Monday, May 7, 2018
Bob Spearman, an honored trial lawyer who led the legal fight to breathe life into the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantee of a sound basic education for all public school students, died on December 3, 2017. The causes were dementia and Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Patricia Hinds Spearman; daughters Madolyn Marschall (Mark Salditch) of Baltimore and Dorothy Marschall of Corte Madera, California; grandchildren Zoe Salditch, Leah Salditch, Ellis Hurtado and Weston Hurtado; and sister Mary Lindsay Spearman of Chapel Hill.
Robert Worthington Spearman was born in Durham on January 23, 1943, the son of Walter S. and Mary E. Dale Spearman. During his formative years in Chapel Hill, where his father was a beloved professor in the UNC School of Journalism, he attended the public schools, delivered the Chapel Hill Weekly for pocket money, became an Eagle Scout, and developed his lifelong love for birds and Carolina basketball. For high school his father, an ardent Democrat, sent him to the Groton School in Massachusetts because President Franklin Roosevelt had gone there. He served as co-captain of the Groton basketball team, graduated first in his class, and was awarded a Morehead Scholarship.
In the fall of 1961, Bob embarked on his near-legendary tenure as a student at UNC, where he compiled a perfect 4.0 academic average and became the first (and only) person in history to be elected president of both the student body and Phi Beta Kappa. He was a member of Chi Psi fraternity, the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Order of the Grail, and the Society of Janus. As Student Body President he and other student leaders worked alongside Chancellor William B. Aycock, UNC President William Friday and Governor Terry Sanford to oppose North Carolina’s infamous “Speaker Ban” law, which was the subject of his senior honors thesis. After graduating with highest honors in 1965 Bob attended Oxford University (Merton College) on a Rhodes Scholarship. At Oxford he earned First Class Honors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and played basketball, where one of his teammates was Princeton All-America and future U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. “The implicit understanding,” he said, “was that if Bradley was open and I took a shot instead of passing to him, I would come out of the game.”
After graduating from the Yale Law School in 1970, Bob served as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. At the time neither knew that it would be Justice Black’s last term on the Court, or that Bob would help him draft his last and most famous opinion, in the “Pentagon Papers” case. Returning to North Carolina in 1971, he entered private law practice in Raleigh. He practiced with Sanford, Cannon, Adams & McCullough and its successor firms for his entire career, retiring on January 1, 2010 from Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein. Although he handled a wide array of antitrust cases and other complex commercial and business litigation in both state and federal court, Bob was best known for his creative and energetic representation of public school students from poor and rural counties in the landmark case known as Leandro v. State of North Carolina. The Leandro case, which was filed in 1994 and is still pending, resulted in two major State Supreme Court opinions. The first ruled that North Carolina schoolchildren have a judicially enforceable constitutional right to a sound and basic education. The second affirmed a series of later superior court decisions after trials, and held the State had wrongfully denied this right to many State schoolchildren. Bob’s Parker Poe colleagues, for whom he was a mentor and role model, are carrying on
Bob’s honors as an attorney included his election to the American College of Trial Lawyers and his service as a director of the American Judicature Society. He served as a faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, taught trial practice at the UNC School of Law, and was a frequent lecturer at judge’s conferences and lawyer seminars.
He also served as chair of the Wake County Democratic Party from 1979 to 1981, and as chair of the State Board of Elections from 1981 until 1985. He was a founder and chair of the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.
Because Bob loved birds, nothing made him more conflicted and flummoxed than a gang of red-bellied woodpeckers who relentlessly attacked the cedar siding on his and Pat’s Raleigh home. After several attempted remedies proved to be useless — including placing a fake barred owl and a scarecrow on the roof — Bob essentially declared a unilateral truce and wrote a hilarious essay about the “woodpecker war” that he distributed to friends and family.
He also loved good food, good wine, good books, his family, his alma mater, and reunions with his Groton, Carolina, Oxford and Yale friends and classmates.
A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at a later date. His family suggests that memorial contributions be made to The Carolina Covenant Scholarships General Fund. Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, P.O. Box 1080, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-1080.
I was honored to be asked to speak at Bob Spearman's Memorial Service on April 29, 2018. Here's the text of my remarks, to which I adhered pretty closely except for adding a story about how Bob and I each won a bottle of wine on a long-ago flight to San Francisco by being the first to answer questions in a trivia contest put on by the flight attendants. Bob was the first passenger to identify the four states whose capital cities begin with the same first letter as the state, and I was the first to come up with the names of the seven dwarfs.
Separately I have posted Bob's obituary.
I met Bob Spearman in the fall of 1961, on the first day of freshman orientation at Carolina. We were introduced by Pete Wales, Bob’s Groton classmate and fellow Morehead Scholar, who was in my orientation group. Both became my lifelong friends and now, sadly and unexpectedly, I have outlived them both. I guess Billy Joel got it right: only the good die young, or at least before their time.
Over the course of 57 years Bob and I took classes together, worked together and played together. As undergraduates at Chapel Hill we also plotted and schemed together in an effort to defeat or repeal North Carolina’s infamous “speaker ban” law, an affront to free speech that was as noxious, notorious and unwise then as HB2 was recently. Happily, our co-conspirators included then Governor Terry Sanford, UNC President Bill Friday, prominent UNC alumni, and other leaders of the state and university. Confronting that serious and challenging First Amendment challenge not only helped cement my friendship with Bob; it also was an important impetus, together with the Alamance County draft board, in my decision to go to law school and to become a First Amendment lawyer.
Early on I realized two things about Bob: that he was incredibly smart, but he never tried to impress you with how smart he was. To the contrary, he was one of the least pretentious people I have ever known. We often talk about people as being comfortable in their own skin, but I don’t think that really applied to Bob because the stuff inside his skin included a spine made up of damaged and deteriorating vertebrae that made him very uncomfortable for much of his life. Instead, I prefer to think of him as a person who, unlike most of us, was always comfortable in his own mind.
