Friday, November 3, 2017

History: Part One

It’s NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and I’m off and typing away.

Is it a completely new novel? No, not quite in the strictest sense. I’m bending the rules by working with last year’s NaNoWriMo’s product: a completely awful first draft that made a huge detour into Galva territory. My advantage, I hope, with this year’s effort is a five-page synopsis that’s the closest thing to an outline that I could come up with. It keeps me in Bishop Hill, and therefore writing a “Bishop Hill Mystery”.

There are two fun elements that I’ve wanted to work into the plot: money, and a wedding.

I’ll follow the money first.

Bishop Hill colonists acquired their own money, actual printed currency. (Not uncommon in a time without a strong, centralized banking system. Anyone with a little capital could print their own money.) The pages of bank notes bought from Western Exchange Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Omaha City, were dated Nov. 2, 1857. It’s lovely stuff. The intricately engraved images of Native Americans watching trains cross the prairie and hunting buffalo might not be accurate, but it’s true to the times in which it was created.

I knew that buying this currency for the colony had turned out to be a bad investment. There was a panic and they’d lost their shirts, so to speak. My research found the reason for the panic, or economic downturn, was an offshoot of the Crimean War. Ukrainians increased their exports of wheat. This wheat flooded the US market. The problem for midwestern farmers was their timing. They’d wanted to up their own production of wheat and had increased their investment exposure with bank loans. Prices for spring wheat fell and the loans couldn’t be paid back. Land prices dropped too.

The end result for the Bishop Hill colony was to take one step closer to eventual dissolution. However, they had a nice supply of useless, but lovely, money-like printed paper. The term for modern-day collectors is obsolete currency, and, 160 years later, that old “money” is finally worth something.

The wedding will have to wait for next week.

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