One Tuesday, Bruce Janu, the senior librarian at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, ransacked an old storage cabinet in his new office. Janu, a former history teacher and documentary filmmaker, became the school’s librarian in July. An avid connoisseur of storytelling threads, he recently started a podcast called “ARCLight” about the art of storytelling, which he produces at school. While he was filing and organizing the cabinet, his thoughts were on the interview he would be tapping later that day. His guest would be Lesley MM Blume, the author of “Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World”, a report on John Hersey’s coverage of the 1945 atomic bombing on Hiroshima and the attempts by the US government to which obscure the extent of the devastating consequences.
This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of Herseys groundbreaking report on the effects of the New York bombing. The play follows the lives of six survivors trying to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. Hersey pioneered the New Journalism technique of reporting historical events using a narrative style – which emphasized the human and psychological sides of a story – and was a skilled chronicler of the eerily grotesque silence that so often obscures the aftermath of war . Prior to Hiroshima, similar coverage had focused almost entirely on the cacophony of warfare – the tumultuous crush of soldiers storming the Normandy beach, the thunderous air strikes during the lightning bolt. In simple, sparse prose, Hersey documents scenes of unprecedented ruin and captures the ghostly remainder of the misfortune. The piece was originally intended as a multi-part series, but the magazine’s editors decided to print it in full in the August 31, 1946 issue. It immediately sold out on newsstands, Albert Einstein tried to buy a thousand copies, and the piece was published in newspapers across the country.
In anticipation of his interview with Blume, Janu was eager to track down any particularly enlightening paraphernalia he might have and share with her in the Hersey school library. He had previously searched a back storage room with old photos and letters and later returned to his office to stow a few things in the narrow cupboard next to his desk where the library files are. “That little plastic bag was hidden in the back of one of those shelves,” he said. “So I reached in and pulled out an original copy of The New Yorker dated August 31, 1946, which was bordered with a thin white ribbon that said, ‘Hiroshima: This entire issue is devoted to the story of how an atomic bomb was destroyed a city. ‘ “Later that day, during his interview with Blume via Zoom, Janu held the subject up to his screen. Blume, who had been looking for the elusive white-streaked edition for more than three years, couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “I’ve been after that particular copy for so long,” she said. “And then Bruce held up something during our meeting and I saw a flash of white lightning. I said, ‘Wait a minute, show me this one more time’ – and I nearly burst into tears. ”Later that day, she shared a photo Janu took of the problem on Twitter and the post went viral and quickly caused a stir among historians, archivists and amateur media detectives alike. “The fact that a high school librarian discovered this very rare problem in a random storage cabinet just days after the bombing anniversary was a very emotional moment,” said Blume.
The white band was originally added a little later. Editors knew Herseys report was shocking, and they quickly realized that the cover they had chosen for the issue – a vibrant, idyllic scene of children and families frolicking in a park – might not warn readers enough to content the devastating nature of this issue. (New Yorker covers rarely relate to the content of an issue, but in this particular case the dissonance was highlighted.) “My God, how would a man feel who bought the magazine and intended to sit on a barber chair and to read? it! ”, an editor is said to have thought at a meeting at the time. So in New York the white stripe was hastily added to about forty thousand kiosk copies. (It was not included in the national edition.) Only a few copies of the edition with the original volume still exist, which is why, as Blume noted, it is considered one of the “white whales” in the world of second-hand bookshops.
Janu, who graduated from Hersey in 1986, recalls shaking hands with Hersey when the journalist delivered the address that year. “But that day I was really focused a lot more on the graduation itself and my own future,” he said. “It was only afterwards that I realized the importance of the moment.” In 1966, when construction began on the school, a district education officer was bewitched by one of Hersey’s novels and worked to convince a cautious school board to build the newest school in the To name the district after the writer. During the construction process, a 60 cm wide Copper Age capsule containing a variety of utensils related to Hersey – including a signed first edition of the novel “A Bell for Adano”, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, was placed on the site near the buried future entrance to the school. When the school opened in 1968, Hersey became the only high school in the district (the largest in Illinois) named after someone, living or deceased. The decision was considered controversial at the time, and when Hersey himself came to the school’s inauguration ceremony that fall, a marching band played the Harvard battle song in front of the building’s entrance. (Hersey was a Yale graduate.) Despite this dubious welcome, Hersey and his wife Barbara, who accompanied him on many of his visits, were deeply moved by the decision to name the school after him. In a letter to a school administrator while the building was still being built, Hersey described the designation as one of the greatest honors he had ever received: “Because what you have offered me is an ever-renewing place in the minds of youth like they’re coming. “The author later noted that the decision meant as much to him as, if not more, his Pulitzer Prize. He returned to Illinois almost every four years to attend school until his death in 1993 attend, speak to students, and deliver inaugural and other speeches.
Janu is currently working on a special Hersey archive that will be housed in the school library and made available to the public online. It will contain a wealth of photographs of Herseys many trips to school (including several of him wearing the school jacket with an “H” on it for the husky mascot); Correspondence between Hersey and a number of school officials and students; and videos of Herseys visits, including some of the speeches he made in the 1980s. “Hersey was a private person – and of course we want to respect that. But I think it’s important right now that people see the real people behind all this important reporting, ”said Janu. Blume, whose father worked for Walter Cronkite and who began her journalistic career as a researcher and off-air reporter for Ted Koppel, sees “Nightline” as one reason why Hersey is currently experiencing a small renaissance. “His work is full of uncomfortable truths,” she said. “And in the post-Trump era, his style of reporting is a kind of subtle rebuking of today’s trend of social media-driven journalism in the armchair.”
As for the time capsule, its existence was long forgotten when it was rediscovered eleven years ago by school authorities during a renovation of the building’s foyer. After digging it up and looking through it, the school officials added a few more items with no small astonishment, and then ordered it to be re-buried with the contents intact for a new generation to discover.
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