Burnhan Holmes, Class of 1960

"Kewpie of the Month" October 2002

Here is a list of books written by Burnhan Holmes, Class of 1960.  The list is followed by a few words from Burnham about the books and himself.

  Nefertiti: The Queen of Mystery
  The World's First Baseball Game
  The First Seeing-Eye Dogs
  The Mysterious Ghosts of Flight 401
  Basic Training: A Portrait of Today's Army
  Early Morning Rounds: A Portrait of a Hospital
  The Fifth Amendment
  The Third Amendment
  George Eastman
  Cesar Chavez: Farm Worker Activist
  Paul Robeson: A Voice of Struggle
  Yogi, Babe, and Magic: The Complete Book of Sports
  Nicknames (with Louis Phillips)
  The TV Almanac (with Louis Phillips)


  The first eleven books are for young adults; the last two are adult trade books.


  The first book I wrote was in 1978, Nefertiti: The Queen of Mystery.  The fun of doing this book was
  going to the library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and putting on gloves to handle all those old
  manuscripts and artwork.  My biggest problem was how to present the information.  It finally dawned on me
  that the best way was to let Nefertiti tell her own story.
  To research the first baseball game I went to the Spaulding division of the New York Public Library
  and examined the scorebook from the 1843 game at Elysium Field in New Jersey.  With that information
  and what Alexander Cartwright developed as rules, I recreated the game as I was listening to a Mets game
  on the radio.
  I had always loved watching seeing-eye dogs on the subway.  When I got a chance to go to the school in
  Morristown, N.J., I found out about the origins of seeing-eye dogs.  I also marveled at those shepherds and
  labs using their keen judment to maneuver around overhangs that would hit their handlers in the head.
  The Flight 401 book was a spin-off from a popular book at that time.  I wrote it in the bathroom of my
  brothers house on a visit to Wisconsin.
  I had never written about my two years in the army, so the book about basic training gave me a chance to
  think about that.  I had originally wanted to go through basic training again, but the army wouldn't let me do that.
  On weekends I would get some inside information at the bowling alley, buying cadets beer to interview them, until
  the MPs picked me up.  The general at Fort Dix who had given me permission to do the book had to come rescue me.
  I stuck to the officers' club after that.
  I had been in pre-med at the University of Missouri until my junior year when I struggled through
  comparative anatomy, physics, and chemistry.  Living with a group of interns at Roosevelt-St. Luke's
  Hospital in New York finally put to rest any lingering remorse I had about not being a doctor.
  It ended any Tom Dooley-Albert Schweitzer idealism I had left in me.
  Before writing about the Fifth Amendment the only thing I had ever known about it was how our
  classmate, Ken Lay, recently used it.   But this amendment is so much more complex and far reaching.
  Writing about it for the American Heritage History of the Bill of Rights series made me a real fan of
  this amendment.  It also satisfied any desire I might have for being a lawyer.
  I also ended up doing a book for American Heritage about the Third Amendment.  This historical
  amendment gave me a chance for some great talks with my dad about the Revolutionary War period.  (Dad
  died in '96 at the age of 91.  He was a wonderful man to the end.)
  I had always liked photography since admiring an Argus camera on summer nights at a store in Columbia
  and finally buying a Kodak before going to Europe in '61.  When I got a chance to write about George
  Eastman, I snapped it up.
  I had met Cesar Chavez at a candlelight vigil in a Safeway parking lot in San Fernando Valley in
  California in 1962 with my sister.  It was fun to write about this man I had met.  After turning in
  the manuscript, Chavez died.  So I had to quickly change the endin of the book and think about his
  lasting importance.
  I grew up around nicknames.  Everyone in Mom's family had one, so I guess it was natural that our
  family did, too.  Imogene was Biffie; Ken was Peter Rabbit; Genie was Genie Bug; George was Lonesome
  George; and I was Burney.  (Kay, you asked me where Burnham came from.  My mother's maiden name was
  Imogene Burnham Leitner and she received it from a relative, Royal Burnham, who was a captain in the
  Confederacy.)  So, it was almost natural to do a book about sports nicknames.
  Doing a book about television is the sign of a misspent youth.  We didn't get our Zenith until I
  was in seventh grade, but I made up for lost time quickly.  I can still remember being spellbound by
  Peter Gun:  the suave Craig Stevens, the craigy Herschel Bernardi, the sensuous Lola Albright, and
  the lush overlay of Henry Mancini music throughout.  It seems to me that Bob Bryan and Nancy Heinberg
  were Peter Gun fan, too.
  I had seen Paul Robeson in concert, though I can't remember where or when, and for years I could never figure out
  if he was alive or not.  Writing about him was a way to get in touch with this larger than life figure--athlete, singer, actor,
  activist--and to pay homage to my two years working as an assistant to Toni Morrison at Random House.  (I had
  photocopied Toni's The Bluest Eye as this future Nobel Laureate was writing it.)
  The Complete Book of Sports Nicknames was a new edition of Yogi, Babe, and Magic.   This was a
  difficult project because Vicki was weakening with breast cancer.  I tried to spend every moment with
  Vicki.  Since her death in March of 1998 I have spent as much time as possible with our son, Ken.
  Ken's path (he is now fourteen) is theater and writing.  This has given me permission to get involved in theater, too.  I
  took him to an audition in '95 for Coastal Disturbances and I wound up getting a part.   In the last couple of years we
  have acted together in Our Town, The Act of Murder, and in late March, Ken will be Filch and I will be
  Mr. Peachum in The Threepenny Opera.

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