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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

A Bug Crank

Lamplight, Public Domain,
Lamplight, Public Domain,

One of my favorite things about writing historical fiction is discovery. The exploratory path that I take, the research, often leads to endless possibilities. One must not only be prepared but open and ready to go deeper than originally planned. Take the detours, that is where the riches await. If I'm not careful, I get overwhelmed. I must take my time and have the courage to open doors that have not been opened for a very long time, if ever. Going back in time, unearthing tidbits of the daily life of ordinary people is an extraordinary experience. I love the learning. The following is an example of a simple night in the life of a lamplighter. My, how times have changed. (MjP) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ We had only lit the lamps on two streets when I realized that we were bein’ followed by two men and a woman. I didn’t usually mind such nonsense, but they were careful to stay just two lampposts behind, and whenever I looked at them, they turned away.

Other than an occasional outburst from them, it was generally quiet. They stuck together. The woman was writin’ in a book, and one of the men had a large magnifyin’ glass.

I tried to concentrate. I didn’t think that we were in danger, but not knowin’ what they were up to was gettin’ the best of me.

I decided to approach them. They were huddled together and didn’t bother to look up.

“Why are you followin’ us?” I asked.

The woman laughed, and one of the men walked towards me holdin’ somethin’ in his hands.

“No need to be worried. We’re findin’ specimens,” he said.

“Specimens?” I asked.

Finn rushed right up to him and inspected the giant moth that he was holdin’.

“We’re naturalists, bug cranks,” he said. “We find beetles, bugs, and moths that are drawn to the lamps, and we take notes.”

“This is a Luna moth,” he said, “one of my personal favorites.”

I moved in and got a closer look. It was a beauty, indeed. I had seen them on the walls at the train station. “Well, isn’t that somethin’. I never knew what they were called.”

“So, you might as well get used to us. We try to come out a few nights a week until it gets cold. Some of the specimens are worth money,” he said.

I thought about how we could use more money, but I didn’t know much about bugs. Finn ran over to see the other moths that they had collected. He gave a whoop and tried to wiggle away when I went to fetch him. He gave in, knowin’ that darkness followed close behind, waitin’ for no one. We had many more lamps to light.

“James Morrill,” he extended his hand.

“August Wood,” I said. “Have a good night.”

After cautiously placin’ a small dead moth into his pocket, Finn and I carried on.

They followed us for another hour or so and then fell further behind, after a beetle that they found caused quite a stir. Although uncommon for me to think in such a way, I was relieved that Finn could not hear the excitement.

August Wood, September 25, 1872 ~ Fall River, MA Excerpt: The Angels' Lament Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Book Two Book Four is coming...


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