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Kerouac fans hit road for free dolls

Lowell Spinners hold giveaway of bobbleheads

LOWELL -- After waiting five hours in nearly 90-degree heat, it was over in minutes. John Barrett had his Jack Kerouac bobblehead doll.

And within the next nine minutes, the 999 others who endured the blazing sun and tense crowds got theirs, too.

In a promotion that prompted a deluge of inquiries and requests for the souvenir, the Lowell Spinners gave away Jack Kerouac bobblehead dolls to the first 1,000 people to pass through the stadium's red gates for yesterday's game against the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Last night was Jack Kerouac Night at LeLacheur Ballpark, in the city where the late author of "On the Road" was born in 1922. The first 1,000 ticket holders to arrive for the Spinners-Williamsport Crosscutters matchup received a springy-headed Kerouac wearing a flannel shirt and toting an "On the Road"-style rucksack.

To snag the first spot in line, Barrett, of Manchester, N.H., arrived in Lowell at 11:30 a.m. to find nobody waiting. After grabbing lunch, he returned at 12:30 p.m. to start the line. Right behind him was a Lowell resident who identified himself only as Keith.

"I'm just getting the doll and going," said the man, who had driven by the ballpark every hour from midnight on, getting in line once he saw Barrett. "These things are going to be worth money."

During the hours-long wait, some people speculated about how much the dolls would fetch on eBay, while others asked the stadium directors to stop people from cutting in line.

Ever since the team announced the Kerouac promotion, the team's administrative office has been inundated with calls for the dolls.

"We got a call from South Dakota today," said Mike Torelli, a college student from Danvers who is spending his summer as an intern with the team.

As a result, the Spinners ordered another 250 on Aug. 14 and put them up for sale for $20 each on its website. By Saturday morning, there were 750 orders. Team officials called the Kerouac Foundation for permission to make more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the University of Massachusetts at Lowell's Kerouac scholarship program.

Kerouac's decision to leave Lowell and do most of his writing elsewhere led to a brittle relationship with some in his hometown decades ago, but last night, fans of the author seemed untroubled by this. To many of them, Kerouac is Lowell, now more than ever.

From his grave site to the annual fall festival of his works and a new road race named in his honor, fans say it makes sense that the industrial city that shaped Kerouac is now known more for the author who helped spawn the Beat Generation of writers than its mills.

The offbeat promotion was the idea of Lowell Spinners' public relations director, Jon Goode, who suggested the idea several months ago to Hilary Holladay, an English professor and Kerouac scholar at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Holladay was happy to see the Spinners plug the university's Kerouac Conference on Beat Literature, scheduled for Oct. 2 and 3. With the unexpected demand, UMass-Lowell is hatching plans to auction off the 30 or so extra bobbleheads that came with the order, perhaps for a scholarship.

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