In March of 1540 Hans Kohlhase was executed for leading a gang of raiders through Saxony. They were seeking vengeance against a nobleman who had stolen his horses. The anti-hero would be re-imagined as Coalhouse Walker in E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel Ragtime.
Ragtime weaves together the stories of three New York families battered by the tides of history in the early 1900’s. Coalhouse crosses paths with Booker T. Washington. The other families meet influential figures like Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and the activist Emma Goldman. Terrence McNally would juggle each story line in his ambitious libretto for the musical adaptation.
Coalhouse and his companions suffer tragedy in their quest for justice but Ragtime is ultimately an optimistic show. Ragtime believes that each generation can learn from the mistakes of the past and slowly build a kinder world.