The Amazing Story of Jesse T. Stubbs Monument Builder Orange Tree Promoter and Hero The Road to Peace on 42nd Street
IN 1947, a strange man entered a Kansas City pawn shop and left with $750 dollars in his pocket. He had pawned an amazing book. It was handmade and two feet long, covered in the finest red leather, encrusted with jewels and titled "Orange Blossoms Over America." The author, and the man pawning the book was Jesse T. Stubbs. The book was locked and encased in a box a foot thick.
There were 13 stones. Diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Mr. Stubbs told the pawn owner he needed money to travel to Washington. He said he would return in a few months to reclaim the book. He never did.
Two years later, Pawn owner Phil Tobias had a duplicate key made to open the book, and the story of Mr. Stubbs was revealed.
Once a wealthy man, Mr. Stubbs had lost it all during the stock crash of 1929. His wealth had apparently come from prospecting and then selling securities. He also obtained a small orange grove and began tending orange trees as a hobby. At some time, an accident left him unable to straighten up…hit by a steam shovel.
Stubbs came upon a notion. He decided to spread orange trees to every corner of the country. He uprooted a tree and planted in on the back of a trailer and began his travels. He reached too many cities and states to count. Ending up in NYC, he built a large glass encased box for his orange tree. He took a job as a parking attendant to pay for the project and to protect his tree. The parking lot, (apparently the very same one Kramer on Seinfeld found a condom in George Costanza's car) was on 12th Avenue and 42nd street. By 1939, his tree was living in a corner of the lot. The glass for the case came from discarded window glass. Below is Jesse's Orange tree standing in the shadow of the New York Skyline, a detail from the painting above.
At one time in Jesse's life, he took a break from tending the tree to walk to Alaska. The famed humorist Will Rogers and his buddy Wiley Post were killed in an airplane crash in 1935, and the tree-tending parking lot attendant had a "retroactive" vision of sorts…he decided to travel to Alaska and build a memorial to Will Rogers 15 years after their plane went down in the most remote area of the state. At the time, Stubbs was 72 years old. He made it to Anchorage, but the last 850 miles would be tough. He left with a 60 pound Siberian husky named Quacco pulling an 80 pound sled. They made nearly 450 miles on their own, and upon reaching Fairbanks and he accepted a plane ride to the site in Barrow, Alaska.
There ARE powerful miracles made by man, and Jesse Stubbs not only made it to the crash site, he completed his stone and concrete monument to Will and Wiley! The statue, an obelisk ten feet tall with four square blocks was completed. it is still accessible only by airplane.
The "more official" monument gets most of the attention, but here is Jesse's on the right, still standing, in a photograph from the National Register of Historic Places.
Jesse Stubbs passed away in 1960 at the age of 81.
The image above is a real photo postcard which shows a painting of "The Traveling Memorial" by Jesse Stubbs depicting an orange tree in full bloom that he transported from coast to coast in an exhibit so that people could see the growth of an orange After V-J Day he decided to exhibit a painting of his exhibit at Times Square in New York City to honor the sacrifices made by the military during WW II. This card is a photograph of that memorial. It appears in the book AMERICAN FOLK ART IN PLACE: IN SITU AVAILABLE HERE. The back of the image is below.
Real Photo Postcard circa 1945 collection Jim Linderman