18 December, 2017

Item 317: Adventures in Rocket City Lobby Card 1942

Collection Item 317: Adventures in Rocket City Lobby Card. 1942.

What possible connection does a 1942 movie serial have to the Hawkins Strongbox histories?  That is the riddle presented by Collection Item 317.

Adventures in Rocket City was a fifteen chapter movie serial produced by Hyperion-Zephyr Productions and released during the summer of 1942.  Discovered inside the Hawkins Strongbox was an original studio lobby card used to promote the picture and now archived as Collection Item 317.  The item measures 11 in x 14 in and was printed in a sepia tone black and white.

Hyperion-Zephyr Productions was a part of Hollywood's poverty row, a collection of studios that specialized in B pictures and movie serials.  The studio emerged in late 1939, taking over the former Disney Studio location at 2719 Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake neighborhood just east of Hollywood.  Walt Disney had moved his studio to Burbank earlier that year. Hyperion-Zephyr used that facility for soundstage production, while operating a backlot at the Timberjack Movie Ranch in the nearby San Fernando Valley.

Despite its second-class status in the studio hierarchy, Hyperion-Zephyr earned a reputation for producing good looking films with impressive optical and special effects that belied their typically low budgets.  While most of the other poverty row studios focused on westerns and crime dramas, Hyperion-Zephyr specialized in science fiction and fantasy adventures.  Adventures in Rocket City was one of the studio's more high profile endeavors and spawned two sequels, Revolt of the Rocket City Robots in 1944 and Rocket City Race to Jupiter in 1945.

But what connects all of this to the Hawkins Strongbox and its storied cast of 19th century historical characters?  An examination of the credits on the lobby card provides at least some answers.

Adventures in Rocket City was inspired by a series of stories by Adler Fanshaw, published in the magazine Startling Stories between 1939 and 1942.  As visitors here know, Fanshaw was a member of the Society of the Mechanical Sun.  Following his retirement from newspaper work in 1925, he wrote novels and short stories until his death on 15 August 1953.
Publicity Photo of Ted Hawkins. 1942.

The serial starred Ted Hawkins as hero Preston Powers.  Hawkins was born Theodore Victor Pepper on 20 October 1904 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.  He was the youngest son of parents Brent Hawkins Pepper and Orphelia Burby Pepper.  His paternal grandfather was Geoffrey Hawkins.

The film was directed by Magnus Deakin. He was born in 1908 to parents Everett Deakin and Mary Ann Hughes Deakin.  His paternal grandparents were Timothy Deakin and Falynne Hyperion Deakin.  Magnus Deakin was one of four individuals who formed Hyperion-Zephyr Productions. It would appear that the name of the studio was inspired in part by Falynne Hyperion's late 19th century airship fleet. Prior to the studio's inception, Magnus Deakin worked for Walt Disney Productions where he helped develop the multiplane camera and numerous other technical innovations.

04 December, 2017

Collection Item 98: Cabinet Card of Shannon Kennicot Pepper and Brent Hawkins Pepper

We have discovered little so far within the Hawkins Strongbox that provides details of the passionate and sometimes contentious relationship between Geoffrey Hawkins and Shannon Kennicot. The two met as teenagers in their native Dixton in the late 1860s. A desultory courtship ensued over the next decade, culminating in the birth of their out-of-wedlock son Brent Hawkins, on 1 December, 1877.  Thirteen years later, mother and son posed for a photograph at Deakin Bro's studio in London. Collection Item 98 is a cabinet card of that photograph.

Item 98 has been designated as part of Lot 15: Frontier Ephemera. Robert Deakin sent the card to Geoffrey Hawkins when Hawkins was staying at the Timberjack Ranch in Nevada during the autumn of 1890. Included with the card was the following missive:
     I hope this finds you well. Young Brent asked me to send you this copy, despite his mother's objections. Your son is wise beyond his years. He may not know of the Society and the troubles with Cyncad, but he seems to truly sense you are not the devil his mother portrays you to be.  Shannon does it all to protect Brent, of this I am certain, but he will chart his own course, I am sure.
     They live comfortably as Roderick's inheritance provides for their needs. The Society endeavours to keep them safe. I hope the image cheers you as you continue to try to squelch this evil that has beset us these too many years.
                                                              Stay safe my friend,
The note was dated 9 September 1890.

