I am an avid supporter of public libraries, to which I feel an almost filial tie. This probably springs from the hours I spent sitting, reading, sleeping - gestating, really - in a musty corner of the book-laden, converted trailer parked permanently behind my primary school. These were particularly humble origins, wherein a set of freshly donated books was such a boon, such a thrill beyond the measure of my body’s tiny senses, that it was essentially religious in nature.
As I have grown older and acquired books of my own, to be mine only, I have learned the joys of a private collection. I have learned to appreciate the First Edition, the signed copy, the stained and worn and ruined books in ways that I could never access as a child. And yet I find that my feelings surrounding the purchase of books and their subsequent storage to be that of a child breaking faith with a devout mother. I have never kept “true” religion, nor have my actual parents, so I cannot say with certainty that the experience is the same, but it is certainly true of myself, and I believe consistent with classical traditions of religious and maternal guilt, that as I take deeper pleasure in the sin, my guilt grows in tandem.
Thus, in a show of my highest praise, I feel unparalleled shame at owning a copy of Tamara Taft Younger’s doctoral thesis. A masterwork - engaging, encyclopedic, and enormous - Younger has created a compendium of superhumans beyond the scope of any other. I acquired the book at auction, and, for fear of losing it, have not so much as leant it out in the three years since. And, as I have continued to read and re-read, the shame has built within me to the point that I must share it, if only a few choice selections.
The dissertation was apparently delivered in 1993, but I have been unable to find any trace of Ms. Younger or her work outside of this. If she objects to these unlicensed reproductions of her work, I would invite any sort of contact.
Supra-Hero: An Historical Analysis of Superhumans, Their Roles and Perceptions
by Tamara Taft Younger
Ingrid Fellwater - “Lady Midas”
1884 - 1907
In keeping with our discussion of actions as mediated by public perception, “Lady Midas” serves an apt example. Born Ingrid Fellwater in the Dakota Territory, her family migrated first into Oregon and then down into California. She was 14, living in Los Angeles, when her powers first manifested themselves. While, as in most cases, it is difficult to determine the precise progression of her superhuman development, her first press was garnered after she emerged naked but unscathed from a textile factory fire. This ability to withstand heat was largely overshadowed, however, by a change in her salivary ducts which, by the summer of 1899 when Ingrid was 15, no longer produced saliva, but molten gold.
She was christened “Lady Midas” by John Arbeth of The Los Angeles Times, and the records suggest that Fellwater readily adopted the moniker. She was dubbed a champion of the lower classes, and her powers resonated with the young state’s nostalgia for their most famous resource so much so that, for a few months at least, she was a darling of the news media. She was a member of a number of volunteer fire brigades and repeatedly saved would-be victims from certain death. By these deeds, she could be, and was for a time, considered a true superhero.
This image was, however, distorted by a number of factors. For one thing, Lady Midas was by all accounts exceedingly unattractive. And while it would be overly political to claim that her looks alone have kept her out of the canon of popular heroism, Midas, as evidenced by the few letters she sent to her mother, plainly felt the plight of the sexually unappealing woman. Still, it was ultimately her superpower which labeled her a nuisance. The novelty of her abilities may have been sustained had it been coupled with a strong sexual draw, but the practical considerations of her circumstance were inevitable.
The gold she spat, while coveted upon cooling, was molten when first excreted. This presented a vast array of difficulties and inconveniences, the most notable being the destruction of property. Lady Midas was barred from all Los Angeles restaurants, having melted and charred utensils, plates, and tables across the city. Once considered a generous and giving font of wealth, she was quickly marked as a scourge, a goose who laid golden eggs but burned down the house in the process. In March of 1901, a rumor began to circulate that it was she who had started the original factory fire that made her famous. Midas soon moved out of California and into the Arizona Territory.
She lived in Arizona for the next six years, when she died abruptly on February 14th, 1907, at the age of 22. While the papers reported that her powers had aged her rapidly, and that her death was natural, if accelerated, there is some evidence to suggest that she was assassinated. Correspondence between the National Treasury and the committee petitioning for Arizona’s statehood repeatedly refers to “problems with inflation,” and appear to indicate a conditional review of the petition, pending the “removal” of these problems. While this is largely conspiratorial, there was a noted presence of Pinkerton agents passing through Phoenix in the winter of 1906. Arizona received its statehood on February 14th, 1912, exactly five years after Fellwater’s death.