Andrew’s book, Here is Where, will be published in 2011. Here is Where is a guide to little-known historical sites in all 50 states. Andrew travels all over the country to find and research important, fascinating, and just plain weird bits of history that people may not know or have forgotten about.
In addition to writing Here is Where, Andrew founded the Legacy Project in 1998. The Legacy Project is a volunteer initiative that aims to “seek out and preserve the personal correspondence of our nation’s veterans, active-duty troops, and their loved ones.”
“I grew up not liking history. As a kid, history was about being forced to memorize dates.
“When my house burned down (when I was a college student at Columbia University), we lost our personal history. That's when I started the Legacy Project. I would read letters written by U.S. soldiers serving in wartime. It drew me in to the history of these wars.” The wars became “more about a young soldier writing to his fiancee about what he'd seen,” Andrew says, rather than about the battles or campaigns written about in most history books.
“I became interested in personal stories about massive events,” he says, citing the 1918 flu pandemic during World War I. There is a historical marker in Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, that identifies the place where the first strains of the disease were observed in the U.S.
However, Andrew recently found out that “the flu pandemic was actually known about a month earlier. Now I'm tracking down the doctor who first diagnosed it.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“Traveling and meeting people. Finding kindred spirits. . . . I rely a lot on informal guides. I like reading about the famous duel that nobody knows about and then trying to find where it happened.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
“Researching and verifying the sites. I spend a lot of time in libraries and historical societies, looking up streets in city directories. Sometimes the streets move or change names over time. I try to be as careful as possible to authenticate a Here is Where site.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“For me, not so much about places or location as it is about stories. Geography is a springboard to larger stories.
“The most heartbreaking thing I hear people say is that nothing ever happens in their town. They ask me why I'm here, and I tell them, and they'll say, 'I never knew that.'
“Here is Where is about looking at the world in a way you've never seen. It's about being passionate not about one thing, but about a lot of things that makes us feel alive. Geographic stories are relevant to our lives.”
“I travel a lot. Travel reinvigorates me. I got to see parts of the country I never saw before. [To research Here is Where], I took a kayak to islands, I took subways, I hiked, and I rode in helicopters. I did some biking. It's fun to see people on trains, planes, etc. I meet people and I get to talking about what I do. After awhile they'll usually say, 'You know, my mom told me about this site . . .' We are all fellow travelers.”
Andrew was inspired to write Here is Where after learning about a little-known historical incident that took place in what is now an ordinary railway platform.
“I originally got started with the book after hearing about an incident that took place in New Jersey in 1864. A man had fallen off the train platform and would almost certainly have been killed were it not for another man who pulled him to safety. The man who fell was Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. The man who saved him was Edwin Booth. Edwin Booth's brother, John Wilkes Booth, would assassinate Abraham Lincoln within the year. I thought surely this story was fiction, until I found out that Robert Todd Lincoln wrote about the incident in his diary. My next thought was that there should be a marker at the spot on this New Jersey railway platform telling people what happened, but there's nothing to let people know what happened.
"I would like to use funding from the book to underwrite historical markers. It's a way to [show] all of us, but most especially young people, that history is alive and is happening all around us.
“With Here is Where, I want to reach that person who thinks history is nothing but names and dates. It's about empowering people to set out on their own journeys and tracking down their own sites. Young people can make history. Claudette Colvin is a great example of that. She was a teenager who challenged the bus segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama, nine months before Rosa Parks.
“Some of the book is pure serendipity. One time while driving to a site I got pulled over for speeding. The police officer suggested I use my cruise control to stay within the speed limit. This got me to thinking, ‘Who invented cruise control?’ Turns out it was a blind inventor named Ralph Teetor who lives in Hagerstown, Indiana.”
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR
1. “Read as much as possible. Some of the best stories are asides in other books. Military, science, sports. Sometimes there is some overlap, like in the case of Moe Berg—he was a baseball player who was also a spy for the United States during World War II.”
2. “Turn off the TV and computer and go out in the world. Talk to people in the place you live. Talk to the historical society. Go past the guidebooks. Don't go to the usual tourist destinations. Or, if you do turn on the computer, do a search for ‘forgotten history’ in your town.”
Submit your ideas for forgotten sites to HereIsWhereUSA@yahoo.com.