Allison V. Harding (b. Cleveland, Ohio, 31 May 1919; d. New York City, 6 December 2004)
The byline “Allison V. Harding” has long been known as a regular contributor to Weird Tales magazine in the 1940s, and the mystery behind the pseudonym has frustrated many readers. In the 1970s, Sam Moskowitz acquired some of the surviving records of Weird Tales and its companionly-edited magazine Short Stories, and from them he learned that Harding was a pseudonym for New York City woman named Jean Milligan. Moskowitz believed she was already dead, and that she had been an attorney. Both suppositions appear to be wrong.
Jean Milligan was the youngest of three daughters of John Raymond Milligan (1885-1959), a 1907 graduate of Amherst College who became an investment banker and was a partner in the private Cleveland banking house Tillotson & Walcott, and Beatrice Isabel Humphrey (1886-1938), a graduate of Smith College, who had married around 1909. Jean’s sisters were Mary Louise Milligan, who attended Vassar and married an attorney, and Katherine Milligan, who married first a businessman and later an industrial engineer.
Around 1927, the Milligan family moved from Ohio to New Canaan, Connecticut, and John R. Milligan took a position with Edward B. Smith & Company in New York. Later he worked for the Banker’s Trust until his retirement in 1950. Little is known of Jean’s education, but in the early 1940s she is listed in New Canaan city directories as a student. At the same time, another student living in New Canaan was Lamont Buchanan (b. 1919) who would eventually become Jean’s husband. Presumably they met at this time as students, but it is impossible to guess which schools they may have attended, or whether they attained any degrees. With the November 1942 issue of Weird Tales magazine, Buchanan became the Associate Editor under Dorothy McIlwraith. Weird Tales appeared six times a year, every other month. At the same time, McIlwraith also edited (presumably with Buchanan) Short Stories, which came out twice a month for most of the 1940s (it became a monthly in April 1949). Buchanan’s final issue as Associated Editor of Weird Tales was dated September 1949.
Thirty-six stories bylined Allison V. Harding appeared in Weird Tales magazine, beginning with “The Unfriendly World” (July 1943) and ending with “Scope” (January 1951. Six Allison V. Harding stories appeared in Short Stories, ranging from “Night without Darkness” (September 10, 1944) and “Corpse on a Vacation” (January 1950). It is not known precisely when Jean Milligan married Lamont Buchanan—it was apparently after 1944, and certainly before the late 1950s. Harding ceased publishing soon after Buchanan left Weird Tales. Buchanan himself published some thirteen books between 1947 and 1956, mostly to do with sports or history, before disappearing from public view along with his wife. Milligan’s family was wealthy, and Buchanan’s maternal grandmother seems also to have been wealthy (his father was a familiarly-known music, art and drama critic). Perhaps they simply retired to live by private means. They had no children, and nothing further is known of them until Jean Buchanan’s death in New York in 2004.
Posterity has not looked kindly on the Allison V. Harding stories, tending to view them as second-rate filler. The tales are not without some favorable qualities, usually in terms of atmosphere, but the characters are one-dimensional, and the plots are at times silly. Cumulatively the defects overshadow any more positive traits.
Of her contributions to Weird Tales, one of the more interesting tales is “The Damp Man” (July 1947), in which a young female swimmer is stalked by a large fat man with a fleshy dead-white face. A newspaperman takes it upon himself to protect the girl. The atmosphere in the stalking scenes is handled fairly well, but the Damp Man is revealed to be Lother Remsdorf, Jr., a millionaire who is not like other men, but who has water in his veins rather than blood. When Remsdorf follows the girl northwards, he freezes to death in the cold weather. Remsdorf reappeared in two sequels, “The Damp Man Returns” (September 1947) and “The Damp Man Again” (May 1949). Other representative Harding tales include “The Murderous Steam Shovel” (November 1945), in which a malevolent steam shovel haunts its operator and his wife, and “Take the Z Train” (March 1950), in which a man boards a train and encounters his younger selves, apparently as the summation of his life. Harding’s stories are rarely reprinted by anthologists.
|Cover by John Giunta, illustrating the third Damp Man story (May 1949)|
NB: some of the above is based on the Harding entry I wrote for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), edited by S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz.