by John Howells and Marion Dearman
John Henry Curtin
John Henry Curtin was a Depression-era tramp printer who continued traveling after the war, well into the “good times.” John was an intellectual, the epitome of a “gentleman” tramp. He didn’t drink; he was neat and well dressed (always wearing a suit and tie), and had the vocabulary of a university professor. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if we should discover that Curtin had an extensive university education, but if not, he was clearly one of the more successful self-educated tramp printers. John published at least one book on his philosophy of life, as well as several booklets of poetry.
He finally settled down in Davenport, California, a little town up the coast from Santa Cruz. He called his new home “The Garden of I Love You, Newtown-by-the Sea.” He deposited his union card with San Jose ITU Local 231, and faithfully drove across the mountains for every union meeting, always with constructive ideas and suggestions to contribute to the assembly. But he never worked as a printer again.
John Curtin loved to write letters and enclose interesting news clippings and always included some of his poetry with his letters. Those who corresponded with John will remember that he liked to write his messages with different colored pens, sometimes making each word a different color. He spent his last years writing poetry and working for worth-while causes, not the least of which was a public relations campaign for labor unions. He was a true gentleman.
When I was at the L.A. Examiner, I met John Henry Curtin and Bunny Bunce. We made a pact to meet the following winter in West Palm Beach at the Post-Times. (Bunny Bunce told me that as a young man he had posed for a statue in Rockefeller Park in New York City. He still had a good build and I think he was beyond 65 at that time.)
That following year I walked into the Palm Beach Post-Times and there, sitting at a machine was John Henry Curtin. Bunny didn’t make it. John said Bunny had died, and that this would be John’s “last trip around this great country.” He said he was going back to California to settle down. He was proud that he had a son that was a college professor out there.
John Curtin was a poet and he self-published several volumes of
his work. Here is one he wrote when he was in his 80s, living in Davenport,
For All My Familiar Friends . . .
Pages by John Howells and Marion Dearman, authors of "Tramp Printers"
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