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Author to Speak to Golden Agers Club

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 3/28/24 | 3/28/24

By Michael Ryan

WINDHAM -What do a guy who opens doors for a living, an award-winning author and some old fossils and a dam in a little speck of a town called Gilboa have to do with each other?

Peter Wheelwright, the writer, will be answering those questions and more when he is guest speaker at an April 15 luncheon for the Windham-Ashland-Jewett-Prattsville-Lexington Golden Agers Club.

He will be discussing The Door-Man, recommended by The New Yorker as “one ‍of ‍the ‍best books ‍of ‍2022,” a mutually factual and fictional ‍retelling of the creation of the Gilboa Dam.

Wheelwright grew up in the Berkshires, has lived in New York City since his college days and now has a second home and studio in Columbia County, none of which explains his fascination with what many folks in ghostly Gilboa have unaffectionately labeled, “that dam* dam.”

“Some years ago, I read an article in a local newspaper written by Bob Titus,” Wheelwright says, referring to the well-known columnist for the Mountain Eagle and other publications.

“In the piece, he mentioned a paleontological discovery and Winifred Goldring during the the construction of the Schoharie Reservoir.

“A bunch of different things caught my attention. As a former professor of architecture I was interested in the New York City water system,” Wheelwright says.

“Then there is Gilboa being caught in the middle of the City’s demand for water and how the town was flooded to make it happen.

“I also have a thing with science and women being patronized that drew me to Winifred Goldring’s story and her discovery of fossils that were so significant to the international science community.

“She is the champion of this story,” Wheelwright says, which is all well and good but where does the door dude fit in?

“Why a door-man?” Wheelwright explains. “There are two aspects about the hyphen between door and man. It is meant to combine an inorganic thing…a door…with an organic thing…a man.

“The reason that interests me is because that is what a fossil is…a living organism turned to stone,” Wheelwright says.

But that isn’t the end of the interweaving. “The doorman in the book works at a building on Central Park West, next to the Central Park reservoir, which is where the water went from the upstate systems.

“The doorman’s relationship to the Central Park reservoir triggers a whole set of memories going back to his parents and grandparents in Gilboa,” Wheelwright says, opening doorways to the imagination.

“When you think about it, doormen are amazing characters. They are essentially invisible but they observe everything.

“The people in the buildings they work know nothing about them except that they watch the door. They have incredible secrets unbeknownst to everyone. This doorman has secrets that get revealed.”

Fellow author Derek Furr, in an online synopsis of The Door-Man, writes that the novel has its starting point in, “the political intrigue, science and mechanics of a massive public works project – the creation of a reservoir for New York City by flooding communities in the Catskills.

“The Door-Man is, at one level, a historical fiction, vibrant with the colors and controversies of the region from the early 20th century, and on this strength alone, it would hold us.

“But Wheelwright’s writing, so rich with detail, winds across generations and brings to life a vast array of characters—from muleskinners and paleontologists to murderers and a door man.

“We are swept into a swirling plot that is at once suspense story, speculative fiction, romance and comedy.

“And it is more than these…Just as blasting the earth in a tiny upstate town reveals a history before history, setting in motion the quest to revive a primeval forest, Wheelwright’s novel takes us deep into human motivation and beyond it, to a concept of time that dwarfs us.

“The Door-Man asks each of us to reflect on our place on these American lands and among the people we’ve variously misunderstood, loved, displaced or forgotten,” Furr writes.

Wheelwright, setting the stage for his presentation to the Golden Agers Club, says, “I will be showing slides of before, during and after the construction of the dam.

“Gilboa was not an unsubstantial place. It had hotels. It was a bustling byway to the midwest. Now the foundation of the town is underwater.

“That was a terribly upsetting thing for people who lived and worked there. To build the dam, all the cemeteries had to be dug up and the bodies or what was left of them moved to higher ground.

“Folks picked up their houses and had them moved to higher ground, using oxen teams. It was quite a human drama,” Wheelwright says.

Wheelwright also wrote As ‍It ‍Is ‍On ‍Earth‍, the 2013 ‍recipient ‍of ‍The ‍PEN/Hemingway ‍Honorable ‍Mention ‍for ‍Literary ‍Excellence ‍in ‍Debut ‍Fiction. 

Golden Agers Club president Lula Anderson notes the public is invited to attend the presentation, scheduled to commence at 1 p.m., inside the Windham ambulance headquarters on the west end of South Street.

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