Tangible History

I was talking with someone not long ago about things that defined me. One of the things that came to mind was my love of history. I’ve always enjoyed discovering things about the past. Growing up, that was mostly from books. But on those rare occasions we visited a battle site or a presidential birthplace, history leapt off the pages and lived. Those places and artifacts gave history form and substance. They made it tangible.

So today when I talk about my love of things historical, I qualify it. I love tangible history. I love old homes and buildings, antique furniture, clothing, and miscellaneous items. I love old diaries and letters and even books–especially when they have a name handwritten inside the cover or faded notes on the pages. I love being in places where people lived a long time ago, seeing what they saw, or at least imagining it as it would have been. I love these things because they inspire stories of people long gone who lived and loved and dreamed and hurt just as I do today.

Is it any wonder that my love of tangible history fueled my desire to write historical fiction? To stand in those places, listen for the voices to tell you stories of the past, is one of the most thrilling things I can imagine. Of course, at historical “sites” you are usually being herded through in a tour, rarely with the chance to meander and listen and dream. Almost never able to touch. But sometimes you find yourself the only one on the tour. Or even better, engaged in conversation with a homeowner and fellow history lover, lingering in rooms not open to the public. Someone who understands your need to see and touch and listen.

That’s exactly what happened to me recently. In a very serendipidous way, my husband and I found ourselves in a 1905 home where little had been changed and current owner had filled it with antique items. The bathroom remained the same. The kitchen remained the same. It even boasted a working gas/coal stove from 1918–still the only source of cooking heat in the house!

1918 gas stove. Also runs on coal or wood.

We thought we’d be there 15 minutes. Maybe a half hour. Two hours later, we departed, having gorged on tangible history, imagined the family that had peopled those rooms. But even more importantly, we made a new friend who appreciates the form and substance of history as much as we do. Don’t you love unexpected gifts?

Now it’s your turn. We want to hear about your favorite or most recent experience of tangible history.

5 comments on “Tangible History

  1. You’re a girl after my own heart! I love learning about other people’s way of life, especially in the past. While museums and such are all right, I’m much fonder of visiting historic homes and walking where they might have and breathing the same air.

    • Yes, you and I are so much alike, Carla! I’m pea green with envy over your Louisville trip. How very fun! Someday maybe you and I will do “discovering” together. 🙂

  2. Not recent, but several years ago on a genealogy trip with my dad. My family through both sides has been in the United States for a long time. Really detailed back into the 1700s, but some back to the 1400s. Mostly in Virgina, Georgia and the Carolinas (mainly what is now South Carolina). We were on a trip and caretaking for a cemetery in a cow pasture and went by the home site – a house that is now taken care of by the historical society and used for sparse parties and such in the main room. It is this house that sparked something for me that might end up being a book – who knows. I’d have to find time in between reading. hah.

    Here’s someone else’s photos: http://indigobluesc.com/photogallery/images-of-the-midlands/saluda-county/bonham-house/

    • Very cool pictures, Margaret! I love that you know so much family history. I have some that my grandparents researched, but no where near the extent of yours. That’s such a gift! Great “tangible history” story!

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