15
February 28, 1996

Dawn

Writer Jack Hitt goes on a search for a mysterious neighbor from his childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, and stumbles onto an epic story of the Old South, the New South, gender confusion, Chihuahuas, and changing values in American journalism.

Prologue

Who are the people we remember as significant figures from our childhood? What is their hold on our imaginations as we age? Ira visits McCosh Elementary on Chicago's South Side, where a man everyone calls "Mr. Lewis" is the surrogate dad for hundreds of kids — a nearly mythic figure. (6 minutes)

Dawn

Jack Hitt's quest to find out the truth about the man who lived down the street from him 30 years ago in South Carolina: Gordon Langley Hall, a.k.a. Dawn Langley Hall Simmons. Gordon was rumored to have had one of the first sex change operations in America, then to have married a black man, then to have borne the black man's child. It was said he had a full coming-out party for his Chihuahua. It was said he had voodoo powers. Jack's father, the editor of the local paper in Charleston, generally refused to publish anything about Dawn because it was too sensational — even after big city papers and network TV crews decided Dawn was news. Jack sets out to find what was true and what was rumor about Gordon Langley Hall, and stumbles onto a sprawling story about changing cultural morés in America. (41 minutes)

Dawn Again

Two-and-a-half years after Jack Hitt wrote the story that makes up Act One of our show, he returned to the tale of Dawn Langley Simmons. He brings us up to date on his new conclusions.