CLOSING THE BOOK ON LITTLE THINKERS

 By Harry M. Covert

I began traveling the world as a boy; how fortunate I was. My trips took me to London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and the Asian Pacific islands. I met those “figures” of history: Churchill, Hitler, Stalin and FDR.

What a time I had. I enjoyed my first airplane flight; we were “up-in-the air” for a week, circling the Chesapeake Bay, learning about re-fueling a twin-engined Douglas DC-3.

Douglas Aircraft's DC-3, was configured as the C-47 "Gooney Bird"transport for the U. S. Army Air Corps. (Public domain photo)

Those youthful trips, no matter the historical context, didn’t eclipse the opportunity to meet baseball heroes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, baseball’s famous or infamous commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who straightened out the nation’s pastime, and many others of that bygone era.

Recently– in my seventh decade–I was in London getting a first-hand look at Buckingham Palace. The news was Prince Harry was coming to Washington, D. C. this week. Durn it, I didn’t get an invitation.

My memories of those world travels were sparked recently. I’d read that some members of our local governing body suggested closing a library as a budget savings. Egad! The line “little thinkers are big stinkers” floated across my mind.

War Correspondant Ernie Pyle at a field desk, WWII. (War Dept. Photo)

In my youth, when a boy could walk without fear to the public library, I took advantage of the book shelves as my interests abounded. One of my favorite people was the great war correspondent Ernie Pyle. A real newspaperman!

I also read popular columnists of the Forties, Broadway’s Earl Wilson and his “It Happened Last Night.”

I never missed the wide-ranging banter of New York’s Walter Winchell in print or the radio, “Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea, let’s go to press.”

New York gossip columnist/radio personality Walter Winchell. (File photo)

Now, I’d be a bit remiss not mentioning columnist and writer Damon Runyon, known for his “Guys and Dolls” and Sky Masterson stories set in the “Roaring Twenties.” There are others, too, and I absorbed all of this great history and writing on the ground floor of my hometown library. 

Libraries are treasures of every county, city, town, and schools of all levels.

When politicians start cutting library budgets or shutting down hours of service it’s time to get up in arms and put the “arm” on the politicos.

Time this young reader spent in the library was pleasure, dreaming and learning about the world. While modern technology is absolutely stunning, my days of meeting world leaders, visiting national parks and reading about sports and movie characters shaped my world. 

It was also fun to read Clarence E. Mulford’s books. His novels were about the western hero, Hopalong Cassidy. In his books Mulford, a New Englander, created Hoppy as red-haired, a cusser, a smoker, tobacco chewer and a fighter.  It was later in the television shows I learned that Hoppy became a clean living, silver-haired horseman of the storied Bar-20 ranch.

To this day, I recall the five-day flight in the DC-3. I didn’t need parental approval for the flight, even though I was just eight years old. “Bill Black” was the star character of the book. He wasn’t selfish in his flying and allowed us all to pilot the plane. In my imagination, it was flying high and low over the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island, up around Baltimore and back. 

I looked forward to those days, which were usually Wednesdays and Saturdays. I walked to the library, where I spent hours in the quiet room with newspapers, magazines and books. “Google” wasn’t around in those days of yore and we weren’t spoiled by the largesse of the internet.

Image of Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. Watson from "The Strand Magazine," which published adventures of the storied London Sleuth.

Oh yes, I also became acquainted with Sherlock Holmes. What a time it was. A few weeks ago, I was in Crowborough, Sussex, England. A statue of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. Holmes’ creator, overlooked the village from the town square. A few blocks away, I visited Sir Arthur’s home, now housing senior citizens. On other trips, I’ve visited Mr. Holmes’ second-floor apartment at 221-B Baker Street.  You’d be surprised how many people think Sherlock was a mortal.

Let me admit, without the library I never would have learned to fly an “aeroplane,” interview such worthies as Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt and learn about Drew Pearson, one of the early journalistic “muckrakers (I love that word).” 

One day, I read about baseball’s Babe Ruth, who could eat a dozen hot dogs, drink a half-case of beer and then hit home runs. Fact or fiction, it was fun reading.

H. L. Mencken, home grown pundit of Baltimore SUN. (File photo)

One of my happiest days, though, came when I accidentally met Henry Louis Mencken, the Baltimore newspaper editor and author. I’ve thanked him since for such works as “Happy Days,” “Newspaper Days” and “Heathen Days.” 

Would-be journalists (I prefer the term “newspapermen”), who haven’t read and enjoyed Mr. Mencken, are not educated.

The idea that libraries are too costly for communities is short sighted. 

Mencken’s quote is perfect: “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

I’ve paid my dues to The Mencken Society; I’ve also paid my taxes and I say simply, keep the libraries open, especially on weekends and holidays!—©2012 Harry M. Covert

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 This story also appeared at www.thetentacle.com and is used with permission of the author and The Octopus LLC.

 You may contact Mr. Covert at hmcovert@thecovertletter.com