Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seedlings for a Promise

In 1924, at the age of 18, John Dennis Fitzgerald left his hometown Price to pursue his dreams.  He had graduated from High School at the ripe young age of 16.  He had been active in his High School.  The 1923 annual, The Carbon, lists some of his pursuits, "Yell master,'21, Athletic Manager '22, President of the JFF club "21, President of the K.O.L. club'22, President of Senior Class 1st semester '23."

Clearly a young boy with this much zeal could not be satisfied in a quiet, remote town.  So off he went to New York, Denver, Los Angeles, CA. and more.  He worked as police beat reporter, then later as a foreign correspondent for United Press.  He went on to work for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and in between time he tried to become a successful writer.  The writing was the biggest dream, and the least successful part of his life, in his eyes.  Eventually he gave up.  In April of 1940, Mamma passed away and the disappointing tide began to turn.

The six Fitzgerald children had not been together for at least 16 years.  A lot had changed in all of their lives.  They were all now adults.  Each had suffered heart ache and loss.  Now for a few short days they were together to bid farewell to their parents.

Following  Mamma's service at the LDS chapel and the city cemetery, the Fitzgerald children returned to the house on 100 West, which had belonged to
Papa and Mamma, in their final years.  It was in that home that the trunks holding all the memories of yesteryear were found, opened, and discussed.  "Mother was a saver," John said." she left five trunks full of souvenirs, all carefully labeled."

Layer by layer they rediscovered their lives.  With each picture and clipping a new memory would begin - long lost recollections began to surface.  In the opening of Papa Married a  Mormon John credits himself with creating the list of notes that would eventually become his first successful novel.  However, the notes could have easily been taken by his sister Belle, who collaborated with him in writing the book.  Either way important memories were being retained.  Happy memories, joyful memories, jubilant ones, and unfortunately some sad ones.  The most heartbreaking may have belonged to Thomas Fitzgerald, Jr.

The adult years had not been kind to Thomas Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain.  Shortly after graduating from High School, Thomas married a girl named Fern Smith.  Within the year a child was to be born, unfortunately both mother and child did not survive delivery.   Not long after the deaths, Tom connected with a friends sister, named Florence Beveridge. Soon they married and had a son named, Tuck.  Followed by a daughter named Mary.  Since High School , Tom had pursued a successful career as a painter.  According to a family members written statement, "Tom' s considered one of the best painters in Price."  However, Tom "got to drinking" and "Florence left him" in 1937.

By 1940, his personal suffering would have been in overdrive.  Two parents lost, two wives lost, three children gone. John must have known the pain his brother was suffering.  How could all the family memories of a lifetime not touch the fresh wounds in his brothers heart.  Writers, though do not often begin a project with a conscious agenda in mind.  Often the purpose creeps out slowly and not until the end does the writer understand more fully their purpose in creating the story they've told. I believe this was the case with the Fitzgerald stories that John wrote.

You see the Fitzgerald's  were a dynamic, pioneering family.  Price would not have grown abundantly if it hadn't been for them.  Furthermore, Price was unique among Utah towns.  It was not predominantly Mormon.  It also did not die, or become a ghost town, as so many "non-Mormon" communities did, i.e., Silver Reef and Leeds.  No it survived because of people like the Fitzgerald's whose lifestyles etched themselves into the red-rock around them.  They had won county fair prizes, wrote plays, entertained neighbors, experienced lawlessness, and savored religion - loved people.  By all accounts they made lasting friends in their town.  And it to Tom's credit that he made those friends because when the chips were down, it would be a friend who would come to the aid of the memory of Thomas Fitzgerald.

In December 1989, a man named Elgen G. Grames, wrote a letter to a Mr. Payne.  Some of the text reads as follows:
"Reading your letter to the Sun Advocate...I decided to write and tell you that I believe you have been talking to the wrong people about the Fitzgerald family.  I was a boy on the same street that the Fitzgerald house was moved to it was called K street at the time....Also Thomas "Tom" who everyone knew as "The Great Brain".  Tom was a painter and a great philosopher was able and willing to talk on any subject." 
Whether John realized it or not, the private family history he was writing, which became the impetus for his books, was being to written to hold on to that fantastic past.  You see John was experienced enough to know that we only see what is in front of us,  and if progeny judged the Fitzgeralds by what they saw in 1950, they would miss the best part.  So John wrote the narrative to bring to life the romance of pioneers, the challenge of developing cultures, and the great joy of philosophical older brothers.

Now we have a sliver of that knowledge.  All of it began over a century ago, but thanks to "savers", researchers, and writers, we get to live it as if it happened today.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hey, Carrie. You've got international appeal. You've even got fans in China.;)

  3. International appeal. I like that. I am trying to locate a translator to see the words in english. I've connected back to the posters own page and everything is in chinese. A good Christmas puzzle for me.

  4. I translated the first comment on Google and, as I suspected, it's an advertisement for pornography.

    I'm very interested, not in Chinese porn, but in learning more about what happened to Tom, the Great Brain. I was sorry to read about the reversals of his early adulthood. What's the rest of the story?

    Thanks for sharing the fruits of your research! My wife and I both enjoyed the Great Brain books as children and now our oldest child is reading them, prompting my Internet search to learn more about the author and his family.

  5. Chris,

    Thanks for the research. I wish I knew how to delete the post. My husband learned the same thing.

    I'm glad you like the blog. Now that Christmas is past I will jump back in. Have a very Happy New Year.

  6. Happy New Year! I'm reading the books aloud to my husband, who was fiction-deprived as a child. Thanks for your research and photos. In your visits and conversations and reading, did you by chance come upon anyone who might have been a model for Abie, the peddler-turned-variety store manager who died of starvation rather than ask for charity?

  7. I was wondering if there are any pictures of the Fitzgerald home and of Tom. I would really appreciate the chance to see some of those