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How Writer Jack London
Gave Lincoln Boy
His Start


Lincoln Republican, 1 July 1909

Wanderlust was having things all its own way with Martin Johnson. The routine work of developing other people’s photographic plates and films and clerking in his father’s jewelry store in Independence, Kan., had been growing each day more irksome to the boy who had just passed from his teens to his twenties. He was not unconscious of the beauties of the paved and shady streets and the well trimmed lawns of this prosperous Kansas town, but he was tired of the monotony.
Martin spent his boyhood years in Lincoln where he still has many friends. Those who are intimately acquainted with him know how he longed to speed across the broad Kansas prairies into a new sort of world. Most of all, he longed to be on the sea – for that was the life farthest from the one he was then living.
One day he took up a magazine from the counter of a store and listlessly turned over some of its pages. How abstracted he was is shown in the fact that though he was of an age to despise a magazine for women, the name on the cover of this book was “The Woman’s Home Companion.”
Suddenly all his langor vanished. He began to read, hurriedly, eagerly; and in a few minutes threw the magazine onto the counter with an exclamation of joy and thump of his first.
“If I could be that third,” he said. “If I could be that third.”
The magazine contained an announcement of the perilous trip to be taken by Jack London, the writer with his wife and some third person not yet chosen. In a sailing vessel 47 feet long they were to circle the globe; and strange adventures were to be their stock in trade.
In another five minutes the boy was at a desk, scribbling, biting his pen, scribbling again. He was writing a letter to Jack London. His accomplishments, he told London, were chiefly that he had a reputation for making and developing pictures. What else the letter said is not stated, but there was something more – perhaps a certain personality or a bit of boyish bragging that took the noted author’s fancy. At any rate, the author’s reply to the letter of the boy from Kansas was a short telegram:
“Can you cook?”
Martin Johnson’s heart thumped so hard when he opened that little yellow envelope that it is a wonder he lived to word an answer. All his wits were needed just then – for his experience in cooking was limited to the fried eggs and coffee of camping trips. But he made his answer as laconic as London’s query.
“A little. Can learn more.”
Then he hurried to a nearby restaurant and hired out for the wages of experience. For a week he worked every minute of his waking hours in the restaurant, literally “day and night.” Soon came the order from Jack London to come to San Francisco to become the photographer, cook and crew of the Snark.
A busy, adventurous two and a half years have followed that order. The long cruise the little boat made in the islands of the Pacific until at last both London and “Mrs. Jack” were stricken with the island fever and had to give up the trip, were to the boy from Kansas like a dream that came true. At the last – as in the story books – he found himself captain of the ship.
He had enough experience to last any ordinary man a lifetime; and he sent home so many curios and heathen gods and trinkets that his room is filled with them until the congestion can only be relieved by stacking all new arrivals on the bed. After the Snark was left at Sydney, Martin Johnson set out to finish the rest of that trip around the world alone. Jack London and “Mrs. Jack” (that is the way she signs herself) sent letters of approval to the boy’s father, “J.A. Johnson, the jeweler.”
“I am just dropping you a line to let you know that Martin sailed last Wednesday on his way to Europe,” London wrote. “I cannot tell you how deep was our regret at parting with Martin. He was the only one who sailed with us from San Francisco who was with us at the finish. And he proved himself a darned fine boy, if I do say it to his own dad. I don’t know who was cut up the most in our parting – Martin, Mrs. London or myself.”
Mrs. London described the parting.
“When Martin shook hands goodbye last Wednesday he went right out the door and never looked back. I never saw him so affected. He is not much given to emotions and worrying about things or feeling blue, but he was awfully blue before he left. I came in quite cheerfully to say goodbye to him, but when he had gone out I burst into tears.”

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