Saturday, June 7, 2014

Founders Day in Akron

There has been a constant rumble of Harley Davidson motorcycles going past my house and neighborhood today.

Today is Founders Day in my adopted hometown of Akron, Ohio -- celebrating the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, which began here in Akron back in 1935. The founders were "Dr. Bob" Smith, an Akron physician and surgeon, and Bill Wilson, or "Bill W," a stockbroker from New York. Their first meeting with one another was arranged by Henrietta Buckler Seiberling (not an alcoholic), daughter-in-law of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. All three were members of a Christian organization called "The Oxford Group," which was a group that sought divine guidance in all aspects of life. Though not specifically dedicated to alcoholism recovery, the group was in some ways a precursor, and some of its tenets became part of AA. Anyhow, on this weekend every June, recovering alcoholics from all over the country -- maybe even the world -- converge upon Akron annually for the event -- many of them on Harleys.

Dr. Bob's gravesite, in Mt. Peace Cemetery -- one of the oldest
cemeteries in Akron, and also the resting site of several
Titanic survivors. Who'd'a guessed that? The large planter
next to the headstone is engraved with the "Four Absolutes,"
Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love -- which were
tenets of the Oxford Group, of which Dr. Bob and Bill W.
were members, along with Henrietta Seiberling.
My home is right smack in the middle of a triangle of significant sites that have become a pilgrimage of sorts for those in recovery: Stan Hywet Hall, the grand Seiberling Estate which was the site of the first meetings between Dr. Bob and Bill W.; Dr. Bob's home in West Akron, which is now a museum; and Mount Peace Cemetery, where Dr. Bob is buried. Throughout the day, parades of motorcycles have rumbled from one landmark to the next, along with some tour buses, cars, vans, and pickup trucks. After all these years, I quite haven't figured out the connection between recovery and motorcycles, though. I don't know if alcohol is such a big part of that Harley culture that a lot of guys eventually need to find a road to recovery, or if they come to the motorcycle as part of that recovery road.

I pedaled my bicycle over to the cemetery today to peek in on what was going on. Though I was expecting to find Dr. Bob's gravesite surrounded by a crowd of visitors paying their respects, along with a bunch of Harleys, I managed to arrive at what was probably the only quiet moment the place had seen all day. A long line of motorcycles had just left, and the place was empty. At least I didn't feel like I was intruding on anyone while I snapped some pictures.

Throughout the Founders Day weekend, people will leave little tributes to Dr. Bob. Most of these are "sobriety coins" or "chips" that are given to AA members to mark how long they've been "sober." It was sort of interesting to see the time marked on the chips -- some marking as many as 20 years without a drink -- others only a couple of months.
I know -- wrong kind of bike for this blog, right? Odd thing,
after numerous processions of motorcycles to and from
the cemetery where Dr. Bob is buried, I took a ride over
myself and managed to arrive at what was probably
the only empty moment the place had seen all day.
Just as I was leaving, though, this bike pulled up,
so I snapped a photo.
Just as I was getting ready to leave, a lone motorcycle did pull up, and then I crossed paths with a big tour bus bringing a large group  of visitors. I suppose it was just as well that I was getting going.

I guess I should consider myself lucky to be an "outsider" for something like this, not being an alcoholic -- but there was something kind of moving about it all -- thinking about some of the people making the pilgrimage all the way here to pay respects to one of the founders of a program that may conceivably have saved their lives. As I rode away from the cemetery, I thought about some of those visitors, clutching those coins, and whispering their thanks to Dr. Bob. Despite the roar and rumble of another line of Harleys passing me on their way to the cemetery, it was quiet ride home.


  1. Thanks for your careful and accurate research and reportage. It was very moving to get your perspective as an "earth person" (AA slang for someone entitled to walk on this earth as a normal person, i.e. a non-alcoholic). As I write (5/29/18), just shy of 28 years. Thank you to my friends, Bill W. and Dr. Bob.

  2. To an "earth person" an alcoholics life probably seems out of sorts, and guess what, it is... I was an active alcoholic for 30 years. I raised babies during that time. I am now 18 months sober yesterday, and I owe it all to God, Bill W., Dr. Bob, and the AA fellowship! Thank you for showing us respect!