Name: PIPER, Henry Beam
Born: March 23, 1904
Where: Altoona, Pennsylvania
Died: November 5 or 6, 1964
Where: Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Interred: Fairview Cem, Altoona, Pa
Married: Betty Hirst
When: March 25, 1955 (div)
H. Beam Piper
"Always take a second look at things
everybody knows. Ten to one they’re not so."
Creator of Paratime and author of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen and the Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper claimed to have been a writer for 26 years before making his first sale, "Time and Time Again," in 1946. His luck didn't improve very much after that.
Altoona birth/death records state that his parents were Herbert O. & Harriet (Maurer) Piper who lived at 320 Howard Ave., listing his father's occupation at birth as black-smith but who later retired from the Penn Central Light and Power Company. Beam was an only child. It is said that Piper had no formal school training (but was expelled from high school), became self educated, and at 18 went to work in the Altoona rail-yards for the Pennsylvania RR. His life as an adult is something of a mystery largely because Piper was a private person, lived with his aged mother until her death in 1955, and often worked the third shift as a night watchman. Much of what we know is from friends and acquaintances, letters, and shortened scratchings in a diary. For about the last five years of his life, after his marriage had collapsed, Piper lived in an apartment in Williamsport, Pa.
Piper enjoyed history and visiting famous places. He wrote historical articles with some success but failed at writing historical fiction. Piper collected swords, knives, and guns (especially revolvers) and an article appeared in the Altoona newspaper showing a photo of Piper and some of his collection. Without a family, Piper gravitated to the fans and collectors that surrounded science fiction and gun collecting. He smoked a pipe all of his adult life and often was not in the best of health (his breakfast was a 7-Up and a pot of black coffee and a nightcap of a glass of rum). When Piper attended the World's SF Convention at Pittsburg in 1960, he was gaunt.
Never financially well off, Piper became impoverished through a sequence of events that involved the death and funeral expenses of his mother, an expensive European honeymoon & marriage that went wrong, and the loss of his agent, Kenneth White, who died leaving manuscript records in confusion. Piper struggled for several years with a very grim financial plight, telling no one of his problems. Eventually, he was reduced to shooting pigeons in order to live. After a while Piper got tired of that, and unwilling to sell his gun collection, just shut off the utilities, draped sheets over his furnishings, wrote a note that said:
"I don't like to leave messes when I go away,
but if I could have cleaned up any of this mess,
I wouldn't be going away."
H. Beam Piper
...and shot himself to death with a .38 caliber handgun at his desk. He wasn't missed right away and his actual death date is in doubt. Piper kept a diary (and a most depressing read it is), the last entry is for the date of
November 5, "Rain 0930."
Several collections of Piper's stories were issued posthumously:
Federation (1981 ACE), Empire (1981 ACE),
Paratime (1981 ACE), and Worlds of H. Beam Piper (1983
ACE) edited by John F. Carr.
Today, even given the rarity of finding his books, a fandom has grown around his stories. Piper would have loved it since not many told him that they enjoyed his work.
BIOGRAPHY: The Last Cavalier
: H. Beam Piper by John F. Carr at Hostigos.com.
[A related 19th century biography of Beam's grandfather, Dr. H. B. Piper, here.]
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mine and one by Jim Broshot
Send relevant email to
George C. Willick