The first chapters examine the many variations of the Rope Walker Legend. The real-life mystery to solve is to find out his name, undiscoverable for generations. His identity is revealed in the middle of the book using incontrovertible proofs. The true story of the "crippled acrobat" is even more bizarre than the long-standing legend (sorry, no spoilers here). The final eight chapters go beyond the legend, beyond the newly discovered facts, and beyond the truth as they seek answers to lingering questions particular to the man and broader questions pertaining to the verification and accuracy of historical accounts.
Rope Walker introduces readers to Corsicana during the Gilded Age and the real-life characters who made it their home, all tied somehow to the man known as "Rope Walker." Many were members of Corsicana's once-thriving Jewish community: merchants and swindlers, bankers and gamblers, and everyone in between. Three supplements describe Corsicana's synagogues, rabbis, and early Jewish burials. This is not your Zayde's local history.
Rope Walker is supported with numerous endnotes, hundreds of graphics, subject and name indexes, and two maps. Epigraphs are from Moby Dick. History enthusiasts and novices alike will find an unconventional narrative filled with numerous real-life characters, obscure historical documents, quirky anecdotes, songs, poetry, an occasional pun, and a few deeply philosophical questions about the meaning of life---and death.
Readers will recognize parallels to The Lifespan of a Fact, Joe Gould's Teeth, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, although here the author is not a part of the story. Unlike other history mysteries, this one solves the riddle and leaves no doubt of its accuracy.
An anomalous narrative nonfiction with appeal to diverse audiences, Rope Walker is:
- A case study teaching critical thinking skills in a fun and interesting way. Even historical plaques need to be scrutinized for accuracy;
- A required read for fans of Texas history and Jewish history;
- An exemplar of research techniques for armchair historians, genealogy hobbyists, or anyone interested in how a 137-year-old research brick wall was finally brought down; and
- A tombstone tourist’s treasure with a focus on one very peculiar gravestone and an in-depth analysis of Corsicana's Hebrew cemetery.
Over sixty years ago, Frank X. Tolbert---Dallas Morning News columnist, historian, chili aficionado---described the Rope Walker mystery as an "almost incredible-sounding story." The truth is just as difficult to believe, but fortunately the author provides extensive documentation, proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction.