Sunday, September 14, 2014

Down the Bloodline

We finish Bryan Burrough's Big Rich with tales of the great oilmen's posterity. As you might guess, the children of the rich can range anywhere from responsible and handsome fellows who grow the business and get invited to join the best clubs in Dallas, to cocaine-snorting ne'er-do-wells who own great football teams and attend cheerleader tryouts for all the wrong reasons.

My own brush with oil heirs was my first job out of college. Some library I had never heard of offered me a job.  They were attached to Southern Methodist University, but they weren't the main library where students crammed for finals, or where you hunted down a novel, took it home and stayed up all night with it.

No, this was a Special Collections library.  In Special Collections, the books never leave the building.  Professors, writers, researchers come to these temples of knowledge and scribble notes from the books therein, filling up on material for their own books.   Burrough himself probably sat in a few of these research libraries.

"Special" means the library concentrates on a narrow band of knowledge, say Great Lakes history, or history of labor unions.  My library at SMU had its beginnings as the personal collection of Mr.D., an oilman I had never heard of in my life, and his pet subject was Western Americana.

As a side note, all his books about the settling of the West, the water issues of the West, ad infinitum, would not be complete without including some of the big players in the region which means the Mormons. We dusted and tended a good deal of shelf space given over Joseph Smith and everything that came after him.  And deep in the temperature-controlled vault, where they kept the really valuable stuff, we stored original editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, which we were never to handle without first donning cotton gloves.

Anyway, the original collection was in Mr. D's home.  He willed it to the university upon his death. Perhaps it was was Mr. D's money that built the building, too. Now, my job was just a job, but walking into that building, entering a vast hall of fossilized limestone and walking up the forty or so steps to the hushed confines of library-ness, left me awestruck every day.

Mr. D was such an obscure oilman that I never expected to run across him in Burrough's book.  But there he was on page 152, playing a walk-on role. In the postwar years, Texas was the king of oil the world over. Then rumors popped up about the Mideast and what just might lie under all that desert sand.  A top Roosevelt aide chose Mr. D to cross the world and camp out with the Bedouins. His top-secret mission: investigate the rumors; see if American companies could get a piece of the action.

Evidently, he survived the mission.

But back to his library. Mr. D's son, Mr. D the Second, also added his hobby collection: railroad history.  In addition to books, we kept file drawers of his train pictures.  To my eye, each one was indistinguishable from the next. But train buffs the world over knew that if they wanted really good stuff, we were the library to track down.

Then there was Mr. D the Third.  He was still a young man when I worked there, a student at library school. His contribution was to come in every so often and sort train pictures.  One day, he hinted that when he finished library school, he would no longer be willing to work gratis. I'll never know if Mr. D the Third achieved this professional status. All I know is that he was in his fifth year of study, and library school is only two years long.

So, as far as the D bloodline was concerned, they landed somewhere between solid billionaire status and losing it all to cocaine and cheerleaders.

And we will now celebrate the end of oilman stories with a nice bit of:

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