Film Review- Father the Flame

Image from IMDB.com

The documentary film genre is a fascinating window into our world, focusing on a specific aspect of mankind to tell a non-fiction story to a wider audience. Documentaries can range from delving into the dusty corridors of history, shining a light into the plight of the oppressed, or painting a picture of a person, place, or hobby. No matter the topic, the documentary tells a story about reality, rather than some fantastical world or a fictional drama. For a documentary to be successful, it must tell an interesting story that captivates an audience or springs them into action.

For the past few years, pipe smokers have been waiting for their chance to watch a documentary all about their favorite hobby, called Father the Flame. While some pipe smokers grumbled about the lengthy wait they had to endure to finally watch the movie, it’s not unusual for a small passion project to take its time before being ready. Films aren’t made overnight, and given the amount of people featured in the documentary, as well as the various locations filmed all around the world; it’s understandable that Father the Flame needed time in the oven.

Now that the film is out, Father the Flame has received a somewhat mixed reaction from the wider pipe community. While I can’t speak for everyone, I think part of the reaction comes from the expectations of what a pipe documentary should be. After all, the rest of the non-smoking world views anything that has to do with smoking in a negative light. With all the criticism we face, we finally have a film that highlights what makes our hobby the tight knit community that it is. We want a film that we can show to our non-smoking friends and say, “This is why I smoke a pipe.”

In reality, Father the Flame isn’t exactly about pipe smoking. Oh, there’s plenty of pipe smoking in it, and it’s certainly celebrated; but instead of taking center stage, pipe smoking is more of a supporting role. If you go into this film thinking you’re going to learn about the history and ins and outs of the pipe smoking hobby, you’ll leave the film disappointed. There’s hardly a peep about pipe tobacco, and very little focus on your average pipe smoker.

Instead, for bettor or worse, Father the Flame focuses on the pipe maker, and more specifically the high-end artisan pipe maker. The documentary tells the story of multiple pipe carvers, mainly through the eyes of our POV character, Michigan pipe maker Lee von Erck. Other pipe carvers are also highlighted, such as Italian pipe carver Romero ‘Mimmo’ Domenico and his family, stone pipe carver Travis Erickson, and the legendary Ivarsson Danish pipe carving clan. While we have glimpses of the pipe community through pipe shows, ultimately this is Lee Erck’s story.

While this might come as a disappointment for those like me have very little to do with the artisan world, I understand why the filmmakers behind Father the Flame pursued this route. Instead of telling a broader story about our community that might struggle to connect with a wider audience, by zeroing in on Lee Erck and the artisan world, the filmmakers can tell a tight and succinct story about the craftsmanship and beauty behind a skillfully carved pipe. The non-smoking members of the wider world might sneer their noses at the many clouds of pipe smoke seen in the film, but their eyes will grow wide at the stunning close up images of a birds eye grain in a smooth briar, or the architectural wonders discovered in the grooves and nooks and crannies of a well-carved pipe. If there’s one lesson Father the Flame tells well to a broad audience, it’s that pipe carvers deserve the same respect given to a painter or sculptor.

Father the Flame tells a global story about pipes, travelling across continents to show the wide appeal and passion of pipe and pipe making. While the film mainly takes place in the United States, the filmmakers jump all around the globe, spending time in Italy, France, Japan, and Denmark. While plenty of time is spent in sawdust covered workshops, the camera ventures out into the wider world, searching for briar wood in the hills of Italy, walking through the quiet villages of Denmark and France, and experiencing the shrines in Tokyo. No matter what the setting is, though, you can be sure to see a pipe somewhere in the background.

A documentary is only as good as the people featured in the film, and thankfully Father the Flame delivers in this area in spades. Lee von Erck acts as the focus of the documentary, as we follow him from his workshop to his travels around the world. We’re given a peek behind the curtain into von Erck’s solitary life as he acts as our personal guide, explaining his carving philosophies as he works on his latest briar. Von Erck has years of carving under his belt, and yet he speaks to the audience as he would a friend, detailing everything in down to earth terms. Von Erck might as well be your next-door neighbor, welcoming us to his world as he reveals his remarkable talents. There’s humility to von Erck’s demeanor, candidly expressing his joy for his work, and yet revealing the hidden sadness of his isolated life when at home.  

We’re also introduced through von Erck to the Domenico family. The Domenico’s are a pipe making family, started by elderly late patriarch Pippo and passed down to his son Mimmo and his wife Karin. Mimmo takes his role seriously as a legacy pipe maker, and has a youthful energy in producing his work. Mimmo has many hats to wear at home, balancing life as a pipe maker, father, and husband, all the while caring for his father. Mimmo isn’t alone, as his wife Karin has a knack for pipe making as well. It’s rare to see a husband and wife team of pipe carvers, but Mimmo and Karin are two of a kind, and it’s sweet watching the two interact in their workshop. While Pippo has long retired from pipe making, he’s content to sit in Mimmo’s backyard, smoking his pipe while watching the new generation continue the work he built years prior. Sadly, Pippo passed away before filming ended, but the film and Mimmo have a chance to give tribute to the late Italian pipe carver.

The Ivarsson family is disconnected from the main Von Erck/Domenico storyline, but the Danish pipe makers fit perfectly within Father the Flame’s overall message. The Ivarsson family are giants in the pipe carving world, starting with late Ivarrson patriarch Sixten. Sixten Ivarrson was an extremely influential pipe maker, having taken many a young pipe carver under his tutelage. While Sixten passed away back in 2001, Father the Flame splices in family videos of the pipe maker, allowing him to appear in the film and giving us a chance to get to know the late pipe maker on a personal level.

Though Sixten is no longer with us, his style and influence lives on through his son Lars, and granddaughter Nanna. Much of the time devoted to the Ivarsson’s is spent with Lars and Nanna reminiscing about Sixten and the profound effect he had on their lives and their eventual involvement in pipe making. Tragically, Lars passed away in 2018 before the film released, so to have these intimate moments with the late pipe carver are all the more special.

The film also spends some time in Pipestone, Minnesota with stone pipe carver Travis Erickson. Travis’s sections are much shorter compared to the rest of the subjects in the documentary, and if I’m being honest, it’s probably the weakest portion of the film. This isn’t Travis’s fault, and his section does go into the more spiritual aspects of pipe smoking with tobacco’s Native American roots. If the film was a bit longer and devoted more time to pipe smoking, it would probably tie everything together a bit more. It’s unfortunate, as there are some interesting bits here, but if it was cut from the film it wouldn’t ruin the overall narrative.

If there’s a central message found throughout Father the Flame, it’s the importance and value of legacy and passing down knowledge from the older stalwarts to the younger generation. Both themes are vital to our hobby, as seen in the proliferation of the youtube pipe community and pipe blogs in teaching the ways of pipe smoking. The pipe carvers of the old generation of Pippo and Sixten Ivarsson paved the way, learning the ins and outs of carving a briar and passing their knowledge down to their children. Yet what use is it to teach others these lessons if they’re not ready and eager to learn? Mimmo, Lars Ivarsson, and Nanna Ivarsson take the foundation of what they’ve learned from their parents and have innovated their craft. Will Mimmo’s and Nanna’s children pick up the torch for their families? Only time will tell, but if they do, they’ll have some of the best teachers to show them the way.

Legacy and family go hand in hand in Father the Flame, as seen in Mimmo’s, the Ivarsson’s, and Travis Erickson’s stories. With Lee von Erck, though, the story becomes a bit more complicated and more melancholy. Von Erck never had children, and now as he enters into his later years, he expresses regret that he never had the chance to bring up a family of his own. We see him interact with Mimmo’s family, sitting back with the whole Domenico family and enjoying their company. For von Erck, it’s a window into a different world, and one that he doesn’t have. As he watches Mimmo care for Pippo, von Erck wonders sadly what will happen to him when he reaches Pippo’s age.

Instead of looking forward, von Erck’s family story looks backwards at his relationship with his late father. Father the Flame begins with von Erck recounting the story of his father buying his first pipe at a tobacconist, and learning how to smoke it with the shop owner. It’s a wonderful story, and it hooked me right away into watching the documentary. Though von Erck’s father didn’t teach him how to carve pipes, he instead instilled a love of pipes that brought Lee to his present occupation as a talented pipe carver.

Where Father the Flame burns brightest is through the personal stories shared by Von Erck, Mimmo, the Ivarssons, and the many other pipe carvers and smokers seen throughout the film. These stories highlight why pipes are more than a fancy tool to indulge in tobacco. For many, the pipe connects people to a beloved family member, and that earthy aroma brings that person back, even for the briefest of moments. Father the Flame showcases only a few of these stories, but there’s no denying the power behind those tales.

Should you go out of your way and watch Father the Flame? In my opinion, I think you should. On it’s own, Father the Flame is a competent documentary on a niche subject that’s misunderstood by the general populace. Father the Flame highlights the best of our hobby, and shows why pipes mean so much to the people that smoke and collect them. The gorgeous cinematography shows off some beautiful briar pipes and blends them with imagery of galaxies and art in such a way that celebrates the artistic endeavors of pipe making. Father the Flame gives a face to pipe makers, making them more than just a name or brand, and fleshes them out into real and sympathetic people.

The only downside to Father the Flame is that it doesn’t do enough with the pipe smoking side of the hobby. Day after day, I read stories from my fellow pipe smokers about how they got into pipe smoking, and they speak so much about the influence of loved ones or friends, or about specific, life changing moments in time that are worth sharing. Father the Flame could’ve spent more time with people like Richard Newcombe or Sykes Wilford, or with the Chicago Pipe Show attendees. I won’t fault Father the Flame for focusing solely on pipe makers, but I would’ve appreciated more input from the average joe pipe smoker.

Regardless of my minor issues with Father the Flame, I do think it’s required viewing for the pipe world at large. If anything, how often do you get a documentary about something you’re passionate about? For that, I tip my hat in appreciation to the filmmakers behind Father the Flame, and commend them for a job well done.

I rate Father the Flame: five pipes out of a seven-day pipe set.

Pros:

Beautiful cinematography

Focuses on interesting pipe makers

Great use of archival footage

Nice use of locations

Strong themes used

Cons:

No discussion on pipe tobacco

Less about pipe smoking and more on pipe making

Not enough time spent with some interviewees

Until next time, happy puffing friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Sergeant MacBadger’s Official Christmas 2019 Buying Guide for Pipe Smokers

A Guest Article by Sgt. MacBadger

Ah-ten-shun!

All right, maggots, listen up an’ light yer pipes. It appears that my last address to the Woodlander Regiment caught a bit of controversy, due to my unorthodox methods of pipe warfare. Well, I’m back from Nome, Alaska, an’ jus’ in time for the holidays. It’s a shame, as I was gettin’ a squad of reindeer recruits together for an all out assault on the abominable snowmen causin’ trouble up there. Those good fer nuthin’ furballs were lucky our country decided to call me back, otherwise our troops woulda been feastin’ on abominable burgers fer Christmas chow.

Anyhow, with the holidays fast approachin’, I thought it was important to share with y’all a handy dandy primer on what to buy fer yerselves for Christmas. With all the options ya have online with pipes, baccy, stands, cleaners, an’ whatnot, it’s enough ta make yer head spin. Well, don’t ya worry, ol’ Sarge MacBadger’s here to set ya straight towards a holiday worth celebratin’.

So when that fat man thinks he’s sneakin’ into yer home an’ ya take ‘im prisoner, you can give ‘im this list an’ negotiate his release. Believe me, it works. Now when ol’ Saint Nick pays me a visit, he comes with the white flag wavin’ an’ an open sack.

Anyhow, let’s get on with the list. First things first, let’s take a look at pipes.

MacArthur Classic (‘Neked’ Unfinished) Missouri Meerschaum Corn Cob Pipe $13.97

https://aristocob.com/MacARTHUR-CLASSIC-Neked-Unfinished-Missouri-Meerschaum-Corn-Cob-Pipe-P664361.aspx

Here we go, let’s get started with the king of cobs. This is the cob that makes Missouri Meerschaum’s General cob look like one o’ those pathetic nosewarmers. There’s only one cob out there worthy to call itself after the great general, an’ it happens to be the one the man smoked. Most likely, it’s cause you can use it as a weapon to defend yerself in a pinch should ya encounter the enemy while out havin’ a pipe. Some might balk at smokin’ this massive cob, but yer not a true pipe smoker if yer not willin’ to walk around in public smokin’ one. Remember, a pipe smoker should distinguish themselves from the crowd, an’ the MacArthur’ll do jus’ that.

I happen to prefer the rugged style of the, ahem, ‘neked’ variation, but you can find smooth ones if that’s more yer preference. I suppose ya like wearin’ deodorant, too. Natural’s the only way to go, soldier, both in cobs and body odor.

Seven Day Set of Smokable Seconds $26.29

https://corncobpipe.com/seven-day-set-of-smokable-seconds

Lookin’ to build up a collection of cobs without breakin’ yer paycheck? Then give this set of cob seconds a glance. Yer gonna get a buncha cobs at a discount price compared to buyin’ ‘em individually. Sure, all these cobs failed their inspections to be sold on their own, but they’re still worthy of smokin’, despite a minor defect or two.

Of course, ya don’t know exactly what’ll end up bein’ sent to ya, but that’s part of the fun of orderin’ a mystery bag. An’ if yer into that cob moddin’ hobby, this is the perfect way to get a buncha cobs to hack an’ shape as ya please. I find it similar to gettin’ a squad of new recruits. They’re not all there in the head, but once ya break ‘em in, they’ll fall in line. Good luck findin’ these fer sale, though, as these sets are in high demand.

