Our main objective in coming to Dallas was to hear Jeff Guinn speak. Guinn, the former award-winning investigative journalist and the bestselling author of numerous books, has been generous to LEAP students, and we were excited to hear about his latest book.
While there, we met Amy Berry (HPUMC Library Coordinator), Suzanne Lanksford (HPUMC Wellness Ministry), Michael Merschel (author), Richard Stanford (HPUMC Senior Ministry), and Janet McLeod (Hauteur Public Relations), all of whom were more accommodating to us than we had any right to expect.
A main point of this trip was to learn more about the adventures of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and other celebrities, detailed in his latest book: The Vagabonds.
This book is special to us, because several LEAP Ambassadors had a chance to assist Mr. Guinn (in a small way) with the book. Brian Aldaco, Ryan Brim, and Paul Oliver traveled with Mr. Guinn to Detroit and looked through archives at the wonderful Henry Ford Museum. It was a fun, educational trip, and we were eager to hear the results of Mr. Guinn’s impressive research.
When we arrived, Guinn was sitting with a crowd of fans eagerly awaiting to meet him. His face lit up when he saw us, and he immediately stopped what he was doing to greet us.
While he had never met any of the current LEAP Ambassadors, he generously acted as if we were all well acquainted, and he soon introduced us to the gathering, while saying nice things about the LEAP organization.
After having our books signed and chatting with Guinn…
…we all made our way into the auditorium for his talk.
Amy Berry, Suzanne Langford, Richard Stanford, and Michael Merschel handled introductions…
…and when Guinn took the stage in front of an audience of 900 (!)…
…he spent the first five minutes expressing his gratitude to specific individuals who had helped put the event on and otherwise encouraged the act of reading.
It was a thoughtful and professional way to introduce himself to the audience.
The rest of the discussion was filled with interesting anecdotes and information regarding The Vagabonds and all the research that went into it.
Walking the stage like a boss…
…Guinn entertained, informed, and joked. He introduced the little-known inventor Oliver Evans, who invented an early (1805!) version of the car, discussed the backgrounds and personalities of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison…
…and took questions from the audience.
He even engaged in a little audience participation…
…interacting extensively with the audience…
..and answering questions, some of which were head scratchers.
When he ended, the audience erupted in applause and just about everyone filed into the church lobby to either buy the book or have their copy signed.
If you did not know Jeff Guinn before you entered that church, like us, you surely left admiring him.
LEAP Ambassadors enjoy getting to meet with friends, but it was time to eat — we were all famished from our road trip. We ended up at The Biscuit Bar. Much like Huntsville’s Potato Shack, this restaurant makes one staple food the central component of their entrees.
Even though we arrived late into the night, the service was expeditious and soon the table was cluttered with our biscuit dishes. Among them was The F.A.B.B (sweet fig preserves, arugula, brie, bacon), Hot Hot Chicken (southern fried Nashville-style hot chicken, dill pickles, house made ranch), The HOSS, and for dessert, the Hot Chocolate Biscuit, topped with chocolate fudge and marshmallow fluff.
Everything was soon devoured. Enough said.
After dinner, we tucked into the hotel and awaited our road trip back in the morning.
As Sam Houston State University students are wrapping up their semesters, LEAP Center students set out for another new adventure in Austin, TX. Bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist, Jeff Guinn, reached the tail-end of his book tour featuring his new book, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, in Austin. The three-hour drive to attend his book signing at Book People was a special treat for us, a mix of history, story-telling, literature, and politics. With this in mind, we hit the road knowing the evening would be exciting and informative.
The trip to the Austin was swift and filled with great conversation. Staci, Jennifer and I, all strangers, quickly got acquainted with one another during the ride. I, being the LEAP Veteran, shared my experiences with the LEAP Center and my previous encounter with Guinn when he came to SHSU last year, hoping to increase anticipation for the two others—and it worked!
Guinn had generously agreed to meet with us and a few Austin interns at Whole Foods prior to his book talk.
He also gave us insight into the publishing process and the financial side of things. Clara Herrera, a colleague of Mr. Guinn’s, joined us as well and briefly shared her experience as a journalist. As always, Guinn’s stories were intriguing and we were hooked! Before we knew it, it was time for Mr. Guinn to head over to Book People to make his author appearance.
Stephen Harrigan, author for a famous historical novel The Gates of the Alamo and A Friend of Mr. Lincoln (among others), facilitated the Q&A interview. For us, it was a two-for-one treat.
The interview began with the discussion of the early life of Jim Jones, who grew up in Indianapolis and was eventually the leader of the Peoples Temple. One of the interesting things Mr. Guinn talked about was how Jones sold monkeys door to door to financially operate his temple.