Bob loved good food and good wine, but he was not a gourmet; he was a gourmand. (Given the sophistication of this crowd, I’m sure I need not explain the difference.) He would eat pretty much anything that was put in front of him — and often something that was put in front of the person seated next to him. The one exception was Brussels sprouts, which he loathed. When I asked him why, he said it was because at both Groton and Oxford they were always served the same way: cold and gray. Collards, he believed, were an infinitely preferable green vegetable.
Bob liked to read about eating almost as much as he liked to eat. One of his favorite authors was Calvin Trillin, the New Yorker writer whose first book was entitled “Alice, Let’s Eat.” Bob shared with Trillin the view that the best way to show proper appreciation to one’s dinner party hosts was graciously to accept their offer of a third helping. Another favorite was R. W. “Johnny” Apple, a New York Times reporter famous for his ability to knock out a riveting front page lede under the pressure of a deadline, and for the staggering size of his expense account statements. Bob gave me books by Calvin Trillin (including the aptly titled “Third Helpings”) and sent me clippings of Johnny Apple stories. I can still remember his delight over the September 29, 2003 issue of The New Yorker, which contained an article about Johnny Apple that not only ran to almost 10,000 words and was written by Calvin Trillin. Bob sent me a copy of the article, which he devoured as enthusiastically as if it were a bowl of crawfish étouffée.
Given the gusto with which Bob ate, it’s startling that he never acquired a physique like Johnny Apple’s, who was known around the Times both for his profundity and his rotundity. To the contrary, Bob never seemed to gain any weight. In his 50s and 60s he could still fit into clothes he had had as a college sophomore; in fact, he sometimes wore clothes he had owned as a college sophomore.
There are many other things about Bob that I could talk about this afternoon, such as the astonishing breadth and depth of his knowledge; his love of both books and birds; the full-throated enthusiasm with which he watched Tar Heel basketball games on television; his mechanical ineptitude, which left him completely flummoxed when he was confronted by any tool more complicated than a wheelbarrow; or how he would go into an almost impenetrable zone of concentration and focus when he was preparing for a court hearing. Instead, if you will forgive me for injecting a note of sadness into what is, after all, an occasion for joyous remembrances, I’d like to talk for a few moments about Bob at the end of his life.
I didn’t see Bob’s steady decline into dementia coming; indeed, in retrospect I see that I didn’t even recognize it after it had begun. Looking back, I see that if I had been more perceptive I would have realized that something was up when Bob abruptly retired from the practice of law that he loved so much; or when after he and Pat moved to Chapel Hill he didn’t do what so many retirees here do, which is to fill their schedules with the endless array of lectures, seminars, concerts, outings and spectator sports offered up by this great university. Only when his dementia began to manifest itself in episodes of aphasia and forgetfulness did I come to realize that a more understanding friend would have said long before, “Bob, are you okay? Is there something I can do for you?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t ask. For one thing, Bob’s and my relationship, like those of many men who are friends and colleagues, didn’t extend to asking each other such personal questions. For another, I always thought of Bob as so self-sufficient and so much in control that it was impossible to think of him as needing help.
Nearer the end of his life, when he lived first in a group home at the Governor’s Club and then in a memory care facility, I visited with him. I would show up at the group home with barbecue sandwiches or a bag of BLTs from Merritt’s Store and a cold beer or two, and we would sit on the deck and watch the birds in the adjacent trees and I would read bird poems to him. Later I got some great advice from my son George who, as an Episcopal priest, has many occasions to visit with folks suffering from memory loss. He told me that often one of the last faculties that such patients lose is their ability to recall and enjoy music, which certainly was true for Bob. Even when he could no longer speak or feed himself, he reacted visibly and happily when I cranked up my iPod and my portable speaker and played beach music and 1960s rock and roll hits from the Chi Psi juke box. The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” was a particular favorite.
So, I leave you with some unsolicited but heartfelt advice: if you have a friend or family member whose mind is failing, don’t fall back on the excuse that “I just want to remember them the way they were.” Suck it up. Pay them a visit. Talk to them, even when you have no idea whether they are taking in anything you are saying. Sing to them or play music for them. It will be hard, and you almost surely will leave with tears in your eyes. But one of the last of the many things I learned from Bob is that it also will be therapeutic for the person you visit — and for you.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Here are the remarks that I was privileged to make at Al Adams' Memorial Service on April 9, 2017. I am grateful to Al's family for asking me to participate alongside Charles Meeker, Dan Blue Jr., Betsy Buford and Tom Eichenberger.
I am humbled and honored to have been asked to share some memories of Al today; after all memories are what a memorial service is all about. The ones I have chosen are not about the weary and ill Al of recent times. Rather, they are of the vigorous and exuberant Al Adams alongside whom I was privileged to practice law.
In the interest of time, I have eliminated all of the anecdotes that came to mind during the preparation of these remarks. I hope they may kindle stories of your own; if so, go home, pour yourself a drink, and tell them to each other.
I learned a lot from Al. For example, he taught me that when you go to court, you should always be respectful of the judge, even if he or she rules against you, and that you should always introduce yourself to the courtroom clerk, the bailiff and the court reporter and thank them for their service.
Al also taught me that a proper refrigerator always had in it a bottle of gin and a jar of Zatarain’s creole mustard.
Most of all, Al taught me although law is a serious business, life need not be.
Frankly, I don’t remember many details, and in some cases even the outcomes, of the many legal cases that Al and I worked on together. What I DO remember is the fun we had, especially when our work took us to New York and other places where Al could indulge two of his great passions: good food and grand opera.
Al loved to eat. His appetite was prodigious, his tastes in food were eclectic and ecumenical, and he seemed to know the best places to eat in every city and town in the country, from Southport to San Francisco. The best thing about eating with him was the palpable and infectious enjoyment that he displayed, regardless of whether we were dining at a fancy New York restaurant or having lunch at Green’s Garner Grill. For Al, every meal was an event.
