In Here Is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History, historian Andrew Carroll profiles a number of America’s uncelebrated historical locales.
What inspired this project?
Ever since our house burned down when I was a sophomore in college, I’ve been a bit obsessed with preserving the past. I started off focusing on wartime correspondence with the Legacy Project, and I’m still working to find and archive old war letters. The larger Here Is Where initiative is similar in that it’s about encouraging Americans to seek out and preserve forgotten history.
What were some of your favorite discoveries?
I’m especially partial to the train station in Jersey City, N.J., where Edwin Booth—brother of John Wilkes—saved Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, from getting crushed to death by a train. I’d heard the story about 15 years ago and didn’t believe it initially, but it turned out to be true, and it inspired me to seek out other little-known historically interesting places around the country.
You had to call off your visit to the Dugway Proving Ground. Were there any other missed opportunities or regrets?
My biggest regret was not being able to step onto Hart Island, the largest potter’s field in America. At the time, it was run by New York’s Department of Corrections, and, for the most part, only Rikers Island inmates were allowed on the tiny island because they’re the ones who dig the graves. Aside from its significance as a burial ground, Hart Island is like a time capsule of American history—it’s been home to everything from a Civil War POW camp to a Cold War missile silo.
What are your thoughts on the recent revelation that Richard III’s remains have been buried under a parking lot for the past couple centuries?
It’s so wonderfully Shakespearean. His plays frequently touch on how even the most powerful individuals can find themselves quickly humbled—“My kingdom for a horse!” and all that. So for someone as infamous as Richard III to be found buried in such an ignoble manner is almost fitting. I also love how the discovery reminds us that the most seemingly mundane place, like a parking lot, might be harboring an extraordinary secret.
I’d love to do an international version of this book and find sites overseas that are related to American history but aren’t well known. I’d also like to find one extraordinary story and do an entire book on that, the way Rebecca Skloot did with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. For the time being, though, I’m focusing on an upcoming 50-state tour, and I’m using proceeds from the book to put up markers at, and work to preserve, some of the sites I featured.