Monday, September 2, 2019

Fight over Paul Crockett's legacy, and a long footnote on Charlie O. Howard


When I wrote an oddball post 20 months ago about Paul Crockett, it contained pretty much the entirety of what I knew about that fringe figure from the history of Charles Manson. It represented what I had found at the time by doing a reasonable, but not unhealthy, amount of internet surfing.1 But these are the Manson murders we're talking about, and there are folks out there who seem intent to fully excavate the deepest corners of the sad and infamous case.

And so it is that my Crockett post has drawn more than its fair share of web traffic. Way more than, say, the Egg-O-See cereal postcard. Which is a shame. (Maybe that new Quentin Tarantino/Leonardo DiCaprio flick is giving it a boost, too.)

Here, for posterity, is a chronological roundup of all the comments from the Crockett post. I'm not sure what anyone of it adds up to, but maybe, as Roy Neary says, "this means something."

  • Anonymous wrote: "Actually Crockett didn't live near the family at Spahn. He came into contact with the family in the desert as he was a prospectors. He ended up becoming the manager of Brooks and Paul's band. Later he told Paul he could heal Paul of cancer if he abandoned his family and paid a lot of money, according to Paul. He also ended up leading his own cult which Brooks was part of, again according to Paul."
  • PaulH wrote: "Yes. Crockett was a gold prospector in Death Valley. And he visited Barker's Ranch in Golar Wash. Some of Manson's Family were there at the time. Crockett (who was well-versed in Scientology and programming) instantly notice signs of programming in members of the Family, including Paul Watkins, Brooks Poston, Juan Flynn and Juanita Wildbush. And he was able to deprogram them and got them to leave Manson. Crockett was a true wise man of the desert. An Angel in the Devil's Hole."
  • Unknown wrote: "Crockett turned out to be a con man himself. He saw the incredible money that could be plucked from desperate kids and those attracted to cults. PAUL WATKINS was correct. Paul was the only person to come out of this mess that was with a damn. Never forget Paul Watkins. May his blessed soul rest in peace."
  • Anonymous wrote: "I'm not sure Crockett was a con man. It does seem that he and Paul fell out but maybe that had to happen for Paul to stand on his own two feet. The whole Manson story for me is about the courage Crockett displayed at the Barker Ranch. The White Magician and the Black Magician in the desert. Like when Gurdjieff met Crowley only Crockett was more accommodating. Don't forget Charlie wasn't alone. I would guess Bruce was there, maybe Clem. Terrifying out of control people. Crockett stood between them and the boys. Just before he died I asked him how he'd done it. Where had the courage come from. He answered without hesitation, 'By being completely true to myself.' Not bad for someone called Gaylord eh? RIP old timer. Chris"
  • PaulH wrote: "True. Read the interview with Juanita (Joan) Wildbush. She credits Paul Crockett with turning her mind around ... getting it off Manson's Helter Skelter fantasy ... and getting it to focus on and cope with the 'real world.'"

* * *

Footnote
1. Speaking of monsters and tumbles down the internet rabbit hole...
I recently stumbled across the io9 article "It Chapter Two Features One Key Change to Pennywise's Homophobic Attack." I had not known that It author Stephen King, when writing that novel in the 1980s, had been deeply moved and inspired by a real-life event when writing about the death of the fictional character Adrian Mellon. I had not known about Charlie O. Howard (1961-1984), a young gay man who was the victim of a hate-crime murder in Bangor, Maine. It Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti said this to Entertainment Weekly:
“It's one of the things that really caused a deep impact on Stephen King when he was writing It. So, he decided to include it. Of course, the names are changed, but the beating happened almost exactly like it’s described in the book, and Charlie died in three feet of water in the canal.”
That was enough to send me into the deep corners of the internet and the newspapers.com digital archives to learn more about Morton's sad and brave life; a too-short life that came during a time when it was not remotely safe or comfortable to be a gay man in most of America, and especially in small-town America. Here are a few things I came across. Much of it is dark. The real-life 1980s were perhaps worse than anything King wrote in his novels. But this history should not be forgotten:

