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Eagle Archive: Halloween, tale of a Westminster native with a taste for adventure, with side order of macabre

Eagle Archive

By Kevin Dayhoff, kevindayhoff@gmail.com

7:07 PM EDT, October 29, 2011

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Carroll County has many sons and daughters who have made contributions to the literary and artistic world. Take William Buehler Seabrook, for example.

What's that? You never heard of him? Seabrook was apparently one interesting character. It is only fitting that we talk about him on the eve of Halloween.

He was born in Westminster Feb. 22, 1884, and died Sept. 20, 1945. On the occasion of his death, the St. Petersburg Times ran a news brief Sept. 21, 1945, with the cryptic headline: "William Seabrook, Author, is Suicide."

OK, ready? (And just for a disclaimer, I am not making this up for Halloween.)

Seabrook, "59, author and explorer, whose books were based on his own experiences among cannibals, voodoo-practicing natives and in a mental hospital, was declared by authorities last night to have committed suicide."

Yes indeed. Seabrook was part of the American Lost Generation genre of writers, which includes, for example, F. Scott Fitzgerald and T. S. Eliot. "Lost Generation" was the term coined by Gertrude Stein, according to Ernest Hemingway, who utilized the theme in "The Sun Also Rises," published in 1926. He noted the Lost Generation in his posthumously published "A Moveable Feast," a memoir about life in Paris in the 1920s with other American writers and artists.

Stein was supposed to have said, "You are all a generation perdu. ... That's what you all are. All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation."

Getting back to our "lost soul" from Carroll County — we are fortunate that local historian Jay Graybeal researched Seabrook's life and times for an article published 10 years ago for the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Seabrook, according to Graybeal, was "the son of a Lutheran minister. He traveled the world exploring exotic places and cultures. His several books about cannibalism, witchcraft and voodoo excited and shocked his readers."

"(He) received his education at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, Roanoke College in Virginia and Newberry College in South Carolina," according to a newspaper article by Winifred Van Duser, entitled "Ending Career Packed With Melodrama."

According to these accounts, Seabrook started out as a cub reporter for the Augusta Chronicle in Georgia and later graduated to the position of city editor.

Graybeal further noted, "Seabrook's (later) personal and professional life was filled with controversy. One journalist gave him the sobriquet 'The Maryland Ju Ju Man.'

"A critic, who described him as a 'cannibal' and a sadist, wrote in a 1966 review of Marjorie Worthington's book, The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, that his principal literary contribution, it would seem, is the word 'zombie.' " (For those taking part in the Oct. 28 Zombie Walk in Westminster — did you realize how appropriate that was?)

"Miss Worthington had a more sympathetic view and wrote, '(Seabrook) was a fine intelligent, and lovable man, with a touch of genius … as well as madness.' "

When he is not re-reading Hemingway's "Moveable Feast" and "The Sun Also Rises," Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.