Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Rise and Fall of the “Other” Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the setting for some of my earliest memories and some of my fondest memories.  I’m certain that many thousands of other people would say the same.

The Parkway has become so much a part of our lies that it is hard to imagine the mountains without it.  But, of course, it wasn’t always here.  Construction started in 1935.  The segment leading to Waterrock Knob didn’t open until 1959.

Early construction on the Parkway

Some people still remember the mountains before the Parkway, and several years ago, I listened to their stories.  Every summer they would drive cattle up to the open range between Old Bald and Richland Balsam.  Gathering blueberries and camping out to watch over their livestock was part of a subsistence lifestyle, not an annual vacation.

Summit of Richland Balsam in the 1930s

Today, looking at these places, one thing is obvious.  Had the Blue Ridge Parkway not been created in the 1930s, it might not be there today.  Given a delay of thirty years, the outcry over a road desecrating the mountain summits would have almost certainly brought the project to a halt.

An almost forgotten incident illustrates the changing attitudes toward the scenic road.

Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway extended from 1935 to 1987.  During that same half century, officials pursued a two hundred mile extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway into Georgia.

As contemplated in 1937, the extension would branch off from the southernmost point of the Parkway at Beech Gap, near the current milepost 423.  From Tanasee Bald it would cross Panthertown Valley, skirt Cashiers and Highlands in North Carolina, and approach Brasstown Bald and Springer Mountain in Georgia before terminating near Kennesaw Mountain, north of Atlanta.  

Except for a 1953 field study of the proposed route, the effort languished for more than twenty years.

That changed when Representative Roy A. Taylor of Asheville went to Congress in 1960.  One of his first initiatives was to promote the Parkway extension, and his bill authorizing $35,000 for a study was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in August 1961.

Map of proposed extension - July 1963
(Click to enlarge)

Within two years, the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service submitted a report grading the project as “highly recommended.”  Agreement by both agencies was crucial.  The Parkway was a unit of the Park Service and the extension was routed to make the most of Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina and Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.  Any acquisition of private land for the road would not only cost much more, but disrupt farms and homes along the way.

Taylor continued to champion the project, even after it was voted down twice in Congress.  When he became chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation, Taylor had the leverage to get a bill passed.  In January 1968 Congress authorized 87.5 million dollars for the Parkway extension.

This legislative victory grabbed attention.  In Georgia, real estate advertisements promptly touted “land for sale along the proposed Blue Ridge Parkway Extension.”  On the other hand, a letter writer to an Atlanta newspaper warned “the Parkway extension will destroy more than 50 of the 75 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.”

In 1969, details of the linear park emerged.  Plans included picnic areas every twenty miles, a pioneer homestead in Rabun County, Georgia’s Plum Orchard Valley, and the Rattlesnake Knob visitor area near Highlands, providing access to Cliffside Lake.  A recreational development slated for Panthertown Valley would offer overnight lodging, dining, a 120-unit campground and a spur road to the top of Toxaway Mountain.

An ominous turning point came in November of 1970.  Vocal opponents of the road packed a public hearing in Georgia.  A spokesman for the state Game and Fish Commission expressed concern about the impact of the extension on the environment of the North Georgia highlands.  Conservation groups coalesced for a long fight.  

Meanwhile in North Carolina a different obstacle arose.  A real estate company, the Liberty Corporation, owned 40,000 acres in Panthertown and surrounding areas, directly in the path of the Parkway extension.  The first prospective route threatened Liberty’s plan for a resort development of second homes, a golf course and lodge.  Liberty intended to dam the headwaters of the Tuckasegee to create a lake, which would have inundated Schoolhouse Falls.  Construction of the Parkway was acceptable to Liberty, but only if it complemented their own development plans.  Environmentalists in North Carolina raised alarms over the irreparable harm to the unique natural features of Panthertown posed by the Park Service and Liberty proposals.

Schoolhouse Falls

By 1976, the Park Service withdrew plans for a Parkway extension in Georgia.  Then, at public hearings on alternatives for the North Carolina portion, many attendees favored the option of “no action” on the road.

The Parkway extension did gain support in South Carolina.  In July 1976, the General Assembly passed a resolution promoting a new route, connecting with the North Carolina link at the state line near Whitewater Falls.  The path in South Carolina would meander westward for forty miles, through the most mountainous region of the Palmetto State.

South Carolina’s overture was not enough to save the Blue Ridge Parkway extension, though.  After several more years attempting to iron out differences with environmentalists and developers, the Park Service calculated the rising costs of construction and abandoned the project in the early 1980s.

Liberty Corporation’s development in Panthertown never materialized either, and eventually, the Forest Service acquired the huge tract for the Nantahala National Forest, commemorating the addition as the “Roy Taylor Forest” in 1982.

One of Congressman Taylor’s final acts before leaving Washington in 1977 was to introduce a bill, later signed into law, adding 900,000 acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

A bronze plaque beside the Blue Ridge Parkway honors a man whose hopes for the scenic road’s southern extension never became reality.  It bears the words:

“Man in his wisdom has made many wonderful and useful things, but no man can make a wilderness.”

Monday, September 4, 2017

Stone Mountain - Sacred Mountain of the Apalaches?

The Appalachian Mountains were named for an Indian tribe…and it wasn’t the Cherokee.

How could that be?

Exploring how the Appalachians got their name has led me down some obscure trails.  In the process, I rediscovered the lost history of Stone Mountain in Georgia.  It is a wild story spanning many centuries, many countries, many disciplines, and many documents.

Appalachia Gets on the Map

Spelled in various ways, “Appalachian” was one of the first place names created by European explorers in North America.  After landing near Tampa Bay, Hernando De Soto and his band of conquistadors met the Apalachee Indians in the Florida panhandle near the Gulf Coast.  The Spaniards spent the winter of 1539-1540 at the main village of the Apalachees in present-day Tallahassee.

The De Soto party was neither the first nor the last group of European adventurers to cross paths with the Apalachees. In 1562, Diego Gutierrez (associated with another Spanish enterprise in La Florida) published an unprecedented map of the Southeast, which featured an inland range of mountains labelled “Apalchen.”  This was the first map known to depict a variation of “Appalachian.”

Gutierrez Map of 1562 showing Apalchen [sic] Mountains

In 1564, Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière landed on the Atlantic Coast near today’s Florida-Georgia border.  His aimed to establish a French Huguenot colony and oversaw the construction of Fort Caroline on the St. John’s River (or possibly the Altamaha).  Jacques Le Moyne, the first European artist known to visit North America accompanied Laudonnière.  Le Moyne created a map of the Southeast and it includes “Apalatci” in roughly the same location as “Apalachen” on the Gutierrez map. 

Le Moyne Map and Detail

This raises an obvious question.  If the Apalachees lived in the Florida panhandle, why was a mountain range hundreds of miles to the north named for them? 

To understand the native groups of the Southeast, it helps to be knowledgeable of the river systems they occupied.  The Apalachicola was the main river flowing through Apalachee territory on its way to the Gulf.  Two rivers, the Flint and the Chattahoochee, joined to form the Apalachicola.   It is entirely conceivable that Apalachee Indians could have followed their nearby river upstream, and eventually, all the way to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee, which originated in the rugged mountains of north Georgia.

Treasure from the Mountains

It becomes clear HOW they could have done so. But was there any reason WHY they would have done so?  

Here’s one possibility:

Jacques Le Moyne painted a scene of natives obtaining gold from streams that flowed out of the “Apalatcy Mountains.”

The Theodore De Bry engraving based on the Le Moyne painting bears this caption:

"A great way from the place where our fort was built, are great mountains, called in the Indian language Apalatcy; in which, as the map shows, arise three great rivers, in the sands of which are found much gold, silver, and brass, mixed together. Accordingly, the natives dig ditches in these streams, into which the sand brought down by the current falls by gravity. Then they collect it out, and carry it away to a place by itself, and after a time collect again what continues to fall in. Then they convey it in canoes [downriver] … The Spaniards have been able to use for their advantage the wealth thus obtained."

If Le Moyne’s narrative is to be believed, then the Appalachian/Apalachen/Apalatcy Mountains had a lot more to offer than just pretty scenery:

M. de Laudonniere had been sending out men to explore the remoter parts of the country, more particularly those in the vicinity of the great King Outina, the enemy of our own neighbor, and from whom, by the channel of some of our Frenchmen who had got into relations with him, a good deal of gold and silver had been sent to the fort, as well as pearls, and other valuable articles….

La Roche Ferriere…returned to the fort reporting that he had certain information that all the gold and silver which had been sent to it came from the Apalatcy Mountains, and that the Indians from whom he obtained it knew of no other place to get it, since they had got all they had had so far in warring with three chiefs, named Potanou, Onatheaqua, and Oustaca, who had been preventing the great chief Outina from taking possession of these mountains. Moreover, La Roche Ferriere brought with him a piece of rock mined in those mountains, containing a sufficiently good display of gold and brass. He therefore requested permission of M. de Laudonniere to undertake the long journey by which he hoped he could reach these three chiefs, and examine the state of things about them.

La Roche Ferriere, who, having reached the mountains, succeeded by prudence and assiduity in placing himself on a friendly footing with the three chiefs before mentioned, the most bitter enemies of King Outina. He was astonished at their civilization and opulence, and sent to M. de Laudonniere at the fort many gifts which they bestowed upon him. Among these were circular plates of gold and silver as large as a moderate-sized platter, such as they are accustomed to wear to protect the back and breast in war; much gold alloyed with brass, and silver not thoroughly smelted. He sent also some quivers covered with very choice skins, with golden heads to all the arrows; and many pieces of a stuff made of feathers, and most skilfully ornamented with rushes of different colors; also green and blue stones, which some thought to be emeralds and sapphires, in the form of wedges, and which they used instead of axes, for cutting wood. M. de Laudonniere sent in return such commodities as he had, such as some thick rough cloths, a few axes and saws, and other cheap Parisian goods, with which they were perfectly satisfied.

Before the French could fully exploit the wealth of the mountains, Spaniards came north from Saint Augustine and crushed the French colony.

French Pastor Comes to America

One hundred years after Laudonniere’s failed Huguenot project, another Frenchman came to the Southeast.   Charles de Rochefort (1605-1683) was a Protestant pastor sent to minister to French-speaking Protestants in the Caribbean.  

After his visit to the New World, he published Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l'Amerique (Natural and moral history of the Antilles) (1658).  The first part of the book focused on the Caribbean islands, but a later chapter was devoted to the Apalachee Indians.

The Apalachites are a powerful and generous Nation, which continues to this present planted in the same Country of Florida: They are the Inhabitants of a gallant and spacious Country called Apalacha, from which they have received their name…

This people have a communication with the Sea of the great Gulf of Mexico or New Spain, by the means of a River, which taking its source out of the Apalachian Mountains, at the foot whereof they inhabit, after it hath wandered through many rich Campagnes, disembarks itself at last into the Sea near the islands of Tacobago: The Spaniards have called this River Rio del Spirito Santo but the Apalachites call it still by its ancient name of Hitanachi, which in their Language signifies fair and pleasant. On the East-side they are divided from all other Nations by high and far-spreading Mountains, whole tops are cover’d with snow most part of the year, and which separate them from Virginia: on the other sides they adjoin to several inconsiderable Nations, which are all their friends and confederates.

Indeed, “Hitanachi” and “Rio del Spirito Santo” were names applied to the Apalachicola River.

Cofitachequi = Cofachite?

Rochefort described the long history of a struggle for control of the mountains waged by the “Apalachites” and the “Cofachites.”  If the Apalachites in Rochefort’s book were actually Apalachees, then who were the Cofachites?  Here’s the most likely explanation:

After Hernando De Soto left the Apalachees in 1540 and meandered north, on his way toward the mountains, he reached the Cofitachequi chiefdom in the vicinity of Columbia, South Carolina.  The Cofitachequi society reflected the vestiges of Mississippian culture, but was in decline when De Soto reached them.   In one of the most picturesque and memorable scenes recorded by his chroniclers, De Soto encountered the “queen” of that realm:

Some Indians brought (the Lady of) Cofitachequi on a litter with much prestige. And she sent a message to us that she was delighted that we had come to her land, and that she would give us whatever she could, and she sent a string of pearls of five or six strands to the Governor. She gave us canoes in which we crossed that river and divided with us half of the town…

She was young and of fine appearance, and she removed a string of pearls that she wore about her neck and put it on the governor's neck, in order to ingratiate herself and win his good will... And the Indians walked covered down to the feet with very excellent hides, very well tanned, and blankets of sable and mountain lions which smelled; and the people are very clean and very polite and naturally well developed.

