AJHA & Rebels

The American Journalism Historians Association. It’s one of my favorite organizations. The group hosts my absolutely favorite convention.

What does all this have to do with “Rebels on Lake Erie,” the documentary?

It’s hard to find lots of southern voices in Akron, Ohio, today.
About 90 years ago, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Thousands came up from West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas in search of jobs in Akron’s thriving rubber factories.
Southern twangs were a familiar sound in virtually every Akron factory, church, store and bar.

Things have changed in Akron. The richness of the Southern drawl is rare around this Midwestern city.
And that represented a real problem for me – and the documentary.

I needed lots of Southern voices, voices of prisoners at Johnson’s Island, voices of conspirators, voices of the Confederacy.

Where can you find that many Southern voices?

How about Tucson, Arizona, in October 2010?

That’s when the American Journalism Historians Association held its convention.
And there are LOTS of Southern gentlemen in that organization, scholars who are more than willing to help out a Midwesterner in search of a Southern drawl.

Did I need a voice of Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, the blustering belligerent Confederate prisoner from Texas? Patrick Cox, director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, volunteered for the challenge – and lived up to Decimus’ bravado.

David Sloan of the University of Alabama was typecast as the intellectual college professor/Johnson’s Island prisoner Luther Mills.

The young Glenn (Pete) Smith Jr. of Mississippi State became Capt. Joe Barbiere of the Gayoso Guards.

Jim Martin of the University of Northern Alabama convincingly portrayed Edmund DeWitt Patterson of the 9th Alabama.

With some elocution advice from his Southern wife Katie, Leonard Teel of Georgia State offered his interpretation of the depressed Col. D.R. Hundley of Alabama.

But who could portray the Confederate spy John Breckinridge Castleman?
Jim Aucoin of the University of Southern Alabama agreed to do it, although he never thought he had much of a Southern accent. When you see the documentary, you decide.

David Davies, an Arkansas native who teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi, served as Johnson’s Island prisoner Lt. Horace Carpenter of the 9th Louisiana. David can make the word “damned” stretch across five syllables. Unfortunately, you won’t hear that in the documentary. When we had to cut the last three minutes, David’s “damned” was sacrificed. Contrary to what many might say, that “damned” edit didn’t make up the whole three minutes.

The soft-spoken David Copeland of Elon in North Carolina served as Capt. William M. Norman of the 2nd North Carolina.

I’m no audio specialist – and I wasn’t going to have any help when I did the audio recording in that hotel in Tucson. Yet with some training from UA Communication engineer Rick Kent, the newest version of audacity on my laptop, a blue icicle and one of the school’s better microphones, I was ready for the challenge.

The staff of the Hotel Tucson went out of their way to find a quiet location, where all the voiceovers could be recorded.

I can’t say the process was seamless. I ran into one technical snafu but engineer Rick Kent, back in Akron, talked me through it. I must have done pretty well because our audio editor Gabor Smith hasn’t had too much work to do on the voiceovers I recorded in Tucson.

It’s kind of nice to know that AJHA isn’t just an organization where you present research. It’s a place where friends help each other out.
As a result, “Rebels on Lake Erie” is a documentary that draws on talent from across the nation.
– Kathleen Endres

My Son Jon

Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling, my son Jon
Went to bed with his stockin’s on,
One shoe off, one shoe on,
Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling, my son Jon

Twenty four years ago, my son would giggle with delight when I recited that silly nursery rhyme.
Jon’s always been a good sport.

Over the past year, I’ve tested the bounds of his sweet nature as I worked on the documentary, “Rebels on Lake Erie.

“Jon,” I’d whine, “could you do me a favor?”
At first, he’d respond, with an upbeat “sure.” Then I’d ask him to animate a map that would trace John Beall’s route from Detroit to Kelley’s Island on Lake Erie. Or I’d ask for a map that would illustrate General Grant’s war plans in Summer 1864. Since Jon was teaching himself AfterEffects, this gave him an opportunity to show off.

Eventually, Jon got wiser.
My inquiry, “could you do me a favor?” was met with an equivocal “maybe.” Then I’d ask him to Photoshop a picture — or two — or 10 – or 20. Since Jon’s an ace at Photoshop, I didn’t hear that many complaints.

Lately, my inquiry, “could you do me a favor?” has been met with his own question, “got any money?” Rather than put on my motherly guilt look, I just pull out a $20 and thanked my stars that my son Jon’s so talented — and that he’s willing and able to do all the animations, Photoshop work, and anything else that my editor and I can dream up.

