William Faulkner had recently begun a draft of “Dark House,” the novel that would ultimately become Absalom, Absalom!, when he arrived in New Orleans on February 15, 1934. He came to attend an air circus that was being thrown to celebrate the opening of Shushan Airport, which is now New Orleans Lakefront Airport. He flew there himself from Batesville, Mississippi, having earned his pilot’s license two months earlier. But he arrived a day late. Everybody was talking about what had happened the previous evening, on opening night. A pilot named Merle Nelson had crashed his “comet plane”—its wings were equipped with a device that shot flames—into the ground, where it exploded.