RANKING THE KING

stephen_king_1980s_GettyImages-538283656There is no doubt that over the last 40+ years, Stephen King has been one (if not the most) successful authors in the world, having sold more than 350 million copies. I believe that as time moves on, and after King is gone, his work will be looked upon as America’s 20th century version of Charles Dickens. The fact that he is labeled a “horror’ novelist, obscures the reality that, in any genre, King is a great writer. No one can sustain a career of his quality over such a period without acknowledging his skill and power as a fiction writer. 

I have been reading King since 1974. I was fourteen when Carrie was published and immediately began to pass the paperback around good ole Barnwell High School. So, as someone who has re-read most of King’s works several times, here is my list of King’s top novels (novels only, no short story collections). Feel free to disagree and make your own argument.


54. The Tommyknockers (1987)

tommyknockersKing admits he wrote this book while high as a kite. And boy, it shows! The idea of the novel – alien artifacts (including an entire spaceship) are compulsively unearthed by folks in a small town, with disastrous result – is not terrible, but the execution of the story is … well, don’t bother.

53. Rage (1979)

RagebachmanThis was one of King’s first novel, and was later published under the Richard Bachman pseudonym. The story of a teenager who murders two teachers and takes a classroom of students hostage, it’s just not very good in comparison to what followed. After a rash of school shootings became common in America, King pulled this book from distribution, and it’s hard to find these days, and not worth it.

52. Rose Madder (1995)

RoseMadderA messy messy novel. It’s a realistic tale of an abused woman, and her attempt to survive, and there’s a magic painting that serves as a portal to another world. The two stories never mesh. 

51. Cell (2005)

Cell_by_Stephen_KingThis feels like King was trying to quickly take advantage of the evolving world of cell phone culture, and it shows. A mysterious pulse turns anyone caught speaking on a cell phone into a hungry, aggressive zombie. The story is flawed, and flimsy, and the characters are walking zombies even before they are zapped. 

50. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)

Girl_Gordon_coverA girl gets lost in the woods with nothing but her portable radio, tuned to the Red Sox game. That’s it.  That’s the entire novel. As her exposure and dehydration worsen she hallucinates a battle with the God of the Lost in which the terrifying creatures and events mirror the reality of her struggle to survive. And, does anyone, other than baseball geeks, have any idea who Tom Gordon in twenty years after his prominence? 

49. Cujo (1981)

cujoCujo is the weakest of King’s earlier novels. Ultimately it’s just a simple story that King attempts to wring horror and tension from a rabid dog. For a King story, it’s bland, and slightly boring. Read it once, and you’ll never need to think of it again.

47 & 48. The Regulators & Desperation (1996)

desperation - regulatorsThese two mirror novels are mildly entertaining and have some moments of fantastic, chilling horror. Kudus to King for trying a different concept – two novels, one from him, and a second from his alter ego, Richard Bachman, that take place in the same setting with overlapping characters. In The Regulators, an autistic boy is assisted by an evil entity that orchestrates the horrors in both novels, is able alter reality in his neighborhood.  In Desperation people traveling a lonely highway are pulled over and kidnapped by a possessed police officer and imprisoned.

From_A_Buick8_StephenKing46. From A Buick 8 (2002)

The novel is a series of recollections by the members of Troop D, a Pennsylvania State Police barracks. All the stories center around the “Buick 8,” a vintage blue 1953 Buick Roadmaster, which has been in storage in a shed near the barracks since 1979, when it was left at a gas station by a mysterious driver who then disappeared. The car, they discover, is not a car at all, but a doorway to another dimension that occasionally disgorges bizarre alien items or creatures.

dreamcatcher-book45. Dreamcatcher (2002)

This novel was written shortly after King survived his famous accident. During his convalescence he was in a lot of pain (and on a lot of painkillers) and it reads as such. In fact, in 2014, King told Rolling Stone that “I don’t like Dreamcatcher very much,” and stated that the book was written under the influence of Oxycontin.

It’s the story of four lifelong friends who, as teenagers, saved Douglas “Duddits” Cavell, an older boy with Down syndrome, from a group of sadistic bullies. From their new friendship with Duddits, Jonesy, Beaver, Henry and Pete began to share the boy’s unusual powers, including telepathy, shared dreaming, and seeing “the line”, a psychic trace left by the movement of human beings. The entire book suffers from unfocused writing and weak editing, making sections of this boring – which is something you can almost never say about a King story. 

Duma Key44. Duma Key (2008)

The story of an artist who loses an arm and gains the ability to affect events through his paintings, is rambling and waaay too long. This is another King book that would’ve been markedly improved with tighter editing.

43. Bag of Bones (1998) 

Bag_of_Bones_faceIt’s not a bad book,  except for the fact that it’s a retread of themes and motifs he’s explored before. It’s a good novel, but a mediocre one for King. The narrator, Mike Noonan, a bestselling novelist, suffers severe writer’s block after his pregnant wife Jo suddenly dies of an aneurysm. Four years later, Mike, still grieving, is plagued by nightmares set at his summer house in TR-90 (an unincorporated town named for its map coordinates), Maine. He decides to confront his fears and moves to his vacation house on Dark Score Lake, known as Sara Laughs.

On his first day, he meets Kyra, a 3-year-old girl and her young widowed mother, 20-year-old Mattie Devore. Mattie’s father-in-law is Max Devore, an elderly rich man who will do anything to gain custody of his granddaughter, Kyra. . Mike begins to realize that Jo’s ghost is helping him to solve the mystery of Sara Tidwell, a blues singer whose ghost haunts the house. He also learns that Jo frequently returned to the town in the year before her death, without telling him.

42. Dolores Claiborne (1992) 

DoloresClaiborneNovelTold as a long, rambling monologue by the title character, what’s most impressive about the story is that King maintains such a unique voice for so many pages, but the story is tortuously slow to emerge and by halfway through you’re skipping pages. 

41. Joyland (2013)

Joyland Joyland is set at a North Carolina amusement park in 1973 and involves a carny who must confront the “legacy of a vicious murder and the fate of a dying child”. Devin Jones, age twenty-one, who takes a summer job at Joyland in North Carolina, is a student at the University of New Hampshire. Devin is told, during his interview by the resident fortune teller, Rozzie aka Madam Fortuna, that he will meet two children that summer: one is a girl with a red hat; the other is a boy with a dog. One of them has The Sight. Devin secures lodging for the summer at a rooming house owned by Mrs. Shoplaw, a woman who knows a great deal of Joyland’s history and employees.  Nothing really horrific, but it’s a good coming-of-age-story with some Kingian twists.

colorado-kid-cover-review-hard-case-crime-stephen-king40. The Colorado Kid (2005)

A pretty straight mystery novel that concerns the investigation of the body of an unidentified man found on a tiny island off the coast of Maine. Lacking any identification or obvious clues, the case reaches nothing but repeated dead ends. Over a year later the man is identified, but all further important questions remain unanswered. The two-person staff of the island newspaper maintain a longstanding fascination with the case, and twenty-five years later use the mysterious tale to ply the friendship and test the investigative mettle of a post-graduate intern rookie reporter.

