"The work calls into question sundial, sanctifies sundial,
resigns the self to sundial," Sheila Murphy writes,
"All the if of what might emanate from the statuesque."
David Searcy says he's jealous of "Wilson Williams." How kind.
"Statues, an enormous number of them, zombies (I remember them
as zombies), even a wooden Indian. Death maybe not the physical
death of Socrates, but the death of one with ideas reduced in time
to an icon, SOCRATES, a bust Schroeder'd put on his piano," another letter.
Doctor Price's House of Terror
My paper fronted me the money to go to Luna I on other business,
the disturbing Werewolf Murders of which I've written elsewhere,
but while I was there I determined to interview a great man,
Bernald the maker of puppets, effigies, statues, what you will
in the House of Vinyl he'd moved, no one knew why, in the teens
from somewhere in the States, I think New Orleans. "There is," he said,
pointing to his sign, the letters floating in air in front of a slab
of black marbylene, "as you can see, no deception." His black suit,
a simple zipup but beautifully cut, suited the magician's line he must have used
a thousand times before, the voice resonant and a bit wry (I thought
of early clips of Vincent Price), a gracious if slightly vaudevillean
wave of the hand inviting me up steps past the notorious
"ticket seller," humanoid, I found peculiarly unnerving. I swear its eyes were wet.
"Wax was always a mistake," said Bernald, "too luminous, but muddy
and no pores to speak of. These alcoves" (the guidebook said an even hundred)
"are inhabited -- by your imagination and of course mine." It was astonishing.
There were no mockups of rooms, and only the furniture required as props.
All were painted or seemed to be the same pale cream, dimly lit
in general with effects heightened by ably directed spots, current
subjects mostly, and they seemed to move. "So they do," said Bernald smugly,
"otherwise I've failed. My predecessor Madame Tussaud sometimes incorporated
automata, little motions to enhance the scene, bubbles, for instance,
in a wax victim drowning in her bath." He shrugged. "It must
have looked like an aquarium." I stood transfixed before one -- what -
diorama? tableau? Smith Discovering the First Aliens. He looked terrified,
the face caught so in the moment he had yet to understand what he felt.
The band of Trafes looked mildly threatening, as if seen at that moment
through his eyes. I could see, moving from alcove to alcove, that the Moment
was Bernald's metier. These were not stock figures each in a
"characteristic" pose, like Pride or Greed, the President at a podium,
a flicker of indecision on his normally unlined face I was sure would pass
if I looked again. It stayed, but stayed poised, if you know what I mean.
I said so, and had the nerve to ask if he worked from photographs. "Not ...
photographs," he said, the deep voice a little sinister as I unholstered
my Minox XII with a requestful glance. He nodded. No matter where
I stood the shots were perfect. He'd left me nothing to do but snap.
I asked to see the Chamber of Horrors, giving him the briefest account
of my escapade. His interest seemed approving and he led me to a door,
not dungeon-y, just a plain hatch that slid to show a stairwell
so steep it must have cut into the lunar rock. There were three landings;
I assumed there were workspaces above us. As we descended, the only touch
of theatricality, the pale cream walls changed imperceptibly to a dull gray-blue.
Copyright Gerald Burns 1995-1997