Wanderlust Fodder: Atlas Obscura’s Interactive Map of Roadtrips in American Literature

Mr. I sent me a link recently to Atlas Obscura’s “The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips.” It is obsessive. Richard Kreitner (writing) and Steven Melendez (map) partnered to create a compelling interactive map over which colored lines streak following the stories of Blue Highways (1982), On the Road (1957), Travels with Charley (1962), Wild (2012), Roughing It (1872), and more. With one click, you can read how a variety of authors experienced the same place. Over 1,500 passages are painstakingly linked to the map. The work is so compelling, as one person’s perception could be so different from your own. It can color your view of that place for the future.

9780141182674I isolated On the Road, and clicked on a random dot in Pennsylvania. It was the Susquehanna River Valley, and Kerouac, in a not flattering description of body of water, wrote this:

“We walked seven miles along the mournful Susquehanna. It is a terrifying river. It has bushy cliffs on both sides that lean like hairy ghosts over the unknown waters. Inky night covers all. Sometimes from the railyards across the river rises a great red locomotive flare that illuminates the horrid cliffs.”

Today, my experience of the same river valley is somewhat flipped. My family has been making a living moving among communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania along the river for nearly 400 years. I see more loss in the absence of transportation along the rails and the river than I do terror at the machinery that used to operate on its banks. I suppose diesel doesn’t command the same respect, but I find atrophy worse than fire.

Lincoln Highway near Geneva, Illinois. RL Fifield, 2015.

Lincoln Highway near Geneva, Illinois. RL Fifield, 2015.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.