15 Mysterious Facts About ‘The Hardy Boys’

Frank and Joe Hardy have been blowing mysteries wide open for almost 90 years, combating ghosts, thieves, monsters, and shifty characters to the delight of several generations of kids. Fans of The Hardy Boys books might have caught a lot of the action along the way, but they may not realize that the series is its own shady case file that involves changing American tastes, furious librarians, and the shadowy, corrupt business of kids’ books. 


Not including graphic novels and planned releases, there have been well over 450 Hardy Boys titles published since their 1927 debut. This rough sum includes 38 titles from the original series that were entirely rewritten after 1959, releases by Grossett & Dunlap and digests from Simon & Schuster publishers, and the spinoff Clues Brothers, Undercover Brothers, Casefiles, Super Mysteries, and Adventures series, among others.  


Around the beginning of the 20th century, Edward Stratemeyer, who The New York Times called “a prolific hack with a nose for business” and “the Henry Ford of children's fiction,” had a revelation that would change children’s literature forever. Stratemeyer saw that, while most kids’ lit to date focused on moral instruction, kids themselves wanted to experience the same thrills their parents were getting from cheap series books that sold for a nickel to 10 cents a pop. When he started publishing books that delivered this excitement, he realized that children would become attached to certain authors, so it was better for them to be written using a pseudonym that he owned, than by an individual author who could leave. Thus, the high-output children’s series market was born. 


In the decades that followed, the Stratemeyer Syndicate employed a changing stable of ghostwriters to churn out Hardy Boys titles (under the shared pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon) in as little as three weeks. These writers also filled the pages of Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Tom Swift books at breakneck speed, usually for a flat per-book fee of between $75 and $125 with no royalties involved.


This group of ghost writers enabled Stratemeyer to build his literary empire, and while he sometimes provided bare bones storylines for his writers to work from, his instructions to Hardy Boys writers, the Times notes, “were basic: end each chapter with a cliffhanger, and no murder, guns, or sex.” 


Like many fiction and comic titles of the era, The Hardy Boys books coming out in the late 1920s and ‘30s showed a gritty, no-nonsense world (or the kids' version of it) where Frank, Joe, and their pals functioned as fearless private eyes, taking the pursuit of justice into their own hands because of authority’s impotence. Bumbling policemen often interfered with their investigations and even briefly jailed them as stuffy retribution for the boys’ ingenious work. In the second-ever Hardy Boys book, The House on the Cliff, Frank finds it necessary to put pressure on the local police chief in order to further real justice:

‘Of course, chief,’ said Frank smoothly, ‘if you're afraid to go up to the Polucca place just because it's supposed to be haunted, don't bother. We can tell the newspapers that we believe our father has met with foul play and that you won't bother to look into the matter [...]’

‘What's that about the newspapers?' demanded the chief, getting up from his chair so suddenly that he upset the checkerboard [...] ‘Don't let this get into the papers.’ The chief was constantly afraid of publicity unless it was of the most favorable nature.


Leslie McFarlane wrote 19 of the first 25 Hardy Boys books and, according to many, singlehandedly defined the kind of detailed, moody prose for which the original series is lauded. In his version of Bayport, the simultaneous kid-friendly hamlet/atrocious hotbed of crime the boys call home, the Hardy family isn’t as wealthy as other Syndicate heroes, the boys happily accept monetary rewards, and the town’s rich folk come across as daft and greedy. 

McFarlane clearly didn’t care much for the power structures in early 20th century U.S. culture, cops included. He wrote in his autobiography, Ghost of the Hardy Boys, "I had my own thoughts about teaching youngsters that obedience to authority is somehow sacred [...] Would civilization crumble if kids got the notion that the people who ran the world were sometimes stupid, occasionally wrong and even corrupt at times?”


As the Times reflected, McFarlane “breathed originality into the Stratemeyer plots, loading on playful detail” that enthralled a young reader. He paid particular attention to his descriptions of meals, and to the sumptuousness of food from a young boy’s perspective. At the end of 1927’s The Tower Treasure, he included the following bacchanalian scene: 

''For more than half an hour, they indulged in roast chicken, crisp and brown, huge helpings of fluffy mashed potatoes, pickles, vegetable and salads, pies and puddings to suit every taste, and when the last boy sank back in his chair with a happy sigh there was still food to spare.'' 


As a result of the 1953 United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, many publishers of children’s media worked hard throughout the '50s to get their stories in line with new legal and social standards for kid-appropriate material. Like other Stratemeyer Syndicate series, Hardy Boys books had often contained negative racial and gender stereotyping among its supporting and minor characters, many of which would shock modern audiences, but which were also considered unpalatable by readers in 1959. 


