Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finding Fitzgerald

I wasn't the first person to research John Dennis Fitzgerald.  By my count I was the fifth, well maybe more like the 25th if you include all of the students from the Wawona School.  However, I knew nothing of this when I began to search.

I had grown up reading The Great Brain books.  My mom read them to us first, but after that my brother and I  re-read them repeatedly over the years. The tattered books remain as evidence of our undying devotions to the stories.

The itch for research didn't begin until years later, when I finally read Papa Married a Mormon.  The book stuck to my heart in a way no other book  had.  Questions abounded.  I was sure a quick internet search would answer the questions.  I was wrong.  No such site existed.  Eventually my husband found one called, Searching  for the Great Brain.

It was the sweetest site.  A family of homeschoolers had read the books. They then set out on a trek finding Adenville.  On the site they had some pictures, some brief descriptions, and some links.  Sadly, they never found Adenville.  For me, they were the first "finders".

Toward the bottom of their site was comment by  another "finder", who claimed to be a Utah historian. His post sounded authentic.  I was sure he could get me the answers I needed.  I emailed him.  Our first exchange was pleasant. Being naive I told him my dreams of writing, my interest in The Great Brain books, and asked if he could answer my questions?  Suddenly the exchanges turned vicious. He wrote me a curt reply where he stated, "My friends warned me about people like you - grifters."  I had never been called a grifter.  I wasn't even sure what it was, but I got the point.  He then said he would charge me $37.00.  His final warning to me was, "As for becoming an author, do it if you must, but expect  little in return."

It took a couple days to shake the awful feeling he left.  Somewhere in those days it occurred to me, there must be some pretty cool stuff if he was so possessive.  The hunt was on.  I was now an official Fitzgerald Finder.  With what little existed on the internet I began writing letters.  I wrote a woman who had written and presented a paper about John Dennis Fitzgerald.  She wrote back, much more politely than the previous man.  She didn't have much information, but she encouraged my research.

I began reading Utah State history books, writing or calling libraries, and trying geneaology.  Little by little pieces arrived.  An article here, a marriage license there, a photograph, or short interview.  My project was fun.  I would share my discoveries with my mom.  Before I knew it, she became the third "finder".  She and dad took a trip to southern Utah.  On the way they stopped in Price and visited the cemetery.  They took the first pictures, I would receive, of Papa, Mamma, Bill, Charles, and Tom's markers.  (I cried when they gave me the photos)

I knew some day I would have to go to Price.  It was an outstanding trip.  Shortly after my arrival I learned of the fourth "finder".  A woman named, Sharon Madsen. Her son Ryan was an avid Great Brain fan.  For his eagle project, they created a corner in Price's public library for Fitzgerald. 

On my second night in Price, I ate dinner with the present owners of Papa and Mamma's last home.  During dinner they told me about a school class that had taken a field trip to research John Dennis Fitzgerald.  They mentioned that the kids had stopped by to look at the house.  After digging around I located the principal of Wawona School, a wonderful woman, named Michelle.

Michelle and her students had completed a year long study of Fitzgerald's work.  They had written, called, and researched the author deeply.  As they went along, the class created a book, where they wrote journal entries, as if they were John, and tied the entries into American history.  (I spent forever copying the book at the library). The class then traveled from California to Price to honor the author they'd come to love.  I enjoyed exchanging information with Michelle.  She generously sent me photographs of her class and their visit to Price.

 I found "finders" on chat sites. Before there were blogs, people connected in chats.  Sure enough there were Great Brain fans everywhere.  As I completed various researches, I would put my email out for contact.

One day I received an email from a student at Brigham Young University.  She was a drama major.  The drama department had written their own play of Papa Married a Mormon.  Her job was to find supporting material to help deepen the production.  She and I wrote each other regularly.  One of her last requests was asking me to speak at a panel after the play.  I was delighted.

As the years have progressed I have loved meeting new "Fitzgerald Finders" and am glad to share my findings with you.


  1. I was a "finder." When I was about 12 I dragged my family down a remote road in Southern Utah that ran west of Cedar City and St. George. It had to be the Adenville area, deduced. I thought I had located Uncle Will's "mansion" and that a town called Pintura was the town that the people moved to from Adenville in Mama's Boarding House. Silver Reef was Silverlode, of course. I know better now but I wouldn't trade that day trip for anything.
    Doug Gibson

  2. I love it. You know you may not have been so far off. I suspect some of the places are doubled up. Don't count yourself wrong on your finds. John Fitzgerald lived in So. Utah for a while, and his relatives resided there and around, so he could have used those stories and places to enrich his tales'. Congratulations you lucky finder. I guess if you were 12, you may have been the first. That makes me the 26th.

  3. Is that site still up? I searched and couldn't find it.

  4. No Rubin it isn't. I had it written in my journal so I could recall the name. I did read an online article recently that also mentioned the website, but they had no link to it either. It's too bad - they had done a good job. They had ended up in Adamsville, and found a brick chimney and a couple of shanty homes. They added a couple of links that I followed. I wish I had realized the site would be gone and I would have printed off some images for keeping. If anyone does find it, let use know.


  5. Carrie -

    do you have the exact website address? If so have you looked on ? They have archived copies of a lot of web sites. I couldn't find "Searching for the Great Brain", but wasn't sure if I was using the correct address, and you have to do that to retrieve information.

  6. HI Bob-

    The site was called Searching for the Great Brain. It was written by the Robert A. Reiser family. I tried the link as well as just internet surfing. No luck yet. If anyone finds it, let us know. I'd love to link it.


  7. Anybody know where John D. was buried?

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