The Mysterious Rhoda Derry: Filming a Distant Twig on My Family Tree

30 Apr

Rhoda Derry.  My last name is not Derry, but by marriage I am distantly related to the Derry’s of Adams County, Illinois.

My paternal grandfather’s sister, Betty, married Del Derry, and she’s one of my best friends on Facebook.  In her mid-80’s, Betty not only has a Facebook page, but she also has a blog, and she travels as often as she can between her current home in Arcadia, CA to her hometown of Atlantic, IA (about both of which she has marvelous adventures and stories she writes about on her blog).  She’s cute as a button with a terrific sense of fae humor, and as she says on her Facebook info page, “I now find myself the only sibling left of 13 kids…am open for adoption!”  I get first dibs.

Her latest adventure is the part documentary/part feature film, “The Mysterious Rhoda Derry.”

The life of Rhoda Derry is at once fascinating and horribly tragic, heroic and distressing, real and unbelievable:  a love story tangled up with a witch’s curse.  All the ingredients for a fairytale — the real kind that do not end, “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Aunt Betty has written three posts as of today that contain bits of the odd, outrageous, miraculous and bittersweet history of Rhoda and her family from a book entitled “A Letter from Aunt Ethel” written by “Doc” Derry (a cousin Aunt Betty inherited through her marriage to his distant cousin, Del) that contains The Derry Family Genealogy Report which Joan Brown Derry (another cousin) helped to compile, as well as Aunt Betty’s not inconsiderable newswoman reporting abilities.

The five-minute video below is “a demo version of what will be a full length documentary film. This film chronicles the true story of Rhoda Derry, a severely mentally ill woman who spent 43 years of her life trapped in a box at the Adams County Alms House.  Finally, in 1904, she was discovered and freed by the iconic Dr. George Zeller of the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane.  Her case is one of the most important cases in U.S. history and helped change the face of mental health forever.  Starring: D.Doc Derry, April Cowgur, John Johnson, Patrick Thornton, Dr. Joseph Mehr, and Gary Lisman. Music By Mike Englebrecht.”

This is not Reality’s End Films first film; it will be their second when it is completed.  Here is the first, “Bookbinder” (and which led them to Rhoda’s story), where “the Central Illinois Ghost legend of A. Manual Bookbinder is finally brought to life through the eyes of Dr. Zeller. Based on a true story[, t]his is the film that started it all for [them]. Starring John Johnson, Steve Kurtz, and members of womcproductions.”

What a grand adventure, Aunt Betty!

4 Responses to “The Mysterious Rhoda Derry: Filming a Distant Twig on My Family Tree”

  1. Aunt Betty April 30, 2011 at 11:49 PM #

    Your words are as magical as your beautiful creations, my dear Niece! Those Boys, honestly, will be thrilled to know that you have done this for them and for one very special woman to love…Rhoda! As you are, Kat!

    • Faerie♥Kat May 1, 2011 at 3:19 PM #

      Well, Aunt Betty, you know we’re two peas from the same pod with pretty much the same interests; you really didn’t think I wasn’t going to hop on to ride along on this adventure with you, did you? Mwah!

  2. Brandon Lamprecht May 1, 2011 at 12:46 AM #

    Words really cannot express our thank yous for this. Wow!!! We are so amazed by the response we have received since taking on the task of telling Rhoda’s story. Thank you so much for this. You just earned yourself a front row seat next to your aunt at the premiere….:)

    Blessings to you and your family,

    • Faerie♥Kat May 1, 2011 at 3:16 PM #

      I think the underlying theme of Rhoda’s life is a quality that has never fully matured in the human race, and that quality is empathy. Recent generations have tried to legislate it, which of course cannot be done, and I am beginning to think that only by observing the worst side of mankind’s nature can we begin to recognize and employ the best side of our nature. Too many people today living in America have no concept of real horror or hardship. They cannot begin to comprehend the feelings or circumstances of those they look down upon or think are inferior, and thus grow the breeding grounds of bigotry and elitism. So many awful things have been done in the name of good, and by people who thought they were good or better. To show these atrocities is to say, “You, too, could be performing an atrocity and be thinking it good.” Empathy took Rhoda out of the alms house, far too late, of course, but in time to experience some of the benefits of that empathy, which is why I find her story so compelling. “God” didn’t save her; she wasn’t saved at all, but her humanity was recognized with empathy and, in the end, I think that was all she needed.

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