Authors Posts by Whit Griswold

Whit Griswold

Whit Griswold

His latest, ‘The Wright Brothers,’ brings his total to 10.

David McCullough at the MVTimes Islanders Write event in August, 2014. – MVTimes file photo

I first met David McCullough around 1970, when he picked me up hitchhiking on Old County Road after my truck had broken down, again. Driving a nondescript, not-new sedan, maybe a Plymouth, he was heading home to Music Street in West Tisbury, where he and his wife, Rosalee, lived with their five children. After introductions, we got to talking about The Johnstown Flood, his first book, which was published in 1968. I bought the book that week, and was quickly drawn into it, a compelling story well told.

the-wright-brothers-9781476728742_hr.jpgLast week I read his latest book, The Wright Brothers (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015), which had a similar effect on me. The Johnstown Flood runs 268 pages and costs $6.95; at 262 pages, The Wright Brothers costs $30. Between these two bookends, Mr. McCullough has had a fertile and broad career, principally as a writer, but also as a narrator and lecturer who has devoted his life to keeping important people and events in American history alive and relevant.

Along with 10 major books, he has narrated several documentary films, and for 12 years he was the host of PBS’s American Experience. He has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award twice. In 2006 he won a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. McCullough has been called a popular historian, as much for his dedication to history of and for the people as for his wide renown. In a phone conversation with The Times last weekend, however, he said, “I don’t consider myself an historian. I’m a writer.” An English major in college, he has no advanced academic training in history, just an insatiable interest. And he loves doing the research. “It’s like being a detective,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to start writing.”

He also tells a good story. “My father was a great storyteller,” he said. “At the dinner table, I remember hearing wonderful stories about Pittsburgh [where Mr. McCullough grew up] in the old days, and the old characters. In grade school, if I raised my hand when the teacher asked if anyone had a story to tell, he’d always pick me, because he knew I’d go on so long that he wouldn’t have to do any work.”

In college at Yale, he adopted a maxim that he’s followed throughout his career: Write the book you’d want to read. His interest in the Wrights was kindled when he was in Paris working on his previous book, The Greater Journey. He was surprised to learn how famous the Wrights were in France before they became heroes in their own country. “And when I started looking into it, I found out they were much more than a couple of bicycle mechanics from Ohio, which is all we were taught in grade school,” he said.

As a proud booster of the U.S.A., it’s no surprise that Mr. McCullough was drawn to Wilbur and Orville Wright, spun as they were from the most reliable, staunchest cloth Ohio could muster in the late 19th century. Wilbur was born in 1867, Orville in 1871. Milton, their father, was a clergyman who preached honesty, self-reliance, and modesty to them. Their mother, Susan, was as inventive as she was intelligent: She could make almost anything from scratch. From these two, the boys inherited a love of reading, about anything and everything, which set them to imagining the world far from the American heartland. After Susan died in 1889, the brothers continued to live with Milton, also known as “the Bishop,” and their sister, Katharine. The family resided on a side street in Dayton, only the fourth largest city in Ohio but first in the entire country in patents, per capita, at the end of the century.

Wilbur, older by four years, was always in motion, in mind and body, but his attention to detail awed others, and he was icy cool in a crisis. He tended toward rumination at times, not surprising for a man whom Mr. McCullough considers a genius. More apt to look at the brighter side of things, Orville was gifted mechanically, but he was shy to a fault in public, deferring to Wilbur whenever possible. Their different temperaments, and the fact that they were almost always together, led to animated debate, even some acrimony at times; but they quickly made things right again, agreeing that their disagreements fostered original thinking and creative solutions to vexing problems.

At age 18, Orville started a print shop in a shed in back of the family residence. Four years later, the brothers opened a bicycle shop, the Wright Cycle Company, in response to the burgeoning popularity of bike riding. In 1895, they came out with their first bike, the Van Cleve, which was crafted in a second-floor machine shop above the street-level showroom. In their off hours during these years, the boys remodeled the family home, adding a porch, enlarging windows, rebuilding the stairs, hanging wallpaper, carving decorative patterns into the woodwork — all on their own.

For Wilbur, a latent boyhood interest in flying resurfaced in 1896 while he read to Orville, who was recuperating from a near-fatal bout of typhoid fever. When he read about a German glider pioneer, Otto Lilienthal, dying after crashing in one of his inventions, Wilbur’s natural curiosity and acquired ingenuity found a focus that would run the rest of his life.

With a passion for flight awoken in them, the Wrights were off to the wild blue yonder, never mind “the fact that they had had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own,” as Mr. McCullough writes.

Forever, of course, man has been fascinated by the possibility of flying, but still, even a little over 100 years ago the smart money said that it was madness. From professors to press sages, pundits went out of their way to point out the folly of the Wrights’ efforts. Even after they heard about their first powered flight, newspaper editors turned down invitations to come see what they must have known, but somehow refused to believe — the most exciting story of the new century, a jaw-dropping breakthrough that would change things fundamentally and forever.

In 1908, five years after their first successful flight, the brothers decided to demonstrate their Flyer to the public. Since the site, Kill Devil Hills on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, was only accessible by boat at the time, only half a dozen reporters showed up. One of them, Byron Newton of the Paris Herald wrote, “[We were] all seasoned campaigners in the field of unexpected events, but for all that this spectacle of men flying was so startling, so bewildering to the senses in that year of 1908, that we all stood like so many marble men.” How many times in history had men witnessed something so new, so amazing, so wonderful?

The tales of the initial test flights in North Carolina, the Wrights’ subsequent conquest of Europe, and their belated acceptance in the U.S. have been told before. While Mr. McCullough recounts them in these pages, he’s most interested in how two outwardly ordinary middle Americans summoned the vision, the daring, the determination to come up with a technological innovation that had bedeviled all kinds of men, from brilliant to deranged, for centuries. As he unfolds their story, he celebrates that most celebrated element in the American experience, opportunity.

Committed to their work at the expense of all else, Wilbur and Orville Wright never relied on luck. “The man who wishes to keep at the problem long enough to really learn anything positively must not take dangerous risks,” Mr. McCullough quotes Wilbur as saying. Later, after they’d succeeded, Wilbur says, “With us flying is not an experiment; it is a demonstration.”

Lifelong bachelors, the brothers apparently avoided any romantic involvement with women. And, McCullough writes, “Not only did they have no yearning for the limelight, they did their best to avoid it.” Today, they might be known as wonks.

Anything but a wonk, Mr. McCullough is still going strong at an age, 81, when most people are cutting back, at least professionally. “I love my work,” he said. “I don’t have golf to take up my time, no tennis, no fishing. That’s one way that I identified with the Wright brothers, their love of their work.”

And, like them, he’s had a mission. “I’m doing something for my country, which is important to me,” he said. “We don’t know enough about our own history, the good and the bad. We can learn from it.”

Currently considering seven subjects for his next book, Mr. McCullough plans to choose one by November. When I told him I wondered which one he’d choose, he said, “So do I.” Whatever it’s about, it’s sure to be another great story, thoroughly researched and written in Mr. McCullough’s typically accessible, almost casual syntax, just like The Wright Brothers.


(Note: A couple of inaccurate details in the book. First, “wingspan” [p. 78] is the distance between wingtips, not the area of wings’ surface; and second, the distance from Paris to Pau [p.. 212] is more like 394 miles, not 194.)


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Ted Hoagland, 82, has two books coming out this year. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Something of a secret here on the Vineyard, Edward Hoagland lives in a lovely old house on a quiet street in Edgartown, lunches at The Anchors, and prowls the town from the courthouse to the post office to the library to the bank, where he spurns the ATM so he can chat up the tellers inside. A shy guy (so he says) who’s been hobbled by a stutter all his life, he shuttles about a bit cautiously these days, but only until he recovers from a cornea transplant and regains a reasonable amount of vision, maybe by his 82nd birthday, late next month. When he can see where he’s going again, he’s liable to head off almost anywhere, something he’s been doing since 1953, when he decided to be a freelance writer. He shares the house in Edgartown with Trudy Carter, his partner for the past 26 years, a licensed social worker who works for Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard.

In the literary world, Hoagland has been as well-known and respected as perhaps anyone else alive, at least in this country, for decades. How many writers can draw on peers like John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Saul Bellow, Annie Proulx, Philip Roth, Wallace Stegner, and Annie Dillard for blurbs on the back of their books?

Early this month, he published “On Nature” (Lyons Press), a reissue, with some new material, of his 2003 collection of essays. “The Devil’s Tube” (Arcade), a collection of short stories that spans 60 years, will be released in December. In 2011, when he was 78, he published “Sex and the River Styx,” a collection of essays, followed in 2012 by “Alaskan Travels”(Arcade), a chronicle subtitled “Far-Flung Tales of Love in Adventure” (all true), and in 2013 by “Children Are Diamonds”(Arcade), a novel set amid civil war and massacres in central Africa.

It’s been a run of fertility (his word) that Hoagland is proud to point out, but he also calls it “astonishing,” because he considers it so rare. Why would anyone stop writing, he wonders, unless they had to?

Writing has been everything to Hoagland from a very early age.  “As a stutterer, I was unable to talk to anyone but close friends and my parents,” he said in a conversation last week. “I longed to converse.”


Mr. Hoagland sometimes works on top of his washing machine, to work the kinks from his back. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Mr. Hoagland sometimes works on top of his washing machine, to work the kinks from his back. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Then came the dream of producing a great American novel. “When I was 18,” he said, “I pictured my career like a comet which blazes until you’re 32, and then you’re finished, but your work will be read by later generations.” Not to waste any time, he sold his first novel, “Cat Man,” which he wrote in pencil in the third subbasement of Widener Library, before he graduated from Harvard. It was the first of 23 books so far, along with hundreds of essays and short stories, and countless book reviews. Typically quick to quantify, he said that “Cat Man” ran to 110,000 words, and that he had spent about 11,000 hours on it.

Suspicious that a doctorate and academic life might suck the sap from him, Hoagland headed out into the world, and around it. He walked prodigious distances in New York, hitchhiked across the U.S., spent three months in Sicily, Paris, Greece — wherever a story or his curiosity took him. He’s been almost everywhere, but Alaska and Africa have drawn him back time and again.

Still, he has always been drawn to teaching. Between 1963 and 2005, he taught at 10 colleges and universities, from U.C. Davis to Bennington — a succession of part-time jobs that fed his appetite for engaging with young people, but insulated him from the perils of academia, its infighting and endless meetings. Teaching was also a hedge against loneliness, which he calls an occupational hazard for a writer. He simply wasn’t interested in a “tenured position and a swimming pool.” What if Harper’s called and wanted to send him to India, or American Scholar(where he is a contributing editor) asked him to weigh in on geezerdom?

His aversion to entrenchment started early: When he was 12, he announced to his parents that he was a socialist — this from a child of privilege who was brought up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and in New Canaan, Conn. And he travels light, without a fixed itinerary, often booking only the first night’s accommodation when he arrives somewhere. He prefers to let random interactions and spontaneous decisions help shape the story he’s tracking down.

There’s nothing accidental about Hoagland’s writing, however. He’s kept notes for 60 years before using them, and he never lets up. When he’s home, he works every day for an average of 50 hours each week, just as he did at college in the early 1950s. He writes 20 words an hour on the first draft of an essay, 10 for fiction — and the same on the second draft. On the third, he speeds up to 30 words per hour. He spends three or four days on a book review, about three months on an essay, and up to two decades on a novel.

