Book Review - The Voice of America Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism

by Max Weber

Long before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle there was only Lowell Thomas with the News. After the dawn of radio, and eventually television, a small number of celebrity newscasters emerged. No one was more trusted to deliver the news than Lowell Thomas. For 15 minutes, five nights a week, Lowell Thomas would speak into 2.4 million homes. It is worth noting that he would speak to the nation from the beautiful Clover Brook Farm on our very own Quaker Hill.

The Voice of America is a history of the greater 20th Century. Not much escaped the watchful eye and reassuring voice of Lowell Thomas. He reported on everything from the rise and fall of Lawrence of Arabia to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. He was with Allied troops as they broke through the gates of Buchenwald. Lowell made the world a smaller place by bringing it into America’s living rooms.

The Voice of America by Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism and mass communications at NYU, is not only a history of Lowell and the 20th Century. Many pages are devoted to Quaker Hill and Pawling. Our small town was not nearly as quiet as it is now. Lowell and his family moved to Clover Brook Farm in 1926, and the town was changed forever. Thanks to Lowell we have such historic sites as the Mizzentop location of The Akin Hall (Now Christ Church), and The Quaker Hill Country Club. In one of the most interesting passages Stephens writes about Lowell’s process of collecting the artifacts that adorn the “History of Civilization Fireplace” at the country club. For anyone who has not had the opportunity to view this incredible work it contains within it blocks or pieces of: The Golden Gate Bridge, The Empire State Building, The Great Wall of China, The Taj Mahal, The Kremlin, The Great Pyramid of Giza, The Wall of Jericho, an Inca Stone, a marble Buddha, flints used by cave men, and a Cro-Magnon stone lamp. President Herbert Hoover, our only Geologist President, donated a 500-million-year-old block of gneiss.

For a man who traveled all over the earth, to say that Quaker Hill was his favorite corner of the world is really extraordinary. Lowell loved it so much that in 1936 Lowell purchased 2,500 acres of it fearing it could fall into the hands of a developer intent on creating inexpensive cabins for summer residents.

He was able to sell some parcels of land to individuals he trusted and enjoyed. Most famous among them, Governor Thomas E. Dewey, who moved in next door to Lowell. The guest list at Clover Brook Farm grew in proportion to Lowell’s fame. He hosted such notables as Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sam Snead, Edward R. Murrow, and Count Felix von Luckner. Count Luckner was better known as The Sea Devil during WWI for his masterful naval strategies.

There is much more in this book for all those who appreciate the unique place Pawling has in the history of this country. Mitchell Stephens will be speaking and autographing copies of his book on Saturday, September 30, at 11:00 a.m. at The Book Cove in the village. Call ahead to reserve a copy at (845) 855-9590. The event is free and open to the public.