Jack Kerouac, iconic author and Beat Movement protagonist, died at 5:45 am on Oct. 21, 1969 in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 47.
Why He’s Famous
Kerouac was a gifted yet conflicted author who helped to usher in the Beat Movement which led to the Hippie era of the 1970s. His writing was unique and dealt with complicated social issues and themes such as race, wealth, drugs, and religion in an era of profound change. Kerouac’s writing influenced singers, authors and artists – people like Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and others – and his work had a strong impact on the fabric and culture of America. His most well-known book was written over just a few days and typed out on a single 300+ foot long scroll. That novel, “On the Road,” bridged the gap between the conservative Catholic life of his youth and one that was carefree, adventuresome, and conflicted. Along with other works by Kerouac, the novel was published decades ago. This writing presented a quasi-autobiographical tale of his travels from a unique, often drug and alcohol fueled perspective. The book took place just after WWII, when hitchhiking across the US could be done without concern. And that, in 5 stories, is the stream of consciousness called On The Road.
Kerouac in St. Pete
My goal is to not present Kerouac in entirety, but rather to explain why he was in St. Pete and give a glimpse into his life here. Let’s take a look at a bit of history that’s been well preserved today — a tour of his home and the place where he lived at the time of his passing.
In 1964 Jack’s mother was a retiree living in St. Pete but she was in poor health. Jack, who had lived here and there and everywhere up until that time, came to town that year to assist her. Jack bounced around St. Pete for a couple years, but finally bought the home next to his mother’s in 1967. Today, this well-preserved but unassuming house at 5169 10th Ave N in St. Petersburg remains a virtually pristine, small but inviting Florida post-war rancher on a corner lot.
Thanks to Florida Humanities and the welcoming owners of the home — owners who are committed to preserving the history and cultural significance of the property — a group of people (me included!) was able to tour the home, enjoy a discussion about Kerouac, and hear about the efforts toward preservation. If you’d like your chance to visit, keep an eye on the official FB page to look for events at the house — Kerouac House St Pete.
Preservation of a Time Capsule
To sum it up, the house sat untouched with all belongings where they were at the time of his death for literal decades while the complicated estate went through legal challenges and other problems. This effectively preserved the house as a sort of time capsule that left many of Jack’s belongings and the design of the house intact. While the house has been cleaned up to great extent, touches like the original wood paneling, cabinets, bathrooms, and overall design is largely as Kerouac would have remembered it.
Perhaps even more interesting, many of the Kerouac family’s belongings stayed with the house. There are pieces of furniture that were there when Jack died, preserved perfectly. To complete the scene, a few new items from the period have been brought in to replace some of the items that had been removed at one point or another.
A Tragic Goodbye
For much of his life, and especially during his time in St. Pete, Kerouac battled the demon of alcoholism and addiction while still trying to write and research for his next projects. Jack spent a lot of time at the Flamingo Bar which was close to his home, often arriving before it opened. Jack didn’t talk about himself or reveal his identity, by this time in his life he preferred to stay lost in the crowd.
Kerouac died of an abdominal hemorrhage at St. Anthony’s hospital in the early morning of October 21, 1969 after becoming nauseous at home while working on a book about his father. His condition was complicated by his alcoholism, which had been a heavy cross to bear throughout his life, but one which he also leaned on for his avant-garde writing style.
Kerouac was a troubled yet groundbreaking author who died with little and became more well-known posthumously. His home here was his final stop on an epic journey, and if you get the chance you should visit. Even if you aren’t a Kerouac fan the mid-century furniture is worth a visit on its own!
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