ROUND THE WORLD WITH THURBER

Jack (Pal) Smurch flew 25,000 miles around the world non-stop in 1937. He towed floating gas tanks behind his secondhand monoplane and nurtured himself with a gallon of "bootleg gin and six pounds of salami." The gas tanks were the invention of "the mad New Hampshire professor of astronomy, Dr. Charles Lewis Gresham."

You'll find the tale on page 154 in the Modern Library edition of "The Thurber Carnival," a collection of stories and essays by the late James Thurber.Concerned as I am with the daily comings and goings of the insurance industry, I could only read accounts of the Voyager in the papers and envy the reporters sent out to cover such a throwback of a story.

Quite simply, Voyager is a good story. A story of the 1930s. It's the story of Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart and Lindbergh and Byrd and Pat O'Brien and James Cagney. The pulse quickens.

Understandably then, I kept wondering when I'd see Jack (Pal) Smurch mentioned in any account of the Voyager.

But here we are at the end of the flight, Voyager on the ground in the Mojave Desert in California, and Jack (Pal) forgotten at the New York Times, the Associated Press and yes, even in the very library of The New Yorker magazine in which he first saw the light of day.

The Times and the AP I can understand because neither institution fares well in Mr. Thurber's savagely comic attack on the way the papers mangled simple stories back in that simple age. But at the New Yorker? Jack (Pal) forgotten at the New Yorker?

Alas, yes. A librarian there said she didn't remember the story and suggested with a faint defensive air that it might have appeared elsewhere.

"Mr. Thurber wrote for others, you know."

She put the phone down and after an interval returned and said she had a summary. Sure enough, it was Jack (Pal) himself.

Had anyone else inquired about the "mechanic's helper from Westfield, Iowa?"

"No," she said, "you are the first." Mr. Thurber flew Jack (Pal) from Roosevelt Field, now La Guardia Airport on Long Island in New York, out over the Atlantic and eastward.

When Jack (Pal) was sighted over "the little French coast town of Serly- le-Mer" the papers went wild.

Reporters rushed out to Westfield to write about the hero's background but quickly learned the story could not be printed.

Jack (Pal) had served a stretch in the reformatory for knifing the high school principal. Released, Jack (Pal) was caught in church stealing an altar cloth. He escaped by bashing the "sacristan over the head with a pot of Easter lilies."

The aviator's father "appeared to be in jail somewhere for stealing spotlights and lap robes from tourists' automobiles."

His mother was a fry cook in a "shack restaurant" at the edge of a tourist camp. When reporters asked her for comment about her son, she said:

"Ah, the hell with him, I hope he drowns."

The story goes on. When Jack (Pal) finally lands nine days later he faints

from exhaustion and is carried away to a secret place where he is kept from reporters.

Governors, editors, Cabinet officers, the mayor of New York are enlisted in the conspiracy of silence that is maintained for two weeks.

Jack (Pal) wants to get on with it. He wants money and he wants to get back to his "sweet patootie." She works in "the flap folding department" of a paper box factory in Brooklyn and he had spent the night with her before he climbed into the plane.

Finally, the statesmen gather in a hotel room, nine floors up, to impress the hero with his duties to society. The president of the United States is brought into the room to lend weight. Unswayed, Jack (Pal) pares his fingernails, looks up and waves to the president.

Jack (Pal) leans out an open window to hear the newsboys cry his story below. At his elbow is the secretary of the mayor of New York. The "tall, powerfully built man, once a tackle at Rutgers" takes the hero by the seat of the pants and throws him out the window.

"My God, he's fallen out the window," cried a quick-witted editor.

"Get me out of here," cried the president.

So now we have Voyager on the ground after daily reports from control center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

There were high clouds over the field as Tom Brokaw welcomed the travelers.

From wherever he is perched, Mr. Thurber surely looked down, or up, with his jerky laugh.

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