2016 StoryCorps Gala
StoryCorps participants, supporters, and staff celebrated a series of remarkable stories and storytellers at our annual gala Wednesday at Capitale in New York City. The evening, themed “Who We Are: A Celebration of American Stories,” explored our shared and positive humanity through animated shorts and personal stories.
“Who We Are is a little ripple of hope to remind us of our best and truest selves,” said StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay, in his remarks to the crowd of more than 300 guests. Through the outstanding leadership and generosity of our supporters, the event raised more than $750,000 for StoryCorps’ continuing work preserving and sharing humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people, and create a more just and compassionate world.
Hosted by two-time Tony Award-winning actor, singer, and musician, Michael Cerveris (pictured above), the program featured recent StoryCorps participants whose personal stories defy intolerance and hate. Among the featured participants were Alex Landau, whose encounter with Denver police in 2009 was the subject of the animated short, “Traffic Stop,” which has been viewed more than 20 million times and received a 2016 Emmy Award.
“StoryCorps creates a platform for narratives that exist in our communities and gives us opportunities to be heard and provides us with the ability to make change,” said Alex Landau, in remarks from the stage following a screening of “Traffic Stop.” He was joined at the event by his mother, Patsy Hathaway.
Chris and Gabe López (pictured above) spoke about the importance of their StoryCorps conversation, in which 8-year-old Gabe discussed coming out as transgender to his mom. Albert Sykes also reflected on the conversation with his son, Aidan, and the opportunity that StoryCorps provided for him to share his hopes and dreams for his son as a Black boy growing up in Mississippi. Mussarut Jabeen talked about being able to share what it means to be a Muslim American and to honor her students who were killed in February 2015 in what has become known as the Chapel Hill shooting.
The event also recognized two honorees: the Ford Foundation, one of StoryCorps’ longest-running and most generous supporters (represented by chair of the Ford Foundation Board of Trustees Kofi Appenteng,pictured above left with his wife, Stephanie), and StoryCorps’ Board of Directors Secretary, Dane E. Homes, and his wife, Barbara (pictured below), who together provide outstanding support and leadership for StoryCorps.
As has become a tradition at StoryCorps events, each table was equipped with a generous supply of tissues, which came in handy as guests listened to heartfelt personal testimonials and viewed animations throughout the evening.
Sid Radner’s Final Halloween Séance
StoryCorps producer Jasmyn Belcher Morris met Sidney Radner in 2010 while working on a Halloween story. Sid, 91, was an amateur magician from Massachusetts who was once the owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Harry Houdini memorabilia.
Harry Houdini, the great illusionist and escape artist, died on October 31, 1926 at the age of 52. Famously, Houdini told his wife Bess that he would attempt to contact her from “the other side,” and for a decade after his death, she marked the anniversary with a Halloween séance. In 1936 Bess gave up trying to get in touch.
Others continued to carry on the tradition (without success) and in the 1940s, Sid, a protégé of Houdini’s brother Hardeen, picked up the torch. He eventually christened the yearly event The Official Houdini Séance™, and they continued until his death in 2011 more than 70 years later.
In early-October 2010, Jasmyn traveled to Holyoke to record for StoryCorps (hear their interview below). Sid welcomed Jasmyn into his home, but before beginning the interview, he took her down a flight of stairs to his basement revealing a trove of Houdini artifacts that included boxes filled with old rusty handcuffs and keys, books, posters, and photographs—all having once belonged to Houdini.
Weeks later, after the story aired on NPR, Sid invited Jasmyn (seen below wearing a set of Houdini’s handcuffs) to attend The Official Houdini Séance™ in New York City. Sid, the séance director, sat at a round table along with several honored guests making up the group’s inner circle. Spectators filled the seats around the table but before the séance could start they realized that the inner circle was one person short. The medium (a conduit between the physical world and the spiritual world) pointed directly at Jasmyn and asked her to join them at the table. According to him she was, “young, fresh blood,”—just what the group needed. She joined hands with the others and asked Houdini to appear (or at least show some sign that he was present). Unfortunately Houdini was not heard from, and sadly, this would be Sid’s last séance.
While honored to have had such an integral part in trying to communicate with one of history’s great performers, Jasmyn, a skeptical journalist, may not have been the ideal person to include among Sid’s inner circle. And although he never had another opportunity to reach out to Houdini from the physical world, we hope that Sid, Harry, and Bess have been spending a lot of time together in the spiritual world.
Happy Halloween from StoryCorps.