About the Book   Leave a comment

Two kids and their grandfather take a trip to New York to tour the city and see a Yankee’s game. Not in the present, but through the aegis of Harry Houdini’s lost magic wand, using Philadelphia’s Independence Hall as a necessary time portal, they travel back in time to the last week of September, 1927 to experience life in the Jazz Age and to see Babe Ruth hit his record-breaking 60th home run.

Through a series of lucky accidents, like staying at the Algonquin Hotel and taking lunch there, thanks to the kids love of Harpo Marx, they make friends with Dorothy Parker, Benchley and other famous writers and critics, the hotel’s world famous Algonquin Round Table lunch group.

Touring the city, they meet other famous and soon-to-be-famous people, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Cagney, and a certain Japanese Navy Midshipman to name a few.

Unknown to them, thanks to some careless remarks by the kids, they begin to be pursued by Houdini’s German assistant, the only living witness to the great magician’s brief experiment in time travel. He is obsessed with obtaining the wand, lost after Houdini’s death, in order to change history in Germany’s favor.

These chance encounters and the seemingly innocent trip in time unleashes a series of events that begin to spin out of control. The reputation of one of the greatest baseball players of all time, the outcome of World War Two and the future as we know it is in serious danger!

This is both entertaining and educational. Educational in that, however unlikely, all the major events in the book actually occurred. I researched the New York Times for that week and spun the ‘travelogue’ around them, to accurately ‘model’ the time in question. Rail schedules are actual from 1926, the ship arrivals and departures are real, movie and  show times are actual, the Japanese Navy did have a goodwill visit on that Thursday and their officers were invited to the Yankees game and they did catch a foul ball.

It is also educational since the book describes a week traveling from our time portal at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to New York, in and around the city and back to St. Paul, providing an accurate ‘snapshot’ of what life was like in 1927 as we live and function in that society: transport systems: trains, ocean liners, city transit and even air travel,  hotels, theater, Wall Street, technology (more advanced than most people realize) shopping, baseball, manners and morals, prohibition, speakeasies even gangsters. My intent is to provide not only a historically accurate snapshot but also the ambiance; the flavor of life at that unique time in American History.

All the characters were or plausibly could have been in New York at that time.


Some of the characters we meet:

Helen Kane – a year after 1927, in 1928 she became famous with her signature ‘boop boop a doop’ scat lyrics added to her songs in her cute New York accent. Betty Boop was modeled after her, but she never got any credit from the cartoons.

The Algonquin Round Table – the informal lunch group of some of the most famous writers, critics, columnists, and other show people, was the beating heart of American culture at that time, meeting at the Algonquin Hotel between 1919 and 1929. They met and joked about and cut each other dead with their wonderful wit, contributing to the founding of the New Yorker magazine in 1925, which carries on that tradition of genuine subtle wit and wisdom.

Some of the key characters of that group we meet in the book:

Dorothy Parker, THE leading light of the immensely talented ‘Round Table’ crowd, was the supreme ‘put down’ queen, with her quick wit, wise cracks and pointed and often scathing yet witty book reviews and beautiful as well as ironic and black comic poetry, she lived her life as a liberated woman, independent, supporting herself, but suffered personally from so many difficult marriages, broken romances and affairs.

Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker were old friends from their days at Vanity Fair during WWI with their sardonic brand of humor, but they always addressed each other formally as Mr. Benchley and Mrs. Parker. It is doubtful they had a real romance, in spite of Dorothy Parker’s very active sex life. She described herself as a ‘functioning alcoholic.’ Robert Benchley was the supreme practitioner of dry, deadpan humor, not only in his writing, but onstage in the Round Table’s one and only Broadway production ‘Yessirree!’ (lasted one night) giving ‘The Treasurer’s Report.’

At first inadvertently nervous, his diffident, nervous recital was extremely funny and led to his appearance in other Broadway shows.

Harpo Marx, one of the five Marx Brothers, was reputed to be the intellectual of the group and an intimate member of the Round Table crowd, as well as a marathon poker player. The wonderful old clown was one of the nicest people to ever walk the earth.

Alexander Wollcott, NY Times theater critic and outstanding wit, he and Parker were intimate friends.

Franklin Pierce Adams – famous columnist and sports enthusiast.

Ring Lardner – sports and story writer

George Gershwin  – (not a regular but you never know) America’s most famous songwriter of his age and far ahead of his time.

Edna Ferber – Writer and producer along with George S. Kaufman of ‘Showboat.’

Other Characters:

F. Scott Fitzgerald – Not much to add here to one of  the most famous authors of all time, just that he and Dorothy Parker were old friends. One day in 1920, he and Zelda and Dorothy and Benchley were having lunch at a cramped table and Dorothy remarked that they looked like the road show version of the ‘Last Supper.’

James Cagney – Was only a minor dancer in the chorus on Broadway, he and his wife had a dancing school uptown in 1927, and didn’t get into movies until 1929, and became by 1931, America’s archetypal ‘tough guy, having grown up on what was once the tough neighborhood of Yorkville on the Upper East Side, from where he got his tough language and signature cocky walk.’

George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth – Certainly the most famous if not the greatest baseball player of all time, he and Lou Gehrig along with other Yankees formed the ‘Murderer’s Row, one of the greatest baseball offenses ever, under the leadership of Huggins, the Yankee’s manager (also known as ‘The Hugmen’) Volumes have been written about the Babe and I have little more to contribute, other than he was a party animal, known for his wild behavior and marathon eating and drinking.

Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel – Along with Meyer Lansky and ‘Lucky’ Luciano, working for Arnold Rothstein, later formed America’s most powerful crime syndicate. Siegel was famous for his terrible temper, impulsive and fearless to the point of insanity, he hated the name ‘bugsey’ and was really the founder of modern-day Las Vegas, at least he saw its potential.

Captain Arthur Rostron – Captain of Mauretania and old sea dog, hero of the Titanic rescue effort as captain of the Carpathia.

Chief Engineer Andrew Cockburn of Mauretania – was Second Senior Engineer aboard her near sister Lusitania when she was torpedoed in 1915 and went down in 18 minutes.

Genda Minoru – could very well have been aboard the training cruisers that made the goodwill visit to New York. As Commander Genda, he was instrumental in the planning and carrying out the attack on Pearl Harbor. If he did not exist, it is very likely that Admiral Yamamoto may not have gone through with the idea of the surprise attack.

Hans Georg Prohmann – fictional – one of Harry Houdini’s most trusted assistants and only living witness to Houdini’s brief experiment in time travel, becomes obsessed with obtaining the wand, not for evil but for a misguided desire to right the wrongs done to Germany in the First World War or even try to prevent it. His part will be played more in the sequel!


Posted March 30, 2011 by mikeile51

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