William Whitley and Me


It was a cool September sometime around 1962. I had been playing and singing in London, Ontario, and decided to take a look for my great-grandfather’s graves and place of death to the south in lower Ontario. The relative that I was looking for was Colonel William Whitley. He was one of the first Kentucky pioneers in the days of Daniel Boone. He founded modern horse racing in the United States and made some of the first Kentucky sour mash whiskey. His recipe is still used by Evan Williams and Jack Daniels. He built the first brick home west of the Allegheny mountains as well, but his fame was that of an Indian fighter. The evidence is not conclusive, but eye-witness accounts point to Whitley as being the man who killed Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in lower Ontario during the War of 1812.

The death of Tecumseh sealed the fate of the organized Indian resistance to the settlement of the Northwest Territories, as Tecumseh was the leader of this cause. The movement fell apart upon his death. Tecumseh had partnered with the British who were seeking revenge, retribution, and a reclamation of the lands they lost by the success of the American Revolution.

Obviously, Whitley was an important man and I felt that I should try to locate his grave if possible, as he died there in battle and was buried on the battle site. What I did not know was the site was on a Canadian Indian reservation.

Soon after turning onto the gravel roads that led to the battle site a dozen cars filled with young teenagers from the reservation began to follow my car. I sped up.  So did they. When I tried to outrun them, they cut me off and surrounded my vehicle. They were drinking beer and feeling their power.

“What are you doing here? What is your business,” they wanted to know. One of them said. “We are not subject to the laws of Canada here. If we decide to kill you, there is nothing anyone can do about it. We have our own laws.”  He opened his jacket to reveal a nasty-looking pistol.

I quickly told them I was simply looking for the place my Grandfather was buried way back in 1814. “He died here in battle,” I said.

“Was he Indian?” was the response.

As a rule, I like to be truthful at all times, but this was obviously a time when telling the truth would be a very bad idea.

“Yes, he was,” I lied. “Do you know where the graveyard is located?”

“There is no graveyard. You look like a honky to me.”

“It’s been a lot of years. My bloodlines have been mixed since then. I even have some Irish in me,” I said. “English too,” I added, suddenly remembering their British ties of the past and their current status in the United Kingdom. I remember wondering why they still called it a United “Kingdom” when they had only a Queen with little political control over a loose federation in distant countries.

The teenager with the gun took his last swig from the beer can and tossed it to the side of the road. “We’ll let you go, but you take your white ass off this reservation and don’t come back. Follow us.”

He returned to the car and led the way. I followed and behind me was a parade of hostile teenagers.

Driving down the road, I had plenty of time to think about history and the present. Should I even be proud that my great grandfather helped take the lands from the natives? I asked myself. Should I be shocked that white men took native scalps as well in retaliation? How, I asked, is it possible to enjoy doing that?

Maybe they did not enjoy it, I told myself. Maybe they found it to be necessary. How much different was it than cutting off the chicken’s head for Sunday dinner or taking an ax to the cow or pig. Somebody has to do it. Yes, I knew there was a difference. We are talking about what people do to people—but when land gets scarce and populations grow, the natural laws take over and the population disperses.

“If someone else occupies the land, we can share it. There was plenty of land for the white man’s expansions, I thought.” The problem was, that the natives were there and they did not want to change their ways. They had no great architecture, only a few written works, and no literary or artistic record like the European invaders had. Watching the miles roll and the open country reveal itself, there seemed to be plenty of land for everyone even now. I could see how those pioneers who wanted the freedom to own their own land and harvest the fruits of their own sweat would feel about another group that tried to prevent them from doing just that. Tecumseh himself, and then the natives to the West, would all soon learn that the white men would come like swarms of locusts and eat up all the lands that sustained them. Both sides felt themselves to be morally right, as is the case in most disputes.

It was a crossroad in history. My grandfather lived it and I witnessed its effects, Even those who won did not win, as rural life would practically be wiped out within a few centuries and the land would be privately held by the richer and more productive among them.

I was at a loss as to what to do next. “Niagara Falls,” I thought to myself. I’ll go there instead.”

That decision turned out to be another story in itself.



Colonel William Whitley, born August 14, 1749, Augusta County, Virginia; died 5 October 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, Ontario, Canada.

William Whitley was a pioneer in Kentucky in the days of Daniel Boone. He was a tall man with light eyes, sandy hair, and a prominent aquiline nose. In the spring of 1775, accompanied by his brother-in-law, George Clark, Whitley made an expedition into the bowels of the Kentucky wilderness, selected a location on the banks of Dick’s River, and returned to Virginia for his family. He had married Esther Fullen sometime around 1770. She was born May 19, 1755, and was six years younger than he. After scouting the location near a branch of the Dix River called Cedar Creek, they returned to Virginia to prepare their families for a permanent relocation. The families left Virginia in November 1775.

At that time they had two small children, three-year-old Elizabeth (1772), and one-year-old Isabella (1774). Esther and the children rode the same horse, Elizabeth being strapped behind and Isabella carried in Esther’s arms. More than once Esther’s horse stumbled on the rugged terrain and the Whitley girls tumbled in a heap to the ground.