Because he can’t read right now, he’s off book reviews for the time being, but usually he’s got a review, an essay, and a novel cooking simultaneously, using two identical Olympia portable typewriters. “That way you never lose any time, or energy,” he said. “If the novel’s not going well, I can turn to an essay. … I always tend to have a novel in progress, because I would still love to write a marvelous, marvelous novel.”

One typewriter is on a small desk in his small study, the other on top of a dryer in a narrow hall leading to that study so he can unkink from time to time. “I’ve never used a computer; I wouldn’t know how to turn one on,” Hoagland said, sounding more practical than defiant: Why waste time figuring out to operate a new gadget?

Though the allure of a great novel has never faded entirely, over time he understood that his talents were as an essayist. “My aptitudes were not those of a novelist,” he said. “I didn’t have the memory or the imagination of a great novelist.”

And he wanted to endure. “Passionate, enthralling novels are a young person’s game,” he said. “Essayists live longer: they draw on considered opinion, decades of experience, moderation, tolerance.”

Too many essayists are unable to avoid the restrictions of the form, either in scope or tone, and they end up sounding pedantic. Hoagland managed to avoid this common pitfall — perhaps because he has a great ear, certainly because he’s worked hard at it. It’s because he gets it — that the form is only the framework, ultimately uninteresting without the sheathing, the floorboards, the shingles and the caulking — that his essays are so rich, so unusual.

The typewriter is still Mr. Hoagland's weapon of choice. —Photo by Michael Cummo
The typewriter is still Mr. Hoagland’s weapon of choice. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Two elements in Hoagland’s essays help make them stand out. First is the way he inserts himself, in all his warty glory, into the story, which helps take the sting out of an unsettling, or simply unpleasant, train of thought: If he can go there, maybe I can too. Second, he is a master of transition. His segues are so seamless, at times seeming almost haphazard, that you don’t know you’ve changed gears until you look at the speedometer. It’s tempting to decide he’s a natural, with otherworldly gifts that make it all look easy, like Fred Lynn tending to center field at Fenway.

It’s not always easy reading, however. Sentences can go on, and on, and it can be hard to keep your seat on what sometimes feels like a runaway horse. It can be demanding, but it’s never inaccessible — probably because it’s so precise. And the rewards are absolutely worth the effort. Once you get the hang of it, it’s infectious and affecting, and it’s hard to stop reading, even if the topic doesn’t interest you at first. You know, somehow, that you are in the hands of a master, and that you may miss something amazing if you bolt. Best bet is to relax, appreciate his craft, and let him fly the plane.

Meanwhile, today, Hoagland is worried about the future. At an age when most people look back — sometimes forlornly, often sentimentally — he writes about the present, aggressively pointing out the not-so-wonderful condition of our world, hoping we’ll wake up and take charge, but fearing that we’re hooked on the secondhand realities served up by inescapable technological sops, and thus dispirited.

But he isn’t about to give up, no matter the odds. He loves life too much and he’s too curious. Remember, this is a guy with a handicap that’s partially caused by insecurity who’s put himself in precarious situations throughout his life — exploring rivers most of us have never heard of in Alaska, hitching a ride into the teeth of a vicious civil war in the south Sudan, and creating memorable accounts afterward. So it shouldn’t be surprising that, when asked if he still loves to write or is mostly writing from habit these days, he jumped in: “No! I love it!”

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Author Sam Low, left. — Sam Low

“Hawaiki Rising” by Sam Low, Island Heritage Publishing, May 2013. 344 pages.

Sam Low of Harthaven has written a remarkable book, “Hawaiki Rising,” the story of a random collection of dreamers who sailed 2,400 miles across the Pacific Ocean — from Hawaii to Tahiti — in a primitive craft without modern navigational aids, not even a compass. The product of a lifetime of research, it is a forceful reminder that the demands of modern life make it ever more difficult to retain, let alone honor, our cultural heritage — wherever we come from. It’s also a great adventure story.

Next Wednesday, August 20, at 5 pm, Mr. Low will speak about his book at the West Tisbury Library.

In the 1970s, 200 years after Hawaii had been “discovered” by Capt. James Cook, very few native Hawaiians knew much about their history, their culture heritage, or cared about it. But a few embers remained, widespread and unconnected. One of them glowed in the soul of part-Hawaiian Herb Kawainui Kane in Chicago.

Mr. Kane sailed catamarans on Lake Michigan and in Hawaii, which he often visited. In time he became curious about ancient sea-going canoes and how they were able to sail incredible distances from one speck of an island to another — and back — in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Experts had long known that Polynesia (which includes Hawaii) had been settled from the west  — not the east, as Thor Heyerdahl had dramatically but mistakenly “proved” in 1947 aboard Kon-Tiki. Still, common wisdom held that Hawaii had been discovered by accident.

Ben Finney, an anthropologist who had caught the south sea islands bug as an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii, wasn’t so sure. “Was Polynesia settled by competent sailors on purposeful voyages of discovery, or by accident — by storm-tossed castaways?” he told Mr. Low. “So the obvious idea occurred, ‘Well, we have to rebuild an ancient canoe, relearn how to navigate and sail her on some of the legendary voyages.’”

A successful voyage might also help boost a gradual reawakening among native Hawaiians of curiosity and pride in their cultural ancestry.

With the help of two naval architects and a surfer, in 1973 Kane and Finney started to design a double-hulled canoe connected by arched crossbeams — a catamaran, essentially — with high bow and stern pieces.

Running thus far on financial fumes, they formed the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit fundraising mechanism. They decided to call the canoe Hokule’a — Star of Joy — the Hawaiian name for Arcturus, a star directly over Hawaii at its zenith.

