by viewing the locker from outside. Of course we know that the Reality show on TV salts the lockers with cool stuff, thereby creating excitement and tension. Rarely does really good stuff show up in the real world. At this particular auction, Aaron explained that no one else bid on the locker... the only thing the prospective bidders could see were...books. " No one wants books", Aaron explained, "but I took the gamble, figuring I could always sell them on e-bay...or to that guy up in Moab."

After Aaron hauled all the boxes to his house, he finally had a chance to see what he had purchased. Turns out... this locker was owned by a guy named Wendelle Stevens.   Apparently, upon the death of Wendelle Stevens in 2010, a friend of his, John Hughes, kept paying the monthly storage fees, until Hughes passed away in February of this year.

Mr. Stevens, or I should say Colonel Stevens, was born in 1923 in Round Prairie Minnesota. He enlisted in the army in 1941 transferring to the Air Corps in 1942 serving in the Pacific Theater in World War II. After the war he spent years flying out of Elmendorff Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. It was his years in Alaska which changed Colonel Stevens' outlook on life. While in Alaska, Stevens began working on a classified project to photograph and map the Arctic land and sea area. The equipment on their plane was designed to capture, record & analyze all radio transmissions in the Arctic. They also photographed all anomalous phenomena, and recorded all disturbances in the electrical systems of the aircraft. It was during these flights that Colonel Stevens began to record radio waves from unknown sources. Because the project was classified, Stevens and his crew couldn't tell anyone about what they recorded.

After the War, the Cold War settled in, creating tension and friction between powers in the Eastern Bloc and those in the west. This post-war era led to increased awareness of the power and deadly potential force of nuclear weapons and a low level hysteria that the apocalypse was near and average citizens were powerless to prevent mass destruction. It was in this world of tension, that citizens began to look for someone, or something to save society. Post-war America was booming. Salaries were rising, home ownership was growing, rural America was shifting to suburban America and life was great...great except for this underlying menace of the Soviet Union and that threat of all-out nuclear war.

So it was in this atmosphere, this threat to the new western prosperity, that Colonel Stevens was sending daily dispatches to Washington with reports of radio transmissions from unknown sources. All the while, silence from Washington. Stevens' superiors seemingly ignoring their reports, with no explanation.

Reports, however, began to hit newspapers of sightings of unknown objects. Mysterious aircraft were sighted which allied pilots dubbed, 'foo fighters'.  The term 'flying saucer' was coined after a pilot saw nine glittering craft flying over Mount Rainier. He described them as thin, tailless, pie plate shaped objects.

By the time our friend Wendelle Stevens retired from the military in 1963, he was convinced of two things: 1) The United States government was covering up reports of unknown objects and 2) that it was very likely that flying saucers, or unidentified flying objects were very real. In the early 1960's Wendelle Stevens began his own research and collection effort. He began to publish reports on the events, and wrote articles for many UFO publications. Disenchanted with the lack of detail on contact events reported in books and journals of the time, he began preparing detailed reports of his own, self-funded investigations. His most famous report, a four volume set, was the Billy Meier case. In all, Stevens eventually published 22 books and hundreds of articles. As word got out about Stevens' obsessions, people throughout the world began to send Stevens photographs of their sightings of UFOs. Wendelle began a project he dubbed the "UFO Photo Archive", eventually amassing the largest collection of UFO photos anywhere. And of course with the photos came firsthand accounts of encounters along with detailed sketches of the observations. Some crude, some very detailed. Stevens also became Director of investigations for the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, (APRO) and founder of the International UFO Congress.

Of course I bought the collection.  How could I not? After returning from Cottonwood with a carload of boxes of UFO books, photos, sketches, magazines,firsthand accounts and assorted crap, I began asking friends and colleagues whether they believed in UFOs. Not only did the majority reply in the affirmative, but many of them began telling stories of their encounters. And most turned the question back on me. Was I a believer? Afterall, I now had proof. Thousands of photos. video tape evidence, written observations, and this new-found knowledge that thousands, no, millions of people in the world firmly believe that extra-terrestrial life exists.
Do I believe in UFOs and little green men? I'll let you know when I actually see one. Until then, I'll revel in the fact that I now own a great collection on UFOs. The best that we, as mortal humans, can come up with as proof of the existence of extra-terrestrial beings.

The Big Apple, CT and RI. March 2108

My wife Marcee, bookkeeper extraordinaire and sage adviser at Back of Beyond Books, constantly implores me to "just sell the books you've already got!"  Wise advice indeed which I willfully ignore to my peril.

Each spring New York City hosts 'NYC Book Week', promoting three rare book fairs and several world-class auctions over 5 days.  How could I NOT attend? And the following weekend is the Old Greenwich, CT based Ephemera Society of America's Ephemera Fair, with the best Ephemera Dealers showing their wares.  More fun!

