Saturday, January 8, 2011

100 Years Ago Story Cupboard

Can't think of anything to write? Grab your local paper or just do a search for "100 Years Ago". And no this doesn't limit you to writing historicals, though setting a story in the past gives you a lot more freedom in some ways. I love reading these columns and sometimes the strangest things will set off the idea alarm bells.

A pair of items about the hobble skirt piqued my interest. One read, "Who said Hop Bottom was behind the times? The hobble skirt is here, also the peach basket hat." Nothing spectacular about that but this one actually made me do a search for the hobble skirt. "The hobble skirt has struck our town for the reason that it makes old maids look five or six years younger, not only than her real age, but the age she claimed to be for that reason I think it will become quite popular in this place."

Now this skirt virtually hobbled a woman's walk, think a Marilyn Monroe skirt with the hobble around the ankles instead of the knees. Baby steps and an exaggerated buttock swing to their walk. A rape story is pretty much out of the question if you set the story a hundred years ago, because the women wore a knee length corset to exaggerate the "look". But imagine a story where women were forced to wear hobble skirts so they couldn't run away. Clothing as a jail cell surely could put a new spin on a story. And, of course, I wondered about those "old maids" putting their "goods" on display. :-)

And this story really set the wheels churning. "The whereabouts of Mrs. Rose Maynard is a mystery. Mr. and Mrs. Maynard went to Binghamton, Tuesday, with two loads of apples. They spent the night in the city and Wednesday morning she left the boarding house saying she would be back soon. Not returning late Wednesday, a search was started by the husband and police, but she has not been found. She is described as short, slender, with brown eyes and brown hair. She is 30 years old and of German parentage. She has a scar on the palm of her left hand, and has three stiff fingers on the same hand. She wore a black skirt and light colored waist."

Oh my, but how I wondered about Rose. Her husband waits until late to begin a search? What was he doing? She's thirty years old and no mention of children? But the scar and three stiff fingers made me wonder what had happened to her. Did she see a chance to escape and ran or did her husband decide he needed a wife who could bear him children? Or did she meet up with a lover or run into foul play? Or was she just tired of being a farm wife and wanted to live in the city?

And then there was the story of 30 year old Alfred Howell who used a 22 caliber Remington rifle and shot his wife in the hip, an inch from the spine. The article noted that she would recover unless complications set in. No surprise that the man was drunk from "new year's debauchery". His wife escaped to her sister's home and he followed, then left saying he'd get the doctor. Instead he went home, got some money and disappeared. He was arrested the next day when he returned full of remorse for his rash deed.

Now that little scenario has the makings of some fine noir. The man was screwed the instant he picked up the gun, but I wonder what his wife said to set him off. And if he intended to kill her, he must have been a lousy shot or seeing double from being drunk. This is one of those stories that could be set in the present - but I doubt the man would return home but then that might put a little humor in the story.

These old news items can open up ideas for crime stories or fantasy or even sci-fi stories, you just have to give your imagination free rein.


Chris Rhatigan said...

Cool ideas, Sandra. I always scan the news for ideas, but going into the old time machine is a new twist!

sandra seamans said...

Honest, I wasn't ignoring your comment Chris - my server was out all day yesterday!

Looking into the past is a great way to find different ways of murder or crimes. Stealing chickens and horses was a big one :) A few weeks ago there was an article about a man who killed another man with a pen knife to the neck.