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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

 . . . Well, there’s no use in describing the general decay, suffice it that every day for years the two were seen flitting here and flitting there throughout the newspaper offices that congregate on and about Printing House square. After a little they forsook the realms of daily journalism and continued themselves to the festive magazines and weeklies.
    Gradually there were indications of pecuniary pinching.
    The natty dress was no longer visible.
    Evidence of care and trouble showed upon their faces. . . .
    Still They Clung Together,
    and the one time in all my quarter of a century’s knowledge of them that I ever saw him alone, was a week ago Wednesday, when I saw him standing in front of the office of the New York Times, looking irresolutely up and down the street. . . . That very day, it seems, he took his wife, reduced to a simple skeleton, to a cheap tenement on one of the squares of the city, where she died alone, and he, despairing, broken hearted, with his better half sheered away, sought refuge in a cheap hotel on Third avenue, where he, too, some forty-eight hours thereafter, was found dead alone. [“Howard’s Letter,” Boston Globe, 10 April 1887, p. 16]

It is more than ironic that, following his tragic death at the age of fifty-one, on 4 April 1887, Fairfield was interred in the Old West Stafford Cemetery, the scene of the tragic events he wrote about a little more than a decade earlier. His obituary in the Kansas City Times, entitled “An Opium Eater,” ends with the following paragraph: “Divinity, journalism, literature, spiritualism, medicine, veterinary surgery, opium, Bohemianism, scatter-brained inventions, poverty, degradation, death.” [10 April 1887, p. 7]

What does filling in the contextual information regarding the author of the earliest text of this incident have to tell us? He was born and raised in the community where the exhumation was performed; he obviously was aware of, and seemed to value, the oral traditions of this community; his great-grandmother apparently was considered a witch of some sort, so she probably was attuned to whatever supernatural atmosphere existed in the community; and she seems to have been a significant source for some of the lore that Fairfield absorbed while growing up. These elements of his biography appear to reinforce a conclusion that Fairfield either heard about the exhumation through oral tradition or, perhaps, learned of it through some local printed source, such as a newspaper. On the other hand, Fairfield’s apparent misunderstanding (at best) or deliberate misrepresentation (at worst) of several of the topics about which he wrote might lead one to conclude that he was careless with facts and perhaps even blind to them if they did not reinforce his own preconceptions. From this perspective, it is possible that the exhumation story was fabricated by Fairfield.

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