Peterson 2019 Christmas Pipe $100

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/new/peterson/

I might be more of a cob fan, but even this badger knows the Irish can make a good pipe. Peterson of Dublin are experts in makin’ briar pipes in traditional shapes that every pipe smoker should own. However, their Christmas pipes are a cut above the rest, even among their top class briars. With a rugged bowl and antique brass ring on the shank, smokin’ one of these pipes on watch’ll make ya the envy of all yer squadmates. But ya better act fast if ya want one, as once they’re gone, they’re gone fer good.

BriarWorks Calabash Pipe with Magnetic Bowl $550

www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/new/Briarworks/

Now we’re movin’ to the top tier of pipes with BriarWorks Calabash pipes. Like the MacArthur, every pipe smoker should have a good calabash in their arsenal. These might not be marchin’ pipes, but a calabash is a high caliber pipe all on its own. There ain’t nothin’ like sittin’ by the campfire an’ puffin’ on a calabash while givin’ yer tired paws a rest. Also, there’s jus’ somethin’ ‘bout a calabash that gives others the impression that ya got smarts up in yer noggin. It ain’t no coincidence that ol’ Sherlock is often depicted with one. Ya see a guy smokin’ a calabash, an ya jus’ wanna hire ‘im fer solvin’ the mystery of where yer missin’ socks go in the dryer. Not that I wash mine or anythin’, so don’t ya go spreadin’ that rumor ‘round here.

What makes BriarWorks calabash pipes worthy of yer money is their magnetic bowls. If ya don’t know, calabash pipes have removable bowls fer ease of cleanin’ both the bowl an’ the gourd chamber. With that magnetic system in place, ya don’t have ta worry ‘bout that bowl suddenly poppin’ off while yer duckin’ fer cover.

Grand Croupier Boneyard $1.26 per Oz

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipe-tobacco/Grand-Croupier/Boneyard/product_id/150302/bulk/

Talk about gettin’ a bang fer yer buck, Grand Croupier’s Boneyard is the thrifty English smoker’s dream, lads. If ya haven’t been payin’ attention, Grand Croupier is one o’ Cornell an’ Diehl’s labels. All their blends are the leftovers from C&D’s normal lines that didn’t make it into a tin. C&D already makes great tobacco, so ya know yer gettin’ high quality baccy, even if it’s the stuff they didn’t use. This ain’t yer Auntie Betsy’s leftover headcheese casserole, it’s prime tobacco.

Boneyard comes from the leftovers of C&D’s English blends, so each bag’ll have a different consistency of blending components. One bag’ll have more Latakia to it, while another might be more Oriental heavy. To quote a famous soldier, “Life’s like a box of unmarked pipe tobacco, ya never know what yer gonna get!” Me? I live dangerously already, so surprises bother me none. A good soldier’s resourceful, so ya should jump on Boneyard and add it to yer arsenal.

Hearth & Home: Fusilier’s Ration 1.75oz $10.59

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipe-tobacco/HearthandHome/Fusilier’s-Ration-1.75oz/product_id/277591

Now, how can ya pass on a blend with a name like Fusilier’s Ration? Hearth & Home’s Marquee blends are well-respected blends among pipe smokers, an’ Fusilier’s Ration ain’t no exception. Based on the legendary Bengal Slices blend, Fusilier’s Ration is a thick, dark cake of baccy that’ll stain yer fingertips black. If ya think that ain’t a sign of a high quality blend, then maybe this hobby ain’t right for ya. Go make one of those artisan soaps or somethin’, I don’t know.

Rich with Latakia, Fusilier’s Ration is a tasty and smoky English blend, perfect for an after dinner pipe. The baccy generates a fair amount of smoke, too, great for givin’ yerself some extra cover on the battlefield. The only downside is that all yer squadmates’ll be buggin’ ya for some to smoke in their pipes. Tell ‘em to get their own, an’ enjoy yer well deserved ration, soldier.

Prince Albert 14oz Can $35.99

https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipe-tobacco/prince-albert/Prince-Albert-14oz/product_id/274405

That’s right, THE Prince Albert. Ya know, the one yer grandpappy smoked. In my always right opinion, ever young strappin’ pipe smoker should be assigned to startin’ out on the classics, an’ ya can’t get more classic than the Prince. This champion of codger blends combines the strength and flavor of a burley blend with the sweet aroma of an aromatic. Puff this blend in yer cob while on leave an’ yer gonna have a trail of civilians followin’ after ya, singin’ yer praises. The only problem is ya open yerself up for punk prank callers, thinkin’ they’re mighty clever. The last kid that tried pullin’ that on me still won’t leave his house after I gave ‘im a friendly talkin’ to. Regardless, let the Prince out, an’ let ‘im out often.

Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation Brown Tobacco Pouch Messenger Bag $135

https://www.smokingpipes.com/accessories/pipe%20accessories/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=150178

While a pipe smoker’s main essentials are pipes and tobacco, ya need somethin’ to store ‘em in when yer travellin’. My kit and pouches are full of pipes an’ tobacco, but when I’m out on leave, I need a reliable bag to store all the stuff I plan on smokin’. While any bag’ll do, the good folks over at Erik Stokkebye have ya covered with a stylish messenger bag that ya won’t feel ashamed carryin’ ‘round.

Now, most bags out there aren’t made with the pipe smoker in mind, so ya have to be creative in storin’ yer pipes. It can be a pain in the neck tryin’ to keep yer pipes secure so they don’t go knockin’ into each other. The Erik Stokkebye bag has been made from the ground up for pipe smokers, with pouches for two pipes, two tins, space for extra stuff ya want to bring, an’ a section for one of those new fangled tablets all the trendy folks like to carry with ‘em. There’s enough room here to keep ya prepared fer a day trip, or longer dependin’ on how much ya smoke. Personally, I could do for a larger bag, but fer most of ya lightweights; this should suffice.

B. J. Long Regular Pipe Cleaners (100 pack) $2.10

https://www.smokingpipes.com/accessories/pipe-supplies/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=238272

Now I ain’t one fer worryin’ about keepin’ my pipes clean, but even I like to keep a few pipe cleaners around for clearin’ up the occasional gurgle in my stem. B.J. Long is my personal choice for pipe cleaners, an’ they get the job done. Sure, pipe cleaners ain’t the most excitin’ thing to get under yer Christmas tree, but they’re never a bad thing to have with ya. You can also get the tapered and bristled versions, dependin’ on the job ya need ‘em fer.

The nice thing about pipe cleaners is ya can use ‘em for more than jus’ for yer pipe. As I said, a pipe smoker should be resourceful, and I’ve used mine durin’ some close calls out on duty. You’d be surprised at how much damage one can do with a pack of bristled pipe cleaners when ya put yer mind to it.

ThrowFlame.Com’s XL18 Flamethrower $3,199

Now yer playin’ with power! This sucker will get yer pipe lit no problem while ya incinerate the obstacles ol’ mother nature likes to throw at ya. The XL18 delivers incredible downrange power with a generous 110 foot range. Not to mention that you can hook up some napalm to this beast an’ really go to town. I’ve had squadmates in the past tell me it’s a bit overkill to light my pipe with it, but sometimes ya need more than a zippo to get the job done. Believe me, there ain’t no tobacco too damp that won’t light when ya use this beauty. It brings a tear to this hardened badger’s eye every time I use it.

The Ultimate Pipe Book by Richard Carleton Hacker (Used Prices Vary)

Pipesmoking: A 21st Century Guide $19.95

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0931253152/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

It might come to some as a surprise, but I do enjoy readin’ a good book when I have some down time; an’ what better way to unwind than readin’ the definitive book on pipe smokin’? Richard Carlton Hacker knows his briars and baccy, an’ he dumps all of his knowledge for all o’ us novices in the appropriately titled The Ultimate Pipe Book. While it’s been years since the book went out of print, you can still find a lot of useful information that you can use today.

The Ultimate Pipe Book covers a wide range of topics about pipe smokin’, an’ is the kind of book you can read a bit here an’ there without feelin’ like ya have to finish it in one go. The book’s topics range from the history of pipe smokin’, to how to pick the right pipe an’ tobacco, an’ how to properly collect pipes. There’s even a chapter dedicated to the lady pipe smokers out there, if ya can believe it. My personal favorite chapters focus on pipe smokers in real life an’ in fiction.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to before, the book is long out of print. However, it’s easy to find a used copy fer sale on yer favorite book buyin’ websites. If used books aren’t yer thing, there’s also Pipesmoking: A 21st Century Guide, which ya can buy new. While I don’t own the 21st Century Guide (yet), there’s enough new content in there to justify ownin’ both, as it has a lengthy pipe tobacco review section among other things. Buy both if ya want to have a solid pipe library.

Salamandastron by Brian Jacques, art by Gary Chalk $8.72

While my list is all about pipes, I couldn’t help m’self from addin’ a favorite book of mine. The late great Brian Jacques spent over twenty years writin’ the finest adventure series in all of literature, pennin’ over twenty books chronicling the events of Redwall Abbey, the fortress of Salamandastron, an’ the land of Mossflower country. In this book series, you’ll read about the heroic adventures of brave mice, fierce badgers, bold otters, humorous hares, an’ all sorts of memorable beasts an’ nasty villains that’ll stick with ya fer years to come. This ain’t jus’ fer kids, but readers of all ages, so don’t ya go scoffin’ at it.

While I’d recommend any of the books, my personal favorite has ta be Salamandastron. Salamandastron ain’t yer normal adventurin’ fantasy book— it’s an all out war, an’ the stakes ain’t never been higher in the series. The evil Ferahgo the Assassin an’ his Corpsemakers have laid siege on the fortress of Salamandastron, an’ it’s up to the fearless Badgerlord Urthstripe the Strong an’ his perilous band of hares in the Long Patrol to fend ‘em off. Redwall Abbey doesn’t have it easy either, as an outbreak of dryditch fever threatens to wipe out the peaceful creatures of the Abbey from within unless a cure can be found. Not only that, but the legendary Sword of Martin the Warrior has been stolen from the Abbey an’ must be returned to its rightful place. Bloody battles are fought, characters are killed, an’ heroes rise to the occasion. Add in legendary fantasy illustrator Gary Chalk’s whimsical art, an’ ya have a page turner that’ll keep ya readin’ well past lights out. There’s even an excellent audiobook version, if that’s more yer style.

Briar Report TV Coffee Mug $20 (with shipping included)

Ya might be surprised to learn ya can’t live on pipe smokin’ alone. I know, I couldn’t believe it when our troop’s medic told me that durin’ my boot camp days after passin’ out from dehydration. Turns out ya need to drink, too, an’ what better drink is there than coffee? Nowadays, I can’t start my day without a freshly brewed mug of Death Wish coffee. There’s only one mug that I reach for in the mornin’, an’ that’s my 16oz Briar Report TV mug. Now, I ain’t never stepped a paw in a bistro before, but if they have mugs like this, then I might have ta remedy that, stat. This glossy finished mug holds all the coffee I need in the mornin’, which is enough ta jumpstart my groggy noggin’ fer mornin’ inspection.

Not only are ya gettin’ the finest pipe related coffee mug ya can buy, but yer puttin’ yer money towards supportin’ the best pipe site on the web. Phil an’ the Briar Report team work tirelessly in informin’ all pipe smokers about what’s goin’ on in our favorite hobby, an’ they deserve our support in any way we can help ‘em. Plus, ya get a great mug ta go along with it. So pick up a mug or five, an’ enjoy the blessed black nectar.

 That ‘bout sums up my personal picks ya should be keepin’ yer eyes on this holiday season. Pipe smokers have their own preferences fer what they like, but there should be somethin’ here that everyone should enjoy.

Now ta put gifts aside fer a moment, I wanna take a moment ta speak directly to all of you maggots out there. While Christmas is a special time of the year, I know it ain’t everyone’s cup o’ joe. Certainly, I’ve spent many a Christmas away from loved ones alone on the battlefield. Maybe ya’ve lost loved ones durin’ the holidays, or ya had a bad experience that’s tainted the cheerful season.

Regardless of how ya feel ‘bout it, I want all of ya numbskulls out there to know that deep down inside, I appreciate every one of ya. It ain’t all ‘bout gettin’ gifts or eatin’ a fancy meal, it’s the people in yer life that matters. So even if the holidays make ya feel like yer in a foxhole all alone, remember that there’s someone out there that cares ‘bout ya.

Pa-tooie, that’s ‘nuff of that disgustin’ sent-e-mental stuff. Now go out there, have a pipe on the big day, an’ show that red house intruder who’s boss! ‘Till then, I have some business to take care of with this pipsqueak that keeps showin’ up on my shelf. I’ve got a whole list of holiday ‘activities’ to make that runt spill his beans. Let’s jus’ say those bristled pipe cleaners are gonna come in handy.

Now what are ya waitin’ fer? DIS-MISSED!

-Sgt. MacBadger

Here at TheBadgerPiper blog, I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 2019 has been an incredible year, and I couldn’t have done it without all of you reading my site.

When I started this little project, I figured it would be a fun way to talk about my favorite hobby that maybe a few people would read. I was honestly worried that I’d quickly run out of things to talk about, but the more I spent on it, the more I had to say. It wasn’t until late this year that I realized I needed to revamp my blog and organize it for newer readers. Hey, I’m a writer, not a design guy! Now, though, I’m happy with where the blog is at, but I’m not done with it yet! I already have multiple articles started for the new year, as well as some other pipe related projects I’m starting.

