Treasures of a Different Sort

Recently, I was cleaning out my desk when I found a hardback book buried in the bottom of a drawer. It’s a special book, given to me when I was a teenager by an old friend’s mother. Even as a kid I loved to read, and my friend’s mom had an extensive library—a full wall in her basement taken up by custom-built bookcases. I loved looking at all the titles, and she was more than happy to let me borrow whatever I chose.

I was first attracted to The Gregory Hill because of its cover. I thought it looked like a good, spooky mystery. Turns out it wasn’t spooky, but was a good mystery. After reading it twice (several months apart), I looked for a copy of my own. But it was an old book and I didn’t have any luck.

When my friend’s mom got wind of my hunt, she gave me her copy. The book was in nice shape for an older title. She came into possession of The Gregory Hill in 1960 (noted on the inside cover), and passed it to me in 1976 or 1977. I’ve read it multiple times, and the constant wear eventually took its toll. This book is 57 years old. Don’t ask me why I used masking tape to hold it together back in the day. That’s probably all I had at the time, and since it has been taped up for decades, I’ve left it that way. It may look a mess, but I guarantee this is a favored book I would never part with.

The second book is an indie book—published waaaaay before indie books existed. My dad was in the Army Signal Corps, stationed in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. He experienced Burma, India and the Orient. When he was twenty-four, he wrote The Yanks Came, a short fifty page recollection of events during his time there. From the preface (below) he says he published it so that the other soldiers in his company would have a record of what took place. My dad always liked dabbling with words (which is where I inherited my love of writing), but his true passion was art—oil paints, pastels and charcoal. Even so, he published this book and saw that everyone in his company received a copy.

Typeset author's preface page of an old journal from 1946

The Preface of The Yanks Came

My father passed away from cancer when I was thirteen. He was in his fifties then (I was a “late in life” baby), but I treasure the fact that I still have a battered copy of The Yanks Came—one of only two copies in my family. Maybe, somewhere “out there” others copies still exist, tucked away in attic trunks or drawers. Fortunately, the pages inside my copy are in great condition. Only the cover has become worn. Not too shabby considering this book is 71 years old! Take a look…

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And you know what’s even better? I have the original draft of the The Yanks Came. Yep. Talk about a treasure! The pages are tucked away in an old binder. The inside cover page came to me damaged, but otherwise the draft is well preserved. Take a look. The two inside shots are especially interesting.

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Did you note the date on that piece of loose-leaf? September 28th, 1945!! This is something I really treasure. I had goose bumps writing this post.

History. Family. Memories.

—and a love of the written word that echoes through time.

The Tragic Collapse of the Silver Bridge by Mae Clair

I’m back on tour today with my mystery/suspense novel, A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS. Set in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the book is a blend of history and fiction spun around the urban legend of the Mothman and the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge.

Banner for A Thousand Yesteryears, a mystery/suspense release by Mae Clair

Today, I’m at Jan Sike’s blog. Jan is a sister author with Rave Reviews Book Club, and my hostess for the day. If you get a chance, hop over and pay me a visit. I’m blogging about the bridge that defined and forever changed the town of Point Pleasant!

Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of the Drish House by Mae Clair

A federal style edifice located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the Drish House was constructed in 1839 for Dr. John Drish. An affluent physician, Drish moved there with his second wife and his daughter, Katherine, from a previous marriage. Like many old homes, the Drish House is not without its share of legends, a few on the spookier side.  One of the home’s most striking features is a large central tower added in the early 1860s—a tower many claim becomes engulfed by flame in the middle of the night.

An image of the John Drish House By Alabama Department of Education (Alabama Department of Archives and History) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An image of the John Drish House By Alabama Department of Education (Alabama Department of Archives and History) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, a runaway slave once hid in the tower. Eventually forced to reveal himself when thirst and starvation took their toll, he was turned over to his master. A viciously cruel man, the slave owner had him burned to death. To this day, fire plagues the tower as a reminder of his grisly execution. Perhaps it is his ghost sending a message to those who deemed his life of so little value.

Yet another tale involves a set of mysterious candles. Before Mrs. Drish died, she requested the same candles that had been burned at her husband’s funeral service be used at hers. Though many looked for them, they were not discovered until months later. Some believe it is Mrs. Drish’s spirit who lights the missing candles at night in order to illuminate the central tower.

