The Historians Club
Do you love history like I do? I thought so! Then join me in the I SURVIVED Historians Club, where I will share fascinating facts I uncover in my research, and send you on research journeys of your own.
– Lauren Tarshis
Adventures in Research: Visiting Mount St. Helens
Check out a behind the scenes video of Lauren researching her latest book, I Survived: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens 1980!
Blog Post #8: The 100-year Anniversary of the 1916 Shark Attacks
This summer, Matawan, New Jersey hosted the 100-year commemoration of the brutal shark attacks in 1916 that claimed 4 lives. Readers will know that the New Jersey Shark Attacks of 1916 have been featured in two of my books: The non-fiction narrative appeared in I Survived: True Stories: Nature Attacks! and of course, the second book of the I Survived series, The Shark Attacks of 1916 is a fictional account of this terrifying event.
Although I was unable to make it, a photographer who lives in the area took some amazing pictures from the event. (Thank you Lisa Stein!)
Over a twelve-day period in July 1916, 5 people were attacks by sharks in the Matawan Creek, 4 of them fatal. Here’s what Matawan Creek looks like today:
It’s hard to imagine being scared of such a beautiful creek!
Among the sharks’ (or, as some believe, just one shark’s) victims was twelve-year-old Lester Stillwell, who had been swimming in the creek with a group of his friends. When Lester was attacked and dragged under by the infamous Matawan Creek shark, his friends ran into town looking for help. After a few hours of townspeople searching for Lester, they were forced to accept the inevitable.
To this day, there are still flowers and trinkets laid at Lester’s tombstone in Matawan.
One of the victims remembered was Stanley Fisher, a brave man who died from his wounds after being attacked while searching for Lester Stillwell’s body. The shark attacks in Matawan may have been horrific, but this event reminds us all that for every victim, there were dozens of townspeople performing acts of heroism and courage to keep Matawan safe.
The descendants of Stanley Fisher spoke at the shark attack commemoration, and I was told it was very moving.
Even with all of the research I conducted for my books, I feel that I can never learn enough about these attacks. I was disappointed that I couldn’t be at the event, but was glad to hear that people are still very interested in learning more about what happened in that beautiful creek in Matawan, New Jersey 100 years ago.
Blog Post #7: Why I Wrote About September 11th
It was not part of my original plan for the I Survived series to write about the attacks on September 11, 2001. But over the two years following the release of I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912, I received more than a thousand e-mails from kids asking me to write about the event. At school visits, there were always kids who raised their hands and asked, “Will you be writing about 9/11?”
At first, my answer was always no. I was shocked that readers were so curious about that terrible day, which I had been trying to forget since it happened. I have friends who lost family members on 9/11 and others who narrowly escaped the towers before they collapsed. The memories of that day remain sharp and terrifying.
Though I work in New York City, in an office about a mile from the World Trade Center, I was on a plane above the Atlantic Ocean when the planes struck, heading back to New York from a family reunion and celebration in Europe. I had said good-bye to my husband in London; he was staying for a wedding of a business friend. I couldn’t wait to see my kids and my parents, who would be waiting for me at a Little League game in our town, about thirty-five miles outside of New York City.
An hour and a half into the flight, I suddenly had the feeling that the plane was making a slow turn. Nobody else seemed to notice. I sat nervously, hoping I was imagining it. But then a stewardess made an announcement. “There has been a catastrophic event affecting all of North American airspace,” she said. “We are returning to London. We will provide more information shortly.”
Catastrophic event? The plane was silent as people tried to grasp what this could possibly mean. Earthquake? Bomb? One man actually thought a meteor could have hit somewhere in America. And then, moments later, the stewardess made another announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said. “I will now tell you what has occurred. . . .”
And for reasons I will never understand, she told our planeload of terrified people exactly what was happening: that planes had been hijacked by terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There could be other planes involved, she said. The disaster was still unfolding.
An hour and a half later, we landed back in London. Police escorted us into the chaotic airport. Somehow, I tracked down my husband. It wasn’t until late that night that we were able to get a call through to our kids and my mom and dad. It was four days before flights started flying into the United States again, allowing us to get home.
What a sad and frightening time it was.
