I love doing research. I know that a metric ton of you out there also love looking stuff up, and are, at this moment, nodding your heads in solidarity. There’s something exciting about digging into the history or language or whatever in the hope of making your writing just that much more authentic. The only thing that ever makes me sad about research (besides the part where I can easily get lost in the looking-up and forget to write the damn book) is finding cool stuff that I can’t use right away. I know you know what I’m talking about – you’re busy checking the price of maple syrup Vermont in 1875, and wham! You discover this seriously interesting story about the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, in which a large molasses storage tank burst, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets pf Boston at an estimated 35 mph, killing 21 and injuring 150. “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was… Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings — men and women — suffered likewise.”
It was awful, truly, but for a writer, this kind of thing is pure gold! How could you not want to insert this horrible event into whatever you’re writing somehow? Alas, your book doesn’t take place in the real world, much less Boston, so that story is going to have to be tucked away into the file you keep of “Cool Stuff I Hope To Use Someday”. (You do have that file, right? Go make one if you don’t – I’ll wait.) I figured I’d share a couple more that I found and love, but can’t use. Who knows, maybe one of you guys will get the inspiration to run with it!
You know that scene in Star Trek (original series) where Kirk has to fight the Gorn? That scene (and many others in many other shows) was filmed on the Vasquez Rocks north of Los Angeles. The rocks were named for Tiburcio Vasquez, a California bandit who was pretty much the Casanova of his day. He robbed stagecoaches, stores and even a silver mine, and had a price of $3000 on his head. But he read romance novels and wrote poetry to the women who found him handsome and charming, and after he’d been captured, women would flock to the jail to see him. He would pose for photos and signed autographs, and accepted cash from his visitors to pay his legal defenses.
Sailing stones are a geologic phenomenon in which large rocks seem to slide across smooth valley floors, leaving trails behind them. It doesn’t happen very often, once every couple of years or so, but the rocks involved are generally much too large to be pushed or lifted by people, so no one is sure what makes them move. Scientists are fairly certain a specific set of meteorological conditions have to occur to make the phenomenon happen, but they haven’t definitively said they know for sure.
In Adelaide, Australia, in 1948, a man was found dead on the beach. He carried no identification, had no distinguishing marks on his body, and even the labels had been removed from his clothing. He had gum, cigarettes and matches in his pockets, along with a scrap of paper that turned out to be the last page of Omar Khayam’s Rubaiyat, with the words “Tamam Shud” (which means “ended”) on it. The paper was rolled up and tucked into a tiny pocket sewn into the dead man’s pants. The police could find nothing that suggested a cause of death, except for a few signs that might have indicated poison. Eventually they had to bury him and move on. Oddly enough, three years before the man’s death, another man was found dead in Sydney, Australia, with an open copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on his chest. That man was also believed to be poisoned, although at the time, it was assumed to be a suicide.
So, now it’s your turn. Tell us something cool you’ve run across in your researches.