Historical Sources that Anchored the Tales

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In Gaston Leroux’s remarkable original he anchors his amazing tale in a real place and utilizes real events, some never quite explained. He was inspired by the amazing hidden corridors that really do exist in the Paris Opera. Likewise, when Susan Kay wrote “Phantom” she researched and even traveled to the various locations Leroux mentioned in the short paragraph that summed up Erik’s life. Her desire was to breathe reality into the enigma of his history. To ground the Opera Ghost in the real landscape of the world. She placed Erik’s birthplace in a real Normandy village based on LEroux’s vague reference. She researched the shah’s of Persia and based it on events of that time period. She even went to Rome and learned about stone work … I knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps and carry the torch.

When I first had the idea to carry Erik’s tale onward into the New World I was determined to find some place suited for him and no sooner had I begun my search then I stumbled on the 1891 opening of none other than Carnegie Hall (literally 5 minute search). However–that was NOT its original name. At the time it was merely called the Music Hall. I went to work pouring over the age because I wanted to emulate as much fact in the fiction as I could. And of course, while real places and people are used in this story–they are also used fictionally. Though the events and timelines may be real, the characters are fictional versions and not intended to be biographical.

I literally spent days pouring over the photos and articles posted on Carnegie Hall Archives. The history of this place was colorful. There were things I found in the photos that confused me… for instance the organ and the lack of a second stage wing. I contacted the Archives and am indebted to Rob Hudson who revealed a little piece of history on why the ORIGINAL hall lacked the second wing entrance. There wasn’t room–and in the chapters if “Nightingale’s Strain” Erik will share that truthful tidbit. Mr. Hudson also kindly clarified what photos could not–the colors of the hall before renovation, where Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie were seated during the opening concerts, etc…

To further my understanding of the life and times I glued myself to the History Channel’s “Men Who Built America” which went through Andrew Carnegie and the Music Hall as well as much of his life and other influential men. “Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, And the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America” was book source that gleaned a less than shiny light of Carnegie. In fact, it demonstrated precisely what might have driven him to the philanthropy streak in his latter years. This book helped to round out Carnegie in light of his day-to-day business dealings. And yes, the questions Tchaikovski asks Erik were actually written on a piece of a paper by the real Tchaikovsky himself when he visited America for the opening of the Music Hall. They were things he was truly curious about.

Loads of historical map sites–far too numerous to list (I am embarrassed that I did not save a list of them all) provided street names for the years (or as close as I could get). Many of these site were geographical logs. As the years progressed in the series I needed to locate different maps and districts to determine what was, or wasn’t, there. This included researching the bedrock to find a location that would have been suitable for Erik’s quarry–that I found on a historical survey site that showed deposits of limestone and marble. Time changes much of the city. Even the name of the street Erik’s mansion runs along changes. NYC Architecture was one of the best places I could find to see pictures and get the nitty gritty on old buildings. A treasure trove that I lost myself in for hours at a time learning the names of styles and architectural terms! Even looking up the Bowery became an astonishing journey. Old articles scanned from the Sun’s archives provided vital clues to life on the Bowery streets (the Saturday night parties were REAL!) And thanks to Sun I was able to even look up the weather on the concert nights, the list of the music performed, and the reviews of each of the nights!

More adding to the details came from books my mother loaned me from her own collection: the 1899 edition of the Merck Manual for medicines (serious shudders), the Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book for menus, and Housekeeping in Old Virginia 1879. All of these got me in the ballpark of how some of the day to day ‘classy’ housekeeping would been done. The men have a multi-course dinner party in “Nightingale’s Strain”, the menu came directly from the cook book.

Of course I also needed to consult a number of historical sites for more … uhh … involved medical things. Some of which proved to be rather fascinating and disturbing at the same time. “The Knick” came on right about the time I needed it. Taking place in the early 1900’s, the depictions were spot on to what I found on historical websites like NIH’s museum site and several other nightmarish places I poked. Honestly–between researching the drugs and medical tools something likely tripped a watch on me. I’m just a writer who wants to get it correct. That’s all. Nothing sinister in motive.

I am very grateful for the history keepers who collect all this fantastic information for us. Without having access to these troves these novels would be less anchored. And so you see lot of reading goes into writing.

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One thought on “Historical Sources that Anchored the Tales

  1. It truly is fascinating to research all of this. I do much the same with genealogy..trying to get history in the setting it actually ocurred. Great job Jen! And…I’m glad I could loan you the books! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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