Nightscape Series

Book Research Journey #2: Berea

David EdwardsComment

Days two through four of our book research trip through Kentucky were spent in the small town of Berea, best known for its tuition-free college and thriving arts community. Driving to this locale from Louisville (with a stop at the Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington, as noted in my last post) consumed a good portion of the first day. I holed up in Berea College's Special Collections Library on our first full day there while my wife sampled the local arts offerings, which consisted mainly of traditional Appalachian crafts, such as loom-knitted quilts, metalworked jewelry and carved-wood furniture. The college specializes in original documents and historical interviews about Appalachian culture. I focused mainly on first-person accounts of daily life, dipping liberally into the Journal of W. E. Barton (transcribed from the 1882 original for ease of reading) and select portions of the Leonard Ward Roberts Collection of papers and sound recordings.

I ran across dozens of interesting details about Appalachian life in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Here are a few choice tidbits (in no particular order):

  • The children of the mountains typically went barefoot in summer and received a pair of ankle-high shoes made of tanned hide in the fall to last them through winter.
  • Most young girls wore dresses made from feed sacks and dyed with walnut bark or other natural dyes, most of which resulted in a pale yellow color.
  • Girls washed their hair in grapevine water.
  • The boys played with slate marbles whittled from bits of rock then smoothed by river water.
  • In the absence of refrigerators, meat was stored up near the ceiling.

Select details along these lines will no doubt help in giving my novel a sense of verisimilitude. In writing weird fiction, it's especially important to get the particulars of everyday life right. Doing so improves the impact of the story's supernatural elements, which are only believable insofar far as the mundane aspects go. I look forward to putting this research to good use soon.