Hear me out. (If you do, there's a surprise at the end!)
Ottawa is a little city that you've probably never heard of, but it boasts a hefty historical background that includes Abraham Lincoln, the I&M Canal, and the Radium Dial Corporation. Murals throughout Ottawa's downtown depict scenes like Native Americans hunting buffalo, soldiers marching to join the Civil War, turn-of-the-century children playing with marbles made in their own Peltier Glass Factory, and the centennial of the Great Debate.
Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were debating the hot topic of the day: slavery, in a debate that was attended by a crowd of 14,000, an astounding turnout for a senatorial debate in the mid-19th century. If your brain is churning through dates right now, you will have calculated that Lincoln lost to Douglas. Otherwise, he would not have been able to be elected President in 1860. One might say that Lincoln excelled at losing the battle but winning the war.
Washington Square is also home to memorials to Ottawa soldiers in the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI & II, Korean War, and Vietnam.
Just east of the Reddick Mansion is a construction site. It is a future Subway - the sandwich shop, not underground trains - but some local residents have vowed never to eat there. Why? The lot used to be the address of Radium Dial, a company that left the town poisoned by radioactivity and caused the painful unnecessary deaths of many young women who worked there from WWI until they closed in 1934.
|Catherine & her children, Chicago Daily Times, 1938|
Long after experts understood the dangers of radium and long after Radium Dial understood what was happening to these girls, the girls themselves figured out that the teeth they were losing, the diseases they were suffering, the pain coursing through their bodies, and the cancers they were dying of were caused by radium poisoning. Radium Dial fought with lies, lawyers, and deep pockets to avoid paying restitution to the women and their families or making changes to the workplace.
Catherine is the reason I went to Ottawa. She will be featured in my next novel, because the story of the Radium Girls, as she and her friends became known, needs to be told. It is a story not just of worker exploitation and corporate greed, but more importantly of friendship, faith, and resilience.