County commissioners in Kansas stay mum over naming creek after William S. Burroughs

BY Advocate.com Editors

December 03 2003 1:00 AM ET

The Lawrence [Kan.] Journal-World reports that Douglas County commissioners have decided not to decide when it comes to naming a creek after legendary gay Beat author William S. Burroughs. The currently unnamed creek--which Judy Garland enthusiasts will be thrilled to know is informally called the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Tributary--runs past the house where Burroughs spent the last 15 years of his life. The proposal to name the 2.6-mile tributary of the Kansas River for the author of Naked Lunch has been endorsed by the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association and the Lawrence city commission, and a final ruling will be forthcoming in the spring from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

The county commissioners, however, decided not to make a formal recommendation for the naming, although there was vocal disagreement among them. Commissioner Jere McElhaney opposed the proposal, saying, "This sends the wrong message, that we can name a creek or a landmark after a person who was a known and habitual drug user, promoted the use of drugs, promoted a revolutionary lifestyle, and had no respect.... This type of gentleman, not one of us would want our children or grandchildren to follow that type of lifestyle."

Commissioner Charles Jones countered that naming the creek for Burroughs would be a tribute to his literary greatness, not to his personal life. "If I had children or grandchildren, I would want them to read his books because his books were creative and challenging and made you think," Jones told McElhaney. "Ultimately, I think he was a very creative force in the world." Jones added, "Robert Frost was cruel to his family. Ronald Reagan was remote to his children. There are a lot of people you could look at and say there's some negative aspects. And if that's the standard we use, I don't know who we celebrate."

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