While “write what you know” is a familiar and popular piece of writing advice, unless you happen to be Doctor Who’s companion or have access to a Delorean, historical fiction requires a certain amount of “making it up.” However, if you can write about places you’ve visited, you can include sensory details to enrich your setting.
THE LAST APRIL is set in Grove City, Ohio, which today is a suburb of the Greater Columbus area. I’m a born and raised Buckeye, so when I learned the largest Confederate cemetery outside of the Confederate States sits in Columbus, I knew I had to learn more. Here are some places referenced in THE LAST APRIL that you, too, can visit.
Ohio Statehouse Rotunda
President Lincoln’s funeral train arrived in Columbus, Ohio on April 29, 1865. The president laid in state for three days in the rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse, and I was lucky enough to take a vacation day from work to visit on the 150th anniversary of this event. There were cannons saluting every hour, reenactors wore period clothing, there was a mourner always present at the replica coffin, and the rotunda was filled with flowers.
At the time in 1865, the flowers had multiple purposes: out of respect for the fallen president, and more practically speaking, to hide the smell of Lincoln’s embalming and the heavy crowds of mourners.
Camp Chase Cemetery
Reportedly the largest cemetery of Confederate solders outside of the Confederate States, this is all that remains of the Camp Chase training barracks that was converted to a prison a year or so into the Civil War. Originally, prisoners had a lot of freedom; they could take day visits into Columbus, a mere six miles away, but when Captain Morgan of Morgan’s Raiders escaped, prison security tightened and all officers were sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor or Johnson’s Island in Northern Ohio.
A small pox outbreak caused deaths of not only the prisoners, but the Columbus natives taking care of the inmates; as such, this prison, while mostly Confederates, does have Union-affiliated graves as well. The statue in the center of the cemetery was raised by William Knauss, a Union veteran, hoping for reconciliation.
I’ll admit, when I went to visit, I felt conflicted. As an African-American, I walked between the graves knowing those soldiers were fighting for their right to retain state’s rights, the most controversial of them being the right to enslave other humans. If you disagree with the previous sentence, you should note that slavery is mentioned over 80 times in the secession documents.
Century Village Historical Park
This historical park has a yearly (and free!) Heritage Day where fellow amateur and hobby historians reenact life in 1800s Ohio. This park is a collection of historical buildings that have been deconstructed and reconstructed to create this little village. The park grounds are usually open in the summer, but if you want to chat with history fans, check the park calendar.