June 4, 2012

A wrong corrected: revisited

The End of Soapy Smith
by Andy Thomas
(Click image to enlarge)

 can still remember how upset I was when a good magician friend of mine told me about the book, Alexander Conlin: The Man Who Knows by David Charvet in late 2004. Mr. Charvet used the contents of a letter I wrote to make it appear that I agreed with a silly invented story that Conlin was actually the man who shot and killed Soapy Smith. Although I fully proved Charvet's "mistake" in using my words out of context he refused to make the necessary changes in his 2007 "revised" edition.

Why am I bringing this up now after all these years? Once something stupid gets printed, it's there to haunt you forever. Although on May 24, 2008 (Magic Cafe forum) David Charvet admitted he was wrong after publishing his "revised" edition the damage was done. I knew that one day his concoction would pop up again to remind me of the hassles I had the first time around.

Recently, mentalist Wayne Hoffman posted a video on Youtube of his trip to Skagway, Alaska, looking for the grave of Soapy Smith. The video shows Mr. Hoffman going through Skagway searching for Soapy's grave. While I very much appreciate his enthusiasm for Soapy's history, it is the inclusion of David Charvet's invented notion that Conlin was the man who shot Soapy. Below is the video for your enjoyment.

There is nothing to the theory that Conlin killed Soapy. Conlin never said he did, nor did anyone else. In fact, except for his word, there is no tangible evidence that Conlin ever went to Skagway, Alaska where Soapy was killed.

In 2004 I created my first website on Soapy. When Mr. Charvet's book was released I made a page entitled A Wrong Corrected in which I told the true story of the letter Charvet used out of context, as well as the story of my conversations with John Pomery, now deceased, the man who actually did the research work for Charvet's book. Here is that story...

In the early 1990s I was contacted by John Pomeroy for information about Soapy for a book he was writing on Claude Alexander Conlin, a well-know mentalist of the early twentieth century.

John and I discussed his theory that Claude Alexander Conlin, known as Alexander Conlin, had been a member of the Soap Gang in Skagway, Alaska. The only evidence is the few remarks made by Conlin himself. Mr. Pomeroy contacted me with the idea that one of the men standing by Soapy in two photographs might possibly be that of Conlin. One day I received a phone call from an excited John Pomeroy, in which he claimed he had paid for some expensive computer photograph comparison work between the known photographs of Alexander Conlin, and that of the man standing next to Soapy inside and outside of Jeff Smith's Parlor. He informed me that everything matched up, proving that the man was indeed Conlin. I had no knowledge of any such process but in the time I knew him he seemed honest enough so I believed him. After that phone conversation I wrote a letter of congratulations on my Soapy stationary and sent it off to him. In all the time I knew Mr. Pomeroy, not once did he ever mention any theory that Conlin may have been the man who shot and killed Soapy.

Because of Mr. Pomeroy's "computer comparison proof" I passed on the story that one of the men in two photographs of Soapy was positively identified as Conlin. That information made its way into my public presentations, interviews and a few published articles for several years before I learned the truth. The truth is that there was no scientific computer comparison of the photographs, at least none surfaced in Charvet's book.

In 2004, I learned that David Charvet used that congratulatory letter I wrote to John Pomeroy (see above) in the footnotes of his book, Alexander Conlin: The Man Who Knows, to make it appear that I agreed that Conlin had shot and killed Soapy. Being that Mr. Pomeroy never mentioned any such theory to me I can only conclude that the story is the invention of David Charvet, to improve sales of the book.

The Smith family has known for years who killed Soapy, well before I started speaking with John Pomeroy and well before Charvet's book was published. Our findings that Jesse Murphy was the man who fired the fatal bullet first appeared in print in 1998 in the Skagway News. I can't recall precisely what I had said at the time but I'm pretty certain I told Mr. Pomeroy as well, yet he still did not mention any theory on his part that Conlin had shot and killed Soapy, which is something I know I would remember hearing.

I could not idly stand by while David Charvet passed off falsehoods as fact, especially when my name is involved as a reference to give credence to a ridiculous theory. Between 2004 and 2008 I combated the falsehood and made sure Mr. Charvet knew the facts. In 2007 he knowingly republished the false information using the excuse that my own letter was his proof. The actual reason for the letter was of no importance to him. Only after publication of his "revised" edition would he admit that he was wrong.  Yes, it appears that he got away with publishing his invented story, but what did it cost him in the long run? 

When a historian intentionally falsifies the facts in a published work, it can come back to haunt them. One deliberate false fact will automatically have a reader question and suspect the book's remaining "facts," not just for the one book, but for every book in the author's name, past, present, and future. It can ruin a reputation.

Following are a couple of comments made by others regarding David Charvet's claim and his book

  • That Frank Reid may not have been the only person to shoot Soapy is accepted by quite a few folks today, but to imply that Conlin had something to do with Soapy's death is simply a fabrication and a fairy tale. It certainly doesn't give the reader much confidence in the myriad other 'facts' presented in the book. -"Silverking" (from the Magic Cafe forum)
  • Generally, I suppose there are at least three types: sentimental pap (which I find stomach turning), unfounded speculative filler (much different from reasonable and logical editorial attempts at interpretation), and false filler. The last for me is not just a supreme disservice but a crime against history. -Art Petersen, publisher, historian (6/20/2007)

David Charvet
February 10, 2010

Alexander Conlin: pages 9, 80.

1674: Horse racing is prohibited in Massachusetts. 
1784: Marie Thible is the first woman to fly in a hot-air balloon. The flight was 45 minutes long and reached a height of 8,500 feet. 
1805: Tripoli is forced to conclude peace with the U.S. after conflicts over tribute. 
1812: The Louisiana Territory has its name changed to the Missouri Territory. 
1816: The Washington was launched in Wheeling, WV. It is the first stately, double-decker steamboat. 
1868: Cheyenne Indians attack Kansa Indians in Kansas. 
1870: “Wild Bill” Hickok is sworn in as marshal in Abilene, Kansas. 
1898: The Seattle Times publishes Mattie Silks accusation of her planned murder by Soapy and Deputy US Marshal Sylvester Taylor. 
1892: The Sierra Club is incorporated in San Francisco, California. 
1896: Henry Ford makes a successful test drive of his new car (a quadricycle) in Detroit, MI.

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