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Traveling Back For The Future

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Traveling Back for the Future

On snowy winter days when it’s too difficult to go home for lunch, I eat in the library's kitchen/meeting area.  My view is of the mural overlooking Tazewell’s mini park, a scene of Main Street in days gone by.  As the snowflakes fall softly, I am drawn into that scene, pulled along the dusty, unpaved street, past two horses tethered to hitching posts, a few cows and their driver, smack down the middle of the trolley track, headed straight toward the red trolley (is it coming or going?), right into the 1890s. 

I am reminded of a scene in “Time and Again”, a time travel novel by Jack Finney, when Simon Morley, after long, careful preparation in which he is immersed in the details of life in 1882 New York, steps out of his apartment in The Dakota into Central Park on a snowy winter night and hears sleigh bells in the distance.  It is a magical moment, one in which I, as a reader, want to believe.

Finney’s inspiration for this cult classic is Einstein’s belief that all times co-exist and that it is possible to move between them.  In this story, Simon is recruited to participate in a secret government-run experiment to test Einstein’s theory. Simon is just one of many individuals preparing to go to a variety of particular places in history.  Their mission is to determine whether it really is possible to visit other times.  They are specifically instructed, if they succeed, to simply observe and report back, to avoid interacting with others, to do nothing to change that world.  This is a difficult charge, of course, especially since Simon has a personal purpose in choosing to visit New York in 1882, to solve a mystery for a friend.

The mystery is interesting and I want Simon to solve it.  But the star attraction of this story is the reality of New York in 1882.  The setting for “Time and Again” is thoroughly researched, documented with drawings and photographs, and immediately recognizable to anyone who has even briefly visited the city.  It would be fun to return, with “Time and Again” in hand, and look for landmarks present in 1882.  I imagine that many readers have done just that.
Other time travel stories take things a step further.

In “Pastwatch” by Orson Scott Card, scientists of the future are able to look and listen in on the past, through a TruSite II viewer.  They determine that Columbus’ discovery of the New World brought about the institution of slavery in the western hemisphere, and decide to insert themselves in his time, relinquishing their own future, to change the past and all that flowed from it.

"Kindred", a classic by Octavia Butler, uses time travel to explore murky issues of race.  Dana, a black woman married to a white man, is pulled from her 26th birthday on the Fourth of July, 1976 back to antebellum Georgia to save the life of a drowning white child.  After several more, but increasingly dangerous experiences, Dana realizes that she must continue to protect the accident-prone, temperamental child until he fathers her great grandmother.  She must save a past she would rather forget so the future as she knows it can come to be.

"In the Garden of Iden" is the first of The Company novels by Kage Baker, in which selected humans are transformed into immortal cyborgs and return to the past to save special treasures from destruction—plants and animals destined for extinction, significant works of art, important buildings.  In this tale full of witty social commentary, Mendoza is rescued from the Spanish Inquisition, trained in 24th century botany, and sent to 16th century England to take cuttings from a holly that will provide a cure for cancer.  Her efforts are complicated by the rampant religious conflicts of the reign of Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) and her love for mortal Nicholas Harpole, a nonconformist Protestant in a strictly Catholic world.

For History
In my winter reverie, I contemplate what of Tazewell’s past I would save, if I could.  The trolley, because Tazewell was said to be the smallest town in the U. S. with an electric street car.  Early building facades in harmony with the attractive restorations of several structures completed in recent years. 
The building that housed A. M. Black’s second floor photography studio (later the Ben Franklin 5 and Dime).  And every last one of his photographs and negatives, many of which were thrown away after his death!  He was a professional artist, serving as president of the Virginia Society of Professional Photographers, and with a winter studio in West Palm Beach, where he photographed the likes of industrialist Henry Frick and compatriots. One of his photographs, “An Old Virginia Road”, reputedly won a national competition for the best photographs of roads in furtherance of the Good Roads Movement.  So his work is worthy of preservation.

For Art
The Post Office murals, painted by unemployed artists during the Depression through the vision of the Works Progress Administration, should be protected and saved.  The economic pressures now impacting the Postal Service nationwide make the preservation of these historic treasures a genuine concern.

For Beauty
The graceful trees that lined Main Street from 1878 – 1923.

For Sentiment
For sentimental fun, I would save the neon sign of the Shamrock Grill.  The Clinch Valley Theater, where my parents met.  The magnificent cash register and oak display cases at Ward's Store, previously Harrisson and Gillespie Brothers “Big Store”.  And the soda fountain with the twirling stools at Jackson Drug. But I am not so far gone on the romance of this vision that I would stick with the unpaved street.  Or hold up developments in sanitation or travel or communications.  We must have Progress, for societal good, after all.  But it is interesting to contemplate what should be saved, and why. 
If you could visit the past, where would you go, and when?  What would you choose to protect and preserve, and why?
For these and other time travelogues, and for examples of A. M. Black’s fine photographs, visit us at, or call 988-2541.

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