This will be a series posted randomly over the next month.
Writing Heroes in the Night has been based on three major points- extensive interviewing, field work, and research. Interviewing is pretty self explanatory. I’ve spoken to as many RLSHs (and assorted personnel ) as much as I’ve could. I’ve done interviews by e-mail, instant message, phone, and of course the most preferred method- in person. That ties in with field work which would be joining RLSHs out on the street, not only to observe, but to participate when I can.
Research started with reading RLSH MySpace pages and websites and reading all the articles and watching any video I could find online. I also began reading anything I thought might establish “mood”- mostly comic books and graphic novels, as well as some studies of comic books and philosophy (there are a couple of books that explore the psychology of Batman, for instance) and studies of groups that might be in the same family tree, even if it was just to conclude they had nothing in common with RLSH.
Of course one of the most sensational historic finds was by a group of RLSH working together who uncovered How to be a Superhero, a 1980 book by Night Rider. I wrote about that book in an entry HERE.
The book refers to self proclaimed “real life superheroes” Night Rider, Ms. Mystery, and Phantom Avenger. However unless something else is recovered or one of these individuals comes forward publicly to reveal more info, their story starts and stops within the book covers of How to be a Superhero. A fourth person mentioned in the book- Curtis Sliwa- on the other hand, is well documented to this day. He formed the Guardian Angels, now more or less a “mainstream” organization that has been recognized by New York mayors, presidents, and world leaders.
But there was one more mentioned in that book- The Fox. It turned out that there were quite a few online articles on the wily Fox, and one of them mentioned that he had published an autobiography. A search on Amazon turned up a few copies, so I excitedly added one to the shopping cart, and I’m glad I did.
The book is titled Raising Kane: The Fox Chronicles, By “Ray Fox”and was published by Kindred Spirits Press in 1999, and not a moment too soon- The Fox died at age 70 two years later in 2001.
The Fox operated in Aurora, Illinois (not too far from Chicago) and his name is dually clever- he main mission was protecting the Fox River from pollution. “Zorro” is Spanish for fox, and there is a comparison to be made there. To understand the Fox’s mission more clearly, here is an excerpt from the book:
So what have I done? Essentially I’ve diddled with, or messed with the Law. Not once, but many, many times; deliberately and premeditatedly. More sorrowfully than rancorously.
Just what did I do to the Law? Depends on who you talk to. Some will say I broke hell out of it. That I am a dangerous, evil, lawbreaker. A formidable enemy of the Law. Others have said that I bent it just a tad. Very minor. Justifiable civil disobedience, a necessary gadfly. Who’s law? Mankind’s?...Maybe. Natural Law?...Never. Lots of people have lots of opinions.
Over the last twenty-nine years, I’ve capped smokestacks, plugged sewers, and hung signs. (I’ve) distributed broadsides, defaced products, and dumped sewage and rotten fish in corporate offices. I have also deposited, hung, sailed, and poured (yes poured), more dead skunks in more unusual places than anyone I know of. I’m probably the only person in North America who considers a road killed skunk to be a natural resource.
Some of my little wars were one raid affairs, and some lasted off and on for several years. I won some, lost some, and some were rained out.
Was The Fox a real life superhero? That would depend very much on an individual’s opinion. The Fox admits as much in this passage:
One thing for sure, along the way, I’ve collected an impressive list of names. Among them, but not limited to: Zorro, Asshole, Hero, Kook, Robin Hood, Screwball, Folk Hero, and Eco-terrorist. Sometimes the names were used in the same sentence that was questioning my ancestry ; which goes to prove you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Much to my surprise, (in many languages and in many countries), considerable ink has been used to editorialize, report, teach, defend, discuss, and fictionalize the things that were done. I have been praised, vilified, emulated, harassed, admired, hated, and loved. About the only thing I haven’t been, is ignored.
