Odds & Ends

A few odds and ends from the life of writer-editor Gerald D. Swick

What’s in a name?

His first name is pronounced Gair-ald, not Jair-ald. He was named for an uncle on his mother’s side, who got his moniker in honor of someone the two oldest boys in the family served with in the West Virginia National Guard. That was one of the units called up for General John “Blackjack” Pershing’s punitive expedition against Pancho Villa. When the boys got back to the Mountain State after guarding El Paso, their mother was pregnant and they asked her, if she had a boy, to name it after a friend who had served with them.

A Lincoln mystery solved
Gerald and his friend and research partner Donna D. McCreary solved the 70-year mystery of why Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, is not buried with the rest of the family. They discovered a letter written by Robert’s widow explaining that he was his own man, made his own history, and deserved “his own place in the sun.” They wrote about the discovery in the Summer 1998 edition of Lincoln Lore.

Gristmill, Jackson Mills State 4-H Camp, W.Va. Photo by Gerald D. Swick

Stonewall Jackson worked there, too
Gerald’s first summer job after high school was museum attendant in the old mill at the boyhood homesite of Confederate lieutenant general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at Jackson’s Mill, West Virginia. (Jackson’s uncle Cummings Jackson had both a sawmill and a grist mill, and the small community that grew up there was known as both Jackson’s Mills and Jackson’s Mill, but is now generally called by the singular Jackson’s Mill.)

Preserving history
The aforementioned Stonewall Jackson and Gerald were both born in the town of Clarksburg in what is now the State of West Virginia. Gerald credits his interest in history in part to the dichotomy of his hometown having a statue of its most famous son, Stonewall, a Confederate lieutenant general, on one corner of the courthouse square and a historical marker on an opposite corner identifying the town as the headquarters of Union major general George B. McClellan during the early stages of the Civil War. Gerald is a long-time member of the American Battlefield Trust (formerly the Civil War Trust) because, in addition to preserving parts of America’s history, the Trust’s efforts to buy and preserve battlefield land also protects natural habitats and green space, frequently in areas of urban sprawl.

Incorrigible punster – do not encorriage
Gerald claims that when he lived in Austin, Texas, his friends avoided him from March through June. In March and April he would prepare to compete in the highlight of his social season, the annual O. Henry Pun-Off at the O. Henry Museum, held in the month of May. It took the next month or so for him to stop making puns every time he opened his mouth. From 1980 to 1987 he won, tied for first place or was punner-up in the Volley of the Puns competition, and in 1983 became the first competitor to win both the Volley of the Puns and the High Lies and Low Puns division. He was interviewed on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered after his win in the 10th Pun-Off, his last year of competition.

The sheriff had slow bullets
During his college years he spent a summer working as resident folksinger in the Long Branch Saloon, part of the Historic Front Street tourist attraction in Dodge City, Kansas. In the evenings, he took part in the “gunfight” put on for the tourists prior to the Long Branch variety show. One gunman would run, get blasted by the sheriff with a sawed-off shotgun and “flip,” hitting the ground in a shoulder roll. The first time Gerald took a turn doing “the flip” the sheriff had slow bullets: the echoes were dying away before Gerald hit the ground. The next time, he overcompensated and landed on his shoulder, separating it. Unable to get his arm around the body of his guitar, his folksinger summer in Dodge City was over.

Journalist in training
He got his first publication and his first experience in newspaper writing when he served as reporter for his 4-H Club in junior high school. He also credits the 4-H Program for training him in public speaking.

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