Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Secrets Underground

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Annick Press came to me with the idea for my book Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past and I have to admit, I didn’t really understand the concept at first. But then I began my research and I became more and more excited about the stories I uncovered.

The focus of the book is things that have become buried and forgotten over time. These fascinating stories and mysteries give kids a way of looking at major historic events. I dug up the tales of the tunnels under the city of Moose Jaw that hid Chinese immigrants avoiding violence and the racist head tax. Those subterranean passageways also sheltered Prohibition hooch — and maybe even gangster Al Capone. And below the modern metropolis of Mexico City is an ancient Aztec town that was one of the largest in the world by the 1500s, but was completely buried by Hernán Cortés and his soldiers.

West Virginia is home to a cave where, during the American Civil War, Confederate soldiers mined saltpeter for their ammunition, even though the cave was in Union territory. Not far away is a high-priced resort that for decades hid a government bunker. Since the Cold War, it sat primed and ready for politicians who never arrived — now people can hold parties there!

Did you know that down, down, down below Grand Central Terminal (not Station, as so many people incorrectly call it) is a World War II secret that well-armed soldiers guarded tenaciously? Or that below the streets of San Francisco lie abandoned ships that brought Gold-Rush miners to the nearby gold fields? When even the crew jumped ship to seek their fortunes, these boats slowly were literally incorporated into the harbour, until they were forgotten deep below the foundations of the city.

Two of the photos in the chapter about the gold-rush ships were snapped by my husband. We walked around the harbourfront (the Embarcadero area), looking for plaques and other traces of the ships that were supposed to be visible. We never did find the first one we looked for and the looks we got from people we asked about it made us wonder if we’d been scammed. But then we began to find more and more of them, and one of Paul’s photos made it into the book.

And how many authors actually get to include in a book the phrase, “Cheese It! It’s the heat!” This is from a sidebar I wrote about gangsters during Prohibition. They had their own language so they could talk secretly about their illegal schemes. So, for instance, if police were making life “hot” for crooks and the thugs had to hide, they might say, “Cheese it! It’s the heat!”

I went on to say,
“If you double-crossed a goon, you might hear some chin music. Or you could be zotzed with a roscoe and end up in a Chicago overcoat. Of course, if the trouble boy got caught, he’d be in bracelets and under glass. Savvy?”

Huh?? Try this:
"If you double-crossed a thug, you might get a punch on the jaw. Or you could be killed with a gun and end up in a coffin. Of course, if the gangster got caught, he’d be in handcuffs and in jail. Get it?"

Advance copies of the book came into the Annick offices just a few hours before my photo meeting for my horse book (see Friday’s post for more details). Photo researcher Sandra Booth and Sheryl Shapiro did another fabulous job making my words look great, and it was a pleasure to work with editor Chandler Wohleber. I think Secrets Underground is an interesting take on history and I’m grateful that Annick gave me the chance to write it.

And Another Thing …
It was on this date in 1936 that Elsa Einstein, Albert’s second wife died. In my book Albert Einstein: A Life of Genius I mentioned that she was very short-sighted and once at a dinner ate a flower arrangement thinking it was a salad!

But I didn’t include in my book the story of how Albert and Elsa decided to marry. They’d started to have thoughts in that direction when Albert met Elsa’s daughter (from a previous marriage) and his eye began to wander. It was decided that Albert would marry one of the women, but which one? One story I read said the mother and daughter talked it over and Elsa made the decision that she should marry Albert, and her daughter would live with them.

Oh, that Albert. No wonder the Globe and Mail called him a “Chick Magnet!”

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Elizabeth MacLeod

Award-winning author Elizabeth MacLeod has written over 50 books for children. Her most recent book, Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries, was published by Annick Press.

Go to Elizabeth MacLeod’s Author Page