Mystery Writers Read by the Hoovers: Part V, Carolyn Wells Houghton

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Carolyn Wells was born on June 18, 1862, in Rahway, New Jersey. She worked as a librarian after completing her education, accounting for her interest in books and writing. Her marriage to Hadwin Houghton, heir to the publishing house Houghton-Mifflin, provided an additional tie to the book world. 

Author of 170 books, her writing covers a broad range of topics from children’s fiction to adult murder mysteries. Although none of her titles appear at Camp Rapidan, Wells corresponded with Lou Hoover and dedicated the 1928 Fleming Stone series mystery, The Tapestry Room Murder, to Herbert Hoover. The inside reads: “MY LONG TIME FRIEND WHO LIVES UP TO THE PRESIDENTIAL TRADITION OF LIKING DETECTIVE STORIES.” Houghton also partnered with Gelette Burgess to set his famous poem to a musical, “The Purple Cow”:

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

The depth of the Houghton/Hoover friendship is illustrated by her receiving a signed copy of Lou and Herbert’s joint writing effort De Re Metallica, a book the Hoovers sent to only their closest friends and professional colleagues. Houghton acknowledged receipt of the volume on February 1, 1921, in a short and witty note:

“I am so pleased with the big book and also with the dear greeting card. It is most fortunate that I have a large library in my small home, and can accommodate the stupendous volume properly.  Also, I mean to read it all through and find out what those delightful pictures are all about.  Thank you both, over and over, and I hope to see you some day and thank you again.”

Carolyn Wells Houghton

It is unknown if she ever kept her promise to read the 640-page book.

Houghton wrote a total 63 mysteries using Fleming Stone as the private detective solving the murders.  The Tapestry Room Murder is the 28th in the series and is set in Twin Towers, a country house owned by a wealthy bachelor Gaylord Homer. Twin Towers is on the edge of New Warwick located outside of New York City. The infrastructure of the village is antiquated and every evening, all the power goes off as the electric supply switches generators. The villagers refer to this as their “dark time” lasting several minutes. During a party given by Gaylord Homer, the “dark time” ends with the dead body of Gaylord Homer poised between two of his rival lady friends in the tapestry room. With a house full of guests and servants, all are suspects. The police are baffled so private detective Fleming Stone is called upon to solve the murder. The mystery ends with Fleming declaring the murderer to be “that terrible thing that Poe called a monstrum horrendum—an unprincipled man of genius.”

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