On September 11th, thousands of firefighters and other rescue workers swarmed the sixteen-acre disaster zone, searching for survivors. The area, which became known as Ground Zero, was extremely dangerous. Underground fires smoldered, and the smoke was a toxic mix of melted plastic, steel, lead, and many poisonous chemicals. Few of the rescue workers had on proper protective clothing or masks.
It quickly became clear; there were not very many survivors to find. Only fourteen people were pulled out of the rubble alive, all within the first twenty-four hours of the collapse. About 50,000 people had been working in the buildings that day. Two thousand and sixteen died. Also among the dead: 343 firefighters and sixty police officers who were in or near the buildings when they collapsed.
In the months after the attacks, it was hard to imagine that life would ever go back to normal. It never will for many people, like my friend who lost her brother; like the hundreds of firefighters who have serious health problems caused by the toxic smoke and dust they breathed at Ground Zero; like the thousands who managed to escape that day, but who saw the horrors up close.
Today, fifteen years later, New York City has healed. The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum stands where the original Twin Towers stood. A glittering skyscraper called the Freedom Tower opened in 2014, and is the sixth tallest building in the world.
And yet even as this vibrant city moves forward, we still mourn the loss of the people who were killed that day, and work to ensure that they — and the events of that day — are never forgotten.
Blog Post #6: An Overdue Journey to Mount St. Helens
I wrote my upcoming I Survived book, I Survived: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens,1980, last winter. Usually I visit the places I'm writing about as I'm researching the book. But the museums and observation center on St. Helens are only open from May until October. And so it wasn't until last month that I finally got to visit the place I'd read so much about.
All I can say is WOW.
Me in front of Mount St. Helens
I had studied hundreds of photographs and watched countless videos. I had pored over the area using Google Earth. But nothing prepared me for what I would see. The area shows nature at its most beautiful and most violent.
The drive up the mountain is stunning – pine forests and meadows lit up by pink and yellow and blue and red wildflowers. The sky was bright blue.
But then we suddenly crossed into the eruption zone. Thirty-one years later, the shattering impact of the eruption is still clear. The eruption destroyed millions of trees and unleashed the biggest landslide in the history of the world. You can still see the scars on the surrounding land.
But most shocking of all is the view of the mountain from the Johnston Observatory. This wonderful museum and monument was built on a ridge across the mountain. It is named after David Johnston, a beloved geologist who was killed in the first seconds of the eruption. From the observatory you stare directly into the blasted-out side of the volcano.
This park ranger says she is not the least bit worried about working on an active volcano!
From a distance, the area all around the mountain looks like a moonscape. But looking more closely, you see how much life has returned – six-foot trees, grasses, and flowers. One of Washington's biggest herd of elk lives there too. What an experience to finally be there, to witness firsthand the place I tried to bring to life in my book.
Even though the eruption destroyed much of the area around it, today the mountain is surrounded by many colorful flowers.
If you ever have the chance, I hope you can visit too!
Have you ever visited Mount St. Helens? Tell me about your trip in the message boards!
Blog Post #5: Behind-the-scenes of The Eruption of Mount St. Helens
I write two I Survived books every year, and so I'm always on a bit of a tight deadline when it comes to handing in the manuscript to my editor. Since I was traveling on a book tour earlier this year and meeting many of my delightful readers, the deadline for the 14th book in the series, I Survived: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980, was especially tricky to manage! Meeting readers of the series always inspires me and keeps me going, and I'm happy to report that I got the manuscript in just in the nick of time. When I sent the book to my editor, she surprised me with a gift. What kind of present does one get for a research-happy author who writes about disasters?
A real photograph of the actual volcanic eruption of course! This one was taken by photographer Robert Krimmel who worked for the U.S. Geological Survey at the time of the Mount St. Helens eruption. I think the photograph is a terrific reminder of the impressive power and magnitude of the Mount St. Helens eruption which was the deadliest and most environmentally destructive volcanic event in United States history. I am so proud of this next book in the series, and I can't wait to hear what you think when it comes out in September!
Thanks for reading,
Blog Post #4: Special Excerpt! Go Behind the Scenes of I Survived: The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937
Hello I Survived readers,
Did you ever wish you could crawl inside the pages of a book, to go beyond the words to actually peer inside of the author’s brain and see what they were thinking as they wrote? (I know, yuck, but you know what I mean!).
Well you’re going to be to do all of that when you read the special sneak peek of my upcoming I Survived book, I Survived: The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937.
