Monday, February 06, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Weather Report

Page 7 (Continued)

If the temperature dropped below 35 degrees F in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, the ranchers had to go out and light their smudge pots to ward off the frost that could damage the citrus crops.

On the night of Tuesday, January 14, 1947, the fruit frost warning had been posted and broadcasted on the ten o'clock news. At that hour few people were out on the streets.

At left, a smudge pot, now nothing but an unpleasant antique in California. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, hundreds of these evil devices, burning diesel fuel, made the air over Los Angeles so polluted that there were days you couldn't see City Hall from across the street.

I just sighed when I saw this. Time to cue the leaden skies from "Severed." (Hm. I'd forgotten I was using a flier on hemorrhoids from the National Institutes of Health as a bookmark in "Severed" Clearly I don't refer to either one very often).

Smudge pots burned for the first night that winter to keep the frost from killing the citrus. The cold had settled in from the cloudless sky that by dawn shone like dull gray metal that revealed no shadows. ("Severed," Page 1).

Now to dig out the files on the weather, because it's always reported incorrectly. First with "Severed" and then everyone who follows.

City

High

Low

Date

Los Angeles

60

39

Jan. 15. 1947

L.A. Ground Temperature

61

38

Jan. 15, 1947

Burbank

60

32

Jan. 15, 1947

Pasadena

61

35

Jan. 15, 1947

San Gabriel

60

32

Jan. 15, 1947

Los Angeles

64

39

Jan. 16. 1947

L.A. Ground Temperature

65

31

Jan. 16, 1947

Burbank

63

51 (probably an error for 31)

Jan. 16, 1947

Pasadena

60

40

Jan. 16, 1947

San Gabriel

63

33

Jan. 16, 1947

Southern California forecast for Jan. 15, 1947: Generally sunny today and tomorrow, but with some scattered cloudiness. Slowly rising daytime temperatures but continued cool.

Sunny today? What about "a cloudless sky that by dawn shone like dull gray metal that revealed no shadows?" A cloudless sky that revealed no shadows? How is that possible? And where are the smudge pots?

The answer: On Jan. 16, 1947, the Herald-Express ran a story headlined "31 Degrees; Smudge Darkens L.A. in Cold Wave." Of course, since the Herald was an afternoon paper, it was speaking about the day after the body was found: "As a teeth chattering 31-degree temperature greeted Los Angeles today, the coldest since Feb. 15, 1942, clouds of smudge smoke from the citrus belt blanketed the city."

Tsk, tsk, tsk. This is what happens when you trust someone else's research instead of doing your own, especially when you take anything from "Severed," which I'm fairly sure I mentioned is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.

As everyone who knows me is well aware, I don't like the crime scene pictures, but this photo of Los Angeles Times reporter Marvin Miles at the crime scene is appropriate because he's wearing sunglasses. Regardless of what you read in any of the Dahlia books about brooding darkness and leaden skies, it was a bright, sunny day.

Is it being too petty to note that ranchers have cattle and farmers grow crops? And wonder why Wolfe writes 10:00 p.m. and ten o'clock on the same page instead of 10 p.m. and 10 o'clock? I suppose it is. Broadcasted? ReaganBooks should really hire a couple of good copy editors.

As a writer, I have a visceral reaction to finding books in the trash. They're so much work. Writers should never be allowed to see the overfilled trash barrels at any publication that does book reviews, where prerelease copies are unceremoniously dumped, not even read, like dead leaves in the fall. So when I took some boxes to Out of the Closet over the weekend I had to rescue a copy of Walter Mosley's "Devil in a Blue Dress" that was in the dumpster behind the store. The book was annotated on nearly every page, as follows:

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