Hey Miss Demeanors,
This week I’m thinking about historical mysteries. I’m passionate about history and love reading novels set in another time. I’d love to write one. I also love the idea of time travel—skipping back into a previous century to experience life at that period. Except if I’d have to pop home frequently to take a hot shower and wash my hair.
I have two questions for you this week: First, if it were possible, would you travel back in time? Second, if you could land in any historical era, when would it be and why?
ALEXIA: Great questions, Connie. It happens I’m in the middle of doing historical research for a non-fiction paper. I’m virtually time traveling by reading primary source documents and walking through a 300+-year-old city. You’re asking about actual time travel, though. I’m going to say no, at least not to the past. Time travel to the future I might do. But I like indoor plumbing, central heating, and Netflix too much to go back in time. I also like the social, business, and educational opportunities women and minorities have now too much to go backward. I’d like to go forward 1,000 years to see if we did okay or if we completely screwed things up.
SUSAN: I’m with Alexia on this. I don’t have a desire to live in a different time because I like the opportunities I have now, and I suspect in another time I’d be living in a hovel with the plague. But I am very curious about the people who lived in earlier times, and I’d love to be able to pop in and see what they were like. I’d love to visit Hever Castle, for example, and talk to Anne Boleyn. I’d love to hear Jesus preach. I’d love to hear Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol. I’d love to hear Frederick Douglass preach. I’d love to talk to Eleanor Roosevelt.
CONNIE: I like your choices, Susan. Has anyone else actually thought about time travel?
EMILYA: Ooh! As a rabid science fiction buff since pretty much infancy, I’ve devoted many, many hours to this question. Once in a while, I fantasize about going back to little Hitler’s time and smothering him in his crib, right? I’d say that would be a good use of a time machine. Then maybe hop on a train east and do the same to little Ioseb Jughashvili (aka Joseph Stalin).
CONNIE: Makes me think of the Outlander novel where Claire advises her husband’s relatives in Scotland to plant potatoes rather than wheat because she knows a two-year famine is coming, and potatoes keep longer. Which raises a good point—we’d go back knowing what we know now. That might be painful.
EMILYA: My most fervent fantasies revolve around two scenarios: going back in time to save my family members who died during WWII—though arguably, taking care of babies Hitler and Stalin may have rendered that one moot. I’d have to make sure to go as a man (let’s be realistic here with how free or safe women were to travel or hobnob with others), and wealthy. So, the time machine would have to do triple work on me. Once that’s all worked out, I’m ready.
KEENAN: I’d love to time travel. I have questions, lots of questions for people who no longer walk amongst us. However, to be completely honest, I’m not a huge fan of outhouses nor of the use of a “honey bucket,” as they’re called in rural Alaska, or chamber pots. A quick and perhaps not very accurate scan of the internet revealed that indoor plumbing became more common in the early 20th century, so I’d have to say that would be the earliest era I’d be willing to visit. I’d love to see the pre-WWI suffragettes, the flappers, visit Hollywood in its Golden Age, meet the regionalist artists like Grant Wood, see the great American murals painted. It seems so much more colorful back then, doesn’t it?
CONNIE: Maybe that’s because what we read about the past is filtered through one sort of lens or another. I tend to filter through rose-colored glasses and forget about how awful the cities (and people) must have smelled. And how dire life really was for just about everyone except the very wealthy. And even then there were fatal diseases we can now cure easily with antibiotics. Taking off those rose-colored glasses is a shocking experience. Tracee, how about you?
TRACEE: Travel back in time? Absolutely. And then I pay attention to Keenan’s words of wisdom and think, how much do I love indoor plumbing? The answer is, a lot. If I time traveled back as a member of my own family, I’d be a pioneer for a few hundred years and before that, in the “old country.” However, the lure is strong—particularly with my love of Russian history—so I would eagerly go back to 1900 and settle in St. Petersburg as a home base. I’d probably try to land among my husband’s family there as they enjoyed expanding ability to travel. I might even be able to join the Peking to Paris road rally inspired by a challenge in a Parisian newspaper in 1907: “What needs to be proved today is that as long as a man has a car, he can do anything and go anywhere. Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?”
CONNIE: St. Petersburg is a lovely city. If I had to live in 1900s Russia, it would definitely be St. Petersburg.
TRACEE: As you said, time travel comes with hindsight (or is it foresight?), and it would be hard to experience the dawning of the new century, with all of its modernizations and expectations for the betterment of humankind, and not see the threat on the horizon. Still, I’d like to join Meriel Buchanan (daughter of the British Ambassador to Russia), Florence Harper (Canadian journalist reporting from Petrograd) [image middle below], and my own grandmother-in-law Baroness Gerda Volkhardt von Hahn [far left below] as they witnessed the end of an Empire from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and Moscow. I’d be sure to send a note to Keenan saying I’d met Emmeline Pankhurst [image on the right] during her tour (Russian women would get the vote, while in Britain they would have to wait 30 more years). In the case of my husband’s grandmother, her departure from Russia was circuitous and harrowing, with young children in tow, but since I know they all made it out safely, I could go along for the ride.
MICHELE: If you had asked me this two years ago, I would have had a one-word answer: NO. However, actual time travel to Ireland in 2019 changed me in many ways. One was that I developed a deep curiosity about my great grandmother and grandmother, both of whom immigrated to Boston around the same time (turn of the century). When I visited the tiny village of Cloonbulban in Bekan, I discovered where Nora Mulkeen, my father’s mother lived. As I walked through the graveyard in the rain (of course), I kept wondering how she found the courage to travel to Queenstown (Cobh) and then across the ocean to an unknown country. When I visited the location of the farm in Cobh where my maternal great grandmother, Catherine Treacy, was raised, I had the same question for her. Were my grandmothers more afraid of staying in Ireland and bearing so many children they would die young than they were of traveling to a place where they knew almost no one and would face hardships they couldn’t imagine? Yes, I would like to time travel, but only long enough to have an afternoon with my great-grandmothers over tea where I could ask them these and a dozen more questions. I wouldn’t want to stay long enough to experience the plumbing issues my fellow Miss Demeanors have so aptly described.
CONNIE: I had a similar experience, finding my grandfather’s house in Miltown, County Kerry. An elderly couple, the Burkes, lived there, and they invited me in for a tour. The photo must have been taken in 1901 when my grandfather returned to Ireland for his father’s funeral. The time gap between us is so great because he was in his upper sixties when my father was born, and my father was in his upper forties when I was born. Back to the question at hand: I think we have a consensus—we like modern plumbing too much to travel way back in time.
EMILYA: How about going back in time to see all the awesome concerts I was too young (or not born yet) to see. I know, I’m shallow. It’s not news. If only I could have pogoed to the Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1976 or hung out with Bowie in London in the Sixties! Or chatted with the Beats in San Francisco! Of course, I’d have to do it as my twenty-year-old self, so the time machine needs to do double work. Like I said, shallow.
CONNIE: Maybe just curious—as I am.
So now, dear readers, it’s your turn! Would you travel back in time? When and where? And what conditions would you put on that time machine?