11/13/11 496 W, 3 I - + 13 - 2 Great Mistakes

Had a conversation recently about my experiences authoring my Raleigh & Wake County Firefighting books. Note the word "authoring," which I prefer over the word "writing." Those books were photo histories, if you will, and the amount of "writing" was comparatively minimal. Research was a bigger part of that process, and the months (and later years) of that work resulted in a nice, long list of historical facts. Most of my facts were correct, but there were some errors. My "big stack of data" contained mistakes and some of which made their way into those books. (Yours Truly was but an aspiring historian at this point, and with minimal experience as a researcher. He didn't know what he didn't know, neither with regard to specific points or larger contextual issues that would help spot specific goofs.)

What were some of the whoppers? The most egregious is probably the claim that Sherwood Brockwell, Raleigh's first full-time fire chief, was also the first full-time fire chief in the country. Wrong! That one was called to the author's attention by a seasoned reader at the Baltimore Fire Expo, during my book sale at the Sunday flea market. He cited several departments that had full-time fire chiefs many years or even decades before Raleigh. (Where did that misstatement originate? It was drawn from a single source, a book about the history of Raleigh that was published maybe two decades ago. Based on subsequent research, the author of that book may have meant Brockwell was the youngest fire chief in America at the time. That statement was made at the time of his appointment and training. Was it true? Don't know!)

There were a few other gross mistakes in both books. In the first volume, there's a photo of Old Station 6 that isn't Old Station 6. Wrong building. Didn't catch that one for years, and despite having had a newspaper clipping showing the correct building. The wrong building at 2515 Fairview simply looks like an old fire station. The correct building at 2519 Fairview Road is right beside it, and looks nothing like a former fire station. Nor should it, since the one-story former drug store was only rented for a few years)


There were quite a few smaller errors, notably names and dates to be tweaked. Some were corrected in the 2004 reprinting of the first volume. Others may see correction in future prints. For those keeping score at home, here's the complete list of corrections for Volume I and Volume II. Correct your own copies as desired. (Correcting errors on web pages and blog posts is infinite easier. More on that subject at a later time.) Next question, what's the best way to write such books and guarantee no errors? The answer, from a veteran Images of America author, is simple: don't write books.

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