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Suggestions for a MacGuffin? (1 Viewer)

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ehbowen

Senior Member
In the story I'm working on (set in the mid/late '80s), I have a need for a flashback scene in which a Major Supporting Character, a college professor of Philosophy, has occasion to travel to Lafayette, Louisiana to conduct some in-person research in the local library's archives of the local newspaper in the summer of 1962. Should I also mention that the professor character is Black?

I'm penciling this in as research for his doctoral dissertation (from University of Michigan Ann Arbor) which will be completed early the following year. I want to make the venue Lafayette for several unspecified reasons, and I need to have him there in person...White Citizens' Reception Committee and all. This is a gutsy character, but also smart enough not to want to pick a fight, and he will be leaving Lafayette unscathed before sunrise the next morning (2 a.m. train....). But I need a convincing reason to get him there, to discover a clue (evidence of an alternate reality) which will play a major role in the balance of the story.

Ideally, I'd like for it to be a news story in the 1908-1910 timeframe which would have been carried only in the local newspaper and so would be worth traveling to investigate. But what local news events might interest a philosophy graduate student? I considered a lynching, but rejected it for a couple of reasons: a) Lynchings tend to be better documented, at least by later generations, and b) I don't want to do an injustice to the actual residents of that place and time by making up a lynching which didn't exist. The timeframe is important, as well; the alternate reality would have branched off before World War I and preferably before the Wilson presidential victory.

I'm leaning towards a word-of-mouth story which he heard secondhand from his father, a Pullman porter during the 1930s, who heard it from an actual eyewitness (probably a white man) to the original event. Scratch that last; I just realized that there is a very good in-story reason to make the eyewitness a white woman...a specific white woman, but that's neither here nor there. When he asks his father to recall as many details as he can, and says that he's traveling down there to investigate the story, his father (still alive in 1962) tells him, "Son, don't let the sun set on you in that town!"

So can anyone think of an event, other than an actual lynching, which might have occurred in the Deep South during the aughts which would have been memorable enough for an eyewitness to pass on to a random Pullman porter, and for that porter to pass on to his grown son, which might inspire him to risk a trip to the Deep South in the 1960s to unearth the actual details?
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I just ran across this article which suggests some interesting wrinkles to be explored.

What about something like an inheritance or bequest that would have still been eyed askance at the time and is still unresolved at the time the grown son can make the trip?
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
You can read newspapers from the era for free with a 7 day trial:

https://newspaperarchive.com/browse/us/la/lafayette/lafayette-advertiser/1908/

It appears the Advertiser was a weekly, and you might be able to browse and find something to strike your fancy. There was a lynching in Lafayette in 1906 of Anton Domingo on November 29. However, I kind of like Foxee's notion of an unsettled inheritance, possibly with a spicy murder rumor thrown in.
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
I like the direction that these suggestions are going, I really do, but ideally I'd like to have a twist which would make it somewhat believable as an element (not necessarily the main topic) of a philosophy student's doctoral dissertation.

Edit To Add: Nevermind. I think I've got it. It's a real 4D-chess puzzle which depends upon my eyewitness actually being a divine observer in human form. But it ought to be a lot of fun getting there. Suggestions for fleshing out details are still welcomed, of course. Thanks again for the ideas so far.
 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
Is your alternate time going to center around any particular person or event?
I was doing some research on Einstein through that period of time the other day. In an alternate period of time he could have missed the mark or figured out a different number for the speed of light? Maybe in this alternate time the speed of light is slightly different? (I think that might mean that gravity is slightly different— any physicists in the house? ) but even a slight difference would mean an alternate timeline.... Or he could have come up with something different altogether? He could have doubted himself? (He flip flopped on some things some times). He could have not published his work at all... and all of the things we know because of him would today be different. Or he could have traveled to that alternate time line... he or someone else... Tesla or someone else who changed our world? This could all have drastic effects for a different alternate reality. Maybe even.... hmm... the Wright brothers? I’m not much familiar with Lafayette. I’d have to think of scientists or inventors from then. You could make one up? Reality now could be the time that missed this person or this person missed their target by a fraction of accuracy? And due to it? What? Split time?
Fun to play around with. This might not hit on the hat you want, of course.
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
Is your alternate time going to center around any particular person or event?

