H. Beam Piper

H. Beam Piper was perhaps the most famous writer ever associated with Williamsport but the city has done little to celebrate his work. I’ve just finished reading a biography of H. Beam Piper by John F. Carr. I was curious about his connection with the city.

H. Beam Piper was born in Altoona PA and spent most of his life there working for the Pennsylvania Railroad PPR as a night watchman.  However, he did frequently visit friends in Williamsport and often traveled through Central PA. He never owned a car so he must have used the railroad which offered passenger service back then. Eventually Piper moved to Williamsport in 1957 and committed suicide in 1964, so he spent seven years as a resident.

One of the surprising things I learned from this biography is that Piper knew Colonel Henry W. Shoemaker and was a guest at Restless Oaks. He even wrote a catalog of Shoemaker’s gun collection. Henry W. Shoemaker owned a newspaper in Altoona and wrote a column for his newspaper so it seems obvious that they would know each other.

H. Beam Piper is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Altoona. It may be more proper for Altoona PA to celebrate his life and work since he was a native son of that city.

Several Williamsport institutions are mentioned during the course of the Piper biography. The James V. Brown library provided the author with research materials. Piper displayed his gun collection at the Lycoming County Historical Society. And he gave a few lectures at Lycoming College. His apartment was on West Third Street, across from the Fraternal Order of Eagles, although the precise building might have been torn down.

I have not read any of H. Beam Piper’s stories or novels but I intend to read a few. His first published short story is actually set in Williamsport, Time and Time Again, and you can read it online at Project Gutenberg. He also wrote a novel about  the adventures of a Pennsylvania state trooper who is accidentally transported to a more backward parallel universe, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. In this parallel universe Hostigos City would correspond with Bellefonte PA and Nostor Town would be Hughesville PA.

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