Last weekend I got to enter a time machine. Yes, that’s right, a time machine. Well, maybe not the kind of time machine that H. G. Wells wrote about, but it did take me back to the year 1850, the time frame of my historical novel. On Sunday my husband and I ate lunch at the Dobbin House in Gettysburg, PA, which was built in 1776 by Reverend Andrew Dobbins. In 1850 it was used as a classical school and seminary, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. The original stone building still stands and is completely furnished with nineteenth century furniture. A secret hideaway behind a sliding panel on the stairway proudly displays wax figures depicting runaway slaves who escaped from the South.
We ate downstairs in the tavern at crowded candlelit tables, and were waited on by maids in full skirts and white gathered blouses with blue bodices. I felt completely immersed in the pre-Civil War era. The dim lighting, the smell of candle wax, and the nineteenth century decor took me back to that time. Now my imagination, which had been working overtime to create an historical novel, was connecting my senses with a piece of the past.
The Dobbin House plays an important role in my book, Dark Enough to See the Stars. The year is 1850, and my protagonist, twelve-year-old Moses, is whisked into the secret stairway hideout when someone knocks at the front door. I had researched the Dobbin House extensively online, but had never seen it before. I was like a kid at Disney World. Seeing the secret hideout I wrote about was a thrill.
So maybe I won’t be trekking to the land of the Eloi with H. G. Wells, but I may find myself traveling to another historical site that excites my senses to write about the past.