King has stated that the point of the mystery was that it is never resolved, and it renders the book frustrating.

39. Insomnia (1994)

insomnio-Stephen-kingThe story, set in Stephen King’s multiverse in the fictional town of Derry, Maine is about a man who loses the ability to sleep and starts experiencing strange visions that might be more than simple hallucinations,  so highly. Insomnia is linked to The Dark Tower series, and features the first mention of the Crimson King. King himself has said that the novel is “stiff” and that he was “trying too hard.” 

38. Lisey’s Story (2006)

When you publish as much as King does, experimenting in order to lisey storykeep yourself fresh, is completely understandable. Some of the experiments work better than others. This is a very good story, and certainly one of King’s most unusual.

Lisey Landon, the widow of a famous and wildly successful novelist, Scott Landon. The book tells two stories—Lisey’s story in the present, and the story of her dead husband’s life, as remembered by Lisey during the course of the novel. Lisey begins to face certain realities about her husband that she had repressed and forgotten. She recalls Scott’s past—how he came from a family with a history of horrible mental illness that manifested as either an uncontrollable homicidal mania or as a deep catatonia, how he had a special gift, an ability to transport himself to another world, which he called “Boo’ya Moon” with its own unique dangers, how Scott Landon’s brother Paul was killed by their father when, at thirteen, Paul succumbed to the family disease and attempted to kill Scott, and how Scott really died.

37. Blaze (2007)

blazeBlaze is the story of a brain-damaged con artist who kidnaps a wealthy man’s baby for ransom then bonds with the child. It was written before Carrie and King offered the original draft of the novel to his Doubleday publishers at the same time as ‘Salem’s Lot. They chose the latter to be his second novel and Blaze became a “trunk novel.” King rewrote the manuscript, editing out much of what he perceived as over-sentimentality in the original text, and offered the book for publication in 2007.

36. Doctor Sleep (2013)

Doctor_SleepA sequel to The Shining? Well, not really, more like an update on the character of Danny Torrance. As an adult, Danny embraces his father’s legacy of anger and alcoholism. Dan spends years drifting across the United States, but he eventually makes his way to New Hampshire and decides to give up drinking. He settles in the small town of Frazier, working first at a tourist attraction and then at a hospice, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His psychic abilities, long suppressed by his drinking, re-emerge and allow him to provide comfort to dying patients. Aided by a cat, “Azzie,” that can sense when someone is about to die, Dan acquires the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

35. Finders Keepers – Bill Hodge’s Trilogy #2 (2015)

Finders_Keepers_2015The second book in the trilogy focusing on Detective Bill Hodges, examines the murder of reclusive writer John Rothstein (an amalgamation of John Updike, Philip Roth, and J. D. Salinger), his missing notebooks and the release of his killer from prison after 35 years. 

32 & 33. The Talisman (1984) & Black House (2001) 

The main problem with both of these books it that they were co- written with Peter Straub. As great an author as Straub is, his style and outlook of horror are different than King. To me, their combined writing voice never meshes, making the story less page-turning than if King had written this solo.

black house and talismanThe Talisman is one of King’s childhood transporting fantasy stories, parallel universes which can be traversed only if your twin in the other universe has died. Twelve year-old Jack to cure his mother’s terminal cancer by locating a magical talisman, leading him through several dark and dangerous adventures that add up to one of King’s most satisfying stories

The sequel, Black House, ties Jack’s story of parallel universes firmly to King’s Dark Tower saga. The now adult Jack whose memories of his earlier adventures have been repressed slowly realizes a serial killer plaguing a small town is actually an agent of the Crimson King. Jack retains his rare ability to flip between universes, and must reluctantly take on the task of saving not just his own, but all of them. I’d love to rank this higher, but I cannot. 

31. Sleeping Beauties (2017)

sleepingCo-written with his son Owen, women begin falling into a supernatural-like sleep, becoming cocooned in a gauzy material, and then react violently to attempts to wake them. The women’s efforts to stay awake indefinitely creates the terror that propels this novel into the top-half of King’s work.

30. Cycle of the Werewolf (1983)

A straight-up werewolf story in Tarker’s Mills, Maine, with each chapter being a month on the calendar. A werewolf is viciously cycle of the werewolfkilling local citizens at each full moon, and the otherwise normal town is living in fear.  Marty Coslaw, a 10 year-old boy in a wheelchair who works out the identity of the werewolf. A short novel (127) during a time in his career where King was working a fevered pace, and almost everything he was writing was excellent.  

29. Mr. Mercedes – Bill Hodges Trilogy #1 (2014)

mr mercedesWhile Mr. Mercedes, the first of a trilogy of crime novels, isn’t perfect (some of the characterizations are a bit thin and clichéd, as if King were aping other crime novels or TV shows) it’s tense, pivoting on a serial killer (who opens the story by running down innocent people in a Mercedes, hence his moniker) who taunts a retired police detective with his plans to kill again and again. 

28. The Running Man (1982)

running manOne of the best novels published under the Bachman pseudonym, The Running Man depicts a dystopia centered on a gameshow in which the contestants are hunted by professional assassins on live television. It’s the most action-packed of all King’s novels, more of a thriller with a fantastic premise than anything else—but it’s a tightly written, gripping sci-fi story that has aged very well.

27. Elevation (2018)

elevation-largeCastle Rock resident, Scott Carey faces a mysterious illness which causes bizarre effects on his body and makes him rapidly lose weight, even if he appears healthy on the outside. While battling this disease with his trusted doctor, he also tries fixing a dire situation involving a lesbian couple trying to open a restaurant surrounded by a disapproving public.

A short novel (144 pages) it is held back by King’s recent predilection to toss in gratuitous slams at Donald Trump, just because he can, even when it has nothing to do with the story. References like this will not help the novel age as well as others. 

26. Roadwork (1981)

Roadwrk1This is one the few full-length novels King wrote that has absolutely zero supernatural or horror ingredients. The story takes place in an unnamed Midwestern city in 1973–1974. Grieving over the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage, Barton George Dawes is driven to mental instability when he learns that both his home and his workplace will be demolished to make way for an extension to an interstate highway.

It’s an gut-punch of a novel, and seems to be more relevant now than when it was written. I’ve always thought this was a truly underrated novel. 

25. The Institute (2019)

institutemA novel that feels like King, after watching the first season of “Stranger Things” told himself, “Hell, I can do them one better than that!”

King is usually at his best when kids are his main characters, (IT, THE BODY, CARRIE, etc …) and most of the book is compelling – following kids with special abilities being used and abused by evil adults. The sci-fi gobbledygook about the kid’s abilities, is kinda vague and silly. One of the most interesting character bookends the book, the loner former cop Tim, in South Carolina.

The two out of left field gratuitous Donald Trump slams are now something to be expected from King. He has revealed himself to be another nasty-minded 60s liberal who, if you disagree with his views, are as evil as the adults who run The Institute.