Indeed, Drish family history is not without its share of bizarre and tragic incidents. The first involves Drish’s niece, Helen Whiting, who was a frequent visitor to her uncle’s home. Helen married a man named Fitch, a reportedly jealous sort with a fondness for drink. Employed as a carpenter, he was hired by her uncle to help build the massive staircase in Dr. Drish’s mansion. It was undoubtedly there that Helen first set eyes on the man who would become her husband–and eventually take her life. One day in a fit of rage, Fitch slit Helen’s throat, nearly severing her head from her body. He was later convicted, deemed insane, and locked in an asylum. Some tales say he remained there for the rest of his life, others that he was eventually deemed cured and released.

Around the same time, Katherine’s husband divorced her and sent her back to her family along with their two sons. He feared she, too, was going insane. As a young girl, Katherine had been subject to cruel treatment by her father. She made the mistake of falling for a man who did not meet Drish’s approval. In an effort to discourage the relationship, the doctor locked his daughter in her room for several weeks, allowing her only bread and water. Katherine’s love interest eventually left Tuscaloosa, coerced by her father, and she married a man named W.W. King. The marriage, however, was doomed from the start and with Katherine’s mental state rapidly deteriorating, King dumped her back on her father, and freed himself from the union.

With his niece dead, his daughter disgraced, and his fortune claimed by the hardships of the Civil War, Drish wasted away. He refused to eat and was kept alive through force feeding. He must have regretted his treatment of Katherine, for he made his wife promise she would never send his daughter to an asylum. Mrs. Drish kept the vow, but shuttered Katherine away in her bedroom, sealing the windows and ensuring the door was securely bolted at night. One afternoon, supposedly drunk, Drish leapt from his bed and ran for the staircase. In his stupor, he tripped and plummeted to his death.

His wife lived her remaining years in poverty, eventually perishing in 1884. Shortly before Mrs. Drish died, Katherine’s grown sons returned to the house and removed their mother. Her mental state had grown increasingly fragile over time. I can’t help wondering if her fate might have been different had she been allowed to marry the man of her choice.

Such a sad history. Especially when you consider Dr. Drish and his family weren’t characters in a book, but people who experienced these grim realities. There is no question he left a signature behind. The Drish House has inspired all manner of paranormal research and articles, and was even featured in the first of a series of books by Kathryn Tucker Windham called “13 Alabama Ghosts.”

Worth a shiver, wouldn’t you say?

Mythical Monday: Traditions of Twelfth Night by Mae Clair

For those of you familiar with my blog, you’ve probably heard me mention that twelve is my favorite number. It plays into the name of my latest release, TWELFTH SUN, and also happens to be the name of my favorite Shakespeare play, TWELFTH NIGHT.

Given the winter season, I thought I’d use today’s Mythical Monday as a chance to look back on some of the traditions and folklore related to Twelfth Night. Depending on how you’re counting, it occurs on January 5th or 6th (yep, today!) but the traditions are centuries old. For many Christians, it marks the coming of the epiphany and concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Turn back the clock to Medieval England and it marked the end of a winter festival begun on All Hallows Eve. On Twelfth Night, the King and his court traded places with the peasants. All those in attendance shared in a cake baked at the start of the festival. This confection contained a bean, hidden inside. Whoever found the bean was appointed the Lord of Misrule, who presided over the feast, signaling a world turned upside down. At midnight, his rule would end and the normal order was restored.

Elsewhere, farmers would take to their orchards at night with wassail, a hot mulled cider, used in a ritual to invoke a good harvest.  Often a king and queen would be chosen to lead a procession into the orchard. The group would sing loudly, hoping to awaken the spirit of the apple trees. The men would lift the queen into the branches where she’d place pieces of toast that had been soaked in wassail as a gift to the trees. Sometimes one of the men would mask himself as a bull, a symbol of fertility in hopes that the coming year would bring a good harvest.

bigstock-Hot-Mulled-Wine-Spices-And-Nu-51524908In Colonial America, Christmas wreaths were left on the doors until Twelfth Night. When taken down, any edible bits were removed and consumed as part of a feast. Fruit and nuts were common decorations woven through wreaths, and even used on Christmas trees.

Although I’ve never celebrated Twelfth Night with any type of festivities, I can’t help marking its passing in my mind. Perhaps it’s no more than harkening back to something touched by whimsy and magic. After the joy of Christmas and the glitter of New Years, it’s the last winter celebration of note before the long cold stretch of the remaining season. Perhaps I should brew some wassail for the occasion. 🙂

Here’s hoping your 2014 is off to a great start! Cheers!

Forty-five Years Ago Today: Robert F. Kennedy by Mae Clair

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you probably know there are a few things I’m passionate about:

  1. Writing
  2. Reading
  3. Myth and urban legends
  4. The fictional characters of Aloyisius Pendergast and Gerald Tarrant
  5. Robert F. Kennedy

It’s the last of these I want to reference today.

