By Philip R. Devlin
(October 14, 2022) — The year 1912 saw many famous historical events unfold, such as the sinking of the Titanic, the unforgettable performance of Jim Thorpe at the Stockholm Olympics, the opening of Fenway Park, and the election of former Wesleyan University football coach and professor Woodrow Wilson to the presidency of the United States.That year also marked the publication of the first Tarzan story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, in October 1912. The story first appeared in a pulp magazine and later was expanded into a novel in 1914. It was the first of 25 novels in the immensely popular Tarzan series. That series — as well as the films and merchandise that resulted from it — would earn millions of dollars for Burroughs. Though Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago on Sept. 1, 1875, his family has deep roots in Connecticut. In fact, Edgar’s third great-grandfather, John Burroughs, was one of the earliest settlers of Enfield. John and his wife, Hannah, gave birth to four children, including a son named John. Young John remained in Enfield until 1718, when he moved to Windsor. John and his two wives had eight children, one of whom, David, served in the Revolutionary War. Additionally, the Burroughs family was related to seven signers of the Declaration of Independence, including his third cousins four times removed, John Adams. Later generations of the Burroughs family moved out of Connecticut to Portland, Maine, and eventually to Chicago. It was in Chicago that Edgar was born in 1875. He grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, birthplace of another famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, in 1899. Edgar’s father, Major George Tyler Burroughs (1833- 1913), served with distinction in the Civil War. His mother, Mary Evaline Burroughs, was a writer who published a collectible Civil War book entitled Memoirs of a War Bride. Edgar attempted to continue his family’s tradition of military service by applying to West Point. He was not admitted; nevertheless, he joined the regular army and served with the 7th Cavalry at Fort Grant in the Arizona Territory until a diagnosis of a heart problem ended his service in 1897. (Ultimately, a heart ailment would end his life in 1950.)
Burroughs held a series of low-paying jobs, including that of a pencil sharpener wholesaler, until he came to believe that he could write fiction as well as anything he had read in the pulp magazines of his time. The results of his efforts were unimaginably successful. Besides Tarzan, his stories about the heroic Mars explorer John Carter were also immensely popular. Another famous writer and the creator of the hit TV series ER, Michael Crichton — also from Chicago — was a huge Burroughs fan. He named the popular ER character Dr. John Carter, played by Noah Wyle, after the famous Burroughs character.
Tarzan of The Apes depicts the story of John Clayton, an Englishman marooned in Africa. After his parents were killed, John was adopted by a female ape named Kala. He is named “Tarzan,” which translates to “white skin.” After hunters kill Kala, Tarzan avenges her death. Soon, another group of white people gets marooned in Africa, and Tarzan comes to their aid. He becomes enamored with one of them — Jane Porter of Baltimore, Maryland. Eventually, Tarzan and Jane become man and wife. Subsequent novels recount the various adventures of the couple. Tarzan remains popular today; in fact, a first edition copy of the novel Tarzan Of The Apes is currently worth well over $55,000! The serialized form in the pulp magazine edition is extremely rare and would presumably command even more money. One of the 20th century’s most popular and prolific authors, Edgar Rice Burroughs eventually settled north of Los Angeles in a town named Tarzana after his most popular fictional character.