Tonight I am a long way from home. My wife and I came to Japan so that I could give lectures at Senshu University in Tokyo, but now that I am done there we are exploring the country for a few days. Guided by a Japanese friend, we have visited ancient Buddhist temples, hiked to a mountaintop Shinto shrine and explored back alley shops where a single family has made a certain kind of cookie or indigo dye or sake for centuries. Today we are in Hiroshima, where we visited memorials to the victims of the atomic bomb that fell on the city on August 6, 1945.
While he was in Wilmington working for the Library of Congress, Arthur Miller also talked with several city officials. At first, I didn’t expect these interviews to be as interesting as his conversations with the shipyard workers or with the men and women he encountered in the street.
On another evening when they were in downtown Wilmington, N.C., Arthur Miller and his audio engineer, Johnny Langenegger, spied a cluster of cabdrivers standing on a street corner next to the city bus station.
This is the 4th post in a 7-part series on the great American playwright Arthur Miller's sojourn in Wilmington, N.C. during the Second World War. When they were in Wilmington in 1941, Arthur Miller and his audio specialist, Johnny Langenegger, also just drove around the city looking for scenes and moments and stories that captured the … Continue reading Arthur Miller’s War, Part 4– “Worse than Hoover time”
Arthur Miller did more than record the stories of the defense workers that flocked to Wilmington when they were in their mobile home camps. Other scenes unfolded at the shipyard itself. At one of those times, the young playwright stood near the shipyard’s main gate and simply described the shift change.
“The scene is a row of trailers,” Arthur Miller intoned in the first words of the field recordings. When I first turned on the old reel-to-reel recorder at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, I found the young playwright standing in a vast trailer camp that had been built in a maddening rush only a few months earlier.
Today I am remembering a visit to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The center is located on a quiet hallway a floor below the great library’s main reading room and contains vast collections of oral histories, music and other audio recordings. You can hear Mississippi sharecroppers singing the blues there. You can hear Polish immigrants playing polkas. You can hear Navajo sacred songs. I was there to listen to audio recordings that the playwright Arthur Miller made on the North Carolina coast in the fall of 1941.
When I am traveling on oral history research trips, I often think about Gordon Day. Mr. Day was 78 years old when I interviewed him several years ago. He was one of the first charter fishing boat captains in Morehead City, N.C.. When the Second World War reached America in 1941, the Navy recruited him to search for German submarines 25 miles out at sea off Cape Lookout Shoals.
I was recently a guest at the beginning of this official celebration for the Cape Lookout Light Station’s 150th year of service that ends tonight. That was three weeks ago and I imagine that many of you were there. For those of you that could not make it, I want to tell you that it was quite a day.