Episode 1 “From the Pen of the Captain’s Kid”
“You should write a history of the Ocean City Beach Patrol” was all she said in October 2018 as I shared with a friend my newly published book of memoirs of thirty-four Vietnam era vets. Red Rivers in a Yellow Field: Memoirs of the Vietnam Era was my seventh book, a project initiated in 2011, and Kristen Joson, the beach patrol’s public education coordinator, may have suspected I was ready for a new writing assignment. It was because of my father, Captain Robert S. Craig (OCBP 1935-87), that Joson, helped define my research focus for 2019: “you know as much as anyone about the Ocean City Beach Patrol [history]… so will you do it?”
Kristin had interviewed my dad on numerous occasions, both during his tenure as captain of the beach patrol and after his retirement, and she had published countless articles about him and about the lifeguard organization that he headed for so many years. “You’re the one who should write the history” she insisted, implying that at age 74, I had been around for almost all of the 89-year history of the patrol. I had to admit I had first met Lucky Jordon, one of the iconic lifeguards of Dad’s early years, when I was about eight years old. Then Kristin added to intensify the motivation: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have the book out in time for the lifeguard reunion next year.” Indeed, there was a triennial lifeguard reunion coming up in October 2019, but I had to admit to Kristin that having a researched, written, illustrated, and published book in hand within twelve months was more than challenging. My earlier book (2005) on architect Bernard Maybeck was not published until thirty-one years after my Ph.D. dissertation on the subject, and when architect Francis Palmer Smith’s son asked me to write a major monograph on his architect father’s life and work, the book (2012) didn’t appear for 17 years.
In October 2018, as we discussed the subject of the beach patrol, I hadn’t yet written a word for such a manuscript, I had no publisher, and my own accumulated news clippings, photographs, and notes jotted down over the years from informal interviews with Dad had been gathering dust in my Atlanta basement for years. But I agreed that perhaps now was the time, and Kristin agreed to make available resources from OCBP headquarters and to help where she could. Little did either of us know that one year later, there would be two books, not just one, published on the history of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, both books in hand in time for the 7th Lifeguard Reunion that convened in Ocean City in October 2019. ‘Be careful what you ask for,” one is often cautioned; indeed, Kristin Joson had unleashed a favorite subject: OCBP. “With two, you get egg roll,” observed a local wag, alluding to the Doris Day 1968 movie “With Six You Get Egg Roll.”
So how did one book become two? In the fall of 2018, following some conversations with OCBP leadership, I immediately contacted Arcadia Press, the largest publisher of local history in the U.S., whose Images of America book series offered a potential venue for an illustrated history of the beach patrol. Many of their books make use of local post card collections and photographs in local archives whose photo captions comprise the bulk of the writing. I can do that, I optimistically projected; I ought to be able to write 300 captions in a year. Arcadia immediately accepted my proposal for Maryland’s Ocean City Beach Patrol.
As it happened, I had already joined the Arcadia family through the back door, recently providing some photographs for an Images of America book authored for Arcadia by another historian on the subject of the 1916 railroad terminal in Macon, Georgia, and I had also just written a foreword to a colleague’s Arcadia book on Druid Hills, a neighborhood in Atlanta designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. .
So I started to write Maryland’s Ocean City Beach Patrol, believing as I always do, that the subject would dictate the needed scope and ultimate size of the work. I frequently quote (metaphorically) architect Louis Kahn’s observation about designing a building, in which he stated “The building becomes the building that the building wants to be.” As I sat down to write about the beach patrol, I again assumed the book would become the book that the book wants to be. But as an Arcadia author, I soon discovered that almost all of Arcadia’s Images of America books follow a very strict identical template: each book is about 120 pages, with usually two photos per page with captions prescribed as no fewer than “x” number of words and no more than “y” number of words. With this template, the total word count for my study of the beach patrol was prescribed to be about 18,000 words, and I was already at 45,000. I was in trouble.
I suggested that Arcadia consider publishing Maryland’s Ocean City Beach Patrol in two volumes, but for a number of reasons we agreed this would be problematic: how would such a history be split? However, the press agreed to allow 40 extra pages in Maryland’s Ocean City Beach Patrol with no change to the retail price, and this expanded scale added to my Arcadia book some eighty additional photographs and accompanying additional text. But it was not enough to appease “the book that the book wanted to be.” So the press allowed me to complete Maryland’s Ocean City Beach Patrol for the Images of America series and also seek another publisher for the longer history, and while the two books could be complementary, the second book was not to be a duplicate of the Arcadia volume, i.e. with the same title, same photos, same word count etc—in other words, I could not double publish the same book. But there was a green light for a second book, so when Kristin Joson (midway through the project year) said to me, “I know the beach patrol book is your baby,” she said, “but how are things coming?” I responded: “We’re expecting twins.”
“Not identical twins,” of course, but there would now be two books. From the start, I really wanted to write a more comprehensive narrative, often taking an OCBP topic synopsized for Arcadia in a seventy-five word caption, and tell the full story in a three-to-four page more descriptive narrative. For Maryland’s Ocean City Beach Patrol I organized the images so that a reader, moving from caption to caption, was indeed unfolding an over-all narrative, but the scale of the Arcadia volume, essentially a picture book, might be compared to the libretto of the opera. Savings Lives, the second book, became “the book the book wants to be.” Saving Lives is illustrated mostly with different images, and enjoys a scale able to document and illustrate more fully the various programs and experiences of the beach patrol over its nearly 90 years history. So I needed to write a second book. The problem was, I now had only six months before the lifeguard reunion was scheduled to convene, and I had no publisher for the second book.
There was only one individual in my experience that could get out book two in six months, when most publishers take at least four months to review proposals and a year after manuscripts are submitted to get the book in print. The previous year, in 2018, Hellgate Press had picked up my book on Vietnam experiences after another publisher had “dragged feet” for fully three years after acceptance of my manuscript. Hellgate got the book out in less than a year, and indeed, publishing with Hellgate had been a very good experience all around, so I proposed to Hellgate the impossible task at hand. It was already mid-March, 2019, and the lifeguard reunion was less than seven months off. What was worse, I would be in Europe from the last week in August until a few days before the October lifeguard reunion. This tightened the window even more. Essentially I had twenty-two weeks to produce the finished second manuscript. I promised the press that by August 20, I would write the text, select and caption 250 photos, edit, index, approve layout, sign off on the book cover design, and proof read book two, Saving Lives, if Hellgate could print the book in September while I was in Europe and then ship books to me by September 30th—an impossible schedule for a six and a half month production from start to finish.
The ever-positive press said, “we’ll give it a shot,” and it was all accomplished exactly as projected. The Arcadia book #1 publication date was August 5, and I was in Ocean City with book signings in late July and August; I submitted and signed off on everything for Hellgate’s book #2 by August 15, and then I flew to Russia (that’s another story) on August 23rd. Completely out of contact with my Hellgate publisher for the next six weeks as I toured Russia and Scandinavian countries, I finally flew back to Atlanta from London on October 1, finding the requested cases of the Saving Lives books had arrived, on schedule, on my front porch, the day prior to my return. I loaded the books into our SUV, drove 715 miles to Ocean City, and the first copies of both books were available to OCBP alumni lifeguards gathered at the Dunes Manor Hotel for the 7th OCBP Lifeguard Reunion. So in the end, there were two books, not one, each recounting and illustrating the history of the Ocean City Beach Patrol. And as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
To purchase books by Robert Craig go to his From the Pen of the Captain’s Kid page with links to purchase.