Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4th 1866, firecrackers & My Darlin' Clementine

My Darlin' ClementineNuLine AVL/CS-20 44 Lbs. Cast Steel Nuline AnvilSeveral years ago in a small Colorado town, we were awakened at dawn by the thunderous boom of a cannon. Turns out it was July 4th and one of the traditions in this burg was to blast everyone out of bed before sunup to begin celebrating, like it or not.

I was reminded of this when researching My Darlin' Clementinefor Holiday House. The story is set in an Idaho mining camp, in 1866, where there was constant clamor from the stamp mills, from brawling, gambling, gunshots and rough language. And on July 4th there was extra special noise: Black powder explosions started at dawn along with Chinese firecrackers, which continued throughout the day. The afternoon entertainment really grabbed my attention: anvil firing. What the heck was that? Might as well weave it into the novel!
So Clementine described how two blacksmiths each carried a heavy iron anvil in their arms, from their livery stable down Main Street [PHOTO, above].   "When they reached the meadow, one of the smithies set his out in the open. Dog Face Sam was waiting there with a sack of black powder, which he poured onto the anvil's flat surface. Next he laid out a long white fuse that dropped to the grass. The second smithy brought over his anvil and set it upside down on the first one, so the two flat sides were together.
       A sandwich is what came to mind, a dynamite sandwich.
       Before you could count to ten, Dog Face Sam had struck a match against a stone, lit the fuse, and was yelling, 'Run for your lives!'"
       I was on the schoolhouse step watching the spectacle of folks running into the woods as fast as they could, men holding onto their hats and ladies shrieking, children scattering every which way. 
      A boom shook the ground like cannon fire. Black smoke rose up with the explosive clank of iron upon iron. No one got killed that I could tell, but a small boy knocked himself out from running into a tree."

Now that's a party! Happy Independence Day everyone ... I hope you're safe and not awakened by cannons!

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