Hawley is a writer. His books are
highly eclectic. He has written about 16th-century East Asian history,
19th-century Korean-American relations, Olympic sprinting and land
speed racing and a circus elephant named Topsy who was electrocuted in
1903. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.
NEW "IMJIN WAR" VIDEO SERIES ON YOUTUBE!
October 9, 2019
I'm happy to announce the premiere of a new video series, "The Imjin War," based on my book The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China.
I've completed five episodes so far and will be uploading them to
Youtube at a rate of one per week. Here's a list of the first eight
IMJIN WAR Ep. 1: East Asia in the 16th Century
IMJIN WAR Ep. 2: Why Did Hideyoshi Want to Conquer China?
IMJIN WAR Ep. 3: The First Invasion Begins
IMJIN WAR Ep. 4: North to Seoul
IMJIN WAR Ep. 5: Why Was the Gun So Important?
IMJIN WAR Ep. 6: The Korean Navy Strikes Back
IMJIN WAR Ep. 7: The Battle for the Yellow Sea
IMJIN WAR Ep. 8: Rise of Korea’s “Righteous Armies”
Here is Episode 1: IMJIN WAR Ep. 1: East Asia in the 16th Century
CHINESE TRANSLATION OF IMJIN WAR IS HERE!
July 8, 2019
The Chinese translation is finally here of my book The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China (Chinese title: 壬辰战争). It was translated by Fang Yu (方宇) and published by Beijing publishing house HinaBook (民主与建设出版社).
Here is a link to purchase the Chinese edition: http://www.queshu.com/book/41749617/
And here is the original English edition on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Jun1Ie
FILM HISTORY: BICYCLE THIEVES FILMING LOCATIONS
May 8, 2019
a film I made about visiting filming locations in Rome where Vittorio
de Sica shot three of the key scenes in his 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves:
1) the street where Antonio’s bicycle is stolen; 2) the area where
Antonio and Bruno wander in the rain, searching for the lost bike (in
photo below); and 3) the alley where Antonio confronts the thief after
following him home. By a wonderful coincidence, when I was researching
locations, sitting in the AirBnB flat we rented in Rome, I discovered
that the tiny street where the thief lived was exactly where we
were staying! Antonio and Bruno walked right past our front door!
Here's some footage I shot on the island of Malta of the mysterious cart ruts:
1) "Malta's Mysterious Cart Ruts - Dingli / Clapham Junction"
2) "Mysterious Malta Cart Ruts – running into the sea!"
3) "Mysterious Malta Cart Ruts – up in the hills!"
SHORT DOC: "THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT": A TRUE STORY!
January 10, 2019
The 1974 film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges and written and directed by
Michael Cimino was based on fact! Here’s the true story of the 1965
Brinks heist in Syracuse, NY (using a cannon) that very likely inspired
DOCUMENTARY: THE MAN INSIDE THE CAMERA
October 18, 2018
Here is a short documentary I made about American inventor and film pioneer Enoch Rector. It's called The Man Inside the Camera.
Rector filmed the first feature-length movie in cinema history using a
camera he manually operated FROM THE INSIDE. Sounds weird? It's
absolutely true. Watch to find out.
This doc is based on my book The Fight That Started the Movies: The World Heavyweight Championship, the Birth of Cinema and the First Feature Film.
ULTIMATE SPEED IS HERE!
October 2, 2018
My latest book is now out: Ultimate Speed: The Fast Life and Extreme Cars of Racing Legend Craig Breedlove
(Chicago Review Press, Oct. 2, 2018). This is Craig Breedlove's
authorized biography. It covers his entire life, all three of his land
speed jet car projects and a whole lot more. Twenty-four pages of
photos are included and a foreword written by Craig himself.
Ultimate Speed on Amazon
Utlimate Speed on Barnes and Noble
Ultimate Speed at Chicago Review Press
Here's an excerpt, published on Hemmings.com: "A chainsaw, a marriage, and lots of fiberglass: How Craig Breedlove cleared a path for the Spirit of America"
WHAT IF SPAIN CONQUERED CHINA?