So for this Christmas season, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, full of joy and plenty of pipe smoke. I’ll see all of you in 2020!

-TheBadgerPiper

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Pipe Travels- The Missouri Meerschaum Factory

Outside the Factory

I don’t have it written down anywhere yet, but in my head I have a bucket list of places I’d like to visit that are pipe related in some way, be it a tobacco shop or a place I associate with pipes. One of these days I’ll get around to writing it down, and maybe even make an entry about it, but for now, know that one does exist up in my noggin. I’ve managed to scratch a few places off that list, like Peterson’s of Dublin and Uhle’s up in Milwaukee. After my trip back to Peterson’s, I didn’t think I’d actually have the opportunity to scratch another location off my list this year, but sometimes fate throws me a bone.

With Peterson’s scratched off my list for the past few years, the number one spot has been taken up by Washington, Missouri, the home base for the Missouri Meerschaum factory. It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog or follows my Instagram that I’m a corncob pipe fanatic. More often than not, you’ll see a picture of me enjoying one of my trusty cobs. Heck, I’m even a proud, patch-carrying member of Cob Nation #cobstrong.

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to check out the place where my favorite corn based pipes are carved, but I feared I’d never have the chance. Even though I live only one state away from Missouri, it’s a five-hour trip just to get there. It’s close enough that a trip is possible; yet far enough that convincing my wife to take the trip would be a fool’s errand. While the odds were stacked against me, I never gave up hope that once day I’d find an excuse to make my dream come true.

I never gave up that hope because Missouri and I go back, way back. For me, it’s a second home, as I spent five years of my life living in the Ozarks while at college. I met my wife in Missouri, and made my best friends there. However, all of this was before I smoked a pipe. See, smoking was forbidden at my seminary, so even owning a pipe would have been out of the question. In the five years I lived in the state, I never once even considered owning a corncob pipe. Yet cobs are everywhere in Missouri, from gas station shelves to hanging from the jaws of the hillbillies seen on highway billboards. I promised myself if I ever had the chance to go back to Missouri, I’d smoke a cob and make up for lost time. Thankfully, I finally had that chance this past November.

A college friend of mine announced that she was getting married, and asked my wife to be her maid of honor. My wife immediately accepted, and we learned the wedding would take place in Kansas City, Missouri. Finally, I had the chance I was looking for, so now all I had to do was convince my wife to make a small, minor detour.

I made my case to my wife about a month ago, asking if it was possible for us to stop in Washington during the drive. She wasn’t opposed to the idea until we checked Google maps for a possible route. Unfortunately, Washington was a bit out of the way from the fastest route, and the stop would add about three hours to our drive. My wife didn’t think that it was wise to make the stop, so for the moment it looked like my dream would have to remain just that. Being so close and yet so far, I half contemplated taking part of a day to make the trip while she worked on wedding stuff, but even that seemed unlikely.

Then, a few days before the trip, my wife surprised me with some good news. Apparently she had a change of heart, as she booked a hotel about a half hour away from Washington for the drive down to Kansas City. She would stay at the hotel for the morning and get some work done while I went off on my merry way to Washington. I thanked her, and promised I’d handle most of the driving for the trip, which I think is a fair trade.

A few days later, we drove down from Chicago to the outskirts of St. Louis to spend the night, listening to music from our college years out of nostalgia. Along the way, my wife asked me what part excited me the most about my upcoming trip to Missouri Meerschaum. There was only one answer, “Everything,” I said with a smirk. My wife laughed and said, “I should’ve known.” I gave her my real answer after that. Honestly, I was excited about finally seeing this mythical place with my own eyes. This place wasn’t just where my favorite corncobs were made, but it’s also a place of historical importance. Corncobs are total classic Americana, and I couldn’t wait to get the full experience.

The next morning, I felt right back at home during my solo drive to Washington. The winding and hilly back roads brought me back to my college days when my friends and I would escape from the city limits of Springfield after classes. This route snaked through small country towns, abandoned farm buildings, and rusted out vehicles decaying alongside the road. In some ways, it’s sad to see these languishing parts of America’s heartland, but at the same time, it reminds me of happy times travelling around as a young adult. Had I not been under a time crunch, I would’ve loved to just aimlessly drive and soak in all Missouri had to offer.

After travelling these old roads for roughly forty minutes, I crossed a long bridge that led into the first real city that I had encountered since leaving St. Louis. Washington, Missouri gives a wonderful first impression, as it’s quite a nice small town. It’s big enough to make a day visit, but doesn’t suffer from the congestion of a larger city like Kansas City, St. Louis, or even Springfield. There are plenty of restaurants and small shops for a visitor to walk around and explore, perfect for a spouse that would die from boredom following their pipe smoking significant other around.

The Missouri Meerschaum factory sits at the edge of downtown Washington, across from the great Missouri River. Between the factory and the river is the old Missouri Union Train Station, which has now been repurposed into multiple little shops. The current working station is only a stones throw away, but I couldn’t help but look around the retired station and admire the place while snapping a few pictures. The adventurer in me wanted to hop up on the old platform and wander about, but I didn’t exactly feel like chatting with the local law enforcement officers and be escorted out of town. What can I say? I’m not much of a rule breaker, which is probably why I’m not an urban explorer.

I took a walk around the Missouri Meerschaum factory building for a few moments, taking a good look at the place and getting a feel for my surroundings. Even from standing outside the place, I could smell the varnish used to seal the corncob pipes once they’ve been made, and I could hear the machines hard at work cranking out pipes to put out for the market. An official city plaque had been placed at the corner of the building, explaining the historical significance of the factory. Even though we live in a society that despises our hobby, it’s nice to see Washington honor the Missouri Meerschaum factory in this fashion.

I walked around the corner and made my way up to the factory’s retail store and museum. Stepping inside the shop honestly feels like turning the clock back in time to a different era, when pipes were commonplace and a respected business. According to Missouri Meerschaum’s site, their building dates back to the 1880’s, and that’s easily apparent within moments of being in the place. There’s not much in the room that’s all that modern, other than the register and TV. The old hardwood floor creaks with every step you make, which just sets the mood for the place like a saloon in a western. In the middle of the room sat three wooden rocking chairs, and it took every ounce of willpower not to sit in one and break out a cob and tin and have a smoke. Sadly, smoking isn’t allowed in the shop, otherwise I could see myself staying there for a long time, happily puffing away without a care in the world.

The retail store and museum is in an “L” shaped room, with the retail shop in the front section, and the museum taking up the back portion. The entire space is filled with items from the factory’s past, celebrating all things corn and corncob pipe. There’s even a large wooden corncob with “Welcome” carved into the piece, which I absolutely love, though some might find it corny *Insert Rimshot.

Immediately to my left sat a wall of corncob pipes, all styles and shapes represented for sale. As a corncob fanatic, I was in heaven. I’ve been to Missouri Meerschaum’s table at the Chicago Pipe Show, and while they always bring plenty of their stock, even that can’t hold a corn kernel to their inventory at the retail shop. The shop also boasts an impressive selection of pipe tobacco tins and jars. I expected to find Missouri Meerschaum’s pipe tobacco line to be there, but that’s just a small sample of their selection. Companies like Cornell & Diehl, MacBaren, G.L. Pease, Lane, Sutliff, Seattle Pipe Club, and others all sat on rows of shelves, with sample tins available for sniffing for every blend. A cabinet next to the shelves held multiple tobacco jars of bulk tobacco, giving the shopper a multitude of choices to mull over while they shopped.

The Retail Shop

Before I had much of a chance to look around, an employee stepped out from the office in the back and welcomed me to the shop. He asked me if he could be of assistance, but hey, I’m TheBadgerPiper, I’m what you call an expert. I have to give props to the guy, though, as he gave me space to shop around without hovering, and only pointed out merchandise around the shop when he thought it would be of interest. We even had a nice conversation about our favorite pipe tobacco tins. I welcomed the interruption to chat about good tobacco, considering how rare it is to find other pipe smokers.

Once the employee left me to my own devices, I immediately descended upon the corncob pipes. I felt like a kid in a candy store with all the choices in front of me and eagerly searched through the shelves for the right cobs. As much as I appreciate Missouri Meerschaum’s online store, there’s nothing like having the pipes in front of you instead of a picture and written out dimension measurements. You can pick up any cob you want, give it a thorough glance over, and decide if it’s up to snuff.

I told myself not to go wild in buying cobs, but when you have the entire line at your fingertips, restraint is the last thing on your mind. One of my goals is to one day collect one of every style of cob available and review them all for this blog, but now was not the time to make that happen. After all, I had to go back to my wife at the hotel, and the last thing I wanted to do was explain why I spent that much money on corncob pipes. I didn’t like the idea of spending a night or two sleeping on a hotel room floor.

Before the trip, I made a mental list of the cobs I was the most interested in purchasing. At the very top of that list was the Corndog, a bulldog style corncob specially made in honor of Missouri Meerschaum’s 150th year of operation. The corndog used to be part of Missouri Meerschaum’s standard line, but the shape had long been out of production. Missouri Meerschaum only made a certain amount of these 150th Anniversary corndogs, so if you missed it, you’re out of luck. Previously, I had the chance to buy one at the Chicago Pipe Show, but passed on it in favor of other pipes. With the cob no longer listed on their site, I knew if I didn’t find one at the retail shop, then I was out of luck for good. Thankfully, fate smiled upon me that day, as the shop had two corndogs left for purchase, perhaps the very last two corndogs in the wild. I snatched one for myself and left the last one for the next lucky individual hoping to buy one.

Besides the corndog, I picked up three other cobs— a Cobbit Shire pipe, a bent Emerald pipe, and the Briar Patch Forum Bing. While I’m not the biggest fan of churchwarden pipes, Dave from the Maple City Pipe Cast network told me the Cobbit Shire is his all-time favorite pipe. With that kind of praise, I had to give it a try. Plus, who doesn’t want a LOTR style cob? The Emerald was another cob I almost purchased at the Chicago Pipe Show. The bent version reminds me of a larger Charles Towne cob, not just from the acrylic stem, but in size as well. As for the Bing, it’s a style that’s unusual for a cob, and a briar Bing is near the top of my list of pipes I’d like to own. 

The retail shop also has gift sets of cobs you can buy, with two matching themed cobs in a bent and straight shape. They’re neat gifts to buy for the cob fan in your life, but I didn’t need one myself. I will say, the Let Freedom Ring set looks sharp, and I had to think about it for a moment. It comes with a straight 5th Avenue and a bent Rob Roy cob in a dark yellow stain and rugged finish. If you’re looking for a set to purchase, I’d suggest giving this one a chance.

With my cobs selected, it was time to check the pipe tobacco. This turned out to be a much more difficult task than I expected. When I made the trip, I figured I’d pick up one of the Missouri Meerschaum branded pipe tobacco pouches and call it a day. My plans quickly fell by the wayside as I discovered the sheer quantity of tobacco tins available for purchase. By buying a few tins at the retail store, I could pick up a few new blends I was interested in without having to deal with the postal service.

Here’s a little secret for all you blog readers, since I like you all— the retail shop has some hard to find tobacco that you can’t find on the usual sites. While scouring through their stock, I found tins for C&D’s The Haunting, as well as some of their small batch artisan blends like Sun Bear. The pipe websites like to post these new blends while I’m at work, so by the time I hear about them; they’re usually sold out. It’s not just C&D, either. They had MacBaren Old Dark Fired Plug in stock, too, and that sold out just as fast.

Because the retail store had open tins for all their stock, I took the opportunity to go up to all the tins I haven’t tried, popped the tin open, and took a sniff. Even if I couldn’t buy every tin I was interested in, I could at least smell them and make a note to buy them later. Maybe one day science will create a computer that offers the option for smell-o-vision, but until then, this was my only chance to sample all these blends.

In the end, I decided not to buy any of their small batch tobacco. Instead, I picked up two C&D blends—their Christmas blend of Corn Cob Pipe and a Button Nose, and Redburn. Corn Cob and a Button Nose has been on my “to try” list for some time, so I wasn’t going to let it pass me by this time, especially with it in front of me. I also went with Redburn, as it reminded me of both Blockade Runner and Black Frigate, two Navy blends that are mainstays in my weekly blends. I might’ve passed on Redburn while ordering online, but thanks to being able to smell a sample of it; I knew it was a winner. Just goes to show you that while online ordering is great, there are advantages to going to an actual tobacconist to see what they have. Otherwise, I might’ve missed out on a great blend.

The retail shop has more than just cobs and tobacco for sale. In addition to normal pipe shop items like pipe tools, rubber bits, and wind caps, there’s a wide variety of Missouri Meerschaum themed merchandise available. You can show the world your cob pride with coffee mugs, shot glasses, duck callers, patches, t-shirts, hoodies, bandanas, baseball hats, posters, and postcards. I was highly impressed with the ceramic coffee mugs, as they put most of the coffee mugs I own at home to shame. I had a hard time putting it back, but cobs were my priority. You can find all of these items on their web store, though, and would make for a great stocking stuffer, along with a cob of course. I did end up adding in a postcard and poster, as both were a buck each, and make for great souvenirs for the pipe corner in my basement.

After purchasing cobs and tobacco at the counter, it was time to move into the museum portion of the shop. The museum isn’t all that big, but there’s enough cool memorabilia to justify a visit. Before I began, there was a guestbook sitting by one of the display cabinets, surrounded by leaflets for pipe clubs and local areas of interest. The guestbook had signatures of visitors from all around the world, and I enjoyed reading all the places people hailed from that stopped by the shop. Of course, I had to make my mark and sign the guestbook, providing proof that I made my visit. If you stop at the store, you’ll find my signature in there somewhere. 