24. Under the Dome (2009)

Under-the-Dome-coverMore science fiction thriller than horror, this massive (1000+ pages) was King’s 48th novel. Set in and around a small Maine town, it tells an intricate, multi-character and point-of-view story of how the town’s inhabitants contend with the calamity of being suddenly cut off from the outside world by an impassable, invisible barrier that drops out of the sky, transforming the community into a domed city. Most of the book contains some of King’s best writing, the characters are vividly imagined and realistically drawn, but the payoff is a bit ridiculous, which renders this book out of the Top Ten.  

23. End of Watch  Bill Hodges Trilogy #3 (2016)

end of watchThe conclusion of the trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes. For nearly six years, Brady Hartsfield, the insane perpetrator of the “Mercedes Massacre,” in which eight people were killed, has been in a persistent vegetative state.But behind the vacant stare, Brady is very much awake and aware, having been pumped full of experimental drugs…scheming, biding his time as he trains himself to take full advantage of the deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

22. The Dark Half (1989)

dark halfThad Beaumont is an author and recovering alcoholic who lives in the town of Ludlow, Maine. Thad’s own books – cerebral literary fiction – are not very successful. However, under the pen name “George Stark”, he writes highly successful crime novels about a violent killer named Alexis Machine. When Thad’s authorship of Stark’s novels becomes public knowledge, Thad and his wife, Elizabeth, decide to stage a mock burial for his alter ego at the local cemetery, which is featured in a People magazine article. Stark’s epitaph says it all: “Not A Very Nice Guy.” Slowly, Thad comes to realize his dark half is doing terrible things. The psychological richness of this idea, especially considering King’s own history with pseudonyms, combined with the tightness of the writing put this one in the middle of the pack.

King wrote several books under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, during the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the Bachman novels were darker and more cynical in nature, featuring a far more visceral sense of horror than the psychological, gothic style common in many of King’s most famous works. When King was identified as Bachman, he wrote The Dark Half – about an author with a sinister parasitic twin – in response to his outing.

21. The Outsider (2018)

outsiderSmall town Detective Ralph Anderson arrests a popular little league coach named Terry Maitland for the horrifying murder of an 11-year old boy by Ralph Anderson. The evidence seems to prove the culprit is guilty beyond any doubt—but then, incontrovertible evidence arises that also seems to prove Maitland’s innocence. This is a great melding of King’s classic 80s horror with his more recent police procedural stories. 

20. Revival (2014)

revivalRevival is one of King’s best most recent novels. Bleak, depressing and pure King terror. A minister loses his faith and pursues experiments in “secret electricity.” He is now able him to heal almost any affliction, albeit, with terrible side effects. When he attempts to communicate with the afterlife he  realizes the awful the afterlife is a hell in which enormous, ancient monsters enslave and torture all humans, no matter what kind of lives they led. 

19. Gwendy’s Button Box (2017)

Written in collaboration with Richard Chizmar, this a delicious little bit of horror.

gwedny button boxGwendy is a twelve year old girl, wide, school outcast. At the peak of some stairs in an elevated park of Castle Rock, a black suited stranger offers her a peculiar object. A little button box, with two tiny levers. A magic box that every now and then grants little gifts, but at a terrible cost. Pressing the different buttons carries dire consequences, and protecting the box, a grave responsibility. What if someone steals the box? What if one of the buttons is accidentally pressed? What would happen if someone presses the dreaded black button…

18. Christine (1984) 

ChristineKing takes the old premise “haunted car goes on killing spree” and somehow wrote a scary, and thoughtful, novel. Kind of the male version of Carrie, King is always strong when tapping into the excruciating pain unpopular in high school and manages transforms Arnie’s adolescent rage into a universally horrifying experience.

17. Carrie (1974) 

Carrie - Stephen King - Signet Books - 1980s reprint pbkKing’s first novel launched him into the literary bestselling heavens, from which he has never come down.  King has the knack of touching every reader in a universal sore spot: the hell of adolescence. As Carrie becomes a raging monster, the reader always feels extreme sympathy for her, no matter how horrific her behavior. A truly difficult thing for a writer to do.  

16. Needful Things (1991)

needfulthingsbookcoverThe story is about a shopkeeper who runs his business by exchanging goods for money and mysterious deeds performed by the customer. The proprietor, Leland Gaunt, is a charming elderly gentleman who always seems to have an item in stock that is perfectly suited to any customer who comes through his door, but he expects each customer also to play a little prank on someone else in town. Gaunt knows about the long-standing private grudges, arguments, and feuds between the various townspeople, and the pranks are his means of forcing them to escalate until the whole town is eventually caught up in madness and violence.

It’s a simple concept—a magical store where your darkest desires can be acquired, for a hidden and terrifying price—that King uses to comment on humanity, society, and the interior craven nature of most humans.

15. Gerald’s Game (1992)

gerald's gameJessie and her husband Gerald travel to their secluded lakehouse in western Maine for an unplanned romantic getaway. The titular “game” involves handcuffing Jessie to the bed for lovemaking, a recent addition to their marriage that both partners find exciting. This time, however, Jessie finds herself reluctant after being handcuffed to the bedposts and asks to stop, only to be ignored by Gerald, who pretends her protests are only part of their game. Realizing her husband is deliberately feigning ignorance and that he plans to rape her, Jessie lashes out, kicking Gerald in the chest. The shock causes him to have a fatal heart attack. He dies, leaving Jessie still handcuffed to the bed.

Gerald’s Game is one of King’s least supernatural horror stories, but manages to create it’s terror in helplessness. 

14. Thinner (1984)

Thinner0Another Bachman Book –  a selfish, overweight man kills a gypsy woman and escapes justice, but is cursed by her father to grow ever thinner, no matter how much he eats. That’s it. It’s that simple. As the man steadily loses weight, his desperation grows to frightening levels that turn this into a disturbing black comedy. 

13. Firestarter (1980) 

firestarter-183x300King has always written stories about primal forces that humans can’t control, and when that force is within a child who has no maturity of reason, then you get terror. This novel is often overlooked, but it’s one of King’s strongest stories. 

Andy and Charlene “Charlie” McGee are a father/daughter pair on the run from a government agency known as The Shop. During his college years, Andy had participated in a Shop experiment dealing with “Lot 6”, a drug with hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD. The drug gave his future wife, Victoria minor telekinetic abilities and him a telepathic form of mind control he refers to as “the push”. They both also developed telepathic abilities. Andy’s and Vicky’s powers were physiologically limited; in his case, overuse of the push gives him crippling migraine headaches and minute brain hemorrhages, but their daughter Charlie developed frightening pyrokinetic ability.

12. Misery (1987)

Misery_coverA popular but conflicted writer who winds up in the clutches of his highly unstable biggest fan. Here King is writing a story of true terror that has nothing to do with vampires or ghosts, just crazy and passionate Annie Wilkes, who may be King’s great evil  creation. The novel had obvious parallels with King’s personal life and ingenuously  dissects the darker side of the relationship between celebrities and their fans

11. The Eyes of the Dragon (1984)

eyesofthedragon_169A kingdom is in turmoil as the old King Roland dies and its worthy successor, Prince Peter must do battle to claim what is rightfully his. Plotting against him is the evil Flagg and his pawn, young Prince Thomas. Yet with every plan there are holes—like Thomas’s terrible secret. And the determined Prince Peter, who is planning a daring escape from his imprisonment…

The story takes place entirely within the realm of Delain from The Dark Tower series. Although King is still mostly described as a  “horror writer,” but he has been able to successful jump to different genres during his entire career, making the point, that a good writer is a good writer.  In this charming  fantasy, King crafts a clever plot using the typical fairy-tale tropes hand, and re-invents the genre. A thoroughly delightful book!

