Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Details

The year was 1947. Mary was staying on the fifth story of the Waldorf, and John, the man who would one day become her husband, was on the fourth. They had met earlier that day and agreed to meet for cocktails at 7. When the time came, she went down to his room. Within a few minutes, a call came up to John’s room. It was from the hotel.

Hotel: Is there a young lady in your room?
John: Yes, there is.
Hotel: Would you please leave the door open?

I recently had a conversation with someone about The Devil in the White City. The book is considered nonfiction but reads like a narrative. While endnotes cite sources extensively, there was one part of the book that raised my suspicion. The part in question describes the state of mind and actions of a murder victim during her final moments even though no one was around to witness them. Searching through the endnotes, I found the author admits to taking dramatic license in this section and indicates which facts justify his imagining of the events. Since the author admitted to taking this liberty, I was still able to appreciate the book as nonfiction.

The story of Mary and John at the Waldorf is a slight variation of an account told to me yesterday by the woman seated next to me on a flight to Newark. The characters involved, the hotel where they stayed, the circumstances precipitating the incident, and the final conversation in the story were left unchanged. While the two stayed on different floors, the exact floor numbers, the names of the characters, and the time/year of the incident were all made up. While these changes might move the account into the column of fiction, I hope the details improved the narrative without destroying the essence of the woman’s story.

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