By Cindy Mindell
WESTON – Cathryn J. Prince lets her curiosity lead her. The author and journalist has written human-interest stories for The Times of Israel and books about some of the most devastating and exhilarating moments in history, each inspired by something as small as a footnote or a glimpse or a family anecdote.
Prince was born and raised in the small Jewish community of Danbury, where her family kept a kosher home and belonged to the United Jewish Center. She attended Camp Ramah in Palmer, Mass. for three years and Camp Tevya in Brookline, New Hampshire for two years as a camper, then as a CIT and a counselor.
Now 47, Prince says that she has loved writing since she was a child, submitting “story after story” to young readers’ magazines like Stone Soup.
“I was also rejected time and again,” she says.
After graduating from the Loomis Chaffee School in South Windsor, where she wrote for the school newspaper, Prince attended the Elliot School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. There, she wrote opinion pieces for the campus newspaper. “I intended on going into some kind of government work – I wanted to work for the State Department or something like that,” she says. “However, by my junior year, I realized what I really wanted to do was write.”
Completing her BA with a journalism minor, she then earned a graduate degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Prince relocated to Boston to write for the Boston Business Journal. On a blind date, she met her (future) husband, Pierre Saldinger, a native of Switzerland in the U.S. on a limited visa. The couple spent two years in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Prince was a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. The couple then moved to New York City, where Prince continued to cover the UN for Christian Science Monitor. They had a son and moved back to Boston, where their daughter was born. In January 2001, they relocated to Weston.
After the family joined The Conservative Synagogue in Westport, Prince served on the board and was on the search committee for a new cantor in 2014. She and her family left the synagogue last year; Prince now attends weekly Torah classes at Chabad of Westport.
Prince is the author of five books, the most recent of which was published in June. American Daredevil: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Halliburton, the World’s First Celebrity Travel Writer chronicles the globetrotter who introduced American readers in the ‘20s and ‘30s to far-flung lands from Panama to Palestine. Her father served as muse.
“It was household legend that in 1963, when my father was in Vietnam [with the United States Air Force], he used a short leave to fly to India and see the Taj Mahal,” Prince says. “As a nice Jewish boy growing up in the Bronx, he’d daydreamed about standing before the monument, all because of how Richard Halliburton described it in The Complete Book of Marvels. The story stuck with me; it showed the power of words and description. Still, I filed the story away under ‘neat family anecdotes.’”
In 2013, when Prince’s parents took her daughter on a visit to Memphis, Tennessee and to the Richard Halliburton collection at Rhodes College, Prince decided to dust off the story.
“At the time, I was working on Death in the Baltic, a book about the World War II sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, the largest maritime disaster in peace or war,” she says. “It was a very somber subject, as you can imagine. When my parents and daughter came home and told me about the Halliburton exhibit, something clicked. I found myself drawn to this man whom until his last breath, exuded a zest for life. There was something so incredibly poignant about how he had accomplished so much, only to fade from history.”
Halliburton landed in what was then Palestine in 1931, the passenger in an open-cockpit plane on a year-long expedition. During his week-long stay, “he’s just floored by Jerusalem and the surrounding area,” Prince says. “He goes to the King David tunnels, he swims across the Sea of Galilee and gets completely sunburned. What he’s writing then could really resonate today: he sees the potential for the religious conflict that’s going to take place and finds that frustrating, to say the least.”
Prince writes: “Halliburton found Palestine a history lover’s paradise but warned anyone with a love of religion to stay far away: ‘The hatred, the fighting, the religious fools, sicken one away from any Christian feeling about the place.’”
Prince started writing in 2014 for The Times of Israel, publishing an article about a woman trying to locate the works of her grandfather, an artist in Warsaw who had perished in the Holocaust.
“No other publication wanted the story,” says Prince, who became the Times of Israel’s first-ever tri-state correspondent, covering the UN and human-interest stories. “Sometimes the stories find me, sometimes I find the stories,” she says. “I’m always looking for story ideas. It might be as simple as walking by a storefront and getting curious – as was the case with my story on Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery [in the East Village]. I was walking by the bakery and loved the way it looked, like time had stood still. I love the reporting, meeting people from all walks of life and learning what’s important to them. I love how an individual’s story can tell a larger story.”
CAP: Cathryn J. Prince