FOUND: Details on the Melee at the 1919 Interrace Game in Omaha

Interrace BlurbLately there have been a few questions about the melee at the 1919 Interrace game in Omaha that’s featured both in my chapbook (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown) and in my novel-in-progress (Red Summer). The scene I wrote is almost entirely fictionalized, as all I had to go on were a few mentions of a fight between black and white players in the game, and a general description of an annual match that took place around Independence Day at a ballfield in Deer Park. (After more research I figured the game must have been played in Rourke Park, a small baseball stadium in South Omaha that’s near Deer Park, the area around where Rosenblatt Stadium stood until a few years ago.) At the time I didn’t plan on writing anything about the game, just chalking it up to personal curiosity, so I didn’t think much more about it until I had to.

Recently, however, I went back through my old research and was able to track down some more solid source information and came across this article from the June 30, 1919 edition of the Daily Bee. (I apologize for the low quality of the image. A transcription is below.)

There are a few similarities between my fictional melee and the real one, including that the melee was struck off by a dirty play and a collision between players. The differences are pretty striking too. My melee is much smaller, as I thought having spectators flooding onto the field to join the fight would be over the top. Yet, at the real event hundreds of people from both races apparently did just that. Truth is stranger than fiction and all that, I guess. My favorite part is that the Chief of Police just happened to be in the crowd with some deputies to step in and arrest the offending “colored firstbaseman” before things got out of hand. Deus ex machina if there ever was one, right?

Pretty fascinating stuff. I’ve been excited to share this.

POLICE ARE CALLED TO QUELL NEAR RIOT AT ROURKE BALL PARK

Police quelled what tended to be a riot yesterday afternoon at Rourke Park when several hundred negroes swarmed onto the field from one side of the grandstand and several hundred whites from the other side after the firstbaseman for the Union Giants, a colored team, struck Jimmie Collins, outfielder for the Armours.

Chief of Police Eberstein, Russell Eberstein, Sergeant Russell and a squad of officers, most of whom were attending the game as spectators, dispersed the crowd and arrest Jack Marshall, the colored firstbaseman. 

The trouble started when Collins and Marshall collided at first base. Marshall, claiming that Collins had spiked him, struck Collins in the face while he had the ball in his hand.

Douglas County Historical Society Event for On the River is June 23

A quick note that I’ll be at the Douglas County Historical Society’s “Pages from Our Past” event on Tuesday, June 23 to read from my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. We’ll discuss the elements of Omaha history that went into the writing of the book–and probably a few elements that didn’t.

If you missed the local launch party at Pageturners and my reading at Indigo Bridge Books, here’s your chance. Come meet the author!

See below for all this info:

Tuesday, June 23. 530-630pm. 

Douglas County Historical Society / Library Archives Center

Fort Omaha / 5730 N. 30 St, Omaha, NE 

omahahistory.org/calendar.html (See the bottom of the page for information on how to register.)

Douglas County Historical Society will feature Nebraska author Theodore Wheeler’s novella On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown at our June 23rd Page from Our Past author event taking place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the DCHS Library Archives Center. The program focuses on history-based authors, both of fiction and non-fiction, and is held the fourth Tuesday of each month in the evening. A Page from Our Past is a casual and intimate roundtable discussion, where the audience has the opportunity to get up close and personal with the authors. Each program concludes with a book signing and time to meet one-on-one with the featured author.

On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is the story of an immigrant boy who’s caught up in a race riot and lynching, based on events surrounding the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. While trying to find a safe place in the world after being exiled from his home during a global war, Karel Miihlstein is caught in a singular historical moment and one of America’s most tragic episodes.

Theodore Wheeler lives in Omaha with his wife and two daughters, where he is a legal reporter covering the civil courts of Nebraska.

Cost to participate in these discussions is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Pre-registration is required and seating will be limited to 20 participants. To register, email members@douglascohistory.org or call 402-455-9990, ext. 101.

A Few Updates Regarding On the River: Photos, Bookstores, Goodreads Giveaway, a Review

I’d like to post a few updates regarding my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown (order in print or Kindle) as it has been out in the world for about three months now. The response has been great so far. When we first put in the order to have these printed I was pretty sure that I’d end up with a box of chapbooks in my office closet for the next few decades. But, three months in, I’m ordering a second batch from the printers. Combine that with some healthy action early on with Kindle sales and it shows that there’s some public interest in this story, along with my ability to write it, I hope. I’ve been hard at work on some edits to the novel that On the River is excerpted from and am pretty pleased to have this as another bit of evidence as to why a publisher should get behind this project. All in due time, of course. After more than more than a half-decade working on this book and developing these characters and the narrative voice, it’s nice to think that there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel. Or yet more crushing defeat. We’ll see.

Anyway, on to the new developments:

-First off, thanks to everybody who came out to Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln last night. Presenting with Julie Iromuanya was a lot of fun, and the section she read from her novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor was really, really good. This looks like yet another fascinating book among the many written by Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans the last few years.

Something my work shares with Julie’s is a playing around with perspective to show characters who are interested, but ultimately limited, in understanding what life is like for those around them. A couple questions came up in the Q&A session after the reading about this interesting strategy, what I see as exploring the limitations of the form we’re engaged in.

A fun night with a great conversation with Julie, moderator Jeff Moscaritolo, and the audience. Thanks so much to Jeff and Indigo Bridge for setting up the event, and to Julie for attracting an attentive, intelligent crowd.

