story deals with the original adventure of The Mad Scientists
Club and the events surrounding the organization
of the group.
town of Mammoth Falls is thrown into a state of alarm when
an Air Force bomber coming in for an emergency landing
at Westport Field jettisons a nuclear bomb which plops into
Strawberry Lake. Though the Air Force issues the usual assurances
that there is no danger of radioactivity, the townspeople instinctively
feel that a real danger does exist and will not be satisfied
until the bomb is recovered and removed.
several days of fruitless searching and unconvincing Air
Force pronouncements of its imminent recovery, the bomb
still remains at the bottom of Strawberry Lake. A shaggy-haired,
bespectacled young introvert named Henry Mulligan offers
to locate the bomb, but is, of course, patronizingly rebuffed
by the mayor of the town and by the Air Force officials in
charge of the recovery operations. Henry, nevertheless, manages
to locate the bomb with the use of an underwater magnetometer
and the help of his friend Jeff Crocker, even though they
have to work under the cover of darkness. They pinpoint its
location by triangulation, calculated from the position of
radio beacons located on the shoreline.
offers to tell the Air Force where the bomb is, but is
told to mind his own business. This makes him mad, and
he and Jeff recruit a few friends and organize a skin diving
expedition to prove that the bomb is where they say it is.
When they locate it, they find it nestled in the ribs of
a half-finished, submerged ship lying on the lake bottom,
which appears to be of Viking origin. Further exploration
of the area uncovers evidence of an abandoned Viking settlement,
located on a narrow peninsula which apparently had sunk beneath
the surface of the lake centuries ago.
and Henry figure they have made a major discovery of historical
significance, and can't
wait to tell the world about it. But first, they have a score
to settle with the mayor and the Air Force. They fill a small
balloon with gas and tether it to a rib of the Viking ship.
They rig the tethering line so that the balloon is submerged
just below the surface, with an explosive charge tied on
a string that is snagged around the line so as to hold a
fifty-foot loop of it under water.
The next day, Henry
conducts a demonstration for the members of the press who are covering the bomb
story, and a crowd of curious townspeople. From a point
on the lakeshore, he commands the balloon to rise from the lake by sending a
radio signal to the explosive device. The balloon rises and dances on the end
of its line, about fifty feet above the water. This spectacular demonstration
impresses the reporters, who then pressure the Air Force to send divers down
to investigate Henrys claim that the bomb is located at the end of the line.
The Air Force reluctantly does so, and does, indeed, find the bomb.
and Jeff have suddenly been catapulted into the limelight
and have become town heroes. Even the mayor is impressed,
and with the politicians innate ability to shift ground rapidly,
changes his criticism to praise.
go swimmingly with plans to raise the hulk of the Viking
ship and recover artifacts from the site of the sunken
village, until Henry announces that he has the representatives
of a prominent museum coming to Mammoth Falls to supervise
the operation and take custody of the ship. This news splits
the town right down the middle in violent controversy. Abigail
Larrabee, who, among other things, is president of the Society
for the Preservation of Cast Iron Furniture on the American
Front Lawn, feels that the Viking ship rightfully belongs
to the town of Mammoth Falls, and that it should remain there.
She is in favor of placing it in the Town Square as a monument,
or of recreating the Viking settlement on the shore of Strawberry
Lake as a tourist attraction. Henry argues that the town
knows nothing about the difficult job of preserving a relic
that has been underwater for a thousand years, and says that
the job should be left to experts. He feels that the ship
belongs to the country as a whole, and that it should be
on display in a suitable place where millions of people can
have a chance to see it.
controversy burns hot, and the townspeople take sides so
evenly divided that the mayor doesn't dare side with either
faction and finds himself in the middle.
The boys continue recovering minor artifacts from the
lake bed and put them on temporary display in the Town
Hall. Some of them disappear, however, before
representatives of the museum can come to pick them up. But the job of raising
the hulk of the Viking ship is beset with frustrations. Somebody keeps cutting
the cables to the pontoons that are being used to float the ship to the surface.
Henry accuses Mrs. Larrabee of sabotaging the effort. Mrs. Larrabee accuses
Henry of deliberately delaying the project until the controversy dies down.
when the ship is raised, Henry finds himself in the middle
of a spirited bidding competition between representatives
of two different museums, both of whom want the ship. Henry
appeals to the mayor for help in settling the dispute, since
he feels the town has some measure of ownership in his discovery.
