Niagara Gazette — That any author would choose a cemetery to autograph a new book is baffling, to say the least.
For Alexis O’Neill, a former school teacher and expert on books for children, it makes perfect sense. In fact, it’s an appropriate location for the subject of her book (easy for children age 8 and up to read) is Homan Walsh, a boy raised in Niagara Falls and buried in Oakwood Cemetery. You’ll hear even more reasons for the site selection if you attend “Family Day” activities Saturday at Oakwood Cemetery.
People familiar with local history, especially the falls and river, probably know that Walsh earned a place in history for winning a kite-flying contest here. In 1848, he won the $10 prize when his kite was the first to span the Niagara Gorge, stretching from Niagara Falls, Ont., to Niagara Falls, N.Y. That feat was considered a vital factor in determining the location for the new Suspension Bridge between the U.S. and Canada.
Walsh, a native of Ireland, is the central character, in O’Neill’s latest children’s book,”The Kite That Bridged Two Nations” (Calkins Creek, 40 pages, hardcover, $16.95). The historical fiction approach works fine for the author who spent nearly four years researching and writing the incredible story of a 16-year-old boy whose unique contribution brought two nations together.
On Saturday, O’Neill will launch her book as part of “Family Day,” sponsored by the Oakwood Cemetery Association, 763 Portage Road, from 1 to 4 p.m. The free program will include kite-making, free posters (while they last), and a special treat for anyone whose last name is Walsh. (Additional information is available from local historian Pete Ames (297-4429) or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
O’Neill, who has won numerous awards for her books, has also served as a museum education consultant and a regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Books & Illustrators. Among her other popular works: “The Recess Queen” (Scholastic); “The Worst Best Friend” (Scholastic); “Estella’s Swap” (Lee & Low Books); and “Loud Emily” (Simon & Schuster).
Explaining her current visit to the Cataract City, O’Neill, a former Oneida County resident who received her doctorate in education at Syracuse University, said, “When I come back home, I try to see where I can visit that would be fun. This is a no-brainer, Niagara Falls,” she said, noting the significant link between the city and her latest book.
Another reason, she said: “We wanted to do a big splash for the birthday of the book (Sept. 1) and what better place than the Falls and Oakwood Cemetery, where the staff has been so helpful in planning this event.”
In addition to Oakwood, “Family Day” sponsors include the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, Niagara Falls Museums and Aeolus Curricula.
OFF THE PRESS: “Today in Buffalo Sports History — 366 Days of Milestones,” by Budd Bailey (Western New York Wares, Inc., 184 pages, paperback, $15.95). Bailey, an editor and reporter for the Buffalo News, is the author of two other popular books, “Tradition” (1989), a history of the Buffalo Sabres, and “Razor’s Edge” (2007), featuring Rob Ray, an ex-Sabre and now a television analyst covering his former team.
TRIVIA QUIZ: (Answer to Sunday’s question) The 1994 movie “Canadian Bacon,” starring John Candy, was filmed in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The premiere was held in the former Convention & Civic Center, now the Seneca Niagara Casino.
Contact ReporterDon Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.