Over the centuries, the Apalachites and Cofachites competed for control of the mountain region.  Periods of violent warfare alternated with interludes of truce:

Both parties laid down their arms, and the Cofachites went to fetch their Wives, Children, cattle, Baggage, and the Souldiers they had left near the great Lake of Theomi… From that time the Apalachites gave the name of Caribbians, or as the French would have it, Caraibes, to those new comers...this word Caraibes signifies, in their language, a sort of people added, or suddenly and unexpectedly coming in strangers…

Worship at Olaimi

Relations between the two groups remained tense.  According to Rochefort, one source of contention was a difference in religious beliefs and practices. The Apalachites saw a need to convert the Caribbians.  With the success of their evangelizing, the Apalachites convinced some of the Cofachites/Caribbians to worship with them on the Mountain of Olaimi:

Many left the Province of Amana wherein they had their habitations, and went into that of Bemarin, the principal Province of the Apalachites, whence they ascended into the Mountain of Olaimi, upon which the Apalachites made their solemn Offerings; and upon their invitation the Caribbians had participated of those Ceremonies and that Service: these priests, whom the Apalachites call Jaouas, which is as much as to say, Men of God, knew that the seeds of Religion are not so easily smother’d in the hearts of men; and that, though the long Wars they had had With the Caribbians had hindered the exercise thereof, yet would it be no hard matter for them to blow up, as we may say, those sparks in them which lay hid under the ashes.

Where, exactly, was this Mountain of Olaimi, the holy mount of the Apalaches?  Several sites have been suggested, including Lookout Mountain, Tennessee and Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Between the two, my vote would go to Stone Mountain, northeast of Atlanta, simply because it rises within a few miles of the Chattahoochee River.

Holy Mountain Near Track Rock Gap?

Josiah Priest in American Antiquities (1832) provided another possible location, in the vicinity of Track Rock Gap near Blairsville, Georgia.  Priest had definite ideas about what might have caused the tracks in the rock:


Among the subjects of antiquity, which are abundant on the American continent, we give the following, from Morse's Universal Geography, which in point of mysteriousness is not surpassed, perhaps, on the globe. In the State of Tennessee, on a certain mountain, called the enchanted mountain, situated a few miles south of Braystown, which is at the head waters of the Tennessee river, are found impressed in the surface of the solid rock, a great number of tracks, as turkies, bears, horses, and human beings, as perfect as they could be made on snow or sand. The human tracks are remarkable for having uniformly six toes each, like the anakims of Scripture; one only excepted, which appears to be the print of a negro's foot….  

Not far from this very spot, are vast heaps of stones, which are the supposed tombs of warriors, slain, perhaps in the very battle this big footed warrior was engaged in, at a period when these mountains, which give rise to some branches of the Tugulo, Apalachicola, and Hiwassa rivers, were in a state of soft and clayey texture. On this range, according to Mexican tradition, was the holy mountain; temple and cave of Olaimi, where was also a city and the seat of their empire, more ancient than that of Mexico. To reduce that city, perhaps, was the object of the great warrior, whose track with that of his horse and company, still appear.

We are of the opinion, that these tracks, found sunk in the surface of the rocks of this mountain, is indubitable evidence of their antiquity, going back to the time when men dispersed over the earth, immediately after the flood.

A Mexican Connection

An 1833 article by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque discussed the Zapotecas and Miztecas of Mexico, and identified a possible link with Mount Olaimi, and even Mount Olympus:

The Theogony, Cosmogony and religion of the Miztecas and Zapotecas was also very different from the Mexicans, although they had latterly adopted their bloody rites of the god of evil. The Miztecas of Cuilapo according to a book written by a parish monk in the Mizteca language and figures, ascribe their origin to a god and goddess named Lion snake and Tyger Snake dwelling in Apoala or heavenly seat of Snakes before the flood. They had two Sons (or nations) an eagle called Wind of 9 Caves, and a Dragon or Winged Snake called Wind of 9 Snakes. They were driven from Apoala for their wickedness and perished in a great flood.

In Apoala we find the Tlapala or ancient seat of the Mexicans: which is perhaps the Apalachi mountains of North America, where was once the holy mountain, temple and cave of Olaimi (see Brigstock) which name recalls to mind the Olmeras! and all these names answer in import and sound to the Olympus of the Greeks.

Pilgrimage to Olaimi

Abbé Orsini (Mathieu) mentioned Olaimi in Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God: With the History of the Devotion to Her; Completed by the Traditions of the East, the Writings of the Holy Fathers, and the Private History of the Jews (1856):  

All nations have had consecrated places whither they made it a duty to repair, at certain commemorative periods, to obtain favours more easily from the divinity, by visiting the sites which they believed sanctified by his presence or by his miracles.

Pilgrimages are as ancient as society itself; those of the East are, nearly all, connected with diluvian memories; indeed, those pilgrimages, whose institution is lost in the obscurity of time, have generally, for their object, the lofty mountains whereon was formed the kernel of the great nations of Asia, who choose to descend, like their rivers, from the rocky bosom of their mountains….  

The Apalachites, or Floridian savages, repair, on the return of every season, to sacrifice on Mount Olaimi, in thanksgiving to the sun who, they say, saved their fathers from a deluge....These pilgrimages are founded on traditions corrupted by time, but undoubtedly historical; in them are perceived the traces and the effects of the terror which prompted the building of the famous tower of Babel.

One Artist's Vision of Olaimi

Aerial View of Stone Mountain

Notes on the Floridian Peninsula

An 1859 book by Daniel Brinton, Notes on the Floridian Peninsula, discussed the Apalaches, their presence in Florida and in the mountains.  Brinton acknowledged lingering doubts about Rochefort’s veracity, but reeled off a long list of travelers before and after Rochefort who confirmed many of the details about the Apalaches.  This is one of the more detailed retellings of the Rochefort story:

We find a very minute and extraordinary account of a nation called Apalachites, indebted for its preservation principally to the work of the Abbe Rochefort. It has been usually supposed a creation of his own fertile brain, but a careful study of the subject has given me a different opinion. The original sources of his information may be entirely lost, but that they actually existed can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. They were a series of ephemeral publications by an “English gentleman” about 1656, whose name is variously spelled Bristol, Bristok, Brigstock, and Bristock, the latter being probably the correct orthography. He had spent many years in the West Indies and North America, was conversant with several native tongues, and had visited Apalacha in 1653. Besides the above-mentioned fragmentary notes, he promised a complete narrative of his residence and journeys in the New World, but apparently never fulfilled his intention.

Versions of his account are found in various writers of the age. The earliest is given by Rochefort, and was translated with the rest of the work of that author by Davies, who must have consulted the original tract of Bristock as he adds particulars not found in the Abbe’s history.  

Brinton restated Rochefort’s account of the religious differences between the Apalachees and Cofachites/Carribes, and an eventually schism within the Caribbian society:

Finding themselves too weak to cope openly with such a powerful foe, the Apalachites had recourse to stratagem. Taking advantage of a temporary peace, their priests used the utmost exertions to spread abroad among their antagonists a religious veneration of the sun and a belief in the necessity of an annual pilgrimage to his sacred mountain Olaimi in Apalacha. So well did their plan succeed, that when at the resumption of hostilities, the Apalachites forbade the ingress of all pilgrims but those who would do homage to their king, a schism, bitter and irreconcileable, was brought about among the Cofachites.  Finally peace was restored by a migration of those to whom liberty was dearer than religion, and a submission of the rest to the Apalachites, with whom they became amalgamated and lost their identity. Their more valiant companions, after long wanderings through unknown lands in search of a home, finally locate themselves on the southern shore of Florida.

From there, the Cofachites/Caribbes migrated to the island which still bear their name.

What of this “sacred mountain” of the Apalachees called “Olaimi”?  Brinton nominated two specific locations that might have been Olaimi:

Strange as a fairy tale is Bristock’s description of their chief temple and the rites of their religion—of the holy mountain Olaimi lifting its barren, round summit far above the capital city Melilot at its base—of the two sacred caverns within this mount, the innermost two hundred feet square and one hundred in height, wherein were the emblematic vase ever filled with crystal water that trickled from the rock, and the “grand altar” of one round stone, on which incense, spices, and aromatic shrubs were the only offerings'-of the platform, sculptured from the solid rock, where the priests offered their morning orisons to the glorious orb of their divinity at his daily birth - of their four great annual feasts- all reminding us rather of the pompous rites of Persian or Peruvian heliolatry than the simple sun worship of the Vesperic tribes.

Melilot on Map from 1570 (above) and 1620 (below)

Yet in essentials, in stated yearly feasts, in sun and fire worship, in daily prayers at rising and setting sun, in frequent ablution, we recognize through all this exaggeration and coloring, the religious habits that actually prevailed in those regions. Indeed, the speculative antiquarian may ask concerning Mount Olaimi itself, whether it may not be identical with the enormous mass of granite known as “The Stone Mountain” in De Kalb county, Georgia, whose summit presents an oval, flat, and naked surface two or three hundred yards in width, by about twice that in length, encircled by the remains of a mural construction of unknown antiquity, and whose sides are pierced by the mouths of vast caverns; or with Lookout mountain between the Coosa and Tennessee rivers, where Mr. Ferguson found a stone wall… skirting the brink of a precipice at whose base were five rooms artificially constructed in the solid rock.

A Skeptic Dissents

The year after Brinton published his book, an article appeared in The Historical Magazine (1860). In “Fictitious Discoveries in America,” the writer declared Rochefort a fraud:

As long as there was some truth at the bottom, we might pardon the exuberance of fancy, the vivacity of the imagination, or the exigency of public taste, for the adventitious circumstances under which poor naked truth was buried....

Now, we intend to take up a few of these…men who have misled historians, bothered students, wasted their precious time, led them to unparalleled outlay in books, merely to enable them arrive at the fact of a writer's dishonesty.

We have placed in our heading, as the first offender, Rochefort….

Apalachites were…at war with the Cofichites, a tribe north of them. Their territory embraced six provinces: Bemarin, Amani or Amana, Matique, Schama, Meraco, and Achalaques….

Their capital was Melilot, a city of two thousand houses. Their wonderful temple stood on the equally wonderful mountain of Olaimi, near farfamed Melilot.

These Apalachites had…mainly renounced paganism and embraced Christianity, partly through the teaching of the French, who attempted to settle Florida, but more especially through some English people, who, seeking to escape from the Indian-war-vexed Virginia in 1621 to New England, were cast on the coast of Florida, and, attracting a considerable number of ecclesiastics and people of quality, laid the foundations of a colony.

Turning their attention to the benighted state of the people, these zealous English converted, in ten or twelve years, most of the officers and heads of families in Bemarin and Amana, so that, says he, they have at present among them a bishop, and several learned and zealous priests....

Some names may be borrowed from the maps of the day; others appear to be those of mere fancy. Our knowledge of the geography and physical character of the country renders the story often improbable and sometimes absurd….

Add to this is the easily verifiable fact that Rochefort plagiarized extensive passages for his book.
On the one hand, Rochefort very clearly DID plagiarize extensive passages from earlier authors.  On the other hand, that alone didn’t automatically make the information false.

An Egyptologist Weighs In

In 1883, Gerald Massey published The Natural Genesis.

Gerald Massey (1828-1907)


The Apalaches of Florida said the sun had built his own conical mountain of Olaimi, which had a spiral path winding round it, and leading to his cave-temple on the eastern side, in which four solar festivals were celebrated every year. In this instance the natural mount occupies the place of the pyramid mound erected elsewhere.

Sun Worshipers and Solar Fests

From Edward Burnett Tylor’s Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology (1891):

…Another nation of sun-worshippers were the Apalaches of Florida, whose daily service was to salute the Sun at their doors as he rose and set. The Sun, they said, had built his own conical mountain of Olaimi, with its spiral path leading to the cave-temple, in the east side. Here, at the four solar festivals, the worshippers saluted the rising sun with chants and incense as his rays entered the sanctuary, and again when at midday the sunlight poured down upon the altar through the hole or shaft pierced for this purpose in the rocky vault of the cave; through this passage the sun-birds, the tonatzuli, were let fly up sunward as messengers, and the ceremony was over.