It can be assumed the Geoffrey Hawkins wanted to shield Brent and his mother from the dangers of Enoch Cyncad and thereby initiated the estrangement that Robert Deakin alludes to in the missive.

Shannon Kennicot married book publisher Roderick Pepper in 1879. Pepper in turn adopted Brent on the occasion of  the boy's fifth birthday.  Roderick Pepper died suddenly in 1888, leaving the inheritance that Deakin makes reference to. Upon reaching adulthood, Brent would join the Society of the Mechanical Sun and shortly thereafter, fight along side his father at the infamous Battle of Silver Mountain.

26 November, 2017

Item 3: The Society of the Mechanical Sun Photograph

Collection Item 3: The Society of the Mechanical Sun Photograph. 1882.

On 9 January, 1882, the Society of the Mechanical Sun was established in a private room in London's famed Scientia Club.  On that auspicious occasion, charter members Geoffrey Hawkins, Berkley Vanderzee, Falynne Hyperion and Timothy Deakin took a moment to pose for a photograph, staged by Deakin's older brother Robert.  A copy of that photograph was discovered within the Hawkins Strongbox and has been classified as Collection Item 3.  It was inscribed on the back with the aforementioned date and the notation, "My colleagues and I travel into the future every day. It is a wondrous, but sometimes dangerous place." The handwriting has been identified as that of Geoffrey Hawkins.

According to Victorian Mechanical Museum archivist Archer Bowens, the photograph is significant for other reasons beyond its four prominent human subjects.  On the table in forefront of the image is an early prototype of a Vanderzee Critical Engine, what Bowens describes as "a second generation Babbage-inspired processor constructed in 1878."  Bowens notes that, "Vanderzee refined the design and used it as the 'brain' component on nearly all of the intelligent automatons he created and built in subsequent years."  Prominent among those creations was Ian, an IA biped designed to find and retrieve æther resources in the tunnels and catacombs below London.  Ian can be seen in the background of the photograph standing next to a grandfather clock.

Also displayed on the table is a heavy stock Hawkins Æther Repulsor. Firearms Curator Devon Gillroy informs: "The Repulsor was designed by Geoffrey Hawkins and constructed at the Hawkins Industrial Laboratories in early 1881.  It was only one of its kind and Hawkins retained it in his personal arsenal for nearly two decades. It was reportedly damaged beyond repair during the Battle of Silver Mountain in 1899."

An unidentified optical instrument, likely belonging to Timothy Deakin, rests on a small table in the right background of the photograph.

A matching negative of the photograph was found in the Deakin Archive and catalogued as Negative DA1882-01.

16 November, 2017

Deakin Archive: The Zephyr House at Lake Tahoe 1896

Photograph DA1896-027: The airship Iron Zephyr on approach to the Zephyr House. 19 October, 1896.

The Zephyr House was the American base of operations for the Society of the Mechanical Sun and also served as a home for Geoffrey Hawkins during the final few years of the 19th century.  It was an architectural marvel designed by Hawkins and Falynne Hyperion, rising above the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe on land that was part of the Ainsworth family's Timberjack Ranch.  The Zephyr House is showcased in three amazing photographs recently discovered in the Deakin Archive and now presented here as part of our online exhibition.

In 1895, Falynne Hyperion moved her airship engineering laboratory from England to Nevada, primarily to escape the industrial espionage perpetrated by jealous European rivals, most notably Ferdinand Von Zeppelin.  Nevada rancher Giles Ainsworth (and uncle to Society member Berkley Vanderzee) provided a large tract of land on his Timberjack Ranch that afforded Hyperion the necessary privacy to design and construct her fleet of Hyperion Zephyr Airships.  At roughly the same time, Geoffrey Hawkins was pursuing Enoch Cyncad across the American continent and he convinced Ainsworth to expand the newly created Zephyr Air Field by adding a large estate that could serve as a strategic headquarters for the Society.

