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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Ray Bradbury would have turned 102 today

Born 102 years ago today, it’s the birthday of science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury who was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois.

As is well-chronicled and told by the author himself, he spent a lot of his childhood in the Waukegan library, where he fell in love with L. Frank Baum, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. One summer he went to see a local carnival act named Mr. Electrico, a man who sat in an electrical chair and knighted audience members with a sword while electricity flowed through his body. When he reached Bradbury, he put the sword on his head and shouted at him, “Live Forever!”

Bradbury couldn’t get that out of his head, and the next day he made his father drive him to the carnival again, even though his uncle had just died and he was supposed to be at the wake. Mr. Electrico introduced the boy to all the carnival performers and then sat with him on a sand dune and told Bradbury that the boy was the reincarnation of Mr. Electrico’s best friend, a man who had died in his arms during World War I. Ray Bradbury said that Mr. Electrico “gave me a future and in doing so, gave me a past.” The next day his family moved cross-country, and as soon as they got to their new house, Ray Bradbury got out a piece of butcher paper and started to write. That was 1932, when Bradbury was 12 years old, and he said that he wrote every single day of his life from then on.

I didn’t discover Bradbury’s work until third grade when I first read The Martian Chronicles, but from that first book of his I was hooked. He is also known for Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine (1957), Something Wicked This Way Comes, (1962), and more short story collections than I can remember. I was lucky enough to meet him on several occasions and on each occasion, even when I got to introduce him to my wife in 1986 and to my son in 2010, I always returned to that awestruck third grader who held him in such high esteem that it made it difficult to talk.

This past weekend, Waukegan held its annual festival to celebrate the author’s life and work, much of it based on his memories of a happy childhood in small town America.

Ray died in 2012 but his writing, as they say, will live on forever.

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