The Fox began his actions in March 1969. His first target was against a soap company that was dumping industrial waste into the Fox River. Readers should understand that in 1969 what few anti-pollution laws existed were very primitive. The Fox explains:
Illinois did not yet have an Environmental Protection Agency and Washington was just organizing theirs. Essentially what we had was a group of ineffectual local, state, and federal entities who really couldn’t enforce the environmental laws; even if those people who were responsible for enforcing what laws we had wanted to. Locally, we had a severe pollution problem and local authority was looking out the window.
The Fox explains the effects of the waste on the river:
The gilled animals were wiped out first. Dragonfly larvae, crustaceans, fingernail clams, tadpoles, and bass fingerlings’ bodies floated, decayed, and stank on the water. The adult amphibians and lung breathing animals were the last to go. Atleast they could crawl out of the liquid garbage for a breath of air, but eventually, they, too, returned to the only home they knew; to be killed by the lethal soup that would envelope them and add their bodies to the bloated rottenness that covered the water surface.
Clouds of oily soot belched from its boiler house stacks and a variety of aromas generated by steam-heated fats and oils, some of which were rancid, wafted through the air. The neighbors had a double barreled problem; air as well as water pollution.
While going for a walk, The Fox finds a family of ducks dying is the soapy sludge, and vows that the soap factory is his enemy, and curses them. The Fox:
“You greedy bastards. You ignorant, greedy bastards!” I rasped through clenched teeth.
After talking with a friend, he gets the idea to jam the sewer pipe so that the waste backs up back into the factory. Although he is determined, he also has doubts and finds himself puking before the mission, something that will happen frequently before future mission. The Fox writes:
But what if my actions caused somebody to get hurt, or even killed? I sank to my hands and knees at this last thought and threw up. I could never live with myself if that happened.
The company unplugged the sewer and continued business. The Fox felt his passion deepening:
For the first time in my life, I was beginning to feel myself slipping away from the legions of law abiding citizens and into the realm of those who felt a gut driven need to follow another set of laws. Maybe those of a higher set than statutory law. In other words, if one of us (the company) was going to break laws against polluting the environment, there were now two of us making the rules by which we would abide.
He continued his attacks on the sewer pipe. He always left a note signed FOX, with a cartoon fox face drawn in the “O.” One note read:
What God has wrought, we must preserve and protect, not desecrate for the sake of profit. –FOX
The Fox soon diversified to other companies polluting the area. He went after a aluminum refinery owner he nicknamed “Bob Rotten” with dead skunks, hung huge signs and banners, distributed flyers, and began to make some superhero comic like connections. He became friends with a politician working for the State Sanitary Water Board, who joined him on several missions. A couple of disgruntled police officers, sick of their overbearing boss, also became friends. They left messages tipping The Fox off when the trail on him was hot or when there was a stake out in an empty cola bottle near a tree.
Despite these warnings, The Fox had to run from police at least three times, once running through the freezing Fox River in February, once through the dark woods, and once after hanging a poster of a political cartoon in Chicago. He was almost hit by a bus during his escape.
He also developed a ongoing friendship with Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Ryoko after he took a direct action by dumping industrial waste and the animals it had killed on the carpet of the company’s reception room*. He called Ryoko for the first of many times. The Fox recalled the phone call:
“I just dumped fifty pounds of rotten fish, birds and sewage on the floor of the executive offices of American Reduction, inc., of Gary, Indiana.” I replied.
There was silence for a few seconds.
“You did WHAT?”
Among the many other actions The Fox carried out were chaining and locking shut an asphalt plant and holding a mock funeral for the Fox River in 1971. He also orchestrated an effort that mailed out 10,000 day glo stickers that read “(soap company) pollutes our air, kills our water –The Fox.” The stickers were mailed out with instructions for people to go to their local stores on the same day and stick the stickers to the company’s products, but one of the products and mail the label with the sticker to the company, demanding an explanation.
After his death, The Fox was cremated and his ashes spread over the Fox River, the river he had spent 30 plus years fighting for.
*To show what a classy guy he was, The Fox was concerned that he had scared the receptionist at the company with his sewage spilling so he had a bouquet of flowers delivered. It had a card that apologized if he had scared or upset her,and that he had nothing against her, but was angry at her boss's company.