Remembering William B. Elmer

by Larry Appleman

We don't take kindly to strangers up here in the Voo Doo office's backwater corner of the Walker Memorial building, so when a nattily dressed elderly gentleman appeared at our door one day in June a few years ago, we were suspicious and uneasy.

That June day was warm and sunny, so naturally we felt bitter and depressed. We were in the midst of diligently performing the difficult tasks involved in planning and organizing for the coming school year. In other words, we were sitting around reading old comic books -- and the untimely interruption was most unwelcome.

The man introduced himself as William B. Elmer, '22, visiting the M.I.T. campus for his class's alumni reunion. He claimed to be one of the founders of Voo Doo magazine in 1921, and before that he had worked on Voo Doo's predecessor publication, Woopgaroo. Curiosity about the current state of the humour magazine had led him to the original site of the Voo Doo office, just a few steps from our present location. He said he just wanted to see what today's students consider funny, and maybe to reminisce about old times. "We've got a magazine to publish here," we bruskly admonished him, but he hung around anyway and regaled us with tales of the early days of Voo Doo. When he finally left, he promised to keep in touch.

What did he really want, we wondered? At first we thought he was one of those creepy old people who like to associate with college kids. (Student activities sometimes seem to attract that sort.) However, once he began to send us his elaborate pen-and-ink renditions of monsters and naked girls (such as the one reproduced in this issue), we recognized that his was a deeper obsession. You can imagine how we felt when he invited staffers to his house in Andover to see "old issues." We soon began a regular correspondence with Mr. Elmer, sending him each new issue of Voo Doo, and he'd often respond with words of encouragement. A couple of years ago he wrote, upon seeing an issue of Voo Doo, "Now I know that Tech still gathers into its fold the cream of America's youthful products." Draw your own conclusions.

Nothing we printed ever seemed to shock or distress Mr. Elmer. We'd imagine his responses to the kind of material we'd print in each issue:

When we heard that William B. Elmer passed away in September, our thoughts ran back to that June day years ago when he found his way to our office. At the same time, we were sort of disappointed that Voo Doo wasn't mentioned in his obituaries, and we began to speculate and fantasize about whether Voo Doo is listed in his will. Nevertheless, our firm commitment continues: to publish the best damn college humor magazine this end of Cambridge has ever seen. William B. Elmer would want it that way.