After learning about Jones’s childhood, one of LEAP members, Brian, was chosen as a volunteer to demonstrate how Jones preached to his followers.
For example, Jones would tell one of the audience members (actually, a confederate) that they were going to get cancer, and he would drop chicken guts into their mouth when no one was paying attention.
Eventually the person would throw up and “get rid” of the disease being “healed” by Jones himself. Guinn played the role of Jones, Brian was the faithful assistant, and Staci was a member of the Peoples Temple. This was a demonstration of how Jones manipulated his followers into maintaining their loyalty to him.
After the interview, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions and get their books signed.
Following the book signing, we departed Book People and headed to a local Indian restaurant called The Clay Pit. Jennifer and Staci had never eaten Indian food, and were therefore forced to venture from their comfort zones. While enjoying authentic Indian dishes such as tikka masala, goat curry, and vindaloo, we conversed over the day’s events, highlighting our favorite parts. My favorite part was the book signing because we got special insight into the life of Jim Jones.
After dinner, we walked a few blocks from The Clay Pit to the Texas Capitol to see its after-hours beauty. After posing for a few pictures in front of the Capitol building…
…we explored the buildings extension and Austin’s historic Main Street. This short sneak peak into Thursday’s adventures made us excited for the next day ahead of us.
One special note: Although we were caught up in the history of Guinn’s narrative and his story’s about his career, we also noted his generosity. He was generous for meeting with us, but he also showed the same generosity to his co-host, Stephen Harrigan, calling him one of the 2-3 best writers in the state of Texas. He also complimented his friend, Clara Herrera, noting that she was one of the talented young writers currently doing good work. It wasn’t false praise, but with a big book signing ahead of him, it would have been easy for him to focus on that. Instead, he thoughtfully took time to share the spotlight with others.
As the LEAP ambassadors’ research drew to a close, still more adventures await them on the road. Although the various activities we got to engage in on the way to Detroit were elucidating and interesting, the true focus of our trip was as stated previously, to help Jeff Guinn in researching the Vagabonds.
For that effort, from Monday to Thursday, we followed the same routine; getting to the Henry Ford Museum’s research library around 9 a.m., researching for a few hours, getting lunch with Mr. Guinn and Mr. Fuquay, researching some more, and finally spending an hour touring the museum or the adjacent Greenfield Village.
This was a phenomenal opportunity to see a best-selling author in the research environment. Additionally, we got to hear many stories and see many amazing artifacts.
One highlight was being taken back into the conservation section of the Henry Ford, where we were shown a Lincoln refrigerated truck that was being restored.
Incredibly, this was the very refrigerated truck that Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison had taken along with them on a few of their camping trips! We got to stand next to real history, and see how the team of the Henry Ford is working to preserve and restore such artifacts for future generations to enjoy.
Another special treat was being able to help Jeff Guinn pick out pictures for his book from the Henry Ford’s digital collection.
We sat down and looked through 231 pictures, narrowing these down to about 40. Mr. Guinn will look through other sources before settling on which ones he wants to see appear in the book. At that point, the marketing team for Simon & Schuster, Mr. Guinn’s publisher, will dissect his choices, and they will make the final decisions.
During our breaks, where we could wander freely in the museums. Following our first day, which we spent focusing primarily on the Beatles Exhibit and automobiles in the Henry Ford Museum, we spent the last couple of days looking over planes, civil rights exhibits, Americana, and even furniture.
Henry Ford Museum
But this was no ordinary furniture; many of the pieces were owned by highly accomplished gentlemen. We saw a desk used by Edgar Allen Poe for most of his adult life, for example. It is possible that some of the stories and poems that are so loved today, like “The Raven,” “The Telltale Heart,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum,” were scribed at this very desk.
We also got to see John Hancock’s card table and Mark Twain’s writing table!
In the planes section, the Museum had a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane…
…and a little known Ford plane, which never really proved successful commercially.
In the Americana section, they had a copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”….
… and the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated.
As the above suggests, some of the artifacts were unusual, even unsettling.
On a more inspirational level, the Museum had the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to take a back seat, both literally and metaphorically.
Amazingly, people were even allowed to sit in the seat she refused to relinquish. The Museum also had guidelines of the “Montgomery Improvement Association” (led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) distributed to African Americans which helped them stand for their rights without putting themselves or others in undue danger.
Finally though, Thursday afternoon rolled around, and our time at the Henry Ford drew to a close. We said our goodbyes to Jeff Guinn and Jim Fuquay while thanking them for giving us the opportunity to work with them for a week.
Besides being a great researcher and a great teacher, he is a very personable and amiable man, who really does love his work. The joy he takes in his research is reflected in both his books and in his interactions with others. After spending a week with Jeff Guinn, you can’t help but be interested in whatever subject he’s writing about!
