Whew! Final 10th Anniversary post and podcast! Leo & Larry and I are breathing a collective sigh of relief, despite the great times we’ve had. Congrats to Jean of PA for winning the final trivia. Congrats to Mary of Arizona for winning the Captain Garrison $100 cash prize with her last minute entry! I ran out of leather bookmarks, but I will send them later after I get a new order in.
And now! What have I learned most recently?
I had three distinct aha moments while writing the Kirkman book. This book is being edited currently and scheduled to release either this fall or winter 2021. Here are three great research tools I used in this case.
First, Other Authors
In the course of my research I listened to Jim Rasenberger’s book, Brilliant Disaster, about the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to him. If he got back, great. If not, okay.
Katrina, thank you very much for your kind words about my book. Kirkman sounds really interesting. Alas, I can’t think of anyone alive who might know of him– so many have died in the years since I finished my book.-Jim Rasenberger
Although he couldn’t help much, it was so good to hear from someone who understood the pangs of research! And just to know that many people have died provides good information.
By the way, on May 26, Rasenberger’s next book is coming out. Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America. It’s likely to be an exceptional book for those who love this kind of history. See his website here.
Second, The Telephone
I was considering a trip to Gettysburg. I wanted to see the farmhouse where Eisenhower had lived. In particular, I wanted to confirm some notes about Eisenhower’s painting studio.
Finally, I decided to call the Gettysburg home, now a national monument. I left a message, and a day or two later, someone called me back. She answered my question perfectly. I don’t know that traveling out to see the house myself would have been more helpful, since it was a loose association with Tom.
Just the other day, I called Brad, Tom’s son, with a question. I’ve added this conversation to the podcast so you can get a feel for what it is like to research by phone. The point is, I got my questions answered without leaving my house.
But, there are cases where telephones and email fail.
One of Those Cases
So here’s the thing. Tom Kirkman’s story is far-fetched. I had no reason to doubt him, but I felt that I needed more proof to base the entire book on those stories.
For example, Tom told his son that he prepared sketches for President Eisenhower’s paintings. President Eisenhower loved to relax by painting. This is well-documented. But did he really get other people to sketch for him?
I emailed an expert from the Eisenhower museum and asked him this question. He told me that he has never heard of anyone sketching for Eisenhower and that he has reasons to believe this to be unlikely.
“I have never heard that anyone ever helped Ike with his paintings, beyond advice from Winston Churchill and Thomas Stephens. Not that this couldn’t have happened, mind you, but painting for Ike was a very personal and private thing.”William Snyder, Supervisory Museum Curator, Eisenhower Library
This made me sick at heart. I still had faith in Tom, but wow, it was tough. If only I could find some small suggestion that the President might have asked for other people to prepare sketches for his paintings!
I just hated to write a book about an event involving a famous person if the experts said it probably never happened.
Third, The Road Trip
When all else fails hit the road.
To discuss this time, I called my husband! That is, I asked him if he would join me around the recorder after finishing off our Saturday morning French toast with Captain Garrison coffee. (Yes, I know my original rule was Sunday mornings only, but I like it so much I’ve breaking the rules.)
It has been SUCH a huge blessing for me to have him along on such ventures. So I started out by asking him if he likes to go along or if he just does it to be nice.
“Yes,” he said.
Ugh! He’s like that. At any rate, he does enjoy it, and the great thing is that he can work remotely.
So, on New Year’s Eve, we hit the trail
In Abilene, Kansas, I spent two days coughing and sorting through boxes of archives. Marnell remoted in to his workplace back home from our AirBnb. On off times we ate local Mexican food, raided the Russell Stover’s chocolate factory, and breakfasted on crepes from Ortus Cafe underneath our AirBnb.
I found lots of fascinating things about the President’s social world in the White House. There are pictures of staff picnics, Christmas card lists, and evening lists of Mamie’s presents. Tom Kirkman’s name appeared a few places, but he was all but invisible.
However. Less than an hour into my first morning of research, I found a gem. A note about another White House staff member who claimed to have sketched for President Eisenhower’s paintings. He went to the newspapers with his story.
