I first caught wind of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s almost-obliteration after reading Michael Martone’s essay/story, “Fort Wayne Is Seventh On Hitler’s List.” As a Fort Wayne native, I was shocked by the title’s claim. Impressed, too—at least a little—that our city was once important enough to warrant Hitler’s wrath. Admittedly, being seventh on a bombing list is a bit of a dubious honor, and, as the Fort Wayne Visitors Bureau knows all too well, one that hardly translates to tourist dollars. Yet what we lack in tourism we make up for with hometown pride; the old timers are still known to puff out their chests and recount stories about the time we were nearly in Hitler’s crosshairs. So why did Hitler allegedly take an interest in our city?
Let me tell you how I first met Fannie Ingram Schwahn. How I was browsing the local antique store a summer or so back when there, buried amid the flotsam and jetsam, I came upon a wedding certificate dated June 5, 1922. Fannie was listed as the bride, and though I knew nothing of her—had never even heard her name—I was entranced, nonetheless by her story. Or rather, the story of how her marriage certificate had made its ways into my hands.
We saw her for the last time in 1944—frantic, wild-eyed, twitching about in her tree. Or rather, 23-year-old wildlife artist Don Eckelberry saw her, having traveled south to Louisiana’s Singer Tract to sketch America’s last Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It was a less than ideal situation. After all, National Audubon Society president John Baker would have much preferred to have found a way to save the bird rather than dispatch a man to sketch her. However, after negotiations with the Chicago Lumber Company broke down (“We are just money grubbers,” the company’s chairman allegedly said), Baker wasn’t left with much of a choice. Since the land couldn’t be spared (and by extension, the bird), Baker sent Eckelberry south in the hopes the artist might preserve her image.
There comes a time in every Santa-believer’s life when that believing hits a snag. Often the seeds of doubt are planted by way of schoolyard bullies, or dream-shattering friends, or one’s own late night sneak from a bedroom to catch a parent in the act. At some point geography always gets in the way (“That’s a lot of ground to cover!”), or zoology (“Reindeer can’t fly!”), or ethics (“What kind of labor laws protect those elves anyway?”).
Last July, in an attempt to spare us from the summer heat, my son and I took refuge inside an estate sale. The house was overrun with strangers, everyone ogling the goods left behind by the home’s previous owners. We, too, did our fair share of ogling—peering into rooms and closets in search of treasures left behind. Eventually, I found them: dozens of vintage postcards from around the world, none of them yet sullied by stamps.