You came to the Park Service, as I understand, in 1946 to the Chicago office. Would you describe what it was like to work in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago in 1946?
Well, it was really a great experience. And as a matter of fact, I think the commercial culture of the Merchandise Mart spilled into the government operations of the Park Service, not to affect its process or procedures, but to make it conscious of a larger world that you were a part of rather than just being a government employee. So I enjoyed my time in the Merchandise Mart very much indeed.
What are your recollections of the National Park Service director at the time, Newton Drury? Any thoughts on his leadership, his personality?
Newton Drury was a shy, introverted man, but a brilliant man and a deep thinker, who had tremendous visions and hopes, many of which, through his tenacity and his assembly of friends, he was able to implement successfully, such as the Save the Redwoods League in California. Most of the Redwood National Park, state parks, and national parks in California, owed their being to Newton Drury and his commitment to saving those redwoods. He was a very even-tempered man. I found him a delight to work with and as a young lawyer I was always awed when I was called into his presence and he frequently did that. He would have subordinate staff come into his office to discuss things with him, always in the company, of course, of Jack [Jackson E.] Price, the chief counsel, who was a great friend of Drury’s. They had a great rapport. I thought that Drury had a great commitment to the National Park Service.
I [will] tell the story about a leaning redwood in Giant Forest [in Sequoia National Park]. The owner of the concession [in the park] was Howard Hayes, a great figure in the history of parks, who owned the Riverside Press, the morning and afternoon newspaper in Riverside, California. He built the first cabins in Yellowstone National Park as a young man and then headed the See America First campaign during World War I. And then he got what the doctors considered to be terminal tuberculosis. He had to sell out his Yellowstone operation and went to California presumably to die, and he was bedridden for a year in California. And when they took him back in the hospital they could find no evidence of tuberculosis at all, so he began his life again as an entrepreneur. He started, at Stephen Mather’s suggestion, with a concession in Sequoia National Park, and then went on later to own the transportation concession at Glacier National Park. He was a wonderful person. I considered him to be one of my mentors, because he was of that breadth of influence and personality.
This tree was leaning over about seven or eight of Howard Hayes’s cabins. And Eivind Scoyen, who later became associate director, a legendary figure in the Park Service, was the superintendent at Sequoia and nobody could cut a redwood tree without the director’s concurrence. We were having this superintendents’ conference in Yosemite. This would have been in 1950. After that conference this team of Drury and Howard Hayes and Eivind Scoyen were to go back and look at this redwood tree.
Because of a great tragedy in the Park Service—the chief of concessions, Oliver G. Taylor, had climbed a tree in his backyard to trim a limb, had a heart attack, and fell out of the tree dead—I had just been detailed over to concessions as a young lawyer to help out. The director designated me as acting chief of concessions, so that’s why I was at the superintendents’ conference, to represent the concessions program in the Park Service. Mr. Drury said to me, “Why don’t you come down to Sequoia with me and look at this redwood tree?”
I had the experience of looking at three men whom I greatly admired in a very difficult situation. To see their interaction was an experience I can never forget, because the four of us assembled at this redwood tree. Those redwoods historically can lean for years without falling, but also they can in one storm topple, even if they’re standing straight, because they have a shallow root system. That tree was leaning in such a way that if it fell it was going to take out eight cabins, and if they were occupied, it was going to be a catastrophic loss of life. If they were not occupied, it was going to be nothing but eight wooden cabins destroyed in Giant Forest; … from the conservation standpoint it would have been the right thing to … get rid of them.
So round and round this redwood tree the four of us walked. Nobody said a word. And you cannot imagine the tension that built every time this group of four circled this tree. And why they kept circling the tree instead of stopping and talking was something I never did understand. But they continued to circle this tree and finally Newton Drury stopped and turned to them and he said, “Howard, my first responsibility is to the tree.” With that Howard Hayes exploded. He said, “My first responsibility is to the occupants of eight cabins, and if that tree were to fall on them, I would plaster this meeting across the front page of my newspaper.” This was the most absurd thing. Two guys I had the utmost respect and admiration and esteem for were really going at each other. Well, Eivind Scoyen spoke up and he said, “Mr. Director, why don’t you let me talk with Howard about this matter?” Drury turned and he said, “I think that is a great idea.” With that, the group dispersed and Mr. Drury and I came back to Washington. Of course, we cut the tree down. And that was a remarkable experience that I had.
W.E.– My definition of the Park Service is an organization in which, if a name is mentioned, a story is bound to follow and it’s often long. But it’s full of interesting characters who have stories to tell.
Would the same be true today, do you think?
W.E.– That’s a good point and it is not as true. I don’t think there are as many characters as there used to be, because it’s a bureaucracy now, I guess it has to be, and so individuals don’t play such an important role as they used to.