  • The murder, very briefly: On Saturday, July 7, 1984, Howard attended a supper at Interweave, a support organization for gay people in Bangor. When Howard and a friend left on foot, they were assaulted by a trio of teenage boys on the Kenduskeag River Bridge. The boys eventually tossed Howard over the side of the bridge. Howard had suffered a severe asthma attack as the attack unfolded and, due partly to that reason, he drowned in shallow water. His body was found several hours later.
  • A heartening aspect of the aftermath of Howard's death involved the local and national response in support of the gay community. A story by The Associated Press picked up by many newspapers for their July 10 editions tells of nearly 200 people, carrying candles and wearing purple ribbons, marching in Bangor to express grief and outrage. From that march, the Bangor Gay, Lesbian Straight Coalition was born, with about 50 members. "What Charlie represented for us was gay pride," one man told the AP. The Rev. Richard Forcier, an ally of gay rights advocates, was quoted often in early coverage. In a retrospective published by the Bangor Daily News on July 14, 2008, Forcier recalled the days following Howard's death: "The phone calls were nonstop from the national and local news outlets, from parishioners, from strangers wanting information. Amidst all of it, there was deep grief and heartsickness at what had happened in our town. ... The night of the memorial service, hundreds of people streamed in."
  • One of the best pieces of journalism I found regarding Howard's murder and the ways in which it fractured Bangor was an A1 piece by Bruce DeSilva in the Sunday, December 9, 1984, edition of The Hartford Courant. The headline, stripped across the top of the page, is "Killing Splits Bangor in Debate Over Homosexuality, Tolerance." In the article, readers are introduced to a man of faith who is the flipside of Rev. Forcier. That man is the Rev. Herman C. "Buddy" Frankland of Bangor Baptist Church. Frankland seems straight out of central casting for the kind of monstrous men of authority one finds in Stephen King's 1980s novels. Only he's not fiction. He was/is real. (I couldn't find definitively whether he's still alive. He'd be about 83.) Here's a lengthy excerpt from DeSilva's article, to help maintain for the record exactly who Rev. Frankland was:
    "The Bangor Baptist Church is a football field-sized, barnlike building set in the middle of a huge field on the edge of town. Fifteen years ago, it was a handful of people praying in the Rev. Herman C. 'Buddy' Frankland's living room. Now there is the huge church building, a kindergarten through grade 12 school and a radio station with Frankland's initials for the call letters. Church membership stands at 3,000, the largest in Maine.

    "On a recent weekday, Frankland sat at a large, new-looking wooden desk in his roomy, thickly carpeted church office. An immaculate white shirt and a light brown suit hung on his heavyset frame. He talked with the melodious voice of a television preacher, and a picket fence of bright teeth flashed above his square jaw.

    "Homosexuals, he said, would have you believe that God made them that way, 'that it is in their genes.' If that's true, 'then God's word is a lie,' he said, glancing meaningfully at the Bible before him on the desk. Many researchers may say the homosexuals are right, he said, 'but I'd rather believe the Good Book than some Dr. Wangdoodle.'

    "'We know homosexuality is abnormal,' he said. 'History proves it. Every great civilization — Rome, Greece — crumbled when they turned to homosexuality. Babylon, all of them! We don't want to see it happen to America.' ...

    "Frankland is not alone in his views. Eight other area preachers are on the record as making similar statements. But Frankland — a friend of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a one-time candidate for governor — is the most visible and most outspoken. One some occasions, many here say, he has compared homosexuals with murderers and barnyard animals."
    At the end of DeSilva's lengthy article, John O'Keefe, a gay man living in Bangor, says, "Frankland can't win. I'm not going back into the closet. I'm not going to jump off a bridge. And I won't be pushed."
  • And how did things turn out for Rev. Frankland? (I told you this was a deep dive into the rabbit hole.) In October 1985 — less than a year after ranting about "Dr. Wangdoodle" — Frankland "shocked the church by admitting an affair with a parishioner," according to a January 26, 1986, article by the Chicago Tribune's Michael Coakley. It was further described as "a stunning public confession of adultery by the church`s pastor, an admission that has caused many in the congregation to drift away in anger and dismay." Frankland, married and with four children, first promised to step down from the pulpit within a month. "But, three weeks later, he appeared at a church prayer meeting to say that God wanted him to remain," Coakley wrote.