Construction of the Zephyr House was completed during the summer of 1896.  While there are no existing records that provide specific architectural details about the imposing iron and steel edifice, we do know that the design included electricity via an early prototype hydroelectric generator, two elevators, a wireless telegraph and a high altitude dock to accommodate airship traffic from the nearby Zephyr Air Field.

Photograph DA1896-028: The Iron Zephyr docked at Zephyr House. 19 October, 1896.

On 19 October, 1896, photographers Jack and Timothy Deakin documented the maiden voyage of Falynne Hyperion's semi-rigid airship, the Iron Zephyr, as it approached and docked at the Zephyr House.  Photograph DA1896-027 was taken by Jack Deakin and provides a spectacular panorama of the structure from the nearby lakeshore. The Iron Zephyr can be seen approaching in the distance. With photograph DA1896-028, Jack Deakin captured another impressive vignette, pointing the camera up from ground level as the airship was tethered to the house dock. 
Photograph DA1896-029: The Zephyr House airship dock. 19 October, 1896.

The final photograph, DA1896-029, was taken by Timothy Deakin and presented an interior view of the house's airship dock. Shown in the photo are Geoffrey Hawkins and Falynne Hyperion.  In the background, a servant IA (intelligent automaton) can be seen approaching the tethered Iron Zephyr.

The Society maintained use of the Zephyr House into the 20th century, but it was largely abandoned following the disappearance of Geoffrey Hawkins in 1911.  The elevators were eventually removed, making the remainder of the building inaccessible from the ground.  It became something of a curiosity to Lake Tahoe tourists over the next two decades. In the mid-1930s, eccentric millionaire George Whittell Jr. purchased a significant amount of the Ainsworth family's Timberjack Ranch lakeshore properties including the Zephyr House.  In 1942, Whittell had the remains of the building demolished and donated the scrap iron and steel to the war effort.

05 November, 2017

Beyond the Strongbox: The Deakin Archive

The Deakin Bro's London studio at 127 Fulham Street.  1885.
Courtesy of the Deakin Archives, Mifflin University.

The focus of our online exhibition is most certainly the Hawkins Strongbox and the fascinating and often enigmatic items contained therein.  But what we have discovered frequently over the course of the last eight years is that there are many, many resources beyond the Strongbox that also document the lives of Geoffrey Hawkins and his associates.  After deliberation with our sponsors at the Victorian Mechanical Museum, we have decided to showcase items that, while not originating in the Strongbox, relate directly to the histories revealed and studied here thus far.

Foremost among these recent discoveries is the Deakin Archive. The archive is part of the Mifflin University Library Archives and Special Collections.  It is administered and curated by Matthew Alexander, who is a direct descendant of Timothy Deakin.

