The Big Kerplop! started life as The Sunken Village. My father had for some time an idea for a Mad Scientists' Club story that involved exploring the bottom of Strawberry Lake and finding the ruins of a village. In fact, in The Cool Cavern he mentions the idea in the opening paragraph.

He conceived of the story as a full-length novel that would also recount the formation of the club. The idea of making the village a Viking settlement was probably prompted by more than one news article in the 1960s about Viking settlements in North America that preceded Columbus' voyage in the 15th century. A colleague of his was quite interested in Viking history and the runic poems of the Norse and Finns. Their discussions about these subjects probably also contributed to the idea. The synopsis of the original idea that my father sent to the publisher is reproduced below.



Bertrand R. Brinley

126 Hampden Place

Winter Park, Florida

John Brown

Macrae Smith Company

Synopsis of proposed novel:


          by Bertrand R. Brinley

Proposed length: 150 to 190 pages.

                    7 Chapters

          The story deals with the original adventure of The Mad Scientists Club and the events surrounding the organization of the group.


          The town of Mammoth Falls is thrown into a state of alarm when an Air Force bomber coming in for an emergency landing at Westport Field jettisons a nuclear bomb which plops into Strawberry Lake. Though the Air Force issues the usual assurances that there is no danger of radioactivity, the townspeople instinctively feel that a real danger does exist and will not be satisfied until the bomb is recovered and removed.

          After several days of fruitless searching and unconvincing Air Force pronouncements of its imminent recovery, the bomb still remains at the bottom of Strawberry Lake. A shaggy-haired, bespectacled young introvert named Henry Mulligan offers to locate the bomb, but is, of course, patronizingly rebuffed by the mayor of the town and by the Air Force officials in charge of the recovery operations. Henry, nevertheless, manages to locate the bomb with the use of an underwater magnetometer and the help of his friend Jeff Crocker, even though they have to work under the cover of darkness. They pinpoint its location by triangulation, calculated from the position of radio beacons located on the shoreline.

          Henry offers to tell the Air Force where the bomb is, but is told to mind his own business. This makes him mad, and he and Jeff recruit a few friends and organize a skin diving expedition to prove that the bomb is where they say it is. When they locate it, they find it nestled in the ribs of a half-finished, submerged ship lying on the lake bottom, which appears to be of Viking origin. Further exploration of the area uncovers evidence of an abandoned Viking settlement, located on a narrow peninsula which apparently had sunk beneath the surface of the lake centuries ago.



          Jeff and Henry figure they have made a major discovery of historical significance, and can't wait to tell the world about it. But first, they have a score to settle with the mayor and the Air Force. They fill a small balloon with gas and tether it to a rib of the Viking ship. They rig the tethering line so that the balloon is submerged just below the surface, with an explosive charge tied on a string that is snagged around the line so as to hold a fifty-foot loop of it under water.

          The next day, Henry conducts a demonstration for the members of the press who are covering the bomb story, and a crowd of curious townspeople. From a point on the lakeshore, he commands the balloon to rise from the lake by sending a radio signal to the explosive device. The balloon rises and dances on the end of its line, about fifty feet above the water. This spectacular demonstration impresses the reporters, who then pressure the Air Force to send divers down to investigate Henrys claim that the bomb is located at the end of the line. The Air Force reluctantly does so, and does, indeed, find the bomb.

          Henry and Jeff have suddenly been catapulted into the limelight and have become town heroes. Even the mayor is impressed, and with the politicians innate ability to shift ground rapidly, changes his criticism to praise.

          Things go swimmingly with plans to raise the hulk of the Viking ship and recover artifacts from the site of the sunken village, until Henry announces that he has the representatives of a prominent museum coming to Mammoth Falls to supervise the operation and take custody of the ship. This news splits the town right down the middle in violent controversy. Abigail Larrabee, who, among other things, is president of the Society for the Preservation of Cast Iron Furniture on the American Front Lawn, feels that the Viking ship rightfully belongs to the town of Mammoth Falls, and that it should remain there. She is in favor of placing it in the Town Square as a monument, or of recreating the Viking settlement on the shore of Strawberry Lake as a tourist attraction. Henry argues that the town knows nothing about the difficult job of preserving a relic that has been underwater for a thousand years, and says that the job should be left to experts. He feels that the ship belongs to the country as a whole, and that it should be on display in a suitable place where millions of people can have a chance to see it.

          The controversy burns hot, and the townspeople take sides so evenly divided that the mayor doesn't dare side with either faction and finds himself in the middle.

The boys continue recovering minor artifacts from the lake bed and put them on temporary display in the Town Hall. Some of them disappear, however, before representatives of the museum can come to pick them up. But the job of raising the hulk of the Viking ship is beset with frustrations. Somebody keeps cutting the cables to the pontoons that are being used to float the ship to the surface. Henry accuses Mrs. Larrabee of sabotaging the effort. Mrs. Larrabee accuses Henry of deliberately delaying the project until the controversy dies down.

          Finally, when the ship is raised, Henry finds himself in the middle of a spirited bidding competition between representatives of two different museums, both of whom want the ship. Henry appeals to the mayor for help in settling the dispute, since he feels the town has some measure of ownership in his discovery. A meeting in the mayors office is scheduled; but, in the meantime, a telegram from the governor of the state arrives, entering a claim for state ownership of all the relics recovered.

          A meeting of the Town Council is called to discuss the relative precedence of salvage rights, property rights, and rights of eminent domain, and to decide who should have the right to determine disposition of the relics. Abigail Larrabee chooses this moment to conduct a protest march and demonstration in front of the Town Hall to advance her cause. The Mad Scientists however, turn this affair into a fiasco when they tap into the circuit for the public address system and substitute barnyard calls and other noises for the speeches. They then release a swarm of bees from under the bandstand in the square, sending the demonstrators fleeing from the scene in wild panic.

          The dispute is finally settled to everyone's satisfaction in a climactic Town Meeting, over which Mayor Scragg presides. Effajean Lightbody, another community leader, and a purist, joins forces with Henry to thwart Abigail Larrabee's plan to put the Viking ship in the Town Square, because she doesn't feel it belongs there. But the deciding factor in the dispute is the offer of a wealthy foundation, attracted by the national publicity surrounding the affair, to finance the construction of a replica of the Viking settlement and the ship on the shores of Strawberry Lake.

          This proposal carries the day. Abigail Larrabee and her confederate Abner Sharples are soundly defeated, the original ship goes to the museum offering the highest bid, and virtually everyone is happy except Abigail and those people in town who still believe that Strawberry Lake may be radioactive.

# # #

This is the idea my father started with. His notes have a copy of a news article about the loss of an H-bomb in the Mediterranean Sea off the Spanish coast after an Air Force bomber crashed. I recall this incident in the 1960s; it was in the news for some time before the Air Force successfully recovered the bomb. A note about the bomb in The Big Kerplop!: it is a hydrogen bomb. But, as is often the case, the public freely referred to such bombs as atomic or H-bombs interchangeably. In fact, just recently, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in remarks about the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea, referred to "atomic bombs" that the facility will enable the North Koreans to build. The dialogue in the book reflects how the public, even to this day, refers to the bombs and how the Air Force refers to them; that is to say, as nuclear devices.

In other research on the original story plot, my father found an article from the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings on the recovery of the famous Swedish warship the Wasa. The Wasa was the pride of King Gustavus Adolphus' navy during the Thirty Years War in Europe. It never saw service, for it sank in the harbor on its very first voyage. The article went into considerable detail about the challenges the salvagers faced in raising the remains of the ship, which had been under water for over 330 years when it was raised in 1961. The Wasa has been in the news again, when there appeared in The New York Times last year an article about the problems the salvaged ship was encountering from excessive moisture brought into its museum by millions of visitors. Evidently, the moisture is reacting with sulfur deep in the ship's wood to form sulfuric acid, which is inexorably crumbling the ship.

While the idea of finding a Viking ship and settlement was ultimately discarded, it was replaced with helping the Air Force recover the bomb safely. Nevertheless, a number of the ideas elaborated in the synopsis were retained in The Big Kerplop! The first page of The Sunken Village, shown in the scan below, is the same as the first page of The Big Kerplop! You can see where my father struck out the title and wrote in "The Big Kerplop." In fact, the first three chapters of The Big Kerplop! are word-for-word the same as those of The Sunken Village. The search at night, the demonstration of the bomb's location to reporters covering the story, and the Air Force's agreement to send divers down to the location the Mad Scientists have pin-pointed, follow the plot of the original synopsis.

The Big Kerplop! departs after this though, with the Mad Scientists of Mammoth Falls somewhat on the sidelines as the Air Force divers confirm the bomb's location. They re-emerge as major figures in the story when the Air Force is unable to raise the bomb and Henry Mulligan, aided by a new figure, Professor Stratavarious, figures out why.

Professor Stratavarious is based on a character that Sid Caesar created on his classic comedy shows in the 1950s. The professor wore formal dress that was always wrinkled and in need of cleaning. He sat on a big leather chair and delivered a monologue punctuated by complaints that someone was waxing the leather, because he was always slipping down and almost landing on the floor. My father was also a fan of Bela Lugosi and the Dracula movie, so Professor Stratavarious became a Roumanian.

The biggest difference in the book, though, is its departure from the plots of the earlier twelve tales. The previews on the next page give you an idea by chapter of what to expect.


Illustrations used by permission of Bertrand R. Brinley, L.L.C.

Copyright © 2010 Sheridan Brinley