This past weekend in Bryson City, the town celebrated the life of Horace Kephart (1862-1931), who made Swain County his home away from home. Kephart, for those who don’t know, was the writer of Our Southern Highlanders (1913) and Camping and Woodcraft (1918), two works that are, after nearly a century, still in print. Kephart Days, as the celebration has been called for the past three years, features noted historians, outdoorsmen, musicians, a luncheon, “interpretive camping” (don’t ask me, I missed this one) and more.
Kephart, who was known as “Kep” to his local friends, was instrumental, along with photographer George Masa, in getting the Great Smoky Mountains a name change – adding the words “National Park” to its title. The struggles to create this national park has been documented in many places, but most recently in Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea series (episode four) on PBS.
Though Kephart is now revered for his many accomplishments, I proudly remind folks (those who will listen) that before he was the “Dean of American Camping,” he had humble beginnings as an academic and LIBRARIAN. To be honest, humble beginnings doesn’t really paint an accurate picture of his first profession, he was actually quite ambitious. He was a librarian at both Cornell and Yale before accepting a position as the head the St. Louis Mercantile Library – a major American research library – in 1890 (all this before he reached the age of 30).
If you are interested in learning more about Horace Kephart and his accomplishments, many of his writings can be found in our libraries. Also during the month of May, the Marianna Black Library’s display case will be filled with rare books (including a first edition print of Our Southern Highlanders) and artifacts (including Horace Kephart’s own Snake-stick). And if you’re going to make a trip to Bryson City to see the display, you should also make the short trip from the library to the Bryson City cemetery to see Kephart’s grave (which identifies him as a “scholar, author and outdoorsman,” but misses the “L” word).
One last thing, and this is not Kephart related, if you are and artist or craftsperson or have a collection you’d like to see in one of our library display cases, please be sure to talk to your local librarian. We are always looking for interesting pieces to display.