Nathan Slick, on the other hand, did. Nathan (1780-1837) had a son, Joseph, and a daughter, Anna, before dying in the 1837 Rebellion. Joseph (1808-1882) lived in Canada and died, without issue, next to his long-time companion. Anna (1804-1866) married Richard Douglas, a Boston ship-owner, and moved to Boston with him. They had twin girls, Sarah (1826-1891) and Louise (1826-1904). Louise married Ivan Adler, a wealthy Russian Jew who had emigrated to Boston's Allston-Brighton borough, and the pair moved to New Jersey. Sarah married Francis Brainerd, a freelance inventor and mechanic, and moved to St. Louis.
Francis was a very intelligent man, despite a lack of formal education, and he invented several items, including an efficient version of the common steam engine, which made him and his wife moderately well-to-do. Unfortunately, he died in 1852, a month before the birth of his son Johnny.
Johnny and Sarah survived for the next fifteen years on the profits of Francis' inventions. From all accounts, including Johnny's, their life was a good example of genteel poverty. They could afford few luxuries, for the money from the inventions declined as time went by and Sarah took in only a small amount as a seamstress (her only marketable skill), but their surroundings were comfortable and Sarah could afford to send Johnny to an excellent private school.
This had both the expected effect—Johnny's native intelligence was honed to a diamond sharpness by what he was taught—and an unintended effect. By some quirk of fate or genetics Johnny was born both a dwarf and with a hunchback. We can only suppose, barring the future revelation of dwarfism in the Rottstein family, that Francis' constant efforts to invent new items brought him into contact with materials which damaged his sperm. While it would be unreasonable to assume that he somehow discovered radioactive materials, it is not beyond the realm of reason to speculate that he made use of materials, like mercury, that would have a cumulatively deleterious effect on him and his genetic material. Perhaps that material is what led to his early death?
Johnny's handicap made him a social outcast at the school, which was full of the scions of upper-class Missouri; Johnny suffered from physical beatings and, worse, innumerable taunts. The cruelty of children is often called "thoughtless." This is not so. The cruelty of children is all-too-often considered and judicious, and in Johnny's case meticulous in its barbarity. What worsened matters was that Johnny was bright and could not restrain himself from making cutting remarks to his tormentors. The psychic advantages he gained with the comments he made from the safety of his teachers' presence he lost in the schoolyard or in the streets as he walked home, as his classmates beat him bloody and more than occasionally senseless.
It should be noted at this point that Johnny's biographer, Edward S. Ellis, took numerous liberties with the truth of Johnny's childhood. Ellis has it that Johnny was
a general favorite with teachers and pupils. The former loved him for his sweetness and disposition and his remarkable proficiency in all studies, while the latter based their affection chiefly upon the fact that he never refused to assist any of them at their tasks, while with the pocket-knife which be carried he constructed toys, which were their delight.This is a Parson Weems-like obfuscation of the truth, a gloss meant to beautify an innately ugly situation. Johnny was not accepted at the school, nor loved by teacher or pupil. He was an outcast, the butt of their jokes and the sometimes-scapegoat when such was needed.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Johnny's only refuge was his father's workshop. The Brainerd's house had a spacious cellar which Francis Brainerd, while he'd lived, had used for inventing and making his devices. Johnny, once he became old enough to handle his father's tools, began doing the same thing. For several years, using only a jacknife, hammer, and chisel, Johnny created a series of wonders: very advanced mechanical toys, miniature steam boats and locomotives which were perfect and operational in every way, a clock which never needed winding and which kept perfect time, a working telegraph, and so on.