July 31, 2018
Here's an interview I recently did with Jonathan O'Callaghan on "What if...Spain Conquered China?" (All About History,
April 26, 2018, pp. 74-77.) The Spanish plan to conquer China (and the
subsequent failed attempt to take Cambodia) was an interesting sidebar
I wrote about in my book The Imjin War. Here's the full story.
COMING IN OCT. 2018: ULTIMATE SPEED, THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF CRAIG BREEDLOVE
March 6, 2018
My next book, Ultimate Speed: The Fast Life and Extreme Cars of Racing Legeng Craig Breedlove, will be coming out in October 2018 from Chicago Review Press.
In the 120-year history of land speed racing, no name looms larger than
that of Craig Breedlove. An L.A. hot rodder with a high school
education, a family to support and almost no
money, he set out in the late 1950s to do something big with his life
and break the speed record. The car he designed was not powered by an
internal combustion engine like the British machines that had dominated
the LSR for decades. Craig planned instead to harness the thrust of a
jet. With a growing obsession that would cost him his marriage, he
started building the car in his dad's garage with the help of his
friends. Its name: Spirit of America.
Through perseverance and endless hard work, Craig completed Spirit and
broke the record on the Bonneville Salt Flats, setting a new mark of
407 mph in 1963 and bringing the LSR back to the USA after 36 years. He
then became locked in a speed duel with land speed rival Art Arfons.
Over the next two years Craig and Art would trade the LSR back and
forth in a series of whiteknuckle rides and experience some of the most
spectacular crashes in motorsport history, Craig wrecking his original Spirit and building a replacement, Spirit of America-Sonic I,
along the way. When it was over Craig had broken the record five times
and become the first person to drive 400, 500 and 600 mph. In the early
1970s he turned to rockets and set an acceleration record at Bonneville
that stands to this day, surviving another crash in the process. He was
repeatedly burned by the cutthroat nature of the motorsport business
and suffered financial ruination and repeated heartache in marriage,
including the tragic death of his third wife. And he built a new jet
car in the 1990s, Spirit of America-Sonic Arrow, to go head-to-head against Britain's massive ThrustSSC
to be the first to Mach One. Craig's subsequent crash at 675 mph
remains the fastest in history. Even today, at the age of 80, he is
still going strong with plans for yet another Spirit of America racer, this one powered by a rocket. The ultimate goal: 1,000 mph. Ultimate Speed
is the authorized biography of Craig Breedlove, a complete and candid
revelation of one of motorsports' most interesting and elusive figures.
It is based primarily on countless hours of interviews that Hawley
conducted with Craig and dozens of people connected to his life. It is
an exciting and inspiring true story of ingenuity, perseverance, hard
work and courage—of what one man with a big dream and boundless drive
HOMEOWNER WITH A GUN, THE MOVIE -- IN DEVELOPMENT!
July 12, 2017
Homeowner With a Gun (book
by Samuel Hawley, screenplay by Samuel Hawley and Paul A. Kaufman) is
now listed on IMDb.com as "in development." Producer Nicholas Tabarrok (Man Vs., The Art of the Steal, The Calling, etc.) is now on board. Here's the link to www.imdb.com
"THE BIRTH OF THE FEATURE FILM--120 YEARS AGO!"
March 27, 2017
Here is an article I wrote for Bright Lights Film Journal on "The Birth of the Feature Film--120 Years Ago."
A weird fact about the world's first feature film is that Enoch Rector and his team of assistants shot it from inside the camera. Read the article to find out more. For the full story, check out my book The Fight That Started the Movies, available in paperback, hardcover and ebook editions.
ARTICLE: THE FIGHT THAT STARTED THE MOVIES: The
World Heavyweight Championship, the Birth of Cinema and the First
November 4, 2016
On March 17,
1897, in an open-air arena in Carson City, Nevada, “Gentleman” Jim
Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons
fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. The
fourteen-round contest was recorded in its entirety by film pioneer
Enoch Rector from inside a huge, human-powered camera called the
“Veriscope.” Rector’s movie premiered in New York City two months
later. Known today as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight, it was the world’s
first feature-length film.
