In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca sits down with R. Scott Williams to learn all about Richard Halliburton, a famous but forgotten Memphian. Halliburton cuts a fascinating figure in history as an explorer and adventure writer.
Scott, COO of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., published The Forgotten Adventures of Richard Halliburton. If the name sounds slightly familiar to you, it’s because Halliburton Tower lies on the Rhodes campus, donated by Halliburton’s father (along with documents from his life and travels). Fun fact: Halliburton’s mother was one of the first psychologists in Memphis!
And now, onto the main event – Richard Halliburton.
“Let those who wish have their respectability. I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous and the romantic.” –Richard Halliburton
At the age of nineteen, Halliburton ran away from his hometown of Memphis to go on adventures. He became an internationally known celebrity and the most famous travel writer in the grand ages for adventure – the Golden Age, the Roaring Twenties, and into the Great Depression. He did everything from climb Mount Olympus to flying all the way to Timbuktu, always looking for the next bigger and more astounding adventure to share with the world.
But wait… how did he fund all this crazy travel? Well, back in the day, people gave lectures about the adventures they went on… and these events funded their subsequent adventures. He would do as many as 50 lectures a month sometimes! Basically he was the Anthony Bourdain before there was such a thing as the Travel Channel. If he lived today, he would be the ultimate travel brand… and Scott even tells us what his TV show would probably be called, but you’ll have to listen to this episode to find out more!
Scott shares how Halliburton was a great marketer and could always find the best “hook” for designing adventures. In one instance, he decided to fly to his next adventure. He flew all over the world for 18 months, including into volcanoes! His pilot and he ran into another pilot, Elly Beinhorn, who was also quite adventurous in her own right. Oh, and Scott really thinks this period of Halliburton’s life would make a great movie – and there’s even a love story that makes that even more intriguing….
One of our favorite things was how tied to Memphis Halliburton was. For example, when Halliburton was but a toddler around 1902, Mary Hutchison, the founder of Hutchison School, started the school in his home, as she was great friends with his parents. “Hutchy,” as she was known, was called “Grandmother” by Halliburton, and she’s even buried in the family plot. She’s credited with really giving him his spirit of adventure.
Unfortunately, Halliburton’s last adventure was a bit too ill-conceived and he perished in a typhoon while sailing the seas in a Chinese junk. The original plan was for him to sail the junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco and appear just in time for the opening day of the World’s Fair. However, he disappeared at sea at the age of 39… just two years after another famous adventurer, Amelia Earhart.
We hope finding out more about this amazing Memphian will revive an interest in writings and life’s work of adventuring around the world. Want to learn more about Richard Halliburton? Check out Scott’s book!
And when you’re done with that one, check out Scott’s latest book, An Odd Book at AnOddBook.com.
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