Authors & Illustrators
Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Kathy Cannon Wiechman is the author of Like a River: A Civil War Novel, which earned a Kirkus star and won the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize, and Empty Places, about life in a 1930s coal-mining camp in Kentucky. She lives with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio, not far from where the story of Not on Fifth Street takes place. Visit kathycannonwiechman.com.
Not on Fifth Street
A Conversation with Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Q: How did you hear about the 1937 flood?
A: Anyone who grew up in an Ohio River city or town has heard about that record-breaking event. People retell their parents’ and grandparents’ stories of going on dates or to funerals in rowboats during January of 1937. In Portsmouth, Ohio, the floodwall is graced with murals of the 1937 disaster.
I grew up in Cincinnati, where the riverfront has a marker with high-water levels of various floods. The mark for 1937 is several feet above all the others.
My father grew up in Ironton, Ohio, and was a young man at the time of the flood. Much of what happens to my characters, Gus and Pete, is based on my father’s and his family’s experiences.
Q: Since Not on Fifth Street was created from the experiences of family members, how did your research methodology change from your other books?
A: For research, I typically begin by reading every book on a subject I can get my hands on, but there are very few books about the 1937 flood. The only ones I could find about Ironton were photo collections, so most of my research came from talking to people (especially my aunt) who remember 1937. I read letters written by Ironton residents at the time, and newspaper articles, including the only issue of The Flood Journal, which was published at the height of the flood.
When I saw a photo of the marquee of the Lyric Theatre standing above the water proclaiming “Klondike Annie, starring Mae West,” I watched that old black-and-white movie. I also listened to old-time radio shows (including Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy) to get a feel for the time period.
I went back to my grandmother’s home on Fifth Street in Ironton to help bring back the memories of that house I visited often as a child. While I was there, I drove across the Ironton-Russell Bridge. A new bridge to replace it was recently completed, and demolition of the original bridge began in May 2017. I am so glad I drove across it when I had the chance.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on a rift between two brothers in a book about a flood?
A: The daily news is rife with stories of flash floods. Compared to them, a slow-rising flood, even one that breaks records, doesn’t carry enough tension on its own. But if two brothers are separated by a rising river in the midst of their quarrel, the tension rises. They are bound to realize that brotherly grudges can seem petty when lives are at stake.
And the fact my father was listed as missing during the 1937 flood seemed like a good angle to build on.
Q: Why was Catholicism such an important issue to mention?
A: In 1937, a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant was called “a mixed marriage.” People believed a marriage between different religions would cause problems. In 1937, there were still hard feelings between Irish Catholics and German Catholics.
Today those differences rarely raise an eyebrow. I thought showing those past biases could be compared to the reservations people have now about a union between a Christian and a Muslim, for instance, or a marriage between an interracial couple. If the Brinkmeyer family’s disapproval of Venus seems illogical by current standards, perhaps we can see hope for the future of moving past prejudices still held today.