Appreciating the “Greatest Generation.”
As I was writing my first novel for publication, I wanted an angle or trademark to set mine apart. Since my first story took place in Louisville where I reside, I decided to make my future stories take place in the ‘Ville as well.
Once I finished my first series, which was centered on my own parents’ love story (Once in a While is book 1 of that series—the Cherished Memories series), I looked around for a theme on which to build a new series of books. One thing that kept coming to mind was one of our local landmarks, Fort Knox, so I started tossing around ideas for how I could use the famous army base prominently in a story. The answer, of course—since I wanted to keep it historical—was a WWII tale. From there, it took off.
Fort Knox is literally a household word, and “Locked up tighter than Fort Knox” is a common saying. The name embodies the stuff of legends, and it has always fascinated me—especially, of course, the famous “Gold Vault”. If you’re one of the millions who have seen the 1964 James Bond spy film Goldfinger—parts of which were filmed at Fort Knox—you probably think that’s what the interior of the vault is like... don’t feel bad, for years, I did too, lol. The reality, however, is far different, because Hollywood was told, “Absolutely not,” when asked if they could film inside. It is one of the most secret and guarded places on the planet—a Presidential order is required to even gain access.
By the way—the correct title for that auspicious building within the grounds of the renowned army base is the United States Bullion Depository, and it’s located, literally, at the juncture of Gold Vault Road and Bullion Boulevard—how cool is that??
A few tidbits I uncovered...
Did you know that in 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, forbidding the hoarding of gold coins, gold bullion, and gold certificates by American citizens, and forced them to sell these to the Federal Reserve? That sounds barbaric, but to clarify, armed treasury agents did not confiscate it, and not all gold was subject to the law. Gold coins of small denomination were exempt, as was gold used in manufacturing, dentistry and jewelry production—and each person in a household could retain up to five troy ounces of gold bullion coins. The order was issued, basically, to help shore up the country’s sagging economy. Citizens all over had been stockpiling gold since the Crash, the result of which was an alarmingly dwindled reserve in the banks. Things had gotten so bad that the survival of our great democracy was at risk.
As a result of the order, however, it wasn’t long before the federal government needed a large gold depository in which to store it all. So, in 1936, the U.S. Treasury Department began construction of a massive fortified structure at Fort Knox, which was 1,000 miles inland and would be well protected. The first gold shipments began in January of 1937. The transfer took six months and used 500 rail cars! By the end of 1937, the vault contained $12 billion of gold, consisting of old bullion, new bars made from melted gold coins, and some intact coins, as well. (And by the way—that is $430 billion in today’s money). Then, during WWII, the depository held the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, key documents from Western history, original copies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, three volumes of the Gutenberg Bible, reserves from European countries, and a portion of the Hungarian crown jewels, to prevent them from falling into Soviet hands. The repository also held one of four copies of the Magna Carta, which had been on display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Would you be surprised to learn that during the war and even into the Cold War—until the invention of different types of synthetic painkillers—a supply of processed morphine and opium was kept in the depository as a hedge against the US being isolated from sources of raw opium? Who would have thought a “gold vault” protected items such as those?
There are many more interesting tidbits about the vault included in my story, such as minefields, alarms, electric fences, and layers of artillery. No one person knows the complete combinations required to unlock the vault. The fortress includes a separate emergency power plant and water system. The vault’s main door weighs 20 tons, is blast-proof, and there is an escape tunnel from the lower level to be used by anyone who might accidentally become locked in—I wonder if that’s ever happened... ☺
For more exciting tidbits, check out this Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Bullion_Depository
And this amazing video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snSAE5wmGeE
My Soldiers of Swing Series
In order to write my Soldiers of Swing series, I had to really dig in and learn not only facts about the base, but its early history as well. Taking a trip out there (30 minutes from my home) and touring the Patton Museum was the highlight of my research. The gold vault is not the only fascinating aspect to this huge (109,000-acre) military post. Many of the facts I discovered about the infamous Fort Knox are included in my story, Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant.
Ahh, but our beloved Kentucky/Indiana area has so many more intriguing places. Like the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, located in Charlestown, which I feature prominently in the second book of the series, Her Blue-Eyed Corporal. That 10,000-acre, now-defunct facility with 1,700 buildings and 30 miles of fencing was a story unto itself! The details of its record-setting speedy construction and production are nothing short of mind-boggling. It was the world’s largest smokeless powder/rocket propellant plant, owned by the federal government, but operated by the E.I. DuPont Company. In my research, I found accounts of visits by a real spy for Hitler, as well as attempts at sabotage, which I embellished in my novel. ;)
And then I needed one more location, so I chose our wonderful Bowman Field as one of the army bases featured in book #3, Her Blue-Eyed Lieutenant. Some of the things I discovered in my research for this book will make your mouth drop open with shock or laughter. ☺
Louisville and its surrounding environs are rife with history, mystery, and even scandal that will no doubt provide me with fodder for stories for years to come. I’m thinking about researching what Louisville was like during WWI or the Civil War, or even before that, like when it first became a city, and use that in a future series. The possibilities are endless.
Let the adventure begin!