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Waukegan Native Ray Bradbury Felt Strong Connection to Hometown

Writer of Fahrenheit 451 shared his memories of his Lake County childhood in a 2001 interview. The wildly popular author died Tuesday at 91.

Waukegan Native Ray Bradbury Felt Strong Connection to Hometown

Back in 2001, I had the opportunity to interview Ray Bradbury for The News Sun, as a preview to Waukegan’s annual Dandelion Wine Festival. The festival was named after Bradbury’s book, Dandelion Wine, which was set in Waukegan.

As a science fiction fan, I was already familiar with his work and was thrilled about the prospect of speaking to him over the phone.

In preparation for the interview, I read both Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Both were set in Green Town, aka Waukegan, 1920s.

It was especially intriguing to read the novels with the picture of Bradbury’s boyhood home as the setting in my head. I can tell you that, to this day, every time I drive by the deep, dark ravines in Waukegan, I can’t help but think of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Here is the article I wrote which ran in The News Sun on May 31, 2001.

Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine Waukegan Fine Arts Festival

Thousands have called Waukegan their hometown, but one man whose childhood never died, brought that hometown into the hearts of millions across the world. Waukegan native and famous author Ray Bradbury is known for writing hundreds of short stories as well as the classic science fiction novels, Fahrenheit 451 and the The Martian Chronicles.

But it was Dandelion Wine, published in 1957, which stirred universal emotions with tales of childhood in a small town.

Dandelion Wine, set in Green Town, 1928, is based on Bradbury's memories of growing up in Waukegan and infused with magic and fantasy.

Though he left Waukegan for California 67 years ago, at the age of 14, Bradbury has often visited and has always kept a connection with his childhood home.

He will return again on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Waukegan Public Library. His visit will culminate the first annual Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine Festival.

"I grew up in Waukegan and that's why it's so special to me," said Bradbury from his home in Los Angeles. "I think I was fortunate to spend a good part of my life in a small town. When I was on the verge of puberty and had thoughts of Claudette Colbert it was time to leave. I've spent the rest of my life in Hollywood."

Bradbury recalled his childhood at a frame home on 11 S. St. James St. There were three Bradbury families living on one block.

"My grandfather was a printer/publisher and he had a huge library, plus his living room was full of books. He had all the Oz books and Grimm fairy tales. My Uncle Bion had all the Edgar Rice Burrroughs books. So I would ricochet back and forth between the two houses... When I was ready to go to the library I already had a solid foundation," said Bradbury.

The Bradbury family came to Waukegan, via Massachusetts, in the early part of the 19th century. Bradbury's mother, Esther Moberg Bradbury came to the area from Sweden, in 1890, when she was two-years-old.

"The Bradburys had been around forever. My great-grandfather, Samuel, was mayor of the town (in 1882)," said Bradbury.

His most vivid memories of childhood include the opening of the Genesee Theater in 1927 with Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Bradbury's mother was a film buff who took him to movies often and early on Bradbury had ambitions to become a screenwriter in Hollywood.

His other favorite memory is meeting Blackstone the magician.

"He had a big influence on me. I decided I wanted to grow up and be a magician and that is what happened," said Bradbury.

Bradbury expressed passionate disappointment regarding the state of downtown Waukegan. The last time he visited was 1996.

"The downtown is a disaster. The malls came along and they pulled the people from downtown...I can remember every Friday and Saturday night the whole town collected downtown," said Bradbury.

"It's like Hiroshima at high noon. The same tragedy has occurred in hundreds of towns in the United States."

Bradbury believes town leaders should never have allowed American downtowns to decay.

One area landmark that hasn't changed much is the ravine, the dark and mysterious place of Bradbury's stories. Bradbury took his youngest daughters to the ravine on a past visit so they could see it firsthand.

"They thought it was wonderful," said Bradbury.

Bradbury and his wife, Marguerite, have four daughters, four granddaughters and four grandsons.

Although he suffered a stroke a year ago, he is as active and as prolific as ever. He still writes every day. He has written more than 600 short stories.

"I've been writing every day for 65 years. I have four books coming out and four motion pictures this year," said Bradbury.

Bradbury still travels and lectures as well, although his legs are weak from the stroke.

"I do a sitting lecture and a standing ovation," said Bradbury.

Bradbury died in Los Angeles Tuesday night after a long illness. For more on his life and career, see the Los Angeles Times.

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