I had a hell of a long day yesterday. Left Ma's at 5:30 AM, drove to State College, PA, arrived at 9:00 AM, met with the other guys at the Waffle Shop at 9:30, and then our day began. It was a small gathering: me, John F. Carr, and two other Piper fans, Wolf and Dennis. We piled into a car and headed off for Williamsport, stopping along the way for notable Piper-related sites.
Dennis has performed a truly remarkable feat of fandom. He has literally gone through LORD KALVAN OF OTHERWHEN line by line and identified as many locations as possible. Piper was an avid outdoorsman and knew large swathes of Pennsylvania like the back of his hand, and in many instances gave enough details for somebody who really knows the territory and is willing to put in sufficient time -- somebody like, oh, say, Dennis -- to identify the locations of several battles and important locations in Piper's alternate Pennsylvania. We visited a couple of battle sites, drove through Hostigos town, saw (from a distance) the site of the Hostigos castle, and parked on the exact spot where Calvin Morrison and the other Pennsylvania State Police parked their cars in the minutes before Calvin was transported to a parallel world.
We hit up Williamsport, where we visited the local historical society museum. Piper had exhibited his collection of historic firearms there, and one of the board members, John Hunsinger, knew Beam personally; he shared his memories, and showed us the museum. By a remarkable coincidence, a member of Ferd Coleman's family was present at the museum. Ferd Coleman was Piper's best friend, and when the guy at the museum had been a kid, he'd known Beam Piper. John had a very interesting talk with him. The woman working the museum's front desk overheard a fair portion of our conversation, and read a bit of John Carr's biography while we were walking around; she wasn't familiar with Piper, but found the conversation fascinating.
We wound up the day in Altoona, where we visited Piper's grave. John and Dennis have raised funds for a new tombstone; Beam has only a small marker at the moment, and the new stone will be a very nice one. We also visited Altoona's Penn Alto hotel, where Piper liked to drink in the bar (it's apartments and shops now) and saw the plaque across the street honoring Union veterans -- Beam's namesake grandfather among them. Those were my major contributions to the trip, though I shamefully forgot where the plaque was and led us on a lengthy trip around Altoona before we realized, um, it was on the building *across the street* from the Penn Alto. I was pleased, though, to find that after an interval of ten years I remembered almost exactly where Piper's grave was. (I got the lateral position right and was off by precisely one row.) I also was able to show John the location of Piper's father's grave; he and Dennis had been there several times and hadn't known where Herbert Piper was buried. It happened that I had seen Herbert Piper's marker on my previous visit, ten years before, and had noticed that it was sinking into the ground even then. I found the right spot, cleared away a little earth, and hey presto, the grave marker of Herbert Piper.
By circumstance, we drove by pretty much every place Piper lived. John and Dennis had scouted all of them out. Nothing to see; they're all parking lots. Every one. His grandparents' house still exists. It is condemned and slated to be torn down. John and Dennis had initially thought of putting a plaque on the facade of a building he'd lived in, but there is no such animal. Hence the new tombstone.
It had been a decade since I traveled Piper's stomping grounds. Some things haven't changed much, but I was shocked by the remarkable, positive, change in Williamsport, where Piper died. When I was there ten years ago, it was so depressingly run down that my first thought was, "No wonder he shot himself!" It's much better now. Lots of houses that were decrepit have been fixed up; they look pretty good.
A good time, a good day, and good company. I'll do it again. Even if I started out at 5:30 AM and didn't get back to Ma's until past 2:00 AM.