Construction of the canoe began in late 1974. Lured by the audacity of the project and the possibility of adventure, a random selection of surfers, wharf rats, and experienced bluewater sailors — male and female, Hawaiian and mainlander, skilled or just willing — turned up to help build Hokule’a. Some of them ended up on her first major voyage, from Hawaii to Tahiti, in 1976.

Building and learning to sail the canoe was a significant undertaking, but nothing compared to the challenge of navigating across 2,400 miles of open ocean in an open boat with no navigational aids. Shortly before the canoe was launched, a Micronesian navigator named Mau Piailug, who was in Hawaii visiting family, happened onto the project and, eventually, agreed to navigate the canoe in the traditional way, as it had been taught to him by his forebears while he sat on the beach watching the weather and lying on his back studying the stars.

For the project to have lasting power, to fulfill the tradition of passing knowledge forward, one more ingredient was needed — a young person smart and patient and curious enough to learn ancient navigation from Mau.

Nainoa Thompson was 20 years old when Herb Kane met him, but his wisdom belied his years. A true waterman —  surfer, fisherman, diver, canoe paddler  — Nainoa was struggling with his maturing identity as a native Hawaiian.

“I was trying to understand my place in the larger society where Hawaiians were considered second-rate,” he told Mr. Low after he described cliff diving and swimming out past the reef into truly deep water with sharks nearby  — at night. “I had a tough time dealing with that. The ocean gave me peace…”

Fortunately, Nainoa soon trained his daring on learning how to navigate, without instruments, a huge leap for someone who had been educated in the modern, first-world system.

With the critical pieces in place, loosely, the Polynesian Voyaging Society had found its footing. As had the compelling story Mr. Low proceeds to tell of two voyages from Hawaii to Tahiti, including triumph and tragedy, dissension and ultimate success. He provides compelling portraits of the major players, he describes the art of sailing a truly unconventional craft across the largest ocean on the planet, and, above all, he offers a primer in celestial navigation at its purest.

Though the specifics of ancient navigation are easy to grasp, it seems almost magical that a young person in today’s world can learn to rely on senses that came naturally, over the generations and across the centuries, to those whose only way of learning about incredibly complex calculations was by direct observation.

Mr. Low makes it sound simple at times, as in this caption that accompanies a simple sketch of the four stars in the Southern Cross: “When the distance between Gacrux and Acrux is equal to the distance between Acrux and the horizon – the observer is at 21 degrees North latitude.” But that is just one of thousands of facts that Nainoa had to memorize to stay on the path to Tahiti, an infinitesimal target, given its great distance from the starting point, Hawaii.

Now, 40 years later, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is roaring along like Hokule’a in a following sea with a strong breeze on her quarter. With 150,000 miles under her twin hulls, Hokule’a is currently one year into a three-year around-the-world tour that will include a stop here, on Martha’s Vineyard. What a wild, wonderful counterpoint to the recent visit of the Charles W. Morgan.

The book was, still is, a labor of love for Mr. Low, who summered on the Vineyard as a boy and who now lives here full-time. Part-Hawaiian himself, he learned to sail and fish in Nantucket Sound, before taking up diving as his preferred activity in or on the water.

Several publishers were interested in the book, but Mr. Low decided to publish it himself. He felt that the story deserved to be told thoroughly, meticulously, and that to do any less would be slighting the individuals who made Hokule’a, those who sailed her, and those who needed to believe in her as a living symbol of a culture that was almost lost.

Because there is so much to it, the book would benefit from an index, but otherwise it is thorough, exciting success. In the year that it’s been out, “Hawaiki Rising” has won numerous awards, and it deserves them all.

The book should appeal to anyone who has stared out at the ocean and wondered what’s over the horizon — and how to get there.

Author’s Talk with Sam Low, Wednesday, August 20, 5 pm, West Tisbury Library. For more information, call 508-693-3366.

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The reigning champs scored seven times in the seventh inning in the 11-10 victory.

The rubber match in the men’s summer softball final drew some 200 people to Veterans Park in Vineyard Haven last Thursday evening. As usual in the last few years, the playoffs came down to the Highlanders and the Hurricanes.

Highlanders players and the large crowd celebrate a hit.
Highlanders players and the large crowd celebrate a hit.

On Monday, the Highlanders had prevailed, 5-4, holding off a Canes rally in the bottom of the seventh to go up, 1-0, in the series. On a drizzly Wednesday evening, the Highlanders got the jump early, but the Canes came back to win, 9-7.

Hurricanes shortstop Billy Jackson snagged a tough grounder to prevent extra bases.
Hurricanes shortstop Billy Jackson snagged a tough grounder to prevent extra bases.

The Canes got the early jump on Thursday, scoring three in the top of the first. The Highlanders responded with one run in the bottom of the inning, and they picked up another in the second. As in the first two games, Harrison Holmes (Hurricanes) and Danny Merry (Highlanders) were the pitchers.

A scoreless third inning finished with the Canes up by one, 3-2.  They went ahead, 4-2, with one run in the top of the fourth, but the Highlanders came back strong, scoring three times to take the lead, 5-4.

The Highlanders scored three more in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to home runs by Eric Soikelli and Russell Hodson, to take an 8-4 lead. They added two more in the bottom of the sixth, including a solo shot from first baseman Joe Merry, and it looked like the Highlanders had the game in hand.

James Holenko of the Hurricanes follows through on a big swing.
James Holenko of the Hurricanes follows through on a big swing.

Not so fast. A misplayed pop-up in shallow right field opened the floodgates for the Canes, who could suddenly do no wrong, while the Highlanders seemed to tighten up. Before three outs were recorded, 10 Canes combined to manufacture 7 runs and a resulting one-run lead. Matt Goethals had the big hit of the inning, a ground-rule double, with critical help from Ken Magnuson and Patrick Rolston.

The Highlanders went quietly in the bottom of the 7th, touching off a rousing celebration among the Canes. Final score: Hurricanes, 11 – Highlanders, 10.

The Hurricanes scored seven runs in the top of the 7th inning to overturn a 10-4 deficit and edge the Highlanders, 11-10. The 'Canes won the best of three championship series, two games to one.
The Hurricanes scored seven runs in the top of the 7th inning to overturn a 10-4 deficit and edge the Highlanders, 11-10. The ‘Canes won the best of three championship series, two games to one.


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Michael Blanding, author of “The Map Thief,” will speak August 14 ath the OB Library. — Steve Myrick

“The Map Thief,” by Michael Blanding, 2014, Gotham Books, New York, 300 pages, $27.50.

For some of us, maps are more powerful than the words that accompany them. When he was a boy, Michael Blanding opened books to the maps first, if there were any, to get his bearings. As a young adult backpacking abroad, he never felt lost.

“In those days before Google Earth and GPS, I felt like I could find my way anywhere as long as I had a map, offering me ownership of places where I didn’t even speak the language,” he writes in discuss at the Oak Bluffs Library next Thursday, August 14.

Given his love of maps, it’s no surprise that Mr. Blanding’s curiosity was piqued, and perhaps his indignation activated, by the news in June 2005 that a well-known dealer in historical maps, E. Forbes Smiley III, had been arrested for stealing a map from a rare-book library at Yale University.

As news of the theft spread, librarians and curators at other institutions that Mr. Smiley had frequented began to check their collections, and the news was not good. Hundreds of maps were missing from places dedicated to caring for them — the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, the British Library in London, Harvard University, Brown University, and of course Yale, among others. The curators and librarians were first stunned, because Mr. Smiley was a familiar and respected user of their facilities, and then embarrassed by their antiquated record-keeping and security systems. Some were unaware that they had ever had maps that Mr. Smiley eventually admitted stealing, and others discovered that many other maps in their inventory were missing.

Aside from the ease with which he pilfered so many treasures from so many sites, how was Mr. Smiley able to peddle so many stolen objects without raising suspicions? In the cozy, sometimes smug world of map collecting — or art collecting in general, for that matter — some collectors and dealers look the other way when they have a chance to acquire a piece that they have long coveted. When not many people know the value, let alone the existence, of a rare piece, why not just move it along quietly?

To reduce his punishment after he decided to plead guilty, Mr. Smiley admitted to stealing 97 maps over several years. He was sentenced to three and half years in prison in September 2006. But questions remained, chief among them Mr. Smiley’s motive. “Why did a respected map dealer at the height of his profession betray those closest to him — and deface the artifacts he spent his life preserving?” Mr. Blanding asks.

Throwing himself into the study of maps the way he had attacked other infatuations since he was a boy, Mr. Smiley made himself an authority at a young age. He specialized in early maps of Boston, New England, and the mid-Atlantic. While some colleagues distrusted him because of his quick success and questionable business practices, most respected his expertise. A natural salesman, he cultivated clients with a refined manner and an obvious passion for old maps.

A victim of his own success in some ways, Mr. Smiley was eventually unable to maintain the supply of maps that he had helped create a market for. As prices went up, more dealers jumped in, competition increased, and — full circle — prices went up.

Map theft has been around forever, between rival nations, map makers, dealers, and collectors. In recent times, it’s been easy to execute, given the musty corners of old repositories where maps are often found. Maps have disappeared without ever being noticed, and, when caught, perpetrators have usually faced limited consequences: there are no victims and who cares about old maps in the first place?

It was almost too easy for Mr. Smiley to supplement his legitimate income with hot maps. Recounting the temptation to Mr. Blanding years later, Mr. Smiley said, “I am looking at a piece of paper that I can fold and put in my pocket, that people in New York expect me to show up with because I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years legitimately. And I can get thirty thousand dollars wired up to Maine that afternoon.” And it worked, time and again, until he dropped an X-Acto knife blade in the Beinecke Library at Yale on June 8, 2005.

Mr. Smiley talked to Mr. Blanding for several hours at the outset of the latter’s research, but he soon stopped cooperating, saying that he wanted to protect his family from more publicity and that he wanted to move forward in his new life — on Martha’s Vineyard. (When contacted by The Times for this article, Mr. Smiley declined to comment.)

Pushing ahead because he had already signed a book contract, Mr. Blanding relied instead on intensive research and interviews with librarians, curators, and friends and former colleagues of Mr. Smiley. In just over 200 well-written pages, he introduces us to the fascinating history of map-making; he unwraps the tiny, rarefied world of modern map dealing and collecting; and, not least, he recounts the life and downfall of Mr. Smiley.

With the knack of a natural storyteller, Mr. Blanding provides a wealth of fascinating historical tidbits — for instance, how geographical data recorded by Ptolemy almost 2,000 years ago was rediscovered “…after a dreary thousand years of flat-earth religious maps about as useful to navigation as a cartoon… Suddenly the contours of the Mediterranean world emerged in stunning detail, filled with continents and cities only vaguely imagined before.”

Christopher Columbus had one of Ptolemy’s primitive maps aboard when he set sail from Spain in 1492. Hopelessly inaccurate, it included fanciful land masses labeled terra incognita, but perhaps it boosted the explorer’s confidence enough to get him going. Not until Gerard Mercator’s 1569 world map was there even a rough idea of the shape and relationship of the world’s major landmasses. A year later, the first collection of what could he called an atlas was published.

The map in Mr. Smiley’s pocket when he was apprehended was by Capt. John Smith, whose most important contribution to history was as a surveyor and mapmaker, not as the co-star in the Pocahontas myth. Smith created it in 1631.

A century later, British mapmakers scrambled to produce maps that would help their generals find their way around North America, first fighting the French and then the colonists for control of the “new” continent. During active hostilities, mapmakers accompanied troops into battle, their maps providing a record of the conflict to a curious public.