Stone Mountain It Is

An 1893 geography book by Elisée Reclus, The Earth and Its Inhabitants, North America: The United States, included this information in a section on Atlanta:

About 12 miles north-east of Atlanta stands the so-called Stone Mountain, a huge granite mass supposed to be the Mount Olaimi of the Creek Indians.  The upper plateau, about 900 yards in circumference, is enclosed by a wall, probably the remains of an ancient fortress.


I’m not sure the mountain kingdom of the Apalaches ever existed, though there is plenty of evidence to ponder.  But if Apalachites did ascend a rocky promontory to salute the rising sun, my money is on Stone Mountain.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

You are invited to visit my other website:

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Map of Vanished Places

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Index map for this blog (under construction).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Troubadour's Tramp Through the Mountains


Well, now. Here’s a story worth telling, though I’ll admit I’m not sure how to tell it.

The poet Vachel Lindsay came to Jackson County (NC) in 1906. A twenty-six-year-old native of Springfield, Illinois, he was walking across the country to spread a message of hope that he called “the gospel of beauty.”

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1932)

I learned about his journey after happening upon his account of a visit to Tallulah Gorge, Georgia. From Tallulah, he walked north to Highlands, Cashiers, Asheville and on to Tennessee.

While I remembered his name, that was about all that I could recall of Vachel Lindsay from my college days. So I went back and took my old copy of American Lit, Volume Two from the shelf to get reacquainted. The editors of that text lumped him in with Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and Edward Arlington Robinson as poets who “recreate in serious poetry the extravagant humor of the old West or the dry humor of Down East.”

Later anthologies of American literature, or at least the ones I checked, had dropped Lindsay, and I can understand why the literary establishment has forgotten him with the passage of time. Reading his words on the printed page, I was not particularly impressed.

That misses the point, though. Lindsay did not write his poems for the eye, but for the ear, and became known as “The Father of Singing Poetry” and “The Prairie Troubadour.” Vachel Lindsay would not so much read as chant his poems for an audience. Some editions of his poems even include Lindsay’s instructions on how they should be delivered:

To be chanted in deep bass, all the heavy accents very heavy.

To be read slowly and softly in the manner of insinuating music, all the -o- sounds very golden.

Vachel Lindsay had attended the Art Institute of Chicago before going to New York City where he was a self-styled troubadour, selling his poems on the streets and bartering his pamphlet, Rhymes to Be Traded for Bread, in exchange for food.

In Edgar Lee (Spoon River Anthology) Masters’ biography of the poet, he describes the point at which Lindsay decided to leave New York:

Lindsay abhorred the tyrrany of convention, and loved the freedom of the untrammeled life as much as Whitman, almost as much as Johnny Appleseed….

He mixed with Jesus of Nazareth a lasting reverence for Prince Siddartha and for Confucius; and his mysticism led him to Swendenborg and kept him there as long as he lived…

He was willing to starve, but not to be shackled to business, to the system which standardizes the lives of the young and uses them as it does any other raw material. These resolutions were aided by the fact that there was scarcely anything of a practical nature that he could do.

On March 8, 1906, Vachel Lindsay got off a boat on the banks of the St. John’s River in Florida and started walking. We’re doubly fortunate that the story of trip, including his time in North Carolina, is told in Lindsay’s own A Handbook for Beggars, while the same trip is detailed in Master’s book, Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America.

Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950)

After a quick perusal of his early works I was inclined to be dismissive of Vachel Lindsay’s poetry, but learning more him and what he was trying to accomplish, I've adopted a more generous attitude.

I’m still not sure how to tell this story, except to say it might take a while. I can already foresee rabbit trails veering off in every direction.

For now, here’s how Lindsay dedicated his book about the trip that brought him through Cashiers Valley:

THERE are one hundred new poets in the villages of the land. This Handy Guide is dedicated first of all to them.

It is also dedicated to the younger sons of the wide earth, to the runaway boys and girls getting further from home every hour, to the prodigals who are still wasting their substance in riotous living, be they gamblers or blasphemers or plain drunks; to those heretics of whatever school to whom life is a rebellion with banners; to those who are willing to accept counsel if it be mad counsel.

This book is also dedicated to those budding philosophers who realize that every creature is a beggar in the presence of the beneficent sun, to those righteous ones who know that all righteousness is as filthy rags.

Moreover, as an act of contrition, reenlistment and fellowship this book is dedicated to all the children of Don Quixote who see giants where most folks see windmills, those Galahads dear to Christ and those virgin sisters of Joan of Arc who serve the lepers on their knees and march in shabby armor against the proud, who look into the lightning with the eyes of the mountain cat. They do more soldierly things every day than this book records, yet they are mine own people, my nobler kin to whom I have been recreant, and so I finally dedicate this book to them.

– These are the rules of the road:
(1) Keep away from the Cities;
(2) Keep away from the railroads;
(3) Have nothing to do with money and carry no baggage;
(4) Ask for dinner about quarter after eleven;
(5) Ask for supper, lodging and breakfast about quarter of five;
(6) Travel alone;
(7) Be neat, deliberate, chaste and civil;
(8) Preach the Gospel of Beauty.
And without further parley, let us proceed to inculcate these, by illustration, precept and dogma.


“Sing for your supper.”

Essentially, that was Vachel Lindsay’s strategy for his long-distance walk through the Southeast in the spring of 1906. He would recite his poems and draw his pictures in exchange for a meal and a bed.

Vachel Lindsay in 1912

Demonstrating his resolve, he began his hike in Florida by spending his last nickel on a bag of peanuts. His avowed mission was "sharing the lives of and bringing hope to the common people in the depths.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Somehow, Lindsay managed to get by. In Atlanta, he pocketed some cash from giving lectures and reading poems. He also enjoyed the hospitality of the local Salvation Army, which might have inspired his best-known poem, General William Booth Enters into Heaven.

I’ve had to remind myself that the people of 1906 couldn’t switch on a radio or television. They weren’t clicking mice. So, folks starved for entertainment might welcome an itinerant troubadour.

Or not.

Despite his relative financial success in Atlanta, Lindsay's income in the mountains was nil. He didn’t even try to draw an audience in Highlands after he saw that it was a quiet summer resort town for wealthy northerners.

Edgar Lee Masters tells how the poet misjudged one audience in Tennessee:

In the hills he attended a Hardshell Baptist church, and stayed with some pious, rough people. He started to read “The Tree of the Laughing Bells” to them. In the midst of the performance the young woman and the old woman left the room unceremoniously. They returned and Lindsay, not sufficiently persuaded that they did not want to hear the poem, but that they should be converted willy-nilly to beauty, prevailed upon them to listen again.

The old lady grew angry now, and told Lindsay that she no use for such lies. She wanted something with the gospel of Jesus Christ in it, the Old Book was enough for her. The result was that she would not accept the poem as pay for his entertainment, and Lindsay was compelled to leave owing for it….

The fledgling poet counted on one work in particular to be his meal ticket and that was The Tree of the Laughing Bells. I have to remind myself that Lindsay’s energetic vocal stylings enlivened what otherwise might have been interminably tedious…but you be the judge:

The Tree of Laughing Bells, or The Wings of the Morning
[A Poem for Aviators]

How the Wings Were Made

From many morning-glories
That in an hour will fade,
From many pansy buds
Gathered in the shade,
From lily of the valley
And dandelion buds,
From fiery poppy-buds
Are the Wings of the Morning made.

The Indian Girl Who Made Them

These, the Wings of the Morning,
An Indian Maiden wove,
Intertwining subtilely
Wands from a willow grove
Beside the Sangamon --
Rude stream of Dreamland Town.
She bound them to my shoulders
With fingers golden-brown.
The wings were part of me;
The willow-wands were hot.
Pulses from my heart
Healed each bruise and spot
Of the morning-glory buds,
Beginning to unfold
Beneath her burning song of suns untold.


Ah, the ubiquitous “lovely Indian maiden!”

Haven’t we met her before?

The poem continues for stanza after stanza, building dramatically before reaching a climax involving said Indian maiden:

I panted in the grassy wood;
I kissed the Indian Maid
As she took my wings from me:
With all the grace I could
I gave two throbbing bells to her
From the foot of the Laughing Tree.
And one she pressed to her golden breast
And one, gave back to me.
From Lilies of the valley --
See them fade.
From poppy-blooms all frayed,
From dandelions gray with care,
From pansy-faces, worn and torn,
From morning-glories --
See them fade --
From all things fragile, faint and fair
Are the Wings of the Morning made!

Later, in a letter to a friend, Vachel Lindsay recounted the 1906 hike:

I had had very little response anywhere and very little understanding. No one cared for my pictures, no one cared for my verse, and I turned beggar in sheer desperation. Many people try to gloss this over now and make out it was a merry little spring excursion and I didn't really mean it. They are dead wrong. It was a life and death struggle, nothing less. I was entirely prepared to die for my work, if necessary, by the side of the road, and was almost at the point of it at times. . . . [My parents] were certainly at this time intensely hostile to everything I did, said, wrote, thought, or drew. Things were in a state where it was infinitely easier to beg from door to door than to go home, or even die by the ditch on the highway.

I will never forget the easy, dreaming Kentucky and the droning bees in the blue grass, and the walks with Cousin Eudora and Aunt Eudora, and the queer feeling of being the family disgrace somewhat straightened out when I stood up to read 'The Tree of Laughing Bells' to the school. As far as I know, I read it in my beggar's raiment. I am sure I felt that way, and it was the kind hearts around me in that particular spot that made me want to live.



I don’t know much about the life of Vachel Lindsay, but I do know that his most cherished hopes met with disappointment. He has my admiration for walking hundreds of miles along the dusty back roads of America, and for why he did it.

Lindsay tried to take poetry back to its spoken roots. I should say he took poetry back to its spoken roots, an achievement I intend to make clear eventually.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, (1866-1949)

Around the same time I took an interest in the adventures of Vachel Lindsay, I heard a story from Meetings with Remarkable Men, by G. I. Gurdjieff. The scene described by Gurdjieff must have been exactly what Lindsay hoped to find, or cultivate, among “the common folk of the American countryside.”

Maybe Vachel should have tried Armenia.

From Meetings with Remarkable Men:

MY FATHER WAS WIDELY KNOWN, during the final decades of the last century and the beginning of this one, as an ashokh, that is, a poet and narrator, under the nickname of' Adash, and although he was not a professional ashokh but only an amateur, he was in his day very popular among the inhabitants of many countries of Transcaucasia and Asia Minor.

Ashokh was the name given everywhere in Asia and the Balkan peninsula to the local bards, who composed, recited or sang poems, songs, legends, folk-tales, and all sorts of stories.

In spite of the fact that these people of the past who devoted themselves to such a career were in most cases illiterate, having not even been to an elementary school in their childhood, they possessed such a memory and such alertness of mind as would now be considered remarkable and even phenomenal.

They not only knew by heart innumerable and often very lengthy narratives and poems, and sang from memory all their various melodies, but when improvising in their own, so to say, subjective way, they hit upon the appropriate rhymes and changes of rhythm for their verses with astounding rapidity.

At the present time men with such abilities are no longer to be found anywhere.

Even when I was very young, it was being said that they were becoming scarcer and scarcer.

I personally saw a number of these ashokhs who were considered famous in those days, and their faces were strongly impressed on my memory.

I happened to see them because my father used to take me as a child to the contests where these poet ashokhs, coming from various countries, such as Persia, Turkey, the Caucasus and even parts of Turkestan, competed before a great throng of people in improvising and singing.

This usually proceeded in the following way:

One of the participants in the contest, chosen by lot, would begin, in singing an improvised melody, to put to his partner some question on a religious or philosophical theme, or on the meaning and origin of some well-known legend, tradition or belief, and the other would reply, also in song, and in his own improvised subjective melody; and these improvised subjective melodies, moreover, had always to correspond in their tonality to the previously produced consonances as well as to what is called by real musical science the 'ansapalnianly flowing echo.

All this was sung in verse, chiefly in Turko-Tartar, which was then the accepted common language of the peoples of these localities, who spoke different dialects.

These contests would last weeks and sometimes even months, and would conclude with the award of prizes and presents- provided by the audience and usually consisting of cattle, rugs and so on-to those singers who, according to the general verdict, had most distinguished themselves.

I witnessed three such contests, the first of which took place in Turkey in the town of Van, the second in Azerbaijan in the town of Karabakh, and the third in the small town of Subatan in the region of Kars.

