The other day, I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” There’s a shot of a sign that says “Hammonton, Blueberry Capital of the World.”
While it’s true that Hammonton does accurately call itself the Blueberry Capital of the World, was it true in 1920? I had my doubts. After all, it wasn’t until 1916 that Elizabeth White, after working for five years with Frederick Coville, of the US Department of Agriculture, to develop a commercially viable blueberry, succeeded in hybridizing one that was large enough, durable enough, and tasty enough to be marketed. Four years later, when “Boardwalk Empire” takes place, it wasn’t Hammonton that was the blueberry capital of anywhere, it was Whitesbog, the cranberry operation begun by White’s grandfather and still (to this day) owned by his descendants.
But maybe I was wrong. Strange as it may seem, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have on occasion been mistaken. So, I did what I am best at, and researched the topic. I already knew that Hammonton, in Atlantic County near its border with Camden County, was nowhere close to Whitesbog, at the border of Burlington and Ocean Counties. What I didn’t realize was how far apart they are – thirty-seven miles and, at today’s speeds, a fifty-two minute drive. In 1920, what was the likelihood that Elizabeth White had traveled to Hammonton to transplant their high bush blueberries? Consider, too, that in 1920 the roads in the Pine Barrens were not paved, and the predominance of congestion and traffic lights today are not enough to make the trip longer than it was then.
But I could find nothing about when Hammonton began to call itself the Blueberry Capital of the world. Nothing, that is, until I came across a posting on http://www.genealogybuff.com with the obituary of former Hammonton mayor George A. Mortellite. The relevant passage: “During his tenure as Mayor he signed a proclamation on March 28, 1987, proclaiming the town of Hammonton as the Blueberry Capital of the World.”
Talk about anachronisms. It was sixty-seven years after the events portrayed in “Boardwalk Empire” that the first “Hammonton, Blueberry Capital of the World” was erected.
Anachronisms bug me. I’m not sure why, as I’m generally able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy even the most absurd premises. (I am a huge fan of British science fiction TV series.) And so I try to avoid anachronisms in my own writing.
CHANUKAH GUILT takes place the end of November-beginning of December, 2002. UNLEAVENED DEAD, the next book in the series takes place the end of March-beginning of April, 2004. Trying to keep track of movies, weather, TV shows, is easy – I have bookmarked several sites which give me the information. More difficult is trying to remember what technology was in common usage.
Facebook, I know from the release of the recent movie “The Social Network,” was just getting started. But what about texting? I’ve been trying to remember when my husband and I first started. I know it was after our older son had been doing it for a while, and he got a detention his senior year of high school (2006) when he had forgotten to turn off his phone and my husband sent him a text. But how much earlier were we texting? I decided to take the easy way out and not mention texting.
Generic MP3 players and DVRs? Brand specific IPods and TiVo? Safer not to mention them.
I did find references to Internet cafés by then, but not to free wifi. I have my protagonist Aviva and her niece, the computer whiz, in such a café, but avoid the issue of how Trudy connected to the ‘net.
I checked on the status of same sex marriage in 2004 and what the current regulations were then. Some have changed since then, but at least it is accurate (I hope) for the time. The same is true of local laws about carbon monoxide detectors in private homes.
I’ve tried my best to avoid anachronisms in my books. I just wish HBO had done the same. I know – it’s called fiction because the writer can make things up. But it still bugs me