The Beat Museum Finally Gets a '49 Hudson Like the Car in On the Road
Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.
Cassady and Kerouac made literary history in a tank like this.
The day Jerry Cimino opened the Beat Museum in North Beach, he put out a sign: The museum wanted a =1949 Hudson. Visitors came from all over the nation to visit the museum, but no one knew anyone who had the car -- the year and model used by Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac to drive across the U.S. and into Mexico -- let alone someone who was willing to sell it.
Not that Cimino could have purchased one if it had materialized. "We have no budget for anything," he noted emphatically, having just sent out an S.O.S. to his 15,000 e-mail subscribers. Rent was due, but Cimino was not sure whether he could make it.
Of course, Cassady, the original owner of the '49 Hudson, couldn't afford the car, either. Kerouac would later fictionalize his travels with Cassady in his 1957 American classic, On The Road. In the book, Kerouac wrote, "He saw a '49 Hudson for sale and rushed to the bank for his entire roll. He bought it on the spot." Cimino, however, asserts that there is no paper trail linking Cassady to the car because "Neal only owned the car for three months, and he never made a payment, so it was repossessed."
Patience is a shared virtue among the most ardent followers of the Beat generation, a group of post-World War II writers who included Kerouac, as well as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. American film director, producer, and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola bought the movie rights to On the Road in 1980, but he waited for the right director and script for nearly three decades. Coppola finally chose Brazilian director Walter Salles to adapt the portrait of the Beat generation, and Salles wasted no time contacint Cimino, utilizing the museum's archives for research. Upon their last meeting, Salles promised Cimino the '49 Hudson that will appear in the 2012 film adaptation, starring Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Garret Hedlund, and Kirsten Dunst, among others.
It takes up a lot of room -- but it's here to stay.
A year passed by without a word from Salles.
"It was exciting," Cimino remembers, "but I couldn't talk about it. I was making plans, but I couldn't move anything around." Then, with just two days notice, Cimino received word that Hedlund, who plays Dean Moriarty in the film, would drive the car up from Los Angeles with none other than John Allen Cassady, Neal Cassady's son. They stopped along the way to pick up Al Hinkel, who readers will remember as Big Al Hinkel, and the three talked Beat all the way up.
The '49 Hudson is the Beat Museum's most recent acquisition, and certainly its biggest. The car is on permanent loan to the Beat Museum, with one caveat: It can never be washed. It collected dust on the drive from Los Angeles, caked in road debris and full of history, which is just how it will stay.
One man's dust is another man's archaeological record.