10. The Dark Tower Series (1982-2004)

dark tower seriesThe eight novels that make up this multi-dimensional science fantasy epic vary wildly quality. The first three are mesmerizing, and then the story dips and wanders until the final book brings everything back. This is, of course, the circular quest of Roland, the world’s last Gunslinger on a quest to reach the titular Dark Tower, the axis on which all worlds (and of his novels) turn. 

It is almost impossible to describe these books, which include King himself as a character, and make it sensible. Enough to say that, if you’re interested in fantasy speculative fiction at all, then you will have no problem devoting the time to read the 4300+ pages in this story. Epic is the only way to describe it.

9. Pet Sematary (1983)

What would you do to bring something—or someone—back?

pet-sematary-book-cover-stephen-kingWhen the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son-and now an idyllic home. As a family, they’ve got it all…right down to the friendly car. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth-more terrifying than death itself-and hideously more powerful. The Creeds are going to learn that sometimes dead is better. One of King’s more emotionally gut-punch novels.  

8. The Green Mile (1996)

green-mileThe Green Mile was originally released as a “serial novel” in six installments and a great example of magical realism.

In 1932, death row supervisor Paul Edgecombe gets a new prisoner, John Coffey, convicted of murdering two white girls. Coffey is a mountainous, simple-minded black man named John Coffey, who displays inexplicable healing and empathetic abilities .This is one of King’s greatest novels, as he masterfully mixes issues of race, sadism, and mercy into the story as Coffey’s innocence becomes clear.  Truly powerful. 

7. ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)

salems lotKing’s second novel takes the vampire story and turns it into a 20th century classic. He manages to update all the classic tropes, from the slightly insane vampire’s assistant to all the old rules involving sunlight, permission to enter, and seduction that make them fresh and frightening.

King said that, of all his books, Salem’s Lot was his favorite. In his June 1983 Playboy interview, the interviewer mentioned that because it was his favorite. In 1987 he told Phil Konstantin in The Highway Patrolman magazine: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!”

6. 11/22/63 (2011)

11-22-63According to King, the idea for the novel first came to him in 1971, before the release of his first novel, Carrie  He was going to title it Split Track. However, he felt a historical novel required more research than he was willing to do at the time and greater literary talent than he possessed.

King later explained: “I’d like to tell a time-travel story where this guy finds a diner that connects to 1958… you always go back to the same day. So one day he goes back and just stays. Leaves his 2007 life behind. His goal? To get up to November 22, 1963, and stop Lee Harvey Oswald. He does, and he’s convinced he’s just FIXED THE WORLD. But when he goes back to ’07, the world’s a nuclear slag-heap. Not good to fool with Father Time. So then he has to go back again and stop himself….. only he’s taken on a fatal dose of radiation, so it’s a race against time.”

5. The Long Walk (1979)

long walkThis was The Hunger Games twenty-nine years before Katniss Everden existed.  Set in a future dystopian America, ruled by a totalitarian and militaristic dictator, the plot revolves around group of young people are forced to compete in a grueling, annual walking contest until all but one of them is dead. The winner receives “The Prize”: anything he wants for the rest of his life. In 2000, the American Library Association listed The Long Walk as one of the 100 best books for teenage readers.

While not the first of King’s novels to be published, The Long Walk was the first novel he wrote, having begun it in 1966–67 during his freshman year at the University of Maine some eight years before his first published novel Carrie was released in 1974. This is one of the infamous Bachman Books, and remains an effective dystopian thriller to this day.  

4. The Dead Zone (1979)

TheDeadZoneJohnny Smith is injured in an accident and remains in a coma for nearly five years. Upon emergence, he exhibits clairvoyance and precognition with limitations, apparently because of a “dead zone,” an area of his brain that suffered permanent damage as the result of his accident.

1979 was a very good year for King, with the release of two of his strongest novels, The Long Walk and this classic political thriller, in which an unwilling psychic sees a terrifying vision involving an unstable politician. This is a powerful novel about rehabilitation and loss.

3. The Shining (1977)

ShiningnovelKing’s third novel turned him into a household name. This is King working at the height of his powers. The setting and characters were influenced by King’s personal experiences, including both his visit to The Stanley Hotel in 1974 and his recovery from alcoholism.

Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His family accompanies him on this job, including his young son Danny Torrance, who possesses “the shining”, an array of psychic abilities that allow Danny to see the hotel’s horrific past. Soon, after a winter storm leaves them snowbound, the supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel influence Jack’s sanity, leaving his wife and son in incredible danger.

King is hitting his full stride in this novel, working at 100% of his storytelling powers. Over the next decade, King would write 20 novels, most of which are in the top half of this list.

2. The Stand (1978)

The_Stand_coverAn extremely contagious and lethal strain of influenza, resistant to antibodies and vaccines, is developed as a biological weapon within a secret U.S. Department of Defense laboratory, and is accidentally released and quickly kills 99% of the world’s population. The few survivors, united in groups, establish a new social system and engage in confrontation with each other.  King said he was attempting to create an epic in the spirit of The Lord of the Rings that was set in contemporary America and transforms into a biblical battle between good and evil.  He succeeded. 

This may be THE most EPIC end-of-the-world novel ever!

1. IT. (1986)

itThe story follows seven children as they are terrorized by an evil entity that exploits the fears of its victims to disguise itself while hunting its prey. “It” primarily appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown to attract its preferred prey of young children.

The novel is told through narratives alternating between two periods and is largely told in the third-person omniscient mode. It deals with themes that eventually became King staples: the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. It thematically focuses on the loss of childhood innocence and questions the difference between necessity and free will. Grady Hendrix described the book as being “about the fact that some doors only open one way, and that while there’s an exit out of childhood named sex, there’s no door leading the other way that turns adults back into children.”

King has stated that he first conceived the story in 1978, and began writing it in 1981. He finished writing the book in 1985. He also stated that he originally wanted the title character to be a troll like the one in the children’s story “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, but who inhabited the local sewer system rather than just the area beneath one bridge. He also wanted the story to interweave the stories of children and the adults they later become.

A bone-fide classic. Possible the greatest horror novel ever written, and one of the best novels of the past 50 years. 

 

SOME PLAGUE NOVELS to read

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN by Michael Crichton (1969)

Big-andromedastrainThe techno-thriller that turned Crichton into a best-selling novelist. It follows the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial  microorganism in Arizona. 

A team recovers a military satellite which has returned to Earth, but contact is abruptly lost. Aerial surveil-lance reveals that everyone in Piedmont, Arizona, the town closest to where the satellite landed, is apparently dead. The duty officer of the base tasked with retrieving the satellite suspects that it returned with an extra-terrestrial contaminant and recommends activating “Wildfire”, a protocol for a government-sponsored team of scientists intended to contain threats of this nature.