In a phone conversation last week, Mr. Blanding said he was looking forward to speaking here next week, and that he was curious about the reactions of Islanders to his book. He also said that he had had positive feedback from the map community about the book, which surprised him, given his unflattering portrayal of some of their practices.

Amplifying his decision to go ahead with the book without Mr. Smiley’s help, he said that he felt the book was stronger because he had to dig harder to tell the complete story. And dig he did: taken together, the appendices, notes, bibliography, and index fill 77 pages.

Mr. Blanding also said that he appreciated the time that Mr. Smiley had shared with him. In the end, he said he wrote the book because, “I love maps and he was an intriguing enough mess of contradictions to keep my interest for two or three years.”

Whether you look at it as a cautionary tale with echoes of a Greek tragedy or a psychological puzzle, “The Map Thief” is an absorbing tale that, like many good books, poses as many questions as it answers.

For instance, as Mr. Blanding wrote in the epilogue, what else might Mr. Smiley know about the scores of maps still missing, including 28 rare maps and books confiscated by the FBI from Mr. Smiley in 2005 that the FBI still possessed as of July 2013. “…[Mr. Smiley] didn’t recall where he’d gotten them,” Mr. Blanding writes, and in the intervening years, no one had claimed them.

Author’s Talk with Michael Blanding, author of “The Map Thief,” Thursday, August 14, 6:30–8 pm, Oak Bluffs Library. For more information, call 508-693-9433.


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It was a small step to reclaim a bit of native habitat for river herring, which once teemed in streams and rivers along the New England coast.

Brad Chase (left) and Johnny Hoy paused during the installation while an adjustment was being made at the head of the fish ladder. — Photos by Whit Griswold

On Thursday, May 1, in a welcome example of intergovernmental and public-private cooperation, Massachusetts, the U.S., the town of West Tisbury, and local volunteers installed a fish ladder “over” the Mill Pond dam. It was a small step to reclaim a bit of native habitat for river herring, which once teemed in streams and rivers along the New England coast.

Herring spend most of the year in the open ocean, but each spring they migrate into fresh water to spawn. Since pre-colonial times, they have been trapped during their annual “runs” to provide food, bait, even fertilizer. Since the 1700s there have been laws on the books that govern the taking of herring, and harvesting them has long been regarded as a public right, even in a stream on private property.

As prime forage for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, and many other species, herring are an integral component in the oceanic food chain. They are also targeted at sea by purse seiners that scoop them up in huge quantities.

Fine, if their re-supply system is healthy, but it isn’t. When they’ve tried to procreate in modern times, herring and other diadromous fish have often found the paths to their spawning grounds blocked by dams, most of them built in the 1800s, but some well before that. (Diadromous fish migrate between fresh and saltwater — salmon, eels, and striped bass, for instance.) The Mill Pond dam dates to the mid 1600s.

Between overfishing and loss of habitat caused by dams, the effect on the population of river herring has been disastrous. “Species of shad and river herring once supported the largest and most important commercial and recreational fisheries along the Atlantic coast,” according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages the two species as one.

“Commercial landings by domestic and foreign fleets peaked at 140 million pounds in 1969. Since 2000 domestic landings totaled less than four million pounds in any given year….

“In response to severe declines in population abundance, five states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina — have implemented moratoria on the harvest of river herring.”

An effort to remove or bypass dams has gained traction nationwide in the last few years, with notable successes in Maine — the Penobscot River in particular — and Washington state, where native salmon runs have been restored. It’s been so long since salmon migrated up New England rivers that most people aren’t even aware that the fish were once thick in those waterways.

Helping steps

The Mill Brook in West Tisbury is a tiny facsimile of the major rivers along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but it was once an open waterway used by migrants like herring, eels, and sea-run brook trout. The dam at the foot of the Mill Pond is one of several manmade obstructions along the brook, but it is the most important one in terms of extending the spawning grounds of herring and the living grounds of American eels, which spawn at sea.

West Tisbury’s attention has fallen on the Mill Brook recently because of a hot-button debate about whether or not to dredge the Mill Pond. In 2010, the West Tisbury Mill Pond Committee asked Brad Chase, a senior biologist who administers the Diadromous Fish Biology and Management Project for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), to weigh in. He declined to take a position on dredging, but he indicated that the state would be interested in restoring the herring run.

“State law requires that dam owners provide and maintain fish passage for sea run fish,” Mr. Chase wrote in an email describing the Mill Pond project. “The Town of West Tisbury is the dam owner and responsible for fish passage. Our role is to work with towns and property owners to make sure safe and efficient passage is realized.”

Because restoring the fishway into the Mill Pond was a low priority for both the Mill Pond Committee and the town at large, the state, in the person of Mr. Chase, offered to replace a dysfunctional ladder that was installed about ten years ago by Peter D’Angelo and the late Tom Osmers, who was herring warden at the time.

It took four years for that offer to bear fruit, and it might never have done so without the persistence of Prudy Burt, a member of the West Tisbury Conservation Committee (ConCom) who has been dogged in her efforts to protect and, where possible, restore waterways throughout the town. In this case, she was acting on her own, not as a member of the ConCom.

For the installation on May 1, Mr. Chase was assisted by the DMF’s Ed Clark, who designed the ladder and prefabricated most of it, and Brian Waz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Johnny Hoy, West Tisbury’s herring warden, helped manhandle the main section of the ladder into position, at times scuttling into the 30-foot culvert under the Edgartown road to make adjustments.

Also on hand to lend a hand were civil engineer Kent Healy, the town-appointed caretaker of the Mill Pond, as required by the state’s Office of Dam Safety, and Ms. Burt. While Mr. Healy and Ms. Burt have been vocal in their opposition to dredging the Mill Pond, there is general agreement that the fish ladder will not be a factor in the decision to dredge or not.

