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Life Is A Great Book

Ed Wood: Writer, Planner, Pacifist

By Tom Korson, Special to the GPHN

At 94, Ed Wood, a Park Hill resident since 1987, still walks a mile a day.

So when my wife and I see him walking toward Cake Crumbs or Grape Expectations, I feel encouraged.

Wood was born in Alabama. Until age 9, he lived with his parents in the Deep South. By 1932 the Wood family lived in Charlotte, but his father’s business lost everything in the Depression.

Next stop, Chicago. Wood’s father had a cotton brokerage business there, and Ed was graduated from LaGrange High School in a suburb of the Windy City. But every summer Wood spent at his grandmother’s truck farm outside Mobile.

When the family lived in the Chicago area, in a neighborhood which was predominately Irish Catholic and Polish Catholic, all of a sudden Wood, a Protestant, experienced the challenge of being a minority. That experience was helpful to him later, when he became a city planner in Baltimore.

He wanted to join his father in the cotton business, but by the time he finished high school World War II had started. 

Infused with patriotic ideals, Wood volunteered for the Army in 1943 and was trained at the Army Specialized Training Program in California. Then, the Army sent him to medical school to be a doctor. But Wood felt bad about the hundreds and hundreds of other men who were sent straight into the infantry on the battlefields of Europe, at a time when the Army “desperately needed young bodies.” So he left the program in physician training and volunteered for the infantry. 

He was sent to the Western Front in France, as a replacement for a soldier who had been wounded or killed, and when he got to his unit, he didn’t know anyone. And he felt woefully unprepared for combat.

But, at the vulnerable age of 19, into combat he bravely went. After a day and a half, he was badly wounded. “Lots of shrapnel, some of which is still in me,” he says. (If you’re lucky enough to sit and chat with him, the language he will use to describe the nature of his injuries will be more colorful.)

After a lengthy recovery in a rehabilitation hospital in England, Wood went to the University of Chicago, to which he was attracted by its Great Books program – reading the Western canon, from Homer, the Greek classics, the Roman classics, Dante, and the greats of 20th century literature. 

Eventually he made his way to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he studied landscape architecture. Having been in combat, and being badly wounded – all that changed his life forever. While deeply pondering what had happened to him in the war, he worked as a gardener in New England for five years, and then he was accepted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study city planning.

For some six years, Ed worked as a planner for the City of Baltimore. He saw his life’s work as doing everything he could to help African Americans find decent housing in sustainable communities.

Then came the sixties: the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Those horrendous events, especially the turmoil after MLK’s death, led Ed Wood to start writing – something he had long wanted to do. So he started writing at the age of 54.

Wood took the unpopular tack of questioning the wisdom of war, after it had been won for democracy. The title of one of his books says it all: Worshipping the Myths of World War II: Reflections on American’s Dedication to War (University of Nebraska Press, 2006) available from Amazon.

Because of his strong views about war in particular and violence in general, he became a Quaker. He came to Denver as resident in the Quaker Meeting House in south Denver 34 years ago. In Quaker spirituality he finds strong support for his pacifist views. 

As a city planner, Wood deplores the over-development that has dominated Denver in recent years. But he rejoices in being a proud and happy resident of Park Hill. He shares his life with his partner, Elaine Granata, an urban farmer who strongly supports Ed’s writing.

Wood has written two new books, which he hopes to live to see published. One is a novel about an unexpected conscientious objector. 

As Wood and I ended our interview, he asked me to emphasize how lucky in life he feels that he has been. Likewise, Park Hill is lucky indeed, to be enriched by Ed Wood.

Tom Korson and his wife, Mary Mullarkey, have lived in Park Hill since 1973. Their son, Andrew Korson, and his family also live in Denver. Andrew’s wife, Emily Korson, is the founder of ReCreative Denver in the Santa Fe Arts District. ReCreative Denver is a community arts program, which accepts donations of artists’ materials and then sells at a discount, thus keeping many tons of reusable materials away from the landfill. Andrew is a gastroenterologist with Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology. Tom writes political satire (apocryphalpress.com) and he can be contacted at tkindenver@comcast.com


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