Friday, May 25, 2012

Clark B. Firestone

Clark B. Firestone (b. Lisbon, Ohio, 10 September 1869; d. Cincinnati, Ohio, 3 June 1957)

Clark B. Firestone in 1950
Clark Barnaby Firestone was the third of four children of Solomon Jefferson Firestone (1833-1912) and Anna Elizabeth Williams (1836-1926).  He had two older brothers and one younger sister.  Firestone graduated from the Lisbon High School and went on to Oberlin College, where he received an A.B. in 1891, an honorary M.A. in 1911, and an honorary LL.D. in 1951. In 1906 he married Beatrice Sturges (1874-1958); they had three sons and one daughter.

Firestone spent most of his life as a journalist and newspaperman.  He began on The New York Mail and Express, where he was a reporter (1892-99), chief editorial writer (1899-1901 and 1903-11), and London correspondent (1901-02).  After a year (1911-12) as editorial writer at The New York World, he returned to Lisbon to serve as president and director of the Firestone Bank, owned by his late father.  In 1921 he returned to newspaper journalism as the editorial writer for The Cincinnati Times-Star.  He became associate editor of this newspaper in 1930, a position he held until his retirement in 1954.

Firestone’s first book was technical work for the Army Ordnance Department of the U.S. Government, The Ordnance Districts, 1918-1919, Philadelphia (1920). He followed this with a series of travel books, the first being a work of romantic scholarship on the on the reaches of literary imagination as found in old travel tales. Subsequent books were rooted more closely to home, including the successful Sycamore Shores (1936), about a journey on some rivers of the Middle West, including the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; Bubbling Waters (1938), about a walking tour of the mountain country of Kentucky and Tennessee;  the shorter, self-described Journey to Japan (1940); and finally, another popular book, Flowing South (1941), an account of some five thousand miles of travel on the inland waters of the Mississippi and Missouri river systems. Other works include a libretto, Enter Pauline: A Lyrical Romance in Two Chapters and a Frontispiece (1929), book and lyrics by Firestone with score by Joseph Surdo; and three volumes of poetry, The Winding Road (1937), Tower Window (1949) and The Yesterdays (1953).

It is for Firestone’s second book that he deserves coverage here. The Coasts of Illusion: A Study of Travel Tales (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924) is a wide-ranging exploration of the myths and half-myths of geography that are loosely called “travel tales”, including both the countries of legend and the creatures that were reported to have been their inhabitants.  Subjects covered thus include Atlantis, the Amazons, dragons, rocs, unicorns, the Pygmies, Satyrs, the Sargasso Sea, and El Dorado.  A thoroughly entertaining catalog of the places and beings with which mankind has though history populated the shifting borderlands between knowledge and imagination. 

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