by John Howells and Marion Dearman
(Discovery Press, copyright 1996)

John Henry Curtin
from Don Cleary

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, California.

For All My Familiar Friends . . .
With clocks and calendars, we make our own recording of Time.
If we had no Time, would we have Age? 
Would we all live in Eternity?
I wish to live in Eternity now. Each year, I welcome Spring.
So I shall try to welcome — Death.
Each is a part of life. Both are familiar friends!
Being Eighty and a little bit, these words are my will:

To Sundry Survivors 
When I shall die, without much fame nor shame,
Just plant a tree and, near it, plant my frame.
For folks will come to rest there in the shade
And they will still amuse me, I’m afraid!
Let none feel sorry! Spare me tawdry tears!
I’ll have the kind of rest I’ve missed for years!
I’ll just stretch out and yawn and wait and see
How well the world gets on . . . without much me!
There may be Time enough to comprehend
The love of Enemy and hate of Friend.
There may be Time to learn the reasons why
No goods have worth . . .
That Goodness will not buy.
But, if there isn’t, then these thoughts shall pass
While I remain . . . to fertilize the grass!


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