Letter From What America?


This week our “Hey Abbott Award” goes to a dead man.  Certainly, a first for these pages.


For more than 50 years BBC Radio 4 listeners based their impressions of the USA on Alistair Cooke's weekly “Letter From America.”  It was enjoyable fiction that painted a picture taken from his apartment high above our Central Park here in the Big Apple.


Mr. Cooke lived in a type of upscale building unknown to almost all Americans.  He traveled in the high atmosphere circles that are also unknown to almost all Americans.  He created an image of America for his listeners that simple didn’t reveal what this country is all about.


His radio popularity was obtained by giving his audiences and his bosses at the BBC what they thought “America” was all about.  Throw in a nifty accent and some old British charm and you had a winner for the radio ratings.


Bluntly put, Mr. Cooke reported on one level, whilst we Americans existed on another.  There was a trade off.  The Brits and other listeners got the Alistair Cooke snapshot of the United States.  We got the Monty Python picture of England.


Putting this all aside, what has our displeasure this week is that it is reported that he wanted his ashes scattered in Central Park.  His widow and ten family members and his secretary (as reported by the Sunday Times of Britain) did just that.


We would like to think that Mr. Cooke, if he had truly made that request, was just pulling someone’s leg.  On the other hand, if he was serious, it further indicates his detachment from day to day America.


The law says you can’t spread ashes in Central Park.  You can’t bury people in Central Park.  New Yorkers don’t even consider such a thing. 


This outrageous act, if it really did occur, would have made a fine piece for “Letter From America.”  Mr. Cooke would have painted a picture of a charming gathering in Central Park and he would have explained how at least for one man a final wish had come true.


The Sunday Times of Britain reports that Mr. Cooke’s widow Jane said, “The police might come here now.  I suppose if they do, I’ll just have to hide under the bed.”


Jane knows that the police will not come because it is unthinkable that our Mayor Michael Bloomberg would let a prosecutor charge anyone connected to this event.  After all, the ashes were those of a special person who lived on a special level and traveled in a special world unknown to the “real” New Yorkers (or Americans).


Central Park belongs to the people of New York City, it is not a cemetery or a dumping ground.


We can just imagine what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have had to say about all of this.