I arrived at the Pine Knoll Cemetery, located just south of Hanover, New Hampshire, to pay my respects to an author whose writings have had a great impact upon my own. The author whose grave I came to pay my respects to is not known by most. Even after telling my parents, who had been a part of this journey, they still had no clue why this man, whose writings have been forgotten by most, meant so much to me.
Despite knowing he was buried in Pine Knoll Cemetery, I did not know where his grave was within the sacred grounds. Although I had sent numerous emails in an attempt to narrow down the search area, I had not received any responses, so before arriving at the cemetery, I pulled up a satellite image of the cemetery and carefully studied it. I realized that it was not that big of a cemetery and hoped that I would be able to locate the gravesite quickly.
Driving through the gates of the cemetery, my mother’s phone rang. It was the first time in hours we had reception, so I pulled to the edge of the roadway so she could take the call. Dad and I got out of the vehicle and began our search. He began exploring one side of the roadway while I started walking among the stones on the opposite side. He walked up the bank on his side of roadway to explore.
“Is it Corey with an ‘E’?” I heard him call out.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Ford? Like in the vehicle?”
“Yes,” I replied again. To be honest I thought he forgot who we were searching for.
“Is he buried under a tree?”
“Oh, then this probably isn’t him then.” I sighed and dropped my head, suddenly realizing he had discovered the grave I sought.
“I’ll be up in a moment.” I motioned to my mother the direction I was headed and went up the bank to see my father walking towards me.
“He’s under the maple tree over there.” He pointed towards a nearby tree. Where I had parked, without having an idea where to actually stop, was less than thirty yards from the grave of Corey Ford. I stood before the simple stone of one of the author’s whose writings greatly influenced my own. When I discovered his writings as a child in the old, musty issues of Field & Stream that were stacked in the corner of our camp, I never imagined the influence they would have on me. And then I discovered “The Road to Tinkhamtown,” which is his best known stories and is considered to be one of the greatest outdoor short stories of all time.
Corey was born April 29, 1902 in New York City and lived there for most of his early life. He attended Columbia University as a member of the Class of 1923, but did not graduate. Corey began a career as a freelancer writer. While in New York City, Corey was known to associate with members of the Algonquin Round Table and often ate lunch with them. Note: While I’ve read in a handful of places that he ate lunch with them often, I’ve never found any “official” source that places him as a member of the group.
Ford fell in love with the outdoors and in 1952 he moved to Hanover, New Hampshire. There he became involved in the Dartmouth chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon and became an adviser to the group. He also organized the first rugby club for the university and mentored those interested in boxing. But most importantly, his love of the region would show in his writings as many of his stories and magazine articles feature upland hunting and his love of dogs.
In his lifetime, Corey published thirty books and over five hundred magazine articles and short stories. Ford had two styles of writing: the first tended to be satirical in nature and these were often featured in Vanity Fair. It was his second style of writing that I fell in love with and focused on the love of the outdoors. In the 1950s and continuing through the 1960s, Ford wrote a monthly feature for Field & Stream magazine titled “The Lower Forty Hunting, Shooting and Inside Straight Club.” The fictional group of sportsmen from Hardscrabble, Vermont and their adventures became an important part of my childhood as I read the old, worn magazine issues featuring them. Their lives became something I looked forward to reading as their simple living created a fictional world I fell in love with.
“The Road to Tinkhamtown” was the pinnacle of Corey’s writings. The simplistic story is filled with emotion and anybody who has ever loved a dog – whether to hunt with or just have – cannot help but be filled with emotion as it is being read. Note: if you’ve never read this short story and don’t want it spoiled, skip the rest of this paragraph. The story is about a dying man and the memories that come back to him. The memories take the man back to a time when he was younger and to his hunting a place called Tinkhamtown with his dog, Cider. As these memories flood his mind, the present is being told as he hears his wife and doctor talking about his condition and why he is in the hospital. Greeted by his dog Cider, the duo return to Tinkhamtown for the next step of his journey.
Corey died July 27, 1969 in Hanover, New Hampshire. His papers were donated to Dartmouth College and his estate was given to the college with the house to be used as the clubhouse for the rugby team. The Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse would not be completed until 2005, thirty-six years after his death.
As I stood paying my respects to the man who helped shape my early writings, I read the words at the base of his stone. I immediately recognized it as the opening line of “The Road to Tinkhamtown,” and knew the importance of that line upon my own life – The road was long, but he knew where he was going. I finished paying my respects and left him resting under the maple tree as the road called my name. I knew where my long road was headed and that was into the mountains of Vermont.