A Shoney’s Morning … excerpted from On the Trail of the Last of the Mohicans

And so, I hope these few little morsels help to make the booklet just that much more complete. I have loved putting it together for you, have enjoyed the contacts – and encouragement – I’ve had with many of you via AOL and the Internet, and feel now that, finally, I can put it to rest.

 It was with those closing words that I ended my first foray into writing a guide book to the locations used in the filming of The Last of the Mohicans. Ah well, so much for the best-laid plans. Put to rest it wasn’t. Four years, many interviews, a partnership with Eric Schweig, and a huge Web Site later … we have this! What? Another book? There was a time, please understand, that The Last of the Mohicans was not the sole purpose of my existence. Dimly, I do remember a time before Mann. As I went through the usual adolescent changes, on my way to teenager-dom, and beyond, my keen interest was put on the back burner. I had bigger fish to fry. We won’t go into that story. Suffice it to say, the late ’60s – early ’70s were turbulent years in my life, as they were for much of America. As the unrest subsided, and my life was set upon the path that I am still following, I was fortunate enough to meet my wife, Elaine. 

My earliest recollection of anything related to The Last of the Mohicans is a fuzzy, black and white television image from the Phillip Dunne version of 1936. Just a hazy snippet of a memory … moccasined feet tramping over the forest floor. That’s it. No required reading of the James Fenimore Cooper novel in school, no pretending to be Hawkeye as I ran through my childhood neighborhood on summer evenings with my friends … no, my favorite hero was always Robin Hood in those days. There was a family trip up to Lake George one summer where we did visit Fort William Henry. I can’t even remember if I made the connection to The Last of the Mohicans while there.

My first real fascination with America’s frontier history came in 1960. I was eight years old. My dearly departed Father took me to see John Wayne’s The Alamo on the big screen. I was forever more hooked. I read on the subject, anything I could find. Eventually, years later, he recommended I watchThey Died With Their Boots On. To the best of my recollection, I was in the seventh grade, which would make it about 1964 or ‘65. Setting my alarm clock for 2AM, I wiped the sleep from my eyes, went downstairs, turned on the TV set … and became, to this day, a Little Bighorn buff. Like The Alamo, several years earlier, They Died With Their Boots On captured my imagination forever. For the rest of my life, the American frontier would be the subject that most ignited the juices in my heart & soul.

This remarkable lady, full of an acute wit, a sponge-like ability to absorb all knowledge, tremendous perceptional powers, was also, as fate would have it, fascinated with history. A stroke of good fortune for me! Then, in 1984, Son of the Morning Star was published. I read it, a birthday gift from my brother, and all the juices, that first poured forth in 1960, began flowing again. Big time. I read … and I read … and I read. Frontier America was at the forefront of my consciousness. We, Elaine and I, studied the history of the ground upon which we lived; we studied Indian ways & lore; took field trips to faraway places where important frontier events took place; we absorbed all we could.

Then, as the next chapter will explain in much greater detail, we moved to North Carolina. The year was 1991, the very year that a film was being shot there. Not only in North Carolina but in the very part of the state that we were moving to. And it wasn’t just any film. Not by a long shot. It was a film that was based on perhaps … no … it was based on a novel that IS the standard American frontier literary piece. It is taught in schools. It has been the subject of films from the art forms earliest days. It is, of course, James Fenimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans, written in 1826 and been with us ever since.

We were barely aware.

We read in the local paper, The Rutherford County Times, that filming was going to occur at Chimney Rock Park, as the crow flies just 3 miles, or so, from the farm we then lived on. There were photos in the paper of Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Who were they? We didn’t know. So, though we thought it a good thing, and planned to see it someday, that was about it. The Earth did not move for us. I do remember, I believe it was in December of ‘91, reading a little article about the burning of the set of Fort William Henry on the shores of Lake James. Too bad, I thought. Never did get to see it standing. The movie opened, nearly a year later, in October 1992. Perhaps we read a notice somewhere. We never did get to see it on the big screen … well, not till a much later date, as a result of our Great Mohican Gatherings.

It wasn’t until the video version of the film was released, in March of 1993, that we finally got to see Michael Mann’s version of The Last of the Mohicans. Our lives would never again be the same, at least not for the next eight years … and counting. Immediately, the music was a hook. Caught our attention right away. The cast seemed just so perfectly placed. Everyone, from the major stars to the supporting actors, to the bit players and extras just seemed so perfect. The cinematography was gorgeous. The lighting, the framing of scenes, the colors. It was a hard thing to look away from. And we didn’t. I must have watched it a dozen times over the first couple of weeks. Elaine wasn’t far behind. But of all those wonderful things, it was the scenery that really nailed it for me. Right off the bat, I could recognize the Chimney Rock Park location. And so, off I went to begin to follow the Trail. I photographed and videotaped. I would watch the movie again. Funny thing, despite the neat little brochures that the Park handed out, I would notice folks walking the Cliff and Skyline trails still not sure of what they were looking at. I would assist. No, it was over there …

So, I wondered, where was the rest of this film shot? The next location I found was the site of Fort William Henry and Lake George. The locals in that area could all tell me where the fort had once stood. We went there. I think it was at that point that I was hooked. As I discovered and explored the other locations, found one at a time, in various ways, I soon found that I wasn’t entirely alone. I often encountered others, like myself, searching for a location, though, without fail, they were at the more easily found sites. I would help them. No, no, that scene didn’t take place here, it was at …

Spring. 1993. Was it May? I think so. We were at a Shoney’s Restaurant in Forest City, North Carolina. Along with my immediate family, were some in-laws. We were celebrating the First Holy Communion of one of our sons and enjoying one of Shoney’s famous all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets. Hmmm … hmmmm! Good! And a good time to announce, for the record, that I had decided to put together a full color, photographic guide book to all the sites used as film locations in the movie, The Last of the Mohicans. I had committed. There would be no turning back now … We were On The Trail.

The author, with family, at Chimney Rock Park during the searching for the locations in 1993!

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