That year, the Syndicate started rewriting 38 of its original Hardy Boys titles to remove objectionable material, including many of the books’ most violent moments. Writers also tried to give the books a more modern feel with fewer tough words, streamlined action plots, and generally updated language. Fans of the original series found the new bowdlerized versions to be downright bland, but Salon explained that some of the changes were reasonable:

“Dropped from The Missing Chums is ‘“I’ll say,’ replied Lola slangily,” as is ‘“So!’ she ejaculated, as the boys appeared.” Chet Morton’s car is referred to in The Tower Treasure as a ‘gay-looking speed-wagon.’ In the revision, the car loses this description but gains a name, ‘The Queen.’ (In this case there appears to be a wit at work, making the change something less than a total loss for literature.)” 


Starting in 1959 and carrying on through today, the boys have seemingly done a 180 regarding their distaste for authority (and, some critics argue, indeed now work to defend The Man). In 1969’s The Arctic Patrol Mystery, for example, Frank appears to have evolved into the kind of conscientious young American that much media of the day promoted: 

“‘Great, Dad!’ Frank said, jumping to his feet. ‘With spring vacation coming up we won't miss any time at school!’

‘Are your passports up to date?’ his father asked.

‘Sure, we always keep them that way.’” 


Since the first Hardy Boys books were published, grown-ups have had trouble understanding their appeal—not just because the books contained violence and racial stereotypes, but because they were seen as literary garbage.

Even after the big cleanup in 1959, librarians continued to take issue with Syndicate works. "In our library traditionally we have never had this kind of mediocre book. Two-to-one my librarians [want to] uphold the superior selections we have," explained Virginia Tashjian, Chief Librarian for Newton, MA, to The Hour in 1978. The Spokane Daily Chronicle also noted in 1980 that the library banned Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys titles "because they 'lacked literary merit'” but still “retained Braille editions of Playboy magazine." 


In 1926 and 1927, the American Library Association surveyed kids in 34 U.S. cities, found that 'series books' were being read by 98% of respondents, and that "the books of one series [presumably the Bobbsey Twins] were unanimously rated trashy by our expert librarians [but] almost unanimously liked by the 900 children who read them."


Many of the Stratemeyer Syndicate's records are incomplete or lost, but estimates suggest that by 1975 Nancy Drew book sales had topped 60 million, Hardy Boys sales were over 50 million, and the Bobbsey Twins had hit 30 million. Since then, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series have been steadily selling around one to two million copies per year (including many older titles), putting Hardy Boys all-time sales at over 70 million.


Since the introduction of the Undercover Brothers series, Frank and Joe have been top agents for American Teens Against Crime (ATAC), a secret government agency co-founded by their father to utilize kid agents when grown-ups won’t do. The agency delivers its orders via special CD-ROM that can only be played for instructions once. After the initial listen, it plays music like any other CD.


No one can deny that The Hardy Boys series has stuck around due to popular demand, but decades later, critics still aren’t quite sure why. One idea is that the books are just fantastical, gripping, and vague enough to be relatable to any young reader. As a writer for Salon explained:

“Happily, the Hardy Boys series was unconcerned with reality [and the] boys’ characters basically broke down this way—Frank had dark hair; Joe was blond. [...] Generally, Frank was the thinker while Joe was more impulsive, and perhaps a little more athletic. I was blond, like Joe, and younger, like Joe. I liked Joe best. Franklin W. Dixon played me like a violin.”

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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images
Pop Culture
LeVar Burton Is Legally Allowed to Say His Reading Rainbow Catchphrase
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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the original Reading Rainbow without LeVar Burton, but in August, the New York public broadcasting network WNED made it very clear who owned the rights to the program. By saying his old catchphrase from his hosting days, “but you don’t have to take my word for it” on his current podcast, WNED claimed Burton was infringing on their intellectual property. Now, Vulture reports that the case has been settled and Burton is now allowed to drop the phrase when and wherever he pleases.

The news came out in an recent interview with the actor and TV personality. “All settled, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” he told Vulture. “It’s all good. It’s all good. I can say it.”

The conflict dates back to 2014, when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show without WNED’s consent. Prior to that, the network and Burton’s digital reading company RRKidz had made a licensing deal where they agreed to split the profits down the middle if a new show was ever produced. Burton’s unauthorized crowdfunding undid those negotiations, and tensions between the two parties have been high ever since. The situation came to a head when Burton started using his famous catchphrase on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast, which centers around him reading short fiction in the same vein as his Reading Rainbow role. By doing this, WNED alleged he was aiming to “control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill.”

Though he’s no longer a collaborator with WNED, Burton can at least continue to say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” without fearing legal retribution. WNED is meanwhile "working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow" without their original star, and Burton tells Vulture he looks “forward to seeing what they do with the brand next."

[h/t Vulture]

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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller


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