Cape May, New Jersey!
After residing in Los Angeles for several years, Robert Arthur moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1962 and then to Cape May, New Jersey in 1963 where he lived until his death in 1969. Cape May, located at the southern-most point of New Jersey, holds the distinction of being the oldest seashore resort in the U.S. and one of the most unique with it's rich history and prodigious Victorian architecture. The picture postcard shown above is dated 1964 and shows a view of Cape May looking west along Beach Drive. Is that Robert Arthur I see strolling the beachfront contemplating his next Three Investigators mystery?
In Cape May, Robert Arthur lived with his great aunt, Margaret Fischer Arthur, first at 719 Columbia Avenue and then moving to 309 Franklin Street in November 1964. Robert Arthur used this latter street address in The Mystery of the Screaming Clock as explained by Elizabeth Arthur in her Three Investigators Headquarters website. In her youth, Elizabeth traveled to Cape May frequently to visit her father and she acted as his "child consultant" on the series.
In August, 2002, I had the opportunity to visit Cape May for a day. It was an amazing experience to stand in front of 309 Franklin Street and to walk the streets of the neighborhood in which Robert Arthur lived. It was almost too easy to imagine him bouncing down the steps of the house, waving a cheery hello to the neighbors on their porch and briskly walking the two blocks to the post office to send off his latest manuscript to New York. Steven Bauer, Elizabeth Arthur's husband, told me before I visited that I wouldn't find Rocky Beach in Cape May. This was true. August in Cape May is the height of the tourist season and the whole town and it's beaches were packed with people. However, as I strolled the area, I was able to pick out little things which might have given Mr. Arthur inspiration. Things like the thick, lush, floral vegetation surrounding many of the houses; old flagstone sidewalks and pathways; much of the architecture; the friendly, neighborliness of the locals; the size of the town and it's beaches; decrepit old mansions and large forlorn houses (this may have been true in the 1960's but in the last 30 years since being declared a National Historic District, massive restoration and preservation has taken place throughout Cape May). None of this is conclusive, of course, but one is bound to try and find something.
Pictured below are a couple of photographs of 309 Franklin Street taken on August 12, 2002.
309 Franklin street, like a large percentage of the housing in Cape May, is currently a rental property available to tourists on a weekly or monthly basis. The house is located just 3-1/2 blocks from the beach. The old brick post office, pictured to the right, is just two blocks north of the house. No doubt Robert Arthur was a frequent visitor.
I was interested in finding the local library and stumbled upon it quite by accident as I wandered the area. It lies about three blocks west of Robert Arthur's house and he may have frequented the place often. Quite small in size, it was staffed by two young people, a librarian at the desk and a helper shelving books. By no means a modern library, inside it probably looked much as it did in the 1960's. This made it easy to imagine Robert Arthur sitting at one of the broad tables with books piled all around him, perhaps researching the fine points of pipe organ mechanics. One small corner was designated as the children's section and I found only three Three Investigators books on the shelves. There was a First Print Marchesi paperback of "The Secret of Terror Castle", a nice GLB of "The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure" circa 1977, and a Keyhole paperback of "The Mystery of the Cranky Collector".
Above: The Cape May Post Office.
Below: The Cape May Public Library.
Before I knew it, the day was nearly spent and it was time to head back to the beach to find my wife and kids and drive back to Philadelphia for the night. There's too much to see and experience in Cape May in just one day and maybe someday I'll have a chance to go back and do a little more investigating. Maybe that library holds some secrets - they should at least be made aware that a highly respected author once lived and worked just a few blocks away. Cape May also has a reputation of being a hot spot for ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Perhaps some of this local lore helped to fuel Robert Arthur's imagination. Other than a brochure or two, I didn't have a chance to check this angle out or to take any of the tours available.
Norman Rockwell's America!