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I Married Adventure

_AJT4720COLUMBUS—Martin and Osa Johnson were like rockstars in their day. But they were something far better than rockstars. They were all of our favorite things: explorers, adventurers, photographers, writers and filmmakers. They were also passionate conservationists and one of the early 20th century’s great love stories.

Between them they wrote at least 20 books, took tens of thousands of negatives and shot some of the earliest and best documentary film in Africa, Borneo, the South Seas and elsewhere. They used and mastered the cutting edge photographic equipment of the time and took it places no one had ever filmed before.

Perhaps best known today is “I Married Adventure,” Osa’s memoir of their lives and travels together. Osa grew up in the small Kansas town of Chanute where she met the handsome, slightly older Martin who was working as a traveling portrait photographer. I can only imagine their courtship went something like my own, “Let’s get married and go see all these places together…” Anyway, Osa and my wife both said yes and from that time onward, it was off on a lifetime of adventures that ranged from filming (and fleeing) headhunters in The New Hebrides (Vanuatu) to flying planes to film inaccessible areas of Africa and wildlife that was already dwindling in the 1920s.

Their books in the original, beautiful printings are becoming harder and harder to find but most are available as reprints for sale online. As well, most of their negatives have survived thanks to Martin’s original care and archival conservation work by several sources, most prominently the Martin and Osa Safari Museum in Osa’s hometown of Chanute, Kansas.

My wife and I took a road trip there a few years ago, driving a large portion of the way on the old National Road, Route 40. We stayed in the old downtown hotel that is still in operation and found the small museum to be an excellent institution, a gem on the edge of the prairie. The dedicated museum staff are engaged in the ongoing process of digitizing the Martin’s archives and many of their films are now available on DVD. We plan on returning soon and, we hope, often, and talk about our brief time in Kansas as much or more than our three-week honeymoon in Northern Peru.

Close by downtown, the adventurers lie in the Chanute cemetery, side-by-side, together forever after a lifetime of wandering. “I Married Adventure,” is a great read, well written and epitomizes a real life most people only dream about.IMG_3232

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