Some of Al’s gusto for food probably was attributable to the fact that he liked to preface a meal with a martini (or two). He made me the first one I had ever had, straight up with a twist, which is how I like them to this day.
Al enjoyed feeding others as much as he enjoyed feeding himself. He loved hosting his annual pre-Christmas party, which drew dozens (sometimes hundreds) of friends to stand outside in the cold and eat steamed or raw oysters and Smithfield ham on saltine crackers topped with his famous rémoulade sauce. He also loved mixing Bloody Marys, cranking out oyster omelets, and otherwise acting as the impresario of the Sunday brunch at Betty’s Emerald Isle beach house that was, for most of us, the highlight of our annual firm retreats.
As Betsy noted, Al also loved the opera, a fascination that he attributed to his mother. As a relatively young widow who supported herself and him on her salary as a “Red Cross lady,” she didn’t have the wherewithal or the opportunity to attend the opera, but every Saturday afternoon during the season she would tune the radio to Texaco’s broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s matinee performance, filling her house and his head with music that he grew to love. If we were traveling to New York on business, he invariably would consult the Met’s calendar before scheduling client meetings and depositions. He was mesmerized by every performance from the moments the lights went up until the curtain descended on the dying or dead hero or heroine. Italian opera was his favorite. A well-rendered Puccini aria like “Un bel di” could practically lift him out of his seat, and could engender an elbow in his companion’s ribs. They call it “grand opera,” he said, “because it really is grand.”
Al was particularly proud of the fact that we were in the house for a performance of “Aida” on the night that Jimmy Carter became the first, and to date the only, sitting president to attend a performance at the Met. Al said, “I can’t imagine a Republican president doing something like that.”
Food and the opera were only two of the things Al loved.
Above all, of course, he loved his Betty. In fact, he adored her, and her sudden and unexpected death left him bereft.
He loved his family and gloried in his children, step-children and grandchildren.
He loved his friends, including everyone who is here today and the many others who are no longer with us.
He loved his country. He was proud of his Navy service, and when he arrived at his and Betty’s beach house for the weekend the first thing he did was raise the American flag.
He loved his State, which he served so well, and flew its flag, too.
Al loved his university. I don’t recall ever hearing him refer to a Carolina football or basketball team as anything except his “beloved Tar Heels.” One of his great heroes was UNC president Frank Porter Graham, with whom he shared the quaint notion that the Sermon on the Mount was a statement of sound social policy.
He loved Cameron Park, and through the Cameron Park Association, which he created, he worked tirelessly to rid it of the rooming houses and rental properties that had crept in, bringing with them the threat of neighborhood blight.
He loved his house on Woodburn road and enjoyed recounting its history. When he and Betty reluctantly decided to downsize, he sold the house to Joyce Fitzpatrick and Jay Stewart on the condition that he had veto power over any of their political yard signs. (A right that he exercised only once.) At the closing, he cried.
He loved sailing. Of all my many happy times we spent together, none was happier than my week-long sailing trip to the Virgin Islands in 1988 with Al, Betty and the late Heman Clark.
The point is that Al simply loved life. Indeed, he loved it so fully, and lived it so ebulliently, there are too many such memories to recall or recount at one sitting, or even in one day. He himself once summed it up perfectly as we sat on his porch drinking our martinis. “I have,” he said, “the best time of anyone I know.”
Indeed he did. And because he did, those of us who were fortunate enough to be his friends and neighbors and colleagues had a great time, too.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
I was filling my car’s gas tank on Friday night when my iPhone alerted me to an incoming text from my friend Joyce Fitzpatrick. Her message, which was accompanied by an emoticon shedding a tear, simply said “Al Adams just died.” Within seconds a second text conveyed the same sad news. That one was from Tina, Al’s faithful and gregarious aide whose diligent care allowed him to stay at home as his health declined.
I’ve thought a lot about Al since then, and although my thoughts understandably are tinged with sadness over his passing, most of them have been happy thoughts, because from the day I met Al until the last time I saw him, being with him always made me happy.
I met Al in February, 1973 when I reported to Suite 1500 in the old BB&T building to begin practicing law with Sanford, Cannon, Adams & McCullough. I had just been released from the U.S. Navy after four years on active duty. Marilyn and I were new to Raleigh; in fact, she was new to North Carolina. We had a brand new baby, a brand new Ford Pinto, and an apartment sparsely furnished with a few pieces of rental furniture. Al had not been around when I had interviewed with the firm, but in what I later learned was a typical gesture, he immediately took me to his Cameron Park house to ramble about in the attic and borrow a spare dresser and several other items.
I determined early on that the law firm had hired me without having any clear idea about what I was supposed to do, so I began making the rounds of the partners’ offices looking for assignments. In Al’s case an “assignment” took the form of his rummaging through the files stacked on his desk, handing me one, and saying something like “maybe you can figure out what to do about this.” I quickly learned that in most instances (but not all) he already had figured out what to do, and that his open-ended methodology and lack of instruction was just his way of measuring my skill and assessing my judgment. He must have been satisfied, because we worked together closely for the next 15 years without so much as a single cross word.
Frankly, I don’t remember many details, and in some cases even the outcomes, of the many legal cases that Al and I worked on together. What I DO remember is the fun we had, especially when our work took us to New York and other places where we could indulge two of Al’s great passions: good food and grand opera.
Al’s appetite was prodigious, his tastes in food were eclectic and ecumenical, and he seemed to know the best places to eat in every city and town in the country, from Norfolk to New Orleans to New York. The best thing about eating with him was the palpable and infectious enjoyment that he displayed, regardless of whether he was dining at Locke-Ober or having lunch at Green’s Garner Grill. For Al, every meal was an event.
