After wandering the world, Ernie Pyle found a home in Albuquerque

After wandering the world, a legendary war correspondent found a home in Albuquerque

The entrance of Ernie Pyle Branch Library. (Elaine Briseno/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note:

The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a once a month column in which Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.

Most people from a certain generation know the history of American journalist Ernie Pyle, but many might not realize that Albuquerque is the only place he set up residence in his long, storied, adventurous and successful career as a newspaperman.

And that very house is still standing today, operating as a public library.

It was Pyle’s simple, folksy columns that won him a large following across the United States, but it was his war reporting, and eventual death, during World War II that solidified his status as a legend. Pyle was in the trenches, enduring mosquito bites, fatigue and all the other day-to-day conditions of the common soldier in order to bring their stories to life.

The publication of his Scripps-Howard wartime column ballooned to 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers by the time of his death. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his war correspondence in 1944.

It was four years earlier that New Mexico became part of his story.

Pyle and his wife Jerry were self-proclaimed gypsies and never set up a home. They traveled more than 250,000 miles together, crossing the U.S. more than 30 times. They went by boat, plane, car and even foot, sleeping in hotels, and boats and with friends and any other place.

Ernie Pyle, United Press war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, sets up shop in a field in Normandy, France, July 12, 1944. Pyle’s typewriters have pounded out some of the most distinguished stories of the war. (AP Photo/Acme Newspictures Pool/Bert Brandt)

Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900 near Dana, Indiana, and his wife was a native of Minnesota, but when they started contemplating a location for a home base, they knew New Mexico would be it. They had been here during their travels just as they had been to every other state.

“We had become footloose finally to the point of just swinging forever through space without ever coming down,” Pyle wrote in a 1942 issue of New Mexico Magazine. “We were like trees growing in the sky, without roots. So at last we decided to acquire a base. Not for the purpose of settling down, not a permanently hearthside at all, but just some definite walls in a definite place that we could feel were ours. A sort of home plate, that we could run to on occasion, and then run away from again.”

That base ended up being 900 Girard Blvd. SE in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The couple bought some land and built a modest house, complete with a white picket fence in 1940. They were the first and last family to reside there.

Pyle was killed by sniper fire in Iejima, Japan, (then known as Ie Shima), in April of 1945. His wife would die in November of the same year. The couple had no children and three years later her heirs made the decision to donate the 1,129-square-foot home to the city of Albuquerque with the request that it be used as a library. It opened in October of 1948 as the city’s first branch library.

A table inside Ernie Pyle Branch Library features a photo of Pyle and his wife Jerry Pyle inside the library when it was their private residence. The fireplace they are sitting in front of is still there. (Elaine Briseno/For the Albuquerque Journal)

The same year the city opened its second high school (Highland) and its first TV station KOB went on air. It was also a decade of explosive growth for the city. According to the U.S. Census, Albuquerque’s population swelled from 35,449 in 1940 to 97,012 in 1950.

The neighborhood is no longer on the outskirts of the city and the dirt road running in front of the house, Girard Boulevard, is paved, but the outside of the house still looks much as it did when the Pyles lived there. If not for the Ernie Pyle library sign in the front yard, one might not even realize it’s now a library.

There’s a white picket fence enclosing a yard to the south and the front yard has a lawn. The same porch and windows and a driveway still grace the front of the white, clapboard house. Inside the walls, even inside the closets, are lined with bookshelves. A glass cabinet just to the left of the front door displays Pyle memorabilia. It’s become a living memorial to a man who found great fame and was mourned by the country’s top leaders when he died, but chose what was then a small town to build a home.

Though New Mexico often finds itself on the top of the “worst of” lists, it still grabs ahold of its inhabitants. People who spend time here find it hard to leave and those who do, find it hard to forget. Ernie Pyle got that. People often asked him “Why Albuquerque?” and it was this question that prompted him to write that 1942 piece in New Mexico Magazine. He wrote paragraphs explaining all the reasons Albuquerque was their chosen home.

One of the rooms inside the Ernie Pyle Branch Library. (Elaine Briseno/For the Albuquerque Journal)

“We have seen sunrises so violently beautiful they were almost frightening, and I’m only sorry I can’t capture the sunsets and the thunderstorms and the first snows on the Sandías, and take them East and flaunt them in people’s faces … We like it because Albuquerque is still small enough that you always see somebody you know when you go downtown. We like it because the whole tempo of life is slower than in the big cities. We like it because in Albuquerque a pedestrian waits for the traffic light even though there may not be a car in sight.”

He basked in that love from 900 Girard Blvd. The majority of his readers had probably never stepped foot here and never would. But when Ernie Pyle was telling the story, that didn’t matter much.

Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email columnist Elaine Briseño at ebriseno@abqjournal.com as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”

 

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