Earlier this year I began working on a “50 States 50 Stories” project, which I posted on this blog (though under a different title). Like a lot of my projects it languished at times, but was occasionally shocked back to life.
My original plan to download only short articles or stories into one document fell by the wayside. Some of the online material included pictures that were essential to the story. Or an entire book was so interesting that including only a chapter or two made it seem incomplete. So I chose to simplify the process by creating a document with links to the items I chose for each of the 50 states. In most cases I chose material published before 1923.
I did include a few newer historical items. One was for Wyoming: “Bill Hosokawa One Man’s Struggle Inside Heart Mountain, a Japanese Internment Camp”. While internment camps express one of the darker moments in American history, they are an undeniable part of our country’s past. It was important to me to include this (and a few other items) to show our country didn’t always do the right thing. Whether good or bad, I think it’s important to be aware of all aspects of history.
At first I thought I would find a lot of items – especially short stories -by choosing a writer born in a particular state (such as Mark Twain in Missouri) and pick one or two of his/her stories about that state. However, I soon found that writers often don’t write about their home states. I did find several short stories, articles and essays that I felt gave a nice “flavor” to particular areas of a state at a particular time. One was a collection of newspaper columnist Ben Hecht’s editorials from the 1920’s, “A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago”. Another was a late 19th century book, “Lights and Shadows of New York Life; or, the Sights and Sensations of a Great City” by James D. McCabe. I’m looking forward to reading these and getting a taste of what life was like in those cities during those times.
There were hundreds of writings pertaining to the conflicts of our country’s early history – both pre- and post-revolutionary. And, of course, there were dozens upon dozens of books about the American Civil War. Many books about the wars covered campaigns and battles in great detail. Great for buffs of war history, but way too much information for what I was doing. I was looking for more personal touches. I wanted something with an everyday, common person’s view of life. I found just what I was looking for in “Letters of a Badger Boy – The Vicksburg Campaign”. These letters were written by a young Wisconsin soldier fighting in Mississippi during the Civil War.
I didn’t always stick with the history of a state or stories about people or areas of a state. I also chose a couple of items on a whim. One was “Cold Ghost”, a science fiction story set in Alaska. My choice for Utah (and also part of Colorado, I’ll admit) covered the pre-historic setting of Dinosaur National Monument.
I learned a lot working on this project. I learned that there are always surprises and new worlds to explore when it comes to books, articles, and other publications. I also learned that the hundreds of stories written about our country’s history can still make people come to life – whether the person is real or a fictional character.
I’ve learned that exploring a new project is always interesting, fun, surprising, and well worth doing again. But first, I have some reading to do.