Who Was Madison Cooper?
When I was younger, the Waco Regional Airport in Waco, Texas was referred to as the Madison Cooper Airport. As a child, I toured the beautiful Madison Cooper house where the Cooper Foundation now resides that you see in the photo above.
At some point I had to ask myself, "who was Madison Cooper"? It seems many people around Waco have no idea who he was.
Madison Alexander Cooper, Jr. was born on June 3, 1894, the son of Madison Alexander and Martha Dillon (Roane) Cooper. He graduated from the University of Austin with a degree in English in 1915. He served as a lieutenant and a captain for the US Army in World War I. He became known around Waco as a wealthy, eccentric bachelor businessman, owning Cooper Grocery Company. Around 1924, he began contributing to civic organizations, very often anonymously.
Also during the 1920s, Cooper began freelance writing short stories and actually sold a few of his stories. In the early 1930s, he took three correspondence courses in creative writing from Columbia University.
In 1943, as a memorial to his parents, he set up the Madison Alexander Cooper and Martha Roane Cooper Foundation. In 1954, after a legal battle with J. R. Milam, Jr., Cooper,r sold his interests in the Cooper Grocery Company to Milam, and the business was renamed the J. R. Milam Company.
However, I now know that Madison Cooper is best known for his long novel Sironia, Texas (1952).
This novel made publishing history. This novel took him 11 years to write and when he finally published it In 1952, it was the longest novel in English originally published in book form. It has an estimated 1.1 million words and comes in a 1731 page two volume set that is now out of print and pretty rare to find. (See the links below for a few copies I found).The novel was a New York Times best-seller for eleven weeks.
Sironia's record was superseded in 1988 by L. Ron Hubbard's (founder of Scientology) 10 volume novel Mission Earth, at about 1.2 million words. More recently, in 2008, Mark Leach's Marienbad My Love, has beaten them both with 17 million words. However, his has only been published as an e-book.
Can you imagine trying to read a 17 million word e-book, or to print it out?
Sironia was published by Houghton Mifflin on what is known as thin 'bible paper'. It was quite a scandalous novel and was banned in some places. It talks about small town central Texas life in the early 1900s. Although a topic of much controversy, Madison Cooper modeled some of his characters after real local people. The book involves 83 characters in 21 separate plot lines and traces the conflict between the town's decaying Southern aristocracy and its rising merchant class.
After looking on eBay for a copy of this 2-volume set and not finding a copy, I stumbled upon a set of the books when cleaning out my parents' home after the death of my mother. I'll have start reading it and see what it's all about.
Cooper wrote one additional novel, The Haunted Hacienda (1955), which did not ever see the success that Sironia, Texas did. Hacienda was the first volume of a planned trilogy but it went largely unnoticed. In his later years, Madison Cooper also wrote book reviews for the Dallas Morning News.
Madison Cooper died on September 28, 1956, apparently while jogging, and was buried with Presbyterian rites in Oakwood Cemetery, Waco. In his will he left specific instructions that his literary files were to be burned unread. He left his entire estate of almost $3 million to the Cooper Foundation. He stipulated that it was to be used for the betterment of Waco. By 1984, the Cooper foundation held total assets of $6.2 million and had awarded 321 grants amounting to more than $4.9 million to various Waco projects.
- Cooper Foundation - Waco, Texas
The Cooper Foundation makes Waco, Texas, a better place to live through the support of experimental projects, research, surveys, and special community needs for which normal financing is not available. Eligible applicants are limited to nonprofit org
- File:Madison Cooper House 2008 Photo by Larry D. Moore
- Handbook of Texas Online - COOPER, MADISON ALEXANDER, JR.
Source of Madison Cooper's out of print Sironia, Texas.
- Waco Cotton Palace Pageant
The Waco Cotton Palace is an energetic stage production that recounts the history of Waco.
- Waco, Texas@Everything2.com
Rachel on September 25, 2016:
This is why I love the internet! I've always been interested in history and the story behind people and places and this article has it all. Great piece. Just one question do you know why he lost his interest in the business? It does seem odd as it was his family's business, wasn't it?
I know this article is at least 7 year's old but I look forward to receiving a reply!! Fingers crossed! Ha
KRC (author) from Central Texas on August 29, 2009:
Wobble, thanks for letting me know about the map. I find that interesting. I'll have to check it out!
Wobble on August 29, 2009:
My library had an old copy, in two volumes. Volume 1 has a black binding, Volume 2 has a pea-green binding. The paper is very thin and stained yellow. The second volume also features a hand-drawn map of the fictional Sironia; I wonder who drew it. The books looks interesting, but it's also a monster to get through.
KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 20, 2009:
Dolores: It is inspiring, isn't it? Took him 11 years to write it too, but he also made literary history. That's why I like the story of "Gone with the Wind" writer Margaret Mitchell too. I did a hub on her too.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 20, 2009:
KCC - I've never heard of him. first book published at 58? There is hope for us all!
Am I dead, yet? on July 18, 2009:
Such a beautiful home and a fabulously written piece. I would love to see an original copy. Written on bible paper, I bet the sheets are so delicate and have that wonderful old book smell. I just love that about good hard bound and old books. Another wonderful and historic information about Texas.
KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 17, 2009:
Thank you pmalik! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
pmalik from India on July 17, 2009:
wow.. really interesting and very nicely written.. thanks for sharing this with us..
KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 16, 2009:
Thanks Jerilee! That's the really cool thing about researching Madison Cooper. I had no idea how significant of a role he played in literary history. I knew he had written a book, but I had never heard much about it. The scandal and his death were all before I was born. I don't feel so bad when I hear that a lot of writers take years to complete their first book. Yes, it is believed that he wanted his files burned unread because they contained notes about real local folks.
Jerilee Wei from United States on July 16, 2009:
I love hearing about local histories and people. Found it interesting that he didn't get his first book published until he was 58 years old, the 2nd book when he was 61 and died the next year. 1.1 million words sounds like a lot, but then over the span of 11 years that's only 273 words per day, a very doable number. I'm assuming that his need to burn his literary files had to do with him using real people and their stories to create his fiction?
KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 16, 2009:
You are very welcome emohealer! I learned some things myself when researching this hub! It's a win-win!
Sioux Ramos from South Carolina on July 16, 2009:
Very interesting, I knew I had heard of Madison Cooper, being from Alabama I assumed it had something to do with Madison County. Much more interesting than I at first thought, thanks for educating me.
anjalichugh from New York on July 16, 2009:
Thanks very much KCC for sharing this interesting piece of info. I had no idea who Madison Cooper was. I learnt something today. Thx.
KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 15, 2009:
Thanks Gypsy Willow....I'm with you on that one. Can you imagine reading it on the thin bible paper as well? I'm still intrigued by the book. I found an autographed copy on eBay for $120 for the set. I would really like to buy them.
Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on July 15, 2009:
What an interesting hub about a very interesting character that I have never heard of, thanks for binging him to my attention. I cannot envisage reading a book of that length!