Jon’s an English major at The University of Akron. After six years, he’s close to graduation. When he walks across the stage at EJ Thomas this August, his father and I will applaud wildly. We’ll wish him only the best – a wonderful job and a happy life.

We’d like to think we’ve been helpful to him along the way. We’ve encouraged him, praised him, answered his MLA questions, reassured him, paid his bills – and taken advantage of his talents. How many other 24-year-old English majors have had an opportunity to work on documentaries, do voiceovers, design logos, do videos and animate maps (or anything else)?

So when you tune in to “Rebels on Lake Erie” (April 23 at 10 p.m. on WNEO/WEAO), I’d like you to watch for the animated maps, the photos that look flawless and the graphics that capture the mood – and remember Diddle, Diddle Dumpling, my son Jon.

St. Patrick’s Day & John Beall

Being the daughter of an Irish war bride (maiden name: Bridget Tierney, Knocklong, Co. Limerick), St. Patrick’s Day has always been a big date on my calendar. I’ll never forget the Irish dancing at Toledo’s Commodore Perry Hotel or Mass at old St. Pat’s.
But St. Patrick’s Day, 2011, has to go down as one of the more memorable.
That’s the day we shot on Governors Island in New York for “Rebels on Lake Erie,” a new documentary.
Here’s the inside story behind that day….
John Yates Beall, one of the main characters in our story, had been executed outside Fort Columbus (now Fort Jay) on Governors Island on Feb. 24, 1865.
I wanted that shot for the documentary but timing was important.
First, we had to get it before Governors Island was crowded with tourists.
Second, we had to schedule it when Georges Yazbek, a tremendously talented videographer (and a University of Akron graduate), was available.
Third, we had to go before the government shut down in one of the many budget crises of 2011.
Thanks to the cooperation and assistance of Michael Shaver, supervisory park ranger at Governors Island (and perhaps a small intervention from St. Patrick), all that happened on March 17, 2011.
It was a bright, sunny St. Patrick’s Day, when our plane landed at LaGuardia.
We (graduate student Keith Aukeman and I) caught a cab and hoped to make the 10 a.m. ferry to Governors Island.
At 9:15, we were caught in traffic with little hope of ever getting to the pier on time.
Georges called. He was parked at the pier – but where were we?
Stuck in traffic, we replied.
Just when it appeared we’d never make it, the cab driver saw an opening, switched lanes and we never looked back.
We made it with lots of time – 15 minutes — to spare.
Georges drove his car on board the ferry and we were on our way to a great St. Patrick’s Day shoot.
Once we landed, we were dispatched to Building 107, command central for the National Park Service.
The rangers on Governors Island are experienced in dealing with the press, videographers and documentarians.
We were given relatively free access to the island and the fort – and a park ranger to keep us out of trouble.
After shooting our way into the fort – wait, that doesn’t sound right. After driving into the fort with a camera strapped to the hood of the car (you’ll see that shot in the documentary), we were ready to start our work.
We were able to go virtually everywhere (except one location that our ranger, by then a pal, warned us against. Something about open culverts and falling in.)
Since Georges brought battery-operated lights, we were able to shoot in John Yates Beall’s cell, where he spent his last days.
It was cold and damp and very dark. You’ll see that cell in the documentary.
Since I had read the letters Beall had written from that cell and the reminiscences of his friends who had visited him there, I was moved by the whole experience. I know that sounds a little weird, but I’d been researching the topic for about a year and had never really visited a location like this before.
At about 1 p.m., roughly the time of Beall’s execution, we went out to shoot where the National Park Service believes the hanging took place. You’ll see that location – framed beautifully by Georges – in the documentary.
You’ll also see the actual path Beall took on his way to the gallows. It’s another moving scene in the documentary.
We have lots of footage from our day at Governors Island that doesn’t appear in the documentary – inside the magazine, on the second floor of the fort, or along the shore of the island. Perhaps we’ll issue some outtakes.
By 2:45 p.m., we were ready to head back to the 21st century and New York City.
Georges volunteered to take us back to LaGuardia – we had a flight back that afternoon, but I figured we could easily find a cab.
What was I thinking?
After a couple of cabbies gruffly declined the fare, we got lucky and made it back to LaGuardia in plenty of time to eat, check in and get through security.
In the mercifully uneventful flight back to Akron, I reflected on St. Patrick’s Day 2011 and wondered how this documentary would come together.
This St. Patrick’s Day, the documentary is close to completion. It’s scheduled for broadcast in April on Western Reserve Public Media. We still have lots to do and you’ll hear all about it in this blog.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and wish me luck as we finish up the documentary.