It pains me to say it, but this year marks eleven years since I graduated from college. It was 2004 and my hair color was blonde. I was convinced my fresh, magna cum laude graduating, 3.93 GPA Communications Bachelor degree with a specialization in corporate communications was going to promptly lead to a job in communications/public relations/corporate communications.
What happened instead, was The Hubs came home from military deployment and we moved to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where we earned seven dollars per day as volunteers with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. That is, until the volunteer funding ran out and we worked to earn free park housing.
That’s the kind of thing you only do when you’re independently wealthy, or twenty-two years old.
Most of our time was spent as period dressed interpreters, meaning I spent eight hours a day in a corset, hoop skirt, and dress running a Dry Goods Store. The Hubs ran the Provost Marshall’s office. It’s a separate blog post entirely, but in short it was really fun and we did a lot of crazy things the general population doesn’t do, such as but not limited to: sassing Confederate soldiers when they steal bread from your dry goods store. Have said Confederate pick you up and put you back in your dry goods store. Smack soldier with a broom.
At some point, it was decided that the current bus depot in Lower Town was going to be moved like, 200 yards to the left and a nice, covered pavilion constructed to keep the elements off park visitors. Before you can do this kind of thing in a historic district, you first do an archeological survey. You know, just in case something really, really awesome and/or important is laying underneath the pavement.
My writer brain said, “We’re totally going to find a body.”
The park service knew exactly what was under the pavement. They knew that it was the site of a two-story house, probably used as housing for US Armory and Arsenal employees prior to the Civil War. The structure was destroyed in a flood in the early part of the 20th century. There were full-time archeologists with the park, but it was a pretty big job–that had to be finished as fast as possible–so a bunch of us volunteers from around the park got to help out.
It was all very exciting. In fact, my debut novel, With Me Now, is about an archaeology student helping out with an archeological survey in Gettysburg. And, in her survey, they found something pretty exciting.
In 2004, during our archeological survey, we didn’t.
We found lots of broken nails. We found a rat skull. We found modern-day beer bottles and broken glass and lots and lots of rocks. I cannot stress enough that we found a lot of rocks.
And then, just before the dig was over, we found a staircase.
The staircase probably at once led from the main floor of the structure down into a cellar. In fact, at the base of the stairs we found a lot of garbage: broken pieces of porcelain. They were probably pieces of dishes or cups that had shattered, white porcelain with intricate blue or green designs. Occasionally, we’d find two pieces and could fit them together like puzzle pieces. It was strange, holding these tiny shards of the past in your hand, knowing that over one hundred and fifty years ago, someone else held them. Discarded them. Forgot them.
That was the haunting thing about the missing stairs. They once had been an integral part of someone’s day to day life. A person, long forgotten to history, tramped up and down the stairs without thinking about it, much like I go up and down my stairs here at home. They took them for granted, they really didn’t think much about not having them. Then, before long, the house was gone. The stairs were missing.
I think, for me, my dad is my missing stairs. I never thought I’d grow up without him, yet, here it’s been over eight years since he passed away.
And now, back in Harpers Ferry, the stairs are missing again. Once the survey was finished, the pit was filled in and paved over. A pavilion and concrete bus depot sit over our site, solidifying that fact that, unless something changes, no one will ever see the stairs again.
Since then, I’ve written three novels and signed publishing contracts for two. That’s something my dad would be proud of. And, unlike The Missing Stairs, I’ll never forget him.
By Line: Heather Hambel Curley writes historical fiction and sassy paranormal romance. She’s an unabashed One Direction and tattoo fan and enjoys the occasional cupcake. For more on Heather, you can visit her blog at http:heatherhambelcurley.com. With Me Now is available for purchase at Amazon.