Review: Keating’s ‘Lost Dream of Route 66’ exhibit highlights the unseen stories of the storied highway

The University of Tulsa recently sponsored an exhibit “Lost Dream of Route 66” by Edward Keating. The photographs were of the early and famed Route 66 from 1977 to 2003. The photo display shown was not only a piece of the history of Route 66, but it was also a part of Edward Keating’s life as a photographer. The exhibit is related to a book about Keating, “Edward Keating: Main Street: The Lost Dream of Route 66,” published in 2019 by Pulitzer-winning author Charlie LeDuff.

It was a free public event from Oct. 6 – Nov. 17. The art display was held at the University of Tulsa’s Hardesty Arts Center, 101 E. Archer St. 

Keating is a Pulitzer-winning photographer for his coverage of 9/11, but before this, he covered the pictures on the desolate Route 66 in the early 2000s. He traveled the road three separate times, with the first time walking it.  He unfortunately passed away in late 2021 due to cancer contracted from exposure to 9/11 toxins at Ground Zero. 

Route 66 is a long-running road established on Nov. 11, 1926, connecting Illinois to California with a 2,400-mile stretch. The celebrated highway crosses additionally through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. According to the National Park Service, the highway was the nation’s first federal highway system. NPS said, “…the path of Route 66 was a cobbling together of existing local, state, and national road networks” (National Park Service, 2021). 

Photographer Edward Keating took this picture detailing Route 66 on a map in a cafe in Sayre, Okla., in 2007. He said this was the nicest map he had ever seen. (Photo provided by Estate of Edward Keating)

  In 1977, Keating was on Route 66 for the first time going to see some friends, but he was drinking, and because of this, he ended up stranded without his car and other possessions. He sobered up and managed to find his car with his possessions in Flagstaff, Ariz., but it took the day. On his walk there, however, he realized how detrimental drinking was to him, so he stopped drinking for 40 years.  

In 2000, he went back along Route 66. The second time as a photographer for the New York Times in what he called “The damnable highway that nearly ruined me, and somehow saved me.”  

On his return to the road, he found that the economics of Route 66 were a prime example for him that it was beginning to show the start of the deteriorating middle class of America from “… the South Side Chicago to San Bernardino. The rich had gotten richer, and the poor had gotten children, and the middle class was dying… And Route 66 was now little more than a catch drain for those who couldn’t keep up…,” a quote taken from“Edward Keating: Main Street: The Lost Dream of Route 66.”  

Several of Keating’s pictures highlight the individuals and images of a time gone by and a history that has not been protected for future generations to experience. (Photo provided by Estate of Edward Keating)

To see more of Keating’s photography, see here.

Also, Charlie LeDuff’s book, “Edward Keating: Main Street: The Lost Dream of Route 66” is available here 

Additional University of Tulsa exhibits at the Hardesty Arts Center are available here   

Reference:  National Park Service. (n.d.) 3. Route 66: 1926-1945: Formative Years: 1926 – 1945.,State%2C%20and%20national%20road%20networks.

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