Every day I open my copy of the Chicago Tribune, I find at least one good idea for a new book or article. Being partial to history topics, most of them appear in the paper's Almanac feature, which is a kind of "On This Day" rundown of significant events in history. Today, for example, I was reminded that on July 24, 1915, "the excursion charter boat Eastland capsized at a dock along the Chicago River, drowning 844 of the 2,573 people aboard." I happen to know that that book has already been done: The Sinking of the Eastland by Jay Bonansinga is a gripping account of one of our nation's worst and least-known naval tragedies.

I also learned that on this day in 1937, "the state of Alabama dropped charges against five black men accused of raping two white women in what became known as the Scottsboro case." Had I come across this fact several years ago, there's a chance that an entry based on it would have made its way into my forthcoming book After the Fact: The Surprising Fates of American History's Heroes, Villains, and Supporting Characters.

The approach I took in that book, scheduled to be published on August 7, 2012, was to identify major events in our country's history and then do research on what happened to the principal figures in the event to see if anything interesting happened to them "after the fact." In doing so, I often uncovered strange and ironic details about the lives of our nation's heroes and villains.

For example, everybody knows about Paul Revere's midnight ride, but do they know that his subsequent military career was utterly dismal? Passed over for command in the Continental Army, Revere's most significant battlefield contribution to the American Revolution was his ignominious role in the Penobscot Expedition, the worst naval disaster in U.S. history up until Pearl Harbor. Revere was booted from the state militia and later court-martialed for "unsoldier-like behavior tending to cowardice." (He had refused to turn a boat over to a superior officer, because it contained "all his private baggage.")

And how many Americans are aware that in the years after Pearl Harbor, two of the attack's principal architects would end up receiving warm welcomes in the United States? Japan's head pilot in the attack, Mitsuo Fuchida later converted to Christianity. With the blessing of his friend Billy Graham, Fuchida conducted a six-month evangelical tour of the United States, just 15 years after December 7, 1941.

In 1962, Minoru Genda, the Japanese fighter pilot who devised the bombing strategy for the Pearl Harbor attack, was awarded the Legion of Merit award by the U.S. Department of Defense. Of course, both of these developments caused some controversy in the U.S., especially among WWII veterans, but it's shocking to see how much changed in a relatively short period of time.

The stories are out there. It's just a matter of finding them and doing the research. I can't wait to see what I learn about what became of the "Scottsboro Boys," the two white women who accused them of rape, and the lawyers who defended and prosecuted them. Who knows, maybe it'll make it into a sequel to After the Fact.
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Published on July 24, 2012 11:47 • 146 views • Tags: american-history, american-revolution, paul-revere, pearl-harbor, scottsboro-case, u-s-history, world-war-ii

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