Friday, October 9, 2015

My history with history: visiting world-famous sites

In 6/15, I had the privilege of seeing in person one of the most beloved buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It made me wonder how many other wonders of the world I have visited. Here are the ones at which I was photographed:

 Lincoln Memorial, 1984

 Washington Monument, 1984 
(with my dad)

 Niagara Falls, 1987 
(with my dad, my sister, and a rainbow)

 Eiffel Tower, 1993 
(with a shockingly bad shirt)

 Notre Dame, 1993 
(with my friend Seth,
who would also accompany me to Easter Island
almost 20 years later)

 Leaning Tower of Pisa, 1993

 Colosseum, 1993

 The Vatican, 1993

 Berlin Wall, 1993

 Berlin Wall, east side

 Berlin Wall, west side 
(yes, dirtier than east)

 Little Mermaid statue, Copenhagen, 1993

 Stonehenge, 1993

 Strawberry Fields, 1993

 Major Oak (Robin Hood hideout), Sherwood Forest, 1993 
(with my friend Phil)

 Empire State Building, 1995 
(with friends and other people 
whose names I don’t remember)

 Washington Monument, 1995 
(with my friend Drew)

 Kitty Hawk, NC, 1996
(where the Wright Brothers first flew)

 Liberty Bell, 1998
(with my best friends)

 Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1998 
(with my mom and that tourist)

 Gateway Arch, St. Louis, 2008

 Easter Island, 2012

 Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 2014
(then the world’s tallest building)

 La Sagrada Família church, Barcelona, 2014
(with my wife)

Taj Mahal, 2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The first Bill Finger panel since the credit announcement

It wasn’t billed as a Bill Finger panel, but isn’t any Batman panel simultaneously a Bill Finger panel?

On 10/3/15, at Wizard World Fort Lauderdale, I took the stage with author/maestro of ceremonies Travis Langley, writer Russell Lissau, advocate Jamie Walton, and the Finger family themselves, Bill
’s granddaughter Athena and great-grandson Benjamin.

photo courtesy of J.J. Sedelmaier

For the last time slot of the day, and on a Saturday evening no less, we had a decent turnout in terms of both numbers and engagement. After the fact I found out that one of them was animator J.J. Sedelmaier (Saturday Night Live’s “Saturday TV Funhouse”), who asked me what the people I interviewed said about Bob Kane. Wish I had known at the time who was asking.

I’d done panels with Travis and Athena in San Diego in 2014, but this was the first time we were together since the historic announcement of 9/18.

Some of the people in the audience did not know that DC Entertainment announced that Bill will begin receiving credit on Batman stories. Some did not know who Bill is. (Therein lies the problem that the credit announcement will begin to solve.)

This guy, however, was not one of them; Patty Hawkins showed us in the flesh
(for the second time) what Batman would’ve looked like if there were no Bill:

photo courtesy of Travis Langley

Jamie injected a sense of real-world heroism in describing her work with the Wayne Foundation (the name inspired by what you think), which works to protect children from predatory situations. After seeing the crowd response, I now feel most any comic panel could benefit by including a person like Jamie; take advantage of all of these captive audiences to spread the word about worthy causes.

While planning for Florida, I also tried to get us scheduled for New York Comic Con the following weekend so we could discuss the big news in the city where Bill built the Bat-world, but the credit announcement was only weeks earlier…in other words, too late; NYCC finalized its schedule months ago. 

However, Fort Lauderdale gave us an enthusiastic reception. And it was a peerless thrill slash honor to be with the Fingers the first time they publicly spoke about this life-changing milestone. Nine years ago, when I started researching Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, it was, of course, just me and a dream. Now the dream is a secret the whole world knows, or soon will.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The 1970s candy store of Cheshire, CT: the Emporium

If you are a human being who grew up on Planet Earth in the 1970s or 1980s, you have a special section of your brain reserved exclusively for memories of candy. Yes, just candy.

People of other eras remember candy, too, of course, but the ‘70s-‘80s were the bubble right before it burst—in other words, the time when kids eating tons of candy with minimal parental restriction peaked. By then, adults knew candy was no health food, but apparently they did not know JUST HOW BAD it was for you.

For people my age from my hometown of Cheshire, CT, most such memories converge on a place called the Emporium, an old-fashioned general store that sold penny candy in barrels.

Recently, I went in search of photos of this fabled fantasyland of yesteryear. My family had none, and both my post on a Cheshire Facebook page and my search through archival issues of the Cheshire Herald yielded zip. I did, however, come across numerous ads for the Emporium, and was surprised to rediscover that it sold more than sweets. In fact, it seems its primary business was the opposite:

Sometimes I use the research skills I’ve acquired not for a book I’m writing but simply to satisfy my personal curiosity. I found out the names of the couple who owned the Emporium and tracked them down: Bud and Marge Gaudio. Bud left me a voice mail message which concluded “It’s nice to be acknowledged after so many years.”

Then he kindly answered a few questions and sent a candy-barrel
s worth of photos (below):

When did the Emporium open and close?

Opened May 6, 1973; closed 1988. [MTN: I could’ve sworn it was gone by 1986 because I don’t remember going there once I was in high school.]

What inspired you to open the Emporium?

We were residing in Branford, CT, and decided to sell our home in order for me to be closer to my employment (art director and ad manager for Worth’s, a women’s clothing store) in Waterbury. Noticing our art and craft, and Marge’s knowledge of nutrition, our realtor suggested we combine these talents in a business and home for our family…thus the purchasing of the Old Grange Hall on Wallingford Road in Cheshire [to turn into the Emporium].

Did you live above the store?

Yes, after much renovation!

What were your best-selling products?

It was not one particular store product but rather [the way we] introduced and maintained an atmosphere of “Old Americana,” a Vermontish country store where one could relax by our potbelly stove or browse…no one ever left without purchasing something, and as our sign at the entrance read, “Enter with a smile…or share one of ours.”

Any funny anecdotes?

Mothers coming in to purchase nutritional items and sending their children to the back room to purchase candy and ice cream.

Why did the Emporium close?

Our children were out of college, getting married…it was time for Marge and I to enter into a new season.

What did you do after that?

I assisted my son in his home remodeling business. Marge did home care for the Visiting Nurse Association. Presently I am one of the founders of the East Haddam (CT) Art League and exhibiting my pen-and-ink art of American lighthouses and historical sites. Marge is volunteering in community services.

What did you think when I contacted you to ask about the Emporium?

DELIGHTED to think that we would be remembered for the many pleasant memories in Cheshire. Thank you sincerely.

As for the 1920s attire in a few of the pictures, Bud explained that they dressed up for holidays including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day.

Oh, and see the outdoor signs shaped like an ice cream cone in a couple of the pictures? The Emporium must have had several styles because my mom bought one at the sale the store had when it was closing, and hers looks slightly different.

10/7/15 addendum: This post has been greeted with such enthusiasm online that it got me thinking...movies, TV shows, and even book series can be rebooted...why not stores? And the original building is currently vacant... Any takers?
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