It was America’s greatest public works project and it gave us the very first “crime of the century,” along with wild treasure hunts and a parade of fanatics, mystics, and hoaxers. Yes, it’s the Erie Canal. A new book by author Jack Kelly entitled Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal, tells how the canal changed the nation and generated wild excitement in the process.You can join Kelly for a talk and discussion about the book at the Museum of Wayne County History in Lyons on July 7. He’ll be joined by local musician Mark Herrmann singing familiar canal songs. Having grown up in nearby Ontario, Kelly knows the territory well. “I remember watching barges go through the locks in Macedon,” he says. “And we often drove by Hill Cumorah, outside Palmyra, where Joseph Smith found the gold plates containing the Book of Mormon.”Jack Kelly’s writing has ranged from crime novels and screenplays to books about history. He recently won the Daughters of the American Revolution History Medal for his book Band of Giants, a narrative of the Revolutionary War. His attraction to the Erie Canal goes beyond the local connection. “The completion of the canal in 1825,” he notes, “was the critical event of the early Republic. And it turned western New York into the most exciting region of the country.”Heaven’s Ditch discusses the technical challenges of building the canal, as well as the political and religious upheavals ranging from the birth of Mormonism to early anti-slavery sentiment. It’s a chance to learn about history that happened in our own backyard. If you can’t make the event, Heaven’s Ditch, published by St. Martin’s Press, is available wherever books are sold.WHERE: The Museum is at 21 Butternut Street in Lyons, a stone’s throw from the canal. WHEN: Thursday, July 7, at 7:00 pm.