He was especially fond of seafood, particularly oysters. In addition to the Grand Central Oyster Bar, where he inevitably ordered the oyster pan roast, his New York favorites included Gage & Tollner, a seafood restaurant on Fulton Street in Brooklyn that had been in business since 1879. It was located in a building listed in the National Register of Historic Places where the replacement of the original gaslights with electric bulbs was the only obvious concession to modernity. In the 1980s it was not always easy to persuade a cab driver to take you there from Manhattan, but the chef was the fabled Edna Lewis and the waiters, who wore military-style chevrons on their sleeves reflecting their years of service, were ageing black men from Goldsboro and other Eastern North Carolina locales. Al’s favorite dish, an appetizer, was baked clam bellies on toast, an affectation he shared with legendary New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin.
Al enjoyed feeding others as much as he enjoyed feeding himself. He loved hosting his annual pre-Christmas party, which drew dozens of friends to stand outside in the cold and eat steamed or raw oysters and Smithfield ham on saltine crackers topped with his famous rémoulade sauce, the special ingredient of which was Zatarain’s creole mustard. He also loved mixing Bloody Marys, cranking out oyster omelets, and otherwise acting as the impresario of the Sunday brunch at his Emerald Isle beach house that traditionally marked the conclusion (and, for most of us, the clear highlight) of our annual firm retreats.
Somewhere along here I probably should mention that some of Al’s gusto for food probably was attributable to the fact that he liked to preface a meal with a martini (or two). He believed that the only indispensable ingredient of a true martini was gin, and that it should be kept in the freezer or refrigerator. He made me the first one I had ever had, straight up with a twist, which is how I like them to this day.
Al also loved the opera. If we were traveling to New York on business, he invariably would consult the Metropolitan Opera calendar before scheduling client meetings and depositions. Although he often said that the plots of most operas could be the basis of a country and western song, he was mesmerized by every performance from the moments the lights went up until the curtain closed on the dying or dead hero or heroine. Italian opera was his favorite. A well-rendered Puccini aria could practically lift him out of his seat.
Al attributed his love of opera to his mother. He explained that as a relatively young widow who supported herself and him on her salary as a “Red Cross lady,” she didn’t have the wherewithal or the opportunity to attend the opera, but every Saturday afternoon during the season she would tune the radio to Texaco’s broadcast of the Met’s matinee performance, filling her house and his head with music that he grew to love. In the mid-1950s, After Al had graduated from UNC and was serving in the U.S. Navy at the Great Lakes Training Center outside Chicago, he took a weekend pass and went into the city. While he was walking around gazing at the Wrigley Building, Soldier Field and other famous sights, he found himself in front of the Chicago Lyric Opera, where the evening’s offering was Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman.” He had never attended an opera performance. He went up to the box office and asked if any tickets were available. There were, and because he was in uniform, the price was cheap (Al remembered that it was around $10), so he paid and went in. As soon as the overture began and the curtain went up, he was enthralled. “It was,” he said, “even more magical than I had imagined. I loved everything about it: the singing, the sets, the costumes — everything. I was hooked. That was when I realized that they call it ‘grand opera’ because it really is grand.”
Of the many opera performances that we attended together, the one that occurred on December 5, 1978 is particularly memorable. After working in Boston for a couple of days Al and I took the shuttle to New York, where we had depositions scheduled the next day. Al had the cab driver drop me and our luggage at our hotel while he went on to Lincoln Center to see if there were any “turn-in” tickets available for that evening’s sold-out performance of “Aida.” About an hour later I opened my door to a knock to find Al, his face wreathed in glee, holding up two tickets in the dead center of the orchestra section. “I got great seats,” he said, “but there must be something going on at Lincoln Center, because they said we need to be seated at least 10 minutes before the curtain. We’ll have time for a drink, but we will have to have a late dinner.”
We arrived at the opera house to find that the NYPD had deployed their familiar blue sawhorse barriers to set up a check point outside the entrance, and when we had settled into our seats the house was abuzz with rumor and speculation. Just before the lights were due to go up, an announcement said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States and Mrs. Carter, Governor Carey and Mrs. Carey, and former mayor Beame and Mrs. Beame.” Everyone turned to face the parterre to see Jimmy Carter, in black tie, waving from the front row. Needless to say, Al was ecstatic.
According to Alistair Cooke, the famous BBC reporter, that night was the first and only time that a sitting President had attended a performance at the Met. As far as I can ascertain, no sitting President has done so subsequently.
I could go on, because writing this has evoked even more happy memories, such as my 1988 Virgin Islands sailing trip with Al, Betty and Heman Clark, but the point is that because Al loved life so much, and lived it so ebulliently, there are simply too many such memories to recall or recount at one sitting. He himself summed it up perfectly. “I have,” he said, “the best time of anyone I know.” Indeed he did. And because he did, those of us who were fortunate enough to be his friends had a great time, too.
 Al’s other great passion, of course, was politics — a topic that I will largely leave to others. He had run for the state senate in 1972 but lost in the Republican sweep that propelled Jesse Helms into the U.S. Senate and Jim Holshouser into the Governor’s Mansion. In 1974 he made a successful run for the N.C. House of Representatives, where he would serve five terms. In his very first term he teamed with fellow members of Wake County’s legislative delegation Ruth Cook, Bill Creech, Bob Farmer, Joe Johnson and Wade Smith to pass legislation merging the Wake County and Raleigh public schools. For the next ten years he rose steadily in the ranks of the General Assembly’s leadership, eventually serving as chair of the House Appropriations Committee and joining forces with legendary legislators like Liston Ramsey, Billy Watkins, and George Miller to provide funding for public education and progressive legislation of various kinds. Of the many measures he sponsored, he was particularly proud of the bill that set aside places for public access to North Carolina’s beaches, including his beloved strand at Emerald Isle.
Friday, January 1, 2016
Harrell Stevens’ Great 1935 Road Trip
I learned at an early age that my father loved to take road trips.
