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Monday, June 28th, 2010
By Margie Wuebker
Book on canal life may become film
NEW BREMEN - Alwyn A. Carder never lived long enough to see his book "The Odyssey of the Blue Swan" published.
And now the tale of life along the Miami and Erie Canal in towns such as New Bremen, Minster and St. Marys could be headed to the movie screen.
Carolyn Partlow of Henryville, Ind., a cousin of the author, volunteered to prepare his rough manuscript - one of five dealing with various canals in the Midwest - for publication. Although jubilant at the prospect, Carder's health quickly deteriorated and he died several years ago.
"Alwyn put his heart and soul into the manuscripts," she said during a book signing last week at New Bremen Coffee Co. and Books. "He typed each page and then sent copies off to top publishing houses in New York only to receive letters suggesting all sorts of changes."
Carder never made the recommended changes, telling his cousin they would detract from the storyline. And she agreed wholeheartedly.
He quickly accepted her offer to put the "Blue Swan" manuscript into the computer. Then came the meticulous work of organizing and editing the 446-page tome.
"The first time I picked up the manuscript and started reading I could not put it down," Partlow confessed with a chuckle. "Alwyn put together such a compelling story; I wanted to see what each new page brought."
Carder grew up in Jay County, Ind. He taught at Indiana University as well as Markle, Shortridge and Union City high schools. For his manuscripts, he used many stories handed down from one generation of the Gast family to another, which he was related to through marriage, who called New Bremen or Old Brementown home.
He also credited librarians and archivists throughout western Ohio from Toledo to Cincinnati for their assistance during his copious research as well as resource people in canal towns along the way.
Set primarily in and around New Bremen, the book brings to life the canal era when barges plied the Miami and Erie Canal bringing people and freight throughout the Great Lakes region in the mid-19th century.
Using the real-life Blue Swan, a packet show barge owned by the Gast family, Carder explored the impact the barge and its centerpiece - a steam calliope - had on the other immigrants who populated small settlements along the canal.
"He lived down the road from my grandparents," Partlow said of Carder. "He was our favorite cousin because of all the stories he told. I could listen to him for hours and never grow weary. The book is like having him here again sharing all those wonderful tales and his drawings show the main characters to perfection."
The retired office worker said her favorite story deals with the Gast girls learning to play the calliope and performing aboard the Blue Swan in lavish costumes as a surprise for family and friends. She also enjoyed the girls' antics when they accompanied their grandmother to the big city as a 13th birthday present.
"While working on my cousin's book I had an opportunity to visit the area and take a canal boat ride at Johnston Farm near Piqua," she said. "It was like reliving his stories."
Partlow made arrangements to have the book published at Author House in Bloomington, Ind., after contacting a friend, literary agent Terry Porter. When representatives of Flat Rock Motion Pictures called Porter seeking input regarding books that could be turned into screenplays, he suggested "The Odyssey of the Blue Swan" and they took out a one-year option.
"Harrison Ford introduced people to the Amish culture in 'The Witness,' " Porter said during the book signing. "A movie based on this book would introduce people to the canal era. There could be film crews on the banks of the Miami and Erie Canal if everything works out."
Flat Rock personnel will be working with the Ohio Film Commission during the coming months to see if the movie is a possibility. Partlow laughs, saying her cousin often mentioned actress Jane Seymour would be perfect as one of the lead characters.
"I always thought my cousin was a genius," she said with a proud smile. "His dream of seeing a book in print has come true; a movie would be icing on the cake."
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