Becoming a history adventurer leads you to some very interesting places.
Last week, I wrote a short storyabout the English heroine, Grace Darling. I was touched by her unselfish courage when she battled gale-force winds to rescue nine shipwrecked strangers.
Now, I'm writing about an adventure I took in search of a piece of history—the boat Grace and her father used to attempt the rescue.
I'm creating my next mystery novel featuring young sleuths Christie Edwards and Melina Karyotakis. As I researched the story, set at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, I discovered Grace Darling was part of the Fair as well.
I found intriguing references in diaries written by individuals who had attended the Fair. Several of them mentioned seeing "Grace Darling's boat." No other details were given.
My imagination began to see all sorts of possibilities. Perhaps this weather-worn boat could be involved in another rescue. When Christie and Melina face danger at the Fair, investigating the disappearance of Melina's father, Grace's boat could become part of the story.
With my mind filled with mystery ideas, I especially wanted to find a picture of Grace Darling's boat on exhibit in 1893 at Chicago. It would be a challenge, certainly, but I needed to describe it accurately for my story.
I finally tracked down a reference to a vintage book, said to hold pictures, drawings and descriptions of many of the Fair's exhibits.
I turned to a magical place, my local library, and put in an interlibrary loan request for The Book of the Fair by Hubert Howe Bancroft. I expected to receive, perhaps, a condensed reprint of the 1893 work.
But libraries have a way of conjuring up exactly what we need. When I arrived at my library branch, South Whatcom, I found waiting for me what can only be described as two huge tomes. A library had loaned me the original 1893 edition in two volumes. Each one weighed at least ten pounds, stood 16 inches high and 12 inches wide.
It took me two trips to get the volumes to my car, my arms filled with a thousand pages of history and anticipation.
That night I stayed up late, carefully paging through the volumes. I paused to read about fascinating exhibits at the Fair, including an ancient Scythian war chariot and a manuscript of Jane Eyre in Charlotte Brontë's own handwriting.
As intiguing as it was to see, I started to become concerned. Although The Book of the Fair did indeed have many pictures and drawings of the Exposition, there were thousands upon thousands of displays. Would Mr. Bancroft include the one I needed to find?
Finally, at three o'clock in the morning, in Volume Two on page 585, I found it:
It was wonderful to turn the page and discover what I had been looking for, yet it was strange to see a craft meant for movement confined behind a fence. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Grace and her father to be out in this boat rowing directly into a terrible storm.
Mr. Bancroft gives an insightful description of the boat and a moving tribute to the heroic actions of Grace Darling and her father, William, on the morning of September 7, 1838:
...Reentering the Transportation building through the golden doorway, the first object to attract attention is a beautiful model of the Santa Maria, loaned by the city of Genoa. Beyond this is a broad-beamed, battered, old-fashioned craft, with but the faintest traces of paint, one that was certainly not placed here for ornament, and of which the following placard explains its presence:
"In this boat, on the morning of September 6 [sic], 1838, Grace Darling, then twenty-two years of age, with her father, rescued nine people from the wreck of the Forfarshire, at Longstone, on the Farne Islands."
There is no self-righting or other of our modern apparatus wherewith to do battle against winds and waves—nothing but sound timbers, sturdy arms and the courage which wrought one of the most heroic deeds that history records.
There were many priceless jewels on display at the Fair and other wonders, but this weather-beaten craft captured the hearts of fairgoers. They could stand just a few inches away from the actual boat used when Grace and her father risked their lives to save the nine strangers.
Grace Darling's boat could be found beyond this golden doorway.
(The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago: entrance to the Transportation Building. Chromolithograph with gouache after a painting by J.R. Key, 1894. Credit: Wellcome Library, London).
I want to say "thank you" to the libraries that make it so much fun to be a history adventurer:
The Interlibrary Loan Department of the Whatcom County Library System, Bellingham, Washington
The University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington
The South Whatcom Library, Sudden Valley, Washington
The South Whatcom Library
More to Explore
See my short story about Grace Darling, her father and a daring rescue at sea here>
Look for Grace Darling's boat to help my two young heroines, Christie and Melina, in Mystery Fair.
Linda Borromeo is a history adventurer who loves to set her mysteries in the fascinating world of the 1890s. See her first book, Mystery Shores, at Amazon.com: