Born in Malden, Massachusetts, Freeman Tilden first began writing as
a book reviewer for his father's newspaper. Later, he worked as a
reporter for newspapers in Boston, New York, and Charleston. As a
novelist and playwright, he traveled around the world. In the early
1940s, Freeman "tired" of writing fiction, and with the encouragement of
Director Newton B. Drury, began to write about the national parks.
The National Parks: What They Mean to You and Me was published in
1951. Publisher Alfred Knopf called it ". . . the best book ever
written" on the parks. Other works included, The State Parks,
Following the Frontier, and The Fifth Essence.
At the age of 96, Freeman died on May 13, 1980.
All of us have heroes people who, through their words or
actions, have enriched our lives; people whom we strive to emulate. To
countless National Park Service interpreters, Freeman was such a person.
To many, he was a fatherlike friend and confidant; to all, he was
advisor and mentor. With the publication, in 1957, of Interpreting
Our Heritage, he gave form and substance to the profession of
interpretation. In that slim volume, he articulated six timeless
principles that have guided and sustained the practitioners of the art
for more than three decades. In publishing jargon, Freeman's "numbers"
are good. They reveal the extent of his influence third edition,
twelfth printing, 62,500 copies in print!
In one of Tilden's works, speaking about the national parks, he
"The early Greek philosophers looked at the world about them and
decided that there were four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. But
as they grew a little wiser, they perceived that there must be something
else. These tangible elements did not comprise a principle; they merely
revealed that somewhere else, if they could not find it, there was a
soul of things a Fifth Essence, pure, eternal, and
With the dedication and love of a "happy amateur," Freeman has
enabled generations of interpreters to add the dimensions of
provocation, meaning, and relevance to the experience of millions of
park visitors. Through the art that he defined, he has helped them to
discover the "Fifth Essence." Freeman Tilden is the "soul" of