In Government Archives, One Journalist Seeks Another’s Story
by Bill Lascher
SOMEWHERE OVER THE UNITED STATES - Explorers of a remote expanse of a 33-year-old Portland journalist’s memory discovered the latest in a string of uncanny circumstances surrounding his telling of the tale of a World War II-era correspondent’s brushes with history, romance and adventure.
Following two days of travel disruptions, Bill Lascher* is en-route to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of long-sought documents and other primary sources connected to the subject of his in-process book about one-time Time Far East Bureau Chief Melville Jacoby. The visit to Washington comes seventy-two years after Jacoby and his wife, Annalee — also a journalist — fled the embattled fortress island of Corregidor. Tomorrow, when Lascher steps into a manuscript reading room at the Library of Congress, he’ll do so on the second anniversary of the date he began an ambitious, but ultimately unsuccessful, Kickstarter campaign aimed at funding his upcoming book.
The discovery of the anniversary underscores the financial gambles Lascher has made on this and other research efforts into how the Jacobys’ careers and romance flourished amid one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th Century.
"If it takes shameless self-promotion, interviewing myself and one-sourcing a fundraising-pitch masquerading as a news story to afford to tell this story, then that’s what it takes," Lascher said during an exclusive intra-cranial interview.
Just before Bill Lascher departed for Washington, sources within the writer’s temporal lobe confirmed that he continues to seek outside funding for his research and other expenses related to his telling of Jacoby’s story. Financial records acquired by Lascher at Large reveal that Lascher expects to spend at least $800 on combined airfare, ground transportation, food and duplication costs for the current trip. Lascher said he would welcome even a $5 contribution, though he’s not ruling out the possibility that members of the public may contribute even more. Regardless of the amount he raises, the reporter says he’ll expend whatever resources are necessary to research and recount Jacoby’s tale.
Tomorrow, that pledge takes Lascher to the Library of Congress, where he will scour the private papers of prominent publishers and government officials whose paths crossed Mel’s and Annalee’s in the Philippines, China and elsewhere. Lascher will also visit the U.S. National Archives and Records Administrations facilities in College Park, MD, where he will sift through military and government records related to the couple’s wartime reporting and other events, such as bombings in Chongqing, midnight New Year’s Eve escapes from conquered cities, reports from the Philippine front lines and weeks at sea sneaking past enemy blockades.
"Mel’s life lends itself to a dramatic narrative, that’s certain," Lascher said. "But that narrative only comes to life with the realization it’s a true story. I need to be able to situate the almost unbelievable events Mel encountered within their historical context."
The revelations that came to light this week regarding the Kickstarter anniversary underscore a string of coincidences throughout Lascher’s work on the book.
"From learning I was related to this amazing reporter only after I pursued a journalism career myself, to my discovery of some of Mel’s surviving friends and their families, to learning about the man in my own hometown he worked with, I continue to uncover new surprises," Lascher said. Though the initial Kickstarter failed, further fundraising by Lascher paid for previous — though abbreviated — research trips to Stanford, Harvard and Yale, and to fund, at least partially, his early independent efforts to write and produce this book.
Trip May Involve the Newseum, Dogs
In addition to disrupting Lascher’s travel, Monday’s storm slowed researchers pulling a recording of Melville Jacoby’s broadcast for The March of Time . Even with the rescheduling, It’s uncertain whether Lascher’s five days in Washington will suffice.
Meanwhile, Lascher is likely to avoid sightseeing except when reading rooms are closed. Previous reports indicate Lascher may spend Sunday visiting the Newseum, an institution known to highlight the so-called “4th Estate,” a colloquial term often used in the United States to refer to the journalism industry. It’s expected Lascher will look for Jacoby’s listing on the Newseum’s memorial to fallen journalists. Sources close to Lascher who spoke on condition of anonymity (due to their being himself) say he may also spend some of his limited free time playing with the many dogs living at the homes of friends who have agreed to host him.
Next month, Lascher will spend two weeks at the University of California, San Diego and Stanford University, each of which holds personal papers and other primary sources further fleshing out Jacoby’s story. Costs for that trip were mitigated by Lascher’s use of frequent flyer and Amtrak frequent rider miles (Lascher is a frequent train rider who has previously indicated he is interested in a residency from Amtrak to aid his work on this book) and lodging offers from family, but Lascher expects to spend at least $700 on additional expenses such as food and ground transportation. Lascher says he certainly would welcome assistance for that trip as well, especially considering the cost of his time, which, when not working on his book, Lascher devotes to freelance journalism for clients such as The Guardian, Next City, and The Magazine.
Aside from these trips, at least 23 facilities in fourteen states have repositories containing collections Lascher has identified as directly relevant to Jacoby’s story that Lascher would visit if he had the resources necessary to do so. A map acquired by Lascher at Large illustrates the geographic range of these facilities. They do not include sites in China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam or Australia also relevant to Lascher’s research.
New Article, Dispelling Rumors
News of Lascher’s research anniversary comes as he prepares for the release of his upcoming article in the Spring, 2014 edition of Boom: A Journal of California. Expected to publish Mid-March, that piece will tell the story of a character from Lascher’s hometown of Ventura, California with an unexpected connection to Jacoby and who made key contributions to China’s struggle for survival during World War II.
In related news, Lascher insists that his recent viewing of Season Two of the hit Netflix show “House of Cards” will not influence his perceptions of the nation’s capital.
"Spoiler alert: the new season builds to a dramatic moment in a Library of Congress reading room wherein Frank Underwood brazenly refuses to wear gloves while handling a manuscript," Lascher says. "Or does it…"
Though armchair casting directors regularly inform Lascher of their picks to play Mel and Annalee in a seemingly-inevitable cable series or film spun off from their tale, Lascher remains squarely focused on his writing.
"Hey, let me write the book first" he says when asked who he thinks should play the lead, noting that interested publishers can reach out to his agent at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. “But if Tom Hanks is looking for a project, I know he likes World War II stories and typewriters with history, like the one of Mel’s I was given when I first learned his story.”
*Full Disclosure: Lascher is the Writer, Editor, Designer, Social Media Manager, Intern and Janitor of this publication, and Jacoby’s cousin twice-removed, to boot