It took Alexander a number of years to trace the origins of the collection. He explains:
In October 1962, twenty-three nondescript cardboard boxes were found at an estate sale in Munhall, Pennsylvania.  The boxes were filled with an enormous number of photographic negatives, prints, daguerreotypes, cabinet cards and other miscellany that appeared to date back to the Victorian era. They were discovered by Gabriel Sherman, a librarian at the nearby Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne. Sherman almost immediately recognized the value of his discovery and transferred the boxes to a storage room in his library's basement, where he planned on cataloguing the contents.
Just mere weeks after his acquisition of the materials, Sherman died of a fatal heart attack.  He had not shared his discovery with anyone and his initial research notes on the collection were clumsily mixed into one of the boxes by indifferent library staffers.  The boxes were subsequently relocated to a remote corner of the storage rooms and forgotten.
A few years later, the library was sold to the Duquesne School District which in turn demolished the building in 1967.  Prior to its demolition, many of the library's assets were deemed unusable by the school district and were donated to the nearby Mifflin University Library System.  Unfortunately, the collection was relegated again to storage where it went unnoticed for nearly thirty years.
The boxes were rediscovered in 2007 by a Hunter Schwab, a librarian conducting an inventory of undocumented assets.  Schwab was intrigued by what he found and noticed that most of the materials were associated with the name Deakin and the Deakin Bro's Photography Studios.  By fortuitous coincidence, Schwab happened to be a close personal friend. When describing the collection contents to me, I noted to him that my maternal lineage was Deakin and that my great-great grandfather was a rather renown scientist and inventor. Scott immediately invited me to examine the materials and we quickly verified the connection to my family lineage.  I have since spent the last ten years cataloguing and digitizing the collection contents.
Alexander found Sherman's original notes and was able to piece together the chronology of events he has here described.  He discovered our online exhibition in late 2015 but was disappointed to see that it had not been updated for a number of years.  He described his new awareness of the Hawkins Strongbox as revelatory and was anxious to share his own discoveries with both myself and the researchers at the Victorian Mechanical Museum.

The collection is especially notable in that many of the photographs include notes and annotations, providing descriptive details and identifying individuals and locations.  Items date from the Victorian era to the mid-twentieth century, and feature places that stretch from Great Britain to locations scattered all across North America. Needless to say, the archive has become an invaluable asset to the Hawkins Strongbox research team.

With the Hawkins Strongbox exhibition now restored to ongoing publication, we will very soon be sharing content from the Deakin Archive, courtesy of Mifflin University Library Archive and Special Collections.

26 October, 2017

Item 86: The Cyncad Packet

Collection Item 86: The Cyncad Packet

We have mentioned the name of Enoch Cyncad a number of times over the course of our online exhibition, but he has largely remained an enigmatic, albeit rather sinister player in the Hawkins Strongbox histories.  With the release of Collection Item 86, we hope to bring at least some clarity to this figure whose machinations led Geoffrey Hawkins and his associates to form the Society of the Mechanical Sun.

Item 86 is a packet that was sent from London to the Kansas City office of the Vanderzee Detective Bureau  in September of 1895.  It contains a Scotland Yard circular, a cabinet card portrait, and a short handwritten note from Berkley Vanderzee to Geoffrey Hawkins.  It appears to relate directly to Item 85: The Fitzgerald Envelope.  Items 85 and 86 have been now designated as Lot 7: Hawkins in Kansas City.  Researchers at the Victorian Mechanical Museum indicate that additional items in this lot are forthcoming.
Item 86A: Handwritten note to Geoffrey Hawkins.

The text of the handwritten note (Item 86A):
10 October, 1895
Geoffrey,Your news was indeed distressing to us all. We thought that devil was returned to hell itself. We hope these prove helpful, despite the time that has passed.  The studio in Edinburgh had retained negatives, fortunate for our purposes.
Be well my friend,

As noted previously, the contents of the Fitzgerald Envelope indicated that Geoffrey Hawkins was in Kansas City, Missouri during the mid-1890s, apparently conducting an investigation into the whereabouts of Enoch Cyncad.  It appears that Hawkins contacted Berkley Vanderzee in London to request identifying materials relating to Cyncad. Vanderzee in turn dispatched the packet that contained the circular and cabinet card.
Item 86B: Scotland Yard Circular. October 1877.

The Scotland Yard Circular (Item 86B) is dated eighteen years earlier. It advertises a £500 reward for information leading to the capture of Cyncad, described as a convicted murderer and escapee from the then infamous Newgate Prison.  It refers to Cyncad as the Edinburgh Frankenstein and notes that the escape from Newgate took place on 21 October, 1877.