In Alexandropol and Kars, the towns where my family lived during my childhood, my father was often invited to evening gatherings to which many people who knew him came in order to hear his stories and songs.

At these gatherings he would recite one of the many legends or poems he knew, according to the choice of those present, or he would render in song the dialogues between the different characters.

The whole night would sometimes not be long enough for finishing a story and the audience would meet again on the following evening.


I said there would be some rabbit trails on this journey.


Stone Mountain, Georgia, ca. 1902

While Vachel Lindsay was walking from Atlanta to the mountains during the last week of April 1906, he was imagining the book that he would write:

It should contain my sermons on the new Christ, and all other things I would wish to say as a priest of art, and cannot say by word of mouth. That is my only chance to evangelize peacefully….

My book should contain the form of my gospel for each type of man I am to meet, a little sermon for each man, scholar, poet, editor, teacher. A Pilgrim’s Message would be a possible title, or I Prophecy the New Earth, or The Songs of a Dreaming Tramp, or The Passer-by, or The Dreams of a Rhyming Tramp, or A Beggar from the Fairyland….

I will do everything for the sake of being my own master….I had better be a beggar than a trader tied to the machinery of his task. In this world he finds no pity. But the beggar’s world is full of brotherly kindness.

Lindsay biographer Edgar Lee Masters called the projected book:

One of the many visions which Lindsay had without materialization….Lindsay was really afflicted with a species of megalomania, as Whitman was for that matter; but where Whitman sought to make a nation of comrades and to spread the dear love of comrades over America, Lindsay was concerned with moralizations of a lower order, so that his descent from an artist to an anti-prohibition lecturer was neither so violent nor so incongruous as one might think at first.

In any event, Vachel had more to think about than the books he would never get around to writing. From A Handy Guide for Beggars:

LET us now recall a certain adventure among the moonshiners. When I walked north from Atlanta Easter morning, on Peachtree road, orchards were flowering everywhere. Resurrection songs flew across the road from humble blunt steeples.

Kennesaw Mountain, GA

Stony Mountain, miles to the east, Kenesaw on the western edge of things, and all the rest of the rolling land made the beginning of a gradual ascent by which I was to climb the Blue Ridge. The road mounted the watershed between the Atlantic and the gulf.

An old man took me into his wagon for a mile. I asked what sort of people I would meet on the Blue Ridge. He answered, "They make blockade whisky up there. But if you don't go around hunting stills by the creeks, or in the woods away from the road, they'll be awful glad to see you. They are all moonshiners, but if they likes a man they loves him, and they're as likely to get to lovin’ you as not.”


In one of the more coherent, but no less ecstatic, passages from A Handy Guide for Beggars, Vachel Lindsay described his day at Tallulah Gorge.

He had just spent several days to walking from Atlanta to Tallulah on his way to the mountains in April 1906. Taking some cheese and crackers as his fare for the day by the waterfalls, he clambered over the rocks and lived to tell about it. This is lengthy, but I'm posting the whole chapter:




THE dust of many miles was upon me. I felt uncouth in the presence of the sun-dried stones. Here was a natural bathing-place. Who could resist it? I climbed further down the canon, holding to the bushes. The cliff along which the water rushed to the fall's foot was smooth and seemed artificially made, though it had been so hewn by the fury of the cataclysm in ages past. I took off my clothes and put my shoulders against the granite, being obliged to lean back a little to conform to its angle. I was standing with my left shoulder almost touching the perilous main column of water.

A little fall that hurried along by itself a bit nearer the bank flowed over me. It came with headway. Though it looked so innocent, I could scarcely hold up against its power. But it gave me delight to maintain myself. The touch of the stone was balm to my walk- worn body and dust-fevered feet. Like a sacerdotal robe the water flowed over my shoulders and I thought myself priest of the solitude. I stepped out into the air. With unwonted energy I was able to throw off the coldness of my wet frame. The water there at the fall's foot was like a thousand elves singing. "Joy to all creatures !" cried the birds. "Joy to all creatures! Glory, glory, glory to the wild falls!"



I was getting myself sunburned, stretched out on the warm dry rocks. Down over the steep edge, somewhere near the foot of the next descent I heard the pipes of Pan. Why should I dress and go? I made my shoes and clothes into a bundle and threw them down the cliff and climbed over, clinging to the steep by mere twigs. I seemed to hear the piping as I approached the terrace at the fall's base. Then the sound of music blended with the stream's strange voice and I turned to merge myself again with its waters. Against the leaning wall of the cliff I placed my shoulders.

The descending current srnote me, wrestling with wildwood laughter, threatening to crush me and hurl me to the base of the mountain. But just as before my feet were well set in a notch of the cliff that went across the stream, cut there a million years ago. It was a curious combination to discover, this stream-wide notch, and above it this wall with the water spread like a crystal robe over it.

In the centre of the fall a Cyclops could have stood to bathe, and on the edge was the same provision in miniature for feeble man. And it was the more curious to find this plan repeated in detail by successive cataracts of the canon, unmistakably wrought by the slow hand of geologic ages. And to see the water of the deep central stream undisturbed in midst of the fall and still crystalline, and to see it slide down the steep incline and strike each, notch at the foot with sudden music and appalling foam, was more wonderful than the simple telling can explain.

Each sheet of crystal that came over my shoulders seemed now to pour into them rather than over them. I lifted my mouth and drank as a desert bird drinks rain. My downstretched arms and extended fingers and the spreading spray seemed one. My heart with its exultant blood seemed but the curve of a cataract over the cliff of my soul.



Led by the pipes of Pan, I again descended. Once more that sound, almost overtaken, interwove itself with the water's cry, and I merged body and soul with the stream and the music. The margin of another cataract crashed upon me. In the recklessness of pleasure, one arm swung into the main current. Then the water threatened my life. To save myself, I was kneeling on one knee. I reached out blindly and found a hold at last in a slippery cleft, and later, it seemed an age, with the other hand I was able to reach one leaf. The leaf did not break. At last its bough was in my grasp and I crawled frightened into the sun. I sat long on a warm patch of grass. But the cliffs and the water were not really my enemies. They sent a wind to give me delight. Never was the taste of the air so sweet as then. The touch of it was on my lips like fruit. There was a flattery in the tree-limbs bending near my shoulders. They said, "There is brotherhood in your footfall on our roots and the touch of your hand on our boughs." The spray of the splashed foam was wine. I was the unchallenged possessor of all of nature my body and soul could lay hold upon. It was the fair season between spring and summer when no one came to this place. Like Selkirk, I was monarch of all I surveyed. In my folly I seemed to feel strange powers creeping into my veins from the sod. I forgot my near-disaster. I said in my heart, "0 Mother Earth majestical, the touch of your creatures has comforted me, and I feel the strength of the soil creeping up into my dust. From this patch of soft grass, power and courage come up into me from your bosorn, from the foundation of your continents. I feel within me the soul of iron from your iron mines, and the soul of lava from your deepest fires”



The satyrs in the bushes were laughing at me and daring me to try the water again. I stood on the edge of the rapids where were many stones coming up out of the foam. I threw logs across. The rocks held them in place. I lay down between the logs in the liquid ice. I defied it heartily. And my brother the river had mercy upon me, and slew me not. Amid the shout of the stream the birds were singing: "Joy, joy, joy to all creatures, and happiness to the whole earth. Glory, glory, glory to the wild falls."

I struggled out from between the logs and threw my bundle over the cliff, and again descended, for I heard the pipes of Pan, just below me there, too plainly for delay. They seemed to say "Look! Here is a more exquisite place." The sun beat down upon me. I felt myself twin brother to the sun. My body was lit with an all-conquering fever. I had walked through tropical wildernesses for many a mile, gathering sunshine. And now in an afternoon I was gambling my golden heat against the icy silver of the river and winning my wager, while all the leaves were laughing on all the trees. And again I stood in a Heaven-prepared place, and the water poured in glory upon my shoulders.

Why was it so dark? Was a storm coming? I was dazed as a child in the theatre beholding the crowd go out after the sudden end of a solemn play. My clothes, it appeared, were half on. I was kneeling, looking up. I counted the falls to the top of the canon. It was night, and I had wrestled with them all. My spirit was beyond all reason happy. This was a day for which I had not planned. I felt like one crowned. My blood was glowing like the blood of the crocus, the blood of the tiger-lily.

And so I meditated, and then at last the chill of weariness began to touch me and in my heart I said, "Oh Mother Earth, for all my vanity, I know I am but a perishable flower in a cleft of the rock. I give thanks to you who have fed me the wild milk of this river, who have upheld me like a child of the gods throughout this day." Around a curve in the canon, down stream, growing each moment sweeter, I heard the pipes of Pan.



Go, you my brothers, whose hearts are in sore need of delight, and bathe in the falls of Tallulah. That experience will be for the foot-sore a balm, for the languid a lash, for the dry-throated pedant the very cup of nature. To those crushed by the inventions of cities, wounded by evil men, it will be a washing away of tears and of blood. Yea, it will be to them all, what it was to my heart that day, the sweet, sweet blowing of the reckless pipes of Pan.



After Vachel Lindsay’s death-defying day in Tallulah Gorge, he resumed his trip, walking the railroad tracks leading north through Clayton and Dillard in Rabun County, GA.

Mountain View from Clayton, GA

Approaching the North Carolina state line, he diverged from the railroad and spent a precious quarter to take a stagecoach for three miles on the road leading up toward Highlands. Soon, though, the weary traveler was back on foot:

The little streams I crossed scarcely afforded me a drink. Their dried borders had the footprints of swine on them.

Lameness affects one's vision. The thick woods were the dregs of the landscape, fit haunt for the acorn-grubbing sow. The road following the ridges was a monster's spine.

Those wicked brogans led me where they should not. Or maybe it was just my destiny to find what I found.

About four o'clock in the afternoon, after exploring many roads that led to futile nothing, I was on what seemed the main highway, and drugged myself into the sight of the first mortal since daybreak. He seemed like a gnome as he watched me across the furrows. And so he was, despite his red-ripe cheeks. The virginal mountain apple-tree, blossoming overhead, half covering the toad-like cabin, was out of place. It should have been some fabulous, man-devouring devil-bush from the tropics, some monstrous work of the enemies of God.

The child, just in her teens, helping the Gnome to plant sweet potatoes, had in her life planted many, and eaten few. Or so it appeared. She was a crouching lump of earth. Her father dug the furrow. She did the planting, shovelling the dirt with her hands. Her face was sodden as any in the slums of Chicago. She ran to the house a ragged girl, and came back a homespun girl, a quick change. It must not be counted against her that she did not wash her face.

The Gnome talked to me meanwhile. He had made up his mind about me. "I guess you want to stay all night ? "


"The next house is fifteen miles away. You are welcome if what we have is good enough for you. My wife is sick, but she will not let you be any bother."

I wanted to be noble and walk on. But I persuaded myself my feet were as sick as the woman. I accepted the Gnome's invitation.

Lindsay had arrived at Mud Creek Flats, between Dillard and Highlands. Studying an old map, I see that what he called Mud Creek Flats is near today's Sky Valley, the resort development sprawling across an especially beautiful valley to the northwest of Rabun Bald.

We were met at the door by one my host called Brother Joseph — a towering shape with an upper lip like a walrus, for it was armed with tusk-like mustaches. He was silent as King Log.

But the Gnome said, "I have saved up a month of talk since the last stranger came through." With ease, with simplicity of word, with I know not how much of guile, he gave fragments of his life : how he had lived in this log house always, how his first wife died, how her children were raised by this second wife and married off, how they now enjoyed this second family....

After the lady of the house rose from her sick-bed to cook for the whole clan, Lindsay considered her life:

Let us watch her at the table, breaking her corn-bread alone, her puffy eyelids closed, her cheek-bones seeming to cut through the skin. There is something of the eagle in her aspect because of her Roman nose, and her hands moving like talons. It is not corn-bread that she tears and devours. She is consuming her enemies, which are Weariness, Squalor, Flat and Unprofitable Memory, Spiritual Death. She is seeking to forget that the light of the hearthstone that falls on her dirty but beautiful babies is kindled in hell.

Sky Valley, Georgia

For decades, magazine writers had been exploiting a freakish caricature of the rustic mountaineer. I can’t decide if that’s what Lindsay was doing here at Mud Creek Flats. He had an active imagination, for sure:

Next morning was Sunday, a week since Easter. Only when a man has sadly mangled feet, and blood heated by many weeks of adventure, can he find luxury such as I found in the icy stream next morning. The divine rivulet on the far side of the field had been misnamed "Mud Creek." It was clear as a diamond….

