Monday, September 11, 2017

The Legend of John Albert Krohn AKA Colonial Jack



In 1908, "Colonial Jack" of Newburyport, Massachusetts pushed his wheel barrow, "The Sphinx," around the country covering 9,024 miles in 357 days. He was working on a heafty wager of 1,000 (that is about $25K). This photo is from the Knowles Collection: Featured in Plum Island & Salisbury Memories Celebrating Salisbury's tercentenary (300th) birthday parade, August 14-18, 1938.

Move over Major Ben: Perley Poore.......for the "Globe Trotter"

Ranking high on the Racontuess list for Yankee eccentrics is John Albert Krohn (1873-1956) aka, "Colonial Jack." This classic figure exhibits true Yankee ingenuity. 

     Colonial Jack had been a printer by trade and a theatrical manager. Both skills proved to boast his notoriety. His home spun brown knickerbockers and custom shaped wheel barrow demonstrated his spirited originality. As a transcontinental walker, he moved along like his life was the wager. There is lots out there on this fellow and a few links are posted at the end.

America was tracking his progress via the press from June 8, 1908, when he began his adventure to his last mile. 
Even after the Great Walk, the buzz on this man was huge: The photo on the left from Hunter-trader-trapper, Volume 18, Issue 6:
"Tanned a nut brown by the suns of many slates, a perfect picture of health," says the Hunter-Trader-Trapper, "Without a doubt, many who will see this article have seen Mr. Krohn somewhere along his route, and can vouch for the genuineness of this photo, showing the wheelbarrow, thickly covered with cards of almost every conceivable description which were attached to it from time to time, as he journey through the different states, some of these being carried the entire distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific and return. 

     The first day: Colonial Jack was sent off by a cheering crowd outside the City Hall at Portland Maine.  Mayor, Adam P Leighton, presented him with letters to deliver to Portland, Oregon's Mayor Harry Lane. The letters were delivered and so were hundreds more. 

     A speedometer was hooked on to The Sphinx for accurate mileage and he collected postage marks from each town he visited. He made his presence known with every stop and made it in the papers.  

     According to his travel log, Colonial Jack encountered some hostile hounds and "some mighty tough fellows," but managed to win over the later. He tells The Tuscan Citizen, "these tramps, they have a wholesome respect for a six shooter." (February10 1909)
      
     There were a few reports of arrest, one was in Bay City, Michigan. Apparently the cops mistook him for a "highwayman," but that was quickly remedied, "I was sentenced to the best meal in town, at the best hotel; all free of charge."
     
     One scary encounter on a rail road bridge in East Alburgh, Vermont nearly took his life, but his "cool thinking and fast action saved the day."  

     Many gave him comfortable accommodations for the night, along with a hot meal. His wife would meet up with him through parts of the trip, but ill health in Montana sent her back home to Massachusetts. His best day was crossing through New Mexico, which he did 46 miles in one day. He never walked on Sundays and he only took 19 sick days.     

     The desert county area was no walk in the park, but he loaded proper provisions "The Sphinx," and tacked a note on himself, just in case:   
To whom it may concern: If you find my lifeless body, communicate immediately with my wife, Mrs J. A. Krohn,  Newburyport, Massachusetts. Singed Colonial Jack, Long Distance Hiker. 

     According to his travel log, Colonial Jack wore out 11 pairs of shoes on that stint, costing him $103 (that is about $2,824.95 today!)  Other expenses totaling $1, 247.60 included, 112 pairs of socks, 5 wheels and 3 tires for "The Sphinx" and miscellaneous necessities (total cost today $32,334.04). 

      His first pair of shoes were replaced with a new pair in Charlotte, New York. A Biloxi, Mississippi paper reported he was wearing his 10th pair when he arrived there on April 22, 1909. His feet were tired and sore when he started, but explained to the Biloxins he fixed all that with a re-enforced extra sole padding. 

     Colonial Jack supplemented his income on the trip by cashing in on his celebrity status. He sold aluminum tokens at 10 cents each, which sported an image of himself and "The Sphinx" on one side, the other side bearing the words: "Colonial Jack is walking and pushing his Spinx around the boarder of the United States, a distance of 9,000 miles in 400 days staring June 1, 1908 and ending in Portland, ME. 


A token preserved was featured in, "The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 6," on February 5, 2012, Article 10, editor Wayne Homren notes: "We numismatists can be grateful to those who did buy Krohn's tokens and set them aside for collectors of today. His trip diary is a wonderful account of his travels, the places he saw and the people he met. I think historians will find it a useful slide-of-life account from the early 20th century."Also, a new article: Urban prospector: Metal detectorist digs town’s past claims Colonial Jack was "Sailor Jean."

  
     Colonial Jack's goal was to break Watson's record, which he did. Plus, he added more fame by pushing "The Sphinx," which California onlookers said, "It was a pyramidal box on wheels." 

      He met two hoboes in the Arizona desert who tried to steal "The Sphinx," but they knew they had a "Foxy lunatic" on their hands so they let him keep it.

     “Why did I push a wheelbarrow around the border of the United States? says Colonial Jack, "To make money by selling my story.” And that he did too....Published by the Newburyport Herald in 1910, “The Walk of Colonial Jack. He made several appearances for a small fee as well. 








     "Colonial Jack" was born in St. Peter, Minnesota to John Krohn and Christina "Stina" Danielson. He had four wives and lived to the ripe age of 83. It was reported he had a green thumb and took up gardening later on and his Strawberry crop was much in demand by Newburyporters.

Colonial Jack was living at 22 Purchase Street Newburyport, Massachusetts according to census and Draft Registration Card. In 1930, he is listed at 192 Elm Street in Salisbury, Massachusetts with daughter, Margaret L Krohn, age 14. 





Colonial Jack Photo from the Library of Congress's Bain Collection.

Photo from Find A Grave member TSE "Colonial Jack" rests at Long Hill Cemetery in Salisbury, Massachusetts with wife #4, Laura Turner Whitney


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