Tag Archives: Holcomb

Let’s Talk About Hawthorne (and a few other things, too)

27 Aug

Another semester is upon us, and a new crop of freshmen have arrived.

That sentence popped into my head last night as I contemplated that start of a new academic year. It is always an interesting time as the faculty scramble to get their classes organized and new students scramble to figure out what they have gotten themselves into. The returning members of the sophomore, junior and senior classes are the only ones to be taking things in stride. This is old news to them.

For the first time in a couple of months, the campus is buzzing with activity. The freshmen have been divided into pods and are making their way around the place. I am not sure what they did this morning, but one session was spent going over The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each group met with a different faculty member and discussed what they read.Nathaniel Hawthorne

My group had a decent meeting. They did not like what they had to read but understood that it would probably happen more than once in the next few years.

I enjoyed the part where they talked about themselves. Most were from around this area, but a couple had traveled some distance. A student from Alabama, who is here to play basketball, had been to All Steak. Another student from Lawrence, Kansas is here to be on the cycling team. I told them that I had been to Holcomb, Kansas, and, to my surprise, a student from around here knew why that place is famous.

Another student from a nearby town came from a graduating class of thirteen people. Our discussion group was bigger than that. We advertise about having small classes, but we can’t compare to that.

I learned a lot from the students – more than they probably learned from me. I learned that they already know how to complain about the cafeteria food. I learned that most of our students still come from the general vicinity. I learned that they are generally glad to be here and are looking forward to what lies ahead.

Some of them will make it to graduation. Some of them will wash out within a few semesters. All of them have the experience of reading The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Picture This – Holcomb Community Park

31 Jan

Cities all over the country have parks dedicated in the honor of local citizens, and many of them have the same attributes as this one – benches, trees, walking trail and plenty of grass for picnics. Compared to other parks, this one is small, as it sits in a triangle of crossing streets. It is as if the small town of Holcomb, Kansas needed to do something with land that had been cut off from use and thought a small greenway would be a perfect solution.

However, this park does not honor a founding family or a local politician. It is dedicated to the family of Herb and Bonnie Clutter, which was slaughtered when their home was invaded by robbers in 1959. Tragedies such as this happen in cities all over the nation as well, and as years pass those incidents, also tragically, fade from the memories of those communities. In today’s world, we seem to be desensitized to the violence that happens around us. Bridges are named for fallen soldiers, but we hardly think about them as we pass by the signs. There may be other parks honoring murder victims, but they must be few and far between. So, why did the citizens of Holcomb build a park in honor of the Holcomb’s? Because several years after the attack, the murder in rural Kansas became known to people throughout the world.

After reading a newspaper article about the crime. Truman Capote became mesmerized by the story. He convinced Harper Lee, his childhood friend, to travel to Holcomb and investigate the murder. The result was “In Cold Blood”, a book that many believe began the “True Crime” genre. The writing of the book and the book itself have also been the subject of several movies. In my opinion, the work of Capote and his role in the overall story has come to overshadow the actual crime. As I drove around the small town and walked around the park, I did not think of the Holcomb’s or the men who were convicted of their murders. The question that kept running through my mind was:

Truman Capote came here?

The few people I saw stared at my rental car with the Tennessee tags and gave me the “what are you doing here?” look. And, I am sure they are used to a few people stopping by because of the town’s notoriety. I can’t imagine the reaction of the citizens of 1959 Holcomb when Truman Capote – he of the high society and fashionable side of New York City – arrived with his peculiarities. Likewise, I can’t imagine Capote’s thoughts when he arrived in a little town surrounded by nothing but flat plains. A more odd meeting of cultures is difficult to think about.

Despite of the strangeness of it all, or maybe because of it, I suggest a stop by the park to anyone who finds themself in the vicinity of Holcomb. Take a stroll around the walking trail or sit on a bench and take yourself back to 1959. Picture Capote and Lee hanging around town and interviewing people. Think about the reaction of the authorities when the pair walk in and start asking questions. And, imagine the journey that the writers took to dig deeper into a newspaper story. However, do not forget the Clutter family; the crime that struck down parents and two children; and the two other children left to live with the pain and the constant, best-selling reminder of the horror of their lives.