Halliburton, Horizon Chaser

March 23: The American adventurer Richard Halliburton was last heard from on this day in 1939, in a radio dispatch sent from his boat during a Pacific Ocean typhoon. After dropping out of college to take his first, unannounced trip, Halliburton sent his parents a letter declaring his intention to become a perpetual "horizon chaser":

Dad, you hit the wrong target when you write that you wish I were at Princeton living "in the even tenor of my way." I hate that expression and as far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition.... And when my time comes to die, I'll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain, thrills—every emotion that any human ever had—and I'll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed. …[M]y way is to be ever changing, but always swift, acute and leaping from peak to peak instead of following the rest of the herd, shackled in conventionalities, along the monotonous narrow path in the valley.

Almost any passage in Halliburton's books echoes his pledge to live peak-to-peak. In the Egypt chapter of The Royal Road to Romance, Halliburton recalls that his Princeton professor of Ancient Oriental Literature began one lecture, "The land of Egypt is five thousand years and five thousand miles away." "When, near the end of an eight-day voyage, the white walls of Alexandria began to peep over the horizon," Halliburton gloats, "I realized that Egypt was only ten miles away and not five thousand." To rub it in, he insists on sneaking up the Great Pyramid in the moonlight, spending a frigid night to get the sunrise view:

Thus for the one million seven hundred and fifty thousandth time the pyramids watched the break of dawn. "Centuries look down upon you," said Napoleon standing at the base. Far more than mere centuries, say civilization, say the history of the world. Three thousand B.C.! It is incomprehensible, and yet they stand and will stand for as many ages yet to come. They are not a perishable work of man; they are an element, a part of the earth to bide its time until we and all our civilization and our monuments and languages and manners shall have been lost and forgotten.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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