So we bought tickets, booked hotels and spent ten days in planes, trains and automobiles scouting for material. We love the Big Apple! The ABAA Fair at the Park Avenue Armory runs four days and based on reports was a great success for my colleagues who ponied up the money to exhibit.  My attention however, was on the two "shadow fairs" running concurrently on Saturday.  Great fun as a scrum of dealers rush the floor to beat their competitors to the good stuff.  Multiple thousands of dollars later, with several excellent  photos albums of a CCC camp in Acadia National Park and a young woman's Yosemite trip, under my arm, I quit in order to get ready for the BIG show. 

We love the whole stick of Broadway.  The bigger the show the better, and if it is a musical, nirvana.  This year we were thrilled to get tickets for the Schubert Theater revival of Hello Dolly with Bernadette Peters.  Peters, at 70 years, has done it all in film, TV and Broadway and she did not disappoint.

Being tourists we had to search out the classic Jewish Deli for hot pastrami (PJ Bernstein,  1215 3rd Ave), the classic New York Bagel (Ess-A Bagels, 831 3rd Ave) and finally the best ethnic foods we can't get in Moab.  We let our friends Lizzy and John pick a restaurant and they chose Land A Plenty (204 E 58th St), a Szechuan joint in mid-town. Mildly bummed we weren't hitting something more exotic, Marcee and I politely agreed to eat there. Boy were we wrong! BEST FOOD EVER.  Not the best Chinese food ever, the BEST FOOD EVER! Always let the locals recommend restaurants.

And speaking of food, you must check out lizzyoungbookseller.com
Elizabeth Young specializes in books, ephemera, and cultural artifacts of food, wine and drink.  She also is offering a significant and stunning archive of the food writer and critic MFK Fisher.  Offered for sale is a vast and important personal archive of MFK Fisher.  Encompassing thousands of annotated books, letters, and pieces of ephemera, the archive shows Fisher to be an artist filled with humanity and deserving of her place as the First Lady of American food writing.

Plans to drive to Rhode Island after NYC were delayed by the big Nor'easter.  The third one to hit in three weeks.  Alas, much to do 'bout nothing. A little snow in New Haven and maybe 8 inches by the time I roll into Town's End Books in Deep River, CT.  Deep River, a tributary to the Connecticut River, became known as "the queen of the valley" due to wealth from the ivory industry.  See this NPR story. John Townsend specializes in natural history, nautical fiction, Americana and the Rivers of America books.  I was thrilled to score a copy of Rachel Carson's first book,  Under the Sea Wind, published in 1941.

Next stop Providence, RI and Dan Siegel at M & S Rare Books, Inc. Dan has been in the trade for over 50 years and shared a wealth of stories, including the time he was offered George Orwell's manuscript copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Dan wasn't exactly a fiction guy back then so he passed, for about 12 hours, frantically calling back Scribner's Rare Book manager Harold Graves to secure this high-point of anti-utopian fiction.
Siegel later published a facsimile edition of his treasured manuscript--one of the very few Orwellian manuscripts to survive.
One floor up from Dan is Gadshill Books, Bob Davis proprietor.  At 92, Bob is sharp as a tack and bullish on the book market.  An hour flew by as I scanned his shelves of Dickens and Dickensiana, finally scoring a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls. If I'm only half as sharp as Bob, I'd be thrilled.

Back south after a good night's rest in Warwick, R.I. at the NYLO Pontiac Mills Hotel on the beautiful Pawtuxet River, I head to Sam's New York System Hot Dog stand.  A local's favorite for late-night binges, their Hot Weiners were something!  And the NYLO was remarkable.  A mid-nineteenth century woolen mill has been retrofitted into a really fun and functional hotel, thereby saving a bit of Americana.

With Greenwich, CT and Ephemera 37 in my sights, I look forward to meeting up with Elizabeth Svendsen of Walkabout Books. Elizabeth has unusually good taste in her stock, specializing in collectible, rare and out-of-print books on exploration, travel, mountaineering, and Americana. We pick each other's brains almost daily in the spirit of friendly bookselling. Back of Beyond Books is collaborating with Walkabout Books on a National Park Service themed Rare Book and Ephemera Catalogue.  What we assumed would be a fairly easy task has proven elusively hard. NPS pamphlets are a dime-a-dozen, but the REALLY good stuff has proven scarce.

As I reach the trade show floor at 10am sharp, I spy Elizabeth flailing her arms at me to hurry!  Protectively hidden, Elizabeth has discovered a mammoth photo book of mammoth photos, from Mammoth Cave. It was downhill the rest of the day, but we were positively giddy with excitement with our new purchase.  If you have UNIQUE NPS material looking for a new home, please contact Elizabeth or myself.  We're looking for early NPS administrative reports, WPA posters, Pre-WWII pamphlets, early photo albums, diaries and travelogues in park areas, and early railroad promotionals about National Parks.

Other than going thru security twice at JFK, the trip home was uneventful, with five uninterrupted hours of reading, ahh! Another scouting trip in the bag, until next week when I go to Arizona to examine a storage unit full of UFO books and photographs.