Tuxedo Press (2016)
Reviewed by David K. McDonnell for Reader Views (12/16)
“Glorious Times” by Tom Benjey is an exhaustive family history, delving back to the 17th Century and the first Craigheads to Pennsylvania. It follows many generations of the Craighead family through the late 20th Century. As a family history, “Glorious Times” is extremely well done and thoroughly researched. Public records, interviews with family members, letters, memoirs, and numerous publications are sourced, and make the book very credible.
The only drawback with the book is its limited appeal. To members of the Craighead family, and to their friends, the book is very appealing and a keepsake for generations to come. For anyone else, the book has little to offer. This is despite the fact that the Craigheads are very fascinating people, rich in history and innovation. The early generations were primarily merchants and Presbyterian ministers, and well educated, particularly for the era. And, virtually all of them had an affinity for nature and the outdoors.
The most fascinating of the bunch were twins Frank Jr. and John, and their younger sister Jean, born in the second decade of the 20th Century. The twins were Eagle scouts, achieved multiple academic honors, captured and trained Cooper’s Hawks while in their teens, traveled around the world while undergraduate students, and captured and planted transmitters on grizzly bears. They published a falconry book while still students, as well as National Geographic articles.
The twins were also physical fitness and outdoor nuts. The navy put their skills to work during World War II, when they created a curriculum for survival training, which included wrestling, judo, obstacle course training, topographical map and compass reading, and other survival techniques. They even wrote a short text for the course–“How to Survive on Land and Sea.”
Jean was as smart and energetic as her brothers. She left graduate school after Pearl Harbor and became a reporter at a small newspaper. The War Labor Board controlled salaries at the time, based upon perceived importance to the war effort, and didn’t take seriously a request for a pay raise by nuclear physicists. Puzzled by this, Jean interviewed physicists and studied scientific journals, and wrote an article on how the bombardment of uranium isotopes could release the power of the atom and destroy Berlin. Government officials were not amused at how uncomfortably close she was to describing the top-secret Manhattan Project. Decades later, Jean wrote the young adult adventure novel “My Side of the Mountain,” which won literary awards and was subsequently adapted into a movie.
“Glorious Times” by Tom Benjey doesn’t bring us inside the minds or hearts of anyone within the Craighead family, and it is difficult to connect emotionally with the family members. It does chronicle quite well the events that shaped the lives of many generations and, in this respect, it is perhaps a roadmap usable by others on how a family history should be written.