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Advertise on the Tentacle

May 11, 2012

‘Little Thinkers are Big Stinkers’

Harry M. Covert

I began traveling the world as a boy. How fortunate I was. My trips sent me to London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and even to the Asian Pacific. I met those figures of the time, Winston Churchill, Hitler, Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt.


What a time I had. I also enjoyed my first airplane flight and we were up-in-the air for a week, circling the Chesapeake Bay and learning about re-fueling the DC-3.


These youthful trips, no matter how historic, didn’t eclipse the opportunity to meet the baseball heroes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, baseball’s famous or infamous commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who straightened out the nation’s pastime, and many others of that time-gone era.


Recently, in my seventh decade, I again was in London getting a first-hand look at Buckingham Palace. The news was Prince Harry was coming to Washington this week. Durn it, I didn’t get an invitation.


My memories of those world travels were sparked recently. I’d read that some members of the Frederick County Board of Commissions are suggesting the closing of libraries. Egad! The line “little thinkers are big stinkers” floated across my mind. Another one is “stupid is as stupid does.”


In my days when a boy could walk without fear to the public library, I took advantage of the shelves as my interests abounded. One of my favorite people was the Great War correspondent Ernie Pyle. A real newspaperman. I also read the popular columnists of the Forties, Broadway’s Earl Wilson and “It Happened Last Night.” I never missed Walter Winchell in print or on the radio, “Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea, let’s go to press.”


Now, I’d be a bit remiss not mentioning the columnist and writer Damon Runyon, known for his “Guys and Dolls” and Sky Masterson stories. There are others, too, and I absorbed all of this great history and writing on the ground floor of my hometown library.


Libraries are treasures of every city, town, county and schools of all levels.


When the politicians start cutting library budgets or shutting down hours of service, it’s time to get up in arms and put the “arm” on the politicos.


As that young reader time in the library, it was a time of pleasure, dreaming and learning about the world. While modern technology is absolutely stunning, my days of meeting world leaders, visiting all of the national parks and reading about the sports and movie characters shaped my world.


It was also fun to read Clarence E. Mulford’s books. His novels were about the western hero, Hopalong Cassidy. In his books Mr. Mulford, a New Englander, created Hoppy as red-haired, a cusser, a smoker and tobacco chewer, and a fighter. It was later in the television shows that I learned that Hoppy was a clean-liver, silver-haired and a horseman.


To this day, I recall a five-day flight in the DC-3. I didn’t need parental approval for the flight, even though I was just eight. Bill Black was the star character in the book. He wasn’t selfish in his flying and allowed all of us to pilot the plane. In my imagination, it was flying high and low over the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island and up through Baltimore.


I looked forward to those days – for me, usually Wednesdays and Saturdays – walking to the library, always checking out various tomes after spending several hours in the quiet room where newspapers and magazines and books were available. Google wasn’t around in those days of yore; and we weren’t spoiled by the largesse of the Internet.


Oh, yes, I became acquainted with Sherlock Holmes in those days. What a time it was. A few weeks ago, there I was in Crowborough, Sussex, England. At the intersection, a statue of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. Holmes’ creator, overlooked the village. A few blocks later, I visited Sir Arthur’s home, now used as a home for senior citizens. On several other England trips, I’ve visited Mr. Holmes’ second-floor apartment at 221B Baker Street. You’d be surprised at how many people think Sherlock was a mortal.


Let me admit, without the library, I never would have learned to fly an “aeroplane,” interview such worthies as Prime Minister Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt and learn about Drew Pearson, one of the early journalistic muckrakers (I love that word).


One day, I read about baseball’s Babe Ruth, who could eat a dozen hot dogs, drink a half-case of beer and then hit home runs. Fact or fiction, it was fun reading.


One of my happiest days, though, came when I accidentally met Henry Louis Mencken, the Baltimore newspaper editor and author. I’ve thanked him since for such works as Happy Days, Newspaper Days and Heathen Days.


Would-be journalists, and I prefer the term newspapermen, who haven’t read and enjoyed Mr. Mencken, are not educated.


The idea that libraries are too costly for communities is stupid.


Mr. Mencken’s quote is perfect: “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”


I’ve paid my dues to The Mencken Society. I’ve also paid my taxes and I simply say, keep the libraries open, especially on weekends and holidays.


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