Margaret Creighton grew up on the edge of two great lakes—Erie and Michigan—went to school in New York, New England and New Mexico, graduate school in Boston, and eventually settled happily in the History Department at Bates College.
Her interest in history was sparked by a memorable event. One day, some time ago, her great aunt Letitia, of Thomaston, Maine, handed her a packet of stamped letters tied up with a black ribbon. The letters had never been opened. They were written by Letitia’s mother to her brother, Will, who had decided to follow a family tradition and go to sea. In 1886 he sailed from Newport News, Virginia, headed for Barcelona.
He never made it. The ship Norris disappeared in the mid Atlantic without a trace. The letters for Will were collected by the American consul in Spain, and then returned to his sister. “I am so very sorry,” wrote the diplomat, in an attached note.
This poignant discovery kindled Margaret Creighton’s interest in exploring the social dimensions of seafaring—and the wider world of America in the decades after Independence. She wrote about families at sea, men who sailed before the mast, and, in Rites and Passages, about the maritime lives of American whalemen.
Teaching nineteenth century American history at Bates College meant studying the American Civil War, and it was on a Bates field trip to Gettysburg that she uncovered evidence of another story, one that had largely been bypassed for 150 years. It was the story of soldiers and civilians—immigrant, African American and white women—who found themselves caught in the battle’s crossfire, and who had also fought to bring the Union to victory. This “other” Gettysburg meant seeing and understanding the battle in a different light. The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History, was nominated for the Lincoln Prize and was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five best books written about Gettysburg.
Most recently, Creighton turned her attention to another national crisis: the assassination of a president at the 1901 World’s Fair. The Pan American Exposition was staged to celebrate the United States at the peak of its imperial power and to honor the command of the natural world for electric power. It also touted white American sovereignty over peoples of color worldwide. But the fair didn’t go as planned, and The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City takes the reader through the final months of the fair, when things went tragically and spectacularly awry. It will be published in the fall of 2016.
Historical figures in Rainbow City include an assassin and his attacker, a menagerist and his elephant, a Little Person and her lover, and a woman who wanted to ride a barrel over Niagara Falls. Another major player in this non-fiction account is the host of the exposition, the proud and resilient City of Buffalo.
Margaret Creighton lives in coastal Maine with her husband, grown-up children, and two naughty terriers.