Friday, July 2, 2010

Dear I Don't Know Your Name

In researching Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, I mailed a letter to a person whose name I didn't know. All I did know is that I needed to reach the people who currently lived in the Cleveland house in which Jerry Siegel had been living when he dreamed up Superman in 1934.

This having been the simpler days of 2005, I didn't yet know the easy ways I could have used to find out the names (and phone number) of the people who lived there. So I used postal mail, sending my letter to "Resident":
August 1, 2005

10622 Kimberly Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44108-2740

Hello,

My name is Marc Nobleman. I'm a writer who has published more than 50 books for young people. I recently sold a picture book manuscript to Random House about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who, as you probably know, were the teenagers who created Superman in the 1930s.

Is it right that Jerry Siegel lived at your address at this historic moment?

If so, I would like to take a few photographs of the exterior of your house to help the illustrator create more accurate drawings for the book. I live in Connecticut but will plan a short trip to Cleveland in the fall for this purpose.

Also, do you know if the house exterior looks the same as it did in the 1930s? And I know Jerry used to work in his attic bedroom-is the structure of the interior the same as well? If so, would you permit me to take a few photographs inside that room?

You may contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx--just give me your number and I will call you right back so you don't have to pay long distance charge. Or you can e-mail me at xxx@xxxxxxxxxxx.com.

Thank you,

Marc Tyler Nobleman
Seeing this now, it's odd that I posed certain research questions to the current residents when I'd already confirmed the answers; further, if I hadn't, there would've been better sources.

I did not hear back.

And my trip didn't end up happening until January 2007. In preparation, I wrote another letter (so apparently I had still not learned what now seems like basic research strategies!). This one, however, I planned to place on the doorstep along with a couple of the books I'd written:

January 30, 2007

10622 Kimberly Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44108-2740

Hello,

My name is Marc Nobleman. I’m the author of more than 60 books for young people; I also write for Nickelodeon Magazine. Recently I wrote a children’s picture book about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who, as you probably know, were the teenagers who created Superman in the 1930s. It is due out in early 2008.

The book is not yet illustrated. I live in Connecticut and flew to Cleveland today (Tuesday, January 30) to take photographs of Superman sites.

Could I come by sometime between now and Friday morning to take a few photos of your house? One of the key scenes in my book shows Jerry working in his attic bedroom, so I need images of both that room and the view from its window. These photos will NOT be published in the book—they are ONLY to give visual reference to the illustrator.

I am in town only until Friday morning, February 2. Please call my cell at xxx-xxx-xxxx if you will allow me to do this. I promise this will take only a few minutes—I don’t want to get in your way.

Thank you,

Marc Tyler Nobleman

P.S. If you have kids, I will send you more of my books as a small gesture of thanks for your kindness.
I've already told the story of what happened next.

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