I continue to plug away, as I can find time, on the Empire Builders book project. While I think it’s fair to say the essential research is now complete, I’m still ever on the lookout for other tidbits of detail related to the story.
Just a matter of weeks ago, I came upon an old newspaper article telling of a young woman who was a studio hostess for NBC in Chicago. The article said she participated on multiple Empire Builders broadcasts. Regrettably, I have not seen her name mentioned anywhere else. But one thing I’ve learned in all this research is that many of the broadcasts utilized peripheral characters who merely said a sentence or two, such as a random man in a crowd, or a train conductor who affirmed to the Old Timer that he was boarding the correct passenger car – that sort of thing. Very few of the many veteran performers were given publicity in connection with the broadcasts, so it’s not at all surprising that lesser voice talent would go unheralded.
One of the most rewarding aspects of conducting all this intense research is that from time to time I’m able to connect with a living descendant of one of the principals in the show. Take the young woman mentioned above, the NBC studio hostess. I tracked down and contacted her son, and although he did not have any new information for me regarding Empire Builders, he did share some intriguing insights about the career of his remarkable mother (who, by the way, lived to over 100 years old). He also graciously gave me his vintage copy of the press release that formed the news article that led me to my discovery of her participation on Empire Builders.
A good friend of mine is a self-taught wiz with Microsoft’s Access database software. He is building a terrific database for me to help organize all the details I’ve been gathering about the radio series. I have a still-growing list of nearly 250 individuals who had some sort of connection with the broadcasts. This includes executives and representatives of the Great Northern Railway and NBC. It of course includes the names of every on-air performer who ever appeared on the broadcasts. And that’s not merely actors and actresses. It also includes all the singers, sound effects men, and guest speakers (of which there were many). I’ve captured the names of all the writers, editors, producers, and directors. Many of the radio stories were written by professional authors not otherwise connected with the GN or NBC. Other stories came from winners of the GN’s radio story contest. I have the names of nearly all of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers. I’ve also located the life dates (dates of birth and death) of nearly all 250 of these people. I know that probably sounds like going too far down a rabbit hole, but I find it somewhat revealing to know where in life these people were while associated with Empire Builders. This research has also revealed some intriguing back-stories for many of them. There is richness to be found in all our lives, though it can be more a matter of luck to find compelling details for someone who is long since deceased, and who did not attain a significant degree of lasting notoriety.
So, the project continues. I’d say it’s pretty much at a snail’s pace right now, but it’s more like a race where the snail is in the lead. But the finish line is still off in the distance, and I’m hopeful I can find that second wind (or even the first wind) and eventually surpass the snail and be the one to break the tape at the finish line.