Sunday, January 29, 2012

Remember The 844

In 2009, when my mother was moving into her assisted living apartment at Friendship Village in Schaumburg, IL, I saw a notice about another FV resident, Salvatore Pisano. It seems that Sal was an Eastland 'survivor' and was telling his story in the auditorium on the July anniversary of that disaster. At the time, I was doing my research for my as-yet-untitled novel about the Eastland, and couldn't believe my luck. Ninety-four years later, I was meeting a survivor!

I missed his lecture, but caught up with him the next day. Sal was nothing like I'd expected. He was spry and energetic, and quite capable of living independently in his one-bedroom apartment. After a brief explanation of my project, he enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed and wasted no time in bringing out all his own Eastland research and memorbilia. I sat spellbound as he relayed the story of his life.

Born in April of 1915, Sal was three months old when his young parents, Mary and Martin (a twenty-three-year-old stock keeper at Western Electric) bought their tickets for the Fifth Annual WE  Employee Picnic. The Pisano family got an early start that day, hoping to board the SS Eastland--the first of five steamships that had been leased to ferry picnickers from Chicago to Washington Park in Michigan City, IN. Martin boarded first, but Mary, carrying her infant son in her arms, became nervous when she started across the Eastland's wobbly gangplank. She told her husband that she wanted to stay behind and begged Martin to go without her. Mary returned to the dock to watch and wave farewell. But instead, Mary witnessed the capsizing of the Eastland and the death of her beloved husband.

Like so many others who had endured the horror of that tragic disaster, Mary suffered from shock and gried, and refused to ever again talk about what she had seen. As Sal grew, he became more and more curious about his father's death, but his mother would not--or could not--offer Sal any relief. So Salvatore spent his life on a quest, accumulating any and all information on the doomed steamship in the hopes of knowing his father. When Sal was about twenty-five (only a few years older than his father had been when he'd perished), he organzied a memorial for Martin and the other Eastland victims. But the peace Salvatore Pisano so anxiously sought, eluded him, his whole life.

One day last winter, I was walking with my mother through the main lobby of FV when something caught my eye. It was a picture of Sal--on the Death Notice bulletin board. Salvatore V. Pisano had past away on Februry 3, 2011, just a few months short of his 96th birthday. Tears flooded my eyes as I read his obituary and then suddenly, I brightened.

"What? What?" my mother kept asking as she tugged at my arm. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I answered truthfully. All was right with the world. Salvatore had finally met his father.

To honor my friend, Sal, I named a character in Merely Dee after him. I could not write about the Eastland boat disaster without getting to know the victims. In doing my research, I'd read stories about them, visited their gravesites, met their relatives. The 844 were real people to me. And so I say to you, dear readers, remember the 844. They'd lived, they'd died, and now, they should be acknowledged.


Merely Dee has been available for a few weeks now. Images of the cover are visible on all the major,, I've been asked by many people about the haunting image on the front of my book. Did I get a say in the design? Is that a stock photo or did someone take the picture just for my cover? Where did I find that image? Do I know that girl?

The picture is an actual photo taken by a staff photographer for the now-defunct Chicago Daily Newspaper. The image shows a young women who had been rescued from the Eastland, standing on the deck of some unnamed ship, staring into the murky Chicago River. A man's arm appears on the railing coming up from below deck. The picture was originally in black and white, but the talented Byron design team from iUniverse tinted the photo to that stunning blue. I had gasped when I'd first seen it.

The book jacket describes how my protagonist, Dee Pageau, is rescued by a mysterious stranger--and Poof!--like magic, that stranger has appeared on the cover. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't notice that arm in the black and white photo, but on the cover of Merely Dee, that mysterious arm is quite prominent. It was another goose-pimpley moment, like so many others I'd experienced during the writing of this book. Next time, I'll tell you the amazing story behind the drawing of the ship (shown below) and how it made its way into the pages of my book. I'll also be posting an interview with my friend and fellow debut author, Cherie Colyer, about the wonderful success of her paranormal romance YA, Embrace. So be sure to check back with Merely Me. Thanks!! I enjoyed our visit. 


Nic said...

Just finished the book Mimi and I loved it! Such a great story and so wonderfully written. Of course. And yes, the cover is beautiful.

On Feb 3rd I will remember Sal and the 844.

Heather said...

I too will remember Sal, a day after brother Patrick's birthday. I have the book from Nic and looking forward to getting into it later in the week. For now that lovely cover is looking up at me from the bedside table. Fascinating to read this blog entry, looking forward to the next.

Kym Brunner said...

What a touching story! It's exciting how much of our research makes the story deeper, better. Can't wait to read the finished project!