Stories of Sinclair Lewis
From the Sauk Centre Herald
1) Lewis and Bryant Library
2) Cast gets into Sinclair Lewis' skin
3) Bookseller remembers afternoon with Lewis
4) Is Lewis relavent?
5) Carol Kennicott returns to Main Street
6) Lewis scholars celebrate 75th anniversary of Babbitt
7) Enlightened on Lewis
8) The German side of Sinclair Lewis
9) The athletic side of Sinclair Lewis
The athletic side of Sinclair Lewis
by Dave Simpkins
If you’ve ever biked from Sauk Centre to Cedar Lake to fish and camp with friends, you have something in common with Harry Sinclair Lewis.
If you’ve ever swum across Fairy Lake, you have something in common with Harry Sinclair Lewis.
If you’ve ever walked to Meire Grove from Sauk Centre, you have something in common with Harry Sinclair Lewis.
If you’ve ever rowed a boat to the far end of Sauk Lake to visit a cute girl and her parents, you have something in common with Harry Sinclair Lewis.
These are all experiences the future best selling author and Nobel Prize winner would remember in his dairies, letters and magazine articles.
Lewis wasn’t a traditional athlete in any sense of the word. He was tall, lanky and too awkward to handle a ball. But he led a physically active life.
While the tall Lewis didn’t play basketball he followed the team writing cheers for the cheerleaders.
Here is one he wrote for the championship game against Alexandria.
Cooma laca booma alca bow wow wow
Chingalaca chingalaca chow chow chow
Are we in it? Well I guess
Sauk Center High school
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Lewis’s father, Dr. E. J. Lewis, believed the outdoors and rigorous physical activity was healthy. Lewis earned 70 cents for splitting a cord of wood behind their home. Legend has it the avid reader would prop a book in a tree, split a log, read a page, split a log read a page. Lewis’s father wrote to Lewis at college that he had six cords of ironwood waiting for him when he got home.
Dr. Lewis taught his sons to shoot and hunt. Young Lewis often put a shotgun over his shoulder and hiking along the railroad tracks looking for ducks.
He and his boyhood friend Irvine Fisher would walk out to Fairy Lake, rent a row boat and bait, fish, swim finishing the day with a shore lunch.
Before going to Yale University, Lewis attended prep school at Oberlin Academy operated by Oberlin College in Ohio.
Oberlin was the center of an enthusiast Protestant missionary movement called Muscular Christianity an energetic Christian activism in combination with an ideal of vigorous masculinity.
The impetuous Lewis “stood up for Christ” declaring he was studying to become a missionary. He father urged him to stay with his plans to go to Yale.
Oberlin was also one of the early sites of a Young Men’s Christian Association. Lewis took up weight lifting at Oberlin and continued throughout his years at Yale.
While Lewis went on to become a critic of Christianity, Oberlin and the YMCA grew to influence the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Promise Keepers.
His long legs and fast stride made it hard for others to keep up with him. Lewis and Fisher thought they could walk and read the Bible together but he walked too fast for the plan to work.
Lewis would think through his readings and writings with a brisk walk. In high school he walked the countryside practicing his German on local farmers.
Lewis was a restless novelist, traveling and living in many places for short periods of time. His long walks gave him material for his books. At Yale he would walk the black ghettos of New Haven, Connecticut. He liked walking through cemeteries looking for names of potential characters in his novels.
Biking was the craze in the early part of the Twentieth Century and young Lewis was an avid part of that craze.
The 16-year-old Lewis wrote in his April 1901 diary showing he was a very busy cyclist and socialite.
“Sat. 3 WHEEL SEASON OPENS FOR ME after a new pair of inner tubes, brazed forks and cleaning, my rambler is ready for another season rewaits Cost 50 dollars. Went riding tonight. Met Bertha and rode with her for an hour.
“Sun Rode about 5 or 10 miles today. Went out past the two cemeteries and back by the Melrose road this morning. This evening I went out to the three mile school house with Witaman.
“Mon. to give a Ger. story in class this morning. Riding on the Fairy Lake this noon I met Lily McGibbon. Came in with her.
Fri. 19. Went out and rode in with Lily McGibbon this noon on my wheel.
Sat. 20. Climbed up on top of school house helping the kids mend the flag pole. I shouted see this in after years may it remind me to go up there and look for my initials.
“Wed. 24. Was out riding with Clara Carr tonight. We helped them play hide and go seek. Myra and Annabell Erwin were also out riding. Took a bath tonight.
Sat. 27. Mr Gunderson and I went about eight or ten miles on our wheels (on the north cedar lake road) this morning. I got a pair of bike pants today and tonight I appeared in proper bike costume. I rode with Della for about an hour and half tonight.”
Lewis continued his interest in biking into his marriage with Gracie Hegger. They shock up their wealthy Long Island, New York socialites by biking to a dinner party rather than showing up in an automobile.
All of Lewis’s physical activities paid off in the summer of his freshman year at Yale. Instead of coming home to Sauk Centre he hired out a working on a cattle boat to Liverpool, England.
He worked with five men feeding, watering and cleaning up after 650 head of beef cattle. He wrote to his mother at the end of the voyage saying he was no long a boy, he could now do the rugged, physical work of a man.
While in England he did try to walk from Liverpool to London but ran out of money and had to sign on another boat for home.
While Lewis wasn’t a traditional athlete, his walking, biking, weight lifting and swimming gave him the physical condition he used to explore the world he wrote so well about.