A meeting in the mayors office is scheduled; but, in the
meantime, a telegram from the governor of the state arrives,
entering a claim for state ownership of all the relics recovered.
meeting of the Town Council is called to discuss the relative
precedence of salvage rights, property rights, and
rights of eminent domain, and to decide who should have the
right to determine disposition of the relics. Abigail Larrabee
chooses this moment to conduct a protest march and demonstration
in front of the Town Hall to advance her cause. The Mad Scientists
however, turn this affair into a fiasco when they tap into
the circuit for the public address system and substitute
barnyard calls and other noises for the speeches. They then
release a swarm of bees from under the bandstand in the square,
sending the demonstrators fleeing from the scene in wild
The dispute is finally
settled to everyone's satisfaction in a climactic Town Meeting, over which Mayor
Scragg presides. Effajean Lightbody, another community
leader, and a purist, joins forces with Henry to thwart Abigail Larrabee's
plan to put the Viking ship in the Town Square, because she doesn't feel it
belongs there. But the deciding factor in the dispute is the offer of a wealthy
foundation, attracted by the national publicity surrounding the affair, to
finance the construction of a replica of the Viking settlement and the ship
on the shores of Strawberry Lake.
This proposal carries
the day. Abigail Larrabee and her confederate Abner Sharples are soundly defeated,
the original ship goes to the museum offering the highest
bid, and virtually everyone is happy except Abigail and those people in town
who still believe that Strawberry Lake may be radioactive.
# # #
is the idea my father started with. His notes have a copy
of a news article about the loss of an H-bomb in the
Mediterranean Sea off the Spanish coast after an Air Force
bomber crashed. I recall this incident in the 1960s; it
was in the news for some time before the Air Force successfully
recovered the bomb. A note about the bomb in The Big
it is a hydrogen bomb. But, as is often the case, the public
freely referred to such bombs as atomic or H-bombs interchangeably.
In fact, just recently, the head of the International Atomic
Energy Agency in remarks about the Yongbyon nuclear facility
in North Korea, referred to "atomic bombs" that
the facility will enable the North Koreans to build. The
dialogue in the book reflects how the public, even to this
day, refers to the bombs and how the Air Force refers to
them; that is to say, as nuclear devices.
In other research on the original story plot, my father
found an article from the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings on the recovery of the famous Swedish warship the Wasa. The
Wasa was the pride of King Gustavus Adolphus' navy during
the Thirty Years War in Europe. It never saw service, for
it sank in the harbor on its very first voyage. The article
went into considerable detail about the challenges the salvagers
faced in raising the remains of the ship, which had been
under water for over 330 years when it was raised in 1961.
The Wasa has been in the news again, when there appeared
in The New York Times last year an article about the problems
the salvaged ship was encountering from excessive moisture
brought into its museum by millions of visitors. Evidently,
the moisture is reacting with sulfur deep in the ship's wood
to form sulfuric acid, which is inexorably crumbling the
While the idea of finding a Viking ship and
settlement was ultimately discarded, it was replaced with
helping the Air
Force recover the bomb safely. Nevertheless, a number of
the ideas elaborated in the synopsis were retained in The
Big Kerplop! The first page of The Sunken Village, shown
in the scan below, is the same as the first page of The
Big Kerplop! You can see where my father struck out the title
and wrote in "The Big Kerplop." In fact, the
first three chapters of The Big Kerplop! are word-for-word
same as those of The Sunken Village. The search at night,
the demonstration of the bomb's location to reporters covering
the story, and the Air Force's agreement to send divers
down to the location the Mad Scientists have pin-pointed,
the plot of the original synopsis.
Big Kerplop! departs after this though, with the Mad Scientists
of Mammoth Falls somewhat on the sidelines as the Air Force
divers confirm the bomb's location. They re-emerge as major
figures in the story when the Air Force is unable to raise
the bomb and Henry Mulligan, aided by a new figure, Professor
Stratavarious, figures out why.
Professor Stratavarious is based on a character that Sid
Caesar created on his classic comedy shows in the 1950s.
The professor wore formal dress that was always wrinkled
and in need of cleaning. He sat on a big leather chair and
delivered a monologue punctuated by complaints that someone
was waxing the leather, because he was always slipping down
and almost landing on the floor. My father was also a fan
of Bela Lugosi and the Dracula movie, so Professor Stratavarious
became a Roumanian.
The biggest difference in the book, though, is its departure
from the plots of the earlier twelve tales. The previews
on the next page give you an idea by chapter of what to expect.