Edward Abbey attended the Rayne Township Consolidated
School (1934-41), Marion Center High School (1941-42),
Indiana High School (1942-45), and Indiana University of
Pennsylvania (1947) before leaving for Albuquerque and the
University of New Mexico, where he earned bachelor's and
master's degrees in philosophy.
Howard Abbey remembers that he and his brother started
school as first-graders in 1934, when there was no
kindergarten, and that soon thereafter Ed was skipped ahead
to second grade. Ed, says his brother, always remained very
self-assured and certain of his superiority over his peers.
Ed was recalled by others as a shy, studious schoolboy. In
fact, from people who knew him at various stages of his life,
one learns that the real Ed Abbey was quite different than
the image of him created by characters such as the wild
Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang or Henry Lightcap in
The Fool's Progress. Abbey himself was aware of the
dichotomy. "The Edward Abbey of my books," he wrote
in his journal, "is largely a fictional creation: the
true adventures of an imaginary person. The real Edward
Abbey? I think I hardly know him. A shy, retiring, very timid
fellow obviously. Somewhat of a recluse, emerging rarely from
his fictional den only when lured by money, vice, the
prospect of applause."
Abbey clearly developed a persona in his books and as a
public speaker that was not the same as his private demeanor.
He remarked in an interview that the "character I create
in my journalism is perhaps a person I would like to be:
bold, brash, daring.... I guess some people mistake the
creation for the author, but that's their problem."
His relatives and high school classmates agree. Sister
Nancy Abbey says that as a boy Ed "was too shy to be
much of a cut-up.... He was a very, very complex
person." An aunt, Betty George, notes that "I never
saw him trying to be funny." I had gone to Ed Abbey's
50th high school reunion -- he was posthumously honored as a
distinguished alumnus, with clippings about him displayed on
a bulletin board -- expecting to hear from his Indiana High
School classmates that he was an unforgettable character and
perhaps a practical joker. Instead, the word that I heard
most frequently from his classmates was "loner."
Judy Moorhead recalls that "he wasn't a part of a group.
Part of that was because he lived in the country and he would
ride the schoolbus home." Eugene Bence concurs: "He
lived a little ways away. And he didn't get to many of the
social activities that were going on." But Abbey was not
afraid to stand out, Bence adds. "He was kind of like
the hippie of his day: having work shoes and just dressing a
little more down. I recall his hair as always being askew --
like under no control whatsoever. He didn't care."
Leonard Abrams says, "I can still remember Ed Abbey
wearing Norman Thomas buttons to school."
Abbey had switched from Marion Center High School to
Indiana High for several reasons. Longtime friend Ed Mears
says that Abbey didn't like walking to Marion Center and
could get a ride to Indiana High. Nancy Abbey expects that
her brother would have preferred the increased cultural
stimulation of Indiana. Clarke Cartwright Abbey, his widow,
remembers him saying that he switched high schools in order
to get more writing classes.
Abbey's double distance as a country boy coming in from 8
miles away to Indiana, and his remarkable intellect even at a
relatively early age, increased his alienation. "I don't
think anybody in our class," says Gene Bence, "ever
got to know Ed Abbey really well. And I think it's because,
intellectually, he was on a plane above us." Judy
Moorhead recalls: "The one statement I remember Ed Abbey
making was in a science class. We were talking about atoms;
in those days no high school students heard very much about
atoms. And Ed said, 'If anybody can ever split the atom,
they'll unleash all kinds of power.' He was aware of these
things before the rest of his classmates."
|"... up a red-dog road
and under a railroad trestle through a tunnel in the
woods" (Abbey's description in Appalachian
Wilderness) was the route to the
family's beloved Indiana County homestead dubbed the
"Old Lonesome Briar Patch." Here Howard Abbey is seen driving away from
his childhood home.|
Abbey wrote in his journal in 1954: "High school --
Indiana, Pennsylvania; four years of intellectual adventure
and social misery" (Confessions, 118). Actually
he attended Indiana High for three years, having transferred
after a year at Marion Center, which was closer to the family
home (dubbed by them as the "Old Lonesome Briar
Patch"). His reputation at Marion Center High was much
the same. "He was pretty much a loner," Ed Mears
comments. "He didn't mingle a lot. He wasn't an enemy of
anybody. But he didn't have a lot of friends." Adds Ivan
McGee, a year ahead of Abbey at Marion Center (and later the
executive director of the Historical and Genealogical Society
of Indiana County): "I always felt him sort of an
intellectual student. I mean bright, intelligent -- probably
did not fit in too well with a lot of his classmates."
Abbey's future career and interest in writing began during
high school. His first known publications appeared when he
was 14 and 15 years old: an anti-Hitler editorial,
"America and the Future," in the Marion Center
Independent in December 1941, and "Another
Patriot," a short story in a spring 1942 Marion Center
High School compendium of student writings and news. Both
are forgettable boyhood wartime writings, though
"Another Patriot" is early evidence of Abbey's
flair for the dramatic, with his protagonist diving into the
ocean in front of an oncoming German torpedo to sacrifice
himself and save his ship.
Actually Abbey had "published" at an even
earlier age, charging his siblings a penny to read "this
wonderful comic series of `The Adventures of Lucky
Stevens,'" recounts Nancy Abbey. Lucky Stevens "was
born this baby that cracked open whiskey bottles with his
teeth and drank it down, and he decided to leave home at an
early age. I remember there was this one hobo king who had a
thumbnail that was like a dagger. Lucky Stevens had to fight
to the death with him."
Next section: The Attraction of the West
and Abbey's Summer 1944 Trip
 Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the
Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989, ed. David Petersen
(Boston and New York, 1994), 246-47; hereafter cited as Confessions.
 Quoted by James Hepworth, "The Poetry Center
Interview" [Tucson, 1977], Resist Much, Obey Little:
Some Notes on Edward Abbey, ed. Hepworth and Gregory
McNamee (1985; Tucson, 1989), 44. My quotations from other
people about Abbey are from my own interviews (unless
otherwise cited). as follows: Bill Abbey (27 Oct. 1995),
Clarke Cartwright Abbey (6 Feb. 1996), Howard Abbey (18 Oct.
1995), Nancy Abbey (2 Dec. 1995), Leonard Abrams (22 Sept.
1995), Eugene Bence (22 Sept. 1995), Sam Furgiuele (17 Nov.
1995), Betty [Elizabeth Postlewait) George (27 Oct. 1995),
Raymona Hull (29 Jan. 1996), Ed Mears (4 Oct. 1995), Ivan
McGee (13 Sept. 1995), Judy Moorhead (22 Sept. 1995), Gurney
Norman (18 Dec. 1995), Ken Sleight (17 Jan. 1996), and John
Watta (18 May 1995). I am extremely grateful to all of these
individuals, each of whom gave generously of their time and
 My thanks go to Ivan McGee, former executive
director of the Historical and Genealogical Society of
Indiana County and a contemporary of Abbey at Marion Center
High School, for lending me these two articles.