The museum consisted of a few different display cabinets spread out in the larger part of the back of the room. Every shelf had at least two or three antique cobs sitting around, many of them being shapes that were out of production. The cabinets by the guest book detailed the history of the Missouri Meerschaum factory, and corncob pipes in general. The top shelf told the story of Henry Tibbe and how he carved his first corncob pipe in the 1800’s. From one simple pipe, Tibbe built an empire that’s still going strong today. The shelf had a lot of information and photos showing the progression of the company, including how they were responsible for bringing electricity to Washington, MO. As someone that only knew a fraction of Tibbe’s story, I found it fascinating how important the factory and Tibbe family was in the history of Washington.

The shelf below had letters from important people who wrote to the Missouri Meerschaum Company. Most of the letters came from politicians, who thanked the company for sending them a package of corncob pipes. One politician in particular wrote to thank them, saying that while he didn’t smoke a pipe, another gentleman in his office was making good use of the cobs. Overall, none of the letters were earthshattering, but I found it interesting.

The centerpiece letter came from General Douglas MacArthur himself, thanking the company for sending him one of the famous cobs that now bears his name. Considering that General MacArthur is one of the most iconic corncob pipe smokers in history, it only makes sense that the company would devote part of their museum to the famous General. Next to the General’s letter proudly sat a 5-Star General cob, a shape that’s still in production today. One interesting factoid I learned at the museum involved one of MacArthur’s peculiar quirks that he’d do with each of his cobs. Whenever General MacArthur broke in a new 5-Star cob, he would take his lighter and burn a ring in the middle of the shank of his cob. All MacArthur cobs in production today come with that ring pre-burnt into the shank in honor of the General’s unique habit.

The middle section of the museum focused on corncob pipes in popular culture. There were comic books featuring Popeye and Frosty the Snowman, the two biggest corncob pipe smokers in fiction today. Everyone’s favorite cob smoking sailor man even had a wooden statue of himself on one of the shelves, with a little cob sticking out of his mouth.  MacArthur and Mark Twain also had small sections devoted to them here, as both are well known for their love of cobs. Besides some old advertisements for the Missouri Meerschaum Company, they also displayed some older shapes devoted to specific people, such as the Ty Cobb cob, as well as a cob in honor of Popeye’s hometown of Chester, Illinois. Seeing these old cobs in person was a real treat, and makes me wish the Missouri Meerschaum Company would consider doing some small runs of these forgotten shapes. With the success of the corndog, one can hope that Missouri Meerschaum will surprise their fans with another old shape making a comeback. I, for one, would be at the front of the line for one of those Ty Cobb pipes.

The last cabinet section was devoted to the history of the tobacco pipe. A row of pipes was laid out, with an information card describing each pipe and their place in history. The pipes started with stone pipes, moving onto clays, and briars, and everything in-between. The display was a nice primer for visitors who might not be as familiar with the history of pipes, as well as many examples of each kind of pipe.

The St. Louis Worlds Fair Corncob Pipe Displays from 1904

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole museum had to be the memorabilia and historical items scattered throughout the room. At the top of the room above the first display cabinet sat two dusty old art pieces, two boards covered from top to bottom in corncob pipes, each with their own unique pattern. To a normal passer-by, these two dusty displays might not seem worthy of any real significance, perhaps a curiosity at best. However, these aren’t just for some art project to decorate the museum. The Missouri Meerschaum Company created these displays all the way back for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and are over 115 years old. It’s amazing that these two historically significant art pieces have are still hanging up in the museum and weren’t lost to time.

In the back corner of the room sat what I like to call the Corncob Throne. The throne consisted of a wooden chair, with tons of corncob pipes with amber stems sticking out on top of the back. The chair reminded me of the Iron Throne, seen in HBO’s The Game of Thrones, but with a focus on pipes rather than swords. I imagine any pipe smoker out there would love to have a chair like this in their smoking spot. I mean, come on, it’s a chair decorated with corncob pipes! Despite being a huge corncob pipe fan, I didn’t myself worthy of having such an honor. I’ve seen enough Indiana Jones films to know what happens when you presume you deserve something. Knowing my luck, I’d probably dissolve into pipe ash and corn kernels. This is a seat worthy for someone like Aristocob, not some simple blogger such as myself.

The Cob Throne

Once I finished up at the museum, it was time to wrap up my visit. So after one more look around the place, I stepped outside and headed out to my car. However, I wasn’t quite ready to head back to my hotel room, and I wanted to look around Washington a bit more. So I loaded up my 150th Anniversary Corndog cob with a codger blend— Lane’s Ready Rubbed, fired up the bowl with my pipe lighter, and took a stroll down the sloping Missouri streets surrounding the factory.

I took in the scenery while puffing my new cob and thought how fortunate the Missouri Meerschaum Factory was to be located in such a wonderful small town. Sitting on the banks of the mighty Missouri river, built atop the soil of America’s heartland, the very DNA of the Missouri Meerschaum factory is as Americana as they come. It’s true that Washington doesn’t have the same draw as St. Louis or Kansas City, but it provides more of a picturesque and idyllic setting to spend a day away from the madness of the crowds. 

As the tobacco burned low in my cob, and I leaned next to that old, out-of-commission train station, I found it hard to leave this quaint, yet welcoming city. While my visit had unfortunately come to an end, I dearly hoped that one day I could return and make another visit to the Missouri Meerschaum factory. And if you ever find yourself driving through the “Show Me” state and have some spare time, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than in Washington, MO.

Until next time, you’ll find me here, breaking in my new cobs. Happy puffing, my friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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*On a side note, if you do go to the Missouri Meerschaum factory, I highly suggest you use the bathroom beforehand, or save it until after. The retail store and museum doesn’t have a bathroom available for customers, so you’ll have to walk two blocks away to the public market. Kinda annoying, but at least there’s a public restroom close by. Be warned.

Pipe Tobacco Review- Gawith, Hoggarth & Co. – Ennerdale Flake

This is an old review I wrote of Ennerdale Flake for tobaccoreviews.com, back from July of 2015. Since I never posted it to the blog, I decided to bring it over here and keep all my reviews in one convenient spot.

Ennerdale Flake holds a special place in my heart. Before Ennerdale, I never had the desire to write a review for pipe tobacco. However, after smoking one bowl of Ennerdale Flake, I enjoyed the blend so much that I had to tell others about the wonders of Lakeland tobacco.

Even four years later, I still feel just as firm in my opinion on Ennerdale as when I wrote this review. In fact, if I could choose one tobacco to never run out of, I’d choose Ennerdale in a heartbeat, and it’s not because it’s so difficult to find in stock. The floral aroma and sweet flavor of this flake continues to satisfy me with every smoke, and I pack my pipe with it every time I want to treat myself.

Image from Pipesandcigars.com

Having been a fan of PipesandCigar’s Lakeland Brickle, I decided to pick up a new blend that had a healthy dose of Lakeland topping. I have a limited supply of Lakeland Brickle, and so far, I don’t see it being reproduced, so a replacement is needed. Hearing positive recommendations about Ennerdale, I decided to purchase a few ounces of it on a whim on IPSD 2015.

Since Lakeland blends have a notorious reputation on ghosting a pipe, I picked out a cob, rubbed the flake out, and wandered out to my writing hole to try out the blend while working on my novel. The blend itself was quite easy to light and get going, so it didn’t require much drying time at all. I was able to pack my pipe and take it out right away for a test run.

Upon lighting up, I could clearly taste the Lakeland topping. If you don’t like the perfume taste and scent of Lakeland blends, then you probably won’t like this at all. Me though, I quite enjoyed it. I settled into a steady rhythm of contently puffing away on my cob while enjoying the blend. The flavor remained strong through the entire bowl until the tobacco burned to a fine white ash. I was sad when the bowl ended, which is always a sign of a quality blend in my book.

Leaving my writing hole to go in the house for a few minutes, I returned back outside and took in a whiff of the evening air. Even from my stairs I could distinctly smell the room note of Ennerdale from a considerable distance from my writing hole. It reminded me of those perfumes in cartoons that would turn into a wispy hand and lead a character back to the source by the nose. Likewise, Ennerdale had me under its spell, and off to Ebay I marched to purchase a pipe I could singularly devote to it, as well as a few more ounces on my next online order from PipesandCigars.com.

So now I know the wondrous flake that is Ennerdale, and its become an entrenched blend in my weekly rotation. While I will continue seeking out similar Lakeland blends, Ennerdale undoubtedly will be a hard act to follow.

Pipe Used: Corn Cob/Jobey Billiard

Age When Smoked: A few months

Purchased From: pipesandcigars.com

Similar Blends: G&H Glengarry Flake; Kendal Plug.

My Verdict: four out of four stars

Have you tried a Lakeland blend? I know they tend to be divisive blends. For me, I can’t get enough of them! Leave a comment and let me know what you think of them.

Until next time friends, happy puffing!

-TheBadgerPiper

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A Review of Sutliff’s Eastfarthing

When I first smoked a pipe, I started out with aromatic blends. Yet, like many pipe smokers out there, I gradually moved onto English blends, then VaPers, Burley, and so on. Over time, my aromatic blends collected dust in my cellar, and I soon gifted my unused aromatics to newer pipe smokers who would appreciate the blends more than I did. I certainly don’t sneer my nose up at aromatics like some out there, but my tastes naturally changed to more complex blends.

Still, I have a fondness for a good aromatic. After all, most of us probably gained an interest in pipe smoking from smelling a codger blend, so I’m always on the lookout for a pleasing aromatic that I can still enjoy. In my opinion, the best pipe tobacco blends on the market combine a pleasing aroma without sacrificing a good tobacco flavor.

I recently picked up a tin of Sutliff’s Eastfarthing, after hearing some of my online pipe buddies rave about the blend. I decided to give the blend a try, though I didn’t pay much attention to what kind of blend it was until it arrived. I wanted to go into Eastfarthing blind and make up my mind on my own. If I had known it was considered an aromatic, I might not have picked it up.

Image from PipesandCigars.com

After Eastfarthing arrived, I read the description printed on the label, which read, “Mature red Virginias, stoved burley & aged Latakia with a hint of sweetness.” Red Virginias? Good. Stoved burley? Excellent, I love burley. Aged Latakia? So it’s an English blend. I’m game. A hint of sweetness? Well, I do have a sweet tooth; so don’t mind if I do.

I popped the tin and went ahead and gave the tobacco a sniff. I could smell the wondrous aroma of vanilla, my favorite kind of aromatic. I knew at least the room note of Eastfarthing would be a winner, if nothing else. However, the tobacco in the tin was quite damp, so I put some out to dry overnight to smoke the next day. If you end up trying Eastfarthing for yourself, I highly recommend letting it dry, or you’re going to have a rough time getting the tobacco lit.

The next day, I loaded up my large Peterson XL14 with the dried Eastfarthing and headed out to my garage to smoke. The tobacco still had a tiny bit of moisture to it, even after being out for 24 hours, but leaving it out made it suitable for smoking. Your drying time my vary depending on your preferred method.

The tobacco lit easily in my pipe, and I sat back and puffed away, paying close attention to how the blend smoked. It didn’t take long for Eastfarthing to convert me into a fan. I could taste the aged Latakia in the smoke, solidifying it as an English blend to my palate. Yet like the description says, there was also a definite sweetness in the mix, making it more of a dessert English blend.

Now, as most pipe smokers quickly learn as they take up the pipe, usually the smoker is immune to the room note of the pipe as they puff. However, as I smoked Eastfarthing, my nostrils detected a distinctive change in the air. I removed my pipe from my mouth and took a long sniff to smell what it was.

Ah, there it is, I thought to myself with a smile as I resumed puffing away. There’s that classic pipe smell I’ve missed.

Folks, Eastfarthing smells exactly as a pipe tobacco should—rich, deep, and earthy. It reminded me of all the times I walked by a pipe smoker in the past before I took up the pipe. As soon as I’d smell that warm aroma, I’d stop in my tracks and look for the source. Sure enough, I’d find a pipe smoker, puffing away without a care in the world. Despite having Latakia in the blend, it doesn’t have that campfire smell that some find off-putting, but you will taste it.

The name Eastfarthing comes from a location in the Lord of the Rings books, and I think it’s an appropriate title. This is the type of tobacco I can see hobbits, dwarves, elves, and men all keeping in their pouches as they travel Middle Earth. I know some pipe smokers say Eastfarthing reminds them of Frog Morton Cellar. I never had the chance to try Cellar, but it reminds me of another LOTR style blend that’s sadly disappeared—Just for Him’s Shortcut to Mushrooms. As much as I liked STM, I’d wager to say I actually like Eastfarthing a bit more. For me, it’s a bit of a richer smoke than what I remember of STM.

Eastfarthing is a complex blend, and Sutliff should be commended for their work. This is a pipe tobacco for absolutely everyone— both the smoker and those around them. The flavor is full of sweet English goodness while still retaining that classic pipe smell that reminds non-smokers of favorite pipe smoking relatives.

So if you’re in the market for a blend that manages to combine the best of an English blend and an aromatic, I highly recommend you take a long holiday to Eastfarthing.

My rating for this blend: 4 out of 4 stars.