Unfortunately, by the time he was 13 he had run out of ideas and was growing increasingly bored and restless. His grades were slipping and the abuse of his classmates was becoming increasingly vicious. (Undoubtedly his hormones, and distance from girls his age, also had a part in his misery) His mother, hoping to distract him, suggested that he create "a man that shall go by steam." According to Sarah Johnny "was struck dumb by the idea." He spent hours going over the concept, drawing up crude blueprints (some of which can be found in the B----- archives) and assembling the specific material needed to create the "steam man." Luckily for Johnny, Francis had laid in huge amounts of stock material in the years before his death, so that Johnny had only to rig a horse and carriage and ride over to his father's warehouse and take what he needed.
He then began building the "steam man." This took several weeks, for the process proceeded by numerous fits and starts, with Johnny spending upwards of 8-10 hours a day in his workshop. Johnny's grades did not improve, but he was so obsessed with inventing the "steam man" that he had begun to ignore his thuggish classmates, and so was happier than he had been in years.
Finally he succeeded. His creation was a ten-foot-high, steam-driven android (non-sentient, of course). It towed behind it a special cart, also of Johnny's design. When fully stoked the entire arrangement was capable of averaging 30 miles per hour--no small feat for 1866. And while the “steam man” was not armed, the cart did have mounted guns.
Johnny, triumphant, immediately threw supplies into the cart and left for the frontier. He left without telling his mother where he was going, and this was to cause her no small amount of heartache, but Johnny was only 14 (he'd celebrated his birthday on a Saturday by spending 18 hours in his workshop, laboring away) and so gave little thought to what his actions might do to others.
Johnny ventured into the frontier, exploring various areas in the American Southwest (his exact itinerary is unknown, unfortunately; his journal is maddeningly vague in some respects, especially the nature of the native tribes he fought against and the areas he traveled through) and encountering various Indian peoples.
The pseudo-biography written about this trip seems to have been based in part upon Johnny’s journal, but the author embroidered the facts to such an extent that the “biography” is less than useless as a guide to historical fact. There was no “strong, hardy, bronzed” trapper named “Baldy Bicknell” who guided Johnny through the wilderness; Bicknell was a comic sidekick typical of the dime literature of the time. Little can be stated with a certainty about this trip, apart from a few facts: Johnny traveled extensively through the frontier, possibly even to the Pacific; Johnny saved several small villages and clusters of settlers from attacks by the natives; Johnny and his “Steam Man” (called the “Huge Hunter” by the native survivors) slaughtered large numbers (somewhere in the hundreds, if Johnny’s admittedly exuberant and boastful journal is to be believed) of natives; and Johnny, through the cunning use of his steam man and his own native wits, gathered a great deal of gold silver, both straight from the mountains and mines and from the dead bodies of those who had tried to kill him.
By trip’s end Johnny was rich. He had not made any friends, for he had been moving too quickly for anyone to really get to know him, but he had impressed those he’d met as being friendly and bright, if young and deformed. He returned home with his money and immediately paid off the family debts and restored the Brainerd mansion. After that he had himself privately tutored and began trying to improve his appearance and social graces. Although he was still not popular with the other children and young men in his neighborhood or with his old classmates, news of his trip had spread so that those in St. Louis were aware that he had done something out of the ordinary and had gained great wealth thereby. Edward Ellis, a dime novel writer in New Jersey, heard the story of Johnny’s achievements via a traveling businessman acquaintance and, sensing a story, traveled to St. Louis and interviewed Brainerd. The results became Brainerd’s pseudo-biography, which brought Brainerd a great deal of fame and Ellis large profits.
Johnny continued inventing after the publication of his pseudo-biography, but from what can be gleaned from his journal he grew unhappy with the quality of his inventions and began destroying them or throwing them into the Mississippi river. On some occasions he even threw the blueprints after them. While he was happy inventing, the end results rarely pleased him. After hearing about Thomas Edison’s creations and fame, Brainerd seemed to want to match him, and became increasingly frustrated that he was not able to. (Brainerd’s talents lay more in mechanical creations than in electrical ones) Although nothing will ever be proven, and the relatives of Adam Morgan understandably deny anything that might detract from the reported genius of “Tom Edison Jr.,” it seems likely that it was these discarded innovations and blueprints which Adam used to “create” his “inventions.” Consider that Adam’s creations only came from his riverfront workshop, rather than on the road, as Johnny Brainerd showed himself capable of doing. Also consider that Adam’s skill at repairing his inventions was slight, and that on more than one occasion he was forced to abandon his inventions because he could not repair them. If he had truly invented and built them, his abilities to repair them would have been greater than they were.
