Another book that etched itself upon my young mind was about a young girl who is the neighborhood pain in the ass. She’s unruly, she’s a bully, she’s the neighborhood terror! One day, she makes her way into an old mansion which has been gated shut for quite some time. Her name is Maureen and she makes the mistake of stealing something she finds there in that old, abandoned house, and in doing so, brings down the wrath of the seven wicked sisters who still live in that house…or do they?
The book, written by Mary Coyle Chase in 1968, and illustrated by Don Bolognese, was my first real experience with time travel and the supernatural. I think it’s one of the reasons that I’ve never been able to get this story out of my head. I checked it out of the library to read in the fourth grade and never forgot it. I searched for a copy for years and was unable to find one.
About 15 years ago, I actually called the San Antonio Public Library and asked for the children’s librarian. I could not remember the title of the book at the time, only the plot, so I described it to her. She had no clue at all about what book I was referring to but she knew a librarian in another city in Texas (I hesitate to name the city for reasons that will become clear as I tell you my story) who specialized in children’s literature and if anyone would know which book I was trying to find, she said, this librarian would know. So I called the other librarian and described the story to her and she knew exactly which book I was talking about. The title was The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden. She informed me the book was out of print but she had one in her library that no one ever checked out and she would be happy to send it to me. I gave her my address and she was as good as her word. About a week or so later, I had the book in my hands and I was able to visit the old Messerman Mansion with bratty Maureen once again.
The funny thing about this book is that I never payed any attention to whom the author may have been, even as an adult. It just wasn’t anything I had given much thought to until a few years ago when I decided to look up the author and find out more about her.
I was surprised and delighted to find out that Mary Coyle Chase was primarily a playwright who was best known for writing one of my favorite plays entitled, “Harvey”. Remember Harvey? The giant, invisible white rabbit? Mary Chase later adapted her play into the movie that starred Jimmy Stewart. In 1945, Ms. Chase was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama for Harvey. To date, only a handful of women have been awarded a Pulitzer prize in the area of drama. Ms. Chase wrote several plays but only two books and both of them were children’s books. In 1958, she wrote a book entitled, Loretta Mason Potts, a book of which (I am ashamed to say) I know absolutely nothing about, and my book, The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden.
In 2003, Knopf republished the book with the revised title of The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House and is still somewhat difficult to find. Prices for the 2003 printing vary from $3.00 used, in good condition to $69.82 for a new copy. The original 1968 publication is currently selling for anywhere from $160.00 for a library copy all the way up to $449.00 for a fine copy. I think now it may be easier to understand why I didn’t want to share which library gave me this book so many years ago!
For me, this is one of those books I’ll never sell, even if I were to find a better copy. This was a childhood book whose story never left me. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned the author of this story was also the writer of one of my favorite movies. And, my book also carries the memory of a kind librarian who helped me to reconnect with a book from my childhood I never thought I’d find again.