The Trial Before Christmas – Watch Out for Flying Books!

 

Trial Before Christmas posterThe fine line between fact and fiction blurred last night at a festive holiday reception when a man threw a hardcover book at a woman’s head – in a library, no less. She was seated at a table signing copies of a new edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas. As an author, I’ve never much liked hawking my books at signings, but this represents a new low that’s even more troubling than the usual scenario where no one buys your books.

What precipitated the attack? The woman, Pamela McColl, had just given “expert testimony” in a mock trial concerning the true authorship of  ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Widely attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, the work may in fact have been written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.  The trial took place in the John T. Casey Ceremonial Courtroom in the Rensselaer County Courthouse in Troy, New York, with prominent local attorneys arguing for the plaintiff and the defendant.

The event was part of Troy’s Victorian Stroll, and it was free and first-come first-serve, so I arrived Victorian Stroll balloon manearly. In the lobby, real cops were on duty, and there was a genuine security check, complete with the walk-through entrance and the conveyor belt to detect contraband items. The courtroom was packed, and I grabbed one of the few remaining seats. In the back row, I couldn’t hear everyone clearly, but I picked up bits and pieces of Ms. McColl’s testimony. In period costume, she argued against the portrayal of St. Nicholas as a smoker:

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath. 

After colorful testimony from the ghosts of Livingston and Moore and closing arguments from the lawyers, the jury, comprised of randomly selected audience members, decided in favor of Major Livingston. Then everyone was invited to attend the reception next door at the Troy Library, which had no security checks in place. I was savoring a glass of wine and a fillet mignon sandwich when I heard a shout and a crash. Turning in the direction of the commotion, I saw a man tightly flanked by two others who held him by both arms and propelled him out the door of the Victorian reading room.

Molly and Jack Casey, counsels for the plaintiff Livingston, and E. Stewart Jones, Counsel for the defendant Moore

Molly and Jack Casey, counsels for the plaintiff Livingston, and E. Stewart Jones, Counsel for the defendant Moore

It’s all right, don’t worry,” said one of them as they did their perp walk. But was it? What had happened? Ever curious, I questioned him later. It turned out that the man had been so incensed by Ms. McColl’s anti-smoking testimony that he started an argument that culminated in his throwing one of her books at her head. When she signed a book for me later, she was uninjured and surprisingly calm and collected. (Fortunately, though hard-cover, the book was light-weight.)

Her version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, published by Grafton and Scratch, was listed in the program as a “Non-smoking edition.” I’m not sure if the book thrower was enraged by her testimony, by the book itself, or by both, but any way you look at it, it’s distressing – maybe yet another reason to forget about book signings and focus on selling books online.

So what happened to the guy? One of the two young men who escorted him out – both lawyers – said they didn’t call the cops, just told him to leave. “We know him,” he said, so perhaps he’s a neighborhood character. Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.

Victorian Stroll protest 2014Meanwhile, outside the library as darkness fell on the Victorian Stroll, protestors lay down in the street at Monument Square to protest the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and Staten Island. Try as we may to escape into nostalgia, the twenty-first century and all its inequities remind us we can’t escape reality.

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joe Krausman
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 09:59:38

    Julie, as you know I was there too. I heard the commotion but I didn’t see Pamela McColl being struck in the head. ‘Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons wise men never try.” Sounds like a song. I hope that I’m not charged with copyright infringement. Wishing you and your family Season’s Greetings and all best wishes.

    Reply

  2. duncancrary
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 10:28:07

    Julie,

    I am the co-creator/host of The Trial Before Christmas. And I am the younger of the two men who did the “perp walk” you’ve described here. I am pleased you wrote it up as it did happen and was a truly bizarre incident. However, there are a few inaccuracies I would like to clarify and correct.

    This chunk of text is the biggest “whopper”:

    >>One of the two young men who escorted him out – both lawyers – said they didn’t call the cops, just told him to leave. “We know him,” he said, so perhaps he’s a neighborhood character. Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.<>Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.<>I was savoring a glass of wine and a fillet mignon sandwich <>I’m not sure if the book thrower was enraged by her testimony, by the book itself, or by both,<>maybe yet another reason to forget about book signings and focus on selling books online.<>I heard a shout and a crash.<>Then everyone was invited to attend the reception next door at the Troy Library, which had no security checks in place.<<

    It is not common for armed police to be present at every single venue during the Victorian Stroll, nor is that city-wide event known for having many incidents requiring police intervention. The court had five working guards on duty because New York courts are required to have guards on duty when the public is in the building. They are also part of the "spectacle" of The Trial Before Christmas, which wonderfully blends art, history and reality, while celebrating a beautifully restored public court house.

    Again, I'm happy you have shared this story, as it did indeed happen. However, if it was me you spoke to (and I believe it was), if you had told me you planned to "report" this story, I would have happily provided you with all the facts and any clarifications you required. Or you could have easily found me online and contacted me for more information or clarification.

    I should note, after I repeatedly checked to see if McColl was OK, I then encouraged McColl to write about the experience, as she is a writer. And I asked her if she would mind if I wrote up an account, which I plan to do.

    Hope this clears up any mystery.

