Did anyone really think that the effort to turn the house of 1950s author and poet Jack Kerouac into a museum (or something) was going to follow a traditional arc? For the nonprofit-in-waiting for the house, the current owner’s attitude must go down like so much broken glass.
“I’m in no hurry,” said [John] Shen-Sampas, 34, a resident of Greenwich, Conn. who helps run the Kerouac estate, including its artifacts and literary rights.
“I just want to do what is best for the house, so I don’t want to rush,’’ he said. “I have people interested in preserving the house, people from different parts of the world…big Kerouac fans who have already done deals with us before.”
But, okay, this patient waiting for the right moment has gone on for decades.
In St. Petersburg, where passions are more immediately focused, the intimate Friends of the Jack Kerouac House may feel that they have some prior claim, since they acted as the home’s caretaker for a time, throwing fundraisers to pay for upkeep of the house. But in 2014, Shen-Sampas’s father, who was the owner before him, hired a property manager and locked the nonprofit out. Later, Shen-Sampas the younger met with the group but negotiations soon broke down.
“They agreed and then backed out,” he said. “I was very much turned off. They wanted me to give them the house for free.” The Friends said that wasn’t true and that Shen-Sampas would not name a price.
“At this point I don’t know the worth,” the younger Shen-Sampas said.
But this was not the first such encounter; Pat Barmore, the chair of the nonprofit’s board, says Shen-Sampas the elder did the same thing to the group a few years ago. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” said Barmore, quoting The Who’s famed song Won’t Get Fooled Again.
“We just want something done to move this forward,” said Peter Gallagher, vice president of the group. “Tour buses stop by there all the time. People appreciate that house.”
And, indeed, maybe the group does deserve the house simply as repayment for their dogged devotion. This article in the New Yorker in March described a get-together with some of the folk from the Friends:
“The ghost of Jack Kerouac is definitely here,” Barmore announced at the start of the evening. The previous Sunday, he added, all of Kerouac’s novels “leapt off the shelf and fell on the ground,” apropos of no apparent stimuli. A similar event had recently occurred at Haslam’s Bookstore, a few miles away on Central Avenue. Per local lore, Kerouac used to wander into Haslam’s and rearrange his own books, jockeying for better and more prominent shelf placement; supposedly, this still goes on. A couple dozen people crowded the room. The guitarist Big Jim Mason opened the show with a handful of original folk songs. He was wearing a black T-shirt that promised, “It’s not a wrong note, it’s jazz.”
As for the house. which has been empty for almost 50 years, it might do more than throw a bunch of books around in response to an organized incursion into the space by those tour buses. Think about what this guy would think:
In 1969, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times knocked on the door. “Jack Kerouac, author, artist, cult hero, was watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news, volume turned silent, while Handel’s Messiah blared from the record player. He was smoking Camels, drinking whiskey from a medicine vial and chasing it with Falstaff beer in a half-quart can,” the paper later reported. Kerouac complained a lot that day: about his hernia, and his finances. Shortly after he died, his wife admitted that he had been drinking heavily. “He was a very lonely man,” she said.