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On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Original Scroll

Lowell National Historical Park

National Park News

Lowell, MA. An intent crowd listened as David Amram performed “Amazing Grace” in a tribute to his friend, Jack Kerouac, and hundreds of interested visitors made their way to see On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Original Scroll Manuscript and Exhibit on Friday, June 15, 2007 at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum at Lowell National Historical Park. This opening marks a summer full of celebrations to recognize the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road considered a modern classic among American novels.

The exhibit is the culmination of over four years planning between Lowell National Historical Park, the City of Lowell, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL), The Pollard Memorial Library, and John Sampas representing the estate of Jack Kerouac. 

Owned by Mr. James Irsay of Indianapolis, Indiana, the scroll manuscript has been touring the country and is making its only New England appearance in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac’s hometown for the summer of 2007.   Published in September of 1957, On the Road became an immediate best seller. This classic novel of freedom and the promise of the open road defined the Beat Generation, a literary subculture that challenged the conformist and materialist values of post-world War II America. 

Creation of the exhibit was led by Park museum specialists Jack Herlihy and Christine Wirth, who worked with exhibit designers as well as Professor Hillary Holiday and Paul Marion of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Together along with Dora St. Martin of the Pollard Memorial Library and LZ Nunn of the Cultural Organization of Lowell, content was developed for the exhibit as well as an in-depth schedule of events surrounding the scroll.

An example of what collaboration can do, the park team took on the heady challenge to do most of the research in-house to create an exhibit which puts Jack Kerouac in his hometown of Lowell and also highlights the influences which allowed him to create On the Road. Drawing on his notes and journals from cross-country travels across the United States from 1947-50, Jack Kerouac wrote his first draft of On the Road, over a three week period in April of 1951.  Kerouac taped sheets of tracing paper in twelve foot sections so they would run through his manual typewriter without having to change individual sheets of paper, enabling him to keep his flow of writing uninterrupted. The result was a 120 foot continuous “scroll” manuscript. Eventually the scroll was forgotten in a publisher’s desk, where it remained for years. 

When rediscovered, the scroll was occasionally displayed and eventually sold at auction in 2001. Mr. James Irsay, a collector of unique cultural icons, decided to put On the Road on the road. A chance conversation with Congressman Martin Meehan of Massachusetts opened the door for the scroll to come to Lowell. From there, leaders of the Lowell community quickly answered the challenge to bring the scroll to Kerouac’s hometown.

The scroll and exhibit will be at Lowell National Historical Park’s Boott Cotton Mills Museum Gallery, from June 15 through September 14, 2007.  For information on exhibit hours and directions to the park, please visit: or call (978) 970-5200. City-wide Kerouac-related events are listed at

See the Boston Globe article at:

Lowell Sun article at

Or listen to an interview on WBUR at:



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