Grimwood University had two claims to fame. One was a man. The other, an event. And while the man, author and professor Alan Grimwood, wouldn’t live to see the benefits of his own notoriety, he did bear witness to the tragedy that would forever sear his family’s name, and the college they founded, into the minds of Americans everywhere.
One year after the Attica Prison riot forever connected the name of that infamous correctional facility with the community in which it was located, the town of Grimwood, which for more than a century had enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the institution Ashton Grimwood had established on the hill, quite suddenly found itself at the center of its own ghoulish media storm. While the town would eventually regain a sense of balance and normalcy, the college and its most famous professor would be forever linked with the events that took place a week before Thanksgiving in 1972.
The names of killers deserve to be lost to time – even when delusional, unrequited love is was drives them to madness – and if there was one element of justice in the incident on Grimwood campus, it was the fact that the armed, deeply-disturbed young man who stormed the university’s library and took the object of his “affection,” as well as eleven other students hostage, never gained the posthumous notoriety we see dispensed by today’s media. Indeed, after he murdered all twelve of his victims, and jumped to his death from the library’s tower, his name was almost immediately forgotten. To the townspeople, the students of Grimwood University, and anyone jolted by reports of one of America’s first college shootings, its perpetrator would forever be known as The Shooter — a term that crossed the tongue, appropriately, like the sensation of spitting.
Then there was Ashton Grimwood’s great-grandson, Alan. In his day, he was well-regarded for his work, particularly as a professor, if not so much for his writing. That would eventually change. In 1955, the publication of Grimwood’s Revenant had gone all but unnoticed. Two years after the tragedy, and 19 years after the publication of his first novel, Black Robes hit shelves and was met with moderate success, owing largely to the dark subject matter and media interest fueled by the infamous campus killings. But it wasn’t until Grimwood’s untimely death three years later, at the unjust age of 57, that something interesting happened. It began with readers digging up copies of Revenant in used bookstores. Something about that book’s subject matter, which touched upon life and death, fate, and the afterlife, struck a nerve with readers, who passed the book along to their friends before hunting down Black Robes and doing the same. By 1981, both books were back in print. In 1983, excerpts of Doppelganger – Revenant’s unfinished sequel – which Grimwood had been writing when he dropped dead of a massive heart attack – were released by his publisher. The Collected Stories of Alan Grimwood (1950 – 1978) followed a year later, and from thereon out, Alan Grimwood became a legend of genre fiction, one with a small but endlessly fascinated base of readers. Though he had carried on a decades long relationship with his assistant and companion, Jennifer Winston, Grimwood was unmarried at the time of his death. With no children, and no heirs, the rights to his books had been left to the university, which knew a good thing when it saw it, and made sure his work remained in print.
What then of the institution bearing the Grimwood family’s name? A decade after Alan’s death, the university’s atmosphere was nearly indistinguishable from the rest of its old school, upstate brethren. The Grimwood Writing Center flourished. Year after year, the college awarded degrees in a variety of disciplines – from Anthropology to Zoology. By the nineties, ghoulish curiosity had faded, and the town of Grimwood was back to its sleepy self. Sure, from time to time people reported unusual experiences on campus, something that made their blood run cold; Glimpses of loved ones lost in the tragedy; Shadows that slowed as they passed over them in the library. There were even those who claimed to have seen Alan Grimwood himself, strolling on campus near the place of his death. Who could say what caused people to believe they had seen such phantoms. Then again, it was interesting to note that no one in town, and almost no one on campus, ever called such reports into question.
Excerpt from Grimwood – a work in progress.