We Can't Reach You, Hartford
An investigative history of the Hartford Circus Fire of July 6th, 1944. Nominated for a Fringe First at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In the twilight of his life, famed photographer Matthew Brady must choose between the life he has built and the legacy he wants to leave behind.
Tone Clusters
Renowned prose author Joyce Carol Oates explores honesty, perspective, and denial through one couple's harrowing attempt to save the person they love
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
" event of such magnitude that it can grind a clear lens on history into a prism that bends facts here and there"
For me, one of the one most attractive aspects on working on a play about Charles Lindbergh was finally have a lot of reliable primary and secondary sources. Prior to What I Took in My Hand, my dramaturgical research resembled nothing so much as a scavenger hunt. The charm of We Can't Reach You, Hartford was in exactly how little we can actually know about the Hartford Circus Fire. (So little we even decided we should advertise the fact in the title.) And do you know how much information there was about Mathew Brady? Three books. One of which was poorly-written and riddled with errors and another a picture book. And don't even get me started on Juliette Brady, about whom exactly two sentences have been written about since the Civil War. Lindbergh presented a chance to work on a subject people actually knew something about, a chance to write about one of the most famous men in 20th century American history. You would think information would be easier to come by, the truth a little clearer, everything a little less impossibly relative and postmodern.

Well, yes and no.

The chief difficulty in working on a subject so well-known is deciding who among your sources to trust. Researching a play about Lindbergh isn't so much a scavenger hunt as it is like that time in 4th grade when you accidentally threw out your retainer with your lunch tray and had to dig through a dumpster looking for it. I'm going to be honest with you here, there's a lot of crap in the world about Charles Lindbergh. Some of it is poorly written, some of it hopelessly naive or partisan. Most of it is wrong. But if you do history and try and work with primary sources, I imagine you have to get used to this. Mistakes are made in a world of relativity. Bias, access to materials, perspective, the infallibility of memory. There's plenty of factors working against the poor playwright trying to reconstruct history with a dramatic arc.

Which is exactly why I got upset reading this:

75 Years Later, the Memory Lingers

It's inevitable that in the moment, we make mistakes (intentional or otherwise) in documenting events. That's forgivable. But what isn't forgivable is to knowingly create a false history 75 years after the fact. And for what reason? So that a bunch of old people can get a certificate saying that they were somewhere that both the historian and the alleged witness know they were not. Was it really necessary to give every person who claimed to be at the take-off a certificate verifying this? I know I sound cranky saying all this, but it matters. It may not matter now, but years (decades? even centuries?) down the road, its going to give some poor researcher a headache if it ever comes time to sort out who saw Lindbergh's take-off and who didn't.

So please please please, don't rewrite history just to make somebody feel better because they bicycled six miles to Roosevelt Field on the wrong day and didn't get to see Lindbergh.

And on another point, for the love of Pete: "some confusion also persists over the exact location of the takeoff!?!" [exasperation my own]. His takeoff was filmed (in fact, the first newsreels with sound were of Lindbergh's takeoff) so you would think we could at least nail that one down. Sometimes history is an elegant and revelatory act of remembering, and sometimes its just a bit embarrassing.

And don't even get me started on how Curtis Field (the runway where Lindbergh took off) is now a Best Buy and a parking garage.
posted by stephen @ 1:05 PM  
  • At 3:54 PM, Blogger Katey said…

    "an event of such magnitude that it can grind a clear lens on history into a prism that bends facts here and there."

    What an amazing description of history. Let's steal it.

  • At 4:38 PM, Blogger stephen said…

    the title of the post has been changed per your suggestion. next stop, finding a place for it in the play.

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