Roy Exum: The Fourth Of July 2020

Saturday, July 4, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Several weeks ago my dear friend and the world’s best photographer, Robin Hood, told me he was sending a copy of one of his latest books, “A Century of Impact,” that his company, Grandin Hood, recently delivered to the National Parks Conservation Association. Perfect, I told myself, because after six months of being sequestered with leg problems and COVID-19 fright, what greater treat for the Fourth Of July.

When the book arrived, I didn’t open the box right then because I’m a huge fan of our national parks and by waiting I would be assured of one whale of a bang on this patriotic weekend. Yesterday I opened the box and it was all I had hoped for, and more, but little did I realize the stunning book would immediately dash me to our nation’s wonderlands for the next four hours.

It is simply sensational.

Almost as big a surprise is how the book came about. Chattanooga’s Greg Vital is the chairman of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Board of Trustees and Greg has known Robin for many years. Further, when Greg was the chairman of the Tennessee Preservation Trust some 10 years ago, Robin was commissioned by the Trust to create my favorite of all his works, “Historic Tennessee,” and when the National Parks people saw the Tennessee book, “all but the shoutin’ was over.”

I’ve known Robin for almost all my life and he’s as big a character as I’ve ever known. When he won the Pulitzer Prize for a picture of an Army veteran as a photographer for our Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1972, it was huge. I told him he’d come a long way from flippin’ burgers at the old “Mr. 15” teenager hangout on Brainerd Road and he countered, “No, my first job was actually at the Free Press.

“When I was going to East Side Junior High School, I had a bicycle paper route. “I told the district manager I needed 20 extra papers every day and as soon as my route was over, I’d hawk ‘em to people going home at the corner of Main and Dodds.”

When Lamar Alexander was governor, he hired Robin away from us as the state’s official photographer and today my pal is the Photographer Laureate for the state. He, Peggy, and the girls have lived in Franklin ever since and he’s made a mint creating historical custom orders for clients all over the country.

He’s just completed a book for Lee University, and has a heavy list of projects going, one for the predominately black and quite famous Howard University in Washington D.C., the nation’s oldest champagne company in New England, the 50th anniversary of the Exit Inn in Nashville (where Jimmy Buffet made his debut) … “and a lot of fun stuff.”

Robin and I had a wonderful visit Friday afternoon and he shared a truth. “One time at the Free Press (legendary reporter) J.B. Collins told me, ‘Young people look only at the future … but us old people adore the past,’” he remembered and I swear Robin is exactly right.

The National Parks book is about its first 100 and, while every park is a hallowed shrine in my eyes, just like monuments that the crazy fools of today gleefully destroy, each park has a cavalcade of stories within it. My favorite quote in the book comes from park ranger Shelton Johnson in Yosemite, “That is a very powerful thing … to tell someone who feels perhaps they own very little, to find out they own the world.”

Just this week the Senate passed The Great American Outdoors Act, providing almost $12 billion (with a ‘b’) for much needed repairs at over 400 national parks that “we own.”

As Theresa Pierno, the NPCA president, said, “Now it’s our turn to ensure that 100 years from now, people will still be able to watch ‘Old Faithful’ erupt at Yellowstone, learn about the history of our democracy at Independence Hall, and stand in amazement as grizzly bears wade into Brooks Falls searching for fish at Katmai (National Park and Preserve, in Alaska).”

One of the best features in the book is that the National Parks book tells the story of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C., and the Stonewall National Monument, the single foremost event that led to the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The National Park Service treasures the right to preserve and tell the stories of ALL Americans and, as Pierno says, “There are places in America so powerful, they helped shape our nation’s history and culture and must never be forgotten. Stonewall Inn, and the area surrounding this historic site, is one such place.”

The most popular of all the national parks is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not a two-hour car ride from Chattanooga. From the book: “The Cherokee called it ‘Shaconage’ – ‘the place of the blue smoke.’ … The signature feature is actually mist – so distinctive its bluish tint is visible from space – the result of humid Southern air cooling rapidly atop the Appalachian Mountains.”

I asked Robin how many national parks did he visit for the book that took about a year to complete: “Not many … and a lot. I have visited national parks my entire like, having no idea I would ever be asked to do a book, so this was more of a project than a travel-and-shoot. I did some of the pictures, as you’ll see among the credits, but I called on a bunch of the nation’s best outdoors photographers who already had unbelievable pictures. This isn’t about me … it’s the parks … and it was terrific fun.”

* * *

The book is available at any bookseller. Amazon has “19 available” at a reduced price of $32.49 (down from $45) but, far better, there is a bookstore in Franklin, Tn., struggling mightily because of the coronavirus. Landmark Books is fast-becoming as famous as ‘Square Books’ in Oxford, Miss.

Landmark Books specializes in carefully curated books on Southern Americana, Tennessee, regional and local history, culture literature and art. Today about 85 percent of its business comes from book lovers who live elsewhere and pilgrimages to Joel Tomlin’s historic location on Main Street in Franklin are common.

You can access the website at

* * *

NOTE TO READERS: Due to the fact the Fourth of July is today, The Saturday Funnies will become the Sunday Funnies this week. Come back tomorrow for this week’s giggles.


Robin Hood
Robin Hood

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