THE DEATH OF GRASS by John Christopher (1956)

death of grassThe Chung-Li virus has devastated Asia, wiping out the rice crop and leaving riots and mass starvation in its wake. Then Chung-Li mutates and spreads. Wheat, barley, oats, rye: no grass crop is safe, and global famine threatens. In Britain, where green fields are fast turning brown, the Government lies to its citizens, devising secret plans to preserve the lives of a few at the expense of the many.

Getting wind of what’s in store, John Custance and his family decide they must abandon their London home to head for the sanctuary of his brother’s farm in a remote northern valley. So they begin the long trek across a country fast descending into barbarism, where the law of the gun prevails, and the civilized values they once took for granted become the price they must pay if they are to survive.

I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (1954)

How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

220px-IAmLegend25028Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville’s blood. By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn. A truly terrifying novel. Matheson is one of the best writers of the 20th century and the importance of this novel cannot be overestimated.

It was influential in the development of the zombie-vampire genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. The novel was adapted into the films The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. It was also an inspiration behind Night of the Living Dead (1968).

THE PLAGUE DOGS by Richard Adams (1977)

RichardAdams_ThePlagueDogsFrom the author of Watership Down, this novel tells the story of two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, who escape from a government research station in the Lake District in England, where they had been horribly mistreated. They live on their own with help from a red fox, or “tod”. After the starving dogs attack some sheep on the fells, they are reported as ferocious man-eating monsters by an opportunistic journalist. A great dog hunt follows, which is later intensified with the fear that the dogs could be carriers of a dangerous bioweapon, such as the bubonic plague.

In typical Adams fashion, it is an emotional, often harrowing read. But highly recommended!

THE STAND by Stephen King (1978)
The_Stand_cover

Original cover

The most epic pandemic novel ever, The Stand is an amazing postapocalyptic horror/fantasy novel that expands upon the scenario of King’s earlier short story “Night Surf”. It presents a detailed vision of the total breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza that had been modified for biological warfare causes an apocalyptic pandemic, killing off more than 99% of the world’s population. The Stand was King’s fourth novel, and remains (in its “Complete & Uncut” edition) the longest stand-alone novel King has published. One of my favorite novels of all time. King has had a long and highly successful career, but ultimately, this may be his greatest accomplishment. 

WHITEOUT by Ken Follett (2004)

whiteoutA lab technician bleeding from the eyes. Twelve missing samples of a deadly virus. Toni Gallo, the security director of a Scottish medical research firm, knows she has problems, but she has no idea of the nightmare to come.

As a Christmas Eve blizzard whips out of the north, several people, Toni among them, converge on a remote family house. All have something to gain or lose from the drug developed to fight the virus. As the storm worsens, the emotional sparks – jealousies, distrust, sexual attraction, rivalries – crackle; desperate secrets are revealed; hidden traitors and unexpected heroes emerge. 

THE WHITE PLAGUE by Frank Herbert (1982)

What if women were an endangered species?

white plagueFrom Sci-Fi Grand Master, Frank Herbert, this is a marvelous and terrifyingly plausible blend of visionary fiction. It begins in Ireland, but soon spreads throughout the entire world: a virulent new disease expressly designed to target only women.

As fully half of the human race dies off at a frightening pace and life on Earth faces extinction, panicked people and governments struggle to cope with the global crisis. Infected areas are quarantined or burned to the ground. The few surviving women are locked away in hidden reserves, while frantic doctors and scientists race to find a cure. Anarchy and violence consume the planet.

FRIDAY 13TH – History and Legend

At dawn on Friday, 13 October 1307, King Philip IV ordered Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The arrest warrant started with the phrase:

“God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom.”

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Philip IV

Founded around 1118 as a monastic military order devoted to the protection of pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land following the Christian capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, the Knights Templar quickly became one of the richest and most influential groups of the Middle Ages, thanks to lavish donations from the crowned heads of Europe, eager to curry favor with the fierce Knights. By the turn of the 14th century, the Templars had established a system of castles, churches and banks throughout Western Europe. It was this astonishing wealth that would lead to their downfall.

In September 1307, secret documents were sent by King Philip IV of France by couriers throughout the country. The papers included lurid details and whispers of black magic and scandalous sexual rituals. They were sent by King Philip IV, an avaricious monarch who for years had attacked the Lombards (a powerful banking group) and France’s Jews (who he had expelled so he could confiscate their property for his depleted coffers).

Due to his lavish lifestyle, Philip was deeply in debt to the Templars and decided the best way to deal with that debt is to destroy the Knights.

jacques-de-molay-grand-master-of-the-knights-templar-burned-at-the-stake-in-paris-france-on-march-18-1314.

Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, burned at the stake in Paris, France on March 18, 1314.

At daybreak on Friday, 13 October 1307, hundreds of Templars in France were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair, to be later tortured into admitting heresy in the Order. The Templars were supposedly answerable only to the Pope, but Philip used his influence over  Clement V, to disband the organization. Pope Clement did attempt to hold proper trials, but Philip used the previously forced confessions to have many Templars burned at the stake before they could mount a proper defense.

In the days and weeks that followed that fateful Friday, more than 600 Templars were arrested, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and the Order’s treasurer. But while some of the highest-ranking members were caught up in Philip’s net, so too were hundreds of non-warriors; middle-aged men who managed the day-to-day banking and farming activities that kept the organization humming. The men were charged with a wide array of offenses including heresy, devil worship and spitting on the cross, homosexuality, fraud and financial corruption.

Claims were made that during Templar admissions ceremonies, recruits were forced to spit on the Cross, deny Christ, and engage in indecent kissing; brethren were also accused of worshiping idols, and the order was said to have encouraged homosexual practices. The Templars were charged with numerous other offences such as financial corruption, fraud, and secrecy. The Templars were accused of idolatry and were suspected of worshipping either a figure known as Baphomet or a mummified severed head they recovered, amongst other artifacts, at their original headquarters on the Temple Mount that many scholars theorize might have been that of John the Baptist.

Papa_Clemens_Quintus

Pope Clement V

The legend of the Friday 13th Curse was cemented by events that followed. Within a month, Pope Clement V died in torment of a disease thought to be lupus. Clement was described as shedding tears of remorse on his death-bed for his three great crimes: the poisoning of Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor, and the ruin of the Templars and Beguines.

Eight months later Philip IV, at the early age of forty-six, perished by an accident while hunting. Such stories were rife among the people, whose sense of justice had been scandalized by the whole affair. Philip’s death was spoken of as a retribution for his destruction of the Templars. Within 14 years the throne passed rapidly through Philip’s sons, who died relatively young, and without producing male heirs. By 1328, his male line was extinguished, and the throne had passed to the line of his brother, the House of Valois, wiped from history. 

ESSENTIAL CHRISTMAS SONGS – All others are superfluous

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – DARLENE LOVE

The song was written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (Phil Spector also is co-credited). Love was given a demo of it over phone performed by them. She went on to record the song in studio, which became a big success over time and one of her signature tunes.

