Research Treasures

Misty MasseyMisty Massey
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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.

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12 comments to Research Treasures

  • Looking for a unique sport? I know lots of books have been written on baseball and football. Not quite as many on roller derby and polo. Very few on lawn bowling and batminton outside of historical fiction.

    My most recent favorite sport no one knows about – combat juggling. Go ahead and google it – watch a video. … Now how to fit that one into a romance story?

  • I love badminton! People seem to see it as a wimpy sort of sport played by dilettantes in the 1920′s, but it can get pretty brutal.

    Now combat juggling sounds really exciting…off to look it up!

  • Mikaela

    I read an old, and a bit dated history book last week. And I discovered that in Sweden it was common that the nobles were interested in the supernatural in the 1740′s. Which made me go Hm. I haven’t researched how common it was among the commoners, but I plan to since I happen to have an unread book about the attitude to Magic and the Supernatural in Sweden during the 1700′s :D.

  • sagablessed

    Many know druids never wrote anything down. What we know comes from Tacticus, Grammaticus,Hadrian, and so on.
    There is in neo-pagan circles a thing called oghams (pronounced like OM). what can be extrapolated is this “writing” was actually a code. When a druid wanted to communicate silently, he would pretend to scratch his chin or arm. The pattern in oghams spelled out what he wanted to say to the other druids, keeping others in the dark.
    Cool, huh?

  • sagablessed

    And my “cool stuff to use later” file is ginormous. But Scrivner makes it sooooo easy to file and access. (I LOVE Scrivner.)

  • 1) Miss Sanderson, wife of Bartitsu instructor Pierre Vigny, joined him as an assistant instructor when he opened his school in Edwardian London in 1903. She began teaching ladies practical self-defence with parasols and umbrellas. Not much is known about Miss Sanderson, who used her maiden name for professional purposes, save that she was a prominent fencer and an excellent teacher.

    2) The Phillipines have many ghost stories that centre around the concept of a “White Lady”. Most towns have a story. The most well-known is that of the Balete Drive White Lady, who “according to legend, died in a car accident while driving along Balete Drive. Most stories about her were told by taxi drivers doing the graveyard shift, such as the one where a taxi crosses Balete Drive, and a very beautiful woman is asking for a ride. The cabbie looks behind and sees the woman’s face was full of blood and bruises, causing him to abandon his taxi in horror.”

    Great post idea, Misty! This gives us all a chance to share something unique. Talk about inspiration from unexpected places!

  • Love the post. I don’t have any to share right now — most of my research has been centered on Boston in the 1760s, and like a hunter trying to survive in the wild, I am using every scrap of what I find. But what a wonderful idea for a post.

  • “Research is a blind date with knowledge.”
    —William Henry

  • Misty, I’ll play (though I’m late to the ball game.)
    The Judaculla Rock, is now a Cherokee Cultural Heritage Site, the centerpiece of a small Jackson County-owned park near Cullowhee.

    It’s the prominent soapstone boulder where, in Cherokee legend, Master of Game Animals Tsul’Kalu’ (Anglicized as “Judaculla”) gave chase to disobedient hunters. Leaping from his home on Tanasee Bald, he left his seven-fingered handprint. It’s one of many images archaeologists believe were carved at different periods.

    But lately researchers think it may be a map to Creek Indian villages, and not Cherokee at all. It’s one of some 80 petrogylph rocks in the Carolinas.

  • The International Harp Museum is located in Orlando, FL. The earliest harps were developed from the hunter’s bow. In the early days of the Irish nobles, harpers were required to be able to evoke three different emotions in their audience by their music: Laughter, tears and sleep. I’m waiting for a story to come along where I can use these three facts.

  • St. Cuthbert cured a woman of chronic pain and paralysis with a letter. Because she could not come to him, he wrote a blessing to her and signed it. When the letter was laid across her stomach her illness vanished.

    St. Wulfstan was known for promoting peace and condemning violence. It’s said that a priest was giving Mass and the acolyte, who was a young boy, fumbled the implements because he was tired, almost spilling the sacral wine. The priest slapped the boy across the face right in the middle of the service. Later in the day the boy, with a prominent bruise across his face, was sent to assist St. Wulfstan in his study. The saint saw the marks and asked what had happened but, out of fear, the boy said nothing. So the saint (who was not stupid and had a good idea what had happened) laid his hand on the boy’s face and said, “Cursed be the hand that did this.” The boy’s pain was healed and the priest suffered cramps in his hand so bad that he could no longer serve at Mass. This pain went on until he went to the saint for intervention because he believed the attack was demonic. Wulfstan refused to bless him until he confessed what he had done and asked the boy’s forgiveness. Then he was healed.

  • Razziecat

    I have a file called “Incredible Science” in which I toss bits of interesting stuff for possible use or just because I find it fascinating. One of the coolest is the “immortal jellyfish” aka Turritopsis nutricula. This little critter reverts to an immature stage after sexual maturity–it turns into a new colony. It can do this over and over. If nothing else kills it, it could theoretically go on forever :)

    Also, “Immortal Jellyfish” would make a fantastic name for a band ;)