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Update #5

Melville's Story on the Radio


As I mentioned yesterday, I was interviewed by KCLU's Lance Orozco for a story about Melville Jacoby that aired today for that station's broadcast of "Morning Edition." You should now be able to hear that story at the following link: 

Thanks for listening. Please share this with anyone who might be interested. 

Speaking of radio, don't forget that you can pledge $750 and get a unique audio documentary produced about you or someone you care about, in addition to all the other great incentives I offer, like letters written from Mel's typewriter and signed copies of the upcoming book. Want to hear an example of my audio work? Visit or check out the first few editions of my "Along for the Ride" series of stories about Portland-area mass transit routes.

Update #4

Talking about Mel on the radio


Hi everyone,

Thanks for your continued support of this project. I just want to take a brief moment to say I'm excited to note there will be a story about Melville Jacoby and my effort to tell his story aired on KCLU tomorrow morning. That's a public radio station based in Thousand Oaks, California. It serves Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The story should air at 7:30 and 8:30 A.M. PDT during KCLU's broadcast of Morning Edition, unless major news developments bump it to another broadcast (I'll let you know if that happens). 

You don't need to be in Southern California to hear the story. KCLU has a live stream at The station also has a free streaming iPhone app.  The story should also be posted a little bit later on the station's Web site. 

I'm excited that this project is getting some media attention. As a journalist who has done a few public radio stories of my own I was excited (and a little nervous) to be on the other side of the microphone. 

Thanks for listening, and for continuing to get the word out about this project.


Update #3

A Letter From Mel's Best Friend


I was digging through the collection of materials I have at my place related to Melville Jacoby (most are at my Grandmother's in California) and found a photocopy of a lovely letter written to Mel 74 years ago today. The note was sent by Chen Ka Yik, one of Mel's best friends. The two were roommates at Lingnan University in Canton (now Guangzhou) while Mel was an exchange student there.

"The flight of time is like an arrow," Chen writes on university letterhead

The letter responds to an earlier mailing Mel had sent. It describes Chen's fondness for his roommate, and, in many ways, is the sort of letter anyone might send to catch up with an old friend. But these greetings are described against a backdrop of war. Though calm seemed to have returned when Chen wrote the letter, it was clearly still a presence. 

"Maybe it is so lucky that no bombs dropped in Lingnan or very near Lingnan so far, although the firing of anti-aircraft guns and the explosion of bombs of somewhere around Canton came to our ear quite often," Chen writes. "Mel, I should thank you so much for your sympathy to our country." 

In recent months I've tracked down Chen's daughter, Emmy, who now lives in the bay area. During a phone call a few months ago Emmy told me how her father thought of Mel as one of his best friends and how he clearly thought of those days together at Lingnan as some of the happiest of his life. That comes through clearly in his letter.

If Chen's name sounds familiar, by the way, that's because after he emigrated to to the U.S. in the 1950s he helped open what became one of San Francisco's best known Dim Sum restaurants, Yank Sing, though he sold his interest in the business long ago. Still, this is one example of how as I tell Mel's story I'm also eager to explore what happened to the other people whose lives he touched.

"Mel, I am very anxious to know something about your home and college life," Chen writes. "You are a rich, smart, stout and handsome boy so that your life will be cheerful and romantic." 

For a short time, it was.

Assignment China

Also, today I was excited to learn more about "Assignment China." That's a project at my graduate alma mater, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and specifically its USC US-China Institute. Their effort to describe how journalists have told the story of China's evolution since the 1940s has so much relevance to the story I'm trying to tell about Mel. I'm thrilled to have found them. If you're at all interested in China or Journalism do check out their fascinating "Assignment China" documentary on YouTube.

Update #2

The Wreck of The Dominator


What does a shipwreck off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the 1960s have to do with Melville Jacoby's death across the Pacific during World War II? 

A lot, if you knew the ship that sank was originally christened the S.S. Melville Jacoby.

