THE MILDRED WIRT BENSON EARLY SHORT STORIES

Millie invited me to lunch on Saturday, November 9, 1991. Sometimes, Millie’s lunch invitations meant lunch. Sometimes they meant something else. When I arrived, I found out that it was one of those “something else” occasions.


Among other unexpected surprises which I detail in the second volume of Call Me Dave, Millie asked me to come upstairs to his book room. He showed me a stack of newspaper sized sheets. Half were intact, off white. The other half looked like the Dead Sea Scrolls...brown, brittle, pieces falling on the floor as he showed them to me.


Millie explained that these were his only copies of his early works, his short stories, mostly published in the 1920s before he wrote his first Nancy Drew book in 1929. Millie asked me for advice on what to do with them.


My mind was spinning. This came out of the blue. Clearly, Millie was concerned, but I was not an archivist. I knew very little about paper preservation. We talked about it. I offered to put them back in his house but in a more secure area. That didn’t address his concerns. He wanted them preserved after his death. His daughter and any other relatives were likely to toss them. After several minutes, I proposed to Millie to take them back to Ann Arbor where I was then living, and figure out how to preserve them.


We went to lunch and I returned to Ann Arbor. As I started to organize the sheets chronologically, I found that I couldn’t handle many of them without further damaging them. So I did the only thing I could think of--I went to an all-night copy center. It was practically deserted. The lamination machine had to be warmed up, but once heated, I could do the work myself. The clerk showed me how to use it and the slicer next to it to trim the copies.


First, I separated the sheets which had Millie’s writings, and the covers to the magazines. The, I copied each sheet three times, one for my records, and two for Millie. Next, I laminated the sheets and trimmed them to size. I didn’t finish until after 1:00 AM Sunday morning on November 10. To this day, I don’t know if lamination was the correct thing to do, but I am confident that without it, half would not have survived.


I shipped the originals and the two sets of copies to Millie on Monday. Each of the sets of copies were stapled by story and sorted chronologically. I suggested that Millie send the originals to the Smithsonian, now that they were laminated to hold up in shipping.


Millie held off for reasons I won’t go into here, but after several months, eventually sent the originally to The University of Iowa to keep permanently. I don’t know what became of the two sets of copies I made for Millie.


Some years later, Millie gave me the ledger he had used from 1921 through the 1960s to record all of stories and books he was paid for writing. The ledger is written in thin pen strokes and in pencil and, with the passage of time and yellowing of the paper, is difficult to read in many places. Millie had already corrected a transcription I had earlier of the first pages which recorded the sales, prior to giving me the original.


Below is a table of the entries on pages 2-4, plus The Courtesy (Millie’s first published work, though unpaid), and the single short story entry on page 5, Fog, to chronicle Millie’s early career as a short story writer. Millie wrote quite a few more articles for the Iowa City Press-Citizen while at The University of Iowa, and probably for other publications, but didn’t get paid for these so he didn’t record them in his ledger. Additionally, there are three entries for golf-related articles in the ledger:


15.00 golf article, National Greenskeeper

25.00 Am[ican] Golfer, April 29 [1929]

Introducing Col[onel] Bogey to the Undergraduate 4.00 John[n]y Goodman article, Cinc[incatti] Inquire


The latter two have a notation “(Asa)” in pencil, obviously written later than the initial entries in pen. The first entry almost certainly records a sale by Asa Wirt, Millie’s husband at that time, as well, hence the lack of the title. #53, 56, 57 and 64 may be by Asa, also.


Rather than merely providing scans of the extant copies, I am going to be linking copies of the short stories that I have digitally cleaned to remove the nearly century of decay from the yellowing pages.


MILDRED WIRT BENSON SHORT STORY #1, The Courtesy

19190601, St Nicholas, Vol. XLVI, No. 28, p. 762


MILDRED WIRT BENSON SHORT STORY #5, Wishbone Luck

19231229, The Youth's Comrade Vol. 15, No. 52, pp. 6-7


MILDRED WIRT BENSON SHORT STORY #12, The Story That Was Different

19241227, Lutheran Young Folk, Vol. XXII, No. 4, pp. 1, 26


MILDRED WIRT BENSON SHORT STORY #16, Ballast Pit

19250131, The Youth's Comrade, Vol. 16, No. 5, pp. 2-3


It is my intention to provide the short stories here to preserve them as Millie requested. I reach out to all of you to provide the missing stories if any of you have them or can find them. Please help complete this project!


Hopeful in Pasadena

David Farah


The Millie Wirt Benson Archives

View PDF Chart of Benson Short Stories