Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Mary Della"

While doing some research into Waterbury history, I stumbled onto a serialized novel from 1929, firmly set in Waterbury. Serialized novels were tremendously popular during the 1800s--most of the famous novels from that era first appeared in serial format in newspapers. The format continued into the 1900s, but eventually lost popularity. Serialized storytelling moved into radio and, eventually, television, where it continues to thrive today.

This particular serialized novel was titled "Mary Della" and was written by someone named Julie Anne Moore. There's no sign of Julie Anne Moore other than being listed as the author of this and other stories. I'm assuming Julie Anne Moore was a pen name. (I'll do some additional research later this week to see if I can find out more about her.)

"Mary Della" was serialized by The Independent Syndicate, a company based in Washington, D.C. It ran in newspapers all over the country, but not simultaneously. Some papers started running it in 1929, others in 1930. Some included photographic illustrations, others ran the installments without any illustrations.

Advertisement for "Mary Della,"
Oakland Tribune, 11 Dec 1929, courtesy of

Here are a few passages showing the author's familiarity with Waterbury:
    He crossed West Main street and continued down Meadow to Grand. He tried to make out the time on the station tower clocks as he followed the curve of a building around the corner, but nothing but a starling can see the faces of those clocks after dark, and then he must be roosting on the hands.
    There were few vehicles on Grand street, and as he passed Liberty Park he pressed on the accelerator. He shot by the library, crossed Leavenworth street on the green light and continued toward Bank street at a good clip. ("Mary Della" Chapter III, The Decatur Herald, 6 Aug 1930)
    They rolled along Bank street, through Exchange Place and began the ascent of North Main street, Joe drawing on a cigaret, Mary Della curiously silent.    ...She turned and abruptly walked up Cherry Street. ("Mary Della" Chapter XIII, Ludington Daily News, 7 Aug 1930)

There's at least one passage suggesting the author's familiarity with working in a clock shop:

"Well, don't mind me, Joe. I'm just a hairspring vibrator." ("Mary Della" Chapter XIII, Ludington Daily News, 7 Aug 1930)

(A hairspring vibrator is a tool used when making a watch or clock movement.)

The author, Julie Anne Moore, worked herself into the story. Chapter 2 includes a fictional review of Mary Della's performance in an amateur theatrical performance of a musical comedy written by Julie Anne Moore and Eugene T. Oviatt. The real-life Eugene Oviatt worked in a music store (McCoy's), and lived in the second-floor apartment of a three-family home on Willow Street with his mother and step-father. He was indeed a songwriter, and he was the musical director of Waterbury's first radio show. Other real-life Waterbury residents made guest appearances in Chapter 10.

The story follows the exploits of Mary Della Chubb, age 18, who works in the clock factory on North Main Street and lives with her parents in their modest apartment on Bank Street. A "wow for looks," Mary Della is being courted by several young men.

While crossing the street in front of the post office on Grand Street, after being stood up by her steady boyfriend, Joe Speaks, Mary Della is nearly run over by a Yale football star, Robert Calkman 3rd. Robert, wearing a racoon coat and driving a yellow roadster, is handsome and wealthy--and has just been tricked into proposing to Majorie Marabee of Waterbury's fashionable Cracker Hill.

Robert tries to take Mary Della to St. Mary's Hospital, but she insists on driving way out East Main Street, halfway to Cheshire. Even though they are both involved with other people, Robert and Mary Della park near a wooded area and start making out in his car (yes, they had only just met).  Robert never gives his full name, asking Mary Della to call him Bob.

Mary Della and Robert saying goodbye after their encounter with the Red Mask.
"Mary Della" Chapter II, Oakland Tribune, 22 Dec 1929. Courtesy of

Mary Della Chubb and Joe Speaks dancing at Hamilton Park.
("Mary Della" Chapter VII, The Pittsburgh Press, 2 Dec 1930)

The make-out session is interrupted when they hear a woman screaming. Robert goes to investigate and finds a man in a red mask standing over the body of a murdered woman. The man in the red mask attacks Robert, then flees. Robert and Mary Della decide not to report what happened, hoping someone else would find the woman's body and report it.

The next night, Mary Della goes to a dance at Hamilton Park, where she meets up with Joe Speaks. Joe apologizes for standing her up the day before. The couple go for a drive out East Main Street (because that must have been the thing to do in 1929). Joe proposes, but Mary Della says she needs time to think.

Meanwhile, Robert is filled with anguish over his decision to not report the murder. After a couple of days, the body is found and the story runs in The Waterbury American newspaper with the headline, "Murder Mystery Stirs Waterbury."

The story continues with the twin dramas of romantic dilemmas and murder mystery for a total of 53 chapters. For the most part, the newspapers ran one chapter a day, keeping readers engrossed for nearly two months.

Interestingly, while the Boston Globe, Oakland Tribune, and the Ludington (Michigan) Daily News used Waterbury place names, The Milwaukee Journal and The Pittsburgh Press (and presumably other papers too) substituted place names more familiar to their readers. Bank Street became Vilet Street and California Avenue; Yale became Marquette and Carnegie Tech; Cracker Hill became Whitefish Bay and Sewickley.

Moore had several other stories serialized in newspapers around the country, although Mary Della was the only one set in Waterbury. "Janet the flying stenographer" ran in 1930; "Juliet Hay - Leading Lady" ran in 1933; "Vicki: The Vacation Experiences of a Stenographer" ran in 1934; "Feather in Her Hat" ran in 1935; "Tomorrow's Child" ran in 1936; "Playgirl" in 1937; and "Love Comes Last" in 1939.

As far as I can tell, "Mary Della" was never printed as a book. The only way to read the story is in the original newspapers. I've created links for the first batch of chapters in the Ludington Daily News, which is available through Google News Archive.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 2, cont. (note: link takes you to ad--you have to scroll to the top of the page for "Mary Della")
Chapter 3
Chapter 4 (scroll left for the story)
Chapter 4, cont.
Chapter 5
Chapter 5, cont.
Chapter 6
Chapter 7 (scroll left for the story)
Chapter 8
Chapter 8, cont. (scroll left)
Chapter 9 (scroll left)
Chapter 9, cont.
Chapter 10

If you'd like to keep reading past Chapter 10, click on "Browse this newspaper" at the top of the newspaper page; then select "View all" for August 1930 and navigate your way through each edition. "Mary Della" will appear in large letters. (If you have a subscription to, it's a little easier to read through--just search for "Mary Della" and select oldest to newest for the results.)

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