I received Frankenstein Moved in on the Fourth Floor (by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein) in a mail order book club. In each shipment I received a set of books selected by the company. This book came in the same shipment as The Ghost of Windy Hill (reviewed here). Some of the books in that club never interested me, but these two books remained among my favorites.
Sam Bamford lives in a large city with his mother and his brother Robert (which city is not specified). He and his mother need to pick up Robert at a friend’s house, but the elevator in their apartment building is stuck on the fourth floor. They do not want to walk down from the nineteenth floor where they live, but they see no alternative. Sam runs ahead of his mother. When he reaches the fourth floor landing he finds boxes filled with wires. When he looks through them a strange man wearing headphones yells at him. Sam thinks he was a monster.
He and his mother then find boxes in the fourth floor hallway and some propping the elevator open. Mrs Bamford goes to the owner’s room to speak with him. The owner of the boxes, Mr. Frank, says he has delicate equipment in the boxes and must move them slowly. While they are talking Sam puts on Frank’s headphones and hears strange music. Frank yanks them off of Sam’s head. When the Bamfords reach the lobby they find people waiting for the elevator who comment on how rude Frank is.
After Sam and Mrs. Bamford pick up Robert, they all walk home. Robert shows Sam a Dracula doll he got from his friend. Sam comments on how weird Frank is and speculates he may be the real Frankenstein. When they return to their apartment he skims through his abridged copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to look for similarities between Frankenstein and Mr. Frank.
The next day Sam and Robert go to the basement and find Mr. Frank’s storage room. Sam wonders if Frank keeps dead bodies there. They notice the keyhole smells musty and decide they should leave.
The next week Sam and Robert are on the swings outside their building when the wind blows a pile of boxes. They help the building superintendent Mr. Christiansen gather them. He says that they belong to Mr. Frank and that he keeps moving more in. Christiansen finds Robert’s Dracula doll on the ground and hands it to him.
A few days later the boys and Mrs. Bamford see Mr. Clem at the grocery store. He is wearing earplug which he uses to dampen the sounds from Mr. Frank’s apartment. He did not realize he was still wearing them.
When they arrive at their building the power is out because someone on the fourth floor overloaded the circuits. They are forced to leave their groceries in the lobby and walk up the stairs to their apartment on the nineteenth floor. On the way they meet Mr Frank who explains he was working on something and that the power outage could ruin his equipment. He also complains that the people in the building are too nosy.
The power is restored when they enter their apartment, and so the boys ride the elevator down to get the groceries. They learn that the overload began in Mr. Frank’s apartment. Mr. Christiansen says Frank has a large amount of electronic equipment.
On the way back upstairs Sam speculates about whether Mr. Frank really is Frankenstein. When he is back in his room he compiles a list of perceived similarities and concludes that Mr. Frank is Frankenstein. He needs evidence before coming forward with his conclusion, and so he suggests they look in Mr. Frank’s storage room in the basement.
In the morning, after making sure Mr. Frank is in his apartment, Sam and Robert go to the basement. Robert brings his Dracula doll. They find a large padlock on his storage room door, but the walls of the storage rooms only go part way to the ceiling with chicken wire at the top. Sam stacks some boxes so that he can climb up to the wire. He finds a small opening and talks Robert into climbing through. Inside Robert finds old radios, record players, and various wires. Sam wants Robert to look for monster-making equipment, but Roberts is afraid and refuses to remain.
As he climbs up Robert knocks over a box, spilling glass tubes which break on the floor. He is afraid Mr. Frank will know they did it, but Sam thinks they can just remain quiet and hope Mr. Frank thinks a cat did it. At dinner Robert asks Mrs. Bamford what she knows about Frankenstein. She says he made monsters from electricity and old wire. This disturbs Robert.
Around 6:30 the next morning Robert wakes up in fear. He realizes he lost his Dracula doll. He had it when he climbed into Mr Frank’s storage room and concludes he dropped it when he knocked over the box. Many people have seen him with the doll, including the superintendent Mr. Christiansen. If Frank finds it and reports it to Christiansen then he will easily conclude that Robert knocked over the box.
He and Sam sneak to the basement to find the doll. They find a “Keep Out” sign over the hole in the wire. While trying to see if the Dracula is still in there, Mr. Frank grabs Robert. Sam pulls him free. Frank is blocking the elevator, and so they run up the stairs.
They run all the way to the nineteenth floor with Frank chasing them and then run into their apartment. He bangs on their door. When Mrs. Bamford answers he tells her that the boys were in his storage room. He explains he had rigged a walkie-talkie to help him catch them. He says he is good with electricity and that it is hobby.
When he leaves, Mrs. Bamford questions the boys. When the boys say he could make many monsters with the wire in his room she tells them that Frankenstein is not real.
The next week, Frank moves out because he thinks too may people are meddling in his affairs. Mr Clem says Frank claimed to be a composer, but Clem insists the noises coming from the apartment were not music. No one is sorry to see Frank leave. The boys go to his storage room. The wires and equipment are gone, but they find the Dracula doll with one arm ripped off. Sam says Frank needs it to make a monster. Robert wonders if he truly is Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted countless times. Frankenstein Moved in on the Fourth Floor is a fun adaptation which is easy for children to read. It also plays on children’s tendency to let their imaginations run wild. Mr. Frank is rude, secretive, strange, and a pack rat. Nonetheless, he is not the real Victor Frankenstein, but Sam is convinced based on the weak, circumstantial arguments.
I appreciate that this story makes clear that Frankenstein was the doctor rather than the monster. That important detail is missed even today. I must admit, however, that I once misunderstood that detail. I remember watching a cartoon as a child in which a monster was rampaging through a town. People screamed in fear that it was a “Frankenstein monster.” That did not make sense to me. A “Frankenstein monster”? Why not just call it a Frankenstein? Like I said, I did not know at the time that Frankenstein was the doctor.
Maybe sometime I will write one of my theological and philosophical movie reviews on the 1994 Frankenstein movie. It explores the important distinction between whether we can do something and whether we should do something. That is a distinction which remains relevant today in many arenas.
Like I have said before, I enjoy writing about childhood favorites because it brings back memories which have been largely buried for many years. If you review your favorites, then please feel free to post links in the comments of this post. I would enjoy reading them.