Monday, June 3, 2013

A Bill Finger memorial in Poe Park in the Bronx, part 1 of 3

Though Bill Finger was the co-creator of one of the most recognizable fictional characters in world history, almost nobody appeared to notice when he died. Even, at first, his only known child, son Fred. (Scribbled on the medical examiner report: “No family.”)

During my research about Bill (which began in 2006), almost no one I asked knew what had happened to him after he died. The most anyone thought they knew was that Bill did not have a funeral.

That, sadly, turned out to be true—and he has no gravestone, either.

Yet Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman goes beyond his death for six pages. This is noteworthy for any man
especially a man who seemingly vanished from Earth with no fanfare.

And the story of Bill’s afterlife is not done yet.

Early in the book’s development I knew that I would propose erecting a memorial in Bill’s honor in the Bronx, where he was living when he mo-created (mostly created) Batman in 1939. I envisioned this specifically in Poe Park, where Bill and Bob brainstormed early Batman stories.

from Bill the Boy Wonder; art by Ty Templeton

I suspected that navigating New York City bureaucracy would be a challenge, but for me, that’s hardly a deterrent.

(My first attempt to commemorate a key Bill locale, the privately owned Greenwich Village apartment building in which he lived for much of the 1940s, was not successful.)

In June 2011, I began chasing my Poe Park memorial dream, aiming for an unveiling in 2014—the 75th anniversary of Batman and what would have been Bill’s 100th birthday, not to mention the 40th anniversary of his death.

I started the conversation with the director of the Bronx Tourism Council, then heard nothing for months. In early 2012, a different contact at the BTC reached out. In July 2012, I heard from a third, the new director of the BTC, and began again, getting the green light to resubmit a tweaked version of the proposal I’d sent a year before. We exchanged a few emails after that.

(At some point I also checked back with the Bronx Historical Society, whom I’d contacted during my book research; I learned—as I supposed—that they have no governance with respect to memorials.)

It wasn’t until early November 2012 that the director told me she was not in a position to approve this. She suggested I contact Bronx elected officials. This included a senator, an assemblyman, and a councilman. I emailed them, asking for their support. I heard back from none of them.

In February 2013, I was rerouted again, this time to the Poe Park Visitor Center Coordinator. She also fielded my proposal, and she also reported back that she’s not the one with decision-making authority.

She directed me to Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Art & Antiquities in the NYC Parks department. He was the person I should have been in touch with all along.

His response: let’s talk.

It’s my nature to read positively into such short, cryptic suggestions. My nature, however, is flawed.

Part 2.

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