Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Historian John Ritter Passes Away

Here's sad news for the day.

Obituary for John Ritter in the paper today

The newspaper ran an obituary for historian John Ritter today. John was an entertainer and  popularizer, running the underground tours you might have heard of or gone on. Because he did not always publish his findings, especially claims for new discoveries or novel interpretations of contested facts, it was sometimes difficult to extend them or even confirm them. Some of the lore seemed more mythic or speculative than not. At the same time, it was often non-traditional history of vice, squalor, or racism, ugly history, that establishment historians seeking consensus or harmony or the politics of great men generally passed by.

A talk at Deepwood in July 2019

Even in death he was perhaps a bit of a storyteller. The obituary says

Never content to stop learning, he earned several grants and scholarships throughout his life including a Fulbright to study in Egypt (where he rode camels and climbed a pyramid at dawn to see the sun rise) a National Merit Scholarship, and a Rhodes Scholarship for Europe.

via the Rhodes Scholar Database

But there is no record of any Rhodes Scholarship. It would have made him a contemporary of Dave Frohmayer, who was a Rhodes Scholar for 1962. Perhaps there is a "Rhodes Scholarship for Europe" distinct from the one we usually mean by the term.

Ritter had a particular kind of ground-level knowledge, however. His father demolished many historic buildings and John had a real knowledge and memory of things lost.

Father Ed with the elusive Cox store plaque, 1955
Marion Hotel on right in back
Salem Library Historic Photos

Ed ran a demolition firm
Salem Library Historic Photos

Maybe Capi Lynn will write one of her columns on him. She did back in 2015 and he deserves a curtain call. 

Hopefully the forthcoming book, "nearly completed...with his daughter," will have more on Salem history. Back in 2015 Lynn referenced a forthcoming title, Underground Salem: Salem's Dark, Deep, Demented Past, and that might be it.

So a toast of your favorite beverage to John Ritter and in appreciation for new perspectives on Salem's history.


anothervoice said...

Condolences. In college, I had a history professor that made English history come alive. When I moved to Oregon in the early 80's, I met an ex-con that earned a degree while in the pen. He was otherwise uneducated but his ability to make the listener feel that they were being transported to a former time and place rivaled that of Professor Bushnell, whose passing was also deeply felt by those who knew and were touched by him.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I went to school with John. We were in the same class several years at St. Joseph's School here in town.

I have some memories of John Ritter as a kid who was very popular but very energetic. That's a kind way of saying he talked a lot in class and was always eager to raise his hand to answer questions. That's not a bad thing though. But it did make him stand out.

I remember when he injured his leg...I think at Disneyland. He had to wear a brace and it made him different, but it did not seem to damage his cheer or his energy. He just dealt with it and would not let him be limited by that. Even as a kid I remember admiring that in him.

After we graduated I lost track of him until he emerged as a teacher at the Prison. As I recall he thought there with Father John how was the principal at our high school, Serra Catholic, until it closed in 1969. Together they truly developed the whole concept of adult education in correctional facilities. I'd like to know more about that journe.

I would not have predicted John would be such a scholar, as in high school he was not known as a studious person. He was unloving and social in my memory. But I am learning lots of things about my school mates though a new Facebook page than I would notice as a child myself.

My father knew his father and everyone thought highly of the Ritter family. It's so interesting to see how a life progresses, but a kind heart and a quick mind like that of John Ritter is bound to be loved, respected and successful. He will be missed.

Thank you for printing this obiturary as I would have otherwise missed it.