The Piper of LaGrange

Back when I kid in the 90’s, my dad would drag me out of the house, away from my beloved video games, and go with him on little excursions against my will. See, my dad is a RC plane enthusiast, and he spent his evenings back then in the garage or basement working on his latest project. Despite my father’s best attempts, he never could quite pique my interested in his favorite pastime. Don’t get me wrong, my dad has a talent for model planes, and he made some great ones. It just wasn’t for me. As a result of his hobby, I spent many an afternoon or hot summer Saturday on the flying field while my dad flew his planes. My sister and I will sometimes reminisce on how we’d go on adventures in the surrounding fields, climbing trees and exploring, rather than watching my dad fly. As boring as it was, it gave me ample time to use my imagination to pass the time.

About once a week, though, my dad would take me along to the local hobby shop in LaGrange, Illinois. He’d usually spend about an hour at the shop, chatting with the employees and customers while I was left to peruse the shop and entertain myself. Unfortunately, at my age, nothing at the shop really captured my interest. I certainly had my hobbies at that age, but it was limited to video games, comic books, and super hero action figures.

It’s a shame, because looking back; there were tons of cool stuff to find at the store. I just wasn’t at the right stage in life to truly appreciate what was there. Sure, the shop had model plane stuff, but it also had Dungeons & Dragons modules, military and fantasy miniatures, war-gaming books, and monster model kits. However, if I came home with something like a book on D&D, my mother would’ve thrown a fit and taken me to our pastor for prayer.

There were a ton of other shops and restaurants in the area by the hobby shop, and I’d look at them as my dad drove by to find a parking spot. As I paid more attention to the surroundings over the years, there was one shop that caught my eye, and I can still see it vaguely, even after all these years. Given the subject material of this blog, I can assume you already know what kind of shop it was.

The little store was called The Piper of LaGrange, and what a marvelous looking tobacco shop it was. This wasn’t one of those discount tobacco places, either, but a classic tobacconist. If memory serves me right, the shop had a sign with the outline of the Pied Piper playing his pipe, advertising the shop. On the store window, it listed the items it had for sale. “The Pied Piper of LaGrange. Pipes, Tobacco, Cigars, Darts, and Billiards Supplies.” Can you think of a better store to spend time in? It sold practically everything I’d be interested in now. Even today, few tobacconists could promote themselves that would get me to come in quite like The Piper of LaGrange.

Remember, I was a youngster at the time, below smoking age, and I didn’t personally have a pipe smoker in my life to impart any sort of memories with the hobby. Yet despite this, that Pied Piper might as well have been playing his tune for me, because he had me under his spell. I never would’ve admitted my pipe interest to anyone at the time, but I so wanted to sneak out of the hobby shop and make my way to that store. Of course, if I had, I’m sure the storeowner would’ve told me to scram until I was older, but that’s not the point. I had to see what the Piper of LaGrange looked like inside. Unfortunately, my dad smoked cigarettes, so he had no need to step inside The Piper of LaGrange, so the tobacco shop had to remain a mystery to me.

The Pied Piper

Instead, all I had was my imagination to give me an idea of what was inside. Based on the other stores in the surrounding area, I’m sure it was a cozy tobacco shop, with numerous new and estate pipes resting on the shelves (hopefully not the cursed kind), jars of Lane tobacco listed as house blends, countless tins of blends gone by, and anything a pipe smoker would need. I’m sure the shop had regulars that came around to smoke and chat, with its own little community.

At some point when I decided I’d smoke a pipe one day, I made a promise to myself that when I was of age and could drive myself, I’d make the trip to the Piper and finally get that glimpse inside with my own eyes. If I hadn’t picked up pipe smoking beforehand, I certainly would have then. I’d wander into the shop and pick out my first pipe, my first tobacco blend, and learn from someone knowledgeable about the ways of smoking a pipe. If all went according to plan, I could even become a regular myself and be known on a first name basis as I picked up my latest tin or pouch.

Sadly, time ever marches on, and as the years pass, so does the landscape of a city street. One day, around the age of 18, I went to the hobby shop with my dad and passed by The Piper of LaGrange. The window store was empty with the exception of a ‘For Sale’ sign, and the glass art had been wiped clean. The tobacconist had closed up shop for good, and my chance had slipped through my fingers. It didn’t matter, as I wouldn’t take up pipe smoking until ten years later, and I never would’ve tried it while living at home. My dreams were dashed, and the store would forever remain a mystery to me. A different tobacco shop appeared a few blocks down, but from its appearance, I could tell it was predominately focused on cigars. Even that shop is gone now, so that’s also not an option.

Since then, I’ve searched online for any sort of information on The Piper of LaGrange, but given that the store closed on the cusp of the internet age, all that remains is an old phone number that I’m sure leads to nowhere. There’s no discussion about the old shop on pipe pages past, and I’ve yet to run into a person that’s heard of it. A search on Google images doesn’t bring up their storefront, so all I have are my memories.

It’s a shame really. While I still ended up becoming a pipe smoker, that all happened due to my own determination. I didn’t have a Piper of LaGrange to drive to so I could learn from someone in person how to smoke a pipe. Instead, my mentors were pipe websites and youtubers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think there’s something special about learning how to smoke a pipe with a fellow piper guiding you.

It’s times like this that make me wish I had a time machine to go back to spend a lazy afternoon at The Piper of LaGrange. Some might call that a waste of time travel, but at least I wouldn’t be messing with the timeline, and there’s no risk of running into my past self inside the shop for a time paradox. Maybe one day one of those internet geniuses will figure it all out, but until then it’s an opportunity lost.

I lament the loss of The Piper of LaGrange, because it’s rare to find a tobacco shop that focuses on pipes these days. Most tobacconists are focused on cigars or—other things, and while there are pipe focused shops out there, they’re not easy to find. As much as I appreciate online shops, nothing can take the place of a reliable brick and mortar.

Sometimes I daydream about being a tobacconist myself, taking up shop in a small town and focusing it on pipes and pipe tobacco. Unfortunately, with the current climate of everyone being anti-tobacco, it seems like my hopes will remain just that, pipe dreams.

Still, I think about what kind of shop I’d like to run, and what I’d put into it. If I had any shop to base it on, it would have to be like The Piper of LaGrange, or at least the one in my imagination. I can tell you one thing; it wouldn’t look like the bland, Apple store wannabe vape shops with neon signs I see in every city. I turn away in disgust every time I see one of those places.

Instead, I’d keep it classy, with a vintage feel to the shop. I’d buy antique furniture for customers to sit in and smoke as they chatted with fellow customers, with old advertisements and classic tobacco tins on the wall for décor. The walls would have all kinds of pipes for sale, tobacco tins, as well as house-blended tobacco inside large jars. I’d have a coffee machine available for customers, and a small library of books for those looking to escape into a novel. There would be a sound system set up, with classical music playing to set the atmosphere. I’d even have a dartboard set up for people to play a few rounds for fun. I think I’d call it The Badger’s Briar Shop, or something along those lines.

Of course, these are as I said, pipe dreams, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

So until next time, I’ll light my pipe in honor of The Piper of LaGrange and bid you all a good day and happy puffing.

-TheBadgerPiper

~\U~\U~\U~\U~\U

Salt and Sulfur

            It was an early November evening last year when I made the drive down to The Briar and Stogie Outpost for my monthly pipe club meeting. The weather was cold, wet, and miserable, as you would expect for November; but around the Great Lakes region, we can get some real nasty fall squalls. Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t joking when he talked about the Witch of November on the lakes, as this was real shipwreck weather. I was delayed a half-hour on the highway as emergency crews took care of one poor driver that underestimated the fury of that evening’s storm.

            Still, the drive was worth it, if only for the good company that awaited me inside the tobacco shop. As soon as I stepped in the shop, I was greeted with the welcome aroma of pipe tobacco and the murmuring of friendly conversations well underway.

            I’m proud to say our pipe club has a diverse group of gentlemen that calls themselves members. We have everyone from young and eager new pipers, to the old guard representing decades of pipe knowledge. Most of the chairs around the tables already had occupants, so I found an open spot next to some of the older gentlemen as the club president gathered his notes to start the meeting. I sat my iced coffee on the table and spread out some of the tobacco I brought as the club president got down to business.

            For the next half hour, our club president talked about the latest goings on with the club, from upcoming events during the next year, to recent news in the pipe world. I quietly lit my pipe and listened along, making notes of an upcoming pipe swap on the calendar of my phone.

            Before long, the formal portion of the meeting was over, and the attendees were free to enjoy some catered food along with more smoking. All along the table, the members had tins open and available for others to sample and share with friends. As a pipe smoker, you couldn’t ask for better company and surroundings to enjoy tobacco.

            About an hour later, I was chatting with another younger member about estate pipes we had recently purchased online. My friend showed off a nice looking Chacom Billiard he snagged at a steal on eBay and passed it to me to take a look at. I likewise produced the Savinelli Apple that I won after a vicious bidding war during the last few minutes of an online auction.

            As the two of us shared our auction war stories, I heard a chuckle coming from the gentleman next to me. We paused our conversation and glanced over at my neighbor in confusion at his laughter. The man seemed embarrassed that we had heard his chuckling and replied, “Oh, don’t mind me. I’ve long given up searching for old estate pipes. It’s new pipes for me, and new only.”

            The man was an older gentleman, in his early 60’s from my estimates. His moustache and side parted hair had long turned grey, and a large pair of glasses sat down near the tip of his nose. He wore a comfortable looking sweater, as well as a well-worn pair of blue jeans. His attitude wasn’t combative at all, merely interested in joining the discussion, as the others around him were busy discussing the upcoming football game.

            “Really?” my friend asked in bewilderment. “You can find some incredible deals for used pipes online. It’s a great way to build up a collection.”

            “I don’t doubt it,” replied the older gentleman as he filled an old Parker Bulldog from his tin of Crown Achievement. “But at least with a new pipe you know you’re the only owner. Can’t say the same with an estate. You’re never quite sure who had the pipe before you, at least if you’re lucky.”

            “I suppose so,” I said, not sure what the man was hinting at. “Some pipe smokers don’t take care of their pipes like they should.”

            “In some cases,” agreed the man as he struck a match and lit his pipe. “Other times, the estate leaves a part of the previous smoker behind with it.” The gentleman passed his tin over to us to share as he extinguished his match,

            “I take it you’ve had a bad experience with an estate you’ve bought?” asked my friend as he eagerly opened the tin to fill his Chacom.

            “That’s a bit of an understatement,” answered the man as he tamped the newly lit tobacco down in his pipe. “But it’s a long story, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be interested.”

            “Please, go on,” I assured the man. “I love hearing pipe stories.”

            Seeing that we were willing to hear his tale, the man relaxed and decided to indulge us. The man introduced himself as Benjamin ‘Benji’ Hodge, and explained he had been a member of our pipe club since the early 80’s. I had seen Benji around since joining the club the year before, but given the size of our group, I hadn’t had much of a chance to chat with him. So once the three of us had our pipes lit and going, Benji leaned back in his chair and recounted his tale. Though it’s been almost a year since I heard Benji’s story, I’ll do my best to retell what he told us that blustery night.

            It was a warm Saturday afternoon in September 1982 when Benji stepped off the train at Union Station in downtown Chicago. He had travelled from Berwyn to Chicago to visit his sister at her house on the North side. His sister and her husband had recently had their second daughter, and he was meeting with the rest of his family at their place for a family barbeque to celebrate the happy occasion. Having arrived a few hours early, Benji decided he would stop at a local tobacconist he frequented whenever he was in the area. So after a quick trip on the L line, Benji made his way over to the little shop, simply called The Smoking Room and stopped inside to pass the time.

             The Smoking Room was a favorite spot for the local smokers in the neighborhood to visit with friends while enjoying a pipe or cigar. Established in 1919 by Karl Plunkett, the tobacco shop had been around for decades by this point, taken over by Karl’s son Oscar in 1954 when the founder retired. Slow to change with the times, many of the original finishings and décor remained the same from when it first opened, giving the customers the feeling of stepping back in time as soon as they walked in the shop. The rectangular shop stretched all the way back through the building, with boxes of cigars, jars of pipe tobacco, and pipes of varying grades lining the walls. Benji felt at home in the shop, even if he was the youngest person there whenever he paid a visit.

            Business was active at The Smoking Room, as one would expect on a lazy Saturday afternoon. A crowd of about nine gentlemen sat in the back around the radio, listening intently to the White Sox game as they puffed on their cigars and pipes. Oscar Plunkett stood behind the counter, showing a middle-aged man a box of fine cigars as he chomped on one of his own. Oscar was a large man with a crown of grey hair surrounding a shiny bald spot, wearing a white dress shirt with bowtie and sagging suspenders. The tobacconist was quite the character, outspoken and loud, yet gregarious and friendly to his customers. Oscar nodded a greeting to Benji as the young man paced around the room, glancing around at the pipe tobacco on the wall. Not wanting to feel out of place, Benji pulled out his straight billiard pipe and filled it with his pouch before adding his own smoke to the stuffy tobacco shop.

            Benji planned on buying some tobacco while visiting The Smoking Room, but with time on his hands, the young man decided he would take a look at the estate pipe case and see if any of the used pipes caught his eye. Benji had taken up pipe smoking as a freshman in college, with the help and guidance of his roommate, Ralph Willkie. However, due to being a poor college student, Benji only had about handful of pipes in his collection. Now that he had a full time job, Benji had a bit more spending money for filling out his pipe racks with nicer pipes than the knock around ones that got him through school.

            The estate pipe case held a treasure trove of old pipes looking for new homes, ranging from all types of styles and countries of origin. The top shelf held the higher priced pipes, from great gourd calabashes, to exotic hand carved meerschaums. The next shelf held plenty of classic Dunhill’s to lavish freehands carved by the Danish masters. Sasieni, Comoy, Peterson, Savinelli, Stanwell, and others were all represented in the shelves below, each crying out to Benji like puppies and kittens in a pet store looking for a home. The young man eyed them all as he searched from row to row for a pipe that might fit his budget.

