Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Coliseum Ballroom- after the fire.
Setting: The Coliseum Ballroom
And all the Would've/Could've/Should'ves...

Last night, an icon of the local setting and feel of Benld, Illinois and Route 66, the Coliseum Ballroom, was lost in a devastating fire. I couldn't help but cry. In my current WIP, the Coliseum is the focal point of the backdrop where key plot events take place. It's the hub! It's where the all the action is!...and now the building is lost.

Historically, and more particularly, during the 1920s, the setting of my story, the Coliseum functioned as a ballroom, a roller-rink and a venue for a multitude of other “events”. During my lifetime, it has been a part-time dance hall/part-time antique shop. The Coliseum has been a landmark for travelers and patrons for almost a century and even those numbers showed up at her end, 16 fire departments in all, to try to keep the fire contained.

As a writer, I have regrets. I watched the fire, and I thought about my characters and all the would've/could've/should've's that are now lost to me. I couldn’t help but feel what it would be like for Will, my main character, who spends his Saturday evenings parking cars for the wealthier patrons during “Big-Band” nights. I imagined Ted, the rambunctious brother, standing in my very shoes, quiet for a change, watching the fire and knowing that part of their town, part of the soul of the citizens would be lost along with the building. While I sympathize with  those in the crowd tonight, who have such strong, similar memories, I am comforted to know that for them as well as for my characters, the Coliseum will forever remain. And every time I look at my story, every time my characters need to be there, it will still be there…in the story, for my reader.

During the past two years, I’ve collected facts for this particular manuscript of mine. For the scenes that involve the Coliseum, I have focused on gathering a sense of the building. I've poured over pictures and flyers. I've hovered around the outside of the building, looking at where the doors and windows had been before the last "remodel". When I've gone inside (posing as a typical antique-store groupie), I let my mind wander. I imagined the wood floor emptied of knick-knacks and the balcony filled with guys and dolls giggling, making light conversation as they waited to hear music fill the large hall. I touched walls, walked up stairs, snuck around corners. I listened.

I wish I had visited more. I wish I would have taken more pictures. I could have sat down and written chapters and pages in the very spot I envisioned my characters. I should have dug deeper. But I didn’t. I guess, in a way, I took it for granted that it would be there tomorrow. Now, the beloved Coliseum lay smoldering under the sprays from a dozen or so fire-engines.

My concrete, fact-finding opportunities are now gone; my first-hand accounts and personal connections have been severed. But as a community member, I know that even though the building may be gone, it will be forever preserved in memories and stories. This is one of the reasons why I write!

I encourage all of you to share your stories of your communities, buildings, places, events, and history with one another. Don't let treasures like these become lost.

With sad regret and a heavy heart, I will forever miss our Coliseum Ballroom.
With Writer's Regrets....