Bourdain's Jeremiah Tower and Lucius Beebe, The Last Magnificent

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, November 13, 2017

If you were watching CNN this past Sunday night, you did not imagine anything you heard. Yes, you did hear the name of one of the railroad enthusiast community’s earliest and most iconic champions, Lucius Beebe, called out. Yes, it was during a most unlikely program -- Anthony Bourdain’s profile of celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower. And yes, they were talking about the same Beebe you and I know as the author of “High Iron,” “Mixed Train Daily,” “Mansions on Rails,” and so many other railroad titles that make up the basic building blocks of a complete library.

In fact, the prolific railroad photographer and writer, gourmet, society writer, and dandy was the inspiration and hero for Tower, who gained prominence in San Francisco’s restaurant culture and reached his pinnacle as chef and owner of the popular restaurant “Stars.” In the documentary, Tower even quotes one of Beebe’s most famous lines as if it were a mission statement for his life, “If anything is worth doing it is worth doing in style, and on your own terms, and nobody's Goddamned else's!”

Food writers have taken note of Tower’s fascination with Beebe, a lover of the good life, café society, high fashion, and yes, office cars, notably the Gold Coast, now on display at the California State Railroad Museum (look for a feature about the museum in our January 2018 issue), and the Virginia City, which still plies the main line under the watchful eye of owner Wade Pellizzer (who is quoted in another January 2018 edition feature story about the private cars that accompanied space shuttle booster rockets in transit via rail). Railroad authors continue to be fascinated with Beebe, as well – I know of at least two projects currently underway to chronicle Beebe’s unique passage through this mundane world.

Bourdain’s title for the documentary, Jeremiah Tower, the Last Magnificent, is even a reference to Beebe. It’s a nickname given to Beebe. This documentary once again proves an axiom of mine: No matter what the story line or subject, there’s a railroad angle to every tale. Even celebrity chefs. 

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