            Benji had his eye on a Blue Ribbon Comoy Rhodesian when Oscar strolled over to the estate pipe counter, having completed the transaction at the counter with his customer. The tobacconist leaned on the counter and glanced down at the pipe Benji was debating over and chimed in, “Afternoon, Mr. Hodge. Care to take a closer look at that Rhodesian?”

             Benji scratched his chin as he puffed thoughtfully on his pipe. “I really shouldn’t, but sure, why don’t ya pull it out for me?”

            Oscar was more than happy to oblige, and pulled the Rhodesian out of the case before handing it over to Benji. The young man took a look over the Rhodesian, checking the briar for any fills or defects that might turn him away from buying the pipe. As far as he could tell, the pipe had no obvious flaws in it, and was only lightly smoked. Benji considered buying the pipe for a moment, until he took a look at the price tag dangling on the string connected to the stem—$35.

            Benji gawked at the price, though he hid his reaction from the tobacconist. $35 was a bit out of his budget for Benji to spend on a whim. The young man passed the pipe back to Oscar and remarked, “I’ll have to think about that one.”

            Ever the salesman, Oscar glanced at the price tag and said, “I could knock the price down a few bucks for ya. How does $32 sound?”

            “Every bit helps, but if I walked out of here with it I’d be eating cans of tuna for a week,” admitted Benji with a laugh. “I’ll keep it in mind after I save up a bit.”

            “Understandable my good man,” replied Oscar as he placed the Comoy back in its original spot. “Of course, I can’t promise it’ll be here when ya come back.”

            “It’s a risk I’ll have to take, unfortunately,” said Benji as he knelt down to look at other pipes in the case.

            Oscar stood back and puffed his stubby cigar as Benji continued his search, careful to give the young man space to pick a pipe on his own. Though Oscar was eager to make a sale, he had long learned not to get too pushy when selling his wares, lest he scare off a potential sale. As he watched Benji, he remembered something he had in the back, and snapped his fingers.

            “Tell ya what,” said Oscar as Benji glanced up from his kneeling position. “I’ve got a box of estates in the back that haven’t been cleaned yet. I’ll grab it and you can sift through ‘em, in case ya find something that catches yer fancy. I’ll even throw in a discount, since they need a bit of elbow grease.”

            Benji’s ears perked up the moment he heard the word ‘discount’, and replied, “Sure, I’ll take a look at ‘em.” Benji didn’t mind buying an estate to restore. He had previously purchased a few estates during his college years that needed cleaning and was well acquainted with the sanitizing process. Plus, the more pipes Benji could pick from, the better.

            Oscar excused himself to the back, and a minute later came back holding a dusty cardboard box, which he placed on the counter. Benji pushed the flaps out of the way and peered inside the musty smelling box. Inside were roughly twenty or so different briar pipes, each in varying states of disrepair.

            “That’s been sitting in the back for about a month,” admitted Oscar as he stubbed out the last of his cigar in a nearby ashtray. The tobacconist pulled out a billiard pipe of his own and was soon filling it with his tobacco pouch. “My pipe restorer has been out sick, and my employees don’t exactly care for doin’ the work themselves. Can’t blame ‘em, it’s not a job I enjoy doin’, either.”

            “I think can understand why,” said Benji as he held up a heavily caked Custombilt pipe that was in desperate need for a reaming.

            From what Benji could tell, most of the estates in the box were of the budget lines of pipe brands and dominated by billiards, ranging from Longchamps to Yellow Boles. Still, there were some pipes that caught Benji’s interest. There was a large bent Wellington system pipe that had a charm to it despite its rough condition, as well as a BBB Apple that didn’t need too much cleaning.

            As Benji pushed aside a filthy looking Kristin that wasn’t worth cleaning, he spotted a pipe that seemed out of place with the others. Resting on its side in the back of the box was a black pipe with a telltale white spot on its stem. While Benji wasn’t exactly an expert at identifying pipes from a simple glance, the young pipe smoker knew a Dunhill when he saw one.

            Without a second thought, Benji snatched the Dunhill out of the box and took a closer look at the pipe. The Dunhill was a bent billiard, stained with a glossy black coat and a shell finish. Compared to the other pipes in the box, this one seemed to be in better condition than all the others, with no cake built up in the bowl. The pipe needed a good polishing and sanitizing, and the stale scent from the bowl made his nose turn, but other than that, the bent billiard appeared to be as fine condition as the other Dunhills in the case.

            As Benji turned the pipe in his hands, he spotted the only flaw he could find on the entirety of the billiard. On the bottom of the bowl, the letters “SB” had been scratched into the wood. Benji frowned and moved his thumb over the grooved letters. The scratches weren’t too deep, and Benji surmised he could find an easy remedy from one of his fellow pipe-smoking friends. As disappointing as the discovery was, it wasn’t enough to deter Benji from the opportunity to buy a discounted Dunhill.

            “How much for this one?” asked Benji as he extended the pipe over to Oscar.

            The tobacconist finished tamping his newly lit pipe and took a look at the billiard. Oscar made a disgusted face upon recognizing the Dunhill and handed the pipe back to Benji as though it pained him to touch it.

            “Oh, that one,” grumbled Oscar as he crossed his arms. “You’d be doing me a favor buying it, but I’m not sure you’d want it.”

            Benji made a confused face and removed his pipe from his mouth. “Are you kidding? Why wouldn’t I want a Dunhill?”

            Oscar snorted as he tamped the ash down in his pipe. “That pipe’s been in and out of my shop since I first acquired it years ago. Every time someone buys it, they come back a few weeks later lookin’ to trade it for something else. Every last one of ‘em complains that ya can’t get a good smoke out of it. Somethin’ about it sours whatever tobacco ya smoke in it.”

            “Really? Have they tried cleaning it?” asked Benji.

            “Some of ‘em have,” replied Oscar. “I’ve even had my restorer take a crack at it at least twice. For some reason, no matter what people do to it, it always comes back like a bad habit. Truth be told, I’m ready to toss the blasted thing in the trash an’ take the loss.”

            Benji puffed his pipe for a moment while listening to Oscar as the cogs in his mind turned, formulating a plan as a wry smile formed on his face. “If you were going to throw the pipe away, then you probably wouldn’t mind letting me take the pipe off your hands for free? After all, it seems like I’d be doing you a favor.”

            The tobacconist coughed and gagged after accidentally breathing in the smoke from his pipe, sending lit pipe ash everywhere. Oscar removed the pipe from his mouth and caught his breath before replying, “Now hold your horses, I see what yer doin’ there. I can’t just give away a pipe fer nothin’ because it’s a nuisance. Every last pipe smoker an’ their mother in the city would head straight here and try to haggle a free pipe outta me.”

            Benji chuckled and shrugged his shoulders, “Can’t blame a man for tryin’?”

Oscar smirked as he tamped the loose ash in his pipe. “You’re a clever one, I’ll give ya that. How ‘bout this, I’ll sell ya the Dunhill for $25. You won’t find another deal on a Dunhill like that anywhere, you can be sure of that.”

The young man eyed the Dunhill and thought about it, but hoping for a better price, Benji countered, “How about $15? If it is a problem pipe, then that should cover the work that I’ll put into it.”

The tobacconist frowned and leaned on the counter with both of his hands as he studied Benji. Oscar wasn’t used to customers haggling over the price of his estates, yet he didn’t want to risk being stuck with a pipe he couldn’t sell. “$25 is a darn good price, son. If I went any lower, I’d be givin’ it away.”

Confident that he could get Oscar to go lower, Benji shook his head and placed the Dunhill back in the box. “You know what, I don’t think I need a new pipe right now. I’ll wait and see if I find something better. If not, I know it’s waiting here for me.”

Benji turned and started to walk away towards the pipe tobacco section, hoping that his bluff would get the old tobacconist to change his tune. Sure enough, as he was halfway across the shop, he heard Oscar call out to him, “I’ll go down to $20, an’ not a penny more.”

Bingo. Benji smiled to himself for a moment before casually turning around and walking back towards Oscar and the box. Oscar crossed his arms and gave Benji a begrudging nod, both out of frustration and respect at Benji’s ploy.

As Benji grabbed the Dunhill out of the box, Oscar added one more caveat to the sale. “You drive a hard bargain, kid, I’ll give ya that. But don’t even think about bringin’ that pipe back if yer not happy with it. Deal?”

“Deal,” agreed Benji as he held his prized pipe. “I wouldn’t worry about this pipe coming back to your shop. That is, unless I’m smoking it. You’d have to be crazy to give up on a pipe like this.”

            Benji eagerly paid for the pipe at the counter, throwing in some pipe cleaners and a pouch of Balkan Sobranie for the road. After paying Oscar, Benji sat in the lounge smoking his pipe while admiring his newest acquisition, listening to the cheers of the gentlemen in the shop as the Sox scored another run. The young man joined in their cheers, though it was more for his own score rather than the baseball game.

            The time on Benji’s watch said it was 11:34 PM when he finally reached the gates to the courtyard of his apartment complex. The young man had a relaxing evening celebrating with his family, drinking beer and eating a grilled Italian sausage and potato salad. Now it was late, and all Benji could think about was slipping into his bed and getting a full night’s sleep.

            There was an eerie quiet that had settled on the apartment complex as Benji stepped into his building. The young man climbed the stairs to his second floor apartment, careful not to make any noise to bother his elderly neighbor on the first floor as she slept for the night.

            Upon opening the door to his apartment, Benji turned on his hallway light and was greeted by his black and white tabby cat Whiskers. The feline trotted up to Benji and rubbed his back against the young man’s legs. Benji said hello to Whiskers and gave him a pat on his fuzzy head before walking into the kitchen and grabbed a can of cat food. After giving the bowl of wet cat food to the appreciative feline, Benji left Whiskers to his evening feast and stepped into the living room.

            Benji’s apartment was relatively clean for a bachelor living on his own, with only a few piles of papers that needed grading from his work as a high school English teacher. Over by the television set, Benji had a row of shelves where he kept his pipes and tobacco, along with an assortment of novels and books. Benji placed his pipe and tobacco pouch on the shelf before pulling out his new Dunhill from his shirt pocket. The young pipe smoker admired his new pipe for a moment before placing it on his pipe rack. If Benji wasn’t as tired as he was, he would’ve started the cleaning process right then and there, but he decided to wait until the morning to start sanitizing his new pipe.

            “Ralph won’t believe me when I tell him how much I paid for you,” said Benji with a smirk before letting out a yawn. “He’s gonna be so jealous.”

            The next morning after Sunday Mass, Benji arrived home and immediately went to work in cleaning up the bent billiard. The briar and stem were in decent condition, so Benji gave both a good polish until the black, rusticated finish had a nice shine on it. The inside of the shank and stem was a different matter, as the first pipe cleaner Benji passed through was blackened in gunk. The young man spent a good portion of his afternoon running alcohol soaked pipe cleaners through the draft hole until they finally came out clean.

The bowl of the pipe had already been professionally reamed when Benji purchased it, but he could still smell a strange odor that he couldn’t quite place. This wasn’t a new problem for the pipe smoker, as he had experience in removing the remnants of goopy aromatics from some of his other estate pipes. After sticking a pipe cleaner in the shank, Benji poured the bowl full of iodized salt, and used an eyedropper to saturate the salt with alcohol. With the cleaning process complete for now, Benji placed the pipe up on his shelf and let the salt do its work.

The next day, Benji came home from teaching around 6:30, and after greeting Whiskers he checked on how the Dunhill was taking the salt treatment. To Benji’s surprise, the salt had turned to a grimy black color, much like the pipe cleaners had been the previous day. Now, Benji had used the salt treatment before, and none of the pipes in previous treatments had turned as dark of a color as the Dunhill. The young man took the pipe over to his garbage can, and he scraped the bowl clean, until every grain of salt had been removed.

Once Benji felt satisfied that the Dunhill met his standards for cleanliness, he decided the time was right to fire up the pipe and see how it smoked. After opening his pouch of Balkan Sobranie, Benji scooped the bowl inside, packing the pipe with the Balkan blend. The young man grabbed his matches, his pipe tool, and a copy of The Two Towers and stepped onto his back porch, sitting in his usual outdoor smoking spot.

Benji struck the first match and hovered it over the bowl for the charring light. Yet as Benji drew in through the stem, the flame refused to catch on the tobacco, and Benji had to extinguish the match before it burnt his fingers. Perplexed that his pipe didn’t light, Benji extended his hand and felt for any wind that might’ve interfered with lighting his pipe, yet the air was still where he was sitting.

Undaunted by the first match, Benji lit a second match, and then a third, yet none could light his pipe. The young man light a fourth match, determined that if this didn’t work, then he’d switch to a lighter. The flame burned down on the match as Benji puffed and puffed, yet still the tobacco remained unburned. With Benji’s focus completely focused on puffing, he didn’t notice the flame inch down to his fingers, until he felt the fire singe his skin.

“Yeouch!” cried Benji as he dropped the match in the ashtray, sucking on the scorched portion of his thumb and finger. As Benji nursed his wound, he noticed a thin stream of smoke finally rising from bits of tobacco. Immediately, Benji struck another match and cautiously held the flame over the tobacco. Finally, the flame of the match sucked downward into the bowl, charring the top layer of the tobacco. After tamping down the burnt tobacco, Benji lit another match and drew in deeper, properly lighting the pipe.

