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A Path Made of Words: The Journalistic Construction of the Appalachian Trail
Unformatted Document Text:  4 | P a g e hiking than in utopian social schemes. They would do most of the scouting and brush-cutting to build the trail. Rivals would scorn MacKaye as an armchair philosopher, but he had his admirers, including Mumford, the author and social critic. MacKaye’s allies called him “Nestor,” after the good counselor of Greek mythology. Tall and lanky, his avuncular charm tempered by Yankee reticence, MacKaye was an apostle of ideas. By the time he proposed the AT, MacKaye had embraced the tenuous life of a free-lancer. After years as a federal forester, he worked itinerantly as a conservation planner. Many of his friends were of the “journalistic crowd,” and MacKaye himself wrote vigorously after 1920, producing articles for professional journals, magazines and newspapers. 11 He sharpened his rhetorical skills as a newspaper editorial writer. Between jobs he returned to the family homestead at Shirley Center, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. Living alone for much of his life, MacKaye worked out his biggest ideas in an old house that, in the 1920s, had no electricity, central heat or running water. 12 It was a stimulating, if financially perilous, existence. (MacKaye once joked to Mumford that his plan for economic survival consisted of “not having children.”) 13 The son of a New England family famous for acting and oratory, Benton took an opposite tack: Instead of bounding on stage, he would retreat to his hermitage and write. The imprint of his family was nonetheless apparent. MacKaye’s father, Steele MacKaye, was the first American to play Hamlet on the London stage. A playwright, inventor and impresario, he possessed a wide-ranging and rather stunningly impractical mind. His final project was the “Spectatorium,” a gargantuan, motorized stage for a theatrical pageant at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The pageant, an epic on Christopher Columbus, was to have included an orchestra, a chorus, and a giant pool whipped by electric fans to simulate ocean waves. 14 But the Wall Street panic of 1893 delayed funding, and the rusting hulk was razed. Steele MacKaye died

Authors: Kates, James.
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4 | 
P a g e
hiking than in utopian social schemes. They would do most of the scouting and brush-cutting to 
build the trail. Rivals would scorn MacKaye as an armchair philosopher, but he had his admirers, 
including Mumford, the author and social critic. MacKaye’s allies called him “Nestor,” after the 
good counselor of Greek mythology. Tall and lanky, his avuncular charm tempered by Yankee 
reticence, MacKaye was an apostle of ideas.
     By the time he proposed the AT, MacKaye had embraced the tenuous life of a free-lancer. 
After years as a federal forester, he worked itinerantly as a conservation planner. Many of his 
friends were of the “journalistic crowd,” and MacKaye himself wrote vigorously after 1920, 
producing articles for professional journals, magazines and newspapers.
 He sharpened his 
rhetorical skills as a newspaper editorial writer. Between jobs he returned to the family 
homestead at Shirley Center, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. Living alone for much of his 
life, MacKaye worked out his biggest ideas in an old house that, in the 1920s, had no electricity, 
central heat or running water.
 It was a stimulating, if financially perilous, existence. (MacKaye 
once joked to Mumford that his plan for economic survival consisted of “not having children.”)
The son of a New England family famous for acting and oratory, Benton took an opposite tack: 
Instead of bounding on stage, he would retreat to his hermitage and write.
     The imprint of his family was nonetheless apparent. MacKaye’s father, Steele MacKaye, was 
the first American to play Hamlet on the London stage. A playwright, inventor and impresario, 
he possessed a wide-ranging and rather stunningly impractical mind. His final project was the 
“Spectatorium,” a gargantuan, motorized stage for a theatrical pageant at the World’s Columbian 
Exposition in Chicago. The pageant, an epic on Christopher Columbus, was to have included an 
orchestra, a chorus, and a giant pool whipped by electric fans to simulate ocean waves.
 But the 
Wall Street panic of 1893 delayed funding, and the rusting hulk was razed. Steele MacKaye died 


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