Beginning in 1986 and continuing for 29 years, Darlene Love performed the song annually on the final new episode before Christmas of Late Night with David Letterman (NBC, 1986–92) and Late Show with David Letterman (CBS, 1993–2014), 28 times in all. The exception was in 2007, when Love was unable to perform due to the Writers’ Strike, a repeat of her 2006 performance was shown instead.

In December 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” first on its list of The Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Songs, noting that “nobody can match Love’s emotion and sheer vocal power.”

“Christmas Time Is Here” – VINCE GUARALDI TRIO

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” – Charlie Brown.

Originally written and performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, this lovely wistful melody falls on you like a light snow.

“Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” – AMY GRANT

This Christmas carol first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. As it is known in the modern era, it features lyrical contributions from Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, two of the founding ministers of Methodism, with music adapted from “Vaterland, in deinen Gauen” by Felix Mendelssohn.

In 1840, one hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems Mendelssohn composed a cantata which English musician William H. Cummings adapted to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Amy Grant’s version is unparalleled. 

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”- BING CROSBY (or JUDY GARLAND)

Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland’s version may be the most famous, but Bing’s version is the best. 

“Holly Jolly Christmas.” BURL IVES

Also known as “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas, and written by Johnny Marks in 1962, the song was featured in the 1964 Rankin Bass Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in which Burl Ives voiced the narrator, Sam the Snowman. The song has since become one of the Top 25 most-performed “holiday” songs ever. 

“I Saw Three Ships” BLACKMORE’S NIGHT

Published in 1833, by William Sandys, this hymn originated from an English folk song performed by Middle Age minstrels. The lyrical reference to ships sailing into Bethlehem may be the three camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as “ships of the desert.”

This version is performed by Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, and his wife Candance Knight, and their retro Renaissance-style band, and it is superb. 

‘In Dulce Jubilo’ – Mike Oldfield

This a traditional Christmas carol dating from the Middle Ages. Subsequent translations into English only increased its popularity. This instrumental arrangement by English musician Mike Oldfield, most famous for his epic “Tubular Bells”, used to great creepy effect in the film “The Exorcist, reached number 4 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1976. This perfectly captures the 1970s:  a progressive-folk rock version of a carol that dates to the 14th century, performed a man who composed the soundtrack for one of the creepiest movies ever. The band Mannheim Steamroller also recorded a version for their 1988 Christmas album A Fresh Aire Christmas, using a dulcimer as the main instrument. 

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.” DEAN MARTIN

Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in July 1945 during a California heat wave as Cahn and Styne imagined cooler conditions than what they were living through. Despite the lyrics making no mention of any holiday, the song has come to be regarded as a Christmas song  due to its winter theme, being played on radio stations during the Christmas season and having often been covered by various artists on Christmas-themed albums. 

 “Linus and Lucy” – Vince Guaraldi Trio

Written by San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, the song first appeared in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).  Named for the fictional siblings Linus and Lucy van Pelt, it has become the most recognizable pieces by Vince Guaraldi, and has gained status as the de facto theme song of the Peanuts franchise. It is impossible not to be joyful while listening to this song.

“The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” ANDY WILLIAMS

Written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle, it was recorded and released that year by pop singer Andy Williams for his first Christmas album, The Andy Williams Christmas Album. In the issue of Billboard magazine dated November 28, 2009, the list of the “Top 10 Holiday Songs (Since 2001)” places the Williams recording at number five.

“Sleigh Ride” THE RONETTES (or BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA)

Ronnie Spector’s sensual vocals are capable of melting all the snow in the world as she purrs about getting cozy beneath a blanket on a sleigh ride while her fellow Ronettes ‘ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding’ in the background. The Boston Pops version is probably the popular version that most of us hear on the radio. 

“Run, Run Rudolph” CHUCK BERRY

 First released by Chess Records in time for Christmas 1958, this exuberant rocker – co-written by Johnny Marks of ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ fame – is quintessential Berry.  The best Christmas driving song. Made more famous in the Home Alone movie. 

“Winter Wonderland” RAY CHARLES (or DARLENE LOVE)

Written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard B. Smith. Smith, a native of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, was reportedly inspired to write the song after seeing Honesdale’s Central Park covered in snow. Smith had written the lyrics while being treated for tuberculosis in the West Mountain Sanitarium in Scranton.

The song was originally recorded by Himber and his Hotel Ritz-Carlton Orchestra at RCA in 1934. At the end of a recording session with time to spare, RCA suggested arranging “Winter Wonderland” with its own orchestra, which included Artie Shaw.

The Charles version is  a smooth jazzy workout, as only Charles could pull off. The Darlene Love version is just … perfect. 

“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” THURL RAVENSCROFT

Originally written and composed for the 1966 cartoon special Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  The lyrics were written by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, the music was composed by Albert Hague, and the song was performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, who for more than 50 years, he was the uncredited voice of Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. His booming bass gave the cereal’s tiger mascot a voice with the catchphrase “They’re g-r-r-r-eat!!!!”

Because Ravenscroft was not credited in the closing credits of the special, it is often mistakenly attributed to Boris Karloff, who served as narrator and the voice of the Grinch in the special but who himself could not sing.

CHARLESTON ELECTIONS: A Short History

Excerpts from the book Wicked Charleston, Vol. II: Prostitutes, Politics & Prohibition

chas election short history
1876 Election

Leading up to the election, there were problems in Charleston. The Democrats considered the Reconstruction Republican government nothing more than a slave revolt, a challenge to their traditional white authority. They had created the Red Shirts, a white paramilitary group, to intimidate Republican, particularly, black voters. Wearing a red shirt became a source of pride and resistance to Republican rule for white Democrats in South Carolina. Women sewed red flannel shirts and other garments of red. It also became fashionable for them to wear red ribbons in their hair or about their waists. Young men adopted the red shirts to express militancy after being too young to have fought in the Civil War. The duly-elected Republicans, considered the Red Shirts and the less organized Ku Klux Klan as threats to the legal government. The federal government considered South Carolina to be just short of open rebellion.

The Port Royal Standard and Commercial (Oct. 5, 1876) wrote in an editorial:

“The entire Democratic party of the State is fully armed and organized . . . more dependence is placed in the shotgun than argument.”

The Democrats needed a man who could break the hold the Republicans had on state government, a man who could defeat the incumbent Republican, David Henry Chamberlain. Wade Hampton III was that man. Hampton was former Confederate Lt. General, from one of the richest families in South Carolina, and was one of the largest slave owners in the state before the war. His Republican opponent, Chamberlain, running for a second term, was born in Massachusetts and served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army with the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, a regiment of black troops. In 1866, Chamberlain had moved to South Carolina and quickly got involved in politics.

hampton - chamberlain

On Monday, October 16, 1876, a massacre took place at the Brick Church in Cainhoy outside of Charleston. During a Democratic meeting in the country, blacks began shooting from ruined houses and behind oaks at the assembled Democrats. Most of the white men were unarmed and those who were had nothing more powerful than pistols. Five whites and one black were killed, and twenty more were wounded. Most of the dead were mutilated and some of the wounded were not found until the next day, also maimed and mutilated, and left to die.  

