Flight of Fancy

Colby’s copy of Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors is mostly devoid of signs of use. There are no annotations, no doodles. The book itself, aside from some bleeding of the color on the cover, is in wonderful condition for one handmade in the early twentieth century. However, the first two pages, in just a few words and one ex-libris, carry a full story about one of the books owners.

This is the ex-libris that adorns the first page of the book. A hot-air balloon rises above a book in what appears to be a storm. Alone, this gives us precious little to work with. But connected with the name written in the following page, it opens a world of intrigue.

The page reads, “Logan D. McKee, Monett, Mo. This is the only writing inside of this copy of Hubbard’s work. After some brief research on Ancestry.com and the Monett Times, I discovered that Mr. McKee was a prominent pharmacist in Monett and an avid aviator. That explains the hot-air balloon.

McKee was born sometime in 1878 in Kansas. By 1911, he was already a practicing pharmacist in Monett. Perhaps most interestingly, Mr. McKee flew a DeChenne airplane at the fourth of July picnic in Monett in 1911.

The program from the July 4th festivities in Monett, showing McKee’s flight as one of the main events.

McKee in flight, July 4th, 1911.

McKee was one of the first aviators in America, only eight years after the Wright brothers first flew there airplane in North Carolina. Just owning a plane at this time would have been an expensive investment. And flying it, especially for fun over hundreds of people, was a risky but impressively adventurous endeavor undertaken by McKee.

Logan D. McKee in his DeChenne airplane.

McKee was part of a team of airplane builders in Monett. As the pilot, he was in charge of maintaining the plane and, of course, flying it. His team built two planes in 1910 and 1911. The projects were both spearheaded by Ed Dechenne, Carl Saxe, and Everet DeHanas. McKee and the crew even took their planes to shows throughout the midwest.

The DeChenne crew’s tent at a show in Chicago.

It would not be a stretch to connect McKee’s interest in building and operating his own airplane with his reasoning for owning Hubbard’s book. Both men seem prone to creative feats and breaking with normal trends. A handmade book, created in the style of the counter-cultural Arts and Crafts movement, seems the perfect reading material for an aviator and self-made entrepreneur like McKee. However, the evidence in the book does not point to when McKee obtained Hubbard’s book. The pages have been turned and the spine broken, so someone read it many times. Whether this was McKee I cannot say. Whoever read this book took the care to keep the pages clean. And McKee cared enough for the book to put both his name and ex-libris inside. It was part of his personal collection in his library. A library that most likely, for a time, resided in this house:

This is 309 Third St., Monett, Missouri. In the 1940 Census McKee put this home as his place of residence. It was built in 1912, one year after McKee’s flight above Monett. I cannot say which part of the home are original, but my guess would be that McKee’s home looked similar. (The Zestimate on Zillow is $118,503.)

Aside from the evidence of McKee’s ownership, there was one other hint at the book’s history.

This card inside the cover shows that Hubbard’s book was a gift of A.A. D’Amico, probably in the 1960’s. D’Amico and his wife lived in Bangor, Maine, and gave a number of gifts to Colby college over the years. Among these are a sizable collection of prints and other contemporary art pieces like paintings and statues.

I cannot say for certain when D’Amico gifted the book, although I stick to my guess that it was around the ’60s, mostly because this seems to be when he and his wife gifted most of their items to Colby. I certainly cannot say when the book changed hands from McKee to D’Amico and who may have owned it in between the two men. But this particular copy of Hubbard’s Little Journeys seems to have led an interesting life in its 118 years before I found it in the special collections section of Miller Library.




D’Amico Collection of Paintings and Pottery