Title: The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield
Author: Larry Dane Brimner
Pages: 119 pages
Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, c2015 (Larry Dane Brimner, Trustee, Brimner-Gregg Trust)
On December 15, 1904, he set up his cloud-attracting apparatus on the grounds of Esperanza Sanitarium, a hospital for people with lung diseases. […] The hospital was located in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles, near Altadena. Rain began to fall almost immediately and continued through Christmas. […]
Soon, though, local newspapers were pleading with him to give them a dry, sunny day on Monday, January 2, 1905, so the annual Tournament of Roses Parade could go on as scheduled in Pasadena. When rain fell in the morning but cleared in time for the parade, organizers publicly expressed thanks. (38-39)
Charles Hatfield was not the first to claim that he could control the weather, and bring down rain from the sky during a drought. Rather than using the war paint and rain dances of Native American tribes, or the ringing of bells like eighteenth century English towns, Hatfield used a secretive mix of heated chemicals. To this day, no one knows what he used or has concrete evidence that it even worked, but he succeeded in making a name for himself as a Rain Wizard or conjurer for a decade. His techniques might have proven too successful when an attempt to fill a San Diego reservoir at the request of the city resulted in the 1916 flood that resulted in death, damage, and destruction, including washing houses and train tracks away. Was Hatfield responsible for the rain, and if so was he then responsible for the damages it caused?
Having never heard of Charles Hatfield, it was a unique person to feature in a biography. Readers though will be left scratching their heads, as Brimner, like the people who actually lived during that time, is unable to answer the question of if he actually made it rain or not. There is no known record of Hatfield’s secret formula, so curious readers will be unable to replicate the results. However, based on the inclusion of rainmakers who came before and after Hatfield, and details about their methods, it seems a safe conclusion that there is some truth to the practice of both rain making future efforts to collect moisture from the sky.
I must say I was slightly taken aback by Brimner’s inclusion of a Wikipedia site in his list of resources for readers looking for more information. I showed it to several coworkers and they were equally flummoxed by the inclusion. Our assumption is that he was merely including easily obtained and readily available resources. For someone who went to the effort of tracking down the family descendants and first hand newspaper accounts of the events, we were shocked that he would even mention a website that is not vetted or reliably credible and is routinely frowned upon by teachers when assigning research projects to their students. Especially when his works cited and photo credits lists are so thorough, although I do question the necessity of quoting a reference librarian’s email in describing the state of things at that time. Brimner even talks about the inaccuracy of first hand accounts in his author’s note, so maybe he is stressing that no source is one hundred percent reliable. It is definitely a shock to my system that an author who has received recognition with starred reviews and a Sibert Honor would stoop to referencing Wikipedia and casts a shadow on what I felt was a well presented narrative on a little-known and still-disputed event.
This review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.