After breakfast the wife helped the Walrus to drag the cot out of doors. When she was alone on the porch I told her how sorry I was she had been obliged to cook for me. I thanked her for her toil. But she hurried away, without a pause or a glance. She kissed one of those miry faced babies. She walked into the house, leaving me smirking at the hills. She growled something at the host. He came forth. He pointed out the road, over the mountains and far away. He broke off a blossoming applesprig and whittled it.

"So you've been to Atlanta?" he asked.


" I was there once. What hotel did you use ? "

"The Salvation Army."

"I was in the United States Hotel."

Still I was stupid. He continued:

"I was there two years."

He put on his glasses. He threw down the apple-sprig, and, looking over the glasses, he made unhappy each blossom in his own peculiar way. He continued: " I was in the United States Hotel, for making blockade whisky. I don't make it any more." He spat again. "I don't even go fishin' on Sunday unless —"

He had made up his mind that I was a customer, not a detective.

"Unless what?"

"Unless a visitor wants a mess of fish."

But I did not want a mess of fish. Repeatedly I offered money for my night's lodging. This he declined with real pride. He maintained his one virtue intact. And so I thought of him, just as I left, as a man who kept his code.

As he left Mud Creek Flats to walk the rest of the way to Highlands, Vachel Lindsay had plenty to think about:

I thought of the Gnome a long time. I thought of the wife, and wondered at her as a unique illustration of the tragic mysteries of the human race. If she screams when seven devils enter into the Gnome, no one outside the house will hear but the apple-tree. If she weeps, only the wind in the chimney will understand. If she seeks justice and the law, King Log, the Walrus, is her uncertain refuge. If she desires mercy, the emperor of that valley, the king above King Log, is a venomous serpent, even the Worm of the Still.

But now the road unwound in glory. I walked away from those serpent-bitten dominions for that time. I was one with the air of the sweet heavens, the light of the ever-enduring sun, the abounding stillness of the forest, and the inscrutable Majesty, brooding on the mountains, the Majesty whom ignorantly we worship.


Vachel Lindsay continued his long walk toward Highlands. He was thinking about the folks at Mud Creek Flats, who had listened attentively to his recitation of The Tree of Laughing Bells.

Sara Teasdale, ca. 1913.

In his pocket, he carried a letter of introduction to the Highlands naturalist who would shelter the troubadour for a night.

Before following him any further along the path, though, let's fast-forward seven years. After other long-distance hikes across America, and many more poems to his credit, Vachel Lindsay met fellow poet Sara Teasdale. Fittingly, the two were introduced to each other by the editor of
Poetry Magazine.

Vachel Lindsay

Vachel was one of several men courting Sara. He proposed, and she declined. The next year, she married Ernst Filsinger, a wealthy businessman, and presumably less eccentric than the troubadour.

Vachel and Sara reamained friends for the remainder of their complicated lives. Some people would call their relationship a tragic romance.

They had one thing in common - the world failed to measure up to their lofty romantic fantasies.

Two weeks before her wedding to Filsinger, Sara expressed her misgivings in verse:


I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love -- put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

I wonder what attributes made the sickly Sara Teasdale so attractive to men. The Kiss constitutes "ample warning."


I hoped that he would love me,
And he has kissed my mouth,
But I am like a stricken bird
That cannot reach the south.

For though I know he loves me,
To-night my heart is sad;
His kiss was not so wonderful
As all the dreams I had.

Predictably, Sara Teasdale's marriage to Ernst Filsinger was a disappointment and ended in divorce.

Meanwhile, Vachel Lindsay scored a "hit" with The Chinese Nightingale, a poem he dedicated to "Sara Teasdale Filsinger." Here's the conclusion:

Then sang the bird, so strangely gay,
Fluttering, fluttering, ghostly and gray,
A vague, unravelling, final tune,
Like a long unwinding silk cocoon;
Sang as though for the soul of him
Who ironed away in that bower dim: --
"I have forgotten
Your dragons great,
Merry and mad and friendly and bold.
Dim is your proud lost palace-gate.
I vaguely know
There were heroes of old,
Troubles more than the heart could hold,
There were wolves in the woods
Yet lambs in the fold,
Nests in the top of the almond tree. . . .
The evergreen tree . . . and the mulberry tree . . .
Life and hurry and joy forgotten,
Years on years I but half-remember . . .
Man is a torch, then ashes soon,
May and June, then dead December,
Dead December, then again June.
Who shall end my dream's confusion?
Life is a loom, weaving illusion . . .
I remember, I remember
There were ghostly veils and laces . . .
In the shadowy bowery places . . .
With lovers' ardent faces
Bending to one another,
Speaking each his part.
They infinitely echo
In the red cave of my heart.
`Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart.'
They said to one another.
They spoke, I think, of perils past.
They spoke, I think, of peace at last.
One thing I remember:
Spring came on forever,
Spring came on forever,"
Said the Chinese nightingale.

One of Sara Teasdale's last poems has been adapted as an a cappella choral composition by Frank Ticheli (b. 1958). Beautiful words, gorgeous voices...


There will be rest, and sure stars shining
Over the roof-tops crowned with snow,
A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
The music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace, – above me
Stars I shall find.


But all those poems came long, long after the spring of 1906, when Vachel Lindsay wandered these mountains under the evergreen trees and the starry skies.


Vachel Lindsay reached the Highlands plateau at last.

Main Street, Highlands, 1910 (Henry Scadin photograph)

Ten years after his 1906 hike, Lindsay wrote about it in A Handy Guide for Beggars. When Edgar Lee Masters prepared Lindsay’s biography in the 1930s he had access to Lindsay’s many diaries, including those kept on the Southern trip. So, we now have the luxury of two parallel versions of the long journey.

Here’s how Masters related the poet’s approach to Highlands:

It was Sunday and he met a boy going to Baptist Sunday school. The teachers there were a man and his wife, who took Lindsay home with them to dinner. At Sunday school there was a promising student, who had a minute knowledge of Christ and the alabaster box woman. His face “and little body were those of a cherub.” Lindsay gave him “The Tree of Laughing Bells.”

He arrived in Highlands in the evening of this day and went to the house of some people to whom he had been directed by a friend. The woman of the house cooked him an excellent omelet, gave him brown bread and sweet milk, and a couch for the night. The host was a Pennsylvania Dutchman, “earnest, scholarly, and a botanist, superintendent of the nursery at Highlands.”

In A Handy Guide, Lindsay reflected on his short stay as he departed from Highlands:

With no sorrow in my heart, with no money in my pocket, with no baggage but a lunch, the most dazzling feature of which was a piece of gingerbread, I walked away from a windswept North Carolina village…the gingerbread was given me by a civilized man, to whom John Collier had written for me a letter of introduction: Mr. Thomas G. Harbison, Botanical Collector; American tree seeds a specialty.

Back there by the village he was improving the breed of mountain apples by running a nursery. He was improving the children with a school he taught without salary, and was using the most modern pedagogy.

Something in his manner made me say, "You are like a doctor out of one of Ibsen's plays, only you are optimistic." Then we talked of Ibsen. He debated art versus science, he being a science-fanatic, I an art-fanatic. He concluded the argument with these words: "You are bound to be wrong. I am bound to be wrong. What is the use of either of us judging the other?" That is not the mountain way of ending a discussion.

For the purposes of the tale, as well as for his own merits, we must praise this civilized man who entertained me a day and a half so well.

Professor Thomas and Jessie Cobb Harbison and their daughters Gertrude and Margaret, ca. 1905

Thomas Grant Harbison (1862-1936) walked with friend Elmer Magee from their home state of Pennsylvania all the way to Highlands in the spring of 1886. Since Thomas and Elmer shared a love of botany, Highlands was a natural destination. They had survived the hike with rations consisting of a bag of ground wheat and a tin of brown sugar.

Harbison was a largely self-taught scholar who assembled a sizable library at a young age and earned his college degrees through correspondence courses. The people of Highlands were so impressed with the intellect of the ragged hiker that they convinced him to serve as principal of the new Highlands Academy.

Later, George Vanderbilt hired Harbison to collect plants for the Biltmore herbarium. And for two decades while in Highlands, he was a field botanist for Harvard. He conducted plant experiments in conjunction with the Clemson faculty. He also helped to establish the herbarium for the University of North Carolina. And in recent years, his name has been connected with a rather controversial botanical conservation project (that is a story for another day).

In addition to all that, Harbison taught poor mountain children in the Highlands vicinity, and said of that time: ”Those were the happiest and most satisfactory years of my life.”

If you drive through Highlands today, you’ll see the historical marker honoring Professor Harbison.

Although Vachel Lindsay couldn’t fault the hospitality extended by the Harbison family, he was likely rather relieved to get back on the road.

I’ll explain why, later.


During his evening spent with the Thomas Harbison family in Highlands, Vachel Lindsay observed that the professor “was full of Spencer and Huxley, an anti-socialist willing to die fighting socialism.”

Professor Harbison

I suspect that Lindsay recoiled upon this discovery. Let’s introduce into evidence a poem written long after 1906, but written by Lindsay nonetheless:


I AM unjust, but I can strive for justice.
My life's unkind, but I can vote for kindness.
I, the unloving, say life should be lovely.
I, that am blind, cry out against my blindness.

Man is a curious brute—he pets his fancies—
Fighting mankind, to win sweet luxury.
So he will be, tho' law be clear as crystal,
Tho' all men plan to live in harmony.

Come, let us vote against our human nature,
Crying to God in all the polling places
To heal our everlasting sinfulness
And make us sages with transfigured faces.

Nowadays, “socialism” isn’t much more than a hot-button expletive used to punctuate Tea Party rants. But a century ago, socialism was a significant movement in America, aiming to correct the same imbalances and inequities that continue to plague this country.

Just two years before Lindsay’s great tramp across the south. Eugene V. Debs was the candidate of the Socialist Party of America, drawing 402,810 votes, or 2.98% of the popular vote in the 1904 Presidential election. Debs remained a highly visible figure in American life into the 1920s, working for social and political change.

Debs proclaimed his philosophy:

While there is a lower class, I am in it;
While there is a criminal element, I am of it;
While there is a soul in prison, I am not free

Something Debs wrote in 1915 could just as easily apply to present circumstances:

I am not opposed to all war, nor am I opposed to fighting under all circumstances, and any declaration to the contrary would disqualify me as a revolutionist. When I say I am opposed to war I mean ruling class war, for the ruling class is the only class that makes war. It matters not to me whether this war be offensive or defensive, or what other lying excuse may be invented for it. I am opposed to it, and I would be shot for treason before I would enter such a war.

Capitalists wars for capitalist conquest and capitalist plunder must be fought by the capitalists themselves so far as I am concerned, and upon that question, there can be no compromise and no misunderstanding as to my position. I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world. I would not violate my principles for God, much less for a crazy kaiser, a savage czar, a degenerate king, or a gang of pot-bellied parasites.

I am opposed to every war but one; I am for the war with heart and soul, and that is the worldwide war of social revolution. In that war, I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades. There is where I stand and where I believe the Socialist Party stands, or ought to stand, on the question of war."

[From "When I Shall Fight," by Eugene V. Debs, in Appeal to Reason newspaper, September 11, 1915.]

And here’s how Debs summed up his efforts:

My purpose was to have the people understand something about the social system in which we live and to prepare them to change this system by perfectly peaceable and orderly means into what I, as a Socialist, conceive to be a real democracy. . . . I am doing what little I can, and have been for many years, to bring about a change that shall do away with the rule of the great body of the people by a relatively small class and establish in this country an industrial and social democracy.

At the time they met, Lindsay and Harbison would have had fresh memories of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, which became a milestone in the history of the labor movement. And, during the long strike, talk of socialism entered the debate. Mine owners were determined to wait out the workers, rather than conceding to any of their demands. Meanwhile, many people were calling on federal intervention to end the strike and relieve the hardships resulting from the shutdown. One letter writer to the New York Times urged a laissez faire approach lest “socialism” gain a foothold:

As the settlement of the coal strike is not yet in sight, the people of New York can look forward to very dear coal next Winter…Lord only knows what will become of the poor in cheap tenements who buy their coal by the bucketful.