Upon their arrival, Whitley planted 10 acres of corn to establish his claim to the land. After the planting, Whitley and his family moved to the safety of the fort of St. Asaph’s (the present-day town of  Stanford, Kentucky), as Kentucky was still the native American’s hunting ground and attacks upon settlers were both frequent and violent.

Most of the trip was made in November of 1775. Rain and snow were encountered often. The trip was quite difficult and took thirty-one days to accomplish. Whitley was one of early Kentucky’s most prominent leaders, taking the lead in subduing the Indians and mapping the frontier. He built the first brick house west of the Allegheny Mountains, a veritable mansion with glass painstakingly hauled by pack horses from Virginia. This feat is all the more remarkable considering it was a time when rude cabins and forts were the norms.

It is curious as to what motivated William to go to Kentucky in 1775. Winds of war were flaming fires in Virginia. The American Revolution was about to begin. Whitley, with his anti-British views, would certainly have fought in the Revolution. Perhaps he feared that the colonists would not win and Kentucky would be a safe haven to raise his family without British interference. Certainly, his courageous exploits as a soldier in Kentucky proved he had no fear of—nor moral objection to—war. Whitley was best known for being an Indian fighter. Politics he left to others. Perhaps he, the son of an Irish immigrant, had no use for the revolutionary politics.

By 1779, Whitley returned had for his family and permanently settled on the land he had claimed years earlier.

Whitley’s home was well-appointed and professionally designed. A handmade hardwood staircase had thirteen steps to symbolize the original colonies. An escape tunnel was dug in the case of Indian attacks. The windows were all set high enough to deter an attacker from climbing inside.

Whitley would scalp many natives during his career as a militia leader and frontiersman. He volunteered for service in George Rogers Clark‘s expedition against Indians in the Northwest Territory when the Ohio Territory was yet a wilderness settled by Native Americans.



Whitley’s last battle was fought when he was sixty-four, during the War of 1812. The Indian confederation, under the leadership of Tecumseh, had joined with the British in a last-ditch effort to stop the ever-expanding white hordes. Whitley, despite his advanced age, answered Governor Shelby’s calls for volunteers, enlisting as a private in Richard Mentor Johnson’s Kentucky Volunteers.

While the main force was deployed to fight the British in lower Ontario, Johnson’s orders were to contain the Indians. Fearing an ambush, he sent out a small unit of twenty men ahead of the main force. This group was called “The Forlorn Hope”. At the head rode Colonel William Whitley. At the first volley, fifteen of the twenty were unhorsed. When the smoke had cleared, both Tecumseh and William Whitley were numbered among the slain.

It is possible, and perhaps it is so, that William Whitley killed Tecumseh at the exact moment that Tecumseh shot him. Some eyewitnesses to the battle claimed that was what happened. However, Richard M. Johnson rode to political fame on the claim that he was the slayer of the great Indian leader. Historians are uncertain, and the deed will be forever muddied in the waters of time. In his 1929 autobiography, Single Handed, James A Drain, Sr. gives a detailed account by Col. Whitley’s granddaughter in which Whitley and Tecumseh killed each other simultaneously.

Whitley was buried near the battleground, in Chatham, Ontario. His horse, Emperor, had one eye and two teeth shot out during the charge. Whitley’s powder horn and rifle were returned to his wife in Kentucky. The rifle is currently on display at the William Whitley House State Historic Site.


The route that was taken by the Kentucky Militia to the battle in Ontario.

Richard Mentor Johnson later became a Kentucky senator and Martin Van Buren’s vice president. He spent much of his career in debt, although he was able to mortgage properties and avoid prison. His constituents were not so lucky. The financial crisis of 1819 especially hurt farmers and many common people were sent to debtors’ prison. Senator Johnson was outraged, and on this day in 1821, he was responsible for outlawing debtors’ prisons in Kentucky, well ahead of the national curve. After Johnson’s 10-year crusade to end debtors’ prison on the national level, Congress enacted a federal statute in 1832. Johnson said in a speech on the Senate floor: “The principle is deemed too dangerous to be tolerated in a free government, to permit a man for any pecuniary consideration, to dispose of the liberty of his equal.” Bankruptcy protection replaced debtors’ prisons.


Sportsman Hill, the first circular racetrack in the United States.

Whitley called his home Sportsman’s Hill. It was there that he built the first circular race track in the United States. He instituted several racing traditions that changed horse racing in the USA forever. He built the first clay track. Tracks had been turf before Whitley. Being solidly anti-British, he ran his races counterclockwise, as it was the British custom to run them clockwise. American race tracks still run counterclockwise.

The William Whitley House still stands near Crab Orchard as a Kentucky State Monument and museum.


William and Esther Whitley had eleven children, all of whom survived to maturity.

1. Elizabeth (Mrs. Robert Stevenson) b Virginia about 1830.

2. Isabella (Mrs. Phillip Sublette), b Virginia about 1774, d Kentucky 
about 1820.

Phillip and Isabella's first born son, William, was the famous mountain 
man and fur trader, Bill Sublette, who rose to fame in the far west and 
has vast sections of Wyoming named for him.

