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And Speaking of Signs

August 25, 2008

Last August 2007 at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I became very interested in the architect Mary Colter. Even bought the book Mary Colter Builder Upon Red Earth. Colter began her career as a teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota. Later she would become an architect, designer and decorate for the Fred Harvey Company in 1902. According to the book’s author, Virginia Grattan, “It was the Santa Fe Railway that brought the Harvey Company and Mary Colter to Grand Canyon.”

With Colter would also come the Santa Fe style that paid homage to American Indian architecture and designs. Colter worked with stone, red earth, cinder blocks, and river rocks to build Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, Hopi House, and Watchtower all located in the Grand Canyon. She also decorated other Harvey Hotels. However, like some of us, Colter had poor grammar skills, at least in her hand-painted signs, and it seems two of America’s colonial sons, Jeff Deck of Massachusetts and Benjamin Herson of Virginia took it upon themselves to deface Mary Colter’s 60-year-old sign at the Watchtower because of an “erroneous apostrophe.”

As I’ve said a jillion times, there isn’t a job too big or too small for the colonials. They fixed Mary’s typos in no time at all (and apparently many other government signs with grievous errors.) Thank god for spell-check and Google, or I would have had to quit writing years ago. I remember when I had the only pocket edition of Webster’s Instant Word Guide in the Texas newsrooms where I first worked as a journalist. Sheesh, what a job that was to have to look up every freaking word I wrote.

Sadly, Mary Colter didn’t have a pocket Webster to check her spelling. That didn’t cut any ice with the colonial boys from back east though. They’re banned from our national parks for a year. But if the Typo Eradication Advancement League has its way, they’ll soon be wiping out typos and improper grammar wherever they find them. Let’s hope the Bible is next. Hey, fellas, the original Gutenberg Bible is in German. Don’t let that stop you, though.

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