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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mystery Solved! Jacket Belonged to HCH

I love a good mystery—detectives that pick up clues and all—so I was intrigued in January by an e-mail from a Chris Martin in California, asking whether Holling had served in the U.S. Army. He’d been given a jacket that might have belonged to Holling, who once lived in his neighborhood.

Beats me, I thought, wondering how he'd found me, but forwarded his message on to Joan Hoffman in Michigan and suggested she respond as well.

“Chris,” I wrote when he stated that he’d heard from her, “so glad to be a matchmaker. Joan Hoffman has been cc'ing me on her correspondence with you. I hope the [Army] jacket proves to be Holling's.”

The e-mails bounced back and forth almost daily. Holling had been in the Army for a short period during World War I and it was likely this was one he wore. Hoffman found a photo—and it matched the jacket!

On Jan. 24, Martin wrote to Hoffman as they arranged to have the jacket sent from Pasadena to Leslie, Mich., “I am glad it will be an addition to the museum. It's funny, this all came up because I was trying to find our copy of Paddle-to-the-Sea to read to my 9-year-old boy. I still have the hardbound copy my mom bought in the late 50s or early 60s at a bookstore in Pasadena, California. It was while looking for the book (plus my copies of Minn, and Tree in the Trail) that I came across the box with the coat in it. Now if I can only find the books I will be completely happy! Garages are museums in themselves.”

About two days later, the mystery was concluded with Martin’s e-mail to me: “As a wrap up, Joan and the museum have the coat and I found your review on I think Grinnell's [college library] website. I had been Googling Holling’s name looking for a CD version of an audio recording of Paddle-to-the-Sea done by Liona Boyd.

“I'm finding other people who know about Holling and his genius is a real treat. I am still trying to find my original hardbounds of Holling's books to read to my 9-year-old. My mom bought them at Vroman's Books in Pasadena probably in the late 50s or early 60s. Like the coat, the books are in a box somewhere in the garage, however unfortunately I am the curator of that museum and haven't a clue.”

Joan Hoffman replied to our new-found friend, “I understand about home museums. Our basement and barn certainly qualify. Hopefully you will find the three Holling books in your garage. They very possibly could be original editions and who knows, perhaps Holling signed them. He often did that at books stores when his books first came out. But most important, your son is at a good age for those Houghton Mifflin books.”

I wrote to Martin a day or two later, “Joan Hoffman e-mailed me and was searching for an address so their museum secretary could send you a snail mail thank-you. HCH was a part of my growing up, and no one was more surprised than I to find Amazon still carries many of his titles—and at about the same price. Vroman's book store also brought back memories of when I was in the 9th grade in South Pasadena.”

I added, “If you want another treat, Google Lucille Holling images. She illustrated many of Hecht’s books, but was a grand plein air illustrator in her own right. Her painting of the biplane flying over the California coast is on my ‘must have’ list of posters. Again, I'm so very glad to have been the ‘marriage broker’ to get that coat to Michigan!”

Each person’s encounter with Holling’s books always seems to bring out unique memories.
Martin wrote on Feb. 26, “All I need out of all of this is the hope that other kids read these books. We are in a day when many of these older books aren't considered the correct things to be reading but my fascination with those books was much a result of the fabulous illustrations.

“My older son (now 17) loves to this day Paddle-to-the-Sea. When he was about 9 in Cub Scouts he and I got a hard piece of Douglas fir about 2 feet long, and over several months whittled it down into a canoe with a Native American seated in it (my excuse to my wife for getting a decent Dremel tool). After painting and sealing we gave it to a friend who took it to Hawaii. As far as I know he hooked up there with a marine biologist at an Aquarium who promised to set ‘Paddle’ free about 100 miles off shore. We engraved our then Post Office box on the bottom and a note just like in the book but after eight years I doubt it's even legible if he is still at sea. It could still be floating around out there somewhere. The things dreams are made of.”

Martin wrote to Hoffman on Mar. 1, “Really isn't so much of a gift, just sending on something that Holling may have inadvertently laid aside—I hope he didn't mean to throw it away—but as a bit of a history buff I understand the horror and carnage of World War I might lead anyone to put aside the vestiges of that sort of thing.

“I have made a new acquaintance of yourself and Walt and finding people who enjoy Holling's work is a great reward! I am going to look into Walt's recommendation of finding some of Lucille's posters if they are still in print.”

Sadly, Joan Hoffman notes, “the museum has been closed now nine months. While wooden cabinets, glass display and file cabinets were moved back in during January, that's as far as it went. The flood in late May 2009 really hit the workers hard. The enthusiasm died. The funds we had were eaten up by legal costs to get our museum charter and original start up costs. Another factor right now is next year the village celebrates its 175 anniversary. Village groups are rallying around that anniversary with plans to raise funds for all sorts of events for the three- day events and the museum isn't getting any attention.

“I have been the only one doing much about a museum collection. The Holling Collection now far exceeds the space the museum has for it. I will have to rotate what is displayed. I have picked up much of the collection cost outside of the large donation of items by the two nieces. I'm not complaining; it has been by choice. Often there were opportunities to obtain something that might not come around again.”

One takeaway from this exchange has been to seize the moment and act on it. Have no regrets for leaving things undone—or mail unanswered.

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