3. Levisa (Mrs. James McKinney), b Harrodsburg, KY Feb 24, 1777. Moved to Missouri.

4. Solomon, b Kentucky 1770, moved to Missouri.

5. William, b Kentucky, Apr 20. 1782, d Lincoln Co., KY Aug 23, 1849.

6. Andrew, b Kentucky 1784, d Lincoln Co. 1844.

7. Esther (Mrs. Samuel Lewis), b 1786, d Woodford County. 1815.

8. Mary (called Polly), (Mrs. James Gilmour), b Kentucky 1788, moved to 
Illinois, later to Colorado and Oregon

9. Nancy (Mrs. John Owlsey), b 1790, d prior to 1820 near Crab Orchard.

10. Sally (Mrs. Henley Middleton), b 1792, d 1845 near Crab Orchard.

11. Ann (Mrs. William Harper), b 1795, d Woodford Co., Ky after 1879.

William Whitley was the son of Solomon Whitley and Elizabeth Barnett, 
immigrants from Ireland, who settled in Augusta County, Virginia. He was the oldest of four sons and is thought to have had five sisters as well.
William Whitley was killed at the Battle of the Thames, Lower Ontario, 
Oct 5, 1813. His wife, Esther died at the home of her daughter, Ann Harper, in Woodford County, Kentucky, Nov 20, 1833

SOURCE: The Draper MS. 9 CC 5, 12-13, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Family Bible of William Whitley, Jr. Filson Club, Louisville, KY.

[My personal connection to this family is through #8, Mary (called Polly).She married  James Gilmour, b Kentucky 1788, moved to Illinois, later to Colorado and Oregon. Polly’s son, William Whitley Gilmour was the father of Hedron Walker Gilmour, my grandfather on my mother’s side. The famed mountain man William Sublette was also a grandson of William Whitley.]

The home went through many changes over the years before the State of Kentucky took possession and restored it as a museum and historical park.

images-1    images-2




by Kenneth Harper Finton (Photos by the author)


An hour from my Colorado home another world of exists, a wilderness of tundra, alpine forests, and the twisted trunks and branches of the bristlecone pines. Mount Evans, at a measured high of 14,271 feet, is the highest summit of the Chicago Peaks in the Front Range a few miles from Denver, Colorado. It is the highest paved road in North America, visited by many thousands of tourists between Memorial Day and Labor Day, closed to traffic the rest of the year because of the extreme elevation. This is a world where where summer is unknown and snow can fall any day of the year.


In Colorado, every thousand feet gained in height is like traveling 600 miles further north. Driving the road to the summit is like going through Canada to Nome, Alaska. The landscape and weather is like the most Northern parts of the North American Continent. The forty-five minute drive to the summit compresses distance. It is like driving from Denver to the Arctic Circle.




The alpine tundra is one of the harshest environments for life on the planet. It is consistently bombarded by intense sunlight  and buffeted by high winds. Flowers do bloom during the short spring season, but the leaves contain an anti-freeze-like pigment that converts sunlight to heat called anthocyanin.


Predators like mountain lions are found anywhere on the mountain. Black bears tend to stay below tree line. Bighorn sheep and herds of mountain goats roam the mountain at will, retreating to lower elevations when the weather is very bad.






The highest astronomical observatory in North America is at the summit. The Crest House Restaurant was built on the early 1940’s but burned down in 1979. The stone wall remains have been turned into a place of observation and contemplation today. The rock foundation and walls remain as a windbreak for mountain travelers, and the viewing platform is one of Colorado’s premier scenic overlooks.




It is just a day trip to the top of The Mount Evans Scenic Highway from Denver. The journey snakes and climbs through nearly 9,000 feet of elevation gain, from the high plains of Denver through five climate zones to the summit of Mount Evans, one of 54 peaks in Colorado that soar to 14,000 feet and above – the famous Colorado “fourteeners.”


face in rock


When traveling in a car it is easy to forget that you are in one of the most inhospitable areas in Colorado. Average temperatures in the summer are around 42 degrees. The sun is capable of burning the skin badly and the winds can be strong enough to blow you off the peak.




Book Store

Photo by Ken Finton -October 2004, Paris



This ramshackle bookstore in Paris has kept the beat of history. 

The store was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris until World War II.  Writers and artists of the “Lost Generation,” including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil and Man Ray, among others, spent a great deal of time there. The shop was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” by James Joyce, who used it as his office.

Shakespeare and Company is the name of two independent bookstores that have existed on Paris’s Left BankSOURCE: 

The first was opened by Sylvia Beach on November 19, 1919, at 8 rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises at 12 rue de l’Odéon in the 6th arrondissement in 1922.[1] During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring young writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.[1] It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.[2] 



Sylvia Beach at the original Paris store

The second is situated at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement. Opened in 1951 by George Whitman, it was originally named “Le Mistral”, but was renamed to “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach’s store.[3] Today, it serves both as a regular bookstore, a second-hand books store, and as a reading library, specializing in English-language literature.[4] The shop has become a popular tourist attraction,[4][5] and was featured in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset, and in Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris.[6]

Sylvia Beach, the founder, was an American expatriate from New Jersey. She established Shakespeare and Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore.[7] In 1921, Beach moved it to a larger location at 12 rue de l’Odéon, where it remained until 1940.[1] During this period, the store was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers and artists of the “Lost Generation,” including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil and Man Ray, among others, spent a great deal of time there, and the shop was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” by James Joyce, who used it as his office.[8]

The books sold were considered high quality, reflected from Beach’s own taste. Hemingway mentions and writes about the denizens found about the store in A Moveable Feast.

