Libby Cudmore, mystery author and managing editor, Hometown Oneonta/The Freeman’s Journal/AllOTSEGO.com, speaks about the creation of Philo Vance, one of the premier sleuths of the “Golden Age” of detective fiction, by Willard Huntington Wright, who adopted the pseudonym S.S. Van Dine to write the mystery series, during a talk at the Swart-Wilcox House this afternoon. With her are Bob Brzozowski, executive director, Greater Oneonta Historical Society, who discovered that Wright likely created Vance at 31 River St. when the future writer was staying with his maiden aunts, and Rev. Kenneth Hunter, St. James Episcopal Church, who runs the weekly “Tea and Murder” mystery appreciation series at the church. At right, Hunter references “Alias S.S. Van Dine: The Man Who Created” as he talks about the Philo Vance films, which starred actors like Basil Rathbone and William Powell. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
FILM – 7 p.m. Showing ‘The Dragon Murder Mystery’ (1934) by Oneonta author S.S. Van Dine. Includes introductory remarks & talk back session. Oneonta History Center, 183 Main St., Oneonta. 607-432-0960 or visit www.oneontahistory.org/index.htm
ONEONTA – Hidden behind a row of overgrown trees on River Street is a literary legacy.
As S.S. Van Dine, Willard Huntington Wright (1888-1939), wrote 12 novels starring dandy detective Philo Vance – and Bob Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director, believes that they were written here.
“We know his novel ‘The Man of Promise’ (196) was partially written in the cupola of 31 River Street,” said Brzozowski. “It’s set in Greenwood, which is based on Oneonta. H.L. Mencken called it ‘the Great American Novel’. We believe he wrote some of the Vance novels here as well.”
The heritage will remain, but the house, neglected for year, is about to succumb to the ravages of time.
The Salvation Army, whose local operation is growing, bought the property in March, first to build a parking lot, then expanding its building.
“We need more room,” said Maj. Sharon Harford, the veteran commander who is retiring at the end of May. “We want to expand our food pantry, and the city is looking to us to create a warming station for the homeless when the temperature drops.”