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KELLY'S KORNER: Honoring David McCullough

Joe Kelly
Sentinel columnist
Posted 8/28/22

David McCullough, the famous historian, two-time Pulitzer prize winning author, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died earlier this month. He was 89.

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KELLY'S KORNER: Honoring David McCullough


David McCullough, the famous historian, two-time Pulitzer prize winning author, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died earlier this month. He was 89.

McCullough’s books include “The Great Bridge,” which tells everything about the Brooklyn Bridge. He wrote so lovingly and well about the bridge and the people who built it, that I once went to New York just to walk across. 

He also wrote “1776,” “Truman,” “John Adams,” “The Path Between the Seas,” “Brave Companions,” “The Johnstown Flood,” and “The Wright Brothers.”

Because of McCullough, I was forced to visit Kitty Hawk in North Carolina to see where the Wright brothers did the impossible.  

Besides being a great writer, McCullough had a wonderful baritone voice and narrated several television and movie productions, including the one about the Civil War produced by Ken Burns.

Remember the movie “Seabiscuit"? McCullough narrated that, too. 

McCullough’s hair was pure white and his laugh was genuine and wonderful to hear.  

As for the process of writing, I’m always interested in how someone does it. 

For example, my friend Frank Tomaino, another great historian and writer, writes in longhand and then types it into a computer. Most writers today skip the cursive and go directly to the computer.

This is being written on a laptop computer precariously balanced on my lap.

McCullough wrote on a Royal manual typewriter. It takes energy and strong fingers to write on a manual. But he started that way and never changed.

McCullough had an office and writing studio in a shed in the backyard of his Martha’s Vineyard home. I’ve seen pictures of the shed. 

Known as “The Bookshop,” the shed does not have a telephone or running water. The shed is appropriately named. Books line the shelves and are piled on the floor and in baskets.

There is something comforting to people who write to be surrounded by books. My guess, though, is that McCullough used his books for reference. He never impressed me as a “Google” sort of person.

The other primary contents of “The Bookshop” are a green banker’s lamp on a long wooden desk, metal filing cabinets and a mobile typewriter stand for his Royal.

McCullough once said he kept control over the shed’s organized clutter by “flushing out” the loose typewriter paper after each chapter was finished. 

I don’t know the measurements of “The Bookshop,” but it’s the size of a large bathroom or small bedroom. Windows are on every wall and the lighting is great. 

The view from inside “The Bookshop” is of a sagging barn and pasture. The view isn’t great but gives a sense of peace.

Great views are not great for all writers. Once in a Florida condo overlooking the ocean, where I went to write, I spent much of the time watching waves and people walking on the beach.

To keep from being startled, McCullough asked his family members to whistle as they approached “The Bookshop,” so as not to startle him.

Nobody whistles when they want to visit me on the balcony where I write. They just barge in, which they just did.

I leave you with my favorite David McCullough quote: “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it is so hard.”

David McCullough was a great thinker.


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