Alfred Franklin Mason, 84, copy editor for Evening Sun

May 08, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Alfred Franklin Mason, a retired Evening Sun copy editor who was also an essayist, novelist and book collector, was found dead Tuesday of apparent heart failure at his Rodgers Forge home. He was 84.

Mr. Mason began his newspaper career in 1949 as assistant librarian for The Baltimore Sun. In 1955, he was promoted to the financial desk as a copy editor for the afternoon paper.

He also wrote "Some Business," a whimsical column that examined offbeat business news. He retired in 1978.

A tall, scholarly-looking man with a slightly ruddy complexion, Mr. Mason favored horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in tweed sport coats, colorful shirts, knit ties and tweed caps. His dashing style made him appear more like a college English professor than a newspaperman.

He was seldom without his canvas dispatch case, in which he carried the latest odd volume discovered at a used bookstore or the book he would read on his nightly bus rides home.

"He loved the serendipity of finding small gems in the dross of second-hand bookstores. He loved the Smith and Brandeis and Pratt book sales. He mined the de-accessions at the Baltimore County public library in Towson for first editions of authors he loved, and he often came up with one or two," said Carl Schoettler, a Sun feature writer.

"For Frank Mason, the highest point of any given year may well have been the morning the doors opened at the annual Smith College Book Sale," said James H. Bready, a retired Evening Sun editorial writer who writes a book column for The Sun.

Mr. Mason loved discovering the errant first edition that had escaped detection by a bookseller and considered it a triumph when he landed it at a bargain price.

His books overwhelmed his rowhouse, filling up shelves, the floors and even the stairs. Everything that could possibly hold a book was pressed into service. He was unusual in that he not only collected books, he read them and was familiar with their contents.

"He was extremely knowledgeable about the great writers of the first half of the 20th century, and of the big three -- Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner -- he probably thought Faulkner was the best writer, Fitzgerald close and almost equal, [and] Hemingway third," said Mr. Schoettler. "He had first editions of some of their books. But he had many editions of all of them as they came out in different forms and different languages. He often couldn't resist buying a new edition of an old novel.

"He loved the expatriates of the Lost Generation, knew who was whom, who the real-life models were for the characters in Hemingway and Fitzgerald. If you had a question, he usually knew the answer or knew where to find it."

Because Mr. Mason was infatuated with the literature, movies and culture of the 1920s and 1930s, they often figured into the graceful essays that he contributed in his retirement to the op-ed pages of The Evening Sun and The Sun and to scholarly publications. In them, he often deployed a wry irony.

In 1981, his only novel, "Four Roses In Three Acts," a witty parody of Gertrude Stein and company, was published by Braziller. In it, he confessed his love for books:

"Books are very nice things," he wrote. "A book is one of the nicer things we know. And the nicest thing about a book is how it waits for you. If you wish it to, a book will wait for you forever. Find a girl who'll do that."

Born and raised on Harford Road near 25th Street, he graduated from City College in 1931 -- "a vintage Depression year," he wrote in 1977 -- and went to work in the book department of the Hochschild Kohn store at Howard and Lexington streets.

His duties included delivering books by streetcar to Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

One day, he offered to deliver a book to Fitzgerald, then living in Bolton Hill.

"Presently, there stood Frank, pushing the doorbell at 1310 Park Ave.," said Mr. Bready. "The man who simply received the package said, 'Thank you,' and went back indoors. But, incontestably, he had met him, in all his rumpled nonglory. The great novelist in person. Frank got a lot of mileage out of that one moment."

Mr. Mason was married in 1960 to the former Hedda Seisler, a former children's librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, who died in 1983.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld funeral home, 6500 York Road in Rodgers Forge.

He is survived by a sister, Catherine Mason Stallings of Pasadena; two nephews; and two nieces.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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