It is difficult to see what benefits might accrue from a “memorialization” of William Burroughs’ former residence.
There is good reason for Lawrence to be recognized for many notable individuals and occurrences. Yet when there are needs in so many other categories, is it advisable to raise some $200,000 to try to get the former home of author William S. Burroughs on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places? What about the cost of operation and maintenance?
The controversial Burroughs, with followers who relish his notoriety in the literary field, was a noted and celebrated drug abuser. In a moment of stupor, he shot and killed his wife in Mexico while allegedly playing a “William Tell” game. For all his artistic merits, he was not a poster boy for good citizenship.
Burroughs lived in Lawrence from 1981 until his death in 1997 and the focal point for the “historic” designation is his former bungalow at 1937 Learnard. James Grauerholz, a longtime friend and current executor of the Burroughs estate, is spearheading the project and he can make a good case for it.
“The fact of the matter is that more people know Lawrence because of William Burroughs than there are people who live in Lawrence,” he says. “William Burroughs is one of the things that puts Lawrence on the map, that is for sure.”
Considering all the other – law-abiding – people who have “put Lawrence on the map,” and continue to do so, that rates as a substantial overstatement. Our community long has had stellar residents working on its behalf, and Burroughs does not even fit into the lower 1 percent of such a group.
Douglas County Commissioner Jere McElhaney has far more supporters than he might suspect on this matter. Last year, Burroughs supporters got a federal designation to rename a creek near the home as Burroughs Creek. McElhaney opposed that move as well as the “memorialization” of the Burroughs home.
“I think it just sends a very wrong message to say a person like that is of historical significance in Lawrence,” McElhaney said. “He was a wife-killer and a drug addict. We need to honor those individuals and groups that really make our community proud. Personally, I don’t think he is very important at all.” After all, weren’t Lawrence’s merits well-chronicled before 1981?
Grauerholz considers Burroughs “a giant in the literary world” . . . with “an amazing gift for language and an amazing ear for bits of dialogue.” He asks that the public not take the project as an endorsement of Burroughs’ controversial lifestyle. Such a separation is not easy.
There are many better ways to spend at least $200,000 and the city would seem to have enough of a “designation” via Burroughs Creek. It is difficult to believe that a residential “shrine” would do anything new and productive to put Lawrence on the map.