Friday, February 22, 2013

Just the Facts, Ma'am

“Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” Isn’t that what Sgt. Joe Friday would say on Dragnet? Actually, no. Sgt. Friday’s actual lines were "All we want are the facts, ma'am" and "All we know are the facts, ma'am".

The writer's mind is always working - always questioning, always wondering. Last Saturday night, I sat down for some TV time and the movie Hysteria was on. I love that time frame, the actors in the movie, and the subject. In my last book, I touch upon the diagnosis of hysteria that was used to describe the feelings of women in the late 19th century. It’s a topic that interests me, so I settled down to spend a few hours watching the movie.

The beginning of the movie starts with “1880” at the bottom of the screen. I’m enjoying the movie until Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Charlotte, rides down the street on her bike. “Wait, a second”, that voice way back in my head says. “That’s a safety bike, they weren't invented until 1885.” I know, the director was trying to show that the character of was a strong, independent woman. The bicycle in the 1890s was a very instrumental in the woman’s rights movement. In fact, Susan B. Anthony told the New York World’s Nellie Bly in 1896 that bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” But, the safety bike, though it is very cool, wasn’t invented until 1885.
 The next day, as I am wont to do, I researched the movie, the characters, and the story. The movie totally changed the actual facts and characters for Hollywood’s version of the story. I was okay with that. I was not okay with the appearance of the safety bike. Actually on IMDB in the goofs section, it states: “The character Charlotte Dalrymple is shown riding a safety bicycle. The film is set in 1880, but safety bicycles weren't invented until 1885.” IMDB not a valid source, but a good jumping off point, I soon plunged into my own quest for the truth. After swimming through the pages and pages of research, images, and such, I narrowed down the manufacturer of the bicycle in the movie - who may not manufactured this particular style until many years past 1885. Before I could continue, to squelch my excitement, that little voice in the back of my head asked, “Don’t you have a manuscript due in a few days?

The manuscript I just finished contains about 200 "things" about Chicago. Since it is for kids, I thoroughly researched every fact and yelled at my computer when I found twisted information. For example, several sources said that rainbow sherbet is a Chicago thing. The truth is "rainbow cone" is a Chicago thing, not rainbow sherbet.

In my description of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, I wanted to show the many inventions from the fair. Many sources said that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair introduced the world to the Pledge of Allegiance, Cracker Jack, the Ferris Wheel and Juicy Fruit Gum. The Random House site for The Devil in the White City says: "The World’s Fair introduced America to such classic favorites as Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat. and Juicy Fruit and was the birth of historically significant symbols like Columbus Day, the Ferris Wheel, and the Pledge of Allegiance." In actually, what Erik Larson wrote about Juicy Fruit was: “They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit and caramel-coated popcorn called Cracker Jack.” Evidently, what Erik Larson writes is fact. Many sources now state, crediting The Devil in the White City as the source, that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair introduced the world to Cracker Jack, the Ferris Wheel, and Juicy Fruit. Cracker Jack was actually sold at the fair, the Ferris Wheel no one can doubt was a hit at the fair, but Juicy Fruit was not officially at the fair.

Other products that receive second billing as introductions at the fair had actual booths; Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and others. The Wrigley website reads: "In 1893, during an economic depression, he introduced two brands that would become company icons: Wrigley’s Spearmint® and Juicy Fruit®."

Going straight to the source, I sent an email to the Senior Vice President of Wrigley Corporate Affairs. We went back and forth a few times but I didn’t get an official answer to my question:
  "In time for the fair and the millions visited. It would have been sold by salesmen and women to the crowds attending may of whom visited Chicago for the first time. There will not have been a Juicy Fruit pavilion I'm pretty sure it was launched in time for the worlds fair rather than at it.” "It was as I thought. It was launched in Chicago in time for the World’s Fair but it wasn’t an official part of the Fair.” “The fair bought many people to chicago so lots of footfall for the brand." "But in 1893 Wrigley was a small business and remain so for another 15 years or so.”

In the end, what I finally wrote as part of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition: William Wrigley Jr. introduced Juicy Fruit gum. (And, people wonder why writing takes so long.)

I started this piece by quoting Sgt. Joe Friday, I thought I’d end it by sharing a few fabulous fact quotes by some very wise folks.

“If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts.” ~Albert_Einstein

 “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable."  ~Mark Twain

 “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” ~John Adams

“The truth is more important than the facts.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright

“False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened.” ~Charles Darwin 

And, finally,
"Never trust quotes you find on the internet." ~Abraham Lincoln


Annalisa said...

truth vs non-knowledge...a bitter fight between imaginary and reality. the quest for us as readers and writers is to sort and sift the facts. love this post! thank you!!

Sue Macy said...

Good catch about the bicycle. Hysteria takes place in England, right? The Safety didn't make it to the United states till 1887. But she definiitely should have been riding a high-wheeler (Ordinary).

Anna M. Lewis said...

Thanks, Annalisa! So nice to hear good comments.

Sue, I was going to add a link to your book, which I LOVE - but I had to finish and post! Hysteria is set in London England. (I currently have a deep obsession with late 19th/early 20th Paris, but London is a close second.)

Right after I wrote this, I discovered that Cracker Jack wasn't actually named until 9 years later. So, again, not exactly correct to say that Cracker Jack was introduced at the fair, I'm just saying. Argh!

But, there was most definitely an Aunt Jemima making instant pancakes and Pabst won the blue ribbon for their beer.

Sue Macy said...

Have you read Fair Weather? It's a nice novel about the Exposition. I actually wrote a paper about the National Council of Jewish Women, which got its start there. I, too, love the 1890s, though I'm focused on the U.S. Five of my books touch on the decade!

lvharris said...

Yesterday at Western WA's Children Literature Conference, award-winning Susan Campbell Bartoletti said, nonfiction writers "must never invent." She also triple-checks her sources. Sometimes that's difficult to do when you're researching subjects who lived long ago. We all have found errors compounded over the years, but isn't it satisfying when you dig deep enough and uncover the truth.

Anna M. Lewis said...

Sue, thanks for the reading suggestion. I remember seeing Richard Peck's book years ago, but I think I'd love it now.

Out of the 22 women I wrote about in WOMEN OF STEEL AND STONE, 11 were from/around the 1890's. (Louisa Bethune, Anna Keichline, Julia Morgan, Marion Mahony, Beatrix Farrand, Ellen Shipman, Marian Coffin, Emily Roebling, Lillian Gilbreth, Kate Gleason, and Margaret Ingels.)

Wrote this last night but never sent.

Anna M. Lewis said...

Thanks so much for sharing!

After reading your comment, I had an epiphany. Yes, it is VERY satisfying to dig deep and find the truth. It's almost like a game to me. When I worked at a large toy company designing toys, it was a game to me, too. I didn't stress (too much) just felt like I won when I got a toy on the market.
Writing seems the same way, to me.
Get a response from an acquisitions editor: SCORE!
Get someone to give you an image for free: SCORE!
Get a manuscript turned in on time: SCORE!
(Might have a topic for next month.)