The summer I turned seven, Pop built a kind of platform that fit over the transmission hump and converted the backseat of our ’49 Chevy into a flat space for me, loaded the trunk with suitcases and camping gear, put my mother in the passenger seat, and drove us from Galax, Virginia to the Grand Canyon and back. We had a tent, a camera, a couple of Army cots, and a Coleman stove that burned white gas. My private space in the car was covered with quilts so I could rest, read and play during the day (even then I never napped) and sleep there on the nights we camped.
Pop drove almost every mile of the trip while my mother navigated from a spiral-bound book of trip maps that he had ordered from Amoco. Each page had our route marked in bright orange. Cars had no air conditioning in those days, so most of the time he drove with the driver’s side window rolled down and his left elbow propped on the sill. By about the third day his arm bore a vicious, oddly shaped sunburn.
My memories of the trip include waking at sunrise to find that we were camped within a stone’s throw of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, feeding peanuts to chipmunks who ate out of my hand at Bryce Canyon, and discovering that the Great Salt Lake’s extra buoyancy was not sufficient to permit me to float like a bar of Ivory soap.
We took many road trips after that – to New England, where it rained buckets in Boston; to New York, where we stayed at the Hotel Taft and ate at an Automat; to Washington, D.C., where we nervously waited out an air raid drill in the undercroft of the Lincoln Memorial; and to Florida, where I acquired a sunburn so painful that I couldn’t lie down to sleep.
During these and other trips, and at other times, Pop would make reference to “the time I drove to California with some other fellas.” Other than the fact that he had visited the Grand Canyon, San Diego and Yosemite National Park, and the name of one of his companions, I knew next to nothing about his trip until after he died. That’s when I discovered a small three-ring “Scholastic” binder and a scrapbook of small black-and-white photographs in which he documented his trip. Although the journal narrative was spare in its details and many of the pictures were of unidentified vistas, by putting them together I was able to understand that for my father, whose early life was severely circumscribed financially, geographically and socially, the trip to California was a transformative adventure that opened his eyes to the wonder and joy that comes from experiencing new places.
Pop’s love of travel never waned, and I am gratified that in his later years he and my mother had sufficient means to visit some of the exotic places that he longed to see, from Mount Denali in Alaska to the Pyramids. Best of all, he passed his love on to me.
Nor do I know who owned the 1935 Pontiac that these fellows drove 7,949 miles in 25 days; if it belonged to my father, he never mentioned it, and I have not found it pictured in any other of his photo collections. Considering all the sightseeing they did and the conditions of the roads they traveled, the fact that they averaged 318 miles per day is astonishing; even the famous Route 66, which they followed from Oklahoma to California, was unpaved in stretches in those days, and the “highways” in Mississippi and Alabama were worse. Perhaps the answer is that Pop, who apparently did most of the driving, had a bit of a “lead foot” at age 23. (See the entries for July 15 and 28.)
The journal also leaves these and many other questions unanswered:
Other than a leaky tent and inadequate blankets, what camping gear did they carry?
How and where did they wash their clothes -- and themselves?
Why did Pop and his companions wear neckties most of the time?
How did he celebrate his 23d birthday?
What did they eat? How did they pass the time in the car?
We’ll never know. Here’s what we do know, in Pop’s own words and photographs.
We left Burlington at 2:20 PM on Saturday, July 13, 1935. The mileage on the car was 10, 385. We were in rain near Hendersonville. We camped by a lake near Franklin on Saturday night. It was cold.
The mountains were very pretty on Sunday morning. It was foggy for a while. We ate breakfast at Murphy.
At 10:00 A.M. on Sunday, July 14 we crossed into Tennessee. The land was all washed up and scarred by big ditches. No trees. At Cleveland, Tennessee we passed the world’s largest woolen mill. We reached Chattanooga at 11:00 A.M. A little later we went over into Alabama. We camped by Tennessee River Sunday night. I fixed supper. I sure was tired. I drove over 250 miles Sunday.
Monday, July 15.
On Monday morning we left at 6:20 A.M. The car mileage was 11,095. We drove from Selmer, Tennessee down into Mississippi at 7:00 A.M. Monday. One stretch of the road was 11 miles long with no curves. On this stretch we went 85 at one time. We reached Memphis at 10:00 A.M. on Monday and crossed the Mississippi River by bridge. After we crossed the river the state was Arkansas.
From Memphis to Brinkley, Ark the country is flat. About all you see are cotton fields. We got to Little Rock at 1:00 P.M. From there to Fort Smith the roads were good. We went through the Ozark Mountains. They were not very large, just enough to be pretty. I drove 300 miles this afternoon. At Fort Smith we crossed the Arkansas River into Oklahoma. This river was wide and clear. We camped 22 miles from Fort Smith and cooked supper. We watched the eclipse of the moon at 9:12.
Tuesday, July 16. Mileage 11,564.
The roads were rough and we did not make very good time to Oklahoma City. We stopped there and looked around for about an hour. Left there at 1:00 P.M. From Oklahoma City to the Texas line the country began to get more level and there were less trees. We saw several oil wells in Oklahoma. We came by a U.S. Army camp.
We crossed the Canadian River into Texas at 4:45 P.M. From the line to Amarillo there were hardly any trees at all. The roads were strait and good. Made good time to Amarillo. I drove 200 miles today. It seemed like the car ran better. We camped on Jack Hall’s Ranch a few miles from Amarillo. We could not find a shady place anywhere else. The night sure was beautiful under the Texas stars on the plains. The moon was full and sure was shining down.
Wednesday, July 17. Mileage 12,009.
We crossed into New Mexico at Glenrio at 8 A.M. After we crossed into New Mexico the countryside began to get rolling and treeless. The only kinds of trees we saw were scrub cedars. In the afternoon we began to get into the Painted Desert country. We ate dinner at Albuquerque. There were some very pretty mountains before we got there. We crossed the Rio Grande River just beyond there. The desert began there, and some hills. We did not see a house for many miles. The rabbits there were large and skinny. We also saw prairie dogs on the desert. It rained after we camped at Clark’s Dairy a few miles from Gallup, New Mexico. We like to never have found any water or shade. I drove over 300 miles today.
