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Walt and Billie McCandless talk about Chris McCandless – 2

In the beginning after Chris’s story came out, people sent money, which McCandless thought the couple would just give away, but that changed with the publication of Krakauer’s book. McCandless said, “Our share of the royalties has created a foundation that will go on forever.”

“We didn’t have any intention this would happen, but it just took off,” he said.

“The amazing thing that happened is how generous people are — are selfless — and been with us for many years,” said McCandless. “We didn’t go into it with the point of raising money.”

“Chris was one of those people who put his arms around causes, “ said McCandless, which is the reason for the nonprofit. “The foundation has become an important part of our lives. He (Chris) cared about people who are less fortunate.” He said his son, while in high school, gave homeless people meals and on one occasion brought someone home to stay in the family’s Airstream trailer. He also gave his remaining $24,000 college fund to OXFAM, a charity that fights hunger.

Krakauer recently wrote a New Yorker blog post about the probable cause of Chris’s death, which is significant to many people, who either saw Chris as a heroic figure on a quest for truth, fueled by literary figures such as Jack London and Thoreau, or felt he was an irresponsible romantic, unprepared for the wilds of Alaska, glorified through the book and movie.

Chris mccandless

Chris mccandless

In his book, Krakauer suspected Chris ate wild potato seeds, which grew prolifically near the bus, and caused Chris’s death, just as the young man had decided to return to civilization, but was forced back by a river crossing that had become impassable. Preliminary tests showed the seeds contained an alkaloid, which he thought might be toxic. His suspicion was also due to an explicit note left by Chris: “EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT(ATO) SEED.” Further tests, however, revealed no evidence of alkaloids.

But in December, Ronald Hamilton, employed at Indiana University of Pennsylvania library, published an article on a website about evidence that wild potato seeds are toxic not because of an alkaloid, but an amino acid, found to cause paralysis, especially in young men in a weakened condition and doing hard, physical labor, such as hunting for small game. Tests for the amino acid revealed their presence.

Into the wild - Christopher McCandless

Into the wild – Christopher McCandless

Krakauer wrote: “His theory validates my conviction that Christopher wasn’t as clueless and incompetent as his detractors made him out to be.”

In his 1993 Outside article, Krakauer suspected that Chris had confused the wild potato, considered safe, with wild sweet pea, a reportedly toxic plant, but Krakauer wasn’t convinced the more he looked into it. In his blog post, he wrote that Chris wrote journal entries in a book on the region’s edible plants, which clearly warned of the distinction.

About the news, McCandless said: “It’s clear from his (Chris’s) writing – when he ate that (the seeds), it disabled him and he couldn’t walk out.” Continued…

Walt and Billie McCandless talk about Chris McCandless – 1

Christopher J. McCandless’s story began publicly in September 1992 when his 24-year-old, emaciated body was found in an old bus used as a temporary shelter for hunters in a wilderness area outside Denali National Park in Alaska, where he spent four months alone, living off the land.

Writer Jon Krakauer unraveled the two years on the road that preceded the death of the Emory University graduate, who had cut off communication with his family and disposed of most of his possessions, in a 1993 article for Outside magazine, later expanded into the 1996 book, “Into the Wild,” and 2007 movie.

Interest in Chris continues, most recently due to Krakauer’s Sept. 12 New Yorker blog post about the cause of Chris’s death, and a report of another missing young man in Oregon, reportedly obsessed by Chris’s story.

Walt and Billie McCandless, Chris’s father and mother, will share their perspective in a talk in Chester at Leif Nilsson’s studio and gallery. They will also sign copies of their 2011 book, “Back to the Wild,” a journal of words and pictures that Chris, a.k.a “Alexander Supertramp,” left behind.

Into the wild & Chris Mccandless

Into the wild & Chris Mccandless

The book signing is at 6 p.m., a viewing of Sean Penn’s film “Into the Wild” with a discussion following. There are no reservations and limited seating. Donations are welcome, but not required, and will benefit the Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation, which helps needy mothers with small children through faith-based charities.

Walt McCandless spoke in a telephone interview on Sept. 18 on the way to his wife’s 50th high school reunion in Michigan. The couple, with homes in Virginia Beach and Tucson, Ariz., will visit relatives in Connecticut and Rhode Island before visiting Sandy Vaccaro of Chester, who organized this talk and one in 2011. Vaccaro had a wilderness experience of his own, not far in time and distance from the “Magic Bus,” as Chris referred to it.

Into the wild and Chris Mccandless photographs

Into the wild and Chris Mccandless photographs

McCandless said he is surprised by the ongoing and universal interest in the story and expects the audience will range in age from 20 to 70 years, as last time, (with many from 17 to 20 and 39 to 45). “So you see these people who say I don’t know what to do with my life. This book has really affected me.”

And, he said people often tell him: “I’ve done this work for 40 years and want to do something different.”

But none of them are “going to head for the open road,” said McCandless. “You see people who are trying to use it in a constructive way.”

Chris would be 45 if he were alive today. Continued…