Patrons could buy or borrow books like D. H. Lawrence’s controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which had been banned in Britain and the United States.

Beach published Joyce’s controversial book Ulysses in 1922. It, too, was banned in the United States and Britain. Later editions were also published under the Shakespeare and Company imprint.[9] She also encouraged the publication in 1923, and sold copies of Hemingway’s first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems.[10]


Interior of original store

The original Shakespeare and Company closed on 14 June 1940, during the German occupation of France in World War II.[2] It has been suggested that it may have been ordered shut because Beach denied a German officer the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.[11] When the war ended, Hemingway “personally liberated” the store, but it never re-opened.[12]

George Whitman’s Bookstore

In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened on Paris’s Left Bank by American ex-serviceman George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Its premises, the site of a 16th-century monastery,[13] are at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, near Place Saint-Michel, just steps from the Seine, Notre Dame and the Île de la Cité.[13] Much like Shakespeare and Company, the store became the focal point of literary culture in bohemian Paris, and was frequented by many Beat Generation writers including Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs.[13] Whitman modeled his shop after Sylvia Beach’s and, in 1958 while dining with George, she publicly  announced that she was handing the name to him for his bookshop.[14]

In 1964, after Sylvia Beach’s death, Whitman renamed his store “Shakespeare and Company” in tribute to the original, describing the name as “a novel in three words”.[3] He called the venture “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”.[15] Customers have included the likes of Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, and Richard Wright. The bookstore has sleeping facilities and Whitman claimed that as many as 40,000 people have slept there over the years.[15]


whitman's store

Store exterior in 1950s

From 1978-1981, a group of American and Canadian expatriates ran a literary journal out of the upstairs library, called Paris Voices. The journal published young writers such as Welsh poet Tony Curtis and Irish playwright and novelist Sebastian Barry. The editor-in-chief was Kenneth R. Timmerman and the editorial team included Canadian Antanas Sileika, among others. Timmerman became a novelist and political writer in the USA and Sileika a Canadian novelist. The journal hosted readings that attracted aspiring literary travelers as well as a scattering of voices from the past such as Beat poet Ted Joans and journalist Jack Belden.


George Whitman at his store

Awarded the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006, one of France’s highest cultural honors,[16] George Whitman died at the age of 98 on 14 December 2011.[17] His daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, named after Sylvia Beach, joined him at the bookstore in 2006 after living for 10 years in London and Edinburgh with her mother. She began revamping the store and the rooms for writers. The marketing plan included sponsored events along with university students invited as writer-in-residence.[16] She now runs the store in the same manner as her father, allowing young writers to live and work there.[18] Regular activities are Sunday tea, poetry readings and writers’ meetings.[18] In 2008 she founded FestivalandCo, a literary festival held biennially at the shop and which has hosted Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jeanette Winterson, Jung Chang and Marjane Satrapi.[19][18] She appeared in the Paris episodes of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson which aired on 1 August 2011.[4][20][21]

The bookstore was a sanctuary for some twenty of its customers during the November 2015 Paris attacks.[22][23]

The four Shakespeare and Company bookstores in New York City, which opened starting in 1981, are not affiliated with the Paris store.





by Kate McBride

May 20, 2012



Sylvia Beach Whitman after taking over her father’s store in 2011.


The view from the front window of the ramshackle bookstore looks out past a few trees to the river Seine and beyond to Notre Dame, towering high on the Ile de la Cité. No. 37 rue de la Bûcherie is home to Shakespeare & Company, a Parisian writers’ and readers’ institution whose longtime owner, American-born George Whitman, lived in a third-floor apartment above the shop until his death last December. Before George, the neighborhood, one of the oldest in Paris, was occupied by a monaster

According to George, the name and the spirit of Shakespeare & Company were given to him in 1958 by Sylvia Beach, the owner of the original Paris bookstore of that name. Opened in 1919, Beach’s store moved to 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1921, where it became the center of Anglo-American literary life in Paris, a favorite haunt of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and many others. Forced to close the store during World War II, Beach never reopened it.

Several years later Beach announced she would pass on the name (and spirit) during a reading by Lawrence Durrell at the bookstore George Whitman had opened in 1951, at the time called Le Mistral.

Beach and Whitman shared a belief in operating their businesses as lending libraries as well as retail bookshops, providing a place for authors and poets to congregate and present their work, and even a place for them to sleep and eat. Beach died in 1962. According to Whitman, in her will she left a number of books from her private collection to him, and the legal rights to the name Shakespeare & Company. When his only daughter was born in 1981, Whitman named her Sylvia Beach Whitman—when you meet Sylvia Beach II today, it feels as though nothing has changed within the literary landscape of Paris.

Whitman was married once, briefly, to Sylvia’s mother, Felicity Leng. Sylvia grew up mostly in England, and attended University College London. Almost ten years ago, at the age of 22, she assumed management of her father’s business and revitalized what had become an endangered institution.