Eisenhower’s assistant, Robert L Schulz, a man known for his protection of the President’s time and energy, shut down the newspaper man (Mr. Kurz) without denying the truth of this man’s claim. Here’s a copy of the conversation. If you scan over it, you will see that Robert Schulz’s (RLS) replies are extraordinarily vague. He never says that the man is lying, which he almost certainly would have done had that been the case.
A while later, perhaps the next day, I found another gem. Tucked in a folder of correspondence between Robert Schulz and President Eisenhower, I found a brief note in the President’s handwriting. IN THE PRESIDENT’S HANDWRITING, people. Do you have any idea – ANY IDEA, I SAY! – how thrilled I was to find this?!
I could have turned cartwheels across the archive room. Here’s what one of the most famous men in the world asks for. His handwriting is so bad it’s not entirely clear, but it leaves no doubt in my mind that Eisenhower got other people to do his sketching for him, exactly as Tom Kirkman said.
“Here’s a picture I’d like to have sketched ________________ carefully, when you can get the sergeant to do it.”Eisenhower’s handwriting lacks clarity! And, this is a copy.
Gold, gold, gold!
Such a little thing, but such a big thing! Against all reason – against the expert’s opinion – Tom Kirkman was proved reliable. Although none of the documents associate Tom with the paintings, I found that White House army men sketching for the President’s paintings was almost indisputable. Since Tom was, above all, a silent man when it came to secrets, I am not at all surprised that HE did not go to the newspapers.
You can find these documents at the Abilene, KS Eisenhower library. I believe they are all in the Robert Schulz collections. I do not share them to disrespect the President or his people. After working for a popular heart surgeon, I know, in a small way, about the role of Robert Schulz. There was no need to tell the world that Eisenhower got help with his sketches, especially at that time.
I found a 1962 copy of Esquire magazine. (I don’t think the 1962 version of the magazine is quite like the issues today.) Sure enough, there is the article about the man, Ray Seide, who described his duties in the White House. (There is also a card advertisement for “ANY 6 regular high-fidelity or stereo records for only $1.89 from Columbia Record Club in Terre Haute, Indiana.” In case you need to place the economy and entertainment options of 1962 in your head!)
Ray Seide received plain brown envelopes with a photo or a magazine illustration that the president wanted to paint.
“I would crop the photograph or the illustration, then put it into a projector. If the projector didn’t throw an image large enough for the size of the canvas the President wanted, I would draw the subject larger and put that into the projector.Ray Seide, in Esquire, March 1962, page 49
By the way, since I was corresponding with Jim Rasenberger over my time in Abilene, I shared my triumph with him. He said, “I’ve had a few of those moments in archives myself and it’s all I can do to suppress a yelp.” So nice to have someone understand!
Fourth, The CIA Records Department? Nope!
Simply unhelpful, and that only after being very slow. Therefore, I have no facts about Kirkman’s time in the CIA, other than the few words he shared with his son.
This troubled me a lot. Further, Tom was so silent about sensitive subjects like espionage. Years after his time in the CIA, when Brad showed him photos of Cuba from the missile crisis era, Tom turned white and told Brad to get rid of the photos.
So I asked the CIA for records. After about five months, they replied, saying that they have no un-classified records.
Ugh! Of course, I knew that his work was likely classified. I appealed their decision, but have not heard a thing. By now, they are probably shut down because of COVID-19.
So, I wrote my own chapters about Tom’s time in the CIA. That’s one more reason that this project will be considered a work of fiction, although based on the life of a real man. I’m super pumped to see the project come to life!
If you missed some of the 10th Anniversary posts or podcasts, they are all available here at this site. Podcasts are available on my page at Anchor.fm or through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PocketCast, and a few others.
Although the 10% off sale ends today, I will wait to draw the name for the second $100 cash prize until May 29. In this way, all purchases at my online store, March through May, will have a fair chance of winning the prize.
Have a relaxing Sunday. God bless you!