Adventure is to LEAP trips what innovation is to Henry Ford, a process waiting to happen with unexpected ways of achieving it. During today’s visit of the Henry Ford research center and museum, we continued on our Vagabond quest, a three-part odyssey that includes: (1) to assist Mr. Jeff Guinn with research on the Vagabonds, (2) to learn as much as possible about the research process, and, (3) when possible, supplement our academic learning with additional learning from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
“The Vagabonds” Project
Our project is to assist Mr. Jeff Guinn, who has written almost twenty books over his career. Although Guinn uses a professional research (Jim Fuquay), he invited us to give us the opportunity to learn by doing and observing.
His current book project is on “The Vagabonds,” a group that consisted of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs, and, later, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. These men gathered once a year to travel parts of the country while camping.
Our research primarily took place at the Benson Ford Research Center, which has some 26 million artifacts, all but one million of which are paper documents. Mr. Guinn assigned us several tasks:
itemizing the Vagabonds’ itineraries across the period 1915-1924;
itemizing Mr. Ford’s major achievements;
reviewing Mr. Ford’s newspapers, The Dearborn Independent
To complete these tasks, we had the run of the archives, which included a library, endless storage space, and the Museum itself, which had its own artifacts on display. We made use of all three.
Henry Ford Museum
But we also had a chance to break and enjoy free time, which doubled as a foundational education to both Ford and American history. In the Ford Museum, for example, there are wings for the history of the automobile (including buses), the locomotive transportation, air transportation, civil rights, furniture, clocks, and electronic devices in the home. It was a massive museum.
In the automotive section, for example, we were able to see Ford’s first vehicle, the “Quadricycle” of 1996.
We also saw the famous Model T, the speed-setting “Goldenrod”….
…and plethoric presidential limousines, including those that used by Teddy Roosevelt…
…John F. Kennedy, which was used for 11 years after his death…
…and Ronald Reagan.
Interestingly, while on the trip, John Hinckley was released from his court-mandated asylum-cum-prison. When he shot at Reagan, one of the bullets hit the limo, ricocheted off, and hit President Reagan under the arm. It was a timely trip in many ways.
We also had a chance to see a special exhibit on The Beatles.
It included authentic memorabilia, original instruments and cases, music samples…
…and even a section where you can become a Beatle.
We advantageously stuck our heads through the opening of the exhibit and in between the Beatles’ mannequins and wigs, ready to take the very amusing photograph. Although small, this temporary exhibit was well put together and informative by capturing the rise of the Beatles, along with their overwhelming fame, innovative methods of recording music, and legendary status.
Next to The Beatles’ exhibit was the Dymaxion House, the house of the future from the late 1940s. The lightweight aluminum circular house with its own rainwater collection system, a downdraft air system, and the ability to withstand high speed winds was designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. It is the last remaining model of two total units, which Fuller hoped would become the all-American home.
The exhibits were educational, but so was the research. On one afternoon, for example, we had the chance to sit in on an interview Mr. Guinn conducted with Bob Casey, the former curator of automobiles for the Henry Ford Museum. He was immensely generous and helpful, sharing insights from his many years with the Museum.
Such generosity was the norm. Mr. Guinn generously invited us to accompany him on this research trip, the Research Center staff were professional, generous and knowledgeable, and the people with whom we met went above and beyond their duties. It was a learning experience not only for the factual knowledge we gained, but also for the ability to witness the professional norms of the research and Museum business.
Late in the afternoon, we also had a chance to explore Greenfield Village. Our first stop there was the Model-T station, where we could hop onto an authentic Model-T!
Brian and Ryan got on first and drove off merrily, while Prof. Yawn and Paul waited for the next one. The latter pair got to ride in a 1914 Model-T.
The driver was extremely helpful and full of fascinating information. For instance, she explained that one way to distinguish a 1914 was to note the brass used in its design. After 1917, brass was no longer used on the exterior because it was needed for the American war effort in the First World War. She also told us that the Model-T was designed to be the “universal car,” designed to compete with the horse and buggy as opposed to other motor companies. This was a good sales strategy until the outdated Model-T started to slide the way of the horse and buggy as a transportation relic! Although, it should be noted that despite the Model T falling out of fashion, the machines did not stop working. Indeed, one of the cars on which we rode had more than one million miles on it!
Following our Model-T ride, we went our separate ways, each exploring a different part of the village. Paul returned to the frozen custard place for a second go at the delicious dessert before wandering aimlessly down to the “Porches & Parlors” district of Greenfield Village. In true tycoon style, Henry Ford would arrange for various houses or buildings that interested him to be purchased and placed in Greenfield Village. This undertaking, and the subsequent efforts of the Henry Ford Museum to continue this tradition, have left the village as an eclectic hodgepodge of American history. In the part that Paul wandered through, he saw the home of Noah Webster, creator of the first American dictionary, and a home owned by the great poet Robert Frost.
