Eau Claire Leader, June 2, 1909. J.E. Matson was a successful doctor and businessman with high expectations. He considered his son blessed with an abundance of potential, but woefully deficient in ambition and direction.
Champ was supposed to be born in Spokane, to be delivered into the world by his paternal grandfather, the doctor. Didn't work out that way.
Champ's paternal grandparents, J.E. and Emma Matson, were solemn, proper and moved gracefully in the upper societal circles of Spokane and Eau Claire.
Ell's father opened the doors to get his son a job on the Grand Coulee Dam, but Ell still had to go through the motions.
Ell helped establish the footprint for what all the newspapers were calling “The Greatest Structure in the World.”
“You're nothing but a boomer, a clown, a grifter. A punk.” And a deadbeat, apparently.
Still a deadbeat. One step ahead of the creditors.
Walking Around Money
Most customers felt sorry for a 10-year old kid selling magazines. Recognizing the connection between this cover and his reality, Champ worked his parentage into his sales pitch.
It's Just Your Name
Ell knew the “J” in his name stood for “Jesse.” He never told his son.
Part of me wanted to let dead, ass-hauling, motorcycle daredevils lie. Who cares what happened to him? But my inner journalist is pesky, loud, and very often difficult to ignore, so I dug deeper.
In April, 1952, National Geographic magazine published a multi-page feature about Hays, Kansas. It included this photo of the Bemis Pool.
The cutline which accompanied the NatGeo photo. Fred Bemis's granddaughter (my mother, Geri Ordway) had a copy and gave it to me.
Coffee and a Donut
Plainville had made up its mind about Victoria, but Victor Ordway was a benefit-of-the-doubt giver. He learned about the mother of the boy his daughter was dating during a recon mission to the Corral Cafe.
After abandoning his family, Ell moved around a lot, chasing adventure. Here's his handwritten letter of resignation from the Army Corps in 1956. Bound for Utah in search of uranium.
One of Ell's daughters from his third marriage said the hospital tracked down their mother, told her he was dying, and she wanted absolutely nothing do with him. His ethnicity is listed as “Mexican.” I suspect he was pulling some legs.
Victoria's Geographic Cure
Victoria took the job at the Hotel Kansan after Champ and Gera landed in Manhattan, 45 miles to the west. One more move. Things'll be better in Topeka, she thought.
Hamm's in Pilsner Glasses
The 900 block of Kansas Avenue, just south of the Hotel Kansan in the 1950s. A scene in Chapter 30 was inspired by this photo, which I found in the lobby of a bank on the first floor of what used to be the Hotel Kansan.
Fried in Phoenix
Get spifflicated. Get behind the wheel. Get arrested. Skip town. One of Champ's cousins unearthed this gem in a dusty box in the attic labeled, “Maday.”