The making of The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight was the culmination of
three years of rapid evolution in motion picture technology in which
boxing played a key role. It began in the summer of 1894, when West
Virginian Enoch Rector and his friends Otway and Gray Latham happened
upon a shop in New York City where Thomas Edison’s latest invention,
the Kinetoscope peephole machine, was introducing the public to moving
pictures. As the trio left the shop, Gray Latham had a brainstorm: Why
not show prizefights on this wonderful new Edison device, one round per
machine? Prizefighting was banned in most states of the Union, but the
law said nothing about showing a film of a prizefight. It would be a
The trio immediately set to work. The first problem they encountered
was the fact that Edison’s Kinetograph movie camera and Kinetoscope
viewer could handle only twenty seconds of film. This was not nearly
long enough for a prizefight, which was made up of three-minute rounds.
Three full minutes of filming was not possible at this time, so the
trio settled for one minute. If they could film and exhibit a fight
comprised of one-minute rounds, it would convey an approximation of a
prizefight, enough to get the public excited and the nickels rolling in.
THE FIGHT THAT STARTED THE MOVIES:
May 1, 2016
The release of my next nonfiction book, The Fight That Started
the Movies: The World Heavyweight
Championship, the Birth of Cinema and the First Feature Film, is
set for October. Below is the final cover design. To read the back
cover blurb, go to my "Forthcoming" page.
SPEED DUEL OPTIONED FOR DEVELOPMENT
INTO TV SERIES
Mar. 24, 2016
I'm pleased to announce that my book Speed
Duel: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties
has been optioned by Company Pictures for development into a TV
series. The deal was negotiated by Samantha London of The Alpern Group.
(Thanks, Sam!) Company
Pictures, which is based in the UK, is known for such productions
as Generation Kill, The White Queen,
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Wolf Hall and Elizabeth I.
HOMEOWNER MAKES BESTTHRILLERS.COM
"BEST THRILLERS OF 2015 (SO FAR)" LIST
Oct. 14, 2015
Yep, it's there, right alongside some pretty big
titles. Check it out. Here's the link: "Best
Thrillers of 2015 (so far)"
CALLS HOMEOWNER "ONE OF THE
YEAR'S BEST CRIME NOVELS"!
Sept. 1, 2015
In a recent book review, BestThrillers.com
called Homeowner With a Gun
"one of the year's best crime novels." The full review is here.
A few other review comments in recent months:
a page turner!”
timely, dramatic plot for
today’s society.” (WriterBeat.com)
writing is solid, the
characters vivid!” (MasqueradeCrew.com)
very deep story about so
much more than simply the suspense that Hawley provides.”(Pure Jonel:
Confessions of a Bibliophile)
RIGHTS SOLD FOR IMJIN WAR
May 23, 2015
The Chinese translation rights for The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century
Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China
have just been sold to Post Wave Publishing of Beijing. There is
apparently strong interest in the topic in China, for there were two
Beijing publishing companies bidding for the translation rights.
HOMEOWNER WITH A GUN: ON SALE FOR
April 1, 2015
The e-book edition of my thriller Homowner With a Gun will
be on sale on Amazon.com for just 99 cents starting tomorrow, Thursday,
Sale ends on Apil 6 (next Monday), so grab a copy while you can!
WITH A GUN on sale for $0.99
HOMEOWNER WITH A GUN: 2015
READERS' CHOICE AWARDS NOMINEE!
March 14, 2015
With a Gun has
been nominated by the Big Al's Books & Pals book review website for
a Readers' Choice Award in the "Thriller" category. The site reviewed
more than 3,000 books over the past year, so just to get nominated is
an honor. Thanks, B & P!
Want to cast your ballot? Go to this link, Readers'
Choice Awards, and scroll down to the contest entry box near the
bottom of the page.
In the meantime I'm working away on my next book. It's a little early
for me to want to talk much about it, other than to say it's set in
Japan in the closing days of the Second World War. Stay tuned!
BAD ELEPHANT FAR STREAM: "THE BEST
BOOK I READ IN 2014"
January 3, 2015
Boy, it doesn't get any better than this: A
five-star review of Bad Elephant Far
Stream from author K.J.
