Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ferries, History, and Imagining

Ohio River, early May 2015
"We should always be aware that what now lies in the past once lay in the future." --F. W. Maitland

It was a picture-perfect day and a perfect vantage point.

We didn't know where we were actually going when we headed across the river to a memorial service since we were traveling in an unfamiliar area. But once there, and after parking the car, this is the view we came upon. Whoa. We weren't expecting that.

The scene is the Ohio River, standing on the Kentucky side looking west; southern Ohio is to the right. And suddenly I was transported back 200 years. I was imagining the characters of my historical story in vivid color since the setting is the Ohio valley.

Anderson Ferry, Wikipedia Commons
Past and present mingled together--my story, the river, and a ferry in the 21st century that crosses at the same spot every day, and several times a day, as did the original one in the 19th century. Yes, we have a ferry that's been in operation since 1817, the Anderson Ferry. Its path cuts right across the middle of the above photo. (Sadly, I missed my chance to snap a picture in transit, but others have recorded spectacular ones, especially here.)

The Anderson Ferry is a Cincinnati icon and historical treasure. Today's ferry transports cars, motorcycles, and bicycles across the quarter-mile distance. 200 years ago we might have been talking about horses and pigs, wagons and carts, women in long dresses and bonnets. The trip takes about 15 minutes.  Of course we have bridges upriver and down but the drive to cross the river at those points is significantly longer. But this? This is convenient for people on the Ohio side to get to the Greater Cincinnati Airport, actually located in Kentucky, and people in Kentucky to get to the city of Cincinnati. It's also a quaint experience just to say you took the ferry. And it's so historical--adding layers to a writer's experience.

What lies in the past once lay in the future, as the quote says. The people of 1817 couldn't foresee 200 years ahead, but, wow, we can dip 200 years in the past. Jeannette Winterson says, "History is a string full of knots, the best you can do is admire it, and maybe tie it up a bit more. History is a hammock for swinging and a game for playing."

History is also a ferry, transporting us back and forth, past to present. I love it!


  1. Wow, that's amazing that the ferry has been in operation for 200 years! Your words about how they couldn't have imagined it now 200 years ago made me think how hard it is to imagine what our world will be like in another 200 years. :)

  2. Kimberly, so true :-) I remember a mere 50 years ago when it was science fiction to think we could see someone we were talking to on the phone--and just the other day I did just that with my grandson. What will the next 50 years bring let alone 200 years in the future? Mind-boggling, for sure. Thanks for stopping by...

  3. I'm like you, imagining what it must have been like to stand "in this spot" decades or even hundreds of years ago. It always amazes me to think of Ohio as being completely covered with trees! We have lots of farms around here, and it's not unusual for a plow to turn up a crop of arrowheads. What would those people think if they could see what life is like today!

  4. Peggy, I know you appreciate Ohio's history, too. And each arrowhead found tells a story. If only we could wrap our heads around what life really was like generations ago and paint word-pictures that bring it alive to others. Wow--tall order, but worth trying. Have a great rest of the week :-)

  5. It's strange to imagine a ferry like that still exists. I think of the ones in Seattle but expected there. Lovely photo!

  6. Reading the comments I'm amazed how far we've come. I used to tell the kids how I was the TV channel changer when I was young and wished there was a magic button I could push and change it from the floor. They waved their hands excitedly and tell me "You can have a remote control." I would laugh and tell them I have one and that was way back when I was their age.

    One day I brought a record player from home and put it behind me desk to play an old recorded book for them. I didn't event think about showing it to them until I asked an eight year old boy to change the record and he asked, "What's a record?"

  7. Terri, thanks for stopping by--glad you liked the photo. And yes, ferries are fairly common for different reasons, but how many can boast of having been around so long in the same place?

    Catherine, I can relate to all of what you say :-) Try explaining the rotary phone to little ones--among so many other things!! But then again how many of our grandparents went to one room schoolhouses heated by wood-burning stoves? They would never have imagined what a little hand-held computer can do. Wow. So I guess every generation from the beginning of time has had similar conversations...

  8. I love that idea! History really is a string of knots. Sometimes the more you explore, the more knots you find. I have always liked to combine past and present in my teen student's writing assignments; I believe it makes them think more deeply and appreciate how far we've come.

    Have a great week! :)

  9. Karen, thanks for sharing, always enjoy hearing about how you engage with your students. They're blessed to have you for a teacher! Wishing you a great week, too...

  10. Very neat that you got to see the ferry and it inspired you with your current writing adventure!! I always thought history was more interesting if I could be "there" and see where things happened, remember?? I'm kind of amazed at how much more interesting history has become to me this year while homeschooling. And most interesting in a story form, so I now appreciate your love for historical fiction!! (better late than never, right?)

  11. It warms my heart, supermom, to know you're loving historical fiction, too! And you're fostering some of that appreciation in another generation--that makes me happy:-)

  12. It warms my heart, supermom, to know you're loving historical fiction, too! And you're fostering some of that appreciation in another generation--that makes me happy:-)