Between the years 1979 and 1985, there existed in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an extraordinary demi-monde consisting of self-styled “punk writers” and their followers. For reasons that will be explained later, their writings have been largely unavailable to the outside world, and until recently, it seemed that the punk writing movement would reside forever in the twilight world of rumor and speculation it sought to exploit during its brief history.
In April of 1987, however, a huge cache of manuscripts and other artifacts of the punk movement was discovered by construction workers preparing to erect a new apartment complex on a lot adjoining historic Headhouse Square. Located less than a mile from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the site had long been known as the headquarters of punk writing, but there was no reason to suspect that it contained information about the punks themselves. Prior to the punk era, the Cream King Dairy Building had been operated as a milk processing plant for many years by the Cream King Corporation, a local manufacturer of ice cream and other dairy products. When it fell vacant in 1979 because of an extended lawsuit over who held title to the land it sat on, the building was simply appropriated by the Philadelphia punks, who used it for almost five years to house the sophisticated computer systems that assisted them in their writing efforts. Authorities blinked at their illegal occupation of the building until 1984, when in a mysterious sequence of events, the punk presence on South Street suddenly ended. Shortly afterwards, the Cream King Building burned to the ground, and it was believed that all traces of punk activity had been destroyed in the confla-gration.
What the construction workers discovered, though, was an underground vault, probably first constructed by Cream King, which contained a large collection of manuscript scrolls, computer components, paintings, items of clothing, and other relics of the punk writer movement. Unfortunately, fire had penetrated the vault, and its contents also sustained heavy damage from water, mold, and mildew. Less seriously but still inconveniently for excavators, small animals had burrowed in the materials, disarranging many of the artifacts from their original locations. Numerous scraps of manuscript were used to build nests, for example, and unrolled portions of scrolls had been eaten by rats.
For some weeks after the discovery of the Cream King Trove, there was considerable doubt about whether or not the materials would be preserved at all. Attorneys for the Cream King Corporation—now the adjudicated owners of the land—obtained a temporary court order halting construction until the find could be assessed for its economic value, which, the attorneys argued, would accrue to Cream King as partial reimbursement for the illegal occupancy and vandalism per-petrated by the punks. The developers of the apartment complex being built at the site were adamant about proceeding with construction as soon as the four-week injunction expired. Spokespersons for both companies held a joint press conference appealing to the academic community for assistance in removing the materials from the site so that the impasse could be resolved. But none of the city’s many universities expressed any interest in taking possession of the find. One English department chairman after another declined the opportunity, explaining that the expense of excavation and restoration of the materials could not be justified for the sake of a defunct writing movement of unknown origin and pedigree.
The history of the punk writing movement might very well have ended there, had it not been for my own intervention—I bribed guards at the site to let me take photographs of the vault and its contents. I also managed to make away with several manuscript fragments in my camera bag. I sold the story of my adventure to a tabloid newspaper, which featured it prominently enough to attract the attention of a student at Eberhard College in Eberhard, Pennsylvania. Impressed by my descriptions of the extreme violence of punk culture, he showed the article to Dr. William Glass, a tenured professor of abnormal psychology, who agreed with his student that the Cream King materials might offer a unique opportunity to examine the written expressions of sociopathic personalities. Acting swiftly in the face of the expiring injunction, he concluded a pact with Eberhard’s archaeology department, which saw the find as a low-risk project for second-year archaeology majors, and then petitioned the Cream King Corporation for assistance in removing the vault from the site.
Cream King acquiesced and lent Glass the equipment he needed to excise the entire vault and its immediate environs from the rubble and transport it to a maintenance warehouse at Eberhard College. That summer, archaeologists-in-training began the laborious process of investigating the find, retrieving the materials one layer at a time while photographing and cataloguing every detail of the excavation.
Excited about the commencement of professional research, I tried to make contact with Dr. Glass in hopes of trading my “borrowed” manuscript fragments for access to the findings. No one at Eberhard would return my calls, however, and within a matter of days after my attempt at contact, my apartment was burglarized and the manuscript fragments stolen, along with my photographic prints and negatives.
This was the beginning of my awareness that something rather sinister might be afoot with respect to the disposition of the Cream King Trove.
It is now nearly a decade since the Trove was discovered, and no one at Eberhard College has published a word about the research effort. But there has been no shortage of curious events and odd circumstances surrounding the punk phenomenon. These are some of the facts I’ve been able to unearth from my own amateur investigation, which includes contacts with anonymous sources inside the Cream King Trove research team, as well as private individuals on the periphery of punk-related people and incidents.
1. The research effort at Eberhard has not dwindled but grown over the years. Its funding is provided by an unnamed agency of the federal government. The initial team of Eberhard professors and undergraduate students has been gradually replaced with visiting professors, sometimes eminent ones, in a variety of fields—including electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science, physics, semiotics, literature, social anthropology, linguistics, and classical languages—as well as graduate students in these fields. Yet the veil of secrecy has increased steadily: Eberhard College no longer publicly ac-knowledges that there is a research effort, even though the team now occupies the whole of what was, in 1987, the college’s principal undergraduate classroom building, Agley Hall.
2. Dr. William Glass and Dr. Eliot Naughton, two of the most important participants in the early analysis and research of the punk writing movement are dead. In early 1994, Dr. Glass was rumored to be completing a manuscript about his own role in the Trove research effort. In the summer of that year, while on vacation in Arizona, he fell into the Grand Canyon. His manuscript was never published and it was not found among his other papers. In the spring of 1995, I received a call from Eliot Naughton (with whom I had jousted, not pleasantly, in the front matter of The Boomer Bible). He asked to see me and, much to my surprise, informed me that he owed me an apology, which he very much desired to deliver in person along with some informa-tion I might find “intriguing.” When I arrived in Cambridge for our appointment a few days later, I was told that the 58-year-old professor, believed to be in perfect health, had died of a sudden heart attack during his daily walk on Cambridge Common. No one knew anything about the “information” he wanted to impart to me.
3. Despite the high-powered talent assembled at Eberhard, the punk computer disks which make up the bulk of the Cream King Trove have not been decoded to date. Insiders hint that the technology involved is “almost incredible” and that the atmosphere of the research effort is obsessive, driven, and permeated in frustration.
4. Yet, even as I write this in 1996, there are rumors that Dr. Thomas Naughton (brother of the late Eliot Naughton) has been given high-level permission to use some of the Trove materials in his own book on the punk writer movement. This is especially interesting, given that Dr. Naughton has never been a member of the Trove research team, although his resume includes a vague term of service ‘on assignment with the government’ in Langley, Virginia. At no time in our few conversations did Eliot Naughton ever mention to me that his brother had any interest in punk writing. Why, then, does a professor of literature at Princeton suddenly devote the time necessary to research and write a book about a movement his own brother had scorned in print almost a decade ago?
5. Throughout this period of intensifying but secret research into the punk writer phenomenon, the City of Philadelphia and, specifically, the Philadelphia Police Department have continued to deny that the punk writers of South Street ever existed. Indeed, they have been asked about this subject enough times that they have prepared a briefing de-signed to prove that no one matching the description of a South Street punk was ever even arrested during the five years between 1979 and 1984.
What is going on here? I have been doing research of my own to penetrate this mystery, and in the following chapters I will share what I have learned or concluded.