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
Cesar Chavez: Farm Worker Activist
Paul Robeson: A Voice of Struggle
Yogi, Babe, and Magic: The Complete Book of
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
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
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,
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,
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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