    Reply

  3. duncancrary
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 10:30:30

    Julie,

    I am the co-creator/host of The Trial Before Christmas. And I am the younger of the two men who did the “perp walk” you’ve described here. I am pleased you wrote it up as it did happen and was a truly bizarre incident. However, there are a few inaccuracies I would like to clarify and correct.

    This chunk of text is the biggest “whopper”:

    YOU WROTE: “One of the two young men who escorted him out – both lawyers – said they didn’t call the cops, just told him to leave. “We know him,” he said, so perhaps he’s a neighborhood character. Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.”

    CORRECTIONS: The two men who did the “perp walk,” were me (Duncan Crary, a professional writer and event creator) and David Baecker, the director of the Trial. Neither one of us are lawyers… Not even close.

    I recall telling someone, perhaps it was you, that we — Duncan Crary & David Baecker — didn’t call the cops. A library staff member, however, did call the police. And a Troy policeman later arrived and took a statement from me, my assistant producer, and from Pamela McColl herself. And we gave the name of the “assailant” to the police officer.

    McColl told the police officer that she did not wish to press charges (but we have the man’s name and many witnesses if she changes her mind later). She told me that this is not the first time someone has aggressively approached/chastised her for editing (censoring) an historical text — even by flinging objects at her. Though I believe it was the first time she had been hit on the head by her own book.

    I don’t know the “perp” personally. However, our director and several of the actors i the production do know the “perp” because he is a local actor (with some “problems,” apparently). I do not believe he lives in the Downtown Neighborhood, by the way, but I’d have to clarify that with those who know him.

    YOU WROTE: “Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.”

    His race did not factor in, and I think you’re making a real stretch here in order to appear “socially conscious.” What factored in was that he followed our instructions for him to leave the premises immediately and did not physically or verbally resist.

    I immediately restrained him, Baecker instantly joined me in restraining him (he was not struggling and we didn’t have to use “force”) and we promptly escorted him out of and off the premises. He expressed remorse to me, admitted he was wrong, and promised not to return.

    YOU WROTE: “I was savoring a glass of wine and a fillet mignon sandwich”

    Both provided to you compliments of the event sponsors. Anyone — regardless of race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, etc. etc. etc. — was invited to partake in the free food and non-alcoholic beverages. Anyone of proper age — regardless of race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, etc. etc. etc. — was invited to partake in the free wine and locally crafted beer.

    YOU WROTE: “I’m not sure if the book thrower was enraged by her testimony, by the book itself, or by both,”

    CLARIFICATION: He was enraged that McColl had censored an historical work of literature (first published anonymously in Troy, NY.) through her edits to remove all references to “Saint Nicholas” smoking.

    YOU WROTE: “maybe yet another reason to forget about book signings and focus on selling books online.”

    COMMENT: As a professional writer (who has published a book for sale both online and in brick-and-mortar stores) your comment saddens me, as brick-and-mortar bookstores are wonderful places, usually with wonderful people working and shopping in them. But… you’re entitled to you’re opinions.

    Other possible clarifications:

    YOU WROTE: “I heard a shout and a crash.”

    CLARIFICATION? I don’t know what “crash” you heard. The man whacked McColl on the forehead with one of her books. So… I only heard a “thwack” and I was standing immediately next to her. We all, including McColl, thought the guy was just putting on a schtick until he crossed the line by physically hitting her with the book.

    He was wearing a “Victorian” costume and was speaking in an affected “Victorian” accent. Though he is a local actor, he was not involved in any formally way as an actor in the production. He was just there as a member of the public, as you were.

    YOU WROTE: “Then everyone was invited to attend the reception next door at the Troy Library, which had no security checks in place.”

    It is not common for armed police to be present at every single venue during the Victorian Stroll, nor is that city-wide event known for having many incidents requiring police intervention. The court had five working guards on duty because New York courts are required to have guards on duty when the public is in the building. They are also part of the “spectacle” of The Trial Before Christmas, which wonderfully blends art, history and reality, while celebrating a beautifully restored public court house.

    Again, I’m happy you have shared this story, as it did indeed happen. However, if it was me you spoke to (and I believe it was), if you had told me you planned to “report” this story, I would have happily provided you with all the facts and any clarifications you required. Or you could have easily found me online and contacted me for more information or clarification.

    I should note, after I repeatedly checked to see if McColl was OK, I then encouraged McColl to write about the experience, as she is a writer. And I asked her if she would mind if I wrote up an account, which I plan to do.

    Hope this clears up any mystery.

    Reply

  4. M. E. Kemp
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 10:53:07

    Just be thankful Ms. McColl didn’t write War and Peace!

    Reply

  5. Betsy Tuel
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 11:17:38

    Julie, this incident is not a common happening at book signings. If you as an author want to sell your books, you will HAVE TO PROMOTE your own book. No one else is going to do it. Jon Katz is a master at it. His publisher is no longer arranging book tours for him so he is doing it himself. And he self promotes frequently on his blog and does it in a pleasant way. You have to be inventive if you want to sell your books. You can begin reading Jon’s blog at
    http://www.bedlamfarm.com
    Sign up to get it daily by putting your email address in box to left under the little rectangular pictures. You can get some ideas for promoting your books by reading Jon’s blog. Betsy

    Reply

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