Thursday, February 13, 2003
Historian David McCullough Writes Cumpie Biography
World renowned Historian David McCullough is used to getting at the very fiber of American heroes. McCullough has written narratives about former President John Quincy Adams, steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, and former President Harry S. Truman. Now, for the first time, McCullough attempts to portray a contemporary figure as he wraps up his new biography due out in Spring 2003 entitled, Cumpie: The Story of a Resilient South Oakland Entrepreneur.
“You essentially have a man who has weathered all kinds of criticism to emerge as a man of the people and for the people,” McCullough explained. “You have one man who has endured numerous attempts at the destruction of his business from such bureaucratic regimes as the Liquor Control Board (LCB). Over the past three years the LCB has attempted to stronghold Cumpie out of his prestigious Atwood Street location, but Cumpie has held on.”
While McCullough portrays Cumpie as an overall hero, he also recognizes the duality and inconsistencies of the South Oakland entrepreneur.
“This is the story of a complex man who fights for the rights of the working man, yet still charges $2.25 for a 16 oz. draft of Iron City. Certainly, that price is not extravagant when compared to other Pittsburgh taverns. However, when one considers you can get the same Iron City draft in the bigger 22 oz. format down the street at Denny's for the same price, you scratch your head and wonder, why?” said McCullough.
However, through all the criticism and controversy McCullough sums up the man with one word: “resilient.”
“When the LCB shut down his establishment, he opened a fruit stand. What other man could entirely turn around his means of operation under such circumstances? Certainly Zelda’s couldn’t, CJ Barney’s – no, the Beehive – absolutely not. He rose above fines, debt, and rent control. This is a man committed to the South Oakland community and he goes to any length to meet its needs. That’s the portrait I attempted to paint, the portrait of a man who has survived in an environment where others have failed,” McCullough declared.