These Boots Were Made For Walking…

23 03 2010

I used to walk.  Lots.  For long distances.  But not compared to John Albert Krohn, aka Colonial Jack.  In 1908 he began a walking trip from Portland Maine around the border of the United States, and to answer your obvious question of “WHY?”, here is an excerpt from the preface of his book (published in 1910): “Why did I push a wheelbarrow around the border of the United States?  To make money by selling my story.”  There are actually a few sentences more but they’re rather silly and this sums it up nicely enough.  The book is a flimsy softcover affair printed on cheap paper – my copy shatters if I look at it too hard, so I have not read it through, but generally it is an account of C.J.’s encounters with aggressive dogs, narrow misses from trains while crossing railroad trestles, and his observations of regional lifestyles.  His trip was publicized so people eagerly awaited his arrival at each town, and railroad men kept an eye out for him as well in case he was in trouble.  People also gave him notes and cards to deliver to their friends and family at future stops, and the cover of his book shows the pyramid-shaped ‘suitcase’ on his wheelbarrow completely covered by these papers.  Why the fancy shape for his luggage?  How does that relate to his nickname?  I have no clue.  But it’s kitschy Americana at its best, (at least until the 1950s rolled around).  A few more fun bits from the book – he wore out eleven pairs of shoes, and in Jacksonville FL was given a “cocoanut that was in the husk – it being too bulky for me to carry, it was mailed home.  I walked a distance of 1,406 miles and had finished my trip a week before the cocoanut arrived.  Uncle Sam, why this delay?  Explain yourself.”  C.J. also needed to raise funds in order to cover his personal expenses, those of his wife, who travelled with him for a third of the way, and also for his young daughter who remained at home.  Besides giving public talks about his experiences, he also sold medals made of aluminum and embossed with his picture on the front, and these words on the back: “Colonial Jack is walking & pushing his wheelbarrow around the border of the United States, a distance of 9000 miles, in 400 days (except Sundays), starting from Portland, Me., June 1, 1908 & ending at Portland, Me.”




2 responses

25 03 2012

Good Morning, Dr Sphinx

I recently happened to learn about John Albert Krohn through a calendar page in a calender that has for every day of the year an expression of forgotten English. “Barrow-back’t” was the one related to JAK (“bent by heavy work such as wheeling loaded barrows”). Searching the Internet for more information I found your blog post on JAK.
You seem to own a copy of his book. I am interested to read JAK’s story, but the book is hard to find and/or expensive to buy. I found one for sale for 95 US Dollars – too much for me.
Here’s my question: Could I get this book photocopied from you?

I live in Switzerland.

Thank you!


P.S. There’s another book: Blue Highways (W. Least-Heat Moon, 1986) and another story of someone who travalled the US – I would like to compare them …

25 03 2012
Dr. Sphinx

Hello – I would like to help you out but the copy I own is extremely brittle, being printed on very cheap paper. The cover has already shattered in several places since I bought it despite archival storage. When I read through it I parted the pages only enough to allow me to see the text – I would not be able to take a photo and certainly not photocopy it for you. Sorry! But keep looking, you might find a copy at an affordable price. I did not pay much for mine.

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