Tag Archives: nonfiction

Chicago-based Author William Hazelgrove Delivers a Spellbinding Narrative on the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair


Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Think of some of the most incredible achievements of human ingenuity – the construction of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the digging of the Panama Canal, landing a man on the moon …

… well, after reading AL CAPONE AND THE 1933 WORLD’S FAIR I’m tempted to put what the city of Chicago pulled off in the depths of the Great Depression right up there with some of the most stunning accomplishments in human history.

At the very least, I had no idea about what an extraordinary undertaking Chicago’s Century Of Progress was, how enormous were the odds against its success, and how this event should today be viewed as a pivotal achievement that shaped the future of our country.

Not only did Chicago find a way to fund a multi-million (billions in today’s dollars) fantasy project when the American economy was gutted and on its knees, it did so while de-fanging the most organized, entrenched and deadly crime syndicates America had ever known – the murderous empire of Al Capone.

The confluence of ridding Chicago of Capone with the creation of the 1933 World’s Fair makes for a narrative so rich, intriguing and full of plot twists and turns, this work of historical fact is as much fun to read as an work of audacious creative fiction.

William Hazelgrove

All that’s needed to create an absorbing, fascinating book to tell the story is one of America’s hardest working writers, and preferably a Chicago-based author with excellent gut feel for the soul of the Windy City — enter WILLIAM HAZELGROVE.

I’ve read six or seven of this author’s work, both fiction and nonfiction, and I’ll say this is his best work to date.

In Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair, Hazelgrove finds a rhythm on the first page and proceeds to weave together a gigantic amount of information – including the biographical stories of the real people who lived these events – into an enthralling narrative that makes for a mesmerizing whole. Its historical fact transformed into compelling entertainment.

While giving us the overall scoop, Hazelgrove deftly highlights key characters of the era, from the people integral to building the World’s Fair from the ground up, to those individuals who found their lives pivoting around Chicago’s mind-blowing party of the century.

Sally Rand, born Helen Beck, performs the ‘Bubble Dance,” a version of her famous feather dance.

Among the most fascinating was Sally Rand, the small-town Missouri girl who found early fame in Hollywood silent films, only to be washed out of Tinsel Town at the advent of the “talkies.” Rand’s lisp abruptly jettisoned her career as a film star. She retained her most potent weapon, however – great physical beauty and an uncanny aura of sensual sexuality that made leering at her lithe body an irresistible draw for a nation of sexually repressed men.

Rand would ride her famous feather dance to future fame and fortune. It was her semi-legal, glorified peep-show at the 1933 World’s Fair that made it possible. It’s pure Americana: Even a washed-up starlet’s tawdry burlesque shtick illustrates a central element of the American Dream — absolutely anyone can rise from rags to riches to become “somebody,” and a self-made success.

With a certain matter-of-fact, blunt irony, Hazelgrove points out – that’s what Al Capone did too!

Finally, Hazelgrove’s take on the Chicago World’s Fair provides us with an overarching sense of sociological context and a greater appreciation for the lasting implications the Century of Progress delivered for American society – but he does so without lecturing his readers, or resorting to preachy opinionating about what (or should) make America the great social experiment it is.

Yes, certainly, I have some quibbles with this book, but these pertain to a bit of dicey editing here and there and some problems with fact checking (what year did Sally Rand die?) – however, these are minor factors that don’t meaningfully detract from what is an overall fine and fascinating read that I can strongly recommend.

NOTE: Here are some of my other reviews of William Hazelgrove books:

MADAME PRESIDENT: THE SECRET PRESIDENCY OF EDITH WILSON

THE PITCHER

ROCKET MAN

JACK PINE

REAL SANTA



Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Erika Hayasaki turns in an absorbing piece of journalism telling a tragic tale from America’s farm country

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This Kindle Single is an incredibly compelling piece of long-form journalism than reads like a gripping novel. It’s the agonizing true story of a tragedy that befalls three young people in America’s heartland, and the consequences that played out over the next three years.

In the summer of 2010, three young men, Will Piper, Alex “Paco” Pacas and Wyatt Whitebread took jobs working for a grain elevator complex in the small town of Mount Carroll, Illinois, deep in the heart of America’s Corn Belt.

In a case of egregiously poor judgment, lack of oversight and stunning disregard for federal safety regulations, the boys were directed to climb inside a large grain bin filled with tons of corn. Their job was to loosen up clots of kernels where they tended to stick along the sides of the metal bin so that the grain would auger smoothly out the bottom.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail and rob too much of the story for the reader, except to say that three young men went inside the bin, and only one came back out alive. The survivor, Will Piper, was nearly killed as well, but far worse, he was an up-close witness to the horrifying suffocation of his two friends. One of them was just 15 years old.

Journalist ERIKA HAYASAKI delivers a masterful piece of writing. She tells a sensational story without ever sensationalizing. She never falls prey to melodramatic hype or gratuitous sentimentalism. She maintains an uncanny discipline by writing within herself — and by that I mean that she renders this story as a “just-the-facts” journalist.

Hayasaki is the kind of writer who is savvy enough to recognize when the true details are enough in themselves to deliver a captivating drama. I must add: What’s truly magical is how Hayasaki manages to make the reader feel the emotional impacts, the sense of heartfelt tragedy and the numbing confusion about the unexpected random cruelty of life can dish out — and she does it all while staying in command of her professional objectivity as a reporter. It’s brilliant!

Erika

Erika Hayasaki

There is background theme to this work as well. Hayasaki has chosen to position this case against a troubling phenomenon — the ascendancy of the commodity of corn to a place where it has become extraordinarily pervasive in our lives.

The dominance of corn is a complex issue. It encompasses global food production, distribution and other fundamental choices about how we are managing what we eat and the environment — but also — corn has become a enormous factor in other areas of our economy. We dump corn into our gas tanks in the form of ethanol, we use it to make plastics, and an array of other non-food materials that reach deeply into our lives. Is it sustainable?

At first, I thought the author was taking a wrong turn in this regard; however, she ends up not letting this overarching issue consume too much of the primary narrative, and the corn factor ends up being tantalizing food for thought. (No pun intended).

This is the second Erika Hayasaki work I have read. The first, another Kindle Single titled “Dead or Alive,” (I review it here on Amazon), and that was an equally skillful and impressive piece of writing. so I would recommend you check out that one too.

It’s great stuff.

You can find this book online here: DROWNED BY CORN

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak