Pre-Statehood Hawaii, Molokai’i Island Research
by Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger
Now you may be thinking, “Oh, poor babies. You have to go to Hawaii for a book.” But you’d be surprised that even after spending hours searching online, a trip to the Hawaii State Public Library in Honolulu and the Molokai Public Library was a must. We needed to get it right!
Our first stop was Molokai’i and its public library, one of three places on the island that had AC and plenty of drinking water. Both of these are in short supply on the island, believe it or not. We spent hours going through newspapers, telephone directories and local magazines from the period. The librarian was more than helpful, pulling out old materials, blowing off the dust and piling them up on the table in categories. We were shocked that after 58 years, the town had not changed that much.
Pictures of the main street Ala Malama Ave. was exactly the way it looked now! The history of how the islands ownership of the sugar mill switched between cattle ranches and crops was like a chess game. We read extensively about the Sugar Mill and its role in the development of the island.
We took notes and gauged our exploration according to what was found in the newspaper articles. The Sugar Mill was in ruins but many parts of the interior and actual mill were intact. As we walked around the overgrown landscape, the original plot we thought of using, changed drastically, especially the Kapu (curses). The local people believed the mill was haunted toward the end of its run.
The trip through the west part of the island was desert-like, flat, dry, red dirt and plenty of places to dump dead bodies. On the west side, tropical foliage with cliffs and beautiful beaches with crashing surf. We took a side road through hills covered with dense forest and large groups of birds fluttering and singing. After a short hike on the trail we came across an old rusty, abandoned shack with saplings pushing against the dilapidated roof and bent sides. A perfect place to hide someone or something illegal perhaps?
The remaining two days on the island was spent interviewing the locals. Since we were out of our element and had some understanding of the layout of the island, we asked our usual question, “Where would you dump a dead body?” We discovered early on that people react differently. Some smiled and walked away, others didn’t even smile when they left. However, quite a few gave us cross streets, and specific building on the main street to check out. This we found a bit “creepy” that they thought about it!
The largest town is Kaunakakai, a consisting of 3 blocks of Mom and Pop shops, a single traffic light, and one gas station. The population hadn’t grown very much since the 50’s and the residents love their isolation. Air conditioning is reserved for the medical center, Post Office and the library. Much like it was in 1955. There were still many unpaved roads.
Fortunately, Molokai is a time capsule because the kind of growth that occurred on the other islands has been restricted in Molokai due to insufficient water and electrical resources needed to support large hotels, resorts and housing developments.
We found out from the locals that families still live near the water’s edge and fish for their living and the main street in town is still the gathering place for the latest news. To this day they still have a custom where the locals gather around the small bakery and visit, gossip, tell stories and basically catch up with each other.
Armed with a lot of notes, and pictures, we flew back to Honolulu on the same Cessna 208B, turboprop that brought us to Molokai’i, a 9 seater with a two man crew. Talk about Indiana Jones!
We spend another two days in Hawaii State Public Library, again the librarian was very helpful pulling magazines, telephone books, newspapers, this time to get an idea what life was like in 1955 Honolulu. We even found great articles about the Red Light District, the perfect place for Skylar Drake and his partner to drown their sorrows. An interesting tid-bit, there was a large, well organized group of locals that didn’t want statehood during this time. They were very vocal about it. Also, politics at the time under the provincial government in Honolulu was as crooked as it was in the main land. Also, traditional Hawaiian music was by and large replaced with Latin music, Mambo, Tango, etc. AND, Huli-huli chicken was developed the summer of 1955. It went on to become a popular food item in Hawaii and the main land soon after. How about that!
After the first day, the librarian was surprised to see us again. As we continued to pour through the periodicals, she came up to us, “Would you be interested in some of the,” she paused for a moment, “legends, superstitions and curses from that time?” Both of us almost fell off our chairs, “Sure!” The rest of the day we read amazing stories, personal accounts and research into the origin of many of them. Fascinated we took photos, photocopies and notes on the amazing accounts locals had.
After our research, the two of us not only typed our notes into our laptops, but we had wonderful brainstorming ideas while sitting in the pool…watching the sunset…every night. The results, great research, new found friends, amazing plots and subplots, character and an interesting novel, STRANGE MARKINGS.