It's going to involve Abraham Lincoln. Basically, as I'm envisioning now, in the original timeline, Abraham Lincoln served all eight years and ran Reconstruction with a much lighter hand, which did not inflame passions in the South. My MacGuffin character, a freed slave, also happened to be an incarnate angel who was born into the human world in much the same way Jesus was. He was able to get an education, earn a law degree, and (in the much more hospitable political climate which prevailed in that timeline) go into politics. He earned a position as a Louisiana state senator, then was elected U.S. Senator by his colleagues (pre-17th amendment), and eventually became President. With his leadership, the world was a much more civilized and genteel place...think international law and equitable conflict resolution.

Satan and his forces were backed into a corner. After investigating a couple of alternate timelines (at least one involving RMS Titanic), he identified this incarnate angel/former slave as the key (his identity as an angel was not generally known). Reaching back in time, he had the character poisoned on the eve of his election to the U.S. Senate in an attempt to derail the timeline completely.

But that in and of itself wasn't enough. He had friends, who had learned enough from him to carry out much of his agenda without him. Satan, backed into a corner yet again, lashed out one more time...ensuring that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and infusing so much hatred and poison and bitterness into the Reconstruction years that no black man could seriously be considered as a Presidential candidate in the South for another century.

Which leads into the base timeline of my story. The MacGuffin character, a freedman and still incarnate angel but without formal education or entry into the circles of power, still manages to gather together a cluster of intimates, similar to the Disciples. One of which, in the timeframe of interest (1909-10), is the publisher of the local newspaper. Intrigued, he begins to run a column written by the MacGuffin character. It runs about twelve weeks or so and draws some interest...and Satan lashes out yet again. While the MacGuffin character is hosting a meeting of his allies, unidentified parties burn the farmhouse they're meeting in...and its inhabitants...to the ground.

My "eyewitness" is actually a divine personality herself. It was decided at the highest levels that, as desirable as the original outcome of world peace and international law was, there were still structural flaws in it which would allow Satan to come back and attack later. So the decision was made to go "down the rabbit hole" to at least the time of my story (1960s-2000s). She passes the story on to the aspiring professor's father, knowing that he will pass it on to his son and that the son will be motivated to try to discover the dozen or so columns. Instead, he finds in the archives an artifact from the original timeline, a paper showing the Senate candidacy of the MacGuffin character. Which leads him to work out the existence of the alternate histories/timelines and things proceed from there. [/end spoiler]

I was doing some research on Einstein through that period of time the other day. In an alternate period of time he could have missed the mark or figured out a different number for the speed of light? Maybe in this alternate time the speed of light is slightly different? (I think that might mean that gravity is slightly different— any physicists in the house? ) but even a slight difference would mean an alternate timeline.... Or he could have come up with something different altogether? He could have doubted himself? (He flip flopped on some things some times). He could have not published his work at all... and all of the things we know because of him would today be different. Or he could have traveled to that alternate time line... he or someone else... Tesla or someone else who changed our world? This could all have drastic effects for a different alternate reality. Maybe even.... hmm... the Wright brothers? I’m not much familiar with Lafayette. I’d have to think of scientists or inventors from then. You could make one up? Reality now could be the time that missed this person or this person missed their target by a fraction of accuracy? And due to it? What? Split time?
Fun to play around with. This might not hit on the hat you want, of course.

The number for the speed of light had been measured with high accuracy by Albert Michelson as far back as 1879. It was actually the lack of an effect which had been expected by 19th century physics in another Michelson experiment (actually, the Michelson-Morley experiment), which persuaded Einstein and a few other radicals that the basics of their theories needed to be overhauled. Einstein was the first to put the pieces together in a largely consistent way.
 
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