"Samuel Hawley's Bad Elephant Far
Stream is the best book I read
read a lot of good books this year, even a few others that took me on
an emotional roller coaster like this one. So what makes Bad Elephant Far Stream
my favorite? First off, when I think about it, I still get teary eyed.
Second, this book prompted me to find out more about Topsy and Samuel
Hawley. Third, I want everyone to read this book. It doesn't matter
what genre you normally read or if you're passionate about animals. This book will set your heart on fire."
(highlighting in original review)
Thank you, K.J.! You really made my day!
HOMEOWNER WITH A GUN IS HERE!
September 5, 2014
My latest fiction effort the thriller Homeowner With a Gun is now
WITH A GUN print edition
WITH A GUN eBook
THE IMJIN WAR: NOW AVAILABLE IN
August 13, 2014
It's here! The paperback edition of the THE
UPDATE (Sept. 4, 2014)
The eBook edition of The Imjin War
is now available too: IMJIN
GUEST SPOT ON "THE G
July 23, 2014
Blog Talk Radio host Giovanni Gelati had me onto
his book chat show "The G Zone" again today. We talked about my last
book Bad Elephant Far Stream,
my forthcoming thriller Homeowner
With a Gun, land speed racing and a whole lot more. Click on the
image to listen.
NEW EDITION OF "IMJIN
WAR" COMING IN SEPTEMBER!
July 22, 2014
The paperback edition of my book The Imjin War is coming in
September. (The hardcover
edition was originally
co-published in 2005 by the Royal Asiatic Society,
Seoul, and the Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, and
in 2008.) For
anyone who has been unable to find a hardcover copy or been turned off
by the price being asked for it in some quarters, this new edition will
be easily available on Amazon.com and elsewhere, for a more modest list
price of $24.95. I've just recieved the proofs and they look
okay, so it's time to reveal the cover. Behold!
THE NEW BREEDLOVE
LAND SPEED CAR...AND THE "SPEED DUEL" MOVIE!
May 8, 2014
Word is now out, in an article in Autoweek
magazine, about Craig Breedlove's new land speed car, the latest
incarnation of "Spirit of America." Below is an image by project
engineer Neil Roberts of the two-engine beast. The article doesn't
mention it, but the full name Craig is contemplating for the car is
"Spirit of America-We Are One." The article
mentions, though, that there's a Craig Breedlove feature film project
in the works. It's "Speed Duel," screenplay by yours truly. Check it
THE EVOLUTION OF A
April 11, 2014
a guest post I wrote for thebookdesigner.com
Evolution of a Book Cover: Bad Elephant Far Stream, in which I
describe and illustrate the creative process I went through to create
the final cover for my latest book.
IN L.A. WITH CRAIG
March 27, 2014
a shot of me with Craig Breedlove, taken a few days ago in LA. I was
just out there to meet with Craig and some people about my Speed Duel
screenplay, which I wrote based on my book of the same title. Craig is
personally on board with this movie project, and Tim Arfons (Art's son)
has given us his support as well. I've been told that getting a movie
made is pretty tough these days, but hey, we're not talking about any
movie here. This is the Craig Breedlove vs. Art Arfons story, one of
the most exciting chapters in motorsport history. We talking Top Gun--six inches off the ground.
While I was out in LA, Craig, along with his long-time friend and
associate Stan Goldstein and engineer Neil Roberts, gave me the inside
scoop on Craig's new land speed car project, the fourth incarnation
of Spirit of America. The
car, designed to go 1,000 mph, looks fantastic, and incorporates some
beautifully simple and ingenious elements
that Craig has designed--evidence that flashes of genius can come at
any age. I have to tell you, folks: this project is starting to look
like a "Go." Stay tuned!
BLOG TALK RADIO
APPEARANCE ON "THE WRITERS LOUNGE"
March 3, 2014
I had the pleasure this evening of being on the
BlogTalkRadio show The
Writers Lounge to talk about Bad
Elephant Far Stream with hosts Tom Riddell and Lisa Lea. Thanks
for having me on, guys!
GENERIC HOLLYWOOD MOVIE 1019
February 9, 2014
a parody movie trailer I just made for the upcoming blockbuster
"Generic Hollywood Movie 1019," from Assembly Line Films, Bean Counter
Pictures and Toe the Line Entertainment.