But it will be very much better to have this condition than to infringe on “the sacred rights of property,” which constitute the basis and bulwark of society: better far to suffer the pangs of cold and hunger and death than disturb the existing order of things.

All this talk of compelling the coal barons to operate their mines is the rankest socialism, communism, and anarchy. The coal lands are the property of these men, just as their pocket knives are their property, and to demand the operation of the mines is as socialistic and dangerous to property rights as to demand than they operate their pocket knives. They have just as much right to hold their lands idle as any other class of landowners throughout the world….

Why single out the owners of coal lands for special attack? Logically the only people who should have votes are the landowners of the country, for they own America. It is wrong that the rest of us, who own no land, should have any voice in the making of laws or government in a country of which we do not own one square foot.

None but stockholders have a voice in the management of a business concern, and none but the owners of this country should have a voice in it.

Disenfranchisement of the masses who own no property would put an end to the dangerous doctrines we now hear so much of, and the “sacred rights of property” would be fully safeguarded.

Leonard Tuttle, August 9, 1902

One month later, a socialist group went beyond pressuring owners to reopen the mines. They urged state ownership of the mines. Again, from the New York Times:

The meeting in Boston on Monday evening, called to urge the settlement of the anthracite coal strike by “mediation, arbitration, or conciliation,” was captured by the Socialists, who turned the discussion into unexpected channels and passed the following resolution:

Resolved, That we, the people of Massachusetts, in mass meeting assembled in Faneuil Hall, the historic Cradle of Liberty, on this Sept. 8, 1902, demand the Government ownership and operation of the coal mines as the best means of ending the strike in the anthracite coal regions, and of securing justice and liberty to the mine workers and of preventing the occurrence of all such deplorable and unhappy conditions.

President Theodore Roosevelt did not go that far, but he did break from previous presidents who would have sided with the mine owners, and attempted to level the field for labor and management in seeking an end to the strike.

Today, we might frame things differently, but the basic issues remain the same. What are the consequences of the imbalance of power between capital and labor? What is the proper role of the government in correcting those imbalances?

Tea Bagger bigots...errr, "patriots"... hit the streets on behalf of their corporate overlords

With their loud voices dominating the political stage these days, the Tea Bagger loonies have their own convenient answers to those questions, while ignoring the tyranny of unchecked capitalism.

Consider this fact:

The share of total income going to the richest 1 percent of Americans peaked in both 1928 and in 2007, at over 23 percent. Between the two peaks is a long, deep valley. After 1928, the share of national income going to the top 1 percent steadily declined… to 9 to 11 percent in the 1950s and 1960s, finally reaching the valley floor of 8 to 9 percent in the 1970s. After this, the share going to the richest 1 percent began to climb again… reaching its next peak of more than 23 percent in 2007.

Sounds like “trickle down” economics to me! Thank you, Ronald Reagan.

Some people ARE concerned with this trend toward greater and greater concentration of wealth and the deterioration of the middle class. With his book, Aftershock, economist Robert Reich has delivered some of the most astute analysis I’ve come across in a long time.

You can follow this link to hear the Fresh Air interview with Reich, which I highly recommend:

Reich sees economic woes reflecting not just normal cyclical patterns, but structural deficiencies in our economic and political policy:

[The middle class] can't go deeper and deeper into debt. They can't work longer hours. They've exhausted all of their coping mechanisms...And people at the top are taking home so much that they are almost inevitably going to speculate in stocks or commodities or whatever the speculative vehicles are going to be... Unless we understand the relationship between the extraordinary concentration of income and wealth we have this in country and the failure of the economy to rebound, we are going to be destined for many, many years of high unemployment, anemic job recoveries and then periods of booms and busts that may even dwarf what we just had.

Whether they did or not, Vachel Lindsay and Thomas Harbison could have had a spirited after-dinner discussion on this subject.

Like they say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”


Vachel Lindsay wandered, lost, into Jackson County, the dramatic terrain helping to clear his mind of political disagreements and debates between Science and Art.

Wagon road from Highlands to Whiteside Mountain, ca. 1897, Henry Scadin photograph

From A Handy Guide for Beggars:

I turned to the right once too often, and climbed Mount Whiteside. There was a drop of millions of miles, and a Lilliputian valley below like a landscape by Charlotte B. Coman.

I heard some days later that once a man tied a dog to an umbrella and threw him over. Dog landed safely, barking still. Dog was able to eat, walk, and wag as before. But the fate of the master was horrible. Dog never spoke to him again.

Having no umbrella, I retraced my way. I stepped into the highway that circumscribes the tremendous amphitheatre of Cashier's Valley.

I met not a soul till eight o'clock that night. The mountain laurel, the sardis bloom, the violet, and the apple blossom made glad the margins of the splendidly built road; and, as long as the gingerbread lasted, I looked upon these things in a sort of sophisticated wonder.

R. Henry Scadin (1861-1923)

The first time I read this passage, I half expected Vachel to encounter a local photographer and fruit grower by the name of Henry Scadin. I even consulted Scadin’s own voluminous diaries, but found no mention of Lindsay among the entries in April and May of 1906.

Henry Scadin created what is (as far as I know) the most significant photographic record of southern Macon, Jackson and Transylvania counties at the turn of the twentieth century.

Dry Falls

Waterfalls were a specialty for Scadin and he photographed them with considerable artistic and technical ability.

Tea at Grimshawes

I knew that Scadin spent many days walking the roads between Highlands and Toxaway, which fueled my hope that he had crossed paths with Vachel Lindsay. Even if that meeting never occurred, the photographer has provided a window on the same world that the troubadour viewed while tramping through these mountains.

Horse Cove Falls

Photographs by Henry Scadin. From Henry Scadin Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Lake Toxaway


I wonder about the identity of the family that hosted Vachel Lindsay after he left Highlands and reached Jackson County in the spring of 1906. Who knows? Maybe the incident remains alive as a small piece of family lore for some local family, the memory of a story told about the night that an eccentric young man appeared, needing a place to stay, and going on to write about it years later. And then again, maybe not.

Sapphire, North Carolina, circa 1902. "View from the Lodge on Mount Toxaway." Glass negative by William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co.

From A Handy Guide for Beggars, by Vachel Lindsay:

Musing these matters, I munched my gingerbread, walking past sweet waterfalls, groves of enormous cedars, many springs, and one deserted cabin. I was homesick for that great civilized camp, New York, and the soberminded pursuit of knowledge there.

But civilization lost her battle at twilight, when I swallowed my last gingerbread crumb. Immediately I was in the land beyond the nowhere place, willing to sleep twelve hours by a waterfall, or let the fairies wake me before day. The road went deeper into savagery. I blundered on, rejoicing in the fever of weariness. In the piercing light of the young stars, the house that came at last before me seemed even more deeply rooted in the ground than the oaks around it. What new revelation lies here? Knock, knock, knock, O my soul, and may Heaven open a mystery that will give the traveller a contrite heart.

Let us tell a secret, even before we enter. If, with the proper magic in our minds, we were guests here, a year or a day, we might write the world's one unwritten epic. All day, in one of these tiny rooms, amid appointments that fill the spirit with the elation of simple things, we would write. At evening we would dream the next event by the fire. The epic would begin with the opening of the door.

There appeared a military figure, with a face like Henry Irving's in contour, like Whistler's in sharpness, fantasy, and pride.

"May I have a night's lodging? I have no money."

"Come in. ... We never turn a man away."

We were inside. He asked: "What might be your name?" I gave it. He gave his. The circle by the fire did not turn their heads, but presumably I was introduced. One child ran into the kitchen. My host gave me her chair. All looked silently into the great soapkettle in the midst of the snapping logs.

I have a high opinion of the fine people of the South, and gratefully remember the scattering of gentlefolk so good as to entertain me in their mansions. But in this cottage, with one glance at those fixed, flushed faces, I said: "This is the best blood I have met in this United States." The five children were nightblooming flowers. There were hints of Dore in the shadow of the father, cast against the log walls of the cabin. He sat on the little stairway. He was a better Don Quixote than Dore ever drew.

Dore's Don Quixote

I said, "Every middle-aged man I have met in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina has been a soldier, and I suppose you were."

He looked at me long, as though the obligation of hospitality did not involve conversation. He spoke at last:
"I fought, but I could not help it. It was for home, or against home. I fought for this cabin."

"It is a beautiful cabin."

He relented a bit. "We have kept it just so, ever since my great-grandfather came here with his pack-mule and made his own trail. I — I hated the war. We did not care anything about the cotton and niggers of the fire-eaters. The niggers never climbed this high."

I changed the subject. "This is the largest fireplace I have seen in the South. A man could stand up in it."

He stiffened again. "This is not the South. This is the Blue Ridge."

An inner door opened. It was plain the woman who stood there was his wife. She had the austere mouth a wife's passion gives. She had the sweet white throat of her youth, that made even the candle-flame rejoice.

She looked straight at me, with inkblack eyes. She was dumb, like some one struggling to awake.

"Everything is ready," she said at length to her husband.

He turned to me: " Your supper is now in the kitchen, 'if what we have is good enough.'" It was the usual formula for hospitality.

I turned to the wife. "My dear woman, I did not know that this was going on. It is not right for you to set a new supper at this hour. I had enough on the road."

"But you have walked a long way." Then she uttered the ancient proverb of the Blue Ridge. "'A stranger needs takin' care of.'"

In the kitchen there was a cook-stove. Otherwise there was nothing to remind one of the world this side of Beowulf. I felt myself in a stronghold of barbarian royalty.

"Do you do your own spinning and weaving?"

She lifted the candle, lighting a corner. "Here are the cards and the wools." She held it higher. "There is the spinning wheel."

"Where is the loom?"

"Up stairs, just by where you will sleep."

I knew that if there was a loom, it was a magic one, for she was a witch of the better sort, a fine, serious witch, and a princess withal. Her ancestors wore their black hair that simple way when their lords won them by fighting dragons. She was prouder than the pyramids. If the epic is ever written, let it tell how the spinner of the wizard wools did stand to serve the stranger, that being the custom of her house.

Whitewater Falls, William Henry Jackson photograph

This was a primitive camp indeed. There was no gingerbread. There was not one thing to remind me of the last table at which I had eaten. But every gesture said, "Good prince, you are far from your court. Therefore, this, our royal trencher, is yours. May you find your way to your own kingdom in peace."

But for a long time her lips were still. She had the spareness of a fertile, toiling mother. And, ah, the motherhood in her voice when she said at last, "My son, you are tired."



"I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.”
-Robert Henri, 1865-1929

Robert Henri self portrait, 1903

In the years before his walking tour of the South, Vachel Lindsay had studied art in Chicago and New York. One of his teachers was the renowned painter Robert Henri, credited as “an immensely significant force behind the change from 19-century academicism to 20-century self-expression.”

Besides Vachel Lindsay, Henri’s roster of students included Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Man Ray, Leon Trotsky and Ariel Durant. Henri himself admired free-thinker Emma Goldman who founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth in 1906.

Emma Goldman

Lindsay had tried combining illustration and poetry in a style somewhere between William Blake and Kenneth Patchen. At one point, though, Henri urged Lindsay to concentrate on poetry rather than painting or drawing.

As he started his great hike in 1906, Lindsay intended to swap drawings as well as poetry for his lodgings. I have no idea if he left any such sketches behind when he traveled through the mountains. In his descriptions of people and places he encountered, he did make frequent allusions to popular paintings and illustrations.

Vachel Lindsay illuminated poem

Henri’s own words suggest how he might have influenced Vachel Lindsay:

The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state.

When the artist is alive in any person... he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for better understanding.

An artist's job is to surprise himself. Use all means possible.

Through art, mysterious bonds of understanding and of knowledge are established among men. They are the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.

The artist should be intoxicated with the idea of the thing he wants to express.

All education must be self-education.

Vachel Lindsay illustration

Self-education only produces expressions of self.

Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.

Pretend you are dancing or singing a picture. A worker or painter should enjoy his work, else the observer will not enjoy it.

Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition.

Salome, Robert Henri, 1909

The most vital things in the look of a landscape endure only for a moment. Work should be done from memory; memory of that vital moment.

Art tends toward balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.

All the past up to a moment ago is your legacy. You have a right to it.

There are mighty few people who think what they think they think.

What we need is more sense of the wonder of life, and less of the business of making a picture.

The real artist's work is a surprise to himself.



