Founder & President, Friends Of Bus 142
To: Megan Brown
Chief of State, Tribal, Local, Plans & Grants Division of the National Park Service
Dear Chief Brown,
Thank you for considering the Bus 142 conservation project as a grant recipient. As the sister of Chris McCandless, the reasons for my interest in seeing the bus preserved might seem obvious, but they reach far beyond a personal connection.
When my brother passed away in Alaska, it was difficult to navigate grief through the public interest in his story. I was overwhelmed by the exponential growth of that interest after the publication of Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild. There was a peace, however, that took over once the messages began; countless, hand written letters from people in every corner of our country, needing to share with me how Chris’s story had made a positive impact in their lives. Many of these letters came from young people; students that had been assigned Into the Wild as part of their high school or college curriculum. Even more came from the teachers & professors that had made these assignments, expressing their awe at how their students had connected with the story in a way they had never witnessed before. They were excited about the lively discussions they were observing within their classrooms, and how the classmates own personal stories seemed to rise from the pages as they found themselves identifying with Chris. Most importantly, they spoke of how many students they had been able to support through difficult circumstances, because of these discussions.
Receiving of these sentiments increased dramatically with the book breaking bestseller records year after year, the development of the internet, email, social media, etc. By then Jon’s book had become required reading in thousands of schools across the United States. I was hearing from parents who were reading the book beside their children; I learned how it was helping families develop closer bonds through more honest communication. As Into the Wild had reached publication in 60+ countries, I’d already been receiving messages in different languages from individuals all over the world. But with the release of Sean Penn’s film in 2007, alongside Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack, that global audience became massive.
With encouragement from Jon, Sean & Eddie, I became more outspoken about the rest of the story, most notably, the specific details that led my brother to leave in the way he did and push himself to such extremes. Thus began another layer of outpouring from people that were finding their own voices and strength to leave abusive situations. It raised awareness and sparked valuable nationwide discussion on the issues of child abuse advocacy, domestic violence prevention, self awareness and mental health. People not only began to take another look at Chris’s story, but at their own story and the stories of people that needed help within their own families and communities. Stigmas fell away with these conversations and the tone of the messages in my inbox further expanded with countless people vowing to become better people, partners, parents.
Throughout this entire time, Bus 142 was recognized as an eternal symbol of this story. I’ve seen Bus 142 in innumerable social media posts, in poems, song lyrics, paintings, tattoos, college essays, student theses and children’s stories. Thousands made their own pilgrimages to visit Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail in Alaska, and they shared their stories through online blogs and YouTube videos. I myself hiked to the bus in 2014, and it was an experience I will always treasure. While I was there, I witnessed several journals that had been left for visitors to share their experiences being at the bus. The thick stacks of pages were covered with messages similar to those I’d been receiving for decades, but it was clear that the tangible connection they’d been able to make touching that iconic symbol evoked healing at a new level. The bus was not in a place that was easy to get to, and the motivations of what drove people to get there were remarkably powerful.
Before I left the bus, I retrieved one of the full journals that had been left by my family. In this journal alone I count 581 entries as I pause from writing this letter. These messages are from a wide range of individuals representing not just every state of the USA but every continent on planet Earth. In just a small sampling I see entries from citizens of Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Greece, Chile, Moldova, Holland, Prague, Austria, Netherlands, France, Italy, China, Greenland, Russia, Croatia, Ukraine, India, Norway, Canada, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Israel, UK, Japan, Taiwan, North Korea, Malaysia, Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland, Brazil, Portugal, Slovakia…an international audience that travelled great distances to visit Bus 142, to explore our lands and experience our freedoms. These individuals are from different walks of life, cultures, economic backgrounds, religions – yet this one symbol unites them.
Imagine how many more will come once the bus is easily and freely accessible at the museum.
I was in shock when I first learned that Bus 142 had been removed from the wild, but this time I was not at all surprised by the extreme level of global interest. Almost immediately I received thousands of messages; desperate concerns from people asking what will become of the bus and imploring me to please “save it”. A new cycle of news and magazine articles began, this time with the added dimension of nationwide podcasts chiming in. Bus 142, in its removal, became an even greater emblem of this continually growing communal spirit. Opportunities like this one are rare where something of – dare I say, entertainment value to our sometimes shallow society – reaches well beyond the status of pop culture icon to impress upon its audience a deeper message.
As the accidental steward of the Into the Wild legacy attached to Bus 142, I am committed to assisting the museum in the conservation efforts needed to prepare the bus for public exhibit. It is the reason I founded the Friends of Bus 142 nonprofit and created its community based website, where the Into the Wild audience has come together in a circle of support around its mascot. Like many other items of symbolic value in our museums across this nation, Bus 142 is certainly worthy of protecting & preserving for future generations. In order to achieve this goal, we need to act quickly.
I greatly appreciate your time in reading this long letter, and your consideration to support the Bus 142 conservation project through this valuable grant funding.