Boston Bricks

Following up on a series started a couple of months ago, here is another random fact regarding the late American book-collector Stanley Pleeber.

Random fact no. 8: Although we still don’t know how tall Pleeber was, we may yet be inching towards to the truth. As I revealed in the comments to this post, Pleeber was almost always photographed standing alone in front of a brick wall. As the size and types of bricks used in Boston in this period vary greatly, it is pretty much impossible to tell from such images how tall he was.

When in Boston, I made every attempt to leap nimbly over this hurdle by doing a little brick-based research. Unfortunately – and I don’t mind confessing this, however poorly it reflects on my academic endurance – brick-based research must be one of the more tedious forms of research there is. ‘Brick Lit’ – as it is known – is a veritable quarry of dull unstructured piffle. I have spent many a merrier minute scratching my nostrils.

I won’t say I didn’t try my best – though I can’t say it helped. What I will say is that, should someone ever recommend Jay Biggin’s Cementing a Reputation: All the Houses that Jackson Built to you, I advise you hit said person over the head with the largest volume of Latin prose you can find. Likewise the strangely titled Stoned: Building America which, despite a lively chapter on scaffolding (and a fine anecdote about marble tabletops) is the sort of book that gives detail a bad name. Well, I say that – but then where were the much sought-after facts on Boston bricks circa 1900? Nowhere to be seen, alas.

So the brick-based research came to nothing. It crumbled under my hands, it sank into the sand, it all fell down. But no matter, for new information regarding Pleeber’s height has snaked its way through alternative channels. In the soon-to-be-published diaries of Sam Tavistock Jnr, a contemporary of Pleeber’s, we find the following reference to Stanley:

Walking by the waterfront today, I came across Stanley P sitting on a stone next to a dowdy grey-feathered seagull. Both of them were looking out across the Atlantic, the seagull somewhat wistfully, Stanley a little philosophically. The resemblance to the dwarf prophet of Mackazee was so perfect, I could not bring myself to disturb them.

Pleeber’s fondness for seagulls is boringly well known. The reference to the ‘dwarf prophet of Mackazee’ is, however, fascinating.  It would be even more useful if we had any idea of who the ‘dwarf prophet’ was – but then the comment does at least open up the possibility that Pleeber was not the tallest of men. That is, of course, if the statement refers to a straight general physical resemblance, as opposed to a mere facial resemblance, or a resemblance to a shared tendency (i.e. should the ‘dwarf prophet’ have also been in the habit of hanging about with dowdy seagulls). As it is, we don’t really know, though (needless to say) we will certainly be working on it. And something tells me that dwarf-prophet based research may be a little more interesting than that of Boston-brick variety.

More Stanley Pleeber facts here.


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