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Thread: "For the Wages of Sin is Death": The Long-Ago Tragedy of an Overzealous Fan

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Default "For the Wages of Sin is Death": The Long-Ago Tragedy of an Overzealous Fan

    Part I of II

    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in a mid-sized town somewhere in the United States, lived a somewhat reclusive and retiring but well-respected middle-aged man. Never married, the man was a semi-regular churchgoer and modestly successful commercial artist, who lived a quiet and unassuming bachelor's life in his community. By all accounts he was a decent, stable, prudent, and upstanding individual, a "solid citizen," as it were.

    Until, that is, the fateful afternoon in February 1898 when on a whim he stepped into the local Vaudeville theater -- and witnessed therein the energetic, rousing, and lusty dance performance of a dynamic young lady named Shelley Quinn.

    An exotically beautiful and alluring stage dancer with phenomenal dancing talent, and a radiant smile that lit up the stage, Shelley was billed as "The Cancan Queen," and performed on tour in Vaudeville theaters across the U.S. and in Canada. Known by her most ardent fans as "The Queen," she enjoyed tremendous popularity and renown among Vaudeville audiences everywhere; played to packed houses everywhere she appeared; and in her day was among the elite of Vaudeville's performers. She was also very popular in the Music Halls of England, where she had toured several times to great acclaim. Having arrived in the man's hometown several days earlier, "The Queen" was in the middle of a one-week engagement at the theater.

    In the days ahead, mesmerized and captivated by both her stunning beauty and her exceptional dancing talent, the man attended all of "The Queen's" remaining performances in the theater. Never in all of his life had he ever dreamed that so incredible, exquisite, graceful, and dynamic a woman as "The Queen" existed. He was in total awe of her. And in short order he took a big-time fancy to and became smitten with her -- particularly after happily learning that she wasn't married.

    Over time, the man's fancy for "The Queen" mushroomed into a full-blown, all-consuming obsession and fantasy crush. To satiate his crush, he collected every newspaper article, playbill, poster, theater lobby card, cigarette card, cigar box label, and other piece of memorabilia he could get his hands on that contained any mention of, or better yet an image of, "The Queen." Once, to his delight, he came upon a set of stereoscope pictures of "The Queen" performing onstage, for sale in the local general store, and purchased the set immediately even though it cost him a week's worth of grocery money. In time, he amassed a sizeable collection of items related to "The Queen"; and his bedchamber, its walls festooned with an ever-growing assemblage of memorabilia and pictures of "The Queen," became a veritable shrine devoted to her.

    One Saturday afternoon in November 1899, at a Chautauqua in the man's hometown, "The Queen" appeared in an open-air Vaudeville show and performed her dance act. Sitting in rapt attention in the front row, the man was able to snap a clear photograph of her in mid-high kick during her most rousing and spectacular dance number, a cherished prize which to him might as well have been the Holy Grail.

    Despite having not met her in person, and knowing almost nothing about her other than the salient details of her life and career as chronicled in the press, the man nevertheless idolized "The Queen," regarding her as "My Ideal Woman," "The Only Woman in the World for Me," "The Most Beautiful and Alluring Woman on Earth," and "A Veritable Angel on Earth." Eventually he became consumed with the notion that he and "The Queen" had a "special connection," and as such that they were "fated" and "destined" to one day meet, fall madly in love, engage in a whirlwind courtship, get married, and live happily ever after in perfect wedded bliss. "After all, with God all things are possible!" became his hopeful internal mantra.

    In January 1900, to his utter dismay and bitter disappointment, he heard that "The Queen" had become engaged to a prominent, wealthy railroad baron. This news cast him into the depths of despair and melancholy, and engendered in him an abiding resentment towards the baron, as well as the feeling that -- even though they had never met -- "The Queen" had betrayed him by daring to choose someone else to be her husband. However, just two months later, to his great relief and delight, he heard that the two had broken off their engagement. "Hallelujah! I still have a chance!" he cried out in joy.

    Shortly thereafter he hired, at a considerable sum, a Pinkerton to track down and provide him with "The Queen's" home address. He did this not because he intended to try to visit her where she lived (his obsession fell just short of stalking), but because he thought that, if he gathered up sufficient courage, he could perhaps "get things going" with her by writing her a letter someday.

    "Someday" arrived one night in May 1900 when, seized by overwhelming lust and desire for "The Queen," the man succumbed to temptation and base impulses, took fountain pen in hand, and committed a very ill-advised and vile series of acts. First, he wrote "The Queen" a letter, filled with protestations of his intense and undying love for her, interspersed with crude, bawdy, and lurid sexual references. Then he drew an obscene, erotic, lifelike picture of "The Queen" based upon the photograph he had taken of her at the Chautauqua.

