America’s greatest rural traveler: government demographer Calvin Beale

National Public Radio this weekend ran a fascinating story, a memorial obituary of one of the most interesting and dedicated travelers you’ve never heard of. Demographer Calvin Beale worked for the US Agriculture Department for 55 years before his death on September 1st. Beale didn’t think of himself as a traveler — he simply spent decades cataloging life and images in rural America as part of his job and the work he loved.

Beale had a knowledge of rural America that is unmatched. He helped guide federal policy because he knew of the changes in farmland, heartland, and small towns years before the Census Bureau became aware of them. Isn’t that what we ask of the best of our travelers and travel writers? That they pay attention to the places they see and the people they meet? Paying attention seems to have been integral to Calvin Beale’s nature.

NPR’s website is still running a memorial to Beale, and as part of that they’ve reposted links to an incredible collection of tales, photos, and videos, some from Beale himself, some of Beale himself, and many part of the story “On the Rural Road” that journalist Jim Wildman worked on with Beale five years ago. The photos and video interviews are particularly interesting. Beale was evidently a photography enthusiast. His fascination with rural county courthouses deserves a place on Perceptive Travel’s increasing catalog of America’s quirkiest, rarest, and most interesting art.

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