That's the invitation my family received from the Walsh-Kaiser Company and the United States Maritime Commission for the 1944 launch of the Melville Jacoby. The ship was one of 2,710 liberty ships built during World War II to ferry supplies for the U.S. War effort.

A few years after the war, the ship was sold. Renamed a few times, it finally became known as the S.S. Dominator. It sailed under that name until one foggy night off the coast of Los Angeles. That night, fifty-one years ago today,  the S.S. Dominator, née the S.S. Melville Jacoby, sunk off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. According to the Web site of the California Wreck Divers, the ship carried a cargo of beef and wheat from Vancouver, B.C. bound for  the Port of Los Angeles, just around the bend from the point where the ship wrecked. Two days of crew and Coast Guard efforts to save the ship failed (and may have led to rescuers' shipwrecks as well), and the wreckage remains to this day. 

Another Web site has an even more detailed description of the wreck and the salvage operation (if this topic interests you, do check out the epic word document about the shipwreck and salvage linked on that site). One artist even painted a great depiction of the wreckage and the beach

Perhaps the most interesting consequence of the shipwreck is what LAist describes in a 2008 "LAistory" story, which also has a good description of the Dominator's demise and the salvage operation that followed. According to the LAist piece, thousands of tons of grain that spilled from the ship fed generations of lobster crawling across the wreckage (most likely because the porridge that emerged from the ship drew insects and other creatures that in turn attracted the lobster).

Of course, all of this is only tangentially related to Melville Jacoby's already fascinating story. I think, though, with the tragedy and sadness that comes with the death of such a young man, it's encouraging that this ship became a fixture for Southern California residents and visitors. Sure, it wasn't the greatest news that the ship named after him eventually sank, but there's some poetry in the fact it gave root to a marine ecosystem. In a way, it's a reminder that some aspects of Mel's legacy persist in new ways. 

Jackee, my great aunt, reminded me about the ship this weekend. Since she lives in the L.A. area, she was able to pick up a piece of the wreckage after the shipwreck. She still has it, though she's not certain what part of the boat it came from. The twisted piece of metal now graces her yard, as you can see here.

Though shipwrecks aren't particularly positive affairs, there's something about this thread of the Melville Jacoby story that heartens me. It helps that nobody died in the shipwreck. Sure, naming a ship doesn't bring back a lost loved one. Nor does the random debris from that ship's destruction. But meaning is so individually defined that it's no less poetic that this tribute to Mel found its way back to his family.

Moreover, it now appears that the ship's wreckage is a popular hiking destination for Angelenos.

Hey, perhaps you'll get a chance to see the remains of the S.S. Melville Jacoby yourself. Two people willing to back my project at my top tier -- $10,000 -- will get a custom train trip and tour of the Los Angeles sites of significance to Melville Jacoby's life. I'd be happy to lead you on a hike down to the wreckage as part of that visit. Perhaps we'll later dine on some Palos Verdes lobster! And though support at that level will definitely be welcome, any backing, even a few dollars, is thrilling, and I look forward to keeping you up to date on this project.

Special thanks to Marc V. Nessen, who first brought the S.S. Melville Jacoby to my attention in a comment on my Web site a couple years ago.

Update #1

Getting going



This is exciting. Two and a half days of fundraising down and I've already raised more than $1800 here on Kickstarter. Woohoo. I'm expecting a few hundred more from people who said they'd like to donate but have yet to set up accounts.

I'm thrilled, but not surprised. Mel's story is so compelling, and I'm touched that so many of you recognize it is, and that you are sharing this project with your friends and family and coworkers and social networks. To those already backing this project: even though I'm going to start formally thanking each of you once my project is funded (and it looks like I better stock up on typewriter ribbon!), I definitely want to express my gratitude to you right now for being the first to step in and show your confidence in my ability to tell Mel's story. 

