Nancy Drew somehow still a mystery

Recently, a splendid part of my childhood has been replayed in my mind. As I watch Lydia enjoy reading the Nancy Drew book, “Mystery at the Lilac Inn,” it brought back earnest feelings of when I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. My favorite place to read in our Underwood home was our front porch. I could sit for hours in the mission rocker that once had resided in my grandparents’ home, while becoming lost in the mystery that Nancy was trying to solve.

I was initially introduced to these mysteries by Doreen Miller, who served as the Underwood librarian for many years. Our city library at that time was located on the south side of Main Street in a former grocery store building. “The Bungalow Mystery” was the first Nancy Drew book I read, and our library had all the Nancy Drew books. In time, they all made an appearance on our front porch.

The Underwood Library had some of the very early printings of Nancy Drew and some with original dust covers. Such was the case with “The Bungalow Mystery” – I took in every detail of that cover. Nancy is featured standing on a wooden box in a tidy blue suit, wearing a rust colored cloth hat with matching gloves, a chic scarf and Mary Jane’s, as she peers into the bungalow window. On one side of the window is a cottage trellis, and on the other side, a pine tree – all with great detail. I was completely hooked on this classic and timeless sleuth.

My interest in Nancy Drew has remained robust over the years, and I have absorbed many interesting facts about her. The character of Nancy Drew was dreamed up by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of Stratemeyer Syndicate. Stratemeyer had created the Hardy Boys series, and decided a similar series for girls would be worth a try. Stratemeyer, who began writing plot outlines for the series, hired Mildred Wirt Benson to ghostwrite the first volumes in the series. It was Benson who wrote under the name of Carolyn Keene, creating Nancy’s sparkling personality, a great eye for adventure and the courage to succeed against all obstacles. She also equipped Nancy with an astonishing range of skills in the books. She is an expert swimmer, horsewoman, actress and painter. (Let’s not forget she spoke French and was noted as a fine bridge player!) Over the years, many of the original manuscripts have been revised, bringing Nancy up to date with fashion, technology and current trends. Why, today she probably would be seen sporting the latest iPhone just after holding her own in a tennis match with Serena Williams! She then would head off to Dancing with the Stars, where she would combine moves from Ginger Rogers, Sissy from Lawrence Welk, Abba and Celine to orchestrate her place at the top. This cultural icon continues to be revised without any debauchery, and always appears as an incredible fashion plate.

How can you not love a gal who receives a trusty blue roadster as a birthday gift from her father, Carson Drew? Eventually it morphs into a blue convertible, showing once again that Nancy keeps up with the latest styles. Over time I came to discover that Russell Haviland Tandy, a commercial illustrator and a friend of Stratemeyer, did the original dust covers and the illustrations. Tandy had also illustrated for Hardy Boys. Tandy worked for department stores as a fashion illustrator, so dressing Nancy to the nines was a trouble-free task for him. It was Russell’s sophisticated portrayal of Nancy that helped make the series sell successfully from the start.

Tandy was also responsible for the end papers in the books. If you are not familiar with end papers, they are the art pages under the front and pack covers. End papers have always been one of my greatly favorite parts of a book. They are much like a frame on an image – they often portray a scene from the story, and they can help draw you in. Over the years, Nancy Drew had several end papers. It was, however, the actual first end papers still remain as my favorite. From 1930 to 1946, the end papers were an orange silhouette of her dressed in fine 1940s fashions with magnifying glass in hand. You may recall the style from 1947 to 1951 – which were scenes from the crime – were completed with red ink. From 1952 to 1958, these were done in black and white, each one completed with great detail. From 1959 to ’61, they were blue multiple pictures with cameos from a variety of scenes. In time, these became black and white and ran until 1981. In 1982, the double ovals with one scene were used. Since 1986, copies have plain end papers. It is these details that readers enjoy – along with the fact that Nancy gets to unlock some fine trunks, explore antique loaded attics, and hang out at cozy inns and bungalows.

There were 56 books in the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series. In 1982, Simon & Schuster launched a new series called the “Nancy Drew Files,” which ran for 124 volumes and was followed by various Nancy spin-offs. Benson wrote 23 of the first original Nancy Drew books and Harriet Adams (Stratemeyer’s daughter, who also wrote for the Hardy Boys series) are often credited as the primary writers of Nancy Drew books under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. There were other ghostwriters who used this name to write Nancy Drew mysteries as well.

The character of Nancy Drew has proved to be continuously popular not only in North Dakota, but worldwide. At least 80 million copies have been sold; the books have been translated into more than 45 languages and have appeared in Braille. It is interesting to note that as Nancy’s adventures have been translated into many languages, her name hasn’t always traveled with her. In France, she is Alice Roy; Finland, Paula Drew; Sweden, Kitty Drew; and in Germany, Susanne Langen, to name just a few. Since Nancy’s cases took her from Africa to Turkey and everywhere in between, it is only natural that these countries wanted their own original name.

Stratemeyer’s original proposal for Nancy Drew suggested that her name be Stella Strong, Nell Cody, Helen Hale or Diane Dare. Without a doubt, he drew the right name, and the adventures of the gal who was originally blonde, and eventually became a reddish cast, continues to delight readers. Nancy’s home in River Heights, her reliable housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, and the fact that her mother died when she was 3 years old still makes an impression on young minds. Can you recall the name of Nancy’s aunt? How about her boyfriend? Who are Bess, Marvin and George Fayne? Has there ever been a mystery too baffling for Nancy?

With these questions in mind, it is time I unshelve my copy of “The Secret the Old Clock,” head to our front porch and reread the very first Nancy Drew mystery. I can assure you it is timeless.

This recipe comes from the “Nancy Drew Cookbook,” which debuted in 1973 with a forward from Carolyn Keene. Inside this ’70s-style covered cookbook, you will find clues to good cooking as the mystery to home cooking is revealed. There are many recipes to select from such as Bungalow Mystery Salad, Hidden Staircase Biscuits, Old Clock Ice Cream pie and many more. Here is one that we have found to be a fun adventure to prepare and serve. Please note if Nancy appears on the Iron Chef, she has plans to totally spice up her act with her own blend of spunk including a magnifying spatula!