In the tradition of taking the road less traveled, Paul continued on to see some of the slave quarters from the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, as well as the cabin of George Washington Carver. His longest stop was at the Daggett Farmhouse, which is an authentic edifice from 1760, originally located in Connecticut. The owner was a dilettante in the extreme, being a butcher, a carpenter, a farmer, and a home-builder all-in-one!
Meanwhile Ryan and Brian boarded an authentic steam engine train on Firestone Station. From there they toured through the perimeter of the Village, trailing through homes and warehouses of nearly every time period in American history. With the clickitty-clack of the track and the roaring whistle of the engine, the locomotive ride provided an authentic sensual experience for what a trip in such a machine would feel like during the 1800s. But after completing the full circuit, as the last ride of the day, with great sorrow we saw the Village and Museum close for the day.
We then left the grounds en route to meet with Mr. Fuqua and Mr. Guinn for dinner.
Dinner: Lue Thai Cafe
After the short drive to Dearborn we met for dinner at a place called the Lue Thai Cafe. We had the crispy rolls, followed by huge entrees of Thai food. Paul had the peanut noodles, Ryan had the udon noodles, and Brian the jub chai, not knowing what to expect from this foreign cuisine. Over dinner, Mr. Guinn and Mr. Fuqua lamented the current cost of college tuition (a subject dear to Brian and Paul), while comparing to the “back in the day” cost. They also regaled us with tales from their time working at the Fort Worth Star Telegram. With plates half empty, for even though we very much enjoyed the spicy taste of thai there was no more that would could take from the bountiful serving, we departed with a “see you later” and went back to our hotel. Both of these men really are chock-full of great stories, and it is a pleasure to be able to work with them for a week!
The lives and events in these books played a central in his discussions with Huntsville residents. With Christmas around the corner, several asked about his work on Santa Claus, and Mr. Guinn provided some intriguing and entertaining responses. Why does Santa Claus wear red and white trim, you may wonder? Because the real St. Nicholas was a bishop, and red and white attire was customary for bishops.
Such conversations took began over dinner at the Homestead, with local residents and LEAP Ambassadors on hand.
For Megan Chapa, of greater interest was Guinn’s work on Bonnie and Clyde, which she read (twice) in class. Guinn supplemented some of the information in the book with background stories about Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Estelle Parsons, who starred in the 1968 classic film, Bonnie And Clyde. Interestingly, the duo had been known as “Clyde and Bonnie” until that time; it was the film that cemented “Bonnie and Clyde” into the nation’s consciousness.
Guinn also spoke to two of Professor Yawn’s classes. One, an Introduction to Texas Government…
…heard much about Bonnie and Clyde, and the early days of law enforcement (and prison life) in Texas. Interestingly, Clyde Barrow was imprisoned in both the Eastham Unit and the Walls Unit, giving him a direct connection to Huntsville.
In Yawn’s Politics and Media, the students heard more about the impact that Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones (his current book subject) had on the media. Bonnie and Clyde, for example, were one of the first subjects to have photos of themselves wired across the nation. In fact, without this technological development, they likely would have simply been locally known. With the infamous photo of Bonnie Parker with cigar and gun…
…being wired across the US, however, the duo became nationally famous. Similarly, Charles Manson and his high-profile attacks (of actress Sharon Tate) brought in Hollywood and seemed to typify the California lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s.
Following classes, 25 students and faculty had a low-profile lunch with Mr. Guinn, who continued to discuss the impact of the subjects he has studied, much to the delight of those attending.
According to Bella Abril, who had also read “Go Down Together,” the meeting was “very interesting,” even if she finds hearing about Manson and Jim Jones a bit disturbing.
Interestingly, Guinn has a practice of including the names of people he meets into his novels (when not publishing books on biographical subjects, he publishes fiction such as Glorious and Buffalo Trail). On this trip, LEAP Ambassador Austin Campbell was designated as a character in Guinn’s next novel. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Austin will actually be in the novel, but his name will be given to a character, although (ominously) Guinn does not guarantee which character will get that name…
Also of interest is that Guinn offered several of the LEAP Ambassadors the opportunity to go with him to do research on his next book subject. While the subject hasn’t been formally released, it will involved border towns in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Ambassadors are packing for a future road trip!
On his way out of Huntsville, Mr. Guinn stopped by the Texas Prison Museum to visit old friends Sandy Rogers and Jim Willett, who provided information and access to Guinn when he wrote about Bonnie and Clyde.
He signed more than a dozen copies of his books for sale at the TPM, and headed out of town–eager, we hope, to return next year to Huntsville, Texas.