On Election Day, at 3:00 p.m., at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets, E.W.M. Mackey was reading election news to a large crowd of Negroes. He finished and walked into the News and Courier offices on Broad Street. He got into a discussion with several white men who were watching the Courier’s election bulletin board. As they discussed the election, one of the men struck Mackey in the face; there was a scuffle and one shot was fired from a small French derringer. Negroes on the street rushed to the intersection of Meeting & Broad and shouted that Mackey had been killed. Less than five minutes later a mob of fifty Negroes was charging down Broad Street. The white men fired guns from the south side of Broad. The Negroes retreated to the north side, past City Hall. The police dispersed the crowd quickly and some of the black police went inside the Guard House and came out carrying Winchester rifles. They opened fire on the whites in the street.

The first victims were George E. Walter, a local businessman, and his son Endicott. They were returning from dinner to their office on Adger’s Wharf, walking on the north side of Broad in front of the courthouse. Endicott was killed and his father severely wounded. Dr. Cassimer Patrick, standing next to a column of St. Michael’s church, was also shot. Soon more than 1000 Negroes were in the street, carrying sticks and clubs. They stormed the front doors of the Guard House, shouting “Give us the guns!”

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Red Shirts at the polls

The police sent word to Citadel Green, where U.S. troops were quartered. By 5:30 p.m. five hundred men had assembled, organized and together with the U.S Army, they brought the city under control, four hours after the riot began. The next day, all stores were closed, and schools were suspended. Rifle club members and the U.S. Army had every intersection guarded. The casualty of this riot included: one killed, twenty-two men shot or beaten, including two policemen. News and Courier editor Francis Dawson was also injured, shot through his calf as he rode through the mob on Broad Street.

The riot delayed the election returns in Charleston. On November 10, 1876, the final tally came in: Wade Hampton (D): 92,261; Chamberlain (R) 91,127. It appeared that Hampton had defeated Chamberlain by less than 1200 votes. However, each party claimed victory, accusing the other of fraud.

PITCHFORK BEN  

Benjamin R. Tillman, an Edgefield County farmer, was born August 11, 1847, the youngest of eleven children. When Ben was two his father died of typhoid fever and his mother assumed management of the farm as well as the family inn-keeping business. 

Young Ben helped his mother run the Inn and managed the farm, which included sixty-eight slaves. He enlisted in the Confederate army in 1864. However, an abscess in his left eye socket became inflamed and in October 1864 a doctor removed his eye and he was released from military duty.

Tillman learned politics during Reconstruction. He hated Republicans and Negroes who were not subservient. He supported any candidate who wished to “redeem” the state from Republican rule. Tillman became commander of the Sweetwater Saber Club and conducted a small-scale war against Negroes which included harassment and assault. He was involved in the execution of a black state senator, Simon Coker. Two of Tillman’s men executed Coker as he was kneeling with a shot to the head. A second shot was needed just in case he was playing possum”.  Tillman believed that the death of two blacks for the death of one white man was not enough payment.  Evidently, seven was enough, for that was how many were blacks Tillman said should be killed in retaliation of the death of a white man. 

Tillman helped elect Wade Hampton in 1876 as part of the Red Shirts and believed that a reformed Republican was no better than a corrupt Republican. They were both guilty of trying to endow blacks, something Tillman could not accept. He worked hard to rid South Carolina of the Republican / Yankee rule. Tillman admitted that the red shirt campaign was “a settled purpose to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson [by] having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.”

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Ben Tillman

However, Tillman was soon disillusioned by Hampton and the Red Shirts; he believed they had formed an aristocratic cabal of conservative politicians and governed for the interests of antebellum low country planters and Charleston merchants. Tillman believed the interests of common poor white farmers in the upcountry and mill workers were being ignored. At the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society he lambasted state government as being General This and Judge That and Colonel Something Else”.  Tillman said Governor Hampton was responsible for all the problems in the state except “the 1885 hurricane and 1886 earthquake.”

Tillman began to attract statewide attention through his diatribes against blacks, bankers and aristocrats who he claimed were running and ruining the state. Tillman believed that farmers were butchering the land by renting to ignorant lazy Negroes.  He called the graduates of the College of South Carolina (University of South Carolina) drones and vagabonds”. He decried the fact that only eight statewide politicians were farmers. He called for the establishment of an agricultural college due to the failure of the College of South Carolina to produce statesmen necessary to rebuild our shattered common-wealth”. He said the college’s agriculture department produced theorists and cranks – book farmers.  Thus a separate college was needed. It became Clemson University.

Tillman claimed that “up to the period of Reconstruction, South Carolina never had real popular government.” The parish system of government gave the preponderance of seats in the Assembly to the low country. It insured the absolute domination of the city of Charleston. A prouder, more arrogant, or hot-headed ruling class never existed.”

During the 1890 campaign for governor, Tillman was invited to Charleston to speak. Tillman hated Charleston, but he knew the city controlled the most powerful political machine in the state. Many who lived in the upcountry were more conservative and religious and looked down on Charleston. Ben Robertson wrote in Red Hills and Cotton (1942) that Charleston had been hard on us for a hundred and ten years. Charleston was “a worldly place . . . sumptuous, with the wicked walking on every side.”

 Tillman addressed a crowd of several thousand from the steps of City Hall and called the crowd they were cowards for submitting to the tyranny of elite rule. He began thus:

You Charleston people are a peculiar people. If one-tenth of the reports that come to me are true, you are the most arrogant set of cowards that ever drew the free air of heaven. You submit to a tyranny that is degrading you as white men . . . If anybody was to attempt that thing in Edgefield, I swear before Almighty God we’d lynch him . . . You are the most self-idolatrous people in the world. I want to tell you that the sun doesn’t rise and set in Charleston.

   Over the next hour he called Charleston the “the greedy old city”. He derided the citizens as “broken-down aristocrats” who viewed the world through “antebellum spectacles” and who marched backwards when they marched at all”.  He denounced “that niggerdom of the low country. Then he went after Francis Dawson, editor of the News and Courier.

You are binding yourselves down in the mire because you are afraid of that newspaper down the street. Its editor bestrides the state like a colossus, while we petty men, whose boots he ain’t fit to lick, are crawling under him . . . He is . . . clinging around the neck of South Carolina, oppressing its people and stifling reform.

The next day in the paper Francis Dawson described Tillman as the leader of the adullamites, a people who carry pistols in the hip pockets, who expectorate upon the floor, who have no tooth brushes and comb their hair with their fingers.”

As blacks began to lose their grip on political power, violence against them increased. Lynchings throughout the state became commonplace. Any white woman who accused a black man of rape was essentially giving him a death sentence. The Newberry Herald considered rape of a white woman by a black man too serious to merit the niceties of a legal trial.  Elizabeth Porcher Palmer wrote that she hoped it (lynching) would have a good effect”. In 1889, a mob of whites stormed the Barnwell County jail and murdered eight black prisoners accused of murdering a white man.

