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Book details
  • Genre:HISTORY
  • SubGenre:Jewish
  • Language:English
  • Series title:Rope Walker
  • Series Number:1
  • Pages:396
  • Paperback ISBN:9781735362304

Rope Walker: A Texas Jewish History Mystery

by Jim Yarin

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 It sounds like fiction, but it's not: in 1884, a tightrope walker with a wooden leg arrived in Corsicana, Texas. He attempted to carry a stove on his back as he crossed, he fell, the stove landed on him, and he was crushed. Before he died, he refused to give his name or disclose anything about his identity except to say he was Jewish. His gravestone, in Corsicana's Hebrew cemetery, bears exactly two words: "ROPE WALKER." That's the legend.

 Now, 137 years later, the rope walker is finally identified and the truth about the legend and the man revealed.

 Both a microhistory and historiography---a microhistoriography, if you will---Rope Walker includes an examination of a moment in history from multiple angles; the anatomy of a legend, Rashomon-style.


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enthusiasts and novices alike will find an unconventional narrative filled with numerous real-life characters, obscure historical documents, quirky anecdotes, songs, poetry, an occasional pun, and a few deeply philosophical questions about the meaning of life---and death.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.

About the author

Jim Yarin has over twenty-five years of genealogy research experience, primarily for clients with Jewish roots, a challenging specialty within the field. His work brought him national attention when he appeared in the Barbara Walters episode of the PBS series, "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." (Season 1, Episode 3, April 1, 2012). His incisive research skills and tenacity were acknowledged by Professor Gates in the following exchange:

Gates (to Walters): "You represent an unusual challenge for us. I never had a guest to challenge me to find new things."

Walters (to Gates): "Because I thought I knew everything . . . I thought it was a waste of time."

Gates (narrating): "[We started with] a thick family history that professional genealogists had already compiled for [Walters] . . . The researchers hadn't been able to find [her ancestors'] original surname. This is the mystery we set out to solve . . . We turned to Boston-based researcher Jim Yarin. Jim's a paralegal by day, but he spends his nights and weekends searching for lost Jewish roots. And he does not accept defeat easily."

Jim Yarin has recently started his own business as a genealogist, following his retirement from a para-career as a paralegal. He holds degrees in English, sociology, and law. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and poodle. When he is not researching Jewish roots or writing about one-legged Jewish tightrope walkers he enjoys a good movie and a walk in the woods.

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