Blue Highways Revisited
Alumni photograph the Blue Highways route.
Susie Ailor set in motion her husband’s book-length, nation-trotting photographic journey in more ways than one. In late 1982, Susie, BS ’70, MD ’85, bought Edgar a hardback copy of Blue Highways as soon as it hit Columbia bookstores. The best-selling travel book by William Least Heat-Moon, BA ’61, MA ’62, PhD ’73, BJ ’78, recounts his 82-day driving trip that looped the United States. He describes and photographs the people and landscape along the nation’s less-traveled roads.
“I read a few chapters one winter night,” says Edgar, MD ’72, “and I loved it.” The longtime hobbyist photographer vowed to retrace the route someday and make a photographic version of Heat-Moon’s book.
Susie knew that Heat-Moon sat just two seats away from them during basketball games at the Hearnes Center. At her suggestion, Edgar approached Heat-Moon and asked him to autograph the book. The meeting launched a friendship that helped Edgar nurse his dream for decades while he and Susie practiced medicine and reared two children in Columbia.
And it was Susie, once again, who encouraged Edgar to retire early from his practice and make a second career in photography, living out his own blue-highways dream. One of the Ailor children, Edgar IV, Bus ’98, became a photographer and contributed images to the book from his home base of Schenectady, N.Y. The Ailors made a total of 13 trips across the country, turning Heat-Moon’s words into images.
Their book, Blue Highways Revisited (University of Missouri Press, 2012), published 30 years after the best-seller, includes 363 photographs. Edgar III meticulously credits Susie for her role in the book: “Her love and support made it possible.”
‘On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk — times neither day nor night — the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.’
— from the Introduction to Blue Highways