Monday, August 22, 2016

Almost, but not quite factual

While doing my historical research, I often ran across intriguing items I hoped would add realism to my novel.  Such was the case of the Orthodox church in Streator, Illinois.  The actual story behind the church didn't require embellishment, but since I didn't have the full story, embellish it I did.

I discovered Streator's church while digging into the history of my grandfather's church, Saint Nicholas, in Joliet. In a paragraph documenting Orthodoxy in 19th century Illinois, a few sentences were devoted to the Orthodox Church of the Three Saints that began with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 
The Russian church as it appeared at the 1893 Chicago Exposition
According to the article the Church of the Three Saints was part of the Russian exhibit at the Exposition.  Two years after its close, Vasile Hunter and Albert Dock arrived in Chicago and purchased the forgotten building.  Alone, the two disassembled the church, loaded it on a train, and rebuilt it anew in Streator.  Based on this sketchy information I wrote the third chapter of Banners: For God, Tsar and Russia.
Orthodox Church of the Three Saints, Streator, Illinois circ 1904
Chapter Three takes place in Illinois during the late summer of 1914.  Russia is at war and my main characters along with other Eastern European emigres want to show support for their Motherland.  Their plan is for a Pan-Slavic pilgrimage to Church of the Three Saints in Streator and perform a high service asking for God's blessings.  The organizers secure passage on the Chicago and Alton Railroad and proceed to Streator, picking up Russian and Serbian worshipers along the way. 
The Alton Limited streaking across the Illinois prairie
They exit the train on a rail siding and prepare to march to the church.
What might have been a version of my Slavic procession in 1914
The emigres' procession of banners and icons travels four miles from the train to the church under the blistering August sun and proceed to offer prayers on behalf of their countries.

Twenty years after I wrote this, thanks to the home page of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, I discovered more to the story.  According to the site's author, Tsar Alexander III of Russia commissioned the church as part of the Exposition's Russian Pavilion. The entire Pavilion was built in a dark wood and was designed by the Tsar's favorite architect, Ivan Ropet, in a 17th century Muscovite style and resembled the palace in which Peter the Great was born. It was built and assembled in Russia, disassembled, then sent to Chicago where it was reassembled for the 1893 World's Fair. Once the fair was over, arrangements were made for the purchase of its fa├žade, tower, and traditional ornamentation by the congregation in Streator, and again, it was disassembled, then reassembled at its new home at 401 South Illinois Street.

In 1910, the church building was sold to a Beaulah Baptist congregation. In 1916, the building was sold again, this time to a Polish Roman Catholic congregation and named St. Casimir. Over the years as a non-Orthodox church, all the Russian trappings of the building were eventually removed, and in the end every surface of the original exterior had been covered with brick-patterned asphalt siding. In 1964, St. Casimir Church razed this building to the ground in order to build a bigger church, citing its small interior and as well as general condition. The parish disbanded in the 1960s. 

So based on actual events, my version of history could not happened as I wrote.  But that's the tricky part of historic fiction -- how much history and how much fiction?  And the church of the three saints?  It turns out that's its anglicized name.  In the parlance of Orthodoxy, it was named Three Hierarchs Orthodox Church, in honor of the three stalwarts of the Eastern Church.  For this error, I apologize to the three.
The Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pictures Don't Lie


The genesis of my three novels was the Pribish family portrait.  In chapter thirty-five of Slogans: Our Children, Our Future,  I laid the groundwork for its creation.  I introduced a character named Andre Petrovich Antanov, a zealous young Communist photographer assigned to document Unkurda's spring planting.  Armed with the latest Eastman Kodak Brownie camera, and six rolls of well-regulated film, Andre rumbles into the village and sets about his task. 
Andre Antanov's mobile photography studio

Kodak Brownie Camera - circ 1910
Akulina approaches Andre and offers to pay him with American money for likenesses of her family.  Andre is torn by the offer.  One on hand he does not believe in capitalism, but on the other hand, the hard currency is attractive.  As a compromise, and to keep the Ministry of Truth from discovering his capitalistic weakness, he proposes using his old wet plate camera instead of Kodak film.  This enabled me to write a scene in which each member of Akulina's family is captured individually and explain how the portrait came into being.
Vintage Wet Plate Camera
Afterwards, Andre secretly plans to use a popular darkroom technique to create a family portrait for Akulina which includes Massey.  What Andre envisions is a political ploy sweeping Russia where low level party apparatchik doctor photographs to show themselves associating with high ranking party members.  If you want your picture taken with Lenin, Andre knows how to do it. 

Joseph Stalin employed manipulated photos in two ways.  As an up and comer, he had photos created showing him shoulder to shoulder with Lenin.  Later, when Stalin became the absolute ruler, he was adept at displaying photos to shape public image.  As in Orwell's 1984 Ministry of Truth, it was not enough for Stalin to eradicate an opponent, the very existence of the person was erased.  This was before Photoshop and an era when people believed pictures never lie.
Joseph Stalin - With and Without Nicolai Yezhov


Andre later returns to record the fall harvest and presents Akulina with a gift of a colored family portrait.  In it, Akulina not only sees her immediate family, but all past and future members.
Original Photos
Andre's Reuslts
Andre also served another purpose. He and a deposed factory owner named Abraham Kubechev debated the pros and cons of capitalism and communism.  The result was a rather heated exchange.