It’s a common questions we writers get asked: why? Why did you decide to write about this? This is the non-fiction writer’s equivalent to “where do you get your ideas from?” that we get as fiction writers. Since I write in both mediums, I get asked both questions fairly routinely. Close behind the “why” question when it comes to the books I write is the “how” question: how did you find out about this to write about it?
When it comes to the plane bombing over Chesterton, the how came about because I was doing research for another book. I was looking for local disasters for a book that eventually became Chicago Disasters published by Schiffer Publishing. While doing research for that, I stumbled across the story of the plane in Chesterton. The problem was, there was not a lot of information available about the crash at that time. I was fascinated to find out that a plane had been blown up so close to Chicago and I had never heard about it before. In fact, it seemed no one did.
I like uncovering things. Perhaps, at the very beginning, I even had this thought that I would start digging around into the case and, somehow, come across something that would actually solve the case. I knew that this was unlikely, but I thought it would have been so cool had it happened.
Well, that didn’t really happen, but the more I read about the case, the more I wanted to tell the story. It seemed that the tale had been lost in the crush of history. This was the time of the Great Depression, and World War II was just over the horizon, plus, the Midwest was seemingly filled with wild men and women who robbed banks and kidnapped people. Plus Chicago was overrun with gangsters and bootleggers. There was more than enough on the average person’s plate to deal with at that time and this new-fangled airplane stuff just must have seemed like a minor thing to happen in passing.
But to me, looking through the lens of nearly 80 years, it was an important story. Through the lens of 9/11, it seemed to me that the first volley in the war of terrorism against passengers in planes was fired all the way back in 1933. It seemed that the first steps to prevent bombs and other devices from getting on to planes happened way back then, rather than just after 2001. Through the lens of history and the 21st century, it seemed like a story that needed to be told.
Remember, seven people died. Seven people who had normal, ordinary lives and plans to do normal, ordinary things. And, just like in flashier and more spectacular terrorism cases later on in history, someone decided that their ordinary, normal lives were not worth much and, to perhaps make a point, worth only of destroying in order to make that point.
I have a strong sense of justice. And to me, the fact that this act was unknown was a grave injustice. The fact that no one had ever been arrested or prosecuted for the crime was a very grave injustice. To me, this meant the story needed to be told and I would do whatever it took to tell it.