Croquet on the garden terrace, Biltmore Estate, May 1906

Vachel Lindsay departed from the House of the Magic Loom and crossed Mount Toxaway en route to Asheville. In his diary, he recorded:

If I cannot beat the system I can die protesting, I can give things away and keep ragged. Count that day wasted in which you are not giving away the work of your hands.

In A Handy Guide for Beggars, Vachel Lindsay recalled that same morning in early May 1906:

All through the country there had been that night what is called a black frost. By the roadside it was deep and white as the wool on a sheep. But it left things blighted and black, and destroyed the chances of the fruit-bearing trees. All the way to Mount Toxaway I met scattered mourners of the ill-timed visitation.

After he arrived in Asheville, Lindsay visited the Biltmore Estate, where his studies in architecture and gardening came into play. As was his style, he described the spring verdure of Biltmore as being
“like the Dutch Gardens, like Lord Bacon’s garden, like the Italian terraces.”

Vachel remembered one Asheville encounter as “A Not Very Tragic Relapse into the Toils of the World, and of Finance.” I don’t know the identity of the potential benefactor, (perhaps it was Asheville YMCA General Secretary Mr. O.B. Van Horn) but Vachel’s account of the meeting is hilarious:

Having been properly treated as a bunco man by systematic piety in a certain city further south, I had double-barrelled special recommendations sent to a lofty benevolence in Asheville, from a religious leader of New York, the before-mentioned Charles F. Powlison.

It was with confidence that I bade good-by to the chicken-merchant who drove me into the city. I entered the office of the blackcoated, semi-clerical gentleman who had received the Powlison indorsements. My stick pounded his floor. The heels of my brogans made the place resound. But he gave all official privileges. He received me with the fine manly handclasp, the glitter of teeth, the pat on the back. He insisted I use the shower bath, writing room, reading table. Then I suggested a conference among a dozen of his devouter workers on the relation of the sense of Beauty to their present notion of Christianity or, if he preferred, a talk on some aspect of art to a larger group.

Biltmore Farm Village, 1906

He took me into his office. He shut the door. He was haughty. He made me haughty. I give the conversation as it struck me. He probably said some smart things I do not recall. But I remember all the smart things I said.

He denounced labor agitators in plain words. I agreed. I belonged to the brotherhood of those who loaf and invite their souls.

He spoke of anarchy. I maintained that I loved the law.

He very clearly, and at length, assaulted Single Tax. I knew nothing then of Single Tax, and thanked him for light.

He denounced Socialism. Knowing little about Socialism at that time, I denounced it also, having just been converted to individualism by a man in Highlands.

The religious leader spoke of his long experience with bunco men. I insisted I wanted not a cent from him, I was there to do him good.

I had letters of introduction to two men in the city; one of them, an active worker in the organization, had already been in to identify me. A third man was coming to climb Mount Mitchell with me.

Edith Vanderbilt on the French Broad ferry, 1906

He doubted that I was a bona fide worker in his organization. Then came my only long speech. We will omit the speech. But he began to see light. He took a fresh grip on his argument.

He said: "There is a man here in Asheville I see snooping around with a tin box and a butterfly net. They call him the state something-ologist. He goes around and — and — hunts bugs. But do you want to know what I think of a crank like that?" I wanted to know. He told me.

"But," I objected, "I am not a scientist. I am an art student."

He expressed an interest in art. He gave a pious and proper view of the nude in art. It took some time. It was the sort of chilly, cautious talk that could not possibly bring a blush to the cheek of ignorance. I assured him his decorous concessions were unnecessary. I was not expounding the nude.

There was an artist here, and Asheville needed no further instruction of the kind, he maintained. The gentleman had won some blue ribbons in Europe. He painted a big picture (dimensions were given) and sold it for thousands (price was given).

"He is holding the next one, two feet longer each way, for double the money."

I told him if he felt there was enough art in Asheville, we might do something to popularize the poets.

In reply he talked about literary cranks. He spoke of how Thoreau, with his long hair and ugly looks, frightened strangers who suddenly met him in the woods. I thanked him for light on Thoreau. . . . But he had to admit that my hair was short.

Biltmore Village, 1906

He suspected I was neither artist nor literary man. I assured him my friends were often of the same opinion.

"But," he said bitterly, "do you know sir, by the tone of letters I received from Mr. Powlison I expected to assemble the wealth and fashion of Asheville to hear you. I expected to see you first in your private car, wearing a dress-suit."

I answered sternly, "Art, my friend, does not travel in a Pullman."

He threw off all restraint. "Old shoes," he said, " old shoes." He pointed at them.

"I have walked two hundred miles among the moonshiners. They wear brogans like these." But his manner plainly said that his organization did not need cranks climbing over the mountains to tell them things.

"Your New York letter did not say you were walking. It said you ' would arrive.'"

He began to point again. "Frayed trousers! And the lining of your coat in rags!"

"I took the lining of the coat for necessary patches."

"A blue bandanna round your neck!"

"To protect me from sunburn."

He rose and hit the table. "And no collar!"

"Oh yes, I have a collar." I drew it from my hip pocket. It had had a two hundred mile ride, and needed a bath.

"I should like to have it laundered, but I haven't the money."

"Get the money."

"No," I said, "but I will get a collar."

- - -

*Charles F. Powlison was, at that time, with the Young Men’s Christian Association, and eventually went on to become General Secretary of the National Child Welfare Association. Powlison’s name popped up in a New York Times story, published just two months prior to Vachel Lindsay’s Asheville visit. Apparently, an incident amidst a crowd lined up for a Mark Twain lecture at the West Side YMCA ended with charges of police brutality. There’s a great line in the story:

Mark Twain was introduced as a man "well worth being clubbed to hear."

Mark Twain, ca. 1906

What the heck, here’s the whole thing:

The New York Times, March 5, 1906
Bungle at the Majestic Theatre Angers Y. M. C. A. Men.
Mr. Clemens Gives Some Advice About the Treatment of Corporations and Talks About Gentlemen.

Members of he West Side Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association found that entering the Majestic Theatre yesterday afternoon to hear an address by Mark Twain had a close resemblance to a football match. No one was injured, but for a few minutes the police were hustling the crowd backward and forward by sheer force, a mounted man was sent to push his way through the thickest of the press and the jam was perilous.

The doors of the theatre should have been opened at 3 o'clock, and about three hundred persons were there at that time. It was an orderly crowd of young men with a sprinkling of elderly ones, but Capt. Daly of the West Forty-seventy Street Station would not allow them to be admitted until he has summoned the reserves. It took twenty minutes for these to arrive and every moment the crush grew greater. Still there was no disorder and the police as they formed into line had to face nothing more dangerous than a little good-humored chaff.

The crowd was ranged in a rough column facing the main doors of the lobby. The Young Men's Christian Association authorities came out several times and asked the Captain to allow the doors to be opened.

"If you do it, I'll take away my men and there'll be a lot of people hurt or killed," he replied. "I know how to handle crowds."

Then he proceeded to handle the crowds. He tried to swing the long solid line up against the southwestern side of Columbus Circle and force them in by the side entrance of the lobby, instead of the one they faced. First he sent a mounted man right through the column. The patrolmen followed and in a moment the orderly gathering was hustled and thrust in all directions.

Capt. Daly's next maneuver was to open the side door. The crowd surged up, but he had them pushed back, and closed the door again. The crowd was utterly bewildered. Then the Young Men's Christian Association authorities opened one-half of the door on their own responsibility. Through this narrow passage the crowd squeezed. The plate glass in the half that was closed was shattered to atoms, and the men surged forward. A few coats were torn, but in spite of the way in which they had been handled everybody kept his temper. If there had been any disorderly element present nothing could have avoided serious accidents. In the end all but 500 gained admission.

Hold Police Responsible.

At the opening of the meeting, the Rev. Dr. Charles P. Fagnani, the Chairman, said: "The management desires to disclaim all responsibility for what has happened. [Cheers.] The matter was taken out of their hands by the police. [Hisses.] You have been accustomed long enough to being brutally treated by the police, and I do not see why you should mind it. [A voice: "You're right."] Some day you will take matters into your own hands and will decide that the police shall be the servants of the citizens."

At the end of the meeting, Charles F. Powlison, Secretary of the West Side Branch, stated he had been asked to submit a resolution condemning the action of the police, but it had been decided it was better not to do so.

Mark Twain was introduced as a man "well worth being clubbed to hear." He was greeted with a storm of applause that lasted over a minute.

"I thank you for this signal recognition of merit," he said. "I have been listening to what has been said about citizenship. You complain of the police. You created the police. You are responsible for the police. They must reflect you, their masters. Consider that before you blame them.

"Citizenship is of the first importance in a land where a body of citizens can change the whole atmosphere of politics, as has been done in Philadelphia. There is less graft there than there used to be. I was going to move to Philadelphia, but it is no place for enterprise now.

"Dr. Russell spoke of organization. I was an organization myself once for twelve hours, and accomplished things I could never have done otherwise. When they say 'Step lively,' remember it is not an insult from a conductor to you personally, but from the President of the road to you, an embodiment of American citizenship. When the insult is flung at your old mother and father, it shows the meanness of the omnipotent President, who could stop it if he would.

Mark Twain Got the Stateroom.

"I was an organization once. I was traveling from Chicago with my publisher and stenographer - I always travel with a bodyguard - and engaged a stateroom on a certain train. For above all its other conveniences, the stateroom gives the privilege of smoking. When we arrived at the station the conductor told us he was sorry the car with our stateroom was left off. I said: 'You are under contract to furnish a stateroom on this train. I am in no hurry. I can stay here a week at the road's expense. It'll have to pay my expenses and a little over.'

"Then the conductor called a grandee, and, after some argument, he went and bundled some meek people out of the stateroom, told them something not strictly true, and gave it to me. About 11 o'clock the conductor looked in on me, and was very kind and winning. He told me he knew my father-in-law - it was much more respectable to know my father-in-law than me in those days. Then he developed his game. He was very sorry the car was only going to Harrisburg. They had telegraphed to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and couldn't get another car. He threw himself on my mercy. But to him I only replied:

“Then you had better buy the car.'

"I had forgotten all about this, when some time after Mr. Thomson of the Pennsylvania heard I was going to Chicago again and wired:

" 'I am sending my private car. Clemens cannot ride on an ordinary car. He costs too much.' "

Definition of a Gentleman.

Mark Twain went on to speak of the man who left $10,000 to disseminate his definition of a gentleman. He denied that he had ever defined one, but said if he did he would include the mercifulness, fidelity, and justice the Scripture read at the meeting spoke of. He produced a letter from William Dean Howells, and said:

"He writes he is just 69, but I have known him longer than that. 'I was born to be afraid of dying, not of getting old,' he says. Well, I'm the other way. It's terrible getting old. You gradually lose things, and become troublesome. People try to make you think you are not. But I know I'm troublesome.

"Then he says no part of life is so enjoyable as the eighth decade. That's true. I've just turned into it, and I enjoy it very much. 'If old men were not so ridiculous,' why didn't he speak for himself? 'But,' he goes on, 'they are ridiculous, and they are ugly.' I never saw a letter with so many errors in it. Ugly! I was never ugly in my life! Forty years ago I was not so good-looking. A looking glass then lasted me three months. Now I can wear it out in two days.

" 'You've been up in Hartford burying poor old Patrick. I suppose he was old, too,' says Howells. No, he was not old. Patrick came to us thirty-six years ago - a brisk, lithe young Irishman. He was as beautiful in his graces as he was in his spirit, and he was as honest a man as ever lived. For twenty-five years he was our coachman, and if I were going to describe a gentleman in detail I would describe Patrick.

"At my own request I was his pall bearer with our old gardener. He drove me and my bride so long ago. As the little children came along he drove them, too. He was all the world to them, and for all in my house he had the same feelings of honor, honesty, and affection.

"He was 60 years old, ten years younger than I. Howells suggests he was old. He was not so old. He had the same gracious and winning ways to the end. Patrick was a gentleman, and to him I would apply the lines:

So may I be courteous to men, faithful to friends, True to my God, a fragrance to the path I trod.

When inquiries were made last night at the West Side Branch as to whether a complaint of the action of the police would be made by the association to Commissioner Bingham, it was said to be improbably that any official action would be taken.


I liked the concept of Chautauqua as soon as I heard about it many years ago. What’s not to like about a festival of the arts, sciences, philosophy and public affairs…from low-brow to high-brow and everything in between? President Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauqua "the most American thing in America."

