History buff Andrew Carroll—best known for his remarkable work in archiving and publishing American wartime letters—offers a new book that profiles 50 or so forgotten locations in the United States whose stories continue to impact us today. The project began with an unruly file folder where Carroll would stuff history articles he found intriguing, creating a sort of rabbit trail. Then, one fine day, he decided to start visiting these locations to see what they looked like in real life and whether the people who lived near them had any sense of their significance. The result is Here Is Where: part travel memoir, part history, and wholly entertaining.
With Carroll as your guide, visit Niihau, a privately owned island near Hawaii where an airplane crashed on its way back to Japan after attacking Pearl Harbor. What happened next will give you chills. Learn about a steamship that sank in Arkansas, carrying nearly 2,000 souls near the end of the Civil War. Find out about the stories behind little-known Supreme Court cases, the Spanish influenza and 19th-century orphans shipped to Michigan from New York. See their world as it looks today (often, a barren field with no marker). And witness Carroll’s humorous and spirited attempts to engage the people around him in the stories he’s researching. It gets hairier than you might expect (and even involves the FBI!).
Carroll’s own story of finding these sites provides continuity between the chapters. He is a cheerful, curious and avid character. And far from growing tiresome, the book actually picks up speed as it continues, with one of my favorite sections, “Burial Plots,” toward the end. The collection closes in Carroll’s hometown of Washington, D.C. For one brief vignette, we see our nation’s capital through his eyes.
Around each bend is another story, a surprising twist of fate, a crazy tale; it’s an exhilarating ride. In Here Is Where, Carroll invites readers to see their own topography the same way, so that we, too, might share these stories with others as he has so generously done with us.