As you read, you’ll be able to click on links that include pictures like the one below, videos, and little notes from me. You will actually be able to see the Hindenburg flying and go inside the greatest zeppelin ever built. You will see it as it explodes and crashes to the ground. You will learn facts I couldn’t fit into my book, and learn some of the secrets of my writing process.
I was fascinated by the Hindenburg and the world of zeppelins, and hope you will be too. As always, I am eager to hear what you think! Make sure to post any questions or thoughts on the forums.
Blog Post #3: A Visit to Joplin, Missouri
A few years ago, I began getting emails from kids from the city of Joplin, Missouri, suggesting that I write about the EF-5 tornado that struck their city in May of 2011. The tornado was nearly 1 mile wide at parts, and the path of destruction was 13 miles long. 153 people died. Entire neighborhoods were simply swept off the face of the Earth.
The notes I received inspired me to buy a plane ticket and head to Joplin in December of last year. I visited several schools and spoke to many kids and teachers about their experiences. What struck me wasn’t simply the terrible disaster, but what happened afterwards—how people rebuilt their lives, how hard they worked to heal their city and themselves.
I wrote the book, I SURVIVED: THE JOPLIN TORNADO, 2011, and this past September I returned to the city. I got to reconnect with many of the people I met, and visit all 11 elementary schools. It was an unforgettable trip for me.
A few weeks after I returned home, there was a big box waiting for me on my porch. It was from the Satterlee Family, who had shared their story with me and hosted me for dinner during my last trip. Inside was a beautiful wooden cross, made from debris from the Joplin tornado, and signed by each member of the family. I was so incredibly touched to receive it.
Writing the I SURVIVED series is a huge challenge for me. Each book requires so much research, writing many drafts, and facing tight deadlines. What makes it all worthwhile to me is the personal connections I have made—with readers and teachers and librarians, and people who entrust me with their stories.
The cross is now in my living room. I will always cherish this treasure from Joplin.
Blog Post #2: Shark Attacks
My latest book, I Survived True Stories #2: Nature Attacks includes four true stories of kids who faced unbelievably terrifying events. One of them was Joseph Dunn, who was nearly killed by a shark during the famous shark attacks of 1916, in New Jersey. Joseph was actually attacked in the Matawan Creek, many miles from the ocean.
I learned so much about sharks and history in my research. Did you know that before those 1916 attacks, most scientists were convinced that sharks were shy creatures with weak jaws and a small appetite? In 1891, a rich man named Charles Oelrich even offered a $500 reward to anyone who could prove that a shark had attacked a “live human” in the waters off of New England. Decades went by and nobody collected the reward.
The shark attacks of 1916, however, really changed the general public’s perception of sharks, and suddenly sharks were considered monsters to be feared. In recent years we understand that sharks rarely “attack” humans and are very important to keeping the balance of life in the oceans. Most shark bites happen when a shark mistakes a swimmer or surfer for a sea mammal, like a seal or sea lion.
What do you think is the most fascinating fact about the shark attacks of 1916? Research the attack and post it on the forum!
In the days following the attack on Joseph Dunn, people flocked to the creek to hunt down the “monster” shark.
Blog Post #1: The Joplin Tornado
My latest book is about the Joplin tornado, an EF-5 tornado (that’s the strongest kind) that struck the city of Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011. I chose to write about Joplin because the people there inspired me so much with their strength. In the end, I realized that story of Joplin wasn’t really a disaster story at all, but one of hope, a lesson in how people can experience something terrible and yet find the strength to move forward.
To write the book, I visited Joplin and learned all about that terrible day in May, 2011. I also plunged into the history of tornado science and the incredible world of storm chasers. A few amazing facts that I learned:
• America is truly the world capital of tornadoes. We get more than 1500 in a typical year, which is ten times more than Canada, which comes in second place.
• One of America’s first tornado scientists was Ben Franklin, who was fascinated by weather. Back in the 1700s, they were known as “whirlwinds.”
• The word “tornado” comes from the Spanish word tronada.
Take a look at the picture below. It’s actually one of the very first photos of a tornado. It was taken in 1884, in Kansas. People were so fascinated by this picture that it was sold as a postcard.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have any fascinating facts to share about America’s tornado history? POST THEM ON THE FORUMS!