The technological marvel of its age, the Erie Canal grew out of a sudden fit of inspiration. Proponents didn't just dream; they built a 360-mile waterway entirely by hand and largely through wilderness. As excitement crackled down its length, the canal became the scene of the most striking outburst of imagination in American history. Zealots invented new religions and new modes of living. The Erie Canal made New York the financial capital of America and brought the modern world crashing into the frontier. Men and women saw God face to face, gained and lost fortunes, and reveled in a period of intense spiritual creativity.
Heaven's Ditch by Jack Kelly illuminates the spiritual and political upheavals along this "psychic highway" from its opening in 1825 through 1844. "Wage slave" Sam Patch became America's first celebrity daredevil. William Miller envisioned the apocalypse. Farm boy Joseph Smith gave birth to Mormonism, a new and distinctly American religion. Along the way, the reader encounters America's very first "crime of the century," a treasure hunt, searing acts of violence, a visionary cross-dresser, and a panoply of fanatics, mystics, and hoaxers.
A page-turning narrative, Heaven's Ditch offers an excitingly fresh look at a heady, foundational moment in American history.
"In this bright, breezy, and immensely informative account, Jack Kelly interweaves the saga of one of the nation's greatest engineering feats, the Erie Canal, with the stories of Joseph Smith and a half dozen other colorful figures who peopled upstate New York in its most creative period."—Richard Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
"Jack Kelly has a whole new take on two old creations—the Erie Canal and the Second Great Revival—deftly synthesizing familiar separate stories into a timeless interplay of technological and religious fervor, speculation and salvation. Heaven’s Ditch reminds us how man and God have long mingled in the psyche of America where strong, deep, competing urges for commercial and spiritual uplift give us destructive chaos and astonishing progress. Heaven’s Ditch is beautifully written and masterfully told: intelligent and insightful new history."—Gerard Koeppel, author of Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire
"Heaven's Ditch is the fantastic story of a fantastic undertaking through a fantastic country, the wild, turbulent, sometimes murderous construction of the greatest engineering project since the pyramids, built through an America bubbling with religious revivals, get-rich-quick schemes, and manifest destiny. It's all true! Stranger than fiction but just as entertaining."—Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd
"Compelling . . . Kelly captures the enormous excitement of these heady days. An intriguing synthesis of American cultural and economic currents in the early 19th century."—Kirkus Reviews