After tossing the match in the ashtray, Benji leaned back into his chair and puffed away, relieved to finally have his new pipe lit. As Benji smoked his pipe, he tasted to see if there was a change in the taste of his favorite blend, but all seemed normal.

“Heh, I guess they didn’t clean this thing as well as they thought,” muttered Benji to himself.

Benji opened his paperback copy of The Two Towers to his bookmarked page and resumed reading his favorite series. He was on the chapter where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum were passing through The Dead Marshes while on their journey to destroy the One Ring. For some reason, Tolkien’s descriptions of the dead warriors resting underneath the water seemed to creep him out more than usual, and Benji felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

However, as he read, his mind wandered elsewhere, more specifically, back to his pipe. Though the pipe had started out fine, now that he was halfway through the bowl, he could taste an off-putting flavor that he couldn’t place. Benji unclenched his pipe and placed the bowl under his nose and gave a quick sniff. Instantly, Benji recoiled at the aroma, as it reminded him of sulfur and rotten eggs.

As much as Benji tried to put the smell out of his mind, the more he puffed, the queasier he became. Eventually, the young man admitted defeat and dumped the remaining tobacco out of his pipe and into the ashtray. Nothing annoyed Benji more than wasting good tobacco, but the he couldn’t stand another puff from the sour pipe. 

Benji grabbed his book and pipe and went grumbling back into his kitchen table, producing his pipe cleaning supplies once more. For the next hour, he gave the pipe a second deep cleaning, and did another salt treatment for good measure. As disgusted as he was with the first smoke from this pipe, he wasn’t about to give up on his new Dunhill.

Over the following days, Benji tried again and again to smoke his new Dunhill in peace. He would go out on his porch after work with the newly cleaned Dunhill and smoked, before giving up around the halfway point. He would then give another deep clean to his pipe, even using switching the kinds of alcohol he used as a cleaning solution to see if that made a difference. Yet no matter how hard he cleaned, that same sulfuric smell would inevitably creep up and ruin his bowl of tobacco.

By Friday, Benji was at his wits end, regaling his pipe woes at the local bar with his friend, Ralph Willkie. Benji had been friends with Ralph since their college days, and made it a ritual to meet up at the bar to drink, smoke their pipes, and chat about life. Ralph was a few years Benji’s senior, but as roommates they had bonded over their mutual love of fantasy and sci-fi literature. Ralph had also been Benji’s pipe mentor, having shown him how to smoke a pipe within the first month of their friendship.

As they drank their pints, Benji pulled out the wretched Dunhill and slid it over to Ralph once he finished telling his story. Ralph puffed on his bent Peterson and took a good look over the pipe as Benji took a long drink of his lager.

“20 bucks for this?” asked Ralph as he turned the Dunhill over in his hands. “You’re lucky I wasn’t with you when you found it. Even with the markings, I woulda paid the $25 and stole it right from underya.”

Benji snorted as he filled one of his old Kaywoodies. “I’d sell it to you if you want it that bad. But if you ask me, that’s no Dunhill. Dunghill is more like it.”

Ralph sniffed the pipe and turned away in disgust. “Did the previous owner only smoke Royal Yacht in this thing?”

“Beats me,” replied Benji as he lit his pipe. “Whatever it was, it’s ruined a good portion of my pouch of Sobranie.”

Ralph scratched his scraggly beard as he thought of a possibly solution for his beleaguered friend. “Well, I would buy it offa ya, but I’d hate to take a Dunhill like that from a buddy of mine. Though, I think I might have a solution for ya.”

Benji let out a sigh as he leaned against the table, “At this point, I’m willing to try anything.”

“I’ll let you try one of the blends I have back at my apartment,” offered Ralph. “I’ve had a few stubborn pipes before in my time, and this blend has always done the trick. Smoke a few pipefuls of it, and I promise it’ll eradicate whatever ghost is ruining your pipe.”

Benji puffed and gave his friend a skeptical look. “Has it been blessed by a priest? Because I don’t think anything less’ll rid me of that horrible stench.”

Ralph stuck his chest out with a confident look on his face. “Have I ever steered ya wrong before? I’m tellin’ you, Merlyn himself couldn’t blend a better tobacco to break a spell over a pipe.”

Ralph handed the Dunhill back to Benji, and the young man glared at the pipe, hitting the bottom of the bowl against the palm of his hand as he mulled over Ralph’s idea. Finally, Benji sighed and mustered an answer.

“Guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” asked Benji as he slipped the pipe back in his shirt pocket. “I’m not letting $20 go to waste.”

“That’s the spirit,” replied Ralph as he lifted his pint of beer. “Here’s to smoking that stench out.”

“I’ll drink to that,” replied Benji as he raised his glass, before downing the last of his beer.

Later that night, Benji returned back to his apartment, with a new tobacco pouch in hand. He had stayed at Ralph’s place longer than he would’ve liked, but ended up in a debate over whether Darth Vader was telling the truth about if he was really Luke’s father or not. Whiskers hounded after Benji in the apartment, meowing for his dinner until the he finally opened a can for the cat.

Weary for sleep, Benji considered heading to bed for the night, but as he took the Dunhill out of his coat pocket, he decided now was as good of a time as ever to try his pipe once more. Benji wasn’t sure that Ralph’s suggestion would work, but his friend often had good ideas for his pipe problems.

Due to the lateness of the hour, Benji thought against going back out to the porch to smoke his pipe. The mosquitoes were out in full force before autumn, and being out alone on the porch at night gave Benji the creeps.

So with pipe and pouch in hand, Benji headed to his spare bedroom, which he used as his study. The young man turned the light on and shut the door, before falling back into his desk chair and placed pipe and pouch on his desk. Upon opening the tobacco pouch, Benji was met with the nutty aroma of pure burley. Benji wasn’t fond of burley blends, preferring more English and Balkan blends, but beggars can’t be choosers when a sour pipe is involved. The young man scooped the ribbon cut burley tobacco into the Dunhill until he had it snugly packed.

As Benji opened his matchbox, he took a long look at the Dunhill and stuck a finger at it, scolding it as if it were a naughty child. “I’m givin’ you one more chance. If you fail me this time, I’m shipping you to Timbuktu without a return address.”

With a flick of his wrist, Benji struck a match and placed it over the bowl, drawing hard as the flame drew into the bowl. The burley took to the fire easily, and soon Benji was puffing at a steady pace. The tobacco cooperated so well, that Benji found he didn’t need a second light and slid the matchbox away. Benji sat hunched over at his desk like a grump with the Dunhill clenched in his jaw, refusing to look at any of his books or distract himself with any other mindless task. The young man was on a mission, and he would not let this stubborn pipe get the better of him.

Benji puffed away on his pipe like a madman, paying close attention to the flavor of the tobacco for any sudden changes to the putrid territory. As far as he could taste, the burley blend was an obedient and rugged tobacco, overwhelming whatever remnants of tobacco lurked within the briar. The smoke from his pipe soon enveloped the small study, clouding the room with a cloud of burley tobacco smoke. Without a window or door open to air the room, the smoke built up in a way Benji had never seen before. While Benji had been in plenty of hazy tobacco shops before, nothing compared to the amount of smoke Benji was producing with his Dunhill. Yet Benji remained undeterred, he would make sure he had slain the awful stench, and no amount of tobacco smoke would allow him to open a window.

As the smoke thickened, Benji felt as though he were in some sort of a trance, unwilling and unable to get up from his chair, or do anything other than smoke his pipe. Though Benji normally didn’t care for straight burley blends, he found the smoke agreeable to his palate, and didn’t feel queasy as he normally did with stronger blends. For the first time since owning the Dunhill, he actually felt properly relaxed, as one should when smoking a pipe.

Benji’s mind was another matter, as it wandered while the tobacco smoldered in his pipe. The normally upbeat and happy young man found his thoughts hazy for a moment, before drifting off to darker, and more sinister places. In his imagination, he saw himself smoking his pipe while wandering ancient and long forgotten graveyards at the dead of night, with broken and slumped tombstones overgrown with moss. A heavy mist surrounded the old cemetery, and the stars and moon hid behind dark, foreboding clouds. Part of Benji wanted to turn back and leave through the old, rusted iron gates, yet the pipe jutting in his jaw led him on down the soggy dirt path to an unknown destination.

As Benji reached the top of a hill, he saw the path wind down to a mausoleum, which he continued on towards without turning. As he came closer and closer to the building, he could make out more features of the decrepit tomb. The once white marble had taken to a sickly shade of yellow underneath the caked dirt, with a name Benji did not recognize chiseled over the open door. For a split second, he thought it said ‘Benjamin’, but upon closer inspection, it seemed more like a last name. Standing guard next to the mausoleum’s doors stood two statues that at once filled Benji’s heart with dread.

The statue on the left appeared to be a robed angel of some sort, covering its face as it wept with black ooze dripping from between its closed fingers. The second, taller figure on the right stood at attention, its face hidden under a hood as it beckoned with an open hand. As Benji stopped in front of the left statue and studied it, his heart filled with an unspeakable dread from the presence lurking underneath the stone. The figure’s hand had long, dirty, and sharp nails protruding out towards Benji, nails that the young man felt sure could cut flesh if they were real. Benji could feel his knees buckle and quiver as he stepped closer to touch the statue’s extended and welcoming hand with his own.

Scratch.

            Scratch.

                        Scratch.

Benji snapped out of the daydream that enraptured his tired mind as the Dunhill pipe fell from his jaw and onto the deck with a clatter. Tobacco ash spilled out onto the desktop, and Benji swore while rubbing his bleary eyes. Benji swept the dottle into his ashtray while admonishing himself for being so clumsy. Despite his annoyance, he was thankful that Whiskers wanted into the study, snapping him out of that dreaded nightmare. Benji picked up the Dunhill and upon looking in the bowl, he realized he had finally smoked his pipe to the bottom without the stench ruining his smoke.

I guess Ralph was right, said Benji with a smirk as he turned in his desk chair. All I needed was the right tobacco.

Before Benji stood up from his chair, he sat for a moment in bewilderment at the thick cloud of smoke that had built up from puffing his pipe. Despite the stillness of the air, the smoke swirled and moved around as though it had a life of its own. The young man was glued to his seat, transfixed on the ever-shifting smoke, observing as it changed shapes in the air, like seeing object in the clouds in the sky.

At first, the smoke moved in a circular pattern, before it began to coalesce into one central spot. From a circle, the smoke stretched and swirled into a pillar, like the cloud Moses and the Israelites followed in the desert in Exodus. Benji rubbed his eyes once more, wondering if Ralph’s tobacco had been something else entirely. Though Benji had never taken drugs, he thought the experience felt like something similar.

From the pillar, Benji observed with growing uneasiness as the smoke seemed to solidify, no longer being translucent, but becoming an object or thing before his eyes. Two gangly, boney legs with knobby knees and twisted feet split from the bottom of the pillar, going up to the midsection of the smoky form. At the top of the pillar, the smoke stretched out into a hideous face from the pit of Benji’s deepest nightmares.

The face of the being wasn’t human, Benji was certain of that. Instead, the head resembled more like that of a hairless opossum, with three sets of murky, clouded eyes on either side, and a nose that peeled back part way on its snout. Two sets of sharp, saw-like teeth protruded from its thin, pale lips, as a tongue that resembled a snake licked the air in Benji’s direction, tasting his scent no doubt.

Benji was so horrified by the abominable head that he almost didn’t notice the two arms protruding out of the newly formed body. The arms stretched and elongated towards the ground, to the length that the creature could easily drag them on the ground while walking. The hands appeared like that of a human, but with the long, sharpened nails Benji had seen in his imagination. The smoke seeped from the creature’s skin, appearing more like stringy and dirty hair than smoke. By now, the noxious sulfuric odor reached its suffocating peak, causing Benji to choke as he tried to breathe.

Pushing back on his chair, Benji rammed into the desk behind him with a thud as the creature turned its attention to him. The young man slowly rose from his seat with a protective hand in front of him, his mouth agape as he tried to speak, and yet his words failed him.

The creature took one shaky foot forward, as though it wasn’t used to walking in this plane of existence. As Benji backed into the corner of his study, the creature took another step forward, lifting one of its impossibly long arms in his direction, dragging its nails against the floorboards.

Scratch. Scratch. Scraaaaaaaaatch.

The smoky creature’s jaw open wide, inhaling a ragged, labored breath as it emitted a scratchy, inhuman snarl. The creature lumbered forward towards Benji with a quickness that instantly filled Benji with panic. The young man screamed at the top of his lungs as he darted forward, hoping to somehow make it past the abomination towards the study door. As Benji made his escape, the creature slashed at Benji’s midsection, and had the young man not placed a protective arm over his body, it would’ve gashed his stomach straight into organs. The sharp nails cut deep into Benji’s lower arm as the creature’s other arm reached to embrace the terrified man in a deathly hug. Benji cried out in pain as he pushed himself out of the grasp of the creature’s bony arms and stumbled towards the door.

Benji practically knocked the study door off its hinges as he tackled his way out of the room, shrieking as he made a mad dash through the apartment front door. The young man flew down the stairs faster than he thought possible, vaulting the steps three at a time as he made for the apartment door and freedom.

The door to Benji’s apartment building flung open as he fell onto the cement ground, barely making it back on his feet as he backed away from the entrance, expecting at any moment for the creature to come barreling after him. Benji trembled as he waited, hands grasped on his knees as he sucked in the fresh cool air, yet he heard no commotion from the stairwell. As the seconds passed into minutes, Benji’s adrenaline dropped, and feeling a queasy churning in his stomach, the young man threw up on the ground, both from his strenuous escape, as well as from the stinking aroma that still hung in his nostrils.

