THAT (that) wrote,

King's Row: Ronald Reagan, Grandma & Me

So the little town I live in is called Fulton. The population is around 13,00. But for a tiny midwestern village, it punches above its weight, culturally speaking. For one thing, Winston Churchill visited in 1946 and gave a historic speech at Westminster College. It was there that he coined the term iron curtain, which helped define the cold war. So there's a statue of old Winston a half mile down the road from my house, a chunk of the Berlin Wall in front of the college, a Churchill museum, and even a  nominally British pub called Sir Winston's on the south end of town, though its authenticity is a bit questionable... rather than pork pies, it serves chicken fried steak.

Fulton was also the model for the town in the novel King's Row, which was made into a Hollywood movie with Ronald Reagan. It was in this movie that he woke up from a railroad accident to see that his legs had been amputated, famously asking, "Where's the rest of me?" He used that line as the title of his autobiography, though in my opinion, he never did answer the question. I'm not a fan of the friendly grandpa of the apocalypse.

Above you can see a map of King's Row. Despite the author's protestations, it is actually a map of Fulton with the names changed. The real names of streets and landmarks are in parentheses. I live on "Federal St.," over on the left hand side, just past "Willy Macintosh house." From bicycing and walking, I know almost every place on this map that still exists, though some are gone, like Elroy's ice house, which is now a public park with a gazebo.

One of my recent bike rides in "King's Row."

Distant members of my family are even mentioned in the introduction to the book. My grandmother's third (and last) husband was Harry McIntire. The McIntires have long been local gentry; they still have a floral shop downtown. In fact, my house is at the corner of W. 7th and McIntire streets, a fact which I think pleased Grandma considerably. I had Thanksgiving dinner with some of the McIntires once; they were very nice. Harry is mentioned in paragraphs 3 & 4 below, beginning with, "There were people..."


Even though the book and film's fairly scathing depiction of small-town hypocrisy scandalized Fulton society, Grandma was very proud of her city's place in literary and, especially, Hollywood history. (All that ruffling of feathers was all so long ago... and they were other people's feathers.) She was quite the Republican and thoroughly approved of Ronald Reagan. I found this newspaper clipping tucked into one of her copies of King's Row.

Bonzo gets some good press in Fulton.

Grandma once took mom and me on a drive around town, pointing out the Fulton landmarks that figured in the book. I think we watchedthe movie on VHS later, though I don't remember much about it. I've been reading the novel; I'm about 100 pages into it, perhaps a quarter of the way. So far, it's mostly about a bright and sensitive young man named Parris Mitchell, who lives with his well-to-do French grandmother—respectable but still a bit of an outsider—coming of age in a small town and realizing that society is stacked in favor of those born into propertied families. There's also a frank portrayal of the ill effects of sexual prudery and ignorance.

It's a good novel, but if it wasn't about Fulton, I would never have heard of it. It's funny to think that books, like people, are usually only remembered by those whose lives they touched. I like thinking about the book, Grandma, Winston Churchill, and yes, even Ronald Reagan, as I'm pedaling about town. It gives me a sense of place. I can see how some people really get into local historical societies, genealogy and so forth. It's nice to feel some sense of continuity. Like time is a big river and we're all flowing down it together in a paddlewheel boat.

So if you ever pa through Fulton, stop by. We'll have a pint at Sir Winston's and then I'll show you the "secret pond" where Parris Mitchell lost his virginity.

It's not a secret anymore.

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened