WITH SO MUCH TALK THESE DAYS about long hair and beards, some of the older generation in Lawrence recall three outstanding examples that graced the streets of Lawrence during the early part of this century.
Of course, if one views the pictures of the early settlers in Lawrence, back in the 1860's, hair, beards, and clothes on the men resemble those to today in some circles. But that style changed for the majority, until the early 1900's when it cropped up in three men who were "different" from the establishment.
Naturally, they stood out and attracted lots of attention. The three were: Hugh H. Cameron, the Kansas Hermit; Harry Hibbard Kemp, the Tramp Poet; and Kirby McRill, who was called by some, the Sandwich Man.
Hugh Cameron came to Lawrence in July, 1854, but lived to age 81 and so came into the generation that had dropped the style of 1854. He was a free-state man and decided to come to Kansas where the action was. He is listed as a farmer in Andreas History of Kansas, 1883. His place was three miles north and west of Lawrence, on the south side of the Kansas River, and was designated as "Cameron Bluff."
He was born in New York state. Some dropouts might be interested to learn he did not go to school. He was self-educated. He did a good enough job of it, too, became a professor of mathematics at the Rittenhouse Academy in Washington, D. C. He didn't get to stay there too long as he was fired because he was linked with a close friend who was a radical. Later he "canvassed" for Harper's Magazine.
From there he came to Kansas. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted and served two years in the 2nd Kansas Cavalry and came out a captain. He then served four years in the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry and came out a Lt. Colonel. In later years he was brevetted Brig. General of Volunteers for Meritorious services. He was called by many, "General Cameron."
The Hermit was a walker. All through the years, he walked to Washington to attend every inaugural ceremony. He had important friends in Washington. Webster and Clay were intimate friends. Politically, he was usually on the side of the minority. He printed a journal called "The Useful Worker" which was devoted to sobriety, equality and equity. As a writer, his style was bold and aggressive, and according to his contemporaries,
these traits characterized his career in life. The journal did not last long. He also was a strong Prohibitionist.
People remember Cameron by his snow white flowing hair and long white bushy beard. Usually, he was dressed in a blue military coat with brass buttons, and in cold weather he wore an army blanket draped over his shoulders. Whenever a circus came to town, he would join the parade riding on a mule "with the Stars and Stripes draped gracefully around him."
There were two places where he lived. At the north end of Louisiana Street in the 500 block was a ravine. There he had built an open shack. It looked as though he had used the stone foundation and walls of a house that had been destroyed earlier. Perhaps burned in Quantrill's Raid? Leaning against a tall tree growing beside the shack was a long ladder reaching to a tree house.
An early picture postcard showing this scene is captioned Cameron's Bluff. But that is not correct. His abode at Cameron's Bluff was an old wooden piano box and on the outside of it was an iron boiler which he used as a cook stove.
The story goes, General Cameron did not like University students. That probably stemmed from the fact many students (boys and girls), would either walk up the Santa Fe tracks, or go by canoe or row boat, up the Kaw River, or walk the dusty, dirt road from Lawrence to the Bluff. This was a Saturday or Sunday pastime and lark. The bold boys would approach Cameron and bother him and he would chase them off his property.
We were always a bit in awe of the Hermit and didn't venture to either of his homes. But some of the younger high school-age young people who lived nearby ventured to his shack on Louisiana Street. In fact, they worried that he might not be getting enough to eat and they would take him food. They always left right away, whether he was there or not. One time he wrote a poem to one of his benefactors and left it in the mail box at her home. It was entitled "The Angel." That's how her mother found out where the missing food from the ice box was going. Someone else remembered a poem he wrote that went like this:
"Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, you know, |
"And Foster fasted 40 days to make a splendid show;
"But I lay prostrate 7 weeks here -- helpless and alone
"No wine to drink, no bread to eat -- there was no telephone;
"Telephatic temple built of wood over a running stream -- with no metal;
"Not even nails -- put together with wooden pegs, so as not to
deflect messages from the 'Prophet' in the Temple."
What changed Cameron into a hermit, no one seems to know. We used to speculate on why he became a recluse, such as perhaps an unrequited love affair. Now, to our astonishment, in
reading about Mr. Cameron's death in 1907, we learned that a packet of love letters was found by some curious, young boys who explored his shack on Louisiana Street, and found it hidden in the stone wall inside the shack. The packet contained letter addressed to a young woman by the name of Mary Phelps, sister of John E. Phelps who later became governor of Missouri. Miss Phelps had apparently returned them to Cameron.
The Hermit had two sisters who were living in Lawrence at the time of his death, but apparently he chose to live alone.
Harry Hibbard Kemp, the Tramp Poet, showed up in Lawrence in 1905. Although his hair was not extremely long, he still went bareheaded. The fact that he never wore a hat or cap seemed to shake up both students and the town people. Beside that, he wore no socks. In the eyes of the community, his going around bareheaded caused more of a stir than his being a poet. His fellow students thought he thrived on being "different." In those days, that mode of dress was extremely unconventional. He is believed to have been the first student in Lawrence to go hatless.
He had the reputation among his fellow students of being a "free loader." He was likely to turn up at mealtime at any fraternity house or boarding house as a guest of a fellow student.
He came to Kansas from Ohio when he was three years old. The family came out to a farm near Hutchinson, where the grandfather lived, for Kemp's mother's health. In those early days, one reads often of people coming to Kansas to try to regain their health from tuberculosis. After the mother's death, the boy and his father returned to Ohio. In 1905, at age 22, he started out for Chicago to attend the University, when he got to thinking of his early life in Kansas. He also recalled a text book written by Wm H. Carruth used in his German course at Mount Hermon, a boys school (where he had been expelled twice).
So, he hopped a freight train and arrived in Lawrence, broke. He looked up Prof. Carruth who befriended him and got him a job milking cows, (after Carruth's tutelage, and from which he was fired almost immediately).
As a KU student, Kemp spent many hours in Central Park writing poetry. On their way home from school, young grade school students would stop and talk to him. He was always friendly. Willard Wattles (a Kansas poet), was a student at KU then and he and Kemp were friends. Joe Murray, who later became managing editor of the Journal-World, was also a friend.
At that time, Mr. Murray was rooming at Prof. Sterling's. Where Kemp roomed is not certain. The Lawrence Directory of 1907 listed no residence address but gave his boarding address at 911 Mass. In 1911, he lived at the YMCA (the old Wren Building across the street from the present Standard Mutual Life building). This is a parking lot now.
While at KU, Kemp wrote the following poem:
"Give me the land where miles of wheat
"Ripple beneath the wind's light feet.
"Where the green armies of the corn
"Sway in the first sweet breath of morn;
"Give me the large and liberal land
"Of the open heart and the generous hand;
"Under the wide-spread Kansas sky
"Let me live and let me die."
This poem was printed on a postcard with a sketch of a farm house and barn and fields surrounding. It seemed to have touched the hearts of many Kansans, as many have shown up in postcard albums.
After Kemp left Lawrence, he covered quite a bit of territory. Once he stowed away on a British liner to go to England, was caught and imprisoned. He adopted socialism and joined Upton Sinclair. But those ties were severed when he ran off with Sinclair's wife.
He joined Elbert Hubbard's colony but left because he said Hubbard had used one of his poems without giving Kemp's name. His correspondence shows letters from H. L. Menchen; Brock Pemberton; Walter Winchell; Fiorello LaGuardia; and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary. Some of these were letters acknowledging letters from him.
Kemp was a prolific writer. His works were published in text books, periodicals and newspapers; the New York Times being one of them. Some of the titles of his writings reflect his life: Tramping On Life (his autobiography); Poets Pilgrimage; House in the Sand; The Cape Enders, a novel;; and Songs from the Hill. He spent his last years in Provincetown, Mass., where he lived in a beach house on the dunes. There he was called the "Poet of the Dunes." He died at Provincetown in 1960.
Kirby McRill of Reno, Kan., was another "walker." He was described by many as the "Sandwich Man," as he was most often remembered wearing sandwich boards advertising some cafe in Kansas City. He always walked from his farm about three miles west of Reno, to Lawrence, Tonganoxie, Leavenworth or even Kansas City. He was a bachelor and a farmer, but he did not like to farm, so he ran a threshing machine outfit.
He wore heavy shoes which he claimed were given to him by the manufacturer, Endicott-Johnson. He wore a cowboy-type hat, crushed, long wool stockings and baseball-type pants, more generally known as knickerbockers. He was of sandy complexion and wore a handlebar mustache. When it was time to pay his taxes,
he would walk to Leavenworth to pay them, a distance from his farm of about 20 miles.
One day, the story goes, someone stopped and offered to give him a lift. "No thanks," he said, "I'm in a hurry."
In those days, motorists often experienced flat tires and it took time to mend them on the road. Often when he walked to Tonganoxie and would arrive at noontime, he would stop in the bakery and buy a loaf of bread and a quart of ice cream and sit outside and eat it for his lunch. McRill spent his later years in Kansas City. He was described then as "Kirby, the Unkissed." At that time he had a red-dyed, heavy beard. And often could be seen tramping the streets of downtown Kansas City.
After these three men left Lawrence, there was a long, dry spell before long hair and beards showed up again -- this time in considerably more volume.