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Librarian Contributes to “Boardwalk Empire”

©2010 Home Box Office, Inc.

©2010 Home Box Office, Inc.

Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series set on the Atlantic City boardwalk during the 1920′s, garnered rave reviews from its first airing and boasts some of Hollywood’s top talent. Along with the contributions of director Martin Scorsese, writer Terence Winter and actor Steve Buscemi, the valuable skills of a local librarian were called upon to help authenticate the details of Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Heather Halpin Perez, an archivist for the historical Alfred M. Heston Collection at the Atlantic City Free Public Library, was contacted by the show’s lead researcher. “I was one of the historical consultants who was working at providing details about some of the sets and costumes,” she tells American Libraries. The series, which centers around Nucky Thompson, a fictionalized version of real-life crime boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, combines fiction with historical fact, and draws on the library’s archives to accurately re-create set pieces such as newspapers and boardwalk attractions.

Interestingly, it was yet another librarian who helped plant the seed for this hit drama. The show is based on the non-fiction book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City written by Nelson Johnson. Now an Atlantic County judge, Johnson started researching Atlantic City history in 1982 when he took a job with the Atlantic City Planning Board. “It was dysfunctional and corrupt. I thought, in order to do my job here, I have to find out how it got this way. I didn’t set out to write a book. I just wanted a better understanding,” he says in an interview with The Star-Ledger. At the reference desk of the Atlantic City library, Johnson met Marie Boyd, wife of Nucky Johnson’s confidant, Jimmy Boyd. Marie introduced him to members of the old political guard, and learning their stories inspired him to write a book.

The book took 17 years to finish and another two to get published, but it was a labor of love for Johnson. While he admits his “academic history” differs in tone from the sexy drama of the Boardwalk Empire television show, he’s still pleased with the outcome. “I’m thrilled. How could you not be?”

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