The light to the bottom apartment turned on, and Benji’s elderly neighbor Miss Jaworski opened her bedroom window. Miss Jaworski was dressed in her floral nightgown, having awoken from Benji’s escape in the hallway, and she stuck her head out the window with an exasperated look on her face.

“Good heavens Benjamin, why on earth are you making that kind of racket at this hour?” she demanded. Benji wasn’t quite sure how to answer her, and stammered as he waved his arms.

“T-There was t-t-this thing, I-I don’t know what, but—.”

Miss Jaworski let out a gasp and placed a hand over her mouth. “Ben, your arm, it’s bleeding all over!”

Benji paused and glanced at the deep gashes on his right arm as blood streamed down onto the ground with a steady flow. The young man hadn’t noticed the severity of his injury until that moment, and now that he had the chance to look at it, the pain finally set in. Benji swooned and dropped to his knees, holding his right arm as he felt his body going into shock.

“You wait there, I’ll call an ambulance,” said Miss Jaworski, as she quickly left the window to find her telephone.

The young man knew he had to stop the bleeding somehow, so Benji yanked his shirt off and used it as a temporary bandage. As Benji waited in the courtyard for the ambulance to arrive, his eyes moved back up towards the windows of his apartment where he knew his study was located. To his horror, Benji could see the creature staring down at him, with both claws resting on the windowpane. The monster seemed translucent now, fading back into the ether from whence it came. Yet as it dissipated, the horrid abomination made slow, deliberate scratches on the window as it licked its lips, before disappearing from view.

Struggling to stay conscious, Benji curled into a ball on the cold pavement, his body shivering from the lack of warmth and blood loss. Helpless to do anything else, Benji muttered incoherently to himself as he held his injured arm, praying that this terrible night would finally come to an end.

The ambulance arrived some time later, as Benji couldn’t quite recall how long it took for them to reach him due to his state. As the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance, Benji begged someone to check his apartment for Whiskers, and that if they found him, they should bring the cat to Miss Jaworski for safe keeping. The cat was found safe sleeping in the living room, unaware that any excitement had gone on in the apartment. Once Benji was told his cat was safe, the young man reclined in the stretcher and allowed the paramedics to drive him to the local hospital.

By Saturday evening, Benji was discharged from the hospital, having received multiple stitches for his injured arm, and pumped full of fluids. Benji didn’t speak of what he saw to anyone, and told the doctors an improvised story where he cut his arm on a jagged portion of the railing on his porch.

Ralph came by to pick Benji up, and allowed the shaken young man to stay the night at his place as he recovered from his ordeal. The two stopped at Benji’s apartment so he could pick up some clothes, as well as the Dunhill pipe from the study. Benji made Ralph stick by him at every moment, not wanting to spend a second alone in his apartment. Benji peered around every corner for any sign of that inhuman creature, but the apartment was completely empty, save for Benji and Ralph. While Benji kept his nerves for the most part, as he picked up his Dunhill pipe, he noticed out of the corner of his eye multiple long scratch marks on the study window. The color drained from Benji’s face as Ralph spotted the grooves in the window and took a closer look.

“Where did these come from?” asked Ralph as he turned to his friend, but Benji was already at the threshold of the door.

“I’m done, let’s get outta here,” muttered Benji as he slipped the Dunhill in his pocket.

As Ralph drove the two back to his apartment, he demanded to know exactly what caused Benji’s injury. Benji gave the same excuse he said to the doctors, but Ralph, having known Benji for years, could tell he was lying. It took two shots of whiskey back in Ralph’s apartment to coax the story out of Benji, and for the next hour the young man recounted everything he could remember from the previous night. Ralph listened quietly, making no judgment as he puffed on his pipe while his friend rambled on about some strange smoke demon that tried to eat him.

When Benji finished his tale, he looked at Ralph and waited for his response, expecting his friend to laugh him out of the room. Ralph pondered for a moment, tamping the ash in his pipe in silence before saying, “Well, I’m sure glad you didn’t sell me that Dunhill.”

For the first time in over a day, Benji managed a laugh, and slunk in his chair with a hand over his face. “Are you sure? I can give ya a great deal on it.”

The two friends laughed, lifting Benji’s spirits as he rubbed his injured arm. Ralph leaned on the arm of his chair as he puffed his pipe, adding, “So, what are you gonna do now? Think you’ll move to a different apartment?”

“I don’t know, I honestly think it’s gone now,” said Benji as he sat up in his chair. “But first thing tomorrow, I’m headed back to that tobacco shop for some answers. I don’t know if I’ll get any, but there has to be more to it than this.”

“I’ll go with you,” assured Ralph. “With everything that’s happened, I’ve gotta see how this all ends.”

The next day, Benji and Ralph arrived at The Smoking Room around 11 a.m., having taken the train into the city. The two strolled into the shop, and Benji headed straight towards Oscar. The tobacconist was sitting behind the counter drinking a cup of coffee while reading the Sunday Times, as a group of about five regulars sat around smoking in the lounge. Oscar poked his head up from behind the paper and greeted the two as the stood at the counter.

“Ah, good morning Mr. Hodge, can I help ya with anything?” asked Oscar. Benji pulled the Dunhill from his pocket, and immediately the tobacconist’s face fell upon recognizing the pipe. “Oh no, you’re not sellin’ that pipe back to me. We made a deal, remember?”

“I’m not looking to sell it back,” explained Benji as he slid the Dunhill over to Oscar. “I wanna know where you got the Dunhill in the first place.” Benji turned the pipe over and pointed at the initials on the bowl of the Dunhill. “Tell me, do you know who this ‘SB’ person is?”

The tobacconist held the bent billiard in his hands, tapping the bowl of the pipe against his palm while in deep thought. Oscar’s eyes shifted back up at Benji, debating whether to divulge the information to the young man.

Benji leaned on the counter with both of his hands and remained firm in his resolve. “Please, I’ve got to know. You would too if you had seen what I’ve seen.”

Oscar hesitated, glancing down at the shop floor as memories resurfaced into his mind. Benji could tell Oscar didn’t want to share the information, but seeing the determination on the young man’s face, the tobacconist relented with a long sigh. “Yeah, I remember where I got that pipe. It was back in ’71. I got a phone call that one of our old customers had passed away in some freak accident. Everyone was talkin’ about it at the time, due to how weird the whole thing was.”

“The customer was a young guy, probably around your age when he died. Simon Bronowski was his name, tall, lanky fella with long hair. He looked like a hippie, but he wasn’t one of those love an’ peace kinda guys. He had been comin’ to my shop for a couple of years for his pipe tobacco. Always gave everyone the creeps when he’d come in, ramblin’ about some sorta religion he was studyin’. Mind you, this wasn’t some Christian religion, but I couldn’t tell ya what mumbo jumbo he would jabber on about. Never paid any attention to it, as it gave me the willies.”

“All I can tell ya is that after he he died, I stopped by his place, as his family was sellin’ his stuff to empty out his house. I bought his pipes an’ his remainin’ tobacco, but ended up throwin’ everything but the Dunhill away. I remember he told me he would blend his own tobacco, usin’ this an’ that from blends we were sellin’, as well as other stuff I couldn’t identify. The stuff stank to high heaven, an’ there was no way I’d ever put it in one of my own pipes.”

Oscar shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “An’ that’s ‘bout all I know to be honest. As I said, he was a weird guy, so I didn’t take the time to get to know him.”

Benji rubbed his chin as he thought over Oscar’s story. The young man was disappointed he didn’t get to know more about Simon, but at least he had a name, as well as the explanation for why the pipe stank. Still, there had to be more to the story, and Benji was going to find out all he could.

“How did he die?” asked Benji, before adding, “that is, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I heard he died in a fire,” replied Oscar. “I didn’t pry for more information at the time, as I didn’t want to bother the family. Tell ya what, I think there’s a guy here that knew him more than I did.” The tobacconist paused as he glanced over at the regulars sitting in the lounge, and called over to a man sitting in a leather chair smoking a Hardcastle Lovat. “Hey Ed, come over here. We’ve got some questions for ya.”

Ed, or Eddie Walczak as Benji would learn later, stood up from his chair and joined the three at the counter. Eddie was in his late 30’s, short but thin, and wore a black polo shirt and White Sox cap. The man greeted Benji and Ralph as Oscar explained the situation to him.

“They’re wantin’ to know about Simon Bronowski,” said Oscar as he showed Ed Simon’s old Dunhill. “You knew him, right?”

“Knew him, practically grew up with the guy,” replied Ed with a scoff. From his reply, Benji could tell Ed hadn’t been the biggest fan of Simon. “Lived on the same block as me, an’ went to the same school, though he was a grade ahead of me. Yeah, I knew Simon, as much as ya could know a guy like that.”

“Didn’t care for him then, I take it?” asked Ralph with a chuckle.

“No one did,” answered Ed. “How could you? He was always getting in trouble with the nuns and priests at our high school, pushin’ their buttons any chance he got. We hung out a bit, as he didn’t really have anyone else to talk to, but I only spent time with him out of pity. Eventually, I avoided him any time I saw him on the block, but he would still come up to me and talk my ear off when I got careless.”

“He was odd in Grade School, but High School was where he really went off the deep end. He started getting into some weird books from the local library, readin’ books by people like Alistair Crowley an’ ilk like that. One day in our senior year, he told me he was gonna make his own religion, and that people were going to read his books like he did with Crowley.”

“After High School, I went off to college, so I didn’t hear from him much. When I came home for school breaks, I’d see him roamin’ the neighborhood, but I kept my distance. He stopped me one day around Christmas and told me he had found some others in Chicago that thought like he did, and that they went out to Bachelor’s Grove at night to perform some kinda magic for fun. Said he saw some strange stuff out there, but I chalked it up to Simon bein’ Simon.”

“Once I graduated College I joined the Navy, and one day I was here on leave when out of nowhere Simon came in the shop. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see him, but he sat with me and we talked over our pipes. He said he was on the cusp of a breakthrough that was gonna make him famous. He had built some sorta shack in his backyard where he said he communicated with ‘the other side.’ He’d light his pipe in there until it was filled with smoke and stare into it for visions or what have you. He said he found somethin’ in there that would talk to him and show him things. I don’t know, it was all nonsense to me, but Simon was obsessed with it.”

“Around a month later, I got a message from my mom that Simon had been found dead in his shack. Apparently, it caught fire late one night, and Simon must’ve passed out from the smoke before it consumed him. Strange thing is, I heard there was somethin’ off about how they found him.”

Benji could feel a lump in his throat growing as he listened to Ed’s tale. Feeling a weakness in his knees, Benji leaned against the counter to steady himself from falling over.

“How did they find his body?” asked Ralph, eager to hear the end of Ed’s tale.

“Well, you’d think the paramedics would find an intact burnt body,” explained Ed as he struck a match to relight his pipe. The man puffed slowly, as smoke rose from the bowl of his briar. “But my mom heard the emergency crew found pieces of his body scattered everywhere in the charred remains of the shack. From what I understand, the police looked into a possible homicide, but couldn’t find any evidence that someone cut him up and burned the scene of the crime. If you ask me, I think one of Simon’s new psycho friends killed him and cut his body up in some sorta ritual, but there’s nothing to prove my theory.”

Ralph and Oscar both made a disgusted face, and the tobacconist shook his head as he added, “I coulda done without knowin’ that.”

“It’s a shame,” added Ed as he tamped his pipe with his pipe tool. “As much as I didn’t like the guy, Simon didn’t deserve that. No one does.”

“Yeah,” replied Benji as he held his head. “That’s awful.”

Ed cocked his head sideways as he glanced at Benji struggling to keep his balance. “You okay man? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Something like that,” replied Benji as he pulled himself straight. “I think I need to sit down for a bit.”

The young man excused himself and sat down in the nearest seat as he clutched his arm. Ed’s story about Simon and his grisly fate only aggravated the pain in Benji’s arm, like pouring lemon juice on an open wound. A shutter ran up Benji’s spine as he wondered what his fate could’ve been had he not turned around in time to see that thing materialize. He wouldn’t be here at the tobacco shop, Benji felt quite certain about that.

“It took me a few days before I could smoke a pipe again,” admitted Benji as he tapped his pipe out in the ashtray at our table. “But it takes more than that to keep a pipe man from his favorite pastime.”

By now, my pipe had gone cold, as I was too engrossed with Benji’s story to keep it going. My companion, too, had long forgotten about his briar, and we both took the moment to relight our bowls.

“That’s nuts,” said my friend after extinguishing his match. “I’ve heard of tobacco ghosting a pipe, but nothing on that level.”

“So what ever became of that Dunhill?” I asked. “I’m guessing you never smoked it again?”

Benji laughed as he stuffed his pipe back into his leather pipe roll. “You can be sure of that. As far as I was concerned, that pipe was tainted, and no amount of cleaning would ever get me to try it again.”

“That’s a shame,” I replied as I tamped my pipe. “I would’ve sold it to the Warrens or some other paranormal investigator.”

“Not me,” said my companion with an eager look in his eye. “I think I would’ve kept at it. I mean it was a Dunhill after all.”

            Old Benji Hodge sat back in his chair and looked off nowhere in particular, shaking his head slowly. “What profit is there for a pipe smoker to gain a cheap Dunhill, but to lose his soul? No, I’ll tell you what I did with it. Ralph and I went to my sister’s, and I threw the damn pipe in a fire in her backyard. Watched it burn to ash and spread it back into the Earth where it belonged.”