    That move to retain power didn't go over well. More church members departed and then, finally, the deacons voted to remove Frankland and named as his temporary replacement ... (wait for it) ... Moral Majority founder Rev. Jerry Falwell. (This is what happens when the finances of a 3,000-member church with a 100,000-watt FM radio station are in jeopardy.) Frankland left Bangor, possibly with the promise not to return. But just three years later and much to Falwell's ire, Frankland was back. After initially preaching from a Ramada Inn, he went on to lead Messiah Baptist Church. He had manufactured his own Second Coming.
  • A couple final notes. One of the teenagers involved in Howard's murder later told his story to Edward J. Armstrong for the 1994 book Penitence. In 2009, an Amazon reviewer tried to give the book zero stars, not because the story is bad or unimportant, but because the author does a horrible job: "It's truly a shame because Jim Baines' story is a very important one, both as a study in youth 'corrections' and as a study of youth homophobia. Edward Armstrong's terrible writing skills are a complete distraction for any reader with a basic knowledge of English grammar and structure."
  • And let's conclude with something positive. In early July, Sherry Wood of Seacoastonline.com wrote about a movement to remember Howard's early life in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Sarah Cornell, who works at the Portsmouth Public Library and is on the steering committee of the Seacoast LGBT History Project, helped to organize a public nondenominational remembrance service on July 7. “It feels like an important time to reintroduce Portsmouth to Charlie,” Cornell told Wood. “We need to remember how joyful and brave he was. We also need to take responsibility for how he was treated here.” A campaign successfully raised funds for a memorial marker and bench for Howard in Portsmouth. Learn more at the Seacoast NH LGBT History Project Facebook page.

Seacoastonline.com screenshot

1 comment:

  1. An interesting read, especially the footnoted material. (Manson is not high on my interest list.) I hadn't known about Mr Howard, maybe because atrocity stories are so common. :-(
    My brother and I share interests in religion and language history, which leads me to this anecdote.
    We both own several dictionaries, old and current. He found "homosexual" in both, with the same basic definition*. "Homophobia" doesn't appear in mainstream references until maybe the Seventies or Eighties. Then, it's defined as 'an irrational fear of homosexuals.' Emphasis added. We agree, on the grounds that we're more afraid of wars, diseases, criminals and the like than, say, the possibility of Mr Buttigieg breaking into my house with a knife in his teeth.
    Myself, I would hire an outed person (is that PC?) to fix my car or serve as a crossing guard at an elementary school. His orientation not relevant to either task.

    As to 'Mr Frankland and his kind', I have some knowledge of the Bible myself. My brother and I are Jehovah's Witnesses, so we're as "fanatical" as anyone, to our opponents- who include Mr Frankland BTW.
    He, Charlie's murderers and others have decided to take matters into their own hands, 'on a mission from God'.
    That is not the task of a Christian.
    If it were then they should also be attacking drunkards, fornicators (straight or gay), the envious, revilers and others, listed in no particular order at 1Cor 6:9,10.
    They do not, because those people are not soft targets.

    Whether you agree with my views or not, you can see where they come from, with research in your own Bible, at jw.org. You can start with
    https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/bible-about-homosexuality/#?insight[search_id]=a164318a-894f-4d8e-a5c4-c737ef28728f&insight[search_result_index]=1

    where the first two ¶ alone have some surprises.
    Or search "homosexuality" at the same site. More surprises.

    * He and I use the homo = same derivation; the Greek, not the Latin. Male or female.

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