Johnny’s activities from 1870 to 1877 are a mystery. He kept journals–he was always very diligent about recording his thoughts and deeds–but they are missing from the B----- archives. (MN’s discussions with the eldest brother of the B-----s led him to conclude that the journals in question were destroyed a generation before by a B----- family member anxious to preserve Johnny’s reputation) From other evidence, though, we can draw some conclusions.
Johnny, following graduation, was intelligent, articulate, skilled in the social graces, well-dressed, and wealthy. His private tutors had seen to all but the latter, which he’d needed no help with. These were all qualities in short supply in St. Louis and Missouri in 1870 and 1871, when the city and the state were still recovering from the horrifying effects of the Civil War. Johnny was known to have gone adventuring, thus demonstrating his manly bravery, and to treat his mother well. And, again, he was wealthy. In short, he was St. Louis’ most eligible bachelor, despite his looks, and the flower of Missouri womenhood began paying court to him. Johnny, however, had too much of the family blood in him to settle down quickly or quietly, and instead began frequenting cathouses (of which there were still a number, even in “civilized” St. Louis) and traveling, seeing the country and sampling women everywhere. After all, in the space of only a few years he had gone from a lonely, tormented, disfigured outcast to a wealthy, sleek, famous bachelor. Giving in to his basic urges and making up for lost time under those circumstances would be understandable.
Johnny alternated between months at home, trying to create, and months traveling. According to the diaries of Edward S. Ellis Brainerd visited him in New Jersey in 1871 and 1872. The two had struck up a friendship, each seeing the other (with justification) as being responsible for their fame and fortune. In 1871 Johnny, in New Jersey visiting Ellis, was walking on the beach at Mantoloking when he met Anna Wright, a native of nearby Wrightstown. Their romance followed the usual course of events for a male member of the B-----/Morgan family: they loved passionately and intensely for a short period, and then Johnny left, in a seemingly cold and abrupt way. If his actions bothered him, there is no evidence of it. Likewise, when Johnny, in 1872, took up with Maryann Driscoll, of Mantoloking, he loved her and left her within three weeks’ time without so much as a voiced regret.
Anna Wright, following Johnny’s departure, returned to her parents’ house. She was the child of a local businessman and his wife, a petit-bourgeois couple who, on finding their beloved teenaged daughter pregnant, were disapproving but finally loving, and they supported her through the pregnancy and childbirth. She gave birth to John Wright (named after her father) in 1872. He grew up in the care of Anna and her parents, Anna never having married; she still lived at home with her parents despite having become a successful newspaper reporter.
John Wright, called “Jack” after his grandfather, quickly showed an aptitude for mechanics and electrical equipment, and by the time he was 13 he was putting together creations little short of his father’s “steam man.” In 1886 he created an “electric stage,” a powered “landrover,” and promptly left school, penning a short note for his mother and grandparents and setting off for the great frontier.
The adventures that followed were eventually put into a pseudo-biographical form by the dime novelist Luis Senarens, who compressed several years of adventures into 121 dime novel issues. However, like Edward S. Ellis, Senarens exaggerated Jack’s adventures and companions for both dramatic and comedic effect. Senarens also indulged his own bigotries and biases and made the non-white enemies who Jack clashed with into racist stereotypes. In one respect Senarens’ stories were accurate, though: Jack did kill a large number of non-WASPs in his trip around the world. Jack was a child of the petit-bourgeois and embodied their bigotries, and his creation, possession and operation of extremely powerful vehicles and weapons almost literally put guns into the hands of a child. Jack acted as any racist child would act, and saw his murders as one big game, with the heroic White man conquering and killing the evil Non-Whites.
