Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Finger Tip #7: Bill Finger at the convergence of history, part 2 of 3

Part 1.

I had just been told that John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, used to live in the apartment that Bill Finger used to live in.

Multiple choice:

(a) What?!?
(b) Huh?!?
(c) No way!
(d) All of the above, plus “Are you friggin’ serious?!?”

Answer: (d).

She also said the building used to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. I asked how she knew that and she said the landlord had showed her the room that was used to shelter slaves; it was under the sidewalk I was standing on. I wondered if Finger had known that.

I buzzed the apartment I wanted. The resident, a guy about my age, buzzed me into the foyer but not the building itself. He seemed skeptical of me. I don’t blame him.

His door was in sight of the foyer and he opened it. I called through the glass of the inner door, explaining what I wanted to do. He buzzed me into the building but didn’t invite me into his apartment.

I handed him a Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman postcard and asked if he’d be willing to go look me up online to decide if he'd let me in to take a few photos in the apartment. He kindly agreed. I waited outside. A minute later, he came back and said okay.

In 2007, a member of Bill’s family had sent me this unlabeled photo of a desk that she'd found with other photos of Bill:

However, she didn’t know for sure if the desk had been Bill’s. So I’d showed it to Bill’s longtime friend and writing partner Charles Sinclair, and he seemed positive that it was indeed Bill’s desk, but he placed it at another of Bill’s apartments.

For some reason, and even though Charles has rarely been wrong (including recollections going back 50 years), I felt that the desk photo might’ve been taken in this particular apartment. So I'd brought
a copy of the photo with me.

And sure enough, I walked in to the main room of the apartment and immediately recognized one part of it:

Note on the right the indent and the edge of the fireplace, both of which appear in the earlier photo (even though the fireplace has inexplicably turned from white to black). Also, the new photo doesn't quite show it, but there is a window just to the left of the composition; in the original photo, you can see the natural light coming in.

Until I was standing there, I didn't know if the desk in the old photo was Bill's, let alone which apartment it was in. Yet it wasn't like the photo was a complete mystery; it had come from the Finger family and I had pieced together a list of apartments it could've been from. Still, to conclusively match up a photo from the 1940s to the same space in 2010 did electrify me.

And then I learned that the history of the apartment that started with John Wilkes Booth actually did not start with him…nor did it end with Bill Finger.

Part 3.

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