Copies of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ distributed at Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival
By Dan Moran firstname.lastname@example.org October 27, 2013 3:32PM
Simulated book burnings were set up inside the lobby of the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan to reflect the dystopian society portrayed in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which was the theme of the Waukegan Public Library’s eighth annual storytelling festival named for the late author. | DAN MORAN~SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Updated: December 1, 2013 6:58AM
The offer of a free copy of “Fahrenheit 451” from the private overstock of Ray Bradbury was enough to get Bernie Bohlman of Beach Park in line more than two hours before the start of the eighth annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival last Friday in Waukegan.
“I’ve been meaning to do this (event) for the last couple of years, but I never got around to it,” Bohlman said, at the head of a line at the Genesee Theater that snaked through the lobby toward the box office. “When I found out that you could get a book that came from his garage, I really had a nice connection to the author.”
Bohlman, who was joined by his friend and World War II veteran John Walkup from Waukegan, said he first read “Fahrenheit” while serving in the Army in the 1980s.
“I’ve read it twice and I plan to read it again,” he said. “It’s a timeless classic, and it’s an interesting look into the future from when this book was written. (It’s) about burning books, and if you do that, you’re burning knowledge, you’re burning information.”
There were no books being burned at the Genesee on Friday, but simulated bonfires were set up all around the lobby as the first 100 ticket-holders filed in to collect their free copy of the classic 1953 novel. The paperback editions were among 500 boxes of Bradbury possessions that were shipped from the late author’s Los Angeles home after being donated to the Waukegan Public Library.
Storytelling emcee Jim May told the crowd of about 300 that the collection — which included books from Bradbury’s shelves and random items like Disney animation cels — has been appraised at $480,000.
“It’s a special year, because 2013 was the year the Waukegan Public Library received a National Medal of Honor in Washington, D.C., given to five out of 9,000 libraries in America,” May said. “In addition, this was the year that the library took possession of Ray Bradbury’s personal effects.
“He loved Waukegan,” May added of Bradbury, a native of Waukegan. “He would love all of you here being here at this moment thinking about books and thinking about him.”
Prior to performances by May, Jay O’Callahan and Megan Wells — all of whom selected stories from books that had been banned at some point in their history — library Executive Director Richard Lee displayed photos taken during a mid-October trip to Bradbury’s home to pick up the collection.
Lee said the Bradbury family’s relatively modest yellow home was located in the L.A. neighborhood of Cheviot Hills, which is west of Santa Monica and north of Culver City.
“They purchased the house back in 1958 just after the birth of their fourth daughter, Alexandra, and they tell me this is the typical Hollywood starter home,” Lee said. “They moved in Thanksgiving Day, 1958. ... They had two moving vans come — one van had their furniture and clothing, the other van had Ray’s stuff.”
Lee showed several slides that illustrated the sheer volume of Bradbury’s possessions, stored on rack after rack of shelves, including some set up in a shower room.
“There was a file cabinet marked ‘manuscripts and short stories unpublished,’ and I opened that up and I thought, ‘How easy would it be for me to put my name on that and submit those?’” Lee said mischievously.
The items are now housed in a storage facility on Waukegan’s north side, and Lee said it will take some time to go through the 19,300 pounds of material to determine where everything will end up.
“Some things will be given away, some things will be added to the collection,” Lee said. “Bear with us, because there’s a lot of stuff over there (and) we hope to get it out and make some permanent exhibits.”
The crowd was also treated a snippet from “The Big Read A Conversation with Ray Bradbury,” a 2006 video by the National Endowment for the Arts, where he offered a hint about why so many of his treasures were donated to a library:
“You see, libraries are people,” he said. “People are waiting in there — thousands of people who wrote the books. You find the author who can lead you through the dark, and Shakespeare started me there and ‘Hamet’ started me there and ‘Richard the III.’ And Emily Dickinson led the way for me, and Edgar Allen Poe said, ‘This way — here’s the light.’
“That’s what a library is. You go to a library and discover the light.”