(From Bob Dotson, NBC News National Correspondent)
History is a sly dog most of the time. It manufactures its most interesting moments in strange, secret places. Take This week's American Story with Bob Dotson. We found a man who might today be the Emperor of Russia, it's Czar, if the Communists hadn't taken over in 1918. He lives not in a castle, but in small coastal town in northern California. WATCH VIDEO Andrew Romanoff, now 84, came to this country with eight hundred dollars in his pocket. Earned a living as an artist. No, not creating Faberge' Eggs. Shrinky Dinks. That's right. Those plastic squares on which kids love to paint. He's quite good.
Art replaced Romanoff's dreams of a kingdom, long ago.
I've become acutely aware of people's dreams. Their geography of hope. I did a story one time about a family that had built an extraordinary life on not much more than that. They live in the Australian Outback, some of the driest country on earth. In order to make a modest living they must farm 125 square miles. On that ranch they raise seven thousand sheep. Richard Warwick sets out every morning on a motorcycle looking for them. His sheep dog rides on the back so he won't be tuckered out when they find them.
When the Warwicks first settled there, they built a small town. It had a minister, a doctor, a postman, school teacher. 50 people. Today the countryside around their home looks like an abandoned battlefield. Monumental lumps of machinery lie broken and rusting into the landscape. They tried raising wheat. Too dry. Corn. Too dry. One by one the people left, convinced that a dead heart lay at the core of their continent. But the Warwicks stayed.
Today they care for those seven thousand sheep with only one hired hand. It is only will power that holds them and that is poor sustenance. Their oldest daughter's best friend lives 600 miles away. The kids dress up on Halloween and describe their costumes to their pals over a two-way radio.
For 159 years -- for five generations -- not a day had gone by without a Warwick on this land. Why? Why would they stay? If it hadn't been for the United States, they would not have been there. Our Revolution deprived England of its dumping ground for convicts. Since they could no longer be sent to Georgia, King George shipped them off to Australia. It was a grueling journey. Eight months at sea. The Warwicks ancestors arrived safely.
To remind future Warwicks of this Providence, the family started a diary. Richard took me to a weathered old barn nestled under an ancient pepper tree on his farm. Inside -- stacked from the floor to the ceiling -- were hundreds of those diaries, dating back to 1839. In one entry a shepherd boy named "George" had died. It said he was buried in the family cemetery. A reminder was added to call the next child "George," so the name would carry on.
The afternoon sun slanted through the eucalyptus trees when Grandfather Warwick led me down to the cemetery. It was a beautiful October day. Richard's mother stopped now and then to pick tiny purple flowers called "Salvation Janes," named for the colors of the Salvation Army. When we reached the iron gate and entered into the cemetery, Grandmother Warwick turned to Grandfather and said,
"Frank, do you remember when we first came here?"
"Yes, Mary," he said. "It was the day we got engaged and came down here to pick out our plot."
No Warwick is ever really alone out there. Family is all around them, reminding them to make a difference in this world.
Most of us just watch history in the making -- every morning on TODAY. The Warwicks and the Romanoffs lived it. If you stumble upon an interesting person in a secret place, drop me a note at our American Story with Bob Dotson mailbag. We are all citizens of history.