11/17/2014 – The Explorer
Writing is a vocation of exploration, whether of ideas and feelings, wishes and dreams, or places and events. According to my dictionary, the word, “explore,” means “traveling through (a country, etc.) to learn about it. 2. Inquire into.” At heart, I am an explorer, and writing is the perfect occupation.
So as I begin my fifth novel, which will involve an old clock and the underground railroad, I first explored the Internet to inquire into both topics. I’m looking for the details that will make my writing vibrant. What better way to find them than in museums and in travel.
The underground railroad, of course, was neither underground nor a railroad. The term was the ultimate in metaphor. Places that hid runaways were “stations,” and the people who led runaways to the safe houses were “conductors.” Were there underground railroad stations in Virginia, one of my new novel’s settings? Yes. Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA, 65 miles from Richmond, was held by Union solders throughout the civil war and was a station on the underground railroad. For two years after the war, the former Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned there. Today it is a national historical monument. A place to visit! Check.
Philadelphia played a major role in rescuing runaway slaves and sending them north on the underground railroad. There’s an underground railroad museum in Philadelphia, one of several in the country. Add it to the places to visit. Check.
How about clocks and watches? A quick trip on the Internet brought up the fact that accurate clocks and standardized time zones became essential with the coming of the railroad, especially the intercontinental railroad. How to find out more? A store near me sells clocks of all kinds, including antique clocks, historic clocks, railroad clocks, cuckoo clocks. Interview the store owner? Check.
Were clocks or watches used as signals or codes during the civil war? That would be fascinating, and that’s what I really want to know. The National Museum of Clocks and Watches is just two hours away in Columbia, PA. Surely the experts there wouldn’t pass up that intriguing bit. Another place to visit. Check.
And just down the road from my house is the National Museum of Cryptology, full of fascinating bits of information and run by the National Security Agency. Check.
This will be fun.