According to George, in anticipation of his death, developers were trying to buy every apartment they could in the bookstore’s building. Their intention was to turn the building into condominium apartments that could boast a view of Notre Dame. Sylvia Whitman now owns the bookstore space and several other apartments in the building, including the one on the third floor. She purchased another space next door in 2009 and, rumor has it, a café may open there. The developers are in retreat for the moment.

My photographer husband James and I were newcomers to Whitman’s Shakespeare & Company on our first visit in the winter of 2003. James asked George about the possibility of shooting his portrait but, said George, the timing wasn’t right—he was busy tending the till. On subsequent visits, he was either asleep, grumpy or out somewhere. In February of 2007 we happened to see him leaning out the third-floor window, looking across at Notre Dame. James took a quick snap to record the lucky moment and tried to satisfy his desire to photograph George by shooting other inhabitants of the bookstore including Jonathan, a brainy young kid from Ireland who would soon be on his way to study at Oxford after living at “S & Co” for a time.

Hotel Tumbleweed

People still live at the store today. Moments after closing time at 11 pm, the residents move piles of books aside and sleep on makeshift beds that double as book display platforms during the day. Under Sylvia’s management, the tradition continues at the “Hotel Tumbleweed”, George’s nickname for the overnight operations.

The general rule is that you are allowed to sleep in the store if you are a writer, though we understood from George that he sometimes stretched the term to include musicians, artists and young women. The first step toward entry was to show George your manuscript, write a short autobiography and, if he approved, you were in rent-free, in exchange for working the check-out desk, re-shelving books, cleaning and errand-running.

When we first met Sylvia, she told us she was intent on keeping the eclectically cluttered place intact, except for some welcome changes including regular cleaning, the opening of the normally closed “collectibles” branch next door and the installation of a cash register to replace the disconcerting rounding off that occurred due to sales being tallied in someone’s head. (To note, the rounding off was always down to keep customers happy.) Today paying with a credit card is perfectly acceptable. Sylvia also reluctantly gave in to the city’s mandate to replace the rickety staircase that led to the second floor lending library and children’s area with one that met city building codes.

A Moses Moment

On a visit to Paris in 2008, James and I made our usual stop at S & Co to get the weather report on George. Shooting a portrait that morning was a no-go, but Sylvia suggested we try coming back after lunch. We returned around 2:30, with our young friend Josh along to help, just in time to see Sylvia leading George into the stairwell for his daily journey up the three winding flights. When she returned to the store, James asked her what she thought about the possibility of taking some pictures, and she said, “Sure, give it a try, the door’s open, just go on in”.

James was reluctant to open George’s door when he didn’t answer to our knock, but in we went, introducing ourselves. George responded by asking James “Have I read you?”, making the assumption he was a writer. James said “No, but I’d like to shoot you”. George rose to his feet from his small bench-like perch, where he was working on a plate of leftover chicken kept warm by a metal-can contraption placed over a Bunsen burner. He proclaimed in a commanding voice: “OK, let’s get it over with! Should I change?” He was wearing a baggy pair of pajamas. We agreed that, “No, it’s not necessary,” and helped George settle in at the front window alcove, where a small table and two chairs neatly fit.

George seemed happy to be having his photo taken, gazing out the window toward Notre Dame, chin held high, looking like Moses with his electrified hair and deep grooves in his face. We almost expected him to bellow out the Ten Commandments—although, we imagined, George might sport his own unique version, including “Read a book a day”. Minutes into the shoot he generously told us, “You can sleep here if you want”. Later, Jemma, one of the bookstore attendants we’d come to know, said she thought he was probably speaking only to me, not James and Josh.

I considered my chance to sleep in the bed where, George claimed, “the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti sleeps when he visits every year”. I asked George if Larry Ferly (as Julia Child claimed he was called when she met him in 1948) was planning a trip over any day soon. “Yes, next month,” he said. “We’re having a contest to see who can outlive the other and I’m winning.”

Twinkling eye

George was five years older than Ferlinghetti. The two nurtured a number of connections between their respective bookstores. Ferlinghetti’s City Lights in San Francisco opened in 1953, two years after S & Co. At the time, S & Co was still Le Mistral, named, said George, in honor of “the first girl I ever fell in love with”, whom he met shortly after he arrived in Paris in 1948 to study at the Sorbonne on the G.I. Bill. A book series published by Ferlinghetti’s City Lights is carried at S & Co, and the staff at both refer to themselves as “sister bookstores”. Ginsberg and other beat poets performed often at S & Co starting in the early 1960s. Not long ago, Ferlinghetti read from a new collection of his work to a standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into the street.

With the portrait of George in the can and the light fading, we sensed his energy for the camera was exhausted so we packed up and left, promising to come back soon. Downstairs, Sylvia seemed happy that it had finally worked out. We asked about her plans for the bookstore and she told us she intended to turn her attention to publishing, once the computer system was running smoothly and the inventory completed. We bought a first UK hardcover edition of James Thurber’s Further Fables For Our Time from the collectibles section.

Subsequent shoots found George more and more often confined to his apartment but still spirited in conversation. On one visit, we brought our daughter Madison and her friend Nettika. Living up to his reputation, George was immediately drawn to the young women. In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent he was once quoted as saying, “I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel. And the girls who come in here are coming into a novel.” George informed us with a twinkle in his eye, that “the day I turn 100, I’m retiring”.

Remarkably, George almost made it to age 100, falling just two years short when he died on December 14, 2011, two days after his 98th birthday. He spent his last days at home, surrounded by photos of his friends, with his black dog Colette and his white cat Kitty by his side. Regal in exquisite deep purple silk pajamas, he sat propped up against red and lavender pillows covered by a paisley quilt, with his daughter close by providing all the happiness he could want. She read to him daily, satisfying his voracious desire to read “a book a day”—a recommendation he made to all the inhabitants of Hotel Tumbleweed. From his third floor retreat, George could listen to the voices of new authors reading their works, musicians playing their original music and the bells of Notre Dame wafting in. He is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery.

Under Sylvia, Shakespeare & Company’s renaissance is now in full swing. Readings, workshops and music events are regularly scheduled. She’s launched S & Co’s Paris Literary Prize, a €10,000 award for a novella by an unpublished author. And since 2003, four glittering festivals have begun to attract galaxies of international literary stars back to Shakespeare’s little shop on the Seine.

37 rue de la Bûcherie, 5th, 


Turning the Page was originally published in the April 2012 issue of France Today


by Kenneth Harper Finton IMG_2186 I am counting my blessings today, one of which is the ability to walk around a nearby lake that is also a bird preserve. The lake is called Berkeley Lake. It lies right off I70 in Denver, just before disappearing into the great Rocky Mountains.  Not only do I get needed daily exercise, but I make some ‘fine feathered friends” along the way …  not so much close friends, but acquaintances that help to brighten the day. joggermom-1 Meeting the other folk that are out to enjoy the day can be as important as the walk, as walkers abound at all times of the day, from wheelchair bound folk carrying oxygen to young mothers jogging with fat-wheeled baby carriages to take off the baby fat. When I was a child, baby carriages had thin rubber wheels and were pushed by sedate women with long summer dresses whose major purpose was to do some shopping or get the child outdoors. These days, healthy young women jog down the manicured sidewalks by the dozens, far outpacing my plodding and deliberate steps.IMG_2062

Regular hikers at our lake include Harry, a white-bearded, fit man who has lived in the neighborhood since childhood and walks around the lake four or five times every day.  He knows all about the birds, the eagles that nest there and the history of the lake since the early 1920s.

One of m170px-1_Wild_Turkeyy precious possessions that were handed down from my parents was my father’s copy of Audubon’s Birds of America. My mother bought the great volume of paintings for my father for Christmas in 1942, three months after I was born. I often wondered how she afforded it, as she was living on her own while my father was drafted and serving in the army during World War II.  I have used is for years to help identify birds that I come across, though many of these species are now rare or extinct. I have always been entranced with his paintings of birds and vividly remember the pictures of scary vultures and condors that so impressed me as a child. https://kennethharperfinton.me/2015/04/26/john-james-audubon/


The lake has attracted many species of ducks and geese since the City of Denver drained and remodeled it a few years back.  One bird friend has become quite close this spring. I did not know the name of the bird and dubbed it a long-neck goose. Shades of Chantilly Lace, I am sure. For weeks he stood guard over his next on top of a nearby tree. He seemed to be in his tree every time we walked the lake for many weeks.IMG_2199 I learned that the bird was a double-crested cormorant. Cormorants and Shags are medium to large seabirds that are found all over the world. Their ancestors were fresh water birds. Though their feet are webbed, they can perch high in trees. They are related to pelicans. Cormorants are diving birds that can dive to as much as 45 meters in search of fish and eels and water snakes. After their dives, they spread their wings to dry, as their feathers are not as waterproof as a duck of a goose. They have an ungainly hooked beak and have been at war with fishermen for centuries, as they compete for the fish in the area.


IMG_2077 - Version 2

One of the more impressive and lesser known ducks is the secretive Hooded Merganser. “Hooded” is an understatement for this little duck, also called a Crested Merganser. Adult males are beautiful with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females have their own distinctive elegance drawn from their from their cinnamon crest.

In the winter, the birds nest in holes left in trees like squirrels, but they move to fresh water lakes in the spring and summer while they hatch their broods.

Hooded Mergansers are fairly common in Colorado on small ponds and rivers. They dive for fish, crayfish and other food, seizing it with their thin, serrated bills.

Though they nest in tree cavities, the ducklings leave the nest with a precocious leap to the forest floor when they are only one-day old. Hooded Mergansers are the smallest of the three Merganser species found in the United States.

Males and females of the Hooded Merganser live in monogamous pairs. They remain together until the female has selected a nesting place and completed the laying her clutch. After that, the male leaves the female to incubate and care for the brood. Females will actively seek out cavities in dead trees or artificial nest boxes such as those provided for wood ducks.They prefer cavities four to fifteen feet off the ground. Breeding occurs anytime between the end of February and the end of June, depending on the region.

The female will lay a clutch of seven to fifteen eggs but only begins incubation when the last egg has been laid. This insures synchronous hatching, so all the ducklings are consequently the same size. This evolutionary trait facilitates efficient parental care. During incubation, the female may lose anywhere from 8% to 16% of her body weight.

Like most waterfowl, Hooded Merganser hatchlings are precocial. They usually leave the nest within twenty-four hours after they hatch. Once they leave the nest, the young are immediately capable of diving and foraging, but they often remain with the female for warmth and protection The Mergansers are descended from a species of ancient ducks from the Late Pleistocene era. The exact relationship between the ancient birds and the modern species is unknown.


Since 1960, Colorado is also home to the American White Pelican, a huge, lovely bird with black feathers on the tip of their IMG_2167wings and a nine-foot wingspread.  They are also found at Berkeley Lake. If you have never seen a White Pelican, you will be amazed when you finally see one. They fly like gliders in formation and land with a precision that would make the Air Force proud.  Most of them die before leaving the nest, but if they survive that first year they can have a twenty year life span. They now breed in Colorado in the spring and summer and move to the southern coasts when winter comes.


IMG_2139 Mallards are plentiful in local lakes. They are dabbling ducks that do not dive, but stand on their heads, butts in the air, to nibble on water plants, insects and roots.Version 2 The males have a glossy green head, a ring of white feathers on the neck and gray areas on the wings. They males are called Drakes. The females have brown-speckled plumage. They form pairs in the fall that lasts until the female lays the eggs in the spring. Then the male often leaves and forms bonds with other males and lets the female raise the brood until the molting season in June.

Mallards are gregarious birds that love to flock together in groups called ‘sords’. The male will forcibly mate with other females, especially if she has lost her mate. Male Mallards remain sexually potent most of the year. When they pair off with mating partners, often one or several drakes are left out. This lonely group of adolescent ducks sometimes targets an isolated female duck, even if she is of a different species, then they chase and peck at her until she weakens. At this point the males take turns copulating with the female.

On 5 June 1995 an adult male Mallard collided with the glass façade of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam and died. Another drake Mallard raped the corpse almost continuously for seventy-five minutes. The author of a paper on this occurrence disturbed the scene and secured the dead duck. Dissection showed that the rape victim was of the male sex. It is concluded that the Mallards were engaged in an ‘Attempted Rape Flight’ that resulted in the first described case of homosexual necrophilia in the Mallard.

Mallards are the ancestors to most domestic ducks.

Version 2


Coots are plentiful at our lake. The American coot is also known as a mud hen. Though commonly thought to be ducks, American Coots belong to a distinct order called Rallidae. Coots do not have the webbed feet of ducks, but sport broad, lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back with each step to facilitate walking on dry land. Groups of coots are called covers or rafts.

The oldest known coot lived to be 22 years old.

The American Coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. It lives in the Pacific and southwestern United States and Mexico year-round and occupies more northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama.

The Coot mating season occurs during May and June if they have enough territory. Coots are monogamous throughout their life. The American Coot typically has long courtship periods. This courtship period is characterized by billing, bowing, and nibbling. Billing is the touching of bills between the male and females. Males generally initiate the billing. As the pair bond becomes more evident, both males and females will initiate billing only with each other and not other males or females.

After a pair bond is decided, the mating pair looks for a territory to build a nest. A pair bond becomes permanent when a nesting territory is secured. First the male chases the female. Then, the female moves to the display platform and squats with her head under the water. The male then mounts the female, using his claws and wings to balance on the female’s back while the she brings her head above the water. Sex for the coot usually takes no longer than two seconds, thus the expression, “You old Coot.”

IMG_2149Coots generally build floating nests. The female lays 8–12 eggs per clutch. Females and males have similar appearances, but they can be distinguished during aggressive displays by the larger head plumage on the male. 

American Voots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but also animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.

The American Coot has a mixed reproductive strategy. The female practices a form of brood parasitism, a common alternative reproductive method in some birds. When a parasitic female lays her egg in a host female’s nest, the host female lays about two eggs per day. Host females may recognize parasitic eggs when the egg deposition pattern deviates from the traditional one egg per day pattern. The occurrence of brood parasitism may be influenced by the body size of the potential parasitic female relative to the potential host female. Parasitic females are generally larger than their host counterparts, but on average, there is no size difference between the parasite and the host.

The American Coot, unlike other parasitized species, has the ability to recognize and reject conspecific parasitic chicks from their brood. Parents aggressively reject parasite chicks by pecking them vigorously, drowning them or preventing them from entering the nest. They learn to recognize their own chicks by imprinting on cues from the first chick that hatches. The first-hatched chick is a reference to which parents discriminate between later-hatched chicks. Chicks that do not match the imprinted cues are then recognized as parasite chicks and are rejected. Hunters generally avoid killing American Coots because their meat is not as sought after as that of ducks.

Much research has been done on the breeding habits of American coots.


IMG_2085 - Version 2

Non-migratory Canadian Goose populations are on the rise. They are a species that is frequently found on golf courses, in parking lots and urban parks. Owing to its adaptability to human-altered areas, it has become the most common waterfowl species in North America. In many areas Canadian Geese are now regarded as pests by humans. They pollute beaches and leave their staining feces in many an unwelcome place. An extended hunting season, deploying noise makers, and hazing by dogs have been used in an attempt to disrupt flocks.