According to newspaper accounts from the summer of 1877, Cyncad, then a well known doctor and academic from the University of Edinburgh, was at the center of a London medical scandal that involved experimentation on live human subjects.  The "heinous acts" noted in the circular purportedly focused on surgically implanting mechanical automata directly into the anatomy of kidnapped victims. Cyncad had enlisted members of the London criminal underworld to procure the necessary test subjects, typically from the city's poor and indigent population.  His actions were exposed by one of his former students, Dr. Jeremiah Hawkins, older brother of Geoffrey Hawkins.  Before being taken into custody, Cyncad violently murdered Jeremiah Hawkins. That act of revenge became the most prominent of the crimes for which Cyncad was ultimately convicted.  His escape from Newgate took place mere hours before his scheduled execution by hanging.
Item 86C: Cabinet Card of Enoch Cyncad. November 1876.

The Cabinet Card of Enoch Cyncad (Item 86C) was procured from the studio of Wm. Tower and Son in Edinburgh.  A notation on the back of the card dates the studio sitting to November of 1876.

The events of 1877 were only the beginning of what would become a decades-long plague of crime and horror initiated and perpetuated by Enoch Cyncad.  He would give birth to the monstrous clock-heads, corrupt the science of ætherdynamics and rule a criminal underworld that would stretch from the old rookeries of London to the American frontier.

10 October, 2017

Item 97: Hawkins Steam Walker Ephemera

Technical Drawing of Single Passenger Steam Walker. 16 July, 1889.

Collection Item 97 is an envelope containing pieces of ephemera that relate to one of Geoffrey Hawkins' more interesting inventions: the single passenger steam walker.  The pieces consist of a technical drawing, a vintage photograph and a number of financial documents.  For exhibit purposes, we are presenting the drawing and the photograph.

Sometime in the late 1880s, the British government commissioned Hawkins Industrial Laboratories to design a steam-powered mechanical walker for potential military applications.  In early 1889, Geoffrey Hawkins presented the Royal Engineers with a prototype design that was quickly rejected due to budget constraints.  Hawkins decided to pursue the design independently, and on 16 July 1889, he approved manufacture of a prototype as noted on the technical drawing now displayed here.

According to Devon Samuelson, Transportation Curator for the Victorian Mechanical Museum, ten steam walkers were manufactured in 1890. Six were purchased by the City and South London Railway company and used in construction of what was the first deep tube underground railway in the world.  Two were sold to Nevada cattleman Giles Ainsworth and used on his Timberjack Ranch.  Hawkins retained the last two at his Hawkins Industrial Laboratories in Faversham. Samuelson notes, "All six used in the C & SLR construction did not survive the project's completion and were likely sold for scrap.  The two walkers retained at the Hawkins Industrial Laboratories were destroyed in the catastrophic fire of 1896."
Photograph. Carson City, Nevada. 13 October, 1890.

Hawkins personally delivered the component parts to Ainsworth in September of 1890 and supervised the construction of the steam walkers at the Timberjack Ranch. The photograph found in the Strongbox is dated 13 October 1890 and shows a steam walker in front of Deakin Bros Photography studio in nearby Carson City.
File Photo courtesy of Victorian Mechanical Museum.

The Timberjack steam walkers have miraculously survived into the 21st century.  One was donated to the Victorian Mechanical Museum where it was restored and placed on exhibition; the other remains in the possession of the Ainsworth family.

22 September, 2017

Item 157: Cabinet Card of Jack Deakin

Cabinet Card of Jack Deakin. 29 September, 1883.

The Cabinet Card of Jack Deakin is the first item we are exhibiting from Lot 15, often referred to by Mechanical Museum researchers as the Frontier Ephemera collection.  It is part of a rather substantial number or artifacts dating from the latter half of the 19th century and originating in American West.  It is cataloged as Item 157.

Jack, the youngest of the three Deakin brothers, emigrated to America in early 1883. It is likely that he desired to leave London following the traumatic events relating to his 1882 kidnapping and imprisonment by criminal operatives of Dr. Enoch Cyncad. After arriving in America, he lived briefly in both Pittsburgh and Kansas City, before ultimately settling in Carson City, Nevada. There he established a second Deakin Bro's photography studio with financial assistance provided by Nicholas Vanderzee and Giles Ainsworth.

