By Joyce Tremel
Rinehart began writing after she and her physician husband lost their savings in the stock market crash of 1903. Often called the “American Agatha Christie,” she became a pioneer in the world of mystery fiction, and invented the Had-I-But-Known type of storytelling. Her novel, The Circular Staircase, the second in the Miss Cornelia Van Gorder series, propelled her to national fame. She was also a prolific short story writer and a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post. In true pioneer fashion, she became the first female war correspondent when she was sent to the Belgian front during World War I.
Rinehart was a pioneer in other ways, too. One of her novels, The Bat (which was made into a silent movie), featured a costumed supercriminal. Sound familiar? Although disputed in various sources, rumor has it that Bob Kane, the creator of the Batman comic, may have used the character as his inspiration for his superhero. Who would have figured a middle aged woman may have been responsible for Batman?
One event in Rinehart’s life sounds like it came straight from a mystery novel. She owned a vacation home in Bar Harbor, Maine. One summer, as she sat in her library reading a book, her cook of 25 years entered the room. He walked up to her, pointed a gun at her head and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired and Rinehart ran for help. As she passed the front door to her home, a man standing there told her he was looking for work. She allegedly said, “Young man, you’ll have to come back later. There is a man here trying to kill me.” The cook then tried to attack her with knives, but was subdued by other servants. He committed suicide in jail, and the gracious Rinehart paid for his funeral.
Rinehart was awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America in 1953 for her contribution to the field of mystery. She died in 1958 and is buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.
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