journey post 7: Walt Disney, Davy Crockett, the cardboard box, the library chair, and the mystery of sitting … (also featuring John Wayne)
1955 was a turning-point year for the children of America. Disneyland opened, the Mickey Mouse Club started on TV, and Disney’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier hit the theaters. Disneyland, Disney World, and Disney anything have become so much a part of our culture that it is easy to overlook its revolutionary impact on the era. The Davy Crockett film spawned a craze among us kids that lasted years! (I wasn’t quite old enough to understand then why Annette was so popular with the guys, nor why Elvis soon after became so popular with girls—but I was jealous.)
Davy Crockett and the Alamo stirred my first serious interest in investigating history, and what I learned from that initial foray into serious research helped me plant my feet in reality after Vietnam. In that era of drugs and draft notices, the question of the hour was, “Are you for real, man?” The landscape of America was surreal, and the question that became suddenly real in my mind was, “Is Jesus for real?”
This is how I began to find out….
Five years after Disney’s Davy Crockett went to the Alamo on screen, John Wayne’s epic, The Alamo, was released. By then, my interest in Crockett and the battle for Texas independence was at a peak. I had read Crockett’s Journal and another book, 13 Days to Glory. When I finally got to see the movie, the Alamo depicted there was so far different from what I had seen in the Disney movie or photos…it was like hearing two different people talking about the same car accident.
I knew the Alamo, so it seemed. As a kid, I made my own coonskin cap and I had a flintlock rifle cap gun, and I loved to play “Alamo” with my toy cowboys and soldiers, defending and attacking a fortress I made out of a cardboard box by carving out the graceful shape of the façade top and the crenellated walls with a pocket knife. (Crenels were the gaps on walls that provided an opening to shoot from. The Disney movie had crenels on the walls and the top of the façade looked very much like one today.) I was careful about the shape because I wanted it to be authentic, like the photos I had studied.
THE ALAMO TODAY
SET USED IN JOHN WAYNE’S MOVIE ‘THE ALAMO’
John Wayne drove me to the library. Not him personally, of course, but his movie did. I got on the bus and went to Central Public Library in Downtown Los Angeles to find the truth. I was 12….
Some of my best childhood memories are from time spent among library shelves. Ever since I was little, my mom took me along with her to the library. First, it was the small Eagle Rock Library. We didn’t just go in, find something, and check out. My mom loved to browse the shelves of California history. She would often take a book and read a few pages before putting it back. She was looking for some information. A library was a place of quiet, refuge, and enjoyment, but also of inquiry.
I was taking the bus on my own to go Downtown when I was 11 or 12. You may wonder, but this was 1950’s L.A. It was a different town. Quiet, low buildings. The tallest building was City Hall—yes, the “Daily Planet” the 50’s Superman could leap with a single bound. I got off at Pershing Square, avoided the scary man with the Bible and sign about repentance and hell, and walked up 5th Street to Grand Ave.
It was in the cavernous—but ornate and peaceful—rooms dedicated to the muse of history that I began the serious pursuit of problems in history. You may question the seriousness of a 12-year-old’s search for the truth about the Alamo. But it was there that curiosity, determination, and skill began to blend in the search for “authenticity.” I didn’t mind standing in the stacks searching through book after book to see whether it contained information relevant to my quest. I’d seen my mom do that many times. A tables of contents, picture, index, or bibliography: if it held promise, I laid it aside to take to a table for quiet perusal. Some very old books were kept in a separate room, and waiting for one to come was more exciting than waiting for that mini-sub to enter the state rooms of the Titanic.
Keep in mind that that this was pre-internet and pre-Google. This meant, among other things: extended concentration required because search terms might yield to patient mining in a matter of hours, not minutes or seconds. There was no electronic clip-board on which to instantly copy mounds of potentially useful information (unless one copied relevant pages on a copier—for 2-3 cents per page). It also meant retaining many bits of information in my non-electronic brain, like the location of material on a page or in a book. Notes were a necessity, the ability to summarize saved much time, and documentation, if neglected, might send you back to the same library to search out again that statement, quote, or fact you wrote down sans reference. (Been there, done that, more than once.)
This excursus on old-fashioned research is offered because, in addition to being a reminder of what we have gained (or lost) by relying on Google, it will indicate that, when everything was up for question after Vietnam yet there seemed to be some authentic object of faith that my friend was seeing, I had an idea where I might find an answer to my query, “Is this Jesus for real?” Did he live, die, and rise like it says? This would take time, patience, and work, plus any skills as an investigator that I had learned.
Even after I had began to read and research, I knew there was one question that troubled me that I knew would not yield to patient study. And it was big. My friend Andy kept talking about believing in Jesus and something called “justification by faith.” I thought I believed the facts of history about Jesus, but he seemed to be talking about something personal, about a relationship. The more I thought, it seemed that this kind of faith must be some sort of blind leap. I don’t remember asking about it—I was likely afraid to. It just came up. Andy gave a simple illustration: It’s like a chair. (You don’t have to picture a stout oak library chair here. Any picture of “chair-ness” will do.) If you’re not sure about a chair, you check it out. You may push on it to see if it’s wobbly, or sit tentatively with your legs braced. But when you have enough evidence that the chair can be trusted to hold you up, you sit. It’s the same with Jesus
I knew where I could go to find evidence. But knowing how to “sit” in the “chair” would not be found in a card catalog, and that was scary.