New passage

Herring-run-3.JPGThe central section of the weir and pool ladder is a 30-foot-long chute in the shape of a square U with 23-inch high sidewalls rising from a 16-inch-wide “floor.” On site, with power from the recently retired police station, they constructed three-foot extensions, one for each end of the ladder.

At 8-foot intervals, wooden weirs — also called baffles — are placed across the floor of the ladder, creating pools of water deep enough for the herring to get the traction they need to jump up approximately five inches to the next pool. As they climb up the ladder from pool to pool, the fish gradually make up the two-foot drop over the spillway.

“This is the third small ladder we have installed this year,” Mr. Chase said. “I will draft an Operations and Management Plan to guide future O&M. All ladders need tuning after construction. Johnny [Hoy] has taken on this role and will figure out how to optimize the ladder entrance.”

Mr. Hoy was on the case the next day, arranging rocks in the stream to funnel fish toward the entrance to the ladder. “It’s a work in progress,” he said in an email six days after the installation. “Some tinkering and tweaking and observing has been done since it was installed, and more is needed. We will get it going. There was a herring and an eel in it yesterday!”

This year’s herring run was winding down by the time the ladder was installed, so its impact won’t be known until next spring, at the earliest. Its long-term success depends on many variables, but it would never have had a chance without the persistence and dedication of a few individuals determined to make a small local contribution to a global problem.

“I think Prudy Burt is behind most good ideas concerning water in West Tisbury, and this one was no exception,” Mr. Hoy said. “We had the support of Kent Healy throughout the project, both for advice and for coordinating the opening of Tisbury Great Pond to the Atlantic to let the [herring] in at the appropriate time. The crew from the state were three of the hardest working, most pleasant guys I’ve had the good fortune to work with in a long time.”

The feeling was mutual. “It was super to work with everyone on this project,” Mr. Chase wrote. “Working with Ed, Brian, and Johnny in that culvert will be a highlight of this year for me. It beats working in my cube any day. I am really hoping to hear the news of herring passing into the pond any day.” It sounded like he was expecting it, too.

Whit Griswold is a member of the West Tisbury conservation commission.

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Judith Ann Lippard (née Drezner) of Cambridge died on Monday evening, September 9, 2013, at the De Rham House after a brave battle with cancer. She was 70.

She was the kind and beloved wife of Prof. Stephen J. Lippard of MIT, the loving mother of Joshua J. Lippard of Bethesda, Md., and Alexander C. Lippard of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the adoring grandmother of Lucy and Ann Lippard, the daughters of Joshua and Sandra Lippard.

Her graveside service will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 3 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Cemetery, W. Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. If arriving early please use the M.V. Hebrew Center on Center St. to meet and process to the cemetery.

Donations may be made in her memory payable to the Trustees of Columbia Univ. for the Andrew Mark Lippard Memorial Lecture Fund, Columbia Univ. Medical Center, Office of Development, 100 Haven Ave., Suite 29D, New York, NY 10032, Attn: Matt Reals. On the memo line please indicate “in memory of Judy/Lippard Memorial Lecture”.

Arrangements under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs.

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The Rev. Mr. Norman C. Eddy died on June 21. He was 93.

He was a lifelong summer resident, first in Harthaven and then on Abel’s Hill in Chilmark.

He was a volunteer with the American Field Service (AFS) in the British 8th Army from 1942 to 1945. He was co-founder and a life trustee with AFS International.

He was a minister, community activist, and founder of an organizing strategy called Spiritual Coordination.

He is survived by three children, Rebecca Eddy Feuerstein, Timothy R. Eddy, and Martha Hart Eddy.

Burial will be at 11 am this Friday, August 30, at the Chilmark Cemetery on Abel’s Hill. Please call 508-645-3118 if you plan to attend.

Memorial gifts may be sent to the New York Theological Seminary, 475 Riverside Dr.,

N.Y., NY 10115.

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Robert Paul Lee died in a swimming accident on Sunday, August 11, 2013 near his home in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard. He is survived by his son, Daniel Lee, and Daniel’s mother, Margie Spitz, her sister Barbara Bassett, nieces Meadow and Leah Bassett, cousin Oscar Hilbert of Port Orange, Florida and several other family members around the country. He was born in Springfield, Mass., on July 15, 1947, the only child of Pauline and Wallace Lee. During a difficult breach birth, his hips were intentionally dislocated and then set in traction. This caused multiple problems for him, later resolved with a series of surgeries at Shriner’s Hospital and two of the earliest hip transplants ever performed. By age 8, both his hips were made of a superhero alloy called “Vitalium,” giving him what he affectionately referred to as his “bionic hips,” his compassionate outlook, and a fascination with all things skeletal. He went to a parochial grammar school in the suburb of Indian Orchard and graduated from Springfield Technical High School in 1966, but clearly received most of his education outside of the classroom.

The world opened for Bob in 1965 and 1966, during his last years in high school, with the development of a counterculture in downtown Springfield. His unique and eccentric character found a voice in this atmosphere and he set out to explore the new territory. His spare time centered around The Pesky Sarpent coffee house where he became friends with Richie Havens, met Taj Mahal, was exposed to the Delta Blues, and forged strong friendships, many of which continued onto Martha’s Vineyard and have lasted to this day. After moving to Cambridge and working a series of odd jobs, Bob packed his bag and headed off with a caravan of co-conspirators to the Redwood forests of California. The West had called and he attended.

1970 found him back in Massachusetts, where friends had discovered a cache of Edward Curtis photographic plates and original prints and had resurrected interest in Curtis’s vision with a gallery of his works. Bob worked with them on the subsequent release of a second printing produced from those same plates and his interest in native American life and works blossomed. A trip to Colombia late in 1971 sealed the deal.

