A few years ago, a former Kent State professor of mine, Dr. Sanford Marovitz, told me about a sort of dystopian novel Lewis had written, It Can't Happen Here, 1935, a cautionary tale about a fascist takeover in America--from within. It's eerie--and some of it reads as if it were cut-and-pasted from today's news.
I never taught a Lewis novel--though my colleague at WRA, Peter Fry, taught Babbitt but was not pleased with the experience.
A coincidence that I will write about another time: Lewis grew up in the same town as Wilfred Hetzel, who used to travel around to schools (he came to Hiram High when I was there) doing exhibitions of basketball-shooting--bouncing balls in, drop-kicking from mid-court, etc.
Below is a little account of a visit to Lewis' hometown, Sauk Centre, MN. It's part of my teaching memoir--not yet published ...
1 July 2006.
Just off I-94 at the Sauk Centre exit is the “Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center,” a small museum with some remarkable Lewis artifacts—like the urn used to transport his ashes back from Rome, where he died in 1951. We find it staffed by a bored young woman equipped with an iPod and an attitude. After we tour the place and take some pictures, I ask the attendant if she attended the local high school. Well, yes, she just graduated. And did she read any Sinclair Lewis there? No, none at all. She leans toward us. Lowers her voice. Some people think he’s a big deal, she confides, but lots of people around here don’t really like him.
At the museum, we see a photograph of the old stone arch that supported the railroad that once ran through town. Young Lewis carved his initials under that arch. I want to find them. We ask around in town, and at Jitters Java Café the owner calls someone at the historical society who says, yes, the stone arch is still there. Tells us that the old railroad is now a bike-and-hike trail—the Lake Wobegone Trail!—though the portion we must use, west of town, is not yet paved. Just walk west on the trail, we’re told. You’ll find the stone arch.
It’s a hot, humid day; it’s been a very wet spring and early summer. We walk on a right-of-way that winds through the woods. The grass is high; the bugs are attentive and hungry. We see no stone arch, though we can glimpse, here and there through the dense woods and undergrowth, a stream. We walk past the point where we know the arch must be, then turn to walk back to the car. We’ve not found it.
But on the return I notice that the stream switches sides. I see it on the right, then on the left. The stone arch must be beneath us! (DUH!) The area is completely overgrown, damp, muddy. But I grab branches and saplings and lower myself down to the water. And there the arch is, right below us. But I cannot go under it, not unless I swim. The creek is high. We should have come in late July, early August, when there is no more than a trickle. I take a few photos to show students.