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!

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Fair Hope of Heaven--Reviews Trickle in

February 9, 2009

Reviews for my new book The Fair Hope of Heaven/A Hundred Years After Utopia have begun to trickle in on

See for yourself:

Some dreams are realistic, some are utopian. I would almost put in the latter category my dream of someday writing a book with the exquisite timing of this one. One day, we find ourselves living in the very prototype of an advanced capitalist society; a few months later, Newsweek adorns its cover with the inscription, “We Are All Socialists Now.” And indeed, that "S" word is now on everyone's lips. But when you read Mary Lois Timbes’ newest work on Fairhope, Alabama, you might not use the word socialist quite so glibly. This is a charming, breezy read about a town founded roughly a century ago on the belief in the idea of Henry George, who believed that land is the only commodity that should be taxed at all, and all citizens should share equitably in the fruits of those taxes.
Yet, as Ms. Timbes tell us, Fairhope was not socialist. It was, in fact, the model of an individualistic society in the sense of celebrating the diversity and accepting the eccentricities of its residents—the kind of characters who typically would be ostracized in small towns and lost in big ones.

Reading about Fairhope would be a delightful experience at any time, but it is especially valuable now, when we are all questioning some of the assumptions upon which our social and economic thinking has been based. Get ready to experience a place where you probably wished you could live, but never imagined existed. You?ll revel in the outstanding accomplishments of its residents of yesteryear and wonder why its current residents haven't been interested in returning the town to the glories of its past. Perhaps after reading this book, they just might.
This was written by Washington D.C. attorney, blogger and author Dan Spiro.

Dr. Paul M. Gaston, author of a number of books about Fairhope, writes:
With insight and sensitivity, Mary Lois Timbes recalls and reveals the Fairhope utopian colony as it once was and has become. The biographical sketches of some of the colony's unique characters will delight those who knew them and attract those who meet them here for the first time.

This from Perdita Buchan, a writer and teacher of writing, whose own book Utopia, New Jersey, inspired me to get back to writing this, my latest opus:
The Fair Hope of Heaven is a charming evocation of the town on Mobile Bay that began as a utopian experiment - and of the many unusual and appealing characters who made it their home from its beginning in 1894 to the present. Eccentric they may have been, but they lived lives valuable to themselves and the community. And it is valuable to have them remembered.

I'm told by John Sledge that there will be a review of the book in the Mobile Press-Register as well. If you want to find out about the book first hand, it's for sale in Fairhope's Page and Palette bookstore.