Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Look at Fairhope, Bare Feet, and Heaven

February 18, 2009

Rupert Schmitt, a friend who spent a night or two in my garage during the 100th Reunion of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, wrote this as kind of a review of The Fair Hope of Heaven:

"Mary Lois Timbes is a skilled biographer.

"Upton Sinclair, the author of The Jungle lived in a cottage on the beach. He served raw food banquets. The Jungle exposed the meat packing industry and caused the passage of the meat inspection act. Today we need a peanut butter inspection act.

"Clarence Darrow visited the town two years after the Scopes Trial debated evolution in Dayton Tennessee. Imagine a trial with cheering and jeering.

"One lady, Emma Schramm had the freedom to live in a tree house 12 feet off the ground.

"The Fair Hope of Heaven reminds me of a place where students had the freedom to go bare footed to school. One boy, Paul Gaston, now a professor, went barefooted for an entire year. The Organic School principal John Campbell had the freedom to stand on his head. The Organic School, founded the same year as the Montessori School, emphasized students. Marietta Johnson would spin in her grave upon hearing of today’s educational values. Her school acted Greek Myths during hikes to gullies. Her students climbed trees while barefoot. Required classes included folk dancing, music, and arts and crafts. The children enjoyed school. 'Her school did not grade its children or have periodic tests or examinations.' John Dewey visited the school. A chapter in Schools of Tomorrow covered the Organic School.

"Fairhope was developed in Alabama by single tax Utopians from Iowa. The town was a magnet for free thinkers including Sherwood Anderson who some years later introduced Gertrude Stein in Paris to Ernest Hemingway. Northern liberals, including my father, stayed in the Colonial Inn while vacationing in Fairhope.

"Not all of the people espoused complete freedom. Bill Edwards, one of the teachers, never spanked his children: 'Punishment for their infractions was that they would be required to run up and down the stairs twice.' His students in woodshop built a 36-foot ketch. 'They had to tear a wall out of the Arts and Crafts Building to extract it and take it to the bay for a trial run.' After the stock market crashed, Bill moved his family to the U.S.S.R. Disillusioned, he returned to the U.S. in 1935.

"The Organic School is still open for business, however because of liability issues, the students of today must wear shoes."

Rupert's comments give only a taste of the many stories you'll find in The Fair Hope of Heaven. Willard Edwards, the chap who moved to Stalin's Russia, had much more impact than the building of the Osprey or the move to and from Russia--and there are other characters, including Blanche Brown and Dian Arnold, Gretchen Riggs, Verda Horne, and the ubiquitous Craig Sheldon in the book.

I hope more of its readers will respond here and tell us their favorite stories from old Fairhope. If you don't have stories of your own, you're sure to find many in The Fair Hope of Heaven!


Miss Leslie said...

Rupert might like to know that today's kids are NOT required to wear shoes at school. They are required to have a pair of shoes at school to wear in the gully or on a walk to town.

Rupert Schmitt writers blog said...

Miss Leslie. Thanks for keeping me up to date. That is a wonderful freedom, not having to wear shoes at school. I long for the joys of walking barefooted in mud. I envy the Organic School students. I would like to hear from them what it feels like to them to go barefoot.??