Nine years ago today, April 22, 2003, I walked into my office at work with an idea. The previous night I had discovered that my great-great-grandfather’s long-lost brothers had apparently used the surname “Blonger” instead of the family spelling “Belonger”. Using that clue, I’d also been able to find them in census records in several western states, where they appeared with occupations such as “miner” and “saloonkeeper.” Things were getting exciting! But as I’d made the discovery late at night, I did not think of Googling the name “Blonger” until the next morning. Honestly, I didn’t really expect to find anything – at least not anything interesting.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know the rest of the story, up to now. But maybe you were wondering how the story will end.
When I sold Craig on the idea of setting up this web site (it was an easy sell) and doing extensive research, with an eye toward eventual publication, we knew it would be a long and drawn-out process. Within a few months it became clear to me that, since we both live in the Midwest and have full-time jobs, it might take until retirement to visit all the places we’d like to visit, but there was plenty of other research that could be done in the meantime, and for six years that was fine. But over the last three years my attention has wandered, my efforts have dwindled, and Craig has essentially held down the fort singlehandedly.
A recent turn of events has set me back on course. Craig has already made mention here of a new book by Amy Reading called “The Mark Inside.” If you are interested in the Blongers, or con men in general, you need to buy it. Amy’s writing skills are first-rate (how else are you going to get published by Knopf?) – but it’s her research and analysis that really stand out. In the last third of the book, Amy digs into some of the lingering questions that Philip Van Cise, in “Fighting the Underworld,” couldn’t answer – for instance, how did Lou (and Sam) consolidate power in Denver during the 1890s and wrest control of the underworld from Soapy Smith and Ed Chase? And how then, after the turn of the century, did the Blonger gang advance so rapidly from penny-ante cons to the genius of the “Big Store”? Amy gives convincing explanations for all of this. And she knows her Denver con man lineup, too, going back to the beginning – something Van Cise, who was essentially writing an autobiographical account and not a history – did not pretend to do.
Amy’s effort made me realize I still have a job to do, and I had better get back in the game. Reacquainting myself with the mountains of research we’ve done has been a daunting task, but as I work my way through it all again I am beginning to patch together the outline of a book. Until now I have not given much thought to the final product, convinced I still had years of research ahead. But I’ve been encouraged to write by a number of colleagues who remind me that I will never have all the information I want. In the case of the Blongers that applies more forcefully than most: there are huge gaps in the timeline that will never be filled, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the story can never be told. And, my friends remind me, there is such a thing as a second volume.
And so, faithful readers who have made it to Blonger Day 2012, I have renewed hope that I might produce a manuscript in the next year or two. I’m back on task, and that’s good not only because we’d all like to see something in print, but it might mean I get to spend my retirement doing something else! – SJ
(Wait! What about Craig? He’s a writer, too, right? I will let him explain his project in his own time.)