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Nellie Bly






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From Chapter One:

To a ten-year-old African-American boy from the suburbs of Washington, the Baltimore neighborhood seemed like a war zone. Shortly before David Matthews and his father moved in, the backyard had been the scene of a gangland-style execution and the next-door neighbor, still suffering the post-traumatic effects of his tour in Vietnam, took solace in shooting his AK-47 outside his back door. All the same, the house was only a few short blocks from Bolton Hill, with its well-kept townhouses and Gramercy Park-like air. Ralph Matthews, David's father, planned to renovate the row house and flip it for a profit as gentrification encroached, but that never quite worked out. In the years since he let the house go, there has been substantial redevelopment in the area, enough to make the old row house look that much more forlorn. In March of 2002, a slab of whitewashed plywood blocked the entranceway. Stenciled across the plank in red was the number to call “IF ANIMAL TRAPPED.”

Madison Street is a recurrent theme in David Matthews' conversation. He thought living there was torture. “I wouldn't walk there until it was dark,” he recalled, “because the fewer people who saw me, the fewer chances I had of getting mugged.” His father wanted his son to learn to survive in such an environment. “There are protections,” Ralph Matthews said. “And if you recognize them, you're twice as strong. I knew all the hoodlums.” His son might well have been threatened once in a while, but it was because he did not know “how to give off the right radar,” as Matthews senior put it. “And giving off I'm half-Jewish wasn't it.”

Of his son's itinerant passing, Ralph Matthews said, “I do wonder about that, about David's trapeze act. In my own life, it's not even a consideration.” And in another conversation, he added, “The thing I don't think we could answer is, where did it come from?

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