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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Varied Outlets

“Which?” The Clack Book, February 1897. Cover art by Charles Charpiot. 

Michigan-based Clack Book (1896-1897) ran Zoe’s story set at a waterfall resort resembling Cumberland Falls in southern Kentucky, where her husband Spencer briefly worked. The plot: a fiancé, dissatisfied with his “calmly regal” betrothed, accompanies a delicate Kentucky belle on a rowboat ride. He rescues her (and falls in love) as the boat is sucked into the waterfall current, “plunging madly.” His betrothed smilingly hands him back his engagement ring, and he immediately regrets losing her. 

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“The Deformed Thumb,” The Puritan, March 1899. Illustrations by Louise Lyons Heustis. 

The heroine, a struggling freelance writer, injures her thumb while typing short story manuscripts that magazines reject. She joylessly mines her life experiences, “in an eternal search for copy,” putting “every thought, sentiment, emotion … beneath a sort of microscope.” A dependable boyfriend rescues her from poverty—a rare happy ending in Zoe’s fiction. The Puritan (1897-1901) was one of Zoe’s several outlets owned by pulp tycoon Frank A. Munsey. 

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“Bred in the Bone,” The New York Press’s Sunday Magazine, September 10, 1899. Cover art by Clarence Frederick Underwood. 

One of Zoe’s many syndicated stories set in rural Kansas. The elderly heroine, abandoned by her husband and son—both are thieves and fugitives—lives in a primitive hut, fearing the prairie winds “will get into my brain and addle it.” Her son returns, briefly hides from lawmen in the cellar, then absconds again. Lonelier than ever, she grieves under a bowl of stars “glimmering so tranquilly above all earthly tempests, whether they be of winds or storms or sorrows.” 

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“Americans in Paris,” The Criterion, November 1900, cover art by George Hand Wright.  

Written during Zoe’s two-year Europe sojourn with her teenage daughter Clarence, this travelogue in New York-based Criterion (1896-1905) describes American millionaires’ extravagant parties at the World’s Fair in Paris. Champagne flowed in fountains, and dining tables were set with “gold plates of different patterns, so that you knew they couldn’t have been just washed and put back.”

“The Hot Winds,” Frank Leslie’s Monthly, September 1901. Illustrations by Margaret Fernie Eaton. 

The magazine’s much-married owner, Miriam Leslie, of mysterious Southern origins, published Zoe’s story alongside works by Booker T. Washington and H. L. Mencken. The widowed heroine, resembling Zoe’s homesteader relatives, hopes for one last profitable crop at her Kansas farm to finance retirement in her native Kentucky. After hot winds, “with a hissing sound,” blacken her cornstalks, she falls into fatal decline. Her grave is soon forgotten in her ruined cornfields. The illustrator, Margaret Eaton, specialized in pyrography, burning lines into wood with heated rods. 

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“The Picture of Her,” The Smart Set, December 1901. Cover art by Andrew Kay Womrath. 

The heroine, a widowed writer, returns to Manhattan after two years in Europe (just like Zoe in 1901). She visits a wealthy friend, whose unfaithful husband (like Zoe’s Spencer) subjects her to “the humiliation of the second-hand kiss.” The narrator prefers singledom despite breadwinning challenges: “a widow knows where her husband is of nights.” Zoe contributed half a dozen stories to The Smart Set (1900-1930), “a magazine of cleverness,” alongside eminences like mystery writer Carolyn Wells and Spanish duchess Infanta Eulalia. 

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Twelve ‘Kentucky Colonel’ Stories. J. S. Ogilvie, 1905.

Philip Thompson, the twin brother of Zoe’s sister Mattie’s husband John Thompson, was a politician and notorious feuder in Zoe’s hometown. He inspired these tall tales, told in heavy dialect, of Kentuckians murdering each other in broad daylight over “affairs of honnah.” One mother-in-law’s gunshot injury causes generations of inter-family feuds, because she was widely hated and only injured rather than killed. Zoe published the collection in book form after it ran in the New York Sun and was widely syndicated.

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“The Bird Imitator,” The Bohemian, November 1907. Cover art by William G. Krieghoff. 

Zoe often portrayed Southerners like herself, navigating big cities. In this story, a businessman traveling in rural Virginia meets a teenager skilled at imitating birdsong and persuades the boy to perform on New York’s vaudeville stages—birdsong imitators indeed filled theaters in Zoe’s day. But Manhattan’s “bedlam-like turmoil” cacophonously blots out the teen’s memories of tuneful woodland birds. He flees homeward. Zoe wrote eight stories for The Bohemian (1900-1909), based in Boston and then upstate New York.

“A Case of Chilled Cupid,” The Argosy, January 1908. Cover art by Jan C. Vondrous. 

Wealthy men in Zoe’s fiction have disastrous infatuations with working-class young blondes. In this story for Argosy (part of publisher Frank Munsey’s pulp empire), a rich New Yorker drives his new car to his beloved’s Riverside Drive mansion, where an adorable teenage shopgirl joins them for dinner. His crush on the teenager fizzles when he visits the shop and overhears her mocking him as a flirtatious “swell,” attractive only for his car, “a rattling big machine.”

“The Kidnaping of Poggioreale’s Twins,” The Munsey, April 1908. Cover art by Charles M. Relyea. 

The heroine, a struggling Kentuckian journalist on the Lower East Side, loses out on news scoops when “night-hawk reporters” beat her to midnight crime scenes of anarchists’ bombings and kidnappings. She persuades an Italian immigrant family’s twin girls to sit for photographs, which she publishes with articles about the sisters’ supposed kidnapping and rescue—her fake news draws acclaim and pays the rent. This lighthearted take on Gilded Age unrest was also syndicated in newspapers. 

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“His Little Tan Shoes,” Harper’s Weekly, August 9, 1913, cover art by Wallace Morgan, Zoe’s story illustrated by Harriet Mead Olcott.  

Harper’s Weekly (1857-1916) was one of the longest-lived publications that ran Zoe’s work. She based this story on family tragedies that she observed unfolding in tenement windows below her seventh-floor apartment at 338 East 15th Street. The plot: parents waste a summer Saturday squabbling and guzzling beer, while their “puny, pitiful boy” futilely awaits departure for a promised beach outing, his polished shoes ready on the windowsill. 

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