I'm already amazed by the Kickstarter experience. I'd hesitated about taking this route. For a long time I wondered whether it might be a better idea to do a traditional pitch to a publishing house. I finally decided to go with Kickstarter because I knew having the deadline to reach my fundraising goal would motivate me. Boy, has it ever. So many new ideas about how to research and tell this story have percolated just since I clicked the "launch" button. 

But what a scary moment that was! Had I tweaked the pitch enough? Did I clearly express what I was working on and why I needed help to do it? Should i have made the video shorter? Longer? Higher resolution? Funnier? More serious? Would people commit very hard-earned cash to it? Would people care? Would they tear apart the idea? 

Of course, no one has, and of course, Mel's story promotes itself. As I dive deeper, it just gets more exciting. For example, when Mel was a news broadcaster in Chungking, he dispatched his reports by shortwave radio. Those reports were picked up by an amateur radio operator -- a dentist -- in a small, beachside community an hour north of Los Angeles. Someone from NBC would drive up to get the recordings and use them in newsreels. The coolest part (at least in my opinion)? That city where the dentist lived was Ventura, the same city in which I grew up! 

It's definitely a small world. 

Another cool thing about running the project on Kickstarter is that my backers are also helping me out with ideas for the book. A friend of mine who attended Mel's Alma Mater, Stanford, was an editor of that school's newspaper, the Stanford Daily. She reminded me that Mel's wife, Annaleee Whitmore, had been the first female managing editor of that publication. Mel's thesis advisor, meanwhile, was Chilton R. Bush, who developed Stanford's journalism program. 

These tidbits represent just the surface of what's out there to discover not just about Melville Jacoby, but about what the world, and especially the Pacific Rim, was like as World War II loomed.

I can't wait to learn more. 

What about you? As I prepare to write this story, and as I seek further support, what questions do you have about Mel, about his story,  and about the world in which he lived and worked?

As you think about these questions, check out this cool press card of Mel's!

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    An email thank-you plus a note of gratitude via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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    47 backers

    A thank-you letter written on Melville Jacoby's old Corona 4 typewriter, plus an ebook* (Kindle, Nook, iBook, eReader or PDF) of Melville Jacoby's story. (multimedia features not available in all formats).

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    OPENING DAY SPECIAL To celebrate Major League Baseball's opening day and another Dodgers season (No doubt Mel would have been a big fan had he survived to their move to L.A. - All his family were, after all) I'll offer all the $16 level rewards PLUS a 4x6" photo from my portfolio for every home run the Dodgers hit in today's (4-5-12) game against the San Diego Padres.

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    A thank-you letter typed on Melville Jacoby's typewriter, a hardback edition of the book and an ebook (or substitute an additional electronic copy for the hardback).

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    A typewritten thank-you letter, a SIGNED hard copy of the book, an e-book copy, plus a framed 8x10 print from any image in my portfolio (See your options at

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    Everything available for $100, plus your choice of a composition written on your behalf and typed on Melville's typewriter (three pages max), or three photos from my portfolio or eight hours of my professional writing, editing, or online content management services.

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    5 backers Limited (15 left of 20)

    A documentary radio-style profile of you, a family member, friend or other individual, complete with photos plus anything from the $100 level and an acknowledgement in the book. Four-minutes or shorter. Photos to be supplied by you if located further than 100 miles from Portland, OR (examples of my audio work are available at

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    0 backers Limited (2 left of 2)

    I'll join you at the Amtrak station nearest your home to travel to Los Angeles or Palo Alto, California. I'll make your reservations, get you a ticket, dine with you on board, arrange two nights lodging, and tour you through locations that were significant to Melville Jacoby, or ones of interest to you. You'll also get a signed copy of the book's manuscript and everything available at the $750 level. And an acknowledgement in the book, naturally. Live in Los Angeles or the Bay Area? We'll arrange an alternative journey.

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Funding period

- (30 days)