Thursday, July 18. Mileage 12463.
It was cloudy when we broke camp. At 7:30 A.M. we crossed into Arizona. The Painted Desert was a few miles into Arizona. It sure was a beautiful scene – red, brown and all colors. It was a little cloudy, or it would have been even more beautiful. Just a few miles farther we went into the Petrified Forest. These were large trees that had been turned to stone. About noon we passed through Winslow, Arizona. While we were stopped there, a fellow came over to the car and talked with us. His name was Troy Hagood. He has a brother who works at Mayfair. His address is Box 751, Winslow, Arizona.
Thursday evening we got to the Grand Canyon. It was cloudy and we did not get a good look. That night it rained. Our tent leaked, and we had to sleep in the car.
Friday, July 19.
We went to the South Rim of the Canyon. Sure were some wonderful views from there. This Canyon is so vast and wonderful one has to see it to really appreciate it. The Colorado River is about a mile below the rim. It looks to be about like a small creek, but it is really 300 feet wide, very muddy and very swift. There are 1,000,000 tons of silt carried downstream by it every day.
The walls of the Canyon are all colors cut up in every kind of shape and form. It is one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen. We went to Desert View where one way you could see the desert and the other rim of the Canyon. Sure was a wonderful view and made one feel how large and wonderful nature really is.
If you stand on the rim of the Canyon and look down you see ravines, gorges, canyons, precipices, bluffs, towers, pinnacles, buttes, solitary mountain peaks, temples, arches, caves and every conceivable feature and structure of rock. [It’s] a mile deep abyss full of things, all of them on such a gigantic scale as to appear like the vast, hideous and overwhelming objects of a nightmare, but made real and transfused with radiant splendor, dashed over with all the colors of the sunset, sunrise and rainbow in combinations never before revealed to man and transfigured with glory, as if from the very throne of God.
Friday evening we went up to the north rim to watch the sunset. It was cloudy, but then the sun came out just before it set. Sure did make a wonderful sight. That night it rained again. All of our things got wet and we did not get an early start on Saturday.
Saturday, July 20. Mileage 12831.
It was a beautiful morning after the rain. When we got started it was cool. After we passed Williams, Arizona the sun got hotter. The desert began. Cactus and low cedars were all the plants we could see. At one time the temperature was 112 degrees. When we crossed the Colorado River we were in California. We crossed the river at 3 P.M. at Needles and turned north to Boulder City and Boulder Dam. It was getting late when we got there and I couldn’t get any pictures. I sure wish I could have, because it was a wonderful place. The lake was already 300 feet deep and looks like it had just begun to back up. The canyon there was not so grand as where we saw it before, but it was still wonderful. The machinery at the dam was not in operation because of a strike. Some of the workmen were at work, but not many. This is one of the man-made wonders of the world.
From Boulder Dam to San Diego we went across the desert for about 200 miles. We drove this at night to escape the terrible heat.
Sunday, July 21.
We did not go to bed until about 9:00 this morning. I sure was tired. I slept until one o’clock. On Sunday afternoon we went to Tijuana, Mexico, the great gambling and resort place below the border. The saloons and stores were all open. There were large crowds of people, mostly Americans. The big bar rooms and cafes had orchestras and girls to dance with. One bar was about two blocks long and looked like it had every kind of liquor there was to be had.
Monday, July 22.
Today we stayed at the fair in San Diego. This was a beautiful place. All kinds of flowers from every part of the world were planted all over the grounds. The buildings were all built in Spanish style. There was an outdoor pipe organ there, the largest in the world. There were several nice exhibits, and several shows, but I didn’t go in any of them. Henry Ford had about the best exhibit.
Tuesday, July 23.
Today we drove up to Los Angeles. We could see the Pacific Ocean all the way. Sure was pretty to see the breakers come in and leave the foam after they broke on the beach. We stopped at Long Beach for a while; there was quite a crowd on the beach there.
We had to have the car worked on at Los Angeles. The battery went down and the generator would not work. Going out to find a campsite we went through Hollywood; it was no different from the rest of the city. We camped about four blocks from Mae West’s house and not far from ___________ Ranch.
Wednesday, July 24.
Today was my birthday. I was 23 years old. It took us until nearly noon to get the car fixed. We drove over to Hollywood. We did not see any of the movie stars, but there sure were some pretty places there. After dinner we went over to Beverly Hills and saw the houses of the following move stars: Ann Southern, Irene Dunne, Robert Montgomery, Ruth Chatterlain, Frederic March, Gary Cooper, Lupe Vélez, Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, Constance Bennett, Wallace Berry, Marlene Dietrich, Ramon Navarro and Helen Twelvetrees. These were all beautiful places. We then went down to the beach at Santa Monica. This was a very pretty place; to the northwest the mountains seemed to go all the way down to the sea. We camped at the same place as on Tuesday night. It was an orchard and made me think of the places at home. The man who owned the place was an Italian. He said it never rained there except in the winter.
Thursday, July 25.
We left Hollywood about 9:00 A.M. for Yosemite Park. After we left the coast it began to get warmer. It is always foggy in the morning at the coast. We went across the San Joaquin Valley to the Sierra Madre Mountains. All of this land that was cultivated had to be irrigated. Grapes, figs, olives, oranges and all kinds of vegetables are grown there. When we began to get into the mountains the trees began to get larger. The first grove of redwood trees we saw were inside the park. We went into the grove. Some of the trees were over 3,000 years old and more than 200 feet high. They were all straight and did not have any limbs for a long way up.
We were about 8,000 feet high when we started into the valley. The road was good. Sure were some pretty views from the road. We went through a tunnel over 4,000 feet long cut into solid rock. When we got to the bottom of the valley the sides were between 3,000 and 4,000 feet high on both sides. They were solid rock and about as straight as a wall. Every night they have some kind of fire on top and push it off a cliff. It looks like a waterfall on fire and sure is beautiful.
Friday, July 26.
