Photo of David McCullough

Remembering David McCullough

The award-winning historian and friend of the AWM died on August 7 at the age of 89.

Everyone at the American Writers Museum was saddened to hear about the recent passing of David McCullough, an acclaimed popular historian and a staunch advocate of the American Writers Museum since before we even opened. McCullough wrote numerous books on various historic topics like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal, and the Wright Brothers. He won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies Truman and John Adams. He also narrated many documentaries, including The Civil War from director Ken Burns. In 2006, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that a U.S. citizen can receive.

McCullough’s passion for writing history was evident throughout his career. He once said, “I think of writing history as an art form. And I’m striving to write a book that might—might—qualify as literature. I don’t want it just to be readable. I don’t want it just to be interesting. I want it to be something that moves the reader. Moves me.” He also understood and promoted the historical significance of writers and writing, “the importance of literature, of ideas coming through poetry and fiction and philosophy,” as he stated in a 2015 event at the Union League Club of Chicago prior to our opening. He goes on to say:

“Someone like Mark Twain or Willa Cather or Fitzgerald or Whitman is in many ways far more important than most of the politicians and generals that we’re taught to memorize all about in history classes. History isn’t just about politics and war. Writers are part of history.”

While David McCullough will surely be missed in the writing community, his contribution to American letters is undeniable and important. And the thing with writing, as a historian like McCullough would tell you, is that words never die. So while he may not be with us, he lives on in his writing and will continue to inspire many writers and historians.

Andy Anway, founder of Amaze Design and lead designer of the American Writers Museum, had this to say: “We have lost a great historian, a better writer and an incomparable storyteller in David McCullough.  But what I will remember most about him is his love of writing and the written word.  He once said, ‘I wouldn’t know what I think if I didn’t write.’  We are all blessed that he wrote and thought so much and so well.”

And finally, Malcolm O’Hagan, founder of the American Writers Museum, perhaps put it best:

I am deeply saddened by the death of David McCullough, a dear friend. David was a gentleman of the old school, an exemplar of dignity and civility, erudition, and commitment to humanity. The many honors he received attest to the deep respect with which he was held. He understood the importance of history, and through his books made it more accessible and engaging than any other historian.

When David first learned about plans to create a museum to honor American writers he was excited and became an ardent supporter and champion of the project. When the museum opened in May 2017, David honored us by delivering the keynote address and cutting the tape.

David is now reunited with his beloved Rosalee in heaven where no doubt he is telling stories to the angels. Although he has departed this life, he remains with us through his works, an incomparable gift to the nation and to the world. I will miss him as I thank him.

Read more about David McCullough from NPR.

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