Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fairy tales: From laxatives to Littlestown to Johnny Depp

Looking back at the first full year of this blog, one thing that surprises me is how little I wrote about folk and fairy tales.1

So let's travel down that avenue today. Pictured at right is the front cover of "Famous Fairy Tales for Children," a 20-page staplebound booklet published in 1930 by Pepsin Syrup Company of Monticello, Illinois.2

The full-color booklet measures about 4¼ inches wide by 6½ inches tall. It includes illustrated3 versions of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk4, Little Red Riding Hood and Aladdin and His Lamp, interspersed with copious advertisements for Pepsin Syrup Company, which produced "the largest selling family laxative in the world."

Here are some of the testimonials for Dr. W.B. Caldwell's Syrup Pepsin included in the booklet:
  • Dr. Caldwell's Syrup Pepsin does exactly as you say it will, and I always keep it in the house. -- Mrs. A. Carroll, 49 West Dedham St., Boston, Mass.
  • Have used Dr. Caldwell's Syrup Pepsin for years and would use no other laxative for my two children. -- Mrs. D. Delaney, 7610 Cornelia Ave., Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Since my 76th birthday I have needed a good laxative and always keep Dr. Caldwell's Syrup Pepsin on hand. -- E.M. Rugg, Redondo Beach, Calif.
But, laxatives aside, what really piqued my interest about this fairy-tale booklet is the back cover, which is printed with the following:

South Queen St.
Littlestown Pennsylvania

This is where the fun really starts.

Howard A. Stonesifer (1879-1969), pictured at right, ran a pharmacy in Littlestown5 from 1902 until 1948, according to this "Find A Grave" biography that was created by Howard D. Sell. Also, according to Sell:
"[Stonesifer] married Etta Sarah Frances Crouse on October 12, 1904. They had a daughter Myrtle Louise. Howard was president of the Rotary Club, the Keystone Cabinet Company, the Littlestown National Bank and later the head of its board of directors. He donated $150,000 for the Littlestown swimming pool."
Now, about Howard's daughter...

Here's some information about Myrtle Louise Stonesifer King, pieced together from various sources:6
  • She was born in Littlestown on May 1, 1905.
  • She graduated from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, in 1927 and later earned a master's in drama from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • She worked off-Broadway under the stage name Louise Howard.
  • She had another stage name -- Halo Meadows -- which she used for her career as a burlesque/exotic dancer.
  • In 1940, she married Jeron Criswell King (pictured at right), who was better known as the extremely inaccurate psychic called The Amazing Criswell.
  • She appeared on an episode of "You Bet Your Life" (with host Groucho Marx) in the 1950s and performed her original song, "Chop Your Head Off."
  • She was "quite mad," according to Charles A. Coulombe, whose family rented an apartment from The Amazing Criswell. Added Coulombe: "Mrs. Criswell had a huge standard poodle (named 'Buttercup') which she was convinced was the reincarnation of her cousin Thomas. She spent a great deal of time sunbathing ... which, given her size, was not too pleasing a sight."
  • When her father, the pharmacist, died in 1969, she returned to Littlestown. She did this even though he had once told her: "Don't come back. All you want to do is play music and raise dogs. You'll never be able to take it if you come back here."7
  • She and The Amazing Criswell were legally separated in 1974.
  • She did move back to Littlestown. On a message board for The (Hanover) Evening Sun, one person remembers that "she was definitely a Littlestown character from my childhood ... walking her dog along the main streets wearing flip-flops, shorts, and a halter top despite being well into her 70s."
  • She died in Littlestown on May 12, 1985, and is buried there in Mount Carmel Cemetery -- the same cemetery as her parents.
  • Earlier this week, "A Movie Night With Myrtle Louise!!!!" was held at Redeemer's United Church of Christ in Littlestown. So her legacy remains quite strong.
And that really only scratches the surface on the life of Myrtle Louise Stonesifer King.

But how do we get to Johnny Depp?


The Amazing Criswell worked with director Ed Wood and appears as himself as the narrator of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" -- one of the greatest debacles in movie history.

Wood, The Amazing Criswell and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" were celebrated in the fabulous 1994 Tim Burton film "Ed Wood," in which Jeffrey Jones portrayed Criswell and Depp portrayed Wood.

I'm sure Howard A. Stonesifer never imagined the tales that would emerge from his family when he was distributing fairy-tale booklets laced with laxative advertisements to his customers' children in 1930.

1. And that's kind of crazy, because I'm the guy who collects everything Ruth Manning-Sanders; has many books from the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library; and makes regular references to Baba Yaga around people who have no clue what I'm talking about.
2. Joan and I purchased this booklet during a trip to Golden Lane Art and Antique Gallery in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, earlier this month.
3. It appears that all of the illustrations are by Frank and Allie Dillon. The only other reference I found to them was as the illustrators of a story in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1915 or 1916.
4. My favorite version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" is the 1974 animated feature directed by GisaburĊ Sugii. If you saw it during the 1970s or early 1980s, I'm sure you never forgot it.
5. Littlestown and New Oxford are both located in Adams County and are less than 15 miles apart. So it's possible this fairy-tale booklet hasn't traveled very far in its 80-plus-year lifetime.
6. Sources include her Find A Grave page, her Wikipedia page, a 1982 article from The Gettysburg Times, and, yes, a Facebook fan page.
7. That quote comes from the aforementioned July 12, 1982, article in The Gettysburg Times.


  1. Re laxatives to Johnny Depp: You HAVE heard of the six degrees of separation, right?!

  2. Every once in awhile, I search for work by my grandmother, Allie Dillon. This little booklet is one of those examples. I think she was just in her teens when her work was first published in St Nicholas magazine. She studied at The Chicago Art Institute and was a student of Frank Dillon. They married in 1911. As was customary at that time, they added his name and possibly a little of his hand to her work to facilitate selling it commercially.

  3. What an amazing case of one thing leads to another :)

  4. (...from Anonymous, above) What fun to read about Myrtle Louise! Searching again for Allie Dillon artwork, ten years later, brought me back to this blog.
    This back page shows three children and my grandmother, Allie Dillon, sitting in a blue chair. We still have that chair. The children are my uncle , aunt and mother.