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Joe versus the wilderness
March 29, 2013 10:03 AM   Subscribe

One hundred years ago, Joe Knowles stripped down to his jockstrap, said goodbye to civilization, and marched off into the woods to prove his survival skills. He was the reality star of his day. For eight weeks, rapt readers followed his adventures in the Boston Post, for whom he was filing stories on birch bark. When he finally staggered out of the wild, looking like a holdover from the Stone Age, he returned home to a hero’s welcome. That’s when things got interesting.
posted by notme (19 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, so nice to know that some things never change in the media...
posted by Melismata at 10:10 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


After being accused of faking the whole thing by an investigative journalist (Ford), particularly the claim that Knowles had trapped a bear in a pit and clubbed it to death:
Knowles responded to Ford’s story by filing a $50,000 libel lawsuit. In December he returned to his bear pit in Maine, this time with a small captive black bear. Then, watched by both reporters and Maine locals, he clubbed the poor animal to death and began picking at its skin with a sharp piece of shale. “In less than ten minutes, he had the hide off one of the bear’s legs,” Helon Taylor, a 15-year-old witness, would marvel late in life. “We were all impressed.”
Ack.

Some things never change. Some things do ... and often for the better.
posted by notyou at 10:21 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't mind that he misled the public with invented tales of machismo, but stealing an apple pie someone walked 24 miles for is really low.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:21 AM on March 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


And the writer thinks Joe Knowles lived in the age of the grand publicity stunt? What does he call the Kardashian family then?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:22 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would pay to see a Kardashian go over the falls in a barrel.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


That Kardashian woman's wedding and subsequent divorce would be a publicity stunt. A special event conceived and executed to grab the audience's attention.

The rest of it is garden-variety celebrity and performance.
posted by notyou at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2013


And the writer thinks Joe Knowles lived in the age of the grand publicity stunt? What does he call the Kardashian family then?

Merely existing on television can hardly be described as "grand."
posted by Sys Rq at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the writer thinks Joe Knowles lived in the age of the grand publicity stunt?

No, the author called it "the golden age of publicity stunts". That carries a different meaning than "the age of the grand publicity stunt". Read all about it.

And thanks for the post, note, this is a fine article.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:29 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apologies for the derail. This is a really good and interesting article. I particularly like the quote from Teddy Roosevelt. They were also influenced by Teddy Roosevelt, who insisted that modern man needed to avoid “over-sentimentality” and “over-softness” while living in cities. “Unless we keep the barbarian virtue,” Roosevelt argued, “gaining the civilized ones will be of little avail.”
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:33 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough, Knowles seems to have been a pretty good illustrator... I can't be the only one who thought that the pictures at the end of the article were pretty good for charcoal on bark.
posted by lucien_reeve at 10:37 AM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Then the reports stopped. For 11 days, no birch-bark dispatches appeared. The Post milked this silence for drama, reporting that Maine woodsmen believed him injured. Meanwhile, the paper squeezed all sorts of entertaining side dramas out of the Knowles saga. One story, titled “Joe Knowles Blew His Way To Fame,”

There's got to be a better way to say that.
posted by codacorolla at 10:37 AM on March 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


I think I read a fictionalized version of this in T. C. Boyle's A Friend of the Earth.
posted by smrtsch at 10:47 AM on March 29, 2013


That Kardashian woman's wedding and subsequent divorce would be a publicity stunt. A special event conceived and executed to grab the audience's attention.

The rest of it is garden-variety celebrity and performance.


Sounds to me like they ... *sunglasses fall from the heavens onto my face* stay stuntin'.
posted by alphagator at 11:18 AM on March 29, 2013


Boston’s principal hiking group at the time was the Appalachian Mountain Club, and its members, says Christine Woodside, the current editor of the AMC’s journal, Appalachia, “were often high-level academics, people from MIT or Harvard, who told themselves: ‘We are deep thinkers about the wilderness and what it does for our character.’

I think this is probably still true today, although then as now, some academics go into the wilderness for adventure and contemplation. E.g. some of the routes that those eastern academics way back established in the Canadian Rockies can still be challenging. One of the famous ten peaks overlooking Moraine Lake is named after Charles Fay who (I assume) was the first to find a way to the top (my friend Derek when we tried and failed to climb the harder north face route). And what Fay wrote does foreshadow today's conflict in the mountains and forests between snowmobilers and ATVers, who often are more 'local', and the AMC/REI/MEC types who prefer human-powered and quiet modes of travel.
posted by Flashman at 11:26 AM on March 29, 2013


Not much ado about something. Not everyone will paint the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, or fuck up an expedition to the South Pole. Sometimes it's the little adventures that break your heart. Ask yourself what filled your life--what was your moment to remember?

(Teddy Roosevelt was an asshole, but he did see past the madding crowd.)

Anyhow, Joe Knowles had a pretty good eye for sketching.
posted by mule98J at 11:26 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was fascinating, thank you. The human appetite for the fantastic and magic seems endless.

The racial dynamics at play are compelling, too: the idea that a white man could in a few weeks could "conquer" the woods and survive, shedding civilization with his clothes. No mention in the contemporary material quoted of actual people, the native tribes of the area, who survived in the woods year to year and who would have likely and rightly seen Knowles as the joke performer he was.
posted by jokeefe at 1:22 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would've loved to read this, but I couldn't get it to reflow to a readable size on my Android, so I didn't. Web designers, take note.
posted by Scientist at 1:54 PM on March 29, 2013


That was really interesting. I'd love to learn how to weave my own shoes.
posted by arcticseal at 2:54 PM on March 29, 2013


He was fucking hot.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:56 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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