Nfld. & Labrador

Beating hearts on Broadway: Meet the real people behind Come From Away

If you told the mayor of Gander 10 years ago he'd be watching himself on Broadway, he'd never believe it.

'We had 7,000 strangers and in five days we had 7,000 family members'

The 'Ganderites' (Beulah Cooper, Oz Fudge, Claude Elliott and Brian Mosher) gather at O'Hara's Pub in New York City. The bar has more than 7,000 first responder badges, including some from Newfoundland and Labrador. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

If you told the mayor of Gander 10 years ago he'd be watching himself on Broadway, he'd never believe it.

But here Claude Elliott is — walking through Times Square, fielding compliments, questions and praise from strangers while preparing to grace the red carpet at a Broadway premiere.

It is all because of small acts of kindness — simply second nature for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, he said.

"We had 7,000 strangers and in five days we had 7,000 family members," the long-serving mayor said.

Come From Away, which makes its official Broadway debut on Sunday, tells the stories of local residents and stranded passengers — or "plane people"— in the five days U.S. airspace was closed following 9/11.

People in the small central Newfoundland town of Gander and surrounding communities worked for days at a time preparing food, transporting passengers and providing clothing and necessary items. 

Below are some of the real-life characters portrayed in the musical.

Oz Fudge

On stage, Gander police constable 'Oz' provides lots of laughs for his foul-mouthed speeding tickets, instructing people to slow the you-know-what down.

But the 30-year veteran municipal cop did more than security and police work when the plane people arrived in town.

Oz Fudge, a municipal officer in Gander, says the musical helps a lot of people affected by the tragedy of 9/11 heal and see the spirit of human kindness. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Fudge helped put off a birthday party after learning there was a plane from England carrying sick kids destined for Disney World.

"My daughter became Commander Gander," he said. "Three of her friends had gowns, and they became the fairytale princesses because that's what they wanted."

They bought a birthday cake to feed 350 people that day, Fudge said.

Beulah Cooper

"My name is Beulah Cooper and I made trays of sandwiches," the retiree laughed in an interview with CBC News on Saturday, when asked what she did in the days following 9/11.

Cooper, who has been called the Florence Nightingale of the group, is modest.

She went far above and beyond when the passengers were stranded in Gander and surrounding towns like Gambo, Appleton and Lewisporte. 

Streams of people were welcomed into Cooper's home for showers. She took people shopping for clothes and helped make food.

Beulah Cooper is modest about what she did for stranded passengers in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

More importantly, she provided friendship and comfort to those who needed it most.

One of those new friends was Hannah O'Rourke, a stranded U.S. passenger whose firefighter son, Kevin, was killed while responding to the attack on the twin towers. 

Brian Mosher

Within five days, Brian Mosher put off 12 live shows on a local cable channel while also working as a high school media teacher.

"I had the dubious opportunity of not going to sleep for five straight days," Mosher said.

Brian Mosher and another reporter are depicted on stage in Come From Away as a new Rogers TV reporter tackling the biggest story in the world. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

"If anyone had told me in 2001 I'd be on Broadway in 2017, I'd still be laughing at them."

Mosher is half of the real-life inspiration for the character of reporter Janice Mosher in the musical. 

Claude Elliott

As the town's mayor, Claude Elliot ensured an emergency operation was set up and organizations were alerted to the state of emergency over Gander.

Gander Mayor Claude Elliott says he's been stopped by people thanking him for his generosity and kindness to strangers in the aftermath of 9/11. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Elliott has seen the musical five times ahead of Sunday's premiere and notices new elements each time.

"When I look at it, I see all the people of Gander and all the people of surrounding communities that helped in this musical," he said.

"Even though I'm mentioned, and there's only a few of us by name, but it's for everyone, not just for us."

When the show debuts at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Elliott will be there for viewing No. 6.

Viewers of Come From Away on Broadway can leave a tag to mark where they are from. The North American section of the map is already covered. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.

With files from Angela Antle