The Canadian goose is a large, wild species with a black head and neck, white patches on the face. It has a brown body and beautiful markings. It was originally a native to the arctic and temperate regions of the far north, but through migration it has reached into northern Europe as well.  Like most geese, the Canadian goose is primarily herbivorous and normally migratory; it tends to be found on or close to fresh water.

These birds are extremely successful at living in areas that humans have altered greatly. Because Canadian geese have been able to establish breeding colonies in urban and cultivated areas, which provide food and few natural predators, they are well known as a common park species. Their success has led to them being considered a pests. Their destruction of crops, their constant honking noise, their copious droppings and aggressive territorial behavior – along with their and their nasty habit of begging for food –  has made them unwelcome in many areas.

Canada geese are also among the most commonly hunted waterfowl in North America.

By the early 20th century, over-hunting and loss of habitat in the late 19th century and early 20th century had resulted in a serious decline in the numbers of this bird in its native range. The giant Canadian Goose subspecies was believed to be extinct in the 1950s, In 1962, a small flock was discovered wintering in Rochester, Minnesota by Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

During the second year of their lives, Canada geese find a mate. They are monogamous. Most couples stay together all of their lives. If one dies, the other may find a new mate. The female lays from two to nine eggs with an average of five per clutch. Both parents protect the nest while the eggs incubate, but the female spends more time at the nest than the male.

Two years ago, I knew little about ducks and geese. With camera in hand and a love of nature in my heart, I began to gain a new appreciation of the birds that populate our world. According to some estimates, there are about ten thousand different species of birds on Earth presently. Total populations for birds number about two to four hundred billion birds living today, excluding domestic chickens and turkeys.

This is much less than in past ages. We have lost about 500 species since 1500 and 129 known species have become extinct.  This is bad news for the planet, as birds help to pollinate crops and destroy pests. Scavenger birds clean uop the landscape and help with the decomposition of organic materials. Their decline even helps diseases to spread in human populations.

Estimates are that there are ten billion birds in the United States in the spring and twenty billion in the fall.

Winter and hunters kill about ten billion birds in the United States per year.

The American Bird Conservancy estimates that cats kill around two hundred million birds per year in the US alone.




The book by Robert James Waller and the movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Steep has turned the sleepy Iowa town of Winterset, Iowa into a year-round attraction.


Even before the book was written, the town prided itself on being the birthplace and home of John Wayne. An entire block is now devoted to his memory and one of the main streets has been renamed John Wayne Boulevard.


People come to see the bridges, but they are really interested in the fictional romance dreamed up by Waller and played exquisitely by Eastwood and Streep. The same women that would condemn their neighbor’s infidelity and shoot their husbands for staring at a young woman come in droves to worship at the spot where Francesca and the cuckolding Robert Kincaid fell into a romantic swoon and gave an added meaning to their lonely lives by finding love on a hot summer day.


Francesca is a woman who holds strong to the country values of keeping her family together. She meets the masculine, free-spirited Kincaid. He is a photographer for National Geographic whose assignment is to photograph the covered bridges. Unable to locate these bridges, he stops at the farm where Francesca lives. Her husband and two children were away at the state fair for a week. After guiding Kincaid to a nearby bridge, she invites him in for ice tea. Within a day, they shed their clothes and inhibitions to commence a four-day romance that the two will never forget. It all feels so natural and so right as they talk of things that Madison County people never talk about. Reality melts in the summer heat and their instant infatuation blooms into a deep love as fast as the quick brown fox can jump over the slow lazy dog.


It is understandable that Kincaid had trouble finding the bridges. They are located miles apart and all over the county––down winding gravel roads that leave a white coat of limey dust over all surfaces. Madison County is still a pictorial vision of the 1960s yet today. The rolling hills, the gravel country roads, the semi-pristine hardwood forests salute the past, as do the well-kept farms still owned by individual farmers.


The story of their romance had a bittersweet ending. After four days, Francesca decides that she will end the affair and stay with her husband and family. It is raining as she drives away with her husband in the pickup. When they pull up behind Kincaid’s truck, it is all she can do not to bolt from the truck and run off to a new life of unimagined adventures. After some years, Kincaid dies and sends his ashes and prized possessions back to Francesca, who keeps them hidden from everyone. They are not found by the family until Francesca herself passes on. The two children, now adults, are made aware of the passionate affair and have to deal with it in their own way.

The people who visit these bridges leave their marks behind them. They too search for romance. Lonely teens call out publicly for sex. Couples leave their calling cards on the timbers and the painted boards at the bridge entries.


love messages

The bridges have been maintained and rebuilt in the 1990s. The rustic work of long-dead carpenters can still be admired and written on by passers-by through the age. The bridges of Madison County still stand as a testimony to the artful lives of rural America in the 19th century. The story of the romance between Francesca and Kincaid also represents a change in American values. These tourists who come to visit do not condemn them. There is no scarlet letter “A” written on Francesca’s memory, Though the story is fiction, the romance is as real in the minds of the visitors as the bridges that brought them together. People do understand and relate to one another. Compassion has not died out completely. People still believe in the power of love to transform.