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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 29, 2000. All rights reserved.
On the Trail with Lewis & Clark & the Baby Boomers
by Nicole Plett
Landon Y. Jones has earned his credentials as a prognosticator.
This is the man, after all, who popularized the term "baby boomers"
in his 1980 book, "Great Expectations." Twenty years later
it is safe to say that Jones’s "biography of a generation"
accurately predicted a slew of significant traits, including the advent
of "a singles society" and the characterization of the vast
new baby bulge as "the most powerfully nostalgic generation in
Today Jones is making a new — though somewhat less grand —
prediction. "I think the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition
will be the biggest tourist event of this decade," announces Jones
in a phone interview from his home office in Princeton. The former
managing editor of both Money and People magazines, Jones is now vice
president for strategic planning at Time Warner in New York.
In his first hardcover work since "Great Expectations: America
and the Baby Boom Generation," Jones has just published "The
Essential Lewis and Clark," a new edition of the journals written
by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their two-and-a-half-year,
8,000-mile expedition by river and land from St. Louis, Missouri,
to the Pacific coast. The "Essential Lewis and Clark" was
published in February by the Ecco Press imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Jones has winnowed down the pair’s voluminous field journals to a
manageable, 200-page volume — small enough to fit into the pack
or pocket of myriad latter-day explorers. The 200-year-old tales from
this mythic American journey can still produce goose bumps in those
of us well-accustomed to making the trip via the interstate highway
system or, better still, by means of a three-and-a-half-hour airplane
ride. Jones reads from his book at Barnes & Noble at MarketFair on
Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m.
It has been nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
led their "Corps of Discovery," successfully completing a
journey that changed them from men into myth and defined the nation
in history, geography, and identity. The explorers’ treacherous journey
through the unmapped lands west of the Mississippi was documented
in daily journals that recorded every event and encounter.
Today these journals constitute the raw material of history. But not
everyone is cut out to labor through the more than 900,000 words left
by the pair of conscientious explorers. As an editor with some mythic
success of his own — ushering People magazine to a top media spot
during the second half of the 20th century — Jones brings a journalist’s
nose for drama and a storyteller’s zeal to the old but extraordinary
"In a time when America is finding its common purpose elusive,
it is not surprising that the sense of mission that drove Lewis and
Clark evokes both nostalgia and admiration," writes Jones. His
brief but cogent introduction to "The Essential Lewis and Clark"
sets the stage for the epic journey originally designed to locate
an easy water route across the continent.
In 1803, when the men set out to lead the expedition at the direction
of President Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis was just 29, and William
Clark was 33. Lewis was Thomas Jefferson’s trusted family friend from
Virginia. And it was Lewis who recruited William Clark, a man who
had commanded the army company Lewis had served in during the Whiskey
In order to deflect politically sensitive questions about the true
motives for the expedition — which were indeed expansionist —
Jefferson claimed it as "a literary pursuit," designed to
add knowledge about the natural history and geology of the unmapped
regions. This choice of nomenclature made the journals kept by the
dual leaders essential and germane to the mission. "[Jefferson’s]
real agenda was to capture the flourishing Canadian fur trade from
the British and to establish America’s territorial claims to the Oregon
coast," Jones explains in his introduction. Lewis and Clark commanded
an expedition corps of some 30 men, and their responsibilities for
enforcing discipline among this motley military crew began from the
The journals were written by the two captains on a daily basis, then
expanded when time allowed. Jones aims to include all the most riveting
tales of their adventure, told in their own words — and in their
own spellings — or as Jones characterizes them, "in all their
rococo glory." Certain new words and concepts, such as the oppressive
mosquitoes and the names of new Native American acquaintances such
as the Sioux, are spelled as many as five different ways over the
course of the book. Yet from the mysteries of the Missouri River,
to the Great Plains, to the glory of Yellowstone, to the majesty of
the Rockies, these handwritten journals heralded names that have become
now etched into the national identity — – Yellowstone, the Gates
of the Mountains, and the Continental Divide, to name just a few.
While the literary and poetic Lewis was prone to spells of melancholia,
apparently letting his chronicle lapse for extended periods of time,
Clark was ever the blunt military man. Some of Clark’s journal entries
are about as dry as the family shopping list.
Hunger and fear were the discovery party’s elemental companions. Their
journals tell of the awe-inspiring array of flora, fauna, and animal
life they encountered. They also chronicle the dangers of sub-zero
temperatures, the constant threat from native inhabitants, navigating
rapids, and combating disease. Among the spontaneous feats of bravery
and compassion was Lewis saving himself from a 300-foot fall using
only his knife; and Clark dividing his rations among hungry Native
Americans with whom they crossed paths.
One of the more intriguing members of the expedition party, about
whom every American girl would like to know more, is the now-famous
Sacagawea, the Shoshone girl who joined the party at the Mandan Villages
and became the wife of one of the party’s two interpreters.
Despite the technological transformation of the past 200 years, today’s
readers can — by their own leap of imagination — share the
thrill of victory as the explorers finally reach the Pacific Ocean.
Born in 1943, Jones had a three-year jump on the "boomer"
generation he wrote about so effectively in "Great Expectations."
The new book is dedicated to his father, Landon Y. Jones Sr., "who
led my first exploration of the West," with an additional acknowledgment
to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Society. He chose as his source
for "The Essential Lewis and Clark" the 1904-05 edition, "Original
Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," edited and published
by Reuben Gold Thwaites.
"I grew up in St. Louis, the starting point for the expedition,
and even as a child, I grew up playing around monuments to Lewis and
Clark," says Jones. "Over the past 10 years, I began visiting
Montana, where you can put your foot on the same trail they walked."
