Trail of hoboes led Mt. Lebanon historian to biography
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Tuesday's phone call interrupted a morning of sled riding for Todd DePastino and his children.
With Mt. Lebanon schools shut by the weather, the 41-year-old historian was enjoying the kind of free time his career as a writer brings him.
"You can call me an 'independent historian,' I guess," DePastino said. "I'm a full-time writer and that gives me freedom and time to work -- when my daughters are usually in school."
A Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, he and his family settled there after DePastino earned a doctorate in history from Yale University because "we really like it here." He also teaches part-time at Penn State University's Beaver campus and Waynesburg University.
The Bill Mauldin biography resulted from his work studying the history of homelessness in America, the research behind his previous book, "Citizen Hobo," published in 2003 by the University of Chicago Press.
"The country had a sizable homeless population between the Civil War and World War II, then it dropped," he said. "I wanted to know why and discovered that, of course, it was military service in the war."
Mauldin's cartoon characters of Willie and Joe were based on men from the under class who joined up, said DePastino.
"Then I started to look at Mauldin's work during the war and was stunned by what I saw. It was edgy, anti-establishment, yet it appeared in Stars & Stripes, the Army's newspaper. I wanted to know who this guy was."
But, after writing the Mauldin bio, DePastino had trouble finding a publisher because "the young editors never heard of him. I was lucky to find an older man at W.W. Norton who knew and appreciated Mauldin's work and the book was accepted."
DePastino is also editor of a released edition of Jack London's little noticed memoir, "The Road," about his days riding freight trains as a teen in the 1890s.
First Published February 17, 2008 12:00 am