Nicholas Vanderzee, twin brother of Berkley, had served as Sheriff in both Carson City and nearby Washoe City in the late 1870s.  In 1883, he was in the early stages of creating the Vanderzee Detective Bureau.  Ainsworth, maternal uncle to the Vanderzee brothers, was a prominent cattleman and owned the Timberjack Ranch, a massive 800 square mile spread located between Carson City and the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe.

The Cabinet Card of Jack Deakin dates to 29 September, 1883.

16 August, 2017

Item 55: Hell's Revolver

Item 55: Modified Saunders Æther V, aka Hell's Revolver.

Collection Item 55 was discovered early in our Hawkins Strongbox explorations, but required careful handling and restoration before becoming available for exhibition at the Victorian Mechanical Museum and subsequently here at our online showcase.  It was designated as Hell's Revolver by Museum researchers, the origin of said epithet to be explained later in this missive.

The path to Item 55 originated in Lot 7, from which we have previously exhibited Collection Item 31: The Deakin Bro's Trade Card.  That group of items relates specifically to the 1882 disappearance of Jack Deakin and the efforts of his brother Timothy to find him and bring him home.  According to a narrative recorded by Timothy Deakin in a small bound journal (Collection Item 29), Jack Deakin was taken prisoner by criminal underlings working for Dr. Enoch Cyncad.  He had been searching for one of Cyncad's rumored subterranean outposts deep below the city of London.

Timothy Deakin enlisted the aid of underground explorer Matthew Hardy and newspaper reporter Adler Fanshaw in locating and recovering his brother.  After a heated battle with a number of Cyncad's clockhead automatons, the trio rescued Jack and managed a strategic retreat back to the relative safety of London's surface streets.  In the process, they confiscated a firearm used by one of Cyncad's higher ranking subordinates.

In his notes, Timothy Deakin identified the weapon as a heavily modified Saunders Æther V prototype, manufactured by Saunders and Sons in 1880.  He observed ". . . that numerous ventilation ports had been added to reduce the combustibility risks," and "exterior mechanics were used to synchronise particle beam rotation through the multiple barrels."
According to Devon Gillroy, Firearms Curator for the Victorian Mechanical Museum, Saunders and Sons abandoned the Æther V design in early 1881.  As noted here previously, Kenyon Saunders was tragically killed in 1882 while developing the company's Æther VI model.

Gillroy notes there is evidence that Cyncad was just then beginning to tinker with æther-based weaponry. That tinkering apparently involved numerous flawed designs absconded from Saunders laboratories. The modified Æther V was likely one of Cyncad's earliest experiments.  Timothy Deakin examined the piece extensively and concluded " . . . it is a thoroughly volatile and dangerous modification of an exceptionally flawed concept. "  He added, "I hope to God Almighty that it is the only one of its kind."  He then neutered it by removing its æther battery core and secured it in a lead-lined box within a second lead-lined box.  At some later date it was placed within the Hawkins Strongbox.

In July 1949, the pulp magazine Startling Stories published Adler Fanshaw's short story "The Battle Below," a thinly veiled albeit exaggerated fictional recounting of the rescue of Jack Deakin.  At the story's climax, the heroes are confronted by an adversary who was "brandishing a revolver forged in the firey pits of hell itself."  Museum researchers were inspired by Fanshaw's prose and Collection Item 55 became known as Hell's Revolver.

10 August, 2017

Curator's Notes

After six long years of legal quagmire, the Hawkins Strongbox online exhibition is finally ready to resume operations.  Due to court-imposed restrictions, we are not permitted to provide details of the litigations that effectively shut down our efforts in early 2011 and left our many readers confused and confounded.  Rest assured, we continue to decipher, unlock and explore the contents of the ever mysterious Hawkins Strongbox.  Item exhibits will be returning in the near future.  As always, thank you for your interest and patronage.