There is some small part of me that remembers seeing a newsreel of Sirhan Sirhan shoot Bobby Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968. Has it really been forty-five years since that fateful day?

I was much too young to understand what had taken place, but there is a strange clip of the event in my head, as if captured on an old grainy black and white TV.

I wasn’t a child of the 60s. I didn’t understand the upheaval taking place in the nation at the time, or even the enormity of the tragedy coming only two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated and almost five years after the murder of JFK. I can’t imagine the sadness, the depth of senseless loss our nation must have felt.

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Photo By Leffler, Warren K. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are those who say Bobby Kennedy would have taken the White House had he lived. Certainly, he had the momentum to carry him after winning the California primary. It was after giving his victory speech following the primary that his life came to a tragic end. Forty-five years ago today he made the fatal mistake of detouring through the hotel kitchen when leaving the ballroom. Sirhan Sirhan stepped into the crowd of bodyguards, FBI, well-wishers and campaign aides and opened fire with a 22-caliber revolver, hitting the Senator three times. He was forty-two years old.

I never gave Robert Kennedy much thought until after seeing a movie about him in 2002 called RFK. I’m not even sure what made me watch it as I normally don’t care for biographies or movies with a political slant. The moment I saw it, I knew I had to learn more about the man. Maybe it was the performance of the actor – certainly that played a part – but I found my heart engaged by the conflict and crushing weight RFK carried, especially after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This wasn’t just a president who’d been assassinated, but his brother, his closest family member, staunchest ally and loyal friend.

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By LBJ Library photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve since watched multiple biographies, movies, and even a miniseries or two on RFK.  I’ve lost track of the number of books I’ve read from full-blown biographies, to conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassinations to RFK’s campaign trail in 1968.

Why the interest? I know the Kennedys were hardly saints, but I admire Bobby Kennedy’s loyalty (especially to his brother, Jack), his heartfelt desire to bring the nation together during a time when it was torn apart, and his staunch devotion to the underprivileged. Even his ruthlessness in going after organized crime figures of the day (during his tenure as Attorney General of the U.S.). He was passionate in his beliefs and relentless in pursuing them.

Which is why he made enemies. Many enemies. Including Fidel Castro, J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy Hoffa and, if stories are true, then president Lyndon B. Johnson.

This from the man who was once viewed as a timid child by his father.

It’s with sadness and admiration that I remember Robert F. Kennedy today. I can’t help wondering what direction our country might have taken had Bobby Kennedy won the presidency in 1968. Clearly, that achievement was not meant to be. He will be forever remembered as a passionate man who died much too young and far too soon.

Rest in peace, Bobby.

Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Resurrecting the #Mothman

Before I jump into today’s legend, I want to mention I’m also visiting with Sara-Jayne Townsend, sharing a post about fear. And that’s a perfect segue for my Mythical Monday topic. 🙂

Even if you don’t live in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, you’ve probably heard of the Mothman. Much like Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman, this semi-human creature has reportedly been seen by numerous eyewitnesses. Most of the sightings, many documented, occurred during the mid-1960s.

In 1965, a woman told police her son had come in from playing and reported seeing an angel in the yard.

????????????????????????????????????????On November 15, 1966, Roger and Linda Scarberry, along with friends Steve and Mary Mallette, were driving toward Point Pleasant when they saw a large white creature, close to seven feet tall, standing on the side of the road. According to the four friends, the being had wings folded behind its back and red eyes that glowed in the darkness. It took to the air and followed their car as they drove. They described it to police as a ‘’flying man with ten foot wings.’’

Newell Partridge also saw the Mothman later that same night. He was watching TV when the screen suddenly went blank and emitted a loud whining noise, like a generator winding up. Outside, his dog Bandit, began howling. Partridge grabbed a flashlight and hurried to investigate.

Shining the beam around, he spied a creature near his barn, its eyes “two red circles which looked like bicycle reflectors.” Bandit raced after the creature while Partridge darted inside to grab a gun. He later told reporters he was certain the creature had not been an animal. It frightened him so baldy, he thought better of returning outside and slept with the gun by his bed throughout the night. In the morning, he discovered Bandit had disappeared. Tracks in the mud indicated his dog had run ‘round and ‘round in a mindless circle, as if chasing his tail.

Barn at nightTwo days later, Partridge was reading the local paper when he stumbled over an article detailing what Roger Scarberry, his wife, and friends had witnessed the night Bandit disappeared. Scarberry reported seeing the body of a large dog on the side of the road during their drive into town. When he and the others left, returning by the same route, the