-Check out this review of On the River by Sam Slaughter posted today on Small Press Book Review: “Tensions That Never Change.” My favorite part:

The distance created by the narrator is the most interesting part of this chapbook. At once, you are both part of the mob and hovering above them, taking it all in, watching the chaos that ensues, cringing at their choices and the injustice that takes place. You know that the narrator is one of the German immigrants—the prose is speckled with Deutsch—but you never know who it is. At best, you can guess that it’s one of Miihlstein’s lackeys, though a lackey with prescience unknown to his comrades. There is little emotional involvement on the part of the narrator. Very much as Lewis Nordan does in Wolfwhistle, Wheeler shows the thoughts of the mob in front of you and lets you decide what to make of it.

Willy Brown is over almost as soon as it starts, and that’s a shame. The prose carries you along until the inevitably sad end. Like with any good work of literature, you are left wanting more.

-Nine days remain on the Goodreads Giveaway for a signed-copy of On the River. It’s free to enter, so long as you have a free Goodreads account. So far, 102 people have said they’d be willing to accept a free copy of my chapbook. I don’t know if that’s a good number or not, but it’s more than three, so I’m happy.

-If you haven’t seen the list of bookstores that are now selling On the River, check it out. Particularly the number of shops where I’m not a local author that are taking a chance by stocking my book. In addition to Solid Jackson, Jackson Street Booksellers, and Prevue Salon here in Omaha, and Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln, I’ve added Lithic Bookstore in Fruita, Colorado, Left Bank Books in Seattle, Argo Bookshop in Montreal, and Shakespeare & Company in Paris.

-And, finally, a few photos of the chapbook in bookstores and other places. If you happen to have a copy of On the River and feel like snapping a photo of it in your neighborhood, I’d love it if you’d send it to me. It’s kind of corny and self-congratulatory, but whatever. I like them. I’m corny. I like congratulating myself for trivial accomplishments.

Race, Gender, Violence, and Performed Identities: Tonight at Indigo Bridge Books with Julie Iromuanya!

If you’re in Lincoln tonight and free for the evening, come out to Indigo Bridge Books (701 P Street, in the Creamery Building) at 7pm to hear me read from my chapbook, On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. I’ll be opening for Julie Iromuanya, who will read from her debut novel from Coffee House Press, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, with a joint Q&A session to follow. It will be fun and should produce some good discussion. The event is titled Race, Gender, Violence, and Performed Identities.

Indigo Bridge Books and their event guru Jeff Moscaritolo have been amazing to work with, both for this event and in their stocking and display of my chapbook in the store. Lincoln is lucky to have such an awesome independent bookshop with the means and spirit to support writers like this, something that was desperately lacking when I grew up there.

And while we’re at it: Happy Book Birthday, Julie!

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor features the story of Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, who begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.

Julie Iromuanya is a writer, scholar, and educator. Born and raised in the American Midwest, she is the daughter of Igbo Nigerian immigrants. Her creative writing has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Passages North, Cream City Review, and the Tampa Review, among other journalsShe earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she was a Presidential Fellow and award-winning teacher. Learn more about Julie at her website: julieiromuanya.com.

Happy Book Birthday: Quiet City by Susan Aizenberg

quiet cityCongratulations are in order for Susan Aizenberg on the publication of her new collection of poems from BkMk Books, Quiet City. Way to go, Susan!

One of the great literary treasures of Omaha, Susan has taught me numerous times during my stints at Creighton University–despite being a poet, she taught me everything I know. Her guidance has been invaluable both on a professional and personal level, particularly when I became a father while in grad school back in 2007. I couldn’t be happier for Susan on the occasion of her third book.

If you’re in the Omaha area, come out to the publication party for Quiet City on Wednesday, May 6, at 730pm, Solid Jackson Books. (See the above link for more details.)

Here’s a bit about the book:

Many of these poems are set in the mid-twentieth century and feature such personae as writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and photographer Roman Vishniac, as well as less-public figures in Brooklyn, Nebraska, and elsewhere, all of whom confront the wounds of love, family, history, and time. ”In poem after poem,” David Jauss writes, Aizenberg ”reveals an astonishingly wide-ranging and deeply empathetic imagination, not to mention the eye of a painter and the ear of a musician.” ”Aizenberg’s vision is clear, her language exact, and her music is perfectly pitched,” writes Betsy Sholl, a past poet laureate of Maine. ”These are keenly intelligent poems navigating the distance and circuitous route between grief and its redemption.” Poet Kathy Fagan writes, ”Aizenberg’s Quiet City reminds us how the wounds of history keep on wounding both in our homes and the larger world.”

Appearance on Platte River Sampler to Air this Thursday (4/23) at 6pm

Have you lately been curious what my voice sounds like? Do you want to hear me answer questions about my latest work? Well, you’re in luck, as I’ll be reading from my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown this Thursday, April 23 on The Platte River Sampler radio program. The segment will air between 6 and 7 pm.

If you live in the Lincoln/Lancaster County area you can listen on KZUM community radio, 89.3 on the FM dial. The station can also be streamed live here (http://www.kzum.org/) by clicking on the player at the top left of the page.

The Platte River Sampler is “a weekly exploration of original prose, poetry, drama, songwriting and more, all from Nebraska.”

Be sure to listen live if you can. But if you can’t, a podcast version should be online within a couple weeks.

Thanks so much to producer and host Phil Schupbach for putting this together.