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Stirling Dickinson's San Miguel?
Stirling Dickinson's San Miguel?

by Joseph Toone

I like to tour, talk, lecture and write about those who have had a direct impact on what we do in today’s San Miguel de Allende. Normally that is the indigenous or the conquering Spanish or a mix between the two. Stirling Dickinson was neither and his impact, to me at least, has been less obvious.

Stirling Dickinson wasn’t the first foreigner to fall in love with San Miguel, nor was he the last. It wasn't until recently that I came to appreciate his contribution to modern day San Miguel; how he came to uniquely form part of our town today.

Stirling was a wealthy American graduating from Princeton born near the turn of time to 1900 and lived to almost to 2000. When young, Stirling visited San Miguel. He quickly fell in love and proceeded to make the town his own.

If he is known at all today, it is for starting local art colleges that allowed GIs from World War Two to use their Veteran’s benefits to attend college here. This action opened the doors to many Americans discovering San Miguel’s charms leading, by 2010, to nearly ten percent of the population being citizens of the United States.

He built two baseball fields to advance the sport. His team went on to win 84 consecutive games. He also built a park for his beloved orchids, which he donated to the city. There his orchids long outlived him.

However, in today's world these achievements of Stirling’s have faltered. The colleges have fizzle; although San Miguel is still known for its art, it is no longer an academic center for foreign college students. Stirling’s baseball team and the fields he built are long gone. Even the orchid gardens, where I led tours to enjoy the beauty and shade (not offered by the Botanical Gardens cacti) closed two years ago.

Additionally, although Americans continue to live in San Miguel, their size and impact is dwarfed by the Canadians that escape the cold between Christmas and Easter. (Luckily San Miguel’s tourist-based economy is largely formed by Mexican visitors.)

Frankly, aside from the street that bears his name, I didn’t see Stirling’s legacy in today’s San Miguel. Then I realized, if had he not opened the way for World War Two veterans to come down, then there would not have been the article in 1948’s Life Magazine, which opened up the town to the northern travel media, an opening that continues to this day. It was his direct efforts that brought the media that brough the first great waves of foreign visitors (and transplants), a media groundwork which is still being built upon today.

Then, even more recently, during a cemetery tour a guest asked to see Stirling’s grave in the “gringo” section of the cemetery. The lad informed me that he felt Stirling’s role in the art schools provided a sanctuary for gay soldiers returning home from World War Two. Many gay veterans were having a hard time fitting into 1940’s American life. Those who came to San Miguel grasped that being gay, as a foreigner, was largely a non-issue here, a tolerance that allowed them a more comfortable lifestyle.

In today’s San Miguel, the art colleges, baseball games and orchids are long gone and the American presence has dwindled in scope and power. Nonetheless, Americans, and gay and straight, are still enjoying the lifestyle here. This, it seems to me, is Stirling’s ongoing legacy to present-day San Miguel.

*****

Temples and Tombs with Toone, Touring Semana Santa
Saturday, Sunday, April 15, 16

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Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact toone.joseph@yahoo.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.

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