For some inexplicable reason, about a day has gone by with no new posts on this thread.
I thought I might address one of the most fundamental questions in Erdnase-dom, namely whether Marshall D. Smith’s recollections regarding the name "Andrews" are reliable.
(Probably this immediately will trigger a half-dozen three-line posts on this thread, dealing with other topics.)
Anyway, if you believe that S.W. Erdnase’s real name was Andrews, two of the main things you have upon which to hang your hat are Marshall D. Smith’s recollections and the Johnny Sprong investigation.
In this post, I’ll talk about my view of Marshall D. Smith’s recollections.
It’s actually quite easy to disregard Smith’s recollections on this topic, mainly because in the first place Smith could not remember the name at all. According to The Gardner-Smith Correspondence
, page 8, Martin Gardner’s notes (regarding a conversation of late 1946) state:
Before I mentioned Andrews as the name, he [Smith] said that Erdnase didn’t sound right, and he recalled it as a name with a W. When I said Andrews, his face lighted up and he was sure that was it. Does not recall first name or initials.
I’m quoting this word for word, because it is really the only way to analyze what Gardner said. There are some nuances that are more clear from the exact words. For instance, it appears that the “W” was mentioned in connection with a discussion of surnames. I think that has been mentioned on this thread, but I don’t know that Gardner’s exact words were quoted. Also, Smith’s failure to recall the first name seems to call into question the recognition of the surname.
You want to know how much weight I place on the “W” business? Zero. None whatsoever. Well, okay, I can’t keep myself from giving it just the tiniest bit of weight, but rationally I should not. Therefore, it does not matter too much to me that “Wilbur” starts with “W,” or that “Gallaway” has a “w” in it.
Of course, the evidence is hearsay on at least a couple of levels. Smith told the information to Gardner. Gardner told it to his notes. The notes told it to us. Those are probably the main levels, but of course there were other steps. The notes actually were converted (somehow) to the printed word. I have now quoted it. There may be some other levels in there somewhere.
But we cannot ask Smith for details of what he witnessed. And we can’t ask Gardner for further details on what Smith told him. And unfortunately Gardner’s notes are not all that well-rounded or detailed.
Of course, one of the great mysteries of the Erdnase case is, “Why on earth did Gardner not give Smith eight or ten names to choose from?” Maybe he did not want to appear as though he were giving Smith the third degree. Yet the same procedure was apparently followed to a “T” by Gardner after he learned the full name Milton Franklin Andrews. What does he do? He writes Smith a letter (in 1949) saying (page 14 of TGSC
Recently I ran across some clues involving a man named Milton Franklin Andrews, and I’m writing to ask you if this name sounds at all familiar.
Huh? What if Smith’s face had “lighted up” again? This was probably not the approach Gardner should have taken, because it tends to give Smith an idea of what his response should be. I realize that Smith had already indicated that he didn’t remember, so in a sense this was probably okay, to refresh Smith’s recollection, but anything (recognition-wise) that flowed from this would likely have been highly unreliable.
Gardner also said (same page):
I realize, of course, that it would be almost impossible to recall the name of so casual a contact, but just on the chance that the name might seem familiar I thought I’d write.
Again I say, “Huh?” The guy supposedly remembered “Andrews,” so Gardner SHOULD have said, “Since you were so sharp in remembering his last name, I’m sure you will know whether or not this is the right Andrews.”
Smith’s reply was not a one that lends credence to his earlier recognition of the name Andrews. To make a short story extremely short: He did not recognize “Milton,” and he thought he might recognize “Franklin,” but he indicated that it could be his “imagination.”
Well, there is more that could be said. But some of the stuff that Smith said (as reflected in The Gardner-Smith Correspondence
) seems pretty equivocal.
And maybe Gardner’s approach was the best that could have been done, though from the foregoing, it appears that there could have been a number of improvements.
At least for the time being, I have taken down my S.W. Erdnase blog.