By 1973, he had succumbed to the lure of the Island, spending his first nights sleeping on a pool table on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. Within a few years, he had graduated to the comfort and luxury of an elaborately decorated, self-constructed summer yurt on Tiah’s Cove and settled down for a decade considered mythic in the eyes of many inhabitants.

Bob again decided to alter the course of his life late in 1981 when he followed a woman he had met in Gay Head all the way to Italy. By the time they returned to the Island, he was a proud, expectant father. His son Daniel, otherwise known as “Guy One,” whom he often said was his greatest achievement, was born in August of 1982.

During that decade, he developed a trade and became an official for the town of Gay Head. He established Old House Painting, following in his grandfather’s footsteps and using some of his grandfather’s recipes and tricks of the trade. His objective was restoration, rather than renovation, and the rhythm and respect for materials evident in older houses gave him great pleasure. By 1987, he had been appointed as the Gay Head Selectmen’s representative to the M.V. Commission, subsequently serving as the elected member, and he also served as a member and later as chairman of the Gay Head Planning Board through 1992. The family continued to live in Gay Head until the late 1990’s, when Bob moved to Oak Bluffs and, then, to Island Cohousing in West Tisbury.

From high school on, Bob had a theatrical bent that was always in search of an outlet. He found an opportunity in the film “The Last Will and Testament of Marlboro Patch ” as well as through community plays, short films, spoken word and storytelling events. He played music joyously and often with a motley cast of musicians and friends and also spent many a long evening singing karaoke in the Ritz and at Seasons (later the Atlantic Connection) with dear friends. Always remaining active in impromptu groups and collaborative projects, he frequently accompanied the artist/puppeteer Bella in her Island appearances, lent background vocals to a recorded track by musician Kim Hilliard, occasionally drummed with Built on Stilts productions, and regularly drummed and sang with the U.S. Slave Song Project, under the direction of Jim Thomas.

In 1999, he joined forces with other music enthusiasts to launch a pirate radio station out of West Tisbury. Its current incarnation began in December, 2007 as the legitimately licensed and permitted WVVY (93.7 FM). Bob’s show, “Coconut Head Set,” was entertaining, educational, and his play list was highly eclectic and unusual, drawn, as it was, from his massive music library. Not only did Bob have a large recorded music collection, but his house was filled with instruments of every type and musical tradition. From berimbau to djembe, they crowded every wall, every available chair and sofa not already covered in books, forcing visitors to fend for themselves or pick one up to play in order to sit down. During these years he found many ways to express himself through music, art, a boundless love of architecture and ornamentation, and through writing, a product of which is his contribution “The Mysterious Painting” to ” Martha’s Vineyard Comics and Stories #1″ illustrated by Mark Hurwitt. He found true happiness, however, inspiring those around him to create, to excel, and to define themselves.

In recent years, Bob found himself in failing health and reduced circumstances which sometimes, despite his every effort, cut into his prodigious social presence. Many of his friends and acquaintances came to his aid, donating services and accompanying him to many of the parties, art openings, and musical events occurring on the Island for which he was ever grateful. This spring and summer found him in improved health, as witty and entertaining as ever, and very happy to be out in the thick of things once again. As the streaks of the Perseid shower lined the cosmos, he left us; his light, his laughter and his steadfast commitment to all that is beautiful in life shall be sorely missed.

A commemorative celebration will be held for him at 1 pm, on Saturday, September 7, in the new Agricultural Society Hall on the Panhandle. More information is available on the facebook page for Bob Lee’s Memorial Celebration.

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Georgia Sutton Franklin died peacefully in her home on August 17, 2013. She was 90 years old. She was predeceased by her beloved husband, Raymond Franklin, who died on October 4, 2012. She is survived by her son, Neil Franklin, her daughter-in-law, Angela Franklin, and her grandson, Neil Franklin Jr.

Georgia loved the island. She and Raymond first visited the Vineyard in 1963. Georgia convinced Raymond that she wanted a house here and they purchased a home in 1964. They maintained a summer residence until 1977 when they built their retirement home. When their only grandson, Neil Franklin Jr. was born, they maintained another residence in New Jersey to be closer to family. In 2011, they decided they wanted the Island to be their final home and they returned to the Vineyard.

Music was a part of Georgia. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Georgia was known for her beautiful voice. From the performance of oratorio works to singing with Jim Thomas’s Spirituals Choir, her voice blessed and inspired the many who were privileged to hear her.

Georgia did her graduate work at Case Western Reserve where she was awarded a Master of Social Work degree. Her longtime interest in adoption resulted in her writing a paper on the subject that was later presented at Case Western Reserve. She had a lifelong interest in how people “put their lives together,” marveling at the process by which a shy young teenager could become a mature woman of wisdom and strength. In recent years on the Island, she put her social work skills to use as a volunteer working for Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard. She supported many patients and their families as they worked through end-of-life issues and bereavement following the death of loved ones.

She was a member and friend of the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP and of The Cottagers, Inc. She lent her considerable talents and gifts to the organization of the first Della Hardman Day, celebrated in 2005.

As an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, Georgia served as the society’s president from 1992 to 1995. She is held with deep regard and affection by the society.

Near the end of her life, Georgia actively participated in the planning of her own memorial service and the writing of her own obituary. She was remarkably at ease with the idea of her own passing and shared her great strength and sense of humor with those who visited and cared for her. When asked what words of wisdom she would like to pass on, she offered the following: “I’m 90 and I’ve been a lot of people in my life.” “If someone has a need or desire and you can do something about it, you do it.” “How you show up says a lot about who you are.” “Beware of the trap of losing oneself in the giving process.”

Georgia’s family and friends wish to express their gratitude to Andrea, Georgia’s caregiver, and to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard for all the comfort and caring they provided for Georgia to allow her pass with the dignity she desired.

Georgia’s strong and inspirational presence will be missed by many. A service for remembering and celebrating her life will be held at 10 am on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.