BLOG TALK RADIO
APPEARANCE ON "BACK PORCH WRITER"
January 21, 2014
Today, I was on the BlogTalkRadio show Back
Porch Writer with host Kori Miller. Click on the image to listen.
(Thanks for having me on, Kori!)
BLOG TALK RADIO
APPEARANCE ON "INDIE BOOKS"
January 17, 2014
I was on the show Indie
Books this morning with host Will Wilson to talk about Bad Elephant Far Stream. Click on
the image to go to the BlogTalkRadio site and listen to the interview.
BLOG TALK RADIO
APPEARANCE ON "THE G-ZONE"
January 14, 2014
I just had the pleasure of being on the
BlogTalkRadio show The
G-Zone with Giovanni Gelati, to discuss Bad Elephant Far Stream.
IMJIN WAR ON DISPLAY AT NATIONAL
December 8, 2013
I've just learned that my book The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century
Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China
is on display in a glass case at the National Palace Museum of Korea,
at Gyeongbok Palace (Gyeongbokgung) in Seoul. I am definitely very
honored. Here's a picture of the display:
BAD ELEPHANT FAR STREAM: WHERE IT
November 20, 2013
I'm going to be appearing on the
BlogTalkRadio show The G-Zone on
Jan. 14th at 11:00 a.m. (EST). Here's a lead-up guest post I wrote for
the show's accompanying Gelati's
Scoop website on "Bad Elephant Far Stream--Where It Came From."
Elephant Far Stream: Where It Came From
The idea for what ultimately became my novel Bad Elephant Far Stream
sprang from some research I did on the early history of motion
pictures, trolling for ideas for my next nonfiction book. I stumbled on
a Kinetoscope film entitled “Electrocuting an Elephant,” made by the
Edison Company more than a century ago. The film (which can be easily
found on Youtube) shows the electrocution of a circus elephant named
Topsy on Coney Island on January 4, 1903.
“Electrocuting an Elephant” led me to start researching circus
elephants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I was amazed
at the accounts I turned up of elephants being euthanized because they
had killed somebody or gone on a rampage or otherwise done something
that got them labeled “wicked” or “bad.” They were being poisoned and
shot and hanged from steam winches—and in the unusual case of Topsy,
electrocuted with lines running from the Edison Electrical Company’s
Coney Island power station.
I thought that this would make an interesting book, the euthanizing of
all these elephants back then. What was going on with these creatures?
Why were they turning “bad”? What were their lives like? Why were they
being killed? I soon realized, though, that in order to tell a
compelling story, I needed to focus on just one elephant. So I decided
to tell the story of Topsy.
After doing a good deal of research, I set out to write a nonfiction
book with the title Bad Elephant:
The Odyssey from Birth to Execution of a Circus Pachyderm.
Nonfiction, after all, was all I’d written up to that point. I found,
however, that in struggling to “get inside” Topsy, I was veering deep
into fiction territory. I also wanted to give the story some hope and a
happy ending. The result was the novel Bad Elephant Far Stream.
There was something else too that drove me to write Bad Elephant Far Stream
as a novel in the way that I did. It was the realization that books
about animals rarely are actually about the animal at all, but rather
are about human main characters, with the animal serving as a prop. The
animal is there for the human characters to fight about, to get
emotional over, to learn about themselves from. I didn’t want to do
that. I didn’t want to tell the story of the human who found redemption
or true love or whatever through his relationship with big ol’ cuddly
elephant Topsy. I wanted to make Topsy herself the main character. I
wanted to make her life experience and her quest the focus of the
story—to step outside my human viewpoint and try to image what life was
like for her. The result of my struggle to do this was Bad Elephant Far Stream.
BAD ELEPHANT FAR STREAM: PRINT
EDITION NOW AVAILABLE
October 28, 2013
Bad Elephant Far Stream
is now available for sale on Amazon in both print and eBook editions.
