Monday, May 9, 2016

Pamela Haag's "The Gunning of America"

Pamela Haag earned a Ph.D. in history from Yale after attending Swarthmore College. She has worked as director of research for the American Association of University Women and as a speechwriter, and has written for the American Scholar, the Christian Science Monitor, the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Huffington Post, and NPR, among others. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation and a postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University. Her books include Consent, Voices of a Generation, and Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules.

Haag applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture, and reported the following:
As luck would have it, page 99 of The Gunning of America points the reader right toward my biggest authorial challenge in the book—but also one of its singularities and unique contributions.

The first half of the page describes the demise of Benjamin Tyler Henry, the embattled genius inventor of the fearsome repeater rifle that, before too long, will be renamed from the “Henry” rifle to the now-iconic “Winchester” rifle, in honor of its capitalist and manufacturer rather than its maker. Like other aspiring mechanics and Yankee inventors of his day, Henry had been “’wealthy several times,’ his obituary notes, and poor just as often.” But here, on this page, we’re seeing how the power is shifting in 1866 from the creative inventor with creative talent but no capital toward the industrialist, Oliver Winchester, who had capital but not creative talent.

The second half of the page toggles from this public world of the Winchester business enterprise into the very intense, private world the Winchester family. Both the rifle and the family are the foci of this book, and here we continue the story of Sarah Winchester, Oliver’s daughter-in-law. According to legend, she would gradually come to believe that she was being haunted by the ghosts of all those killed by Winchester rifles (and that’s a lot of ghosts). In this passage, on page 99, Sarah’s personal misfortunes begin: her daughter has just been born, but will live only a month.

My book weaves together these two stories, which are almost never told as one: The story of the Winchester business and the story of the Winchester counter-legend to the gun legends, the ghost story of Sarah Winchester. While this was a challenging project as a writer, I’m delighted that my book weaves together two disparate stories, one about ambition and the other about conscience.

Oliver and Sarah Winchester are rarely written about or discussed in the same story, or breath. But they both inhabited intimately the same family, and fate. And they are both part of our gun legacy.
Learn more about the book and author at Pamela Haag's website.

The Page 99 Test: Marriage Confidential.

--Marshal Zeringue