Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who was that man?

Recently I found a stack of old cassette tapes, and I popped one into the player to see what was on it. I was thrilled to hear the wonderful voice of Nick Lowe. I have always enjoyed his music, but I was particularly moved by the song Who Was That Man from the Party of One album. This song is about the terrible fire in the King's Cross Underground Station in November 1987. Thirty-one people died in the fire, but one victim remained unidentified for 16 years. The song is very catchy and upbeat, but the subject matter is terribly sad and depressing. It includes the lines:

It was a wild and wet November night
and the rush hour was at its height

King's Cross the venue that
the finger of death was pointed at
Among the crowd was a lonely soul
with a mission in mind and a place to go
Nobody knows where he was bound
when his fateful steps took him underground
Who was that, who was that man?
Nobody loved him all across this land

There was a great deal of concern over how someone could not be missed in our modern society. No family, friends, coworkers, landlords -- no one reported this man missing, or identified him. (Although, as an aside, one look at the horrifyingly gigantic list of Unidentified Victims over on the Doe Network site should serve as a reminder that not everyone is missed in this world.) Over the years, I would search the Internet, trying to find out if the man had been identified yet. I had even posted a question about it on the Stumpers-L list (now known, apparently, as Project Wombat), a listserv of difficult reference questions that are asked of librarians. I got no replies to my question. A few years ago, I was delighted to see that "Victim 115" (the unidentified man) was finally identified in 2004 as 73 year old Alexander Fallon. After his wife died, he began living a transient lifestyle in London, while his family remained in Scotland. His children had apparently lost touch with them, which is why they didn't suspect their father was dead for so many years. It's fantastic and amazing that the mystery could be solved after such a long time, and that the family was finally able to find out what had happened to him. On my last trip to London, I took some photos of the memorial plaques in King's Cross Station, but it was dark and my camera cheap, so they didn't turn out all that well:








Next week, November 18, will be the 21st anniversary of the King's Cross station fire. As someone who is quite fond of the Underground (which I understand is pronounced "chewb"), I will certainly have a few moments of silence on that date in memory of the terrible tragedy.

While I was searching online for better photos of the King's Cross memorial plaques than the ones I'd taken, I came across this fantastic site: London Remembers. It is a website listing memorial plaques, gardens, statues and other remembrances across the city. You can search by the name of a person, or choose an area of London off a map and get a listing of all the memorials in that area. I could spend several decades browsing through that site!

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