It was cool down in the valley early in the morning. In the parks they have rangers who conduct tours every day. On these they stop at the most important places and point out and explain things that one who did not know about would miss. We went on two of these tours today. In the morning we went to the east end of the valley, where we saw Half Dome, Clouds Rest and other parts of the rock walls. We went through the fish hatchery that the State of California has there. At Mirror Lake the water is clear and the reflections in the water are beautiful.
At night we went to the assembly, where there were talks and entertainment. One of the rangers gave an illustrated lecture on the beauties of the park. This was very interesting. I sure would have liked to have seen some of the places he showed and talked about. At 9:00 P.M. the falling fire was very pretty. We then went to where they feed the bears. There were eight or ten large wild bears, some black and some red. While we were there a coyote came in and got something. It was wilder than the bears and ran in and out again and again.
Saturday, July 27.
We had to get out by 6:25 A.M. or wait until 8:00 P.M. because there is a one-way road for four miles and they let traffic out for one hour and in for the next. We made it but did not have any time to spare. The elevation at the floor of the valley was 4,000 feet. During the first four miles we climbed 2,000 feet. There were several hairpin turns on the road, so we could get a wonderful view of the valley as we went up. The road went up for several miles. All the way along we saw many kinds of flowers in bloom. We also saw deer and several smaller animals. Several times we were above the timber line. There were pretty meadows and streams up there. These streams were very clear and beautiful. Most of them were made by snow melting higher up. Many times during the day we saw lots of snow. At one time we stopped and went up to a snow bank. It was not very large. The elevation there was a little over 9,000 feet. There were several beautiful lakes in this part of the mountains. They were blue, like the pictures one can see and not believe there really are any such places. We went through Tioga Pass and started down grade. We got some wonderful views there. After several miles we were in the desert again. It is difficult to believe that you can get from mountains and snow to desert and sagebrush so quickly.
We crossed into Nevada about 2:00 P.M. The capital is Carson City, the smallest capital city in the U.S. We went through there and then on to the famous divorce capital of Reno. From there the country was desert with very little growing except cedar, sage and a few other desert plants. Some of the way we were in mountains. We camped at Winnemucca, Nevada. We had come nearly 400 miles during the day.
Sunday, July 28. Mileage 14688
More desert today. Sure was hot, but not as hot as it has been. We saw several large ranges of mountains today. After noon we came across the Great Salt Desert. This at one time was a salt lake; now the water is all gone. Sometimes we drove for 20 miles where nothing at all is was growing; it looked very much like snow. The desert was about 60 miles across. It was very level and the road was just as straight as could be. After we got across the desert and were going through a town I was not watching my speed and got pinched for speeding. The judge had gone away and the officer was very nice. He said it was my lucky day and let me go; boy was I glad. We went by the Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City, which was a very pretty city facing the lake with mountains on the other three sides. We camped Sunday night about three miles from Ogden, Utah.
Monday, July 29.
We went into Ogden and there got our mail. Everyone felt better after they read their letters from home and other places. I sure was glad to hear from everyone who wrote me.
Ogden was a very nice town with wide streets and shady trees. From there we went north. About two o’clock we crossed into Idaho. We stopped at Idaho Falls and bought some souvenirs. From there to Yellowstone Park there were some mountains – just enough to be pretty and not get one tired. All the valleys were irrigated and under cultivation. We went into Montana before we went into the park. It was nearly dark by the time we got into the park. We camped at the campsite at Old Faithful geyser. Everyone like to have froze Monday night. A bear climbed a tree over our tent. I woke up after it had left.
We went to Old Faithful and waited until it erupted. This was worth seeing. Every 63 minutes it throws between 15,000 and 20,000 gallons of water between 150 and 200 feet into the air. The water is 203 degrees. The ranger there said they estimated this geyser to be between 40,000 and 50,000 years old.
From there we went to West Thumb, where you can see Yellowstone Lake, a large clear lake over 7,000 feet high. There are lots of fish in the lake and all kinds of birds near the lake. At one place we stopped and saw the Dragon’s Mouth. This was a cave-like place with hot water dashing out; it roars like a waterfall. Near this was the Mud Volcano, a pit with mud and gas boiling out. Further on were the Terraces. These were places where water boils out of the ground and deposits lime which builds up the terraces, which are all different colors and very pretty. There were many hot springs and geysers in Yellowstone, some large and some small. We also saw the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the falls.
On our way around the park we saw many kinds of wild animals. The bears are all along the roads and will sit up and look for something to eat. Every night the rangers feed the bears and give an interesting talk about their habits. We saw deer, elk and moose but did not get very close to any of them. There were several kinds of smaller game that we saw.
Wednesday, July 31. Mileage 15,612.
Everybody got cold again last night. If I ever go on another camping trip I bet I will take enough blankets. We left Yellowstone about 7:00 this morning. The first hundred miles were very mountainous and they were working on the road nearly all the way. We followed the Shoshone River for a long way. There was right much snow on several of the mountains.
The Shoshone River has made a canyon as it flows out of the mountains. The government has built a dam in the canyon that is over 300 feet high. There is a power plant there, and also water for irrigation. The road goes down this canyon for a long way. There are four or five short tunnels on this road. We stopped at Cody, Wyoming and got something to eat. This town was founded by Buffalo Bill Cody. There is a museum there with his things in it. The country from there was a little more level. It began to look more like the plains. On the Big Horn River we went into Wind Canyon, a deep gorge cut by the river. It looked like the road was downgrade when we would be going up. The river looked like it was running the wrong way. The road from Wind Canyon was good all the way to Casper, where we stayed Wednesday night.
Thursday, August 1.
Got an early start. Went up to the Black Hills of South Dakota as far as Wind Cave. We went into this cave. The temperature in the cave was about 50 degrees, cool enough to be comfortable. It was about 250 feet deep and a mile long. Below Hot Springs we crossed into Nebraska. This is a farming state with beautiful fields of wheat and corn and lots of livestock. The land was level or rolling. Much of it was irrigated.
