Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I returned from my first ever visit to Ray Bradbury's home town of Waukegan, Illinois. From Bradbury's fictionalised version of Waukegan, as it appears in his books Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Halloween Tree and Farewell Summer, I felt I knew the place well - although I wasn't expecting an exact one-to-one correspondence between the fiction and the reality.

Because I knew I would only be in Waukegan for a very brief time (one working day, to be exact), I made detailed preparations. First, I made a list of all the locations I had read about in Bradbury's books and in the books by his various biographers. Then, I prepared a customised Google Map to help me plot a driving and/or walking route between the various places of interest.

My Google Map can be viewed here. I have included annotations describing each place on the map. Some of the locations I have marked are real landmarks, such as the historic Genesee Theatre. Others are more notional, such as intersections where significant carnivals came to Waukegan during Bradbury's formative years.

If you browse my map - and I would certainly encourage you to do so! - you may also find it useful to play with the Google "Street View" feature. You can access this easily, just by zooming right in on any spot on the map. You will find that Bradbury's childhood home, his grandparents' house, and the old Carnegie Library show up with remarkable clarity.

I have blogged previously on the close resemblance of the geography of Waukegan and the fictional Green Town. Now I have visited the place, I am even more taken with the resemblance. Take a walking tour of Bradbury's Waukegan, and you will get a clear sense of the scale of the world inhabited by Dandelion Wine's Douglas Spaulding.

Naturally, I toured Waukegan armed with a camera. You can view my photo album - complete with explanatory captions - by clicking here. (There's a pause button at the bottom of the screen if the slideshow is too fast.)

Highlights of my whistlestop tour of Waukegan included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Genesee Theatre, a rare visit to the hidden depths of the disused Carnegie Library, a chance to view some unique Bradbury materials in the library of the Waukegan Historical Society, and a strange hour spent alone in a graveyard, trying to find Bradbury's forebears. Thanks to the Historical Society and Union Cemetery, I have been able to make some updates and corrections to my Bradbury family tree.

Why did I bother to visit? Was I just being an obsessive fan, the ultimate geek?


However, Bradbury's work is all about transforming the familiar into the unfamiliar. Reworking the real into fantasy. Writing and re-writing. Adaptation. And if we think of Dandelion Wine et al as adaptations of Waukegan into Green Town, then visiting the real Waukegan is simply another attempt to get back to the source of Bradbury's writings.

I believe I have gained an insight into Bradbury's work from making this trip. Stories such as "Exchange", "The Night" and "The Utterly Perfect Murder" have not - as I feared - been rendered mundane by my experience of the real Waukegan. On the contrary, these stories are now much more grounded in realism for me: before, perhaps, they were "magical realism"; now, they are "magical realism".

For making my visit such a success, I owe a debt of gratitude to the remarkably hospitable people of Waukegan, especially Wayne Munn, who provided important personal contacts and was instrumental in getting me into some less obvious places. I am also especially indebted to Rena Morrow of the Genesee Theatre; David Motley, the city's P.R Director; Richard Lee of the Waukegan Public Library; and the remarkable archivist Beverly Millard who, from the slightest of clues, was able to track down gravesites, coroner's reports and much else.

In the coming weeks, I will be blogging more on my Waukegan discoveries, including:

  • the TRUE STORY of "the Lonely One", the murderous presence that holds Green Town in fear in Dandelion Wine. Yes, there really was a "Lonely One" - and despite what you may have read in Sam Weller's biography of Ray, he was caught and imprisoned.
  • the mysterious case of Lester Moberg, Bradbury's uncle who was murdered in the same year that Bradbury had his fateful encounter with Mr Electrico.
In the same US trip, I also visited the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies for the first time. I will blog about this soon.


rainsom@hotmail.com said...

I'm so glad I googled Ray Bradbury's house and found this. I enjoyed your map and pictures.

I'm from Waukegan and looke dup many of the smae things you did, I used to go down into the ravine as a child.
Where I used tolive there were some actualy bricka streets wiht trolley tracks in them, but they were coverd before we moved in 1960.

Great memories.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed to see the photos you took in Waukegan! Especially the Carnegie pictures. I'd love to go to Green Town myself some day..


Unknown said...

Can't believe I haven't come across your blog before! Having grown up near Waukegan, and loving Bradbury stories, I still find it amazing that people come here to visit Green Town. I still live here and still re-read the Bradbury stories. Thanks for taking the time to match the places on the map. I also personally knew THE Helen, cousin of Ray Bradbury whose name I think he used.

Phil said...

It's always great to hear from Waukegan folks, so thanks for your kind comments. I understand Green Town received a large part of Ray's book collection in the last few months. As I write this, I am visiting Indianapolis - where I am looking at Ray's manuscripts, which were gifted to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies here at Indiana University.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I noticed your photos are no longer available at the link provided. Could you please repost? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I noticed the link to your photos no longer works. Can you please update? Would love to see them. I am a native of Waukegan but haven't been there in a long time. I did have the pleasure of going on a walking tour with Mr. Bradbury. I told him my daycare was next door to his childhood home (it was). I am trying to recall if we dedicated the park while he visited the school, or if the ravine is next to the school.

Phil said...

Thanks for alerting me to the missing photos. I'll reinstate them - but it may take a while for me to get round to it!

- Phil