America’s Forgotten History – Surprising, Important, and Sometimes Funny

 

here is whereHere is Where is a fun read. Andrew Carroll had a file of clippings about events in “America’s great forgotten history.” He was also between jobs and between girlfriends, so he decided to visit the sites of events that have no plaque, no memorial, and may only be known to local historians.

Carroll’s style is conversational. He writes about his problems arranging his trips, contacting people who might know about the sites he is seeking, even his troubles operating the car’s GPS. While he is on the trail of some particular event, he is sometimes distracted by other places he discovers.

Carroll concentrates on little-known events that had an impact on the nation. For example, the first amphibious landing and ground campaign of World War II was on American soil. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese plane crashed on Niihau, an outlying Hawaiian island. The pilot survived and the residents seized documents from his cockpit and held the pilot until authorities could arrive. Three residents of Japanese descent tried to help the pilot escape. There was a gun battle and a death before Company M of the 299th Infantry arrived on the island. Americans were “terrified” by the “sudden betrayal of their neighbors” by the three Japanese-Americans. The fact that Company M included loyal Japanese-Americans got lost. This event contributed to the internment of Japanese-Americans.

He also covers some famous Americans who have memorials that may be in the wrong place. Daniel Boone – who did not wear a coonskin cap! He wore a felt Quaker hat with a brim that came in handy shielding his gun barrel during muzzle-loading in rainy weather. A fifteen foot obelisk in Kentucky displays a carving of Boone in a coonskin cap, much to the annoyance of a local historian. He is also “peeved by the last image, of Boone fighting Native Americans… If anything, he was a peacemaker.” But the obelisk gets into the book because it marks one of two Daniel Boone graves. The other is in Missouri. The Missouri gravesite was raided and some bones brought to Kentucky. The original grave contained jumbled remains from several individuals and only some bones were retrieved, so Boone probably lies in both graves.

Paisley, Oregon – home of the annual Mosquito Festival – is the site of Paisley Caves where there was “a discovery so momentous I still believe it deserves paparazzi-like attention.” Carroll tells the story of Paleo-Indians in the Americas and the famous Clovis site which established the earliest evidence of those people. Evidence of earlier Paleo-Indians was subsequently found, but the Paisley Caves yielded the first human DNA to confirm those pre-Clovis settlers and the caves are still being excavated.

You may have heard of D. B. Cooper, the alias of a man who hijacked a plane in 1971 and parachuted away with $200,000 in ransom money, never to be found. Carroll thinks he was found, even convicted, in the person of Richard Floyd McCoy. McCoy pulled a duplicate hijacking in 1972 and was caught. In prison he crafted a fake gun from dental plaster, escaped by hijacking a garbage truck, and was later killed in a gun battle with the FBI. Carroll visits the culvert where McCoy stashed his loot from the second hijacking. His crimes inspired improved air travel security.

There’s the story of predecessors to Rosa Parks. One was Irene Morgan, a black woman who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus eleven years before Rosa Parks. Carroll visits the Saluda jail where she was locked up. Her case went to the Supreme Court where, under the Commerce Clause, the court decided segregation on buses that crossed state lines was unconstitutional. But Morgan had fought the police who arrested her, even paid a fine for resisting arrest. That was not the non-violence national organizers wanted to present, so her name has been forgotten.

There are also some “Dark Side” stories, for example, America’s eugenics era before World War II when forced sterilizations were legal. And more: tales of a doctor, murderer, cartographer, rocket scientist, and body snatcher.

Carroll had a strict no-trespassing policy which he thought would keep him out of trouble. But when he took pictures of the sign outside the Deseret Chemical Depot – which he’d been told was abandoned – he was confronted by military police. Later back home, the FBI visited him to investigate the event. His piles of research quickly convinced the agents he really was researching a book and he told them some of his stories. “After I ramble on for twenty minutes straight the agents have closed their notebooks and are cracking smiles.” I was cracking smiles over Carroll’s stories, too.

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