Friday, August 2. Mileage 16424.
We drove down from Sidney, Nebraska into Colorado. We did not go in very far, just enough to say we had been to this state. We crossed the Platte River at Grand Island, Nebraska and got to Lincoln, the capital, about 3:00 P.M. From there we decided to drive close enough to St. Louis so we could see a ball game on Saturday. At Nebraska City we crossed the Missouri River into Iowa. It was after dark, so we could not tell much about how anything looked. At St. Joseph, Missouri we crossed the river into Kansas. Then we went back across the river and drove toward Hannibal. We stopped for about three hours and slept some.
Saturday, August 3.
This morning we went on to Hannibal and then from there to St. Louis. We got to St. Louis about 10:00 A.M., rented a cabin, cleaned up and rested awhile. We went to the ball game Saturday afternoon. Saw the Cardinals and Pittsburgh play. St. Louis won six to nothing; it was a good fast game. We had the car worked on in St. Louis and did not get it until about 7:00 P.M. Everyone was about all in, so we did not stay in town very long. It sure was hot here after being in the mountains.
Sunday, August 4. Mileage 17,326.
We got an early start today so it would not be so hot. We crossed the Mississippi River by the McKinley Bridge. The river at St. Louis is not so wide. It is built up on each side so it will be deep enough for the boats. After we crossed the river we were in Illinois. This is farming country. Most of the places are well kept and look good. It sure was good to get back to a part of the country where there were plenty of trees and where places to get good water are not so far apart.
The Wabash River is the boundary between Illinois and Indiana. It was about 1:00 on Sunday when we went into Indiana. We stopped at the George Rogers Clark Memorial on the bank of the Wabash. At Louisville, Kentucky we crossed the Ohio River. We decided to go by Mammoth Cave, as it would not be out of our way. We didn’t get there until late. Camped and slept out.
Monday, August 5. Mileage 17,615.
We could not find out much about the cave, so we left for Johnson City. We had a dirt road for about 50 miles. We got to Knoxville about noon. Sure was hot. We went on to Johnson City and got there about dark. We stayed at a tourist camp.
Tuesday, August 6.
We went to the mill and went through it. Did not stay long. We came by Asheville and stopped for a while. I think everyone felt better when they got back to old North Carolina. We got to Greensboro about 8:00 P.M. I stopped there and stayed all night. I went home Wednesday and rested.
I think this was a wonderful trip and I enjoyed ever bit of it. I sure was sorry when it ended, but all good things must end. If I ever get the chance and have the money I am going on another one.
The reading at the stop was 18,334
To me, the most surprising thing about Pop’s trip narrative was learning how little time he and his friends spent at San Diego’s California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park, which my father always referred to as a “world’s fair.” Given the frequency and fondness with which he mentioned it, I had assumed that it was the raison d’être for the trip, so I was surprised that “the fellas” spent only one day there, and that Pop’s journal entry about it was so perfunctory.
My curiosity about the Exposition led me to a “pictorial essay” published a few years ago in “The Journal of San Diego History” in which the authors explained that the event built upon a Panama-California Exposition of 1915-1916 and was made possible because San Diego received the first funds allocated to an American city by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration for the purpose of creating or expanding parks. This paragraph caught my eye, particularly in light of Pop’s entry:
The second exposition, quite unlike the first, featured some controversial exhibits
and unusual sideshow entertainment—a nudist colony called Zoro Gardens,
Alpha, a silver robot with a walking counterpart, a Midget Village, an Old Globe
Shakespearean Theater and spectacular lighting shows. Three internationally
famous gardens—one patterned after the Casa del Rey Moro (House of the Moorish King) Garden in Ronda, Spain, another duplicating that adjoining the Alcázar in Sevilla, Spain, and a third from a patio garden in Guadalajara, Mexico—were also reproduced. Federal funding made it possible to construct a new permanent building copied from the Mayan Palace of Governors in Uxmal, Yucatan.
Pop said about the shows “I didn’t go into any of them.” When I read that, I assumed that he passed on the sideshows because they charged admission fees whereas the exhibits were free, but after learning that the shows were controversial, and included a “nudist colony,” I wondered whether Pop’s use of “I” was intended to set him apart from his companions. It’s hard to imagine that all five of the “fellas,” who were a long way from home both geographically and culturally, visited Tijuana and a World’s Fair without being tempted to check out sights and experiences that surely were eye-opening to them, if not downright shocking. Did they really go all the way to California and not join these young men peering through the fence at the naked ladies in Zoro Gardens?
Whatever he did or didn’t see in San Diego, Pop’s visit to the Exhibition reflected an interest in World’s Fairs that lasted throughout his lifetime. I know that he had attended “A Century of Progress” in Chicago in 1934 and would also go to the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland in 1936, but I don’t know with whom he made either trip. In 1939, the year he and my mother were married, they and some friends went to New York to attend the World’s Fair known as “The World of Tomorrow” at Flushing Meadows. When I was a little boy, we had a salt and pepper set modeled after the fair’s symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere. Twenty-five years later, in 1964, I accompanied them to the same site to visit still another World’s Fair.
Another part of Pop’s journal that particularly struck me was his soliloquy to the Grand Canyon’s beauty and majesty that appears at the bottom of page 6. I have placed it in italics both because it is unusually eloquent and because it does not appear in the chronological narrative; instead it was written on a facing page, which strongly suggests that it was the product of subsequent reflection about a sight whose grandeur Pop found awe-inspiring.
And of course it was thoroughly typical of my father to bend his route and itinerary in order to include a major league baseball game. In 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, he and I persuaded my mother that it made perfectly good sense to drive from Chicago to Burlington by way of Cleveland in order to catch a Yankees-Indians game.
I hope you will enjoy reading about his great trip, and that it will inspire you to hit the road, whether to California or somewhere else.
Just be sure to take plenty of blankets.