Ever think about a radically different kind of vacation? Don’t get me wrong. There’s no crime taking the kids to Disney World, visiting the Grand Canyon, or lolling about on the beaches of Hawaii. If you can afford it, by all means go. But sometimes it’s also pragmatic to plan a vacation of a different sort, this one controlled entirely by the mind. I’m talking about a visit to the past, a place where you can connect for awhile, learn, and hopefully give your life a somewhat different perspective.
Too many people today tend to ignore the past. Sure, we take history courses in school, ace a few tests, but then often let it go. The fast-paced, demanding world of the 21st century is more than enough for many of us to handle. There are some, however, who will find themselves longing to return to a simpler time, maybe living a bucolic existence in a small, picturesque turn-of-the-century (the 19th to the 20th) town before technology took over so much of our lives. But then again, the past wasn’t necessarily “simpler.” So we must pick and choose our vacation destinations, often based on our own personal interests.
History has intrigued me ever since I was very young. There was an old graveyard alongside our elementary school and I’d look at the names and dates on the tombstones. They were mostly from the 19th century and I’d try to imagine what those interred there were like, trying to picture their physical appearance and wondering about their personalities. I also began thinking about the passage of time and how the connection to the past could seem closer than it actually was. For example, I was born in 1942, a time when a handful of Civil War veterans were still alive. My grandfather was born in 1886, just twenty-one years after that awful war ended and only five years after the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. How far was I really removed from both those events?
Taking it a bit further, I was born just thirteen years after Wyatt Earp – the most legendary figure from that old west gunfight – died. His wife, Josie, was still alive when I entered the world. She died in 1944. It’s not that I’m fixated on the Earps, but I find those dates easy to use as a frame of reference. I can honestly say I’ve always felt a kind of connection to both the Civil War and the Wild West. Loving history and studying it only made the connection seem more real. Then, when reading about the period, watching movies, or just thinking of what it would have been like to live then, I began taking vacations in my mind. I feel the same way today as I did back in my childhood years of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. That connection is still with me
When I decided to put my detective, Mike Fargo, in 1920’s New York City, it was due to one of these “vacations.” I’ve always loved the period. Prohibition and the bootlegging of illegal booze gave the decade a kind of feel of the wild west. The growth of sports, tabloid journalism, music, Broadway Shows, movies that talked and other cultural changes like the new, modern woman – aka the flapper – also piqued my interest to learn more. Add to the mix larger than life characters such as Babe Ruth, Mae West, Texas Guinan, Mayor Jimmy Walker and so many others, and you find people you would want to meet, talk with and observe. Then there were the multitude of interesting venues, including the great theaters, bright lights of Broadway, the many restaurants and speakeasies, the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, and a money-flowing Wall Street. The New York City of the 1920’s was full of life. You’ve got to admit that going there would be one helluva vacation.
Obviously, it isn’t real. But if the New York City of the 1920’s intrigues you, take a crack at traveling there. Because I’ve written about it in three books so far, I’m there quite often and with increasing intimacy. The period, the city, and my characters are real to me. But it’s not the only place I’ve gone. Because I love music, especially jazz, I’ve often returned to the Big Band Era of the late 1930’s, and taken “vacations” on the road with one of the major bands of the day. But that’s me. The destination for this kind of vacation is up to the individual. It’s a trip that can take you away from life’s everyday stresses, allowing you to escape, dream, and fantasize about another kind of life in another time. And, if you do it right, you can learn, broaden your horizons, and become a more complete person.
Try it. I think you’ll like it.
You can contact Bill Gutman at: Bill@mikefargo.com