The Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains modestly holds the story of the creator of 'Conan the Barbarian' like a thin-shelled egg
The Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains modestly holds the story of the creator of Conan the Barbarian like a thin-shelled egg. Every once in a while, the remarkable tale of the young, prolific writer slips out, only to be recaptured within the walls of the little bungalow waiting for the next visitor.
"Robert Howard created all of his stories here," says Arlene Stephenson, one of the volunteer guides to the exhibit. The writer was born in a little town north of Weatherford in 1906 and died in 1936 outside of the kitchen window of the house in Cross Plains. Besides the Conan series, Howard is often credited with creating the modern fantasy fiction.
In a professional-writing career that spanned a little more than a decade, Howard created stories that fit in to multiple genres. Since the Sixties, his work has grown in popularity, with dozens of Internet sites devoted to documenting and examining his body of work. Stephen King said of the Texas writer: "Howard's writing seems so highly charged with energy that it nearly gives off sparks."
The 1996 movie The Whole Wide World brought the obsessive and overbearing novelist's character to the big screen. "From all indications," Stephenson says, "the character in the movie wasn't far off of the real man. He was known around town as quite an eccentric."
The clapboard house has been restored to what is probably in better condition than it was in the 1930s, when Howard lived there with his parents.
Doing research for his two books on Howard, science-fiction writer Glenn Lord visited Cross Plains in 1986 and found the house dilapidated. Working with the Cross Plains Library, Lord sparked interest in the local boy who made good. In conjunction with the civic organization Project Pride, the Houston-based writer started the restoration project and Robert E. Howard United Press Association.
On the second weekend of June, the village of Cross Plains hosts Robert E. Howard enthusiasts from around the world for a conference dedicated to the writer. Stephenson says this year's event attracted 250 fans from 22 states and four foreign countries.
"They had a great time talking about Robert and visiting the places he visited," Stephenson says. This year the conference attendees had a barbecue and group picture at West Caddo Peak, the high point on the flat prairie seven miles west of town where Howard went to get inspiration for his stories.
The only son of a country doctor, Robert E. Howard settled with his family in Cross Plains in 1919. The town went through a series of oil-field booms and busts as a cast of color characters shuffled through town. Howard once wrote that he started writing when he was "nine or 10." He sold his first story, "Spear and Fang," to Weird Tales magazine when he was 15 years old.
Howard worked at a variety of jobs after high school graduation and took bookkeeping classes at Howard Payne Academy (now a university) in Brownwood. He continued writing, sometimes as much as 18 hours a day, in his tiny room off the sleeping porch or at the dining room table.
By 1928, Howard was a regular contributor in fiction magazines. According to the bibliography at the museum, he was making about $100 for each of his hundreds of published short stories. Very good wages at the time. The lists say that by 1934, the year Conan first appeared and his book A Gent From Bear Creek was published, Howard had 28 articles published.
On June 11, 1936, after learning that his mother would probably not regain consciousness from a coma brought on by tuberculosis, Howard went to his car and, with a borrowed .38 Colt automatic, shot himself in the right temple. His rising star crashed, only to be discovered nearly a generation later.
The Robert E. Howard Museum is at 625 W. TX 36 in Cross Plains. The home is open by appointment only except on the second weekend of June. For information on visiting, call one of the Project Pride members at 254/725-6562, 254/725-6498, 254/725-7478, or 254/725-4993; or go to www.crossplains.com.
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