"My father took me to the Rocky Mountains when I was a boy. He
was an accountant and would audit the books for companies in places
like Salt Lake City. I was probably about age 10 the first time we
went out West." For a 10-year-old boy — and for Americans
exploring the lands west of the Mississippi — the first sight
of the Rocky Mountains is, in Jones’s words, "astonishing."
"No one in Lewis and Clark’s time could have guessed it,"
he says. "The European Alps were then considered just about the
highest mountains there were. And the Blue Ridge Mountains that people
did know are pretty mellow compared to the Rockies."
The scenic beauty spelled trouble whether the expedition was traveling
by boat or by foot. "They were traveling up the Missouri, the
Columbia, and the Yellow River. Frankly, there was a lot more walking
than people realize," says Jones. "For one thing, they had
to push their boats against the current," so even traveling by
river, some of the party was laboring along the shore.
Then there was the unforeseen portage of 220 miles across the most
formidable mountains in North America, the Rocky Mountains. "What
they thought was going to be a half-day walk turned out to almost
kill them," says Jones.
As a Princeton undergraduate, Jones’s roommate had an uncle who owned
a ranch in Montana, giving him new opportunities to return to the
West. He and his wife, Sarah, the parents of three adult children,
now own a vacation home near Bozeman, Montana. Jones also participates
in the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Society, an enthusiasts’ group
of several thousand members that meets annually at some point along
the Lewis and Clark Trail, and will attend his third society meeting
this summer in Dillon, Montana.
"Originally I wanted to write a book about the journey itself,"
says Jones. "Then Stephen Ambrose wrote a very good account that
became a best-seller. And that sort of ended that idea."
Ambrose, a prolific historian whose areas of expertise
also include World War II, Dwight Eisenhower, and the transcontinental
railroad, published "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas
Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West" in 1996. It became
a major best seller, and continues to sell well in paperback. (Since
then Jones has been appointed, along with Ambrose and Ken Burns, director
of the PBS series on the expedition, to the National Lewis and Clark
Bicentennial Council, the group planning an extended celebration that
begins in 2003.)
How Jones came to settle on his own, abridged "trail" edition
of the Lewis and Clark journals was the result of Jones’s friendship
with poet and publisher Daniel Halpern, founder and editor of Ecco
Press. Founded in 1971, Ecco Press was based in Hopewell for eight
years prior to its 1999 sale to Harper Collins. One of Ecco’s specialties
was an extensive series known as "Essential" books that includes
more than 20 small, portable anthologies of the works of well-loved
poets, selected and introduced by contemporary literary luminaries
sought out by Halpern.
"My friend Joyce Carol Oates, who had just completed `The Essential
Emily Dickinson’ for Ecco, told me I should do one, too. And I said,
`But I don’t know anything besides Lewis and Clark,’" Jones recalls.
"At the time I had just finished as editor at People Magazine.
I had seen the human drama that lies in the journals themselves."
"I knew that if you cut out the boring parts — there’s a lot
of duplication, data on celestial navigation, water depths, and so
forth — what you have left is human drama," says Jones.
Since his promotion to vice president for Strategic Planning at Time
Warner, Jones’s day-to-day pursuits are less apparent to his friends
in Princeton, the home town of his adult years. "No one can make
any sense of my title," says Jones. "I operate as a midwife
for new magazine ideas inside the company, and as a suggestion box
for people with new magazine ideas outside the company. I also look
around for magazine acquisitions." Working on developing only
the paper editions of new magazines, Jones observes that "certainly,
for a new magazine to start now, it needs to have a strong presence
on the Internet also."
And what does he make of the reading habits of today’s Internet generation,
the young adult children of the much-studied boomers? "They tend
to read less for pleasure and more for information. But they will
definitely pursue their interests through reading — which is why
they’ll go to the journals of Lewis and Clark."
"My hope is that the Lewis and Clark book will be used as a resource
by people visiting the trail during the bicentennial," says Jones.
"I hope most of them will be baby boomers and their children,
on the trail but not damaging these ecologically fragile areas."
"The Essential Lewis and Clark" (The Ecco Press/HarperCollins
Publishers; $24). Free. Thursday, March 30, 7 p.m.
Great Expectations" remains a signature work of
Landon Jones’s career. The boomers — born between 1946 through
1964 — peaked in 1957 when 4.3 million babies were born in a single
year. Jones’ avowed purpose was to find out what the baby boom was
doing to America and to itself.
"The baby boom is, and will continue to be, the decisive generation
in our history, the biggest, richest, and best-educated generation
America has ever produced." wrote Jones in 1980.
Change is what he documented. And as an indication of his judgment,
Abbie Hoffman, Joyce Maynard, and Joe Klein are just a few of the
individuals he chose to quote, back in 1980, as spokespersons for
What generational change meant in term of marketing leads to some
of Jones’s more amusing observations. He documents the peaks and valleys
in demand for all sorts of commodities from Davy Crockett coonskin
caps to Dr. Spock paperbacks to cigaret papers. And he predicted that
"the baby boom will be preparing us for the reign of the old.
With it will come what in many ways will be a restoration of the power
and position of the elderly in society."
Jones’s 1980 book forecast the labor scarcity that is now a reality
for American business, and predicted that boomers would seek self
fulfillment as much as career advancement. It noted, most presciently,
that beginning around 1990 businesses would spend more on capital
equipment and research to compensate for the labor shortage, creating
"a brake on the debilitating inflation that so depressed the boom
generation in the past decade."
The question of whether Jones is tempted to write a sequel to "Great
Expectations" is one he has heard often over the past 20 years.
"I have been thinking about it more recently. That’s because the
boomers are entering an interesting phase, joining `The New Old.’
We had Clinton celebrating his 50th birthday in public, and there’s
the stigma of getting your AARP card through the mail. The question
is, how to do it. I don’t want to have to repeat myself."
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