During the period of 1882-1930, there were over 150 lynchings in South Carolina, only six of the victims were white. During the 1890s four of the state’s congressional delegation had killed someone. Pistols were considered part of a man’s uniform – rich or poor, black or white. A state judge called South Carolina “an armed camp in a time of peace”. One of Tillman’s goals was the disenfranchisement of blacks.  He stated that

We do not intend to submit to Negro domination and all the Yankees from Cape Cod to hell can’t make us submit to it . . . we of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will.

After winning the 1890 election for governor, Tillman supported his long-time State House colleague John Ficken for mayor of Charleston. Ficken was Charleston-born, graduated from the College of Charleston, served in the Confederate government, and studied law at the University of Berlin. He was a member of the local Democratic establishment, as were his closest friends. Together, they built up a strong coalition of uptown working-class labor groups. They exploited the long-simmering hostility toward the Broad Street Ring, run by local elites and gentry. Ficken was elected mayor in November 1891. His police chief was an upcountry friend of Gov. Tillman, Elmore Martin. Tillman, already disdained by most white elite Charlestonians, was now viewed with hostility.

In 1894 Tillman ran for the U.S. Senate. He called President Grover Cleveland “an old bag of beef” and was elected by a large majority. In 1902, Sen. Tillman physically attacked the other South Carolina Senator, John McLaurin. The two men fought on the Senate floor. Tillman ended up with a busted nose and McLaurin had open wounds on his face.  Tillman was officially censured by the Senate.  Even though he publicly apologized, he later claimed in a letter that his constituents were delighted”.  Tillman refused to change his crude manners or rough language. He claimed it was the only to combat Republican rascality and Democratic imbecility”.  Religious people complained about his profanity. He admitted it could not be controlled and from his viewpoint it was not a defect. He thought it was harmless against the drunkenness and adultery of other politicians. Gambling, smoking and drinking were worse vices than swearing. He was called the “Huck Finn of the Senate” and is now considered by historians to be one of the worst characters to ever serve in the United States Senate.

JOHN P. GRACE – The 1911 Revolution

John Patrick Grace was born on December 30, 1874. His father died when he was still a child, and he helped support his family by carrying milk deliveries from a cow that his mother kept. Ironically, one of Grace’s accomplishments as mayor was the outlawing of cows in the city for sanitary reasons. Grace left high school to start his own business and started a law practice in 1902. He ran for the South Carolina Senate in 1902 but lost and lost again in 1904 when he ran for county sheriff and again in 1908 in a race for the United States Senate.

Grace ran for mayor of Charleston in 1911 against businessman Tristram T. Hyde who was supported by the powerful “Broad Street Ring,” the traditional elite Charleston white business and political establishment. The Post And Courier actively campaigned against Grace, urging folks to “prevent dishonesty by voting for Hyde.”

Grace campaigned on a platform to modernize Charleston. Mildred Cram had recently written: “Charleston has resisted the modern with fiery determination … caught in a dream of the romantic past.” Grace understood that the elite underestimated the anti-Broad Street sentiment among Charleston’s white working-class voters; they wanted to embrace the future. During his speeches Grace called the Charleston elites “perjurers, thieves, aristocratic phonies and broken down social climbers.” His campaign against the establishment also included the Prohibition Drys, who wanted to outlaw liquor sales in the state.

hyde-grace

On election day, Nov. 7, 1911, while Hyde remained in his headquarters, Grace spent the day visiting every polling place shaking hands. Fistfights broke out at several polling places, and a Grace supporter was arrested. Grace received 2,999 votes to 2,805 for Hyde. He called it “the Revolution of 1911.”  One of his first acts was a large street improvement program, paving, new sidewalks, curbs and drains. Major streets were paved with asphaltic concrete.

In 1913 Mayor Grace testified that Charleston had 250 Blind Tigers (illegal saloons) for a population of about 60,000 inhabitants. He bragged that he had instituted a system where the city fined each liquor operator and bordello $50 every three months. Mayor Grace claimed that it was a fair system. “If I wanted, I could fine them every time they sell a drink,” he said. He made no effort to shut down saloons and bordellos. The fines provided thousands of dollars for the city treasury. In fact, without the liquor and prostitution fines, the city budget would have been in the red. The mayor rarely ordered raids on Blind Tigers, and then it was “just for show.” He claimed that “Blind Tigers are too much of the web of life to close them down.”

In 1915, Hyde challenged Grace again, who was now considered an out-of-control radical populist by the Charleston elites. Grace was called “the mayor of graft” due to his relationship with the liquor trade. His response: “It’s the government’s job to prevent crime, not sin.” There was also an anti-Catholic campaign aimed at Grace. 

Supported by former Mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett, Hyde won by 14 votes. Grace demanded a recount with representative of both campaigns guarding the sealed ballot boxes. On October 15, a recount was held in a small room on the southwest corner of King St. and George St. Police were on hand to keep order, but as the counting began, armed partisans of both campaigns rushed into the room. Shots were fired and Sidney J. Cohen, a young Evening Post reporter, was killed. Two ballots boxes were hurled out a window onto the street, with the ballots scattered on the breeze. Hyde was declared the winner, 3,109 to 3,081 and Grace conceded. He later stated that Sheriff Martin, a tool of the Broad Street Ring, “was willing and eager to have the streets of Charleston drenched with blood of her defenseless people it that would secure the election of Hyde.” He claimed that Martin’s deputies had instigated the shooting and tossed the ballots out to ensure there was no accurate recount.

That same year the Drys won a state-wide referendum ending all legal sale of alcohol within the state, four years before national prohibition took effect. However, the referendum did not repeal the “Gallon-a-Month” law, which permitted the importation into the state one gallon per person per month.

tavern

In 1919, Grace and Hyde squared off again for the third consecutive election. It was the closest mayoral race in the city’s history: 3,421 – 3,420, with Hyde as the winner. Grace challenged hundreds of ballots and managed to get 36 of them removed, which gave the election to Grace. He allowed the brothels to reopen, and in response to Naval officials complaining about the high rate of venereal disease, Grace instituted medical exams for prostitutes. 

The 1923 mayoral election between Grace and Thomas P. Stoney was a wild affair. Stoney, a successful lawyer, had the support of the Broad Street political ring. He appealed to women voters by asking two women to run on his slate. He was a good speaker, entertaining with a good sense of humor. 

Mayor Grace linked Stoney with the anti-Catholic KKK. Stoney called Grace a corrupt political boss who was hated elsewhere in the state. Two days before the election, Governor McLeod ordered the National Guard to assist the police in keeping order at the polls. This killed any chance of a Grace victory, since Grace’s political machine was masterful at poll manipulation. Grace called the use of soldiers “military despotism.” 

William Watts Ball wrote that: 

“Outsiders gaze upon a Charleston election with wonderment, sometimes with merriment.” An election in Charleston was “a scene of reveling, and immorality, a debasing struggle of bribery, corruption and intrigue.”

Stoney became the youngest mayor in Charleston history at age 34. He and his Broad Street law partners wielded large influence; they could promise any bootlegger immunity from prosecution as long as they were willing to pay the proper fees.

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