Jeff Glor talks to Andrew Carroll about, "Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History."
Jeff Glor: What inspired the book?
Andrew Carroll: Ironically, I wasn't a history buff growing up. Then, when I was a sophomore in college, our family's house in Washington, D.C., burned down, and losing all of our family memorabilia prompted my interest in preserving the past. In 1998, I started a project that seeks out and saves war letters as a way of remembering our veterans and their sacrifices, and while reading through these previously unpublished correspondences, I came across countless little-known stories that were absolutely riveting. Whenever possible, I tried to visit the places connected to these incidents, and time after time I would find that there was no marker or plaque there. For instance, in April 1865 a boat called the Sultana was carrying home approximately 2,000 Civil War soldiers who had survived numerous battles and P.O.W. camps, and it exploded outside of Memphis, Tenn. An estimated 1,600 passengers died, making it worst maritime disaster in U.S. history -- worse than the sinking of the Titanic -- and yet the Sultana is virtually unknown.
JG: What most surprised you?
AC: The sheer number of unmarked sites across the country. In "Here is Where," I was able to tell the story of America's past, from the first paleo-Indians who settled here 14,500 years ago up to the present day, all through historic sites that have somehow escaped notice. I really tried to cover as many major eras as possible -- the landing of the first Spanish explorers, the arrival of the Pilgrims, the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, the Spanish flu pandemic, Prohibition, World War II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, the space program, and the invention of numerous medical and technological breakthroughs. And to give just one example of a story that really surprised me, the M1 Carbine -- a rifle that revolutionized warfare in the 1940s -- was created by an inmate named David Williams while he was in prison. The warden, H.T. Peoples, had so much faith in Williams as an innovator, he said that he (Peoples) would serve out Williams's time if he tried to escape, which Williams never did.
JG: What else are you reading?
AC: I'm still very interested in the military, and I was able to get an advance copy of a book titled "Wounded" by an Air Force flight nurse named Ed Hrivnak who treated injured troops in Iraq. It's an incredibly powerful and beautifully written book, and I think even people who aren't interested in war will find it extremely moving and compelling. And since I'm always on the lookout for great, overlooked stories, I'm really enjoying a book by Tom Dunkel called "Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line."
JG: What would you be doing if not this?
AC: This might sound like a cop-out, but there's nothing I'd rather be doing. Traveling across the country, hunting down little-known spots, and getting to meet and share stories with Americans from all walks of life is a labor of love.
JG: What's next?
AC: Even though the book is finished, I feel like the real "Here Is Where" journey is just beginning. I'm going back out on the road to put up markers at some of the sites I profiled, and I hope the book will inspire people to tell me about their own favorite unmarked sites. I also recently donated my archive of wartime correspondence to Chapman University, and we're establishing the Center for American War Letters there. We've received about 100,000 letters from every war in our nation's history, but we're actively encouraging veterans and their families to keep contributing letters.
If you have a war letter and/or story about an unmarked historic site you'd like to share with Andrew, please visit HereIsWhere.org for more information.
For more on "Here is Where," visit the Random House website.