Jack’s last recorded adventure took place in 1896, at which time he and “Frank Reade Jr” raced around the world to win a $10,000 prize. (Wright won)
What happened to Jack Wright following that cannot be proven, and as far as the public was concerned he simply disappeared. However, MN's researches have uncovered some interesting connections, and I feel MN's conclusions are persuasive.
In 1895 Cuban rebels, led by José Marti, launched a revolt on the island against Spain. American President McKinley declared that the fighting on the island threatened American interests, and told the Spanish government to either change its policy towards Cuba or give up the island altogether. American expansionists had long wanted to acquire the island, and although they'd lost interest in annexing it following the American Civil War displeasure with the Spanish misrule of the island remained. The revolt in 1895, commonly called the "Spanish-Cuban War," brought about a significant amount of American sympathy for the Cuban cause, with William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer leading the charge for war through their Yellow Press newspapers.
Most Americans know, of course, that the United States entered the war in 1898 following the destruction of the Maine. What most do not know is that some few Americans traveled to Cuba before that, to help the Cubans achieve liberty. We have no solid evidence that Jack Wright was one of these, but the accounts of strange events in Cuba and the Philippines from 1897 through 1898, including the unusually easy destruction of the Spanish fleet by the American ships in the Battle of Manila Bay, argue for the intervention of someone possessing advanced technology, and Jack Wright's patriotism is of course well-known. Similarly, the reports, in April 1897, of a "giant illuminated airship" passing over W. Virginia, Chicago, Kansas City and Texas imply a departure date of Jack Wright for Cuba and the craft he might have taken.
Following the war, Jack would undoubtedly have helped the American military put down the Filipino Moro uprising. And after that...again, there is no solid evidence, but MN's explanation is the most convincing so far for Jack's later history.
In 1901 a number of Inuits in various locations in Alaska reported "visions" of a "great airborne city." These reports were widely reprinted in the American press. Jack, being interested in so many different topics and undoubtedly looking for some new diversion, would have gone to Alaska to find this "city." Whether he found the city or not, we will never know, but we can reasonably suppose that while exploring Alaska he found the same "three million year-old ruins" that George Rogers later discovered. Rogers was a controversial figure, having been thrown off the staff of Madame Tussaud's for various (unnamed) crimes and having set up a wax museum of his own, filled with bizarre and unnerving sculptures. His tales of explorations in the lost and darkened corners of the world and of having witnessed (and, some say, taken part in) various unpleasant rituals are generally discounted. However, the account of Stephen Jones supports at least one of his claims, regarding the ruins in Alaska, found up the Noatak River, in northwest Alaska, far beyond Fort Rogers. It would have been entirely in character for Jack Wright to go exploring into those ruins and discover Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. It would also explain why he was never heard from again.
Maryann Driscoll, like Anna Wright, stayed with her parents during the pregnancy and afterwards. However, her parents were extremely wealthy–her father was “Mad Jack” Driscoll, leader of one of the most feared Irish gangs in New York City–and so she was not forced to worry about finding a job to support herself and her infant son, or for that matter about whispers about her reputation. She was able to maintain her social life, only taking a few months out for an extended “vacation” on a cruise liner, on which she gave birth to Robert (later “Bob.”) When she married, three years later, her husband cared for Bob as his own son.
His life was much like that of Jack Wright, Frank Reade, and the other individuals in this article. He led a mostly-normal childhood until the time, at age 10, when the accidental creation of a motored toy made him and his father realize that he had an extraordinary talent. After that he followed the pattern of the other brilliant inventor children: increased tinkering and invention until he created a vehicle, at which time he left his parents’ home and went touring the frontier. His adventures made him rich, and when rumors of his adventures reached the ears of a dime novelist they were turned into fictionalized and only partially-accurate accounts of his life and times. In Bob’s case, however, there were some significant differences.
His parents and grandparents were very supportive of Bob’s hobby, rather than seeing it as a passing diversion. Bob was never teased in school by the other children, and he did not use his workshop as a place to retreat to. He was a popular child, well-liked by the other children, and he seems to have taken his inventions seriously only when he realized he could make actual vehicles and weapons, rather than just toys. Unlike Wright, Reade, and the others, Bob’s parents were wealthy enough that he could afford to send his blueprints and ideas off to be built by others. Mad Jack Driscoll, despite his bloody and well-earned reputation, cared a great deal about his family and indulged his grandson shamelessly, paying the best and most skillful mechanics and shops to turn Bob’s ideas into a reality. This did not spoil Bob, however, but merely made him care all the more about Mad Jack and be grateful for his family.
Bob did not abandon his parents and grandparents, as Reade et al did, but took a trip at their suggestion. They saw that he was bored in school, being far more intelligent than his classmates and not at all diverted by his classwork, and they decided that he was mature enough, at age 14, to take his vehicles on a tour. And, finally, Bob’s adventures did not involve despoiling natives or non-whites of their money. Bob traveled around the country, but the fortune he amassed was taken from buried or sunken treasure or won in fair combat with criminals. Bob did have one thing in common with his relatives, however: a taste for prostitutes. He was only 14 on his first trip, however, it might be forgiven of a hormone-crazed and rich teenager to indulge his drives.
Bob’s adventures did make it into print, in 1893, in a suitably garbled form, with Bob being dubbed “Electric Bob,” after the power behind his creations, but unlike his relatives only five stories about him appeared. The reason for this, and the reason that “Robert T. Toombs,” the dime novelist who fictionalised Bob, was never heard from again was that Mad Jack Driscoll was displeased at the depiction of his son and had Toombs murdered.
Bob’s adventures went on for several years, but there is little information available on them. The B----- archives are almost empty with regard to Bob and his life, perhaps because Mad Jack Driscoll did not want anyone to know about him. MN has been forced to go elsewhere to find information on Bob’s life post-1895, and has found little. However, he has found enough to draw one interesting conclusion.
Rick Brant (1930-present?) is well-known to many for the books detailing his experiences with, among other experiments, the first, secret rocket trip to the moon, in 1947. Brant, because of the books about him, was and is a beloved figure to many adults who were children and teenagers in the late 1940s and 1950s.13
His father's life, however, is not so well-known, and in fact much of it is obscured. When MN began investigating (for a future article on the Brants) the life of Rick Brant, he was naturally curious about the background of "Dr. Hartson William Brant," Rick's father. What MN found was, besides a contradictory paper trail, was that Dr. Brant seems to have come into existence as a freshman at Harvard in 1920. Dr. Brant shot through Harvard, earning his Doctorate in Physics in four years, and then bought “Spindrift Island,” the location from which he and his son did so much work, with his family’s money. Dr. Brant, in those few photographs that he permitted to be taken of him, bears a singular resemblance to Bob Driscoll.
MN's theory is Dr. Brant was Bob Driscoll’s son, and that therefore Rick Brant is a part of the B----- clan. If a knack for invention can be inherited, it certainly seems to have run through Levy Morgan’s line.
Johnny Brainerd’s last public appearance was in 1877, when he announced that he would be joining in the investigation of the disappearances in Providence, Rhode Island, which were rumored to be linked to the notorious and controversial Starry Wisdom Cult. Brainerd left for Providence in February 1877. He was never seen again.
Next: The Reades
next article in this series, “The All-Aces Squad,” will explore Rick Brant’s
wartime career. A future article by MN, “Secret Wars,” will explore the
shocking truth behind the rest of Rick Brant’s life.
The 19th Century
Appendices and Bibliography