A group of 40, or so, travelers arrived in Washington, D.C., about 38 hours after boarding a bus in tiny Alleman.
The Class of 1961, along with several chaperones, had begun a senior class trip before dawn the previous Spring day. On the first day, the group had visited the Museum of Natural History in Chicago, then traveled across Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania overnight, arriving in Philadelphia to spend a day visiting the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Philadelphia Mint (no, there were no free samples).
Our tired group arrived in Washington, D.C., in the early evening and looked forward to spending a night in our destination hotel. Tired as we were after traveling through the previous night, we had one more stop before welcomed sleep. Our itinerary included a visit to watch the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra that evening.
However, when we arrived at the large auditorium we were met with a security guard and several well-dressed, obviously important, men. They stopped us just inside the door and asked our purpose for being there. Everyone visible inside wore expensive suits; after traveling for two days, our clothes and jackets certainly looked out of place.
When we told the folks who’d stopped us that we were a senior class from Iowa there to see the Washington Philharmonic perform that night, we were turned away.
We had not been informed that the orchestra would not play that evening. Instead, Washington dignitaries – ambassadors, congressmen, senators and cabinet members – were assembled to hear American icon Robert Frost read his poetry.
Admittedly, some of our group wasn’t all that disappointed. We could all use a good night sleep, but just as we turned to go, a stately appearing gentleman appeared and, once again, asked our purpose for being there. I was closest and told him that our itinerary called for us to be there for the musical performance.
He immediately turned to one of the guards there and told him that he wouldn’t hear of us being turned away, that he was to allow us into the balcony. It didn’t take us long to learn that the gentleman who had intervened on our behalf was none other than Robert Frost himself.
It all happened so suddenly, but we were quickly ushered up a curved staircase into a balcony overlooking the large auditorium. Seated below were many of the most important men in America at the time. We looked over the railing as men in tuxedos and ladies in their finest gowns took seats. We could only imagine that those in the first few rows were the most important of the all-important group that had assembled.
Most of us were in awe of the entire evening that had unfolded before us. Some slept. Most, however, could only imagine who was assembled downstairs. For an hour, maybe more, we listened as Robert Frost, then 87 years old, read some of the nation’s most important works of poetry.
It took a long time to sink in, but when it finally did I realized I had actually exchanged words with an American icon. Robert Frost died less than two years later. A small group from a small school in Iowa, however, had become only a relative handful of Iowans who had ever seen Robert Frost in person, had actually been in an audience as he read his famous poetry.