By TONY MURILLO
for Inland 360
History takes on different meanings for different people. For Virginia McConnell, history is ripe for storytelling.
“I think as a rule people like a good mystery, a good story, no matter when it takes place,” said McConnell, author of the new nonfiction book, “The Belle of Bedford Avenue: The Sensational Brooks-Burns Murder in Turn-of-the-Century New York.”
Enter Manhattan 1902. A murder strikes the city that never sleeps. Behind the murder is a wild group of youths dubbed the “Bedford Avenue Teens.”
McConnell compares the Bedford Avenue Teens to the kids of her generation in the 1960s and early ’70s. Both had their own culture that parents did not understand.
“They had their own groups, they had their own music, their own dress style, kind of a big up-yours to the generation that came ahead of them,” McConnell says. “ I could feel that energy. They reminded me of my generation.”
In her book, McConnell paints a picture of reckless, out-of-control kids.
“As modern people, we look back at 1902 like they’re a bunch of dullards,” said McConnell, who will read from her book Saturday, April 13, at And Books Too in Clarkston.
“It was a shock when the behavior of the Bedford Avenue gang was revealed, the murder was almost a byproduct,” McConnell said.
This is McConnell’s fifth historical true-crime novel. The Troy author grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and taught at Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston for 23 years until retiring in 2015.
McConnell elaborated on how this is an out-of-the-ordinary story: The teenager who commited the murder was never put on trial. McConnell details “cameo appearances” at the hearing, including Winston Churchill’s cousin. Another element she found interesting was the lack of likeable characters.
McConnell enjoys what she calls “spying on the past.” She prefers digging through newspapers as a time capsule rather than seeking out history books. She pulls out “little trivia of one’s life,” to “put a spotlight on it.”
McConnell’s investigative process is a multi-pronged approach to learn as much as possible. This involves digging through newspapers to get accurate looks into the time period she researches. She thinks highly of the tradition of newspapers, saying, “I hope it never goes away. It’s a time machine; it’s a time capsule. It’s written for the people who are living there right now.”
In addition to newspapers, McConnell made lists to record the “major” and “minor” players in the story. She also contacted ancestors of individuals in the story to gain further insight. She went so far as to find out information on everyone’s status after the events, including death certificates.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Belle of Bedford Avenue” reading and signing
WHEN: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 13
WHERE: And Books Too, 918 Sixth St., Clarkston