Americans have a love affair with holidays.
Editors crave stories of unique ways holidays are celebrated. The problem is most editors will use in-house writers to develop stories, but there are those who will rely on the freelance writer for high-interest stories about holiday celebrations.
To continue Louisa O’Neil’s “tutorials” about different types of travel writing, she refers to the “historical or holiday-peg” story.
Chambers of Commerce love tourism and constantly seek new ways to promote it in their city, town, or village. Of course, a good story in a national, or even regional, magazine lends credence to the value of promoting events. Tourism increases, the economy becomes a little stronger, and the event may be better each following year. The trick is to keep adding new activities to draw the people from far and near.
You want to visit Harrisonburg, Virginia during their celebration of “Living the Past in Harrisonburg.” You contact the editor of a national travel magazine, pitch your idea, and convince him you are the person to do the story. After some discussion, he gives you the go-ahead.
That’s one way it might begin.
Harrisonburg in Rockingham County occupies an area in central Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was also a major player in the Civil War. Each year several groups from the Chamber of Commerce to regional and local groups take advantage of the history of Harrisonburg and nearby cities to educate attendees in a life style only their ancestors knew.
Harrisonburg’s fall festival, featuring many home-style craft events becomes a highlight of your tour. Particularly impressive are two of the events—log splitting and processing apples into cider. Your observations transport you two hundred years back in time.
The log splitters use old-fashioned axes. No chain saws. No engine-run log splitters.
Men roll up their shirt sleeves, grab an axe, and begin to chop. Chips fly everywhere. The loggers work until sweat pours from their foreheads; their muscles ripple with each plunge of the sharp metal into the hardwood. Actually, it turns out that, instead of cutting logs or kindling, the men are shaping tree trunks into logs to fit together into a wall—log cabin style.
From there you walk to the old wooden cider press. You watch apples being loaded into the press. The pungent scent of the juice cascading through the wooden strainer brings a tingle to the tongue. You are not disappointed as the “cider pressers” distribute small cups of juice to everyone. Even the pulp looks, and smells appetizing.
Demonstrators dress in period outfits. You watch corn brooms made “from scratch.” You listen as a docent explains how pioneer women spun wool into yarn while she guides strands of wool onto a spindle. Using natural materials, such as berries, the women then dyed the woolen fibers, the docent continues.
The festival ends, but your story doesn’t.
You still need that extra piece that sends the tourists to other historically significant areas.
“Down the road a’piece” in nearby Middletown, stands a magnificent antebellum home– “Belle Grove”, built in 1797 by the brother-in-law of President James Madison. The home is currently a Bed and Breakfast, registered on the National Registry of Historical Landmarks.
You head toward what Louisa O’Neil (Travel Writers) calls the “travel magnet.” A weekend at Belle Grove gives you time to investigate the story of the Civil War battle of Cedar Creek.
You, the writer seeking to grab an editor’s attention will do well to include information about Belle Grove, along with your experience at the Harrisonburg festival. The historical significance, coupled with a visit to Cedar Creek battleground allows for interviews with local citizenry, especially those descendants of major players in that battle. There are bound to be unusual stories how Belle Grove played an important part in this battle.
That historical-peg becomes a “win-win-win” situation for writer, editor, and reader.
The event was rich for writers to compose stories about life in the early days. If the theme was “Living the Past in Harrisonburg,” the craft fair covered what a family did to survive during that time. Celebrations with a parade featuring bands from all the area high schools complete with decorated floats added to the festival spirit. Food vendors dotted the area so everyone had access to their favorite culinary choices. A huge fireworks display at a local park topped off the evening.
Finally, parents toted their sleeping tots back to their cars, and the long line of traffic lit up the road as everyone headed home, probably very happy they didn’t have to trim logs to build a house, spend a day squeezing apples for that pungent cider, make their own brooms to keep their homes in order, or spin and dye yarn just to have warm clothing.