Friday, June 3, 2016

Common Web tool led me to a 'cool author moment'

I'm not a numbers girl.

The fact that I managed a C in my high school algebra classes should be considered nothing short of a miracle.

So don't ask me to figure out the odds of someone finding my book by looking for information on a long-dead Nebraska town that most people have never heard of.

All I know is it happened, and it's one of the coolest things that has happened to me as an author.

Why Brayton, Nebraska?

I'd written several drafts of "Long Road" before I decided to use Brayton, Nebraska, as the main character's hometown. I've always been fascinated by ghost towns and, instead of creating a completely fictional village, I wanted to resurrect and modernize one of the many towns I'd read about here...

When it existed, Brayton sat just a few miles east of a spot where Highway 281 intersects with two gravel roads. If you're ever looking for the road that leads to Brayton, "X" literally marks the spot.

I didn't know that the first time I went looking for it.

In the late 90s -- when I started considering the resurrection of Brayton to use as Heather's hometown -- my husband and I went searching for whatever remnants of it we could find. I knew it was located somewhere between the present-day towns of Wolbach and Greeley, but this was long before Google maps made it easy to find almost anything.

When we reached the "X" in the highway, I felt drawn down one road in particular, so we turned and wound around on the gravel until we ended up encountering some farmers on a minimum maintenance road.

We asked if they knew of Brayton, and they said we'd driven right past it. They drew out a map on a slip torn from a bank envelope to point out its exact location.

Unfortunately, the path where the railroad once sat and a few pieces of the old schoolhouse were the only remaining pieces of the town.

Still, I felt a strong draw to the area and decided Brayton would be the town I'd resurrect and modernize in "Long Road."

Since that day, a big part of me has wondered what the real town of Brayton looked like and what its inhabitants were like.

Fast Forward

Charley & Mary Murphy
After publishing "Long Road," I went to Brayton, Nebraska's Wikipedia page and added that a fictionalized version of the town was used in my novel.

But who on earth would look up Brayton, Nebraska, on Wikipedia? The town hadn't existed for almost 70 years.

Then Mary-Anne Linden contacted me. She'd begun reading my book after discovering it on Brayton's Wikipedia page and asked if I had any personal connection to the town.

I told her why I'd chosen it, and she shared what she knew about the town.

It turns out her mother grew up in Brayton. Mary-Anne's grandfather, Charley Murphy, owned a general store there. He also served as the postmaster and station master.

Charley Murphy's general store in Brayton.

The best part -- Mary-Anne shared photos of Brayton.

Now, between the information and photos she's provided and the tidbits I've dug up through the Internet, books and digital archives, I have a clearer picture of what life in the real Brayton, Nebraska, might've been like.

Here's what I now know:

Brayton's post office was established in February 1888 and discontinued in 1945. From what I understand, World War II played a part in the town's demise as men and women were called out of the remote Nebraska town to become part of the war effort.

The town hit its peak population between 1910 and 1930 with about 75 residents calling it home.

It was a railroad town established by the Lincoln Land Company. The rail that ran through it was part of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad.

Brayton train station

Its inhabitants were Irish (a characteristic that made it into "Long Road").

According to a story by The Associated Press, Brayton had two grain elevators and was fairly important as a grain center until 1936.

It also had a dance hall, a bank, three grocery stores, a blacksmith shop, a hotel, a pool hall, saloons and a horse race track among its amenities.

It was the site of a murder, when Nick and Joe Debusse beat and shot farmer Robert Kuntz on Christmas night in 1891.

Its last resident was Mrs. Tracy Schultz, who is fondly remembered by those who knew her.

The last remaining building at Brayton was the schoolhouse.

And finally, an old plat-map of Brayton Township shows a fun connection to Harry Potter. Well, okay, it shows there was a Muggle family and a Potter family that owned land near Brayton.

At first, I hesitated about adding anything about "Long Road" to the Brayton, Nebraska, Wikipedia page. Now, I'm glad I did, and I'm so thankful Mary-Anne contacted me. The photos and information provided through our exchange satisfies a curiosity I've had for a long time.

To me, it's priceless.
* * *

Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist and the author of "The Long Road to Heaven," available on Kindle for FREE from Saturday, June 18, through Monday, June 20. 


Joanne said...

I'm so glad I found you on Goodreads. I'm a fellow Nebraskan who is planning a July week long trip to Nebraska places I've never been. This trip is inspired by the Nebraska Passport program and Highway 2.

Kathryn Harris said...

Hi Joanne! I'm aware of the Nebraska Passport program. There are so many neat things off the beaten path in this state, a lot of history here. My favorites (aside from Brayton) are the Niobrara River valley canyons at Norden, the cemetery at Ionia (in Dixon Co. north of Newcastle) and Jenner's Park in Loup City. I have yet to visit Antioch out west, but I have a painting on my wall of the potash plant remnants that still sit there. And apparently there's a church at O'Connor, just north of Brayton that is no longer used but is a sight to see. You'll have to let me know how your trip goes. Safe travels and have fun!

Kandi Johnson said...

The church at O'Connor is gorgeous! The interior is amazing. I attended a funeral there a few years back for locally known Bernard Yax.

Kandi Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kathryn Harris said...

Hi Kandi! I wish I had known about the Church of the Visitation when I went looking for Brayton. I'll be making a trip down that way again soon. I'll have to insist my husband and I check it out.