this article appeared in today's new york times
Jeffrey Tennyson, 54, Hamburger Devotee, Is Dead
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By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: August 24, 2006
Jeffrey Tennyson, an artist whose obsession with hamburgers — equal parts gastronomic, folkloric and satiric — resulted in a book on burger history and a hoard of thousands of burger knickknacks, died Aug. 18 at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 54.
The cause was complications of infection with H.I.V., said his sister, Lisa Tennyson.
Mr. Tennyson’s love affair with hamburgers sprouted from fond childhood memories of neon-adorned fast-food temples serviced by ponytailed carhops laden with trays of chocolate malts and juicy deluxe burger platters. He told The Washington Times in 1995 that the burger bug irrevocably bit in the early 1980’s when he was living in New York and noticed a burger stand on almost every corner while taking a bus down Broadway.
“The real American icon is not apple pie,” he realized. “It’s the hamburger.”
So he started to collect hamburger memorabilia and artwork, and collected and collected and collected: hamburger juggling sets, hamburger teapots, hamburger cookie jars and hamburger salt-and-pepper shakers, along with the predictable posters and photographs of hamburgers.
There was a hamburger organ on which he tried to learn to play Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” There was the Canine Burger Chef, a toy that flips and seasons burgers. A statue of Big Boy, mascot of the chain that originated the double-decker hamburger, was a particular prize.
In all, Mr. Tennyson accumulated more than 2,000 hamburger things, then lent them to the town of Seymour, Wis., where the hamburger may or may not have been invented. (Seymour residents’ certainty of municipal bragging rights is suggested by their not exactly unpublicized collaboration in cooking a very large burger, usually about the size of a two-car garage, at the town’s annual Hamburger Festival.)
Mr. Tennyson’s donations formed the core of the collection of the Hamburger Hall of Fame, which opened in Seymour in 1993, a year when the town’s annual burger weighed four tons. The museum closed several years ago, and Mr. Tennyson’s hamburger stuff was returned to him in California.
His book, “Hamburger Heaven” (Hyperion, 1993), was a natural outgrowth of the collecting, and took a highly visual approach, reflecting Mr. Tennyson’s background as a magazine art director. A review in The Chicago Sun-Times called the pictures “enormously distracting,” clearly meaning that as a compliment.
The total effect, the reviewer said, was to “chronicle a history of our clothing, our architecture, our cars, our tastes — along with our most relished sandwich.” (Relevant relishes include ketchup, mustard and the secret Big Mac sauce.)
Judging by the large reaction the book received from the news media, Mr. Tennyson’s words resonated almost as much as his art. He appeared on numerous television and radio programs to theorize, rhapsodize and, occasionally, sermonize on hamburgers.
In particular, he discussed the arcane, emotion-charged debate about the origins of the sandwich, usually without taking a definite stand. Sometimes he would back Seymour’s claim that Charles Nagreen made the first true hamburger sandwich when he slapped a meatball between two slices of bread in 1885.
He told National Public Radio that the hamburger’s birth was “bound to happen at the turn of the century” because of “a new breed” of immigrant workers who were short on time and money for lunch. His book did not neglect the burger’s earlier culinary history, tracing beef-eating to Tatar tribes who liked it raw in the 13th century through the listing of Hamburg Steak on the menu of Delmonico’s restaurant in Manhattan in 1834 to Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” advertising campaign in the 1980’s.
Mr. Tennyson told CBS how hamburger chains evolved from the first White Castle restaurant in Wichita, Kan., in 1921. At CNN, he brought his music box modeled on J. Wellington Wimpy, the burger maniac born in the “Popeye” comic strip in the 20’s. It played “Popeye the Sailorman.”
“Hamburgers are the one thing that unites us as a people, as Americans, uniquely American,” he said in his interview with The Washington Times.
Brian Jeffrey Tennyson was born in Chicago on July 26, 1952, and reared in Niles, Mich. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Bowling Green State University. He moved to New York City, where he worked as art director for After Dark, Skiing, Christopher Street and other publications. In the early 1990’s, he went to California to become a design consultant.
Mr. Tennyson is survived by his sister, who lives in Massachusetts, and his parents, Donald A. Tennyson and the former Elizabeth Rowland of Dowagiac, Mich.
If there are indeed hamburgers in heaven, Mr. Tennyson, who could not imagine eating a burger without onions, has placed his order. In an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1999, he said his dream was to travel back in time to the original, long-defunct Big Boy restaurant in Glendale, Calif., and ask a carhop to bring him one of those first flavorful, fabled double-deckers.