My middle-grade historical novel From Blue Ground follows Patrick and Sissy Hughes as they make their way to Philadelphia on the days leading up to the Fourth of July holiday of 1876. I meticulously researched everything from the festivities to the weather. Here’s an excerpt for your Independence Day reading pleasure! Enjoy!
Chapter 18: The Fourth
A reddish-orange spark broke the plane of the horizon line as the sun rose over Philadelphia on the morning of the Fourth. A thunder of cannon fire, from a contingent of warships moored in the Delaware River, jolted Patrick and Sissy from their sound sleep. It was as if the guns had been ignited by the rising of the sun. More cannons boomed from the heights of the Centennial Exhibition grounds in Fairmont Park as the city welcomed Independence Day in a barrage of heavy artillery.
The red-orange sun hung low in the young sky, burning through the early morning haze. The day threatened to be unmercifully hot. Just before dawn, the small crew of the Millie Willy had navigated their vessel through the canals at Manayunk, concealing the two young fugitives from the prying eyes of the lock keepers. On the open river, they skirted the south side of Peter’s Island and rounded the bend beneath the shadow of the Columbia Bridge. The landing at the Exhibition grounds was now in full view.
At the docks, an army of men boarded the barge and maneuvered a large metal box into place with a hand- powered crane. One by one they sunk their shovels into the mounds of coal, oblivious to the two kids lying on deck. As the men went about the arduous task of unloading the Millie Willie, Captain Shaw knelt next to Patrick and Sissy.
“This is to help you get back on your feet,” he said, handing Sissy a bag of coins. “It’s not much, just enough for food in case you don’t find your friend.”
Sissy took the bag and hugged him. “Thanks, Captain Shaw.”
“Never you mind. It’s gonna take these boys the whole day to unload the Millie Willie, so you’ll know where I’ll be if yas need me. After that, if ya run into trouble, go to the nearest lock keeper on the canal and tell ‘em you’re lookin’ for ol’ Capt’n Shaw. They’ll either know where to find me or keep yas ‘till I can get there. If ya don’t find yer friend, I want you to come lookin’ for me, ya hear?”
“Aye, Captain,” Patrick said.
“Now, if you follow the towpath downstream along the river, you’ll come to a covered bridge. It’s the only covered bridge on the river, so ya can’t miss it. Don’t cross the bridge into the city, take Market Street the other way—west to the University. Hopefully, you’ll find your friend there.”
Patrick and Sissy said goodbye to Thomas and the Captain and headed down the towpath. Water bugs skimmed in the shallow pools along the river, creating tiny clover-shaped ripples. At a nearby wharf, the crew of a large steamboat unwound a thick, heavy rope that connected the boat to its mooring. Soon, the steamboat would be filled with people as it ferried passengers to the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens, but for now, it stood empty, except for its skeleton crew. Not far up the bank from the wharf, a wrought iron sign marked the entrance to the Zoo. Patrick and Sissy couldn’t help but linger along the gate, trying to catch a glimpse of an elephant, or giraffe, or some other exotic creature lurking inside. Despite being tempted to spend Captain Shaw’s coins on the ten cent admission, they pressed onward, leaving behind the lure of the big cats in the Carnivora House and the rare beasts rumored to roam in the depths of the Bear Pits.
When they reached Fairmount Damn, bells rang out from what seemed like every steeple in the city, calling the crowds into the streets for an early Independence Day parade. Rescheduled from later in the day because of the scorching heat, the parade was to feature the Centennial Legion, a corp of several thousand soldiers in thirteen divisions, one for each of the original colonies. The parade was to start at the Exhibition grounds and end at Independence Hall in Old City.
The Independence Day festivities, which began at midnight, had lingered long into the early morning hours and revelers were slow to answer the call of the steeple bells. Many still slept in makeshift tents throughout the city.
Farther south along the towpath, Patrick and Sissy came to the covered bridge that Captain Shaw had described. He was right, it wasn’t hard to find. The bridge traversed a wide section of the river as well as several yards of shoreline. Its sweeping wooden arches spanned two stone abutments and rose three stories above the water. Barges and small schooners crowded the area beneath the bridge as crews scurried to unload their cargo. On the shore, men loaded large wooden boxes onto empty drays, flatbed wagons used for hauling freight.
Patrick and Sissy climbed the grassy embankment to the top of the bridge and looked out over the city. The streets seemed to radiate in anticipation of the day’s events. Market Street bustled with all the activity of a main thoroughfare as tourists and city-dwellers swarmed in every direction, trying to beat the heat and the afternoon crowds. Dozens of drays, loaded with cargo, headed west toward the Centennial Exhibition, dozens more headed east toward Independence Hall. Hackney carriages lined the south side of the street as far as the eye could see, the drivers tending to their horses and soliciting fares from passing pedestrians.
Patrick stepped into the street in a mindless haze, in awe of the commotion.
“Patrick!” Sissy screamed, yanking him back, just as a team of horses trounced by.
“Watch it—you stupid kid!” the driver yelled.
“Where did they all come from?” Patrick asked as someone bumped into him from behind.
“The people—there are so many of them.”
“I don’t know . . . everywhere. They’re here for the
Fourth, visiting the Exhibition, just like we were supposed to do with Papa.”
Sissy and Patrick linked arms and walked shoulder to shoulder.
“Just stay close,” Sissy said, pulling him tight.
Want to read more? PM me to purchase a signed copy, or purchase one from the links below!