The original summer assembly of adult education and recreation began in the little town of Chautauqua, New York in 1874. In 1904, traveling “Circuit Chautauquas” spun off from the assembly format, featuring many of the same lecturers and orators. Chautauqua, both itinerant and at fixed locations, remained popular for several decades.

Vachel Lindsay crossed paths with one Chautauqua lecturer during his brief time in Asheville:

I looked up a scholar from Yale, Yutaka Minakuchi, friend of old friends, student of philosophy, in which he instructed me much, first lending me a collar. He became my host in Asheville. It needs no words of mine to enhance the fame of Japanese hospitality. . . .

Three years earlier, the Cincinnati Post reported on Minakuchi’s wedding to a Kentucky socialite:

As the bride of Yutaka Minakuchi, one of Kentucky’s belles will be borne away across the blue Pacific to the tea gardens and rice fields of quaint Japan. An American girl of wealth, rare beauty and accomplishments, will bid adieu to a reign among Blue Grass belles and beaux to go far across the water, where jinricksha men, sandaled and straw-clad, replace the fast lythe trotter, and where tea gardens and Buddhist temples line the roads instead of tobacco barns and little red brick churches.

But this does not mean that Miss Olivia Buckner is going to live in a new religion, as well as a new environment, for her husband-to-be is a minister of the gospel, although he is a wealthy Japanese of partly royal blood. Yataka Minakuchi needs only the title of Ph. D. to make him satisfied with his studies in America, and he is going to get that at Harvard after his honeymoon trip. Then he and his fair-skinned bride are going to visit Japan and give the Oriental girls something to gossip about behind their fans, just as the young bloods around Lexington and Paris, Ky., are now discussing the success of their Japanese rival.

He has traveled extensively and before coming to this country to enter college he spent two years at St. Petersburg with his uncle, who was a Japanese minister to Russia. He speaks fluently in five languages, but most effectively, it seems, the language of love.

Journalism ain't what it used to be, eh?

Yutaka and Olivia resided at 77 Montford while he served a congregation in Asheville and maintained a busy schedule as a traveling lecturer. One evangelist endorsed Minakuchi as a stirring orator and philosopher:

He is a clean, strong, magnetic young chap of great intellectual power, and a speaker of tremendous ability. He captures the people wherever he goes. Though a Japanese, he has spent most of his life in America. If you want a “hummer,” get the American Jap. He is in a class all by himself.

One of Minakuchi's popular lectures was “The Border Land,” in which he discussed:

...certain contributions which the eastern and western civilizations have made toward world progress. An effort will be made to find the “border land” – the place of reconciliation between these two seemingly opposed civilizations.

Minakuchi’s career came crashing to an end during World War II. On March 24, 1942, the Associated Press reported:

Held for investigation to determine whether, as an enemy alien, he was "dangerous to the peace and security of the United States," the Rev. Yutaka Minakuchi, 63-year-old Congregational minister and former Chautauqua lecturer, was accused today of being in the pay of the Japanese Consulate.

A recent radio program on wartime internments of Japanese residents mentioned Minakuchi:

The fact that he was getting a stipend from Japan and had been ever since he had left his job in Peacham as the minister where he had been for ten years - people really latched onto that as proof that he must be a spy. And there had been a lot of talk that he was sending coded messages from a radio and there was an antenna up in back of their home in Glover. And it was true that there was a radio, but they searched for the antenna and never found anything like that.

After the war Minakuchi found work in New York and Pennsylvania as a butler, with [his second wife] Nellie as housekeeper. When it was finally legal for him to do so, he became a naturalized citizen. After Nellie's death, he returned to Vermont, where he died one year before President Gerald Ford apologized and rescinded Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, calling for wartime internments.


Much more on the life of Yutaka Minakuchi and his experiences during World War II:


Just this time, I'm jumping ahead to Vachel Lindsay's travels in Tennessee. This is why I like him. From A Handy Guide for Beggars:

The Tailor And The Florist

Now the story begins all over again with the episode of the well-known tailor and the unknown florist. Just off the main street of Greenville, Tennessee, there is a log cabin with the century old inscription, Andrew Johnson, Tailor. That sign is the fittest monument to the indomitable but dubious man who could not cut the mantle of the railsplitter to fit him.

I was told by the citizens of Greenville that there was a monument to their hero on the hill. So I climbed up. It was indeed wonderful — a weird straddling archway, supporting an obelisk. The archway also upheld two flaming funeral urns with buzzard contours, and a stone eagle preparing to screech. There was a dog-eared scroll inscribed, "His faith in the people never wavered." Around all was, most appropriately, a spiked fence.

But I was glad I came, because near the Tailor's resting-place was a Florist's grave, on which depends the rest of this adventure, and which reaches back to the beginning of it. It had a wooden headstone, marked "John Kenton of Flagpond, Florist. 1870-1900." And in testimony to his occupation, a great rosebush almost hid the inscription. Any man who could undertake to sell flowers in Flagpond might have it said of him also, "His faith in the people never wavered."


This virtual walk through the southern mountains with Vachel Lindsay has taken several weeks longer than his actual walk in the spring of 1906. So be it.

There's more to go. Two more (?) installments after this one, including a PERFORMANCE by the troubadour himself.

From Vachel Lindsay, A Poet in America, by Edgar Lee Masters:

The first day out of Asheville he made twenty miles. He was now penniless. A man was willing to give him lodging for the night for thirty cents. Lindsay substituted his shirt and collar for the money, much to the host’s disgust, who was a silent man ruling a grim household. He was partially deaf and could not read. Lindsay was bedded with a crippled child. That evening Lindsay read “The Tree of Laughing Bells,” being compelled to trumpet into the ear of this dour North Carolinian. The diary now reads, “Hospitality now wanes, and I am far from home. I do not seem to have any fight in me today. Five dollars in my pocket would give me all the nerve in the world.” Where was the soul of Johnny Appleseed at this hour? Were there not the stars to sleep under in this May of North Carolina?

The diary now shows how far he was from the full philosophy of the road: “My book must have a few dreadfully cynical poems about money, dedicated to the merchants of the world. I must say, Brothers, though I have rebelled, I must acknowledge sometimes that there are a few things more honest than a trade. The soul is so seldom its high self in extremity that it cannot emanate enough spiritual glory to give a fair exchange, even for a night’s lodging, and we must get back to a money basis…

He now encountered a Negro preacher with whom he walked for many miles. Coming to Little Creek, Madison County, North Carolina, he was a quarter of a mile from the ridge of Ball Mountain. Here he received hospitality from a generous woman who gave him corn bread, beans, and buttermilk. She looked like the cartoon of a peasant in Simplicissimus, and played the banjo famously; while a sister naemd Diana danced in plough-shoes and red stockings, with her waist half open at the throat, around which was tied a blue handkerchief. This hostess was managing the little farm alone, her husband being in prison for moonshining.

She glad to have “The Tree of the Laughing Bells.” Look how quickly the temperamental spirits of Lindsay were raised! “As far as the raw material of womanhood in concerned I could love her forever,” was his tribute to Diana. “The hills have done wonders for me.” And he set forth again with “visions of brown-eyed womanhood to make me forget the perils of the way. Farewell to the fairest of all North Carolina. Biltmore and all its glories is not arrayed like the tigress who toils with the hoe because her husband is in state’s prison”; misdefended, the tigress had confided to the poet, by a lawyer named Lindsay...



I came along several years too late to know my great-grandfather. He lived among fellow descendents of German immigrants whose neatly-kept farms added beauty to the rolling hills of the Southern Piedmont. He worked as a miller until the day the gypsies came.

They robbed him, beat him, and left him for dead by the millrace. Somehow, he survived the attack, but he never fully recovered. To be precise, the "gypsies" were likely “Irish Travelers” from a group that had settled in the South fifty years earlier. They would fan out across the countryside every spring, trading horses and mules and finding other, often questionable, ways to make a living.

In May of 1906, after he had crossed the mountains from North Carolina into Tennessee, Vachel Lindsay crossed paths with gypsies, but his meeting had a more satisfactory outcome.

According to his biographer Edgar Lee Masters, Lindsay neared Greenville, Tennesee and was received into a store in the midst of wheat fields where he spent the night:

Across the way from the store was a camp of gypsies, “Who live better and cleaner than any people since Asheville.” The gypsies asked many questions and told him that he was entering the land of hospitality. Along the way now through the valleys were numerous snakes; but there were many rose bushes in luxuriant bloom in the pretty yards of the farmers.

Though he declined an offer to join the gypsies, the encounter inspired Lindsay to compose a bit of verse:

On Being Asked by a Beautiful Gipsy
to Join her Group of Strolling Players.

Lady, I cannot act, though I admire
God's great chameleons, Booth-Barret men.
But when the trees are green, my thoughts may be
October-red. December comes again
And snowy Christmas there within my breast
Though I be walking in the August dust.

Often my lone contrary sword is bright
When every other soldier's sword is rust.
Sometimes, while churchly friends go up to God
On wings of prayer to altars of delight
I walk and talk with Satan, call him friend,
And greet the imps with converse most polite.

When hunger nips me, then at once I knock
At the near farmer's door and ask for bread.
I must, when I have wrought a curious song
Pin down some stranger till the thing is read.
When weeds choke up within, then look to me
To show the world the manners of a weed.

I cannot change my cloak except my heart
Has changed and set the fashion for the deed.
When love betrays me I go forth to tell
The first kind gossip that too-patent fact.
I cannot pose at hunger, love or shame.
It plagues me not to say: "I cannot act."

I only mourn that this unharnessed me
Walks with the devil far too much each day.
I would be chained to angel-kings of fire.
And whipped and driven up the heavenly way.



In 1931, the makers of Lysol promoted its effectiveness as a douche.

Some Lysol customers had already discovered its usefulness as a contraceptive.

On December 5, 1931, Vachel Lindsay found one more use for Lysol. Declaring victory, “They tried to get me - I got them first!” he drank a bottle of the disinfectant and died.

His longtime friend, Sara Teasdale, remembered him in verse:

In Memory of Vachel Lindsay

“Deep in the ages”, you said, “deep in the ages,”
And, “To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name.”
You are deep in the ages, now, deep in the ages,
You whom the world could not break, nor the years tame.

Fly out, fly on, eagle that is not forgotten,
Fly straight to the innermost light, you who loved sun in your eyes,
Free of the fret, free of the weight of living,
Bravest among the brave, gayest among the wise.

Fourteen months after Vachel’s death, Sara herself committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills.

Weeks ago, I mentioned Vachel Lindsay’s “chanted” or “sung” poetry. I knew there wasn’t much point in my attempting to describe his unique style. But hearing is believing and I have managed to piece together some actual recordings of his performance of “The Congo.” This was recorded shortly before his death:

Many years later, Robert Frost reflected on Vachel Lindsay:

I was as happy about Vachel as we jealous poets, artists can be, you know. He was one I could be happy about. . . . Vachel was one of these disarming people, very good boy, and one of the real kind of genius, you can call it, you can say there was [something] a little strange about him, lofty, and he did some very crazy things and he knew how to do them without trying. Some of these poets seem to get in a corner and gnaw their fingernails and try to get a dark corner, you know, and try to go crazy so they will qualify. There's none of that in Vachel. He was just crazy in his own right; he did some of the strangest things.

During the Beat Era, Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem inspired by the troubadour:


Vachel, the stars are out
dusk has fallen on the Colorado road
a car crawls slowly across the plain
in the dim light the radio blares its jazz
the heartbroken salesman lights another cigarette
In another city 27 years ago
I see your shadow on the wall
you're sitting in your suspenders on the bed
the shadow hand lifts up a Lysol bottle to your head
your shade falls over on the floor

I don’t know any clever or profound way to sum up this series about Vachel Lindsay and the spring days he spent wandering the mountains of Western North Carolina. Wallace Stevens said, “Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.”

Regardless of the literary merit of the verse left by Vachel Lindsay (or the lack thereof), his walk through the mountains was a valiant effort by one brave soul to “get the world right.”

And that is reason enough to remember Vachel Lindsay.


I already posted this video, but it bears repeating. One of Sara Teasdale's last poems has been adapted as an a cappella choral composition by Frank Ticheli (b. 1958):


by Sara Teasdale

There will be rest, and sure stars shining
Over the roof-tops crowned with snow,
A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
The music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace, – above me
Stars I shall find.