    Finished, he folded and put the letter and drawing in an envelope, and addressed it to "The Queen." Then, although it was nearing midnight, he stepped out the door, strode purposefully to the corner mailbox as if possessed, and dropped the envelope through the mailbox slot.

    No sooner had the envelope dropped from his fingers, however, when he abruptly came to his senses -- as if jolted by ice-water dashed in his face -- and gasped in horror and dismay, "Dear God! What in Heaven's name have I just DONE?"

    Stumbling home in a daze, fairly quaking inside, the man was utterly unable to comprehend how he could have possibly committed so egregious and sordid a sin against, of all people, "THE QUEEN." Staggering into his living room, he collapsed into an armchair, his mind swirling in turmoil, and moaned, "God in Heaven! What will 'The Queen' think of me when she sees the deviltry I have wrought this night?"

    Thereafter the man lived in mortal fear of the consequences of his sin -- the unbearable humiliation and scorn he was sure he would suffer, the scandal that would likely ensue, and the destruction of his good name and reputation -- when the letter and the drawing came to light, went public, and HE was exposed as their author.

    Most of all he shuddered at the thought, "What if I must face 'The Queen' in person as a consequence of what I have done?" The tremendous shame and humiliation resulting from that eventuality, he was sure, would literally kill him. He envisioned her withering glare of contempt, and his suffering a fatal apoplectic stroke on the spot and dropping dead at her feet.

    Whenever he heard a knock at his door, or walked outside to retrieve his daily mail, or opened the daily newspaper each morning, his stomach tensed into a tight knot of fear as he wondered, "Is this it? The day the axe will fall and I must pay and be shamed for my reprehensible transgression?" Sometimes his fear translated into bouts of the dry heaves.

    Racked with regret, the man fervently wished he could somehow undo his sin; but he knew he could not. He wished he had access to H.G. Wells' Time Machine so that he could travel back in time, talk some sense into his slightly younger self, and thereby prevent his sin from ever occurring. But the miracle machine, he knew only too well, was but a fantastic phantasm that existed strictly within the pages of Mr. Wells' fanciful tale.

    Hit with the stark realization that in the wake of his sin he would never, not ever, be able to meet "The Queen" with a clear conscience, much less ever befriend her, much less ever romance her, much less ever marry her, the man solemnly vowed that for the rest of his life, as a self-imposed penance, he would never attempt to meet her at all; never go see her again in person, no matter how close to his home she might perform; and never attempt to contact her in any way. In short, he decided that he was utterly unworthy of being in her presence, even as an anonymous, unnoticed audience member in the very back row of a dim, smoky Vaudeville theater. In this regard his internal mantra changed to, "If 'The Queen' is ever here, I shall not be near."

    This hurt him the most on the night in January 1901 when the owners of the Vaudeville theater circuit for which "The Queen" had long performed staged a glittering, glamorous banquet in honor and appreciation of her and her stellar work in Vaudeville. The affair was held at the most elegant hotel in the man's hometown, located but a handful of miles from his home. A short coach ride away.

    Despite his self-imposed penance, and his sin's dreaded potential consequences hanging poised over him like the Sword of Damocles, in the days leading up to the banquet the man wrestled mightily with the temptation to attend. He knew that being at the banquet would be the highlight of his life; and he also realized that such a glittering tribute to "The Queen" held so close to his home would almost certainly never recur. "Perhaps if I kept my identity a secret, it would be all right for me to go -- and to meet 'The Queen' in person at last, just THIS ONCE," he thought.

    However, he ultimately decided that his only honorable course of action would be to hold true to his penance and stay home -- concluding that his mere presence at the banquet, even if neither "The Queen" nor anyone else in attendance had the slightest idea of who he was, would defile the proceedings.

    And it was thus that on the night of the banquet, sitting home alone and knowing that "The Queen" was being feted but a handful of miles away, and that he was missing out on what should have been his life's highlight, the man was absolutely devastated, his heart utterly broken. Many tears he shed in the solitude and silence of his home that night, amidst the gloom of a single dying candle’s feeble illumination. But he decided that such was a bitter pill of penance he had to swallow.

    Last edited by Rick In San Jose; December 4th, 2013 at 09:07 PM.
    “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light from a single candle.”
    --Saint Francis of Assisi

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Default "For the Wages of Sin is Death": The Long-Ago Tragedy of an Overzealous Fan

    Part II of II

    The next day, the man decided he had another bitter pill of penance to swallow. To that end, as agonizingly difficult and painful as it was to bring himself to do so, he gathered up and burned his entire collection of memorabilia related to "The Queen," including his prized photograph of her from the Chautauqua. As he watched the flames in his fireplace hungrily consume and reduce to ashes his collection, he felt a small sense of relief, as if he were engaged in some sort of purification ritual, a catharsis, as if the flames were somehow cleansing him of his sin.

    His relief, alas, was fleeting, for he knew only too well that his damning and damnable letter and drawing were beyond the reach of the flames. But almost certainly well within the reach of "The Queen," a realization that made him shudder in self-loathing and cold fear.

    Repeatedly, day after day, the man prayed fervently and sincerely to God to forgive him for the sin of his letter and drawing. But he never experienced the slightest relief or peace from doing so, never sensed that God did forgive him. Nor could he ever forgive himself for what he termed his "reprehensible transgression." And because of that, he loathed and despised himself with a passion, barely able to stand viewing his own reflection in a mirror.

    On the morning in May 1901 that marked the one-year anniversary of his mailing the letter and the drawing, the man awoke with a violent start after a fitful sleep that had culminated in a horrific nightmare. In his nightmare "The Queen," her eyes filled with tears, her face filled with anguish, reproach, and rage, had delivered to him a scathing, blistering dressing down, crying furiously, "I thought you were my FAN! But you BETRAYED me! VIOLATED me by your lustful thoughts and by pen and paper! You HYPOCRITE! You BLACKGUARD! You JUDAS! You're beneath contempt! I hate you! I HATE you!"

    Badly shaken, sitting slumped and trembling on the edge of his bed, a pitiful wreck, the man muttered bitterly to himself, "I wish that bawdy strumpet would just fall off the stage and break her fool neck and DIE. Then I'd be FREE of her, once and for all, and my reprehensible transgression would become moot."

    No sooner had he uttered those words when the shock of what he had said hit him. Dropping to his knees at his bedside and clasping his hands, he gazed upward and cried out in anguish, "Dear Lord! What sort of cruel, callous, and contemptible grotesquerie have I degenerated into? How can it be that I have just wished DEATH upon a young woman of such exquisite beauty, grace, and class, a veritable Angel on Earth? None of this mad, perverted fixation of mine on her is her fault in the slightest! None of it! It's my fault, Lord! All MY fault! Dear God...I CANNOT go on like this!"

    Tragically, an hour later, the man's nightmarish year of worry, fear, guilt, remorse, shame, despair, and self-loathing came to a head -- and he committed suicide. This he did by taking an overdose of a powerful sleeping draught, and immediately thereafter filling his bathtub, climbing in, and electrocuting himself with a frayed electrical cord.

    Overheard by a neighbor, the man's final words, cried out in abject despair, were, "Dear Queen, FORGIVE me! Dear God, save my poor tormented SOUL!"

    The man left no explanatory suicide note behind, just a scrap of paper on which he had scrawled a single, short quote from the Bible: "For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23). Nor had he ever revealed his obsession with "The Queen" to anyone; or confessed his sin, his "reprehensible transgression," to anyone other than God. Consequently, everyone who knew him was utterly shocked and baffled over his suicide.

    * * * * * * *

    More than a century later, in January 2012, the man's letter was discovered under the floorboards in an old post office, a historic landmark, undergoing restoration. Back in 1900, perhaps during mail sorting, the letter had fallen through a gap in the floorboards. As a result, the letter had never been delivered to "The Queen" at all but had instead lain, undisturbed and unopened, for 112 years...

    As for Shelley Quinn, "The Cancan Queen," she retired from the Vaudeville stage in 1906; appeared in a handful of early silent pictures now long lost to time due to nitrate deterioration; retired from show business altogether in 1910; married a dashing Foreign Service officer in 1913; and served on the home front as a Red Cross nurse in World War I and a "Rosie the Riveter" in World War II.

    In July 1980 -- a beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother -- "The Queen" passed away peacefully, one day after her 100th birthday.

    Of course, because she and the man had never met and because his letter had never reached her, "The Queen" never had the slightest inkling of his existence, much less of his obsessive devotion to her and the tragic end to which it brought him.

    If only the man could have somehow kept healthy and wholesome his admiration for "The Queen," never allowed it to degenerate into all-consuming and prurient obsession, never committed his "reprehensible transgression" -- and met "The Queen" with a clear conscience.

    If only...

    Last edited by Rick In San Jose; December 4th, 2013 at 08:14 PM.
    “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light from a single candle.”
    --Saint Francis of Assisi

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