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Legend of disappeared town inspires novelist

Staff writer

When Matt Zieammermann started researching the possible disappearance of ghost town Ashley, Kansas, for a book, he wanted to separate fact from fantasy.

“There’s a lot of truth in it,” he said. “That’s the basis for this, is things that can’t be proven, but we don’t understand yet.”

The vanishing of Ashley in an earthquake that opened up a hole and swallowed the town has been a tall tale that has circulated online since 2012.

Some also speculate that the town was absorbed into a larger community.

Zieammermann took a creative approach to the story in his book, “Ashley,” blending facts with a cast of created characters. The path he pursued was a timeline that had the town disappearing in August 1952.

“I’m not claiming absolute fact to it,” he said. “It’s a big ‘what if.’ ”

Making the book age-appropriate was important as a parent with teenage sons, Zieammermann said.

The story has aspects of the paranormal, but it isn’t steeped in horror or science fiction, said the rural Marion County resident.

“I think people should consider realities outside their own,” he said. “If there were people in a lost little town like that, I think they should have someone to speak for them.”

Researching and writing felt like chronicling the story, Zieammermann said.

“You have to ask yourself what this person would do in a given situation, what they’d say,” he said. “At some point after you get to know them well enough, they start saying these things on their own, and you’re just writing it down.”

Walking the line between fact and fiction was a difficult task that required objectivity, Zieammermann said.

“If you get involved emotionally then it’s just a blob of sentimentality,” he said.

Understanding the characters as an author is important because it makes it easier to portray them in a believable manner, Zieammermann said.

“The characters in a book, especially about a small town in Kansas, you already know them,” he said. “They’re all around you, and they have to act in a way that makes sense.”

Despite investing two years in the project, and having his book already available through businesses like Barnes & Noble, Zieammermann plans to keep writing about the town in another book.

The next step is to examine the issue from a different angle, he said, but that story will have to wait.

Last modified Dec. 11, 2019

 

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