A best-selling author will visit the Woodstock Opera House this week as part of the Woodstock Fine Arts Association’s Creative Living Series.
Andrew Carroll, historian and author of the New York Times best-seller “War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars,” will talk about his latest book, “Here is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History.” The book chronicles Carroll’s journey through all 50 states and describes many unique stories and sometimes incredible coincidences.
In one example, a man who fell from a train platform onto the tracks was saved just as the train was bearing down on him. That man was Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son of our 12th president. His rescuer, in an unbelievable twist of fate, was Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who would assassinate his father about a year later. A remarkable story, by all accounts, but it led Carroll to probe further. He wondered if daily commuters who still use this functioning rail line had any idea what had occurred at this spot.
His quest also led him to the first Declaration of Independence with all signatories, printed in January 1777 by Mary Katherine Goddard, in an act of treason against the English crown. The July 4th version, which was printed by John Dunlap, was disseminated throughout the colonies, and Goddard’s copy was forgotten. Through Carroll’s efforts, the site — now a Rite Aid in Boston — was commemorated with a plaque.
Many such markers have been placed as a result of Carroll’s research. He has two criteria for the sites he visits: That they be unmarked, and that the historical event be of national significance. He has often found that local people, upon learning of the history, are inspired with great pride in their communities. A sheriff he met in Rigby, Idaho, where Philo Farnsworth discovered the key to inventing television while plowing long rows across his family’s farm, told Carroll he makes the site and story a point of local interest, and he believes local teenagers are less prone to vandalism when they learn about this connection in their community.
Stories and circumstances like these have inspired Carroll to make his search a long-term project. This is true of his War Letters project as well. As he travels the country, he encourages people to share their knowledge of local history and photocopies of the letters their ancestors have written during all the American wars, as contributions to the ongoing War Letters project at warletters.us.
In the Creative Living Series talk, Carroll will discuss his journey and findings, including one here in Illinois —- the site of one of the most significant events in American history, which resulted in millions of lives being saved.
The lecture will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 W. Van Buren St. An hour for coffee and conversation starts at 9 a.m., a chance to share your family’s war letters and stories with Carroll.
Tickets are $25. For information, visit woodstockfinearts.org/cls.html.