Collecting Delaware Books
A century ago, it was quite practical to live in a small town in northern Delaware and commute by train to Philadelphia to work. Charles Heber Clark, a 27-year-old newspaperman, tried it and got a book out of it. And a humorous book at that. In 1874, under the pen name Max Adeler, he published Out of the Hurly-Burly or, Life in an Odd Corner. The odd corner was old New Castle.
The book was a huge success. The blurb on one late edition claims a million copies were printed. Even then, people were nostalgic for the small town. Today, it is a mix of slapstick humor and a few precious glimpses of New Castle as it was 125 years ago.
There are 400 illustrations. Most are little sketches that have nothing to do with New Castle. There are, however, views of the Battery and the town's skyline that are instantly recognizable.
The humor holds up surprisingly well. In 1947, Professor August, H. Able, III of the University of Delaware wrote that the humor was old-fashioned, unsophisticated, and involved gross exaggeration. Modern readers will find it is not much different than television sitcom humor.
Pictures of local life are scattered among funny stories that could have happened anywhere. There are descriptions of catching the train to the city, Sundays on the Battery, fishing on the Delaware, the local newspaper, and church services that probably do reflect life in New Castle. The story that the undertaker was allowed to tack permanent coffin ads on the church doors is told with too much passion to be untrue.
Adeler strays from the light side for two chapters dealing with flogging and pillory, practices he did not approve of. To bring the point home, he tells the "Delaware legend" of Mary Engle and the flogging of a women 70 years before. It is melodramatic and a bit gruesome. On the whole, however, Out of the Hurly-Burly is a lot of fun and a worthwhile addition to a Delaware collection.