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What Happened After THE END?

I’ve just finished reading Andrew Wilson’s book, SHADOW OF THE TITANIC: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORIES OF THOSE WHO SURVIVED.  It sparked my interest not only because of my fascination with The Titanic (more on that later), but because of his approach. 

Rather than recount the sinking in what so many other books have mined in minute-by-minute detail, he focused on the unpublished letters that had been sent to writer/historian, Walter Lord (author of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER).  They told the often tragic stories of what happened to many survivors following that incredible event.

There are very few “success stories” contained within Wilson’s book.  I had known the unfortunate aftermath of the optimistic Jack Thayer, but the other stories were new to me.  Not unlike a written version of watching the proverbial train-wreck, I could not stop reading (even though it was disheartening).

What happens after “And they all lived happily ever-after” is a huge draw in storytelling.  We invest our time and emotions in a well-told story, connecting with the situations and characters.  They become real to us.  It is the reason why we reach the ending of a particularly wonderful book, play or movie with a tinge of regret.  We want the story to continue.  We want to know what happened after The End.

Hollywood has known this for ages.  The rash of sequels to popular movies is a testament to our willingness to have the story continue…even though we often complain that the continuation is derivative or “not as good as the original.”

Actors find themselves type-cast, not because they can’t do anything else, but because they have delivered a performance that we enjoyed so much.

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle grew so tired of writing Sherlock Holmes stories that he killed the great detective…and was subsequently hounded (no pun intended) to bring him back until he relented.

Even songwriter Harry Chapin eventually bowed to fan requests and wrote a continuation of “Taxi.”

A tale well-told can be both a blessing and a curse for its creator.

One of my favorite plays is the two-act musical, THE FANTASTICKS!  Act 1 brings us the romantic fantasy of first love when life is an incredible adventure just waiting to be lived.  Act 2 shows us that it takes real courage and resolution to live with the reality of life after the rosy glow fades.  (This is introduced so well in the song, “This Plum Is Too Ripe.”)  The web site will give you something of the wonderful sense of this show at  http://www.thefantasticks.com/.

For storytellers, and presenters using storytelling, the aftermath of a famous story is a virtual gold mine.  People quickly become curious and they want to know more.  This is a sure method of prolonging the attention span…as long as aftermath is a worthy continuation.  If not, your audience will feel cheated and many will immediately “tune you out.”

I attended a large conference in which one of the presenters began with, “I was working inside the Pentagon that morning on 9/11 when the airplane hit.”  There were over 2,000 people in the conference hall…and you could have heard a pin drop.  The details were fascinating and harrowing.

Now, imagine that same presenter saying, “After the break, I’ll tell you what happened during the days immediately following.”  You leave the hall, not really needing a break, but anticipating what you will hear next as you join in the conversations with others in the lobby.

The lights flash.  You go back to your seat.  The presenter comes back to the stage.  You lean forward even though the acoustics are perfect.  And the speaker says…

“The next morning, I figured I’d had enough.  I drove to Cleveland and joined my brother in running a gasoline service station and have been there ever since.”  The End.

Whatever the presenter has to tell you next will be overwritten by the internal static of your reaction.  The presenter has lost you.

Finding a way to extend a fascinating story beyond what would otherwise be the conclusion can be an effective way to hold the attention of your audience.  You must be sure, though, not to cheat them.

Oh, yes, about my fascination with The Titanic.  Like many people, Walter Lord’s book hooked me.  The story held an incredible “What would I do in that situation?” appeal, along with the many “What if?” variations.

Then came the fateful day when I discovered the name of one of the third-class passengers, Patrick Dooley.  He was 37-years old, and was traveling from County Limerick, Ireland to New York.  He did not survive and his body was never found.

I scoured many information sources trying to find more about him.  None of the books I read had anything other than his name in a list.  I even had a chance to mention him to Titanic author/historian, Lee W. Merideth, but he couldn’t help.

Then, by chance, I found the web site of the Limerick County Council Library.  In a section called Local Studies was a feature, “Limerick Passengers on Board the Titanic.”  Here were further details…and a head shot of Patrick Dooley that bore a remarkable resemblance to my father.

He had originally registered for passage aboard the White Star Liner Cymric, but the service was withdrawn.  Although 37 at the time, he listed his age as 32.  He was to land in New York, but he was returning to Chicago where he had a job.  He had been in Ireland to visit his father and planned to return to Ireland permanently in the near future.

My family history does go back to that area of Ireland.  Could Patrick Dooley have been a family relation?  Since that day, I’ve located additional resources as more and more historical information makes its way online.

…The story, and my research, continues. 

Thank you for reading.