By Donna Schlachter
There we were, hurtling down the road at about seventy-five miles an hour at ten o’clock at night, when I uttered those words my husband has come to dread: “Oh, look, a historical marker one mile ahead on the right.”
He sighed and nodded. We paced off the mile and watched for the next sign. He slowed the car and pulled off the highway. I focused my camera in the general direction of where I thought the marker stood, and finally located the sign. Click! went the camera, and we were off again, racing down the road in the pitch darkness.
As we traveled along, I retrieved the photo and read what text. In this case, it was the story of a small town in Texas that lasted only about five years because the townspeople couldn’t get title to their land.
Hmmm – might make an interesting plot for a book.
Wait, there was another sign. And then another. That night we stopped a number of times, snapping pictures and moving on. I decided this had to be the most unique method of research I’d come up with. Simply taking the picture and reading it later meant we could cover a lot of ground in a short period. Unlike the historical marker we’d seen in Wyoming where I’d gotten out and spent at least fifteen minutes photographing an old cemetery in the middle of nowhere. Or the time I’d simply stood at the base of a mountain in Utah and looked around me at the surrounding countryside, trying to imagine the wagon trains passing by, perhaps camping at this very spot in Echo.
Historical markers serve an important purpose in our research. They can provide interesting plot ideas. They cause us to pause in our travels and consider the reason for the marker. Sometimes I stop for longer periods of time and listen to the sounds of the birds and insects, as I did at the Pony Express Station in Hanover, Kansas. I imagined the intrepid riders racing across the rolling landscape, the prairie grass tickling their horse’s tummy, the birds taking wing if they rode too close.
This country has a lot of history, and regardless of your genre, you can always find fodder for your next novel. Even if you don’t write historical, imagine using the plot line that someone comes up with a deed to New York City where the land was deeded not to Dutch settlers but to a British explorer who left all his earthly goods to the Queen of England. Similar to the marker for the ghost town in Texas with a modern-day twist. What would be the implications of such a deed?
Historical markers also remind us that not all research is done in a museum, and not all information can be found in books. Sometimes we just need to get out on those open highways, those side roads, and see what’s there.
Donna Schlachter is a writer of HiStory Thru The Ages, who enjoys writing the story of God’s love and redemption through historical and contemporary books. Although pre-published, she has completed six novels and a novella. You can follow her on Facebook, as well as on her blog at HiStoryThruTheAges.com.