To be totally honest, when I first walked into Paul “Lash” LaRue’s Research History class, I didn’t know quite what to expect. With the sound of recorded transcripts floating into the hallway and a seemingly bottomless supply of snacks, it always seemed like the students from years prior were having such a good time. This is ultimately why I added the class for my schedule. Who doesn’t love food?!
Luckily, it didn’t take Lash long to get me jazzed about our class projects. On my first day, I remember being beyond intrigued by him explaining how Thomas A. Edison might have lived and worked as a telegrapher for the local railroad in our town, Washington Court House, Ohio.
See, I have always been fascinated by big questions like this. I can just imagine myself in a long trench coat with a dark hat pulled low over my eyes as I storm into Research History flashing my research historian badge.
In working on the project, one of the first biographies I read was A Life of Invention by Paul Israel, the director and editor of The Thomas A. Edison Papers. This man has access to millions of documents and patents of Edison, many of which Edison wrote himself. We exchanged a few e-mails, as he was also interested in the mystery of Edison being in Washington Court House at some point during his life. It was amazing to talk to a person as knowledgeable as Mr. Israel. I felt like I was a student working beside a famous doctor. It was such an honor.
As I read more – including Wizard of Menlo Park and Edison – I was disappointed to find no mention of Edison even passing through our town. I discovered, though, that even when a door was closed on my research, a window opened. The big discovery? Five articles mentioning Edison that were printed in our local paper.
Although my research ultimately proved that Edison did not, in fact, live and work in Washington Court House, I did find some other fascinating (and probably related) stories along the way. For instance, there was an African-American inventor, Grandville Woods, who was nicknamed the “Black Edison” who is well documented as having lived and worked here. Most likely, he is who the author of the newspaper articles mixed Edison up with.
Overall, Research History has been an enriching experience for me because it has taught me exactly how much information is out there that it is just waiting to be discovered. Badge (and snacks) in hand, I look forward to following more clues, exploring more hidden alleys and solving more cases in the future.
Shannon M. is a senior at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. This semester, she’ll be working with his Research History classmates to document and preserve Good Hope Cemetery. Stay tuned as they share their experiences here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.