Bookstore sales will follow shortly. Here are the publication details:
Elephant Far Stream
GENRE: historical fiction
AUTHOR: Samuel Hawley
PUBLISHER: Conquistador Press
PUBLICATION DATE: November 2013
LIST PRICE: $15.95 (paperback); $2.99 (eBook)
NUMBER OF PAGES: 263
ISBN NUMBER: 978-0-9920786-0-7
MY FIRST NOVEL: BAD ELEPHANT FAR STREAM
August 6, 2013
My latest book will be out this fall. It's a novel--my first fiction
effort--entitled Bad Elephant Far
Stream. Below is a draft of the cover (front, spine and back),
ISBN number pending. It's being publishing by Conquistador Press and
will be available on amazon.com "and wherever fine books are sold." The
back cover blurb is included below.
Update (August 9, 2013)
The cover for Bad Elephant Far Stream
is now finalized, with the ISBN added. I've updated the image below:
Here's the back cover
Bad Elephant Far Stream is an elephant’s life story, told from
her own perspective, through her own eyes. Inspired by the life of a
real elephant known as Topsy, it follows Far Stream from her birth and
her capture in the forests of Ceylon in the late 1860s through her
transportation to America and thirty years of travel and adventure with
the circus, which ultimately led to her being labeled as “bad.” It’s an
unusual and uncompromising novel that explores the questions: What is
it like to be an elephant trained for human amusement? What does such a
creature think? What does it feel? What does it yearn for? Bad Elephant Far Stream takes the
reader on a voyage of discovery to find out.
THE GREAT DEBATE: AN
ANIMATED COMMENTARY ON POLITICAL DISCOURSE
my latest ant film, "The Great Debate." It's a debate between incumbent
governor Wilmont Squander of the Kumbaya Party and challenger John
Staunch of the Common-Sense Coalition. With this one, I've given the
ants hair and use intro music and sound effects. It's 6 minutes, 25
seconds long--my first feature!
THE POOP HEAD
My third "ant" film, "The Poop Head Foundation," taking a humorous look
at the leftist crap that is being taught in our schools. I've gotten a
bit more ambitious with the animation, adding a moving mouth and
blinking eyes to Poop Head Foundation founder and CEO Sparky Zong.
ANT RIGHTS COMMISSION
BANS FUNNY LOOKS
my second "ant" film. It takes a humorous look at the Human Rights
Commission racket here in Canada, in particular Section 13 of the Human
Rights Act, the so-called "Shut Your Mouth" clause. The beleagued
Moon-TV show host Ezra Twitchy is based on...well, you can probably
figure it out.
I'm getting a little better at making these little movies. Note, for
example, that news anchor Ken Glossy is now wearing a bow tie and
sitting behind a desk. I don't know, but he just might get a hairpiece
is a short animated film I've just made, "Ant-Caused Global Warming." I
recorded and manipulated the audio (my own voice) using
Audacity; I animated the ants using Pivot Animator; I made the
backgrounds using Photoshop and FotoSketcher; I did the "outside shots"
and end credits in Photo Story 3; and I edited the video together in
Microsoft Movie Maker. It took about three days altogether, which
included the time it took to figure out the Pivot Animator and Movie
Maker software, which I hadn't used before.
CRAIG BREEDLOVE – ART
February 24, 2013
land speed fans, here’s a poster you might like: Craig Breedlove with
his “Spirit of America” jet car and Art Arfons with his “Green Monster”
posing together on the Bonneville Salt Flats circa 1964:
Breedlove and Arfons never actually posed together on the salt like
this with their land speed machines. This image is a composite I
assembled from four different photos (Breedlove and car; Arfons and
car; mountains in background; sky). The poster is available for
purchase on Zazzle, here.
You can also get it on a T-shirt,
along with a Wingfoot
Express Rocket Car T-shirt.
THE DEADLIEST HOTEL
FIRE IN HISTORY
February 20, 2013
Korean director Kim Ji-hoon’s latest film, released on December 25,
2012 to brisk ticket sales, is the disaster epic The Tower.
Set in a 120-story luxury skyscraper in Seoul, it’s about the struggle
of building manager Lee (Kim Sang-kyung) to save the people trapped
inside, among them his love interest Ms. Seo (Son Ye-jin), while
firefighter Kang (Sol Kyung-gu) battles the conflagration. If that
sounds similar to the star-studded 1974 film The Towering Inferno
(Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, etc.)—well, that’s because
it is. Director Kim, however, had another, more local, inspiration for
the movie: the fire at the Daeyeongak Hotel in Seoul’s Chungmuro
district on Christmas Day, 1971. It remains the deadliest hotel fire in
21-story Daeyeongak Hotel was built in 1970 to what were even at the
time extremely poor standards. While the building shell was of
inflammable reinforced concrete, the interior was a tinderbox:
wood-partition walls covered with paper; ceilings of plywood sheets
affixed to wood framing; no sprinkler system; inadequate firefighting
equipment. Such slackness was not unusual in Korea at the time. In the
country’s new-found rush to modernize, corners were cut.
fire originated in the hotel coffee shop on December 25, 1971 at 10:00
in the morning, sparked by an exploding LP gas cylinder behind the
counter. The fire instantly engulfed the coffee shop and quickly spread
to the lobby, trapping the 296 hotel guests and workers inside. The
smoke and flames then spread uncontained from floor to floor and room
to room through the wide-open spaces above the drop ceilings.
rushed to the scene but their ladders could only reach the seventh
floor to get people out. More than 100 people were evacuated this way
and by climbing down on tied-together bed sheets. A handful of
others were airlifted off the roof by a helicopter. For the rest, there
was no escape. One of the most horrific photos from the fire shows a
person leaping from an upper-floor window clinging to a mattress, a
second person leaning out with another mattress, ready to follow.
Daeyeongak Hotel fire burned until 5:30 that afternoon. The final death
toll was 163 killed: 121 victims consumed by the fire and 38 others who
jumped to their deaths.
PAST OF SEOUL'S AN-SAN, AKA
February 17, 2013
My childhood home in
Yonhui-dong, Seoul, South Korea was at the base
of a hill we called Saddleback
Its actual name
is An-san but we didn’t call it that. To the foreigners living around Yonsei University
back the 1960s and early ‘70s, it was Saddleback Mountain
on account of the distinct saddle-shape of its summit ridge.
This summit ridge was clearly
visible because Saddleback,
like most mountains around Korean towns and cities back then, was
completely denuded of trees. The country was desperately poor and
firewood. Also visible due to the barrenness of the hillside were
depressions here and there, about halfway up. These were the remains of
I sometimes tagged along with my
older brother Jim and his
friends to poke around in those foxholes. We found all sorts of things
cartridges, the rusted base of a mortar, a belt buckle, buttons, and
(which I recall carting home to the displeasure of my mother). It was
later, when I returned to Korea to work as an instructor at Yonsei,
learned that this area around Saddleback and descending into
been the main line of North Korean defense against US and South Korean
as they pushed inland to recapture Seoul following MacArthur’s Incheon
The remains in those foxholes therefore had likely been North Korean.
Saddleback was once again the
scene of military action—Cold War
action this time, briefly turned hot—in January 1968. In that month
Korean leader Kim Il-sung dispatched a 31-man commando squad across the
with orders to “cut off the head of [South Korean President] Park
The commandos, sticking mainly to the mountains as they worked their
made it to within 800 meters of Park’s presidential palace, Chongwadae
Blue House), before being discovered. In the days that followed, the
of Chongwadae, particularly Inwang-san immediately behind, An-san
the west and Pukan-san further north, were alive with South Korea
police searching for the infiltrators. They hunted down and killed 29
and captured one. Only one remained unaccounted for. He may have gotten
Evidence of Korea’s
violent past in the area around Saddleback is entirely gone now. The
churned up by cannon and mortar fire in the early 1950s and still
with foxholes in the late ‘60s, is now covered with trees, the
the summit ridge entirely hidden. The depressions of foxholes have
away, the war remnants they contained long ago scavenged. On Yonsei University
campus, a smouldering ruin in 1950 littered with the bodies of 150 dead
Koreans, everything looks new now, prosperous and well-tended. If you
however, at the Horace Underwood statue in front of Underwood Hall, you
still see the marks of machine gun fire on the base. Sixty years after
earth-shattering events—less than one lifetime—and this is all that
© Samuel Hawley 2016