The recent demise of renowned literary figure and leader in Popular Culture Studies, Putney Tyson Ridge, Ph. D., occasioned a chorus of grief from all who knew him, as well as the thousands of scholars and general readers who had been touched and influenced by his work.
Professor Ridge, long the Chairman and sole member of the Department of Popular Culture at Popham College, a small liberal arts institution located in Popham, Ohio, died of causes as yet undetermined on March 3, 2003, the day after the 60th birthday he shared with his lifelong, though frequently thoughtless and inattentive friend, author Peter Straub. Surrounded by hundreds of loose copies of the erotic journals that were the focus of his latest research project, his body was discovered at the foot of the basement stairs in his beautiful former residence on Traipse Lane in the Bluebell, or “faculty,” section of his college town. It was there he spent what he once described at “the most satisfying, yet oftimes the most humiliating, years of my life.”
That the much-honored and widely-respected Professor Ridge should have been moving out of his beloved residence of nearly thirty years on the day after his 60th birthday was the unhappy product of the humiliations the groundbreaking educator experienced at Popham. Those familiar with Dr. Ridge’s work, in particular his “Remarks” on the fiction of his oldest friend, Mr. Straub, will have noticed occasional allusions to the utterly unjustified accusations of sexual misconduct that bedeviled the last decade-and-a-half of his career. Out of the woodwork they swarmed, intervallically, these young women, driven by God knows what combination of envy, malice, soured flirtatiousness, bad faith, and bad politics to charge a none-too-robust elderly scholar of the highest professional standing with conduct entirely foreign to his nature. It was Dr. Ridge’s opinion, whispered but to the deepest of intimates, that most if not all of these young women were in the pay of Popham’s English Department, especially as chaired by the late Everard Glade Blessing, who from the first viewed his rival’s inspiration, the Popular Culture Department, as a threat to his own bailiwick. Even Professor Glade Blessing’s supporters cannot deny his increasingly obsessive desire to nullify Popular Culture as a separate disciple and reinstate it as a sub-specialty within his Department.
With the unfailing support of “Bob” Liddy, Popham’s thirty-ninth President, Professor Ridge long withstood both the accusations of mercenary female undergraduates and the political machinations of Glade Blessing and his followers. Many an evening, from the depths of adjoining club chairs in the president’s handsome library, “Bob” and “Put” whiled away enchanted hours discussing the advancement of Popular Culture in general and the expansive activities of the Popular Culture Association, co-founded by Professor Ridge in 1971, his second year on the faculty. These “sittin’ an’ spittin’” sessions, in President Liddy’s fond term, were of great importance to Professor Ridge, and he missed the camaraderie, support, and advice he gained from them after the president’s abrupt 1999 dismissal and eventual imprisonment. (The charges, which shall not be repeated here, remain inexplicable to those who knew “Bob” Liddy as a caring and compassionate gentleman.)
However, with “Bob” Liddy’s shocking departure from the graceful confines of Confluence of Wisdoms House, Professor Ridge lost both a friend and the support that would have been essential to him during the following two academic years. When yet another deluded female student came along to confide to Ms. Wilhemina Blast, conductor of the United in One Voice Sojourner Truth Wymyn’s Choir, a fantasy involving a harmless jest, a locked door, and a misplaced key, Ms. Blast reported the tale to both the Popham Police Department and Popham’s Faculty Honor Board.
In the hurricane that followed, Professor Ridge’s many accomplishments and distinctions counted as nothing. The court case was mercifully short, the verdict just, but his acquittal on all charges could not spare this eminent scholar the surfacing of other gnat-like, niggling accusations (some dating back decades), physical and mental exhaustion, and his ultimate suspension from the faculty. In December, 2002, the College evicted Dr. Ridge from the comfortable haven on Traipse Lane, a dwelling perfectly suited to his needs, and he moved into what were supposed to be temporary quarters in the notorious Black Flag Motel on Commerce Avenue in nearby Lead City.
It is felt that, when stricken, Professor Ridge was attempting to transport research materials from his still-uninhabited former residence to his room on Commerce Street. As a principal ornament to the field he helped bring into being, Professor Ridge acquired many honors. Three times president, for the past six years President Emeritus, of the Popular Culture Association, he was the winner of six prestigious Atwood Awards, its highest accolade. Although despite tireless efforts his work never found publication in book form, over the years he spent at Popham hundreds of Dr. Ridge’s groundbreaking papers appeared in academic journals and periodicals devoted to popular culture.
Peter. Straub, Professor Ridge’s oldest friend and the recipient of perhaps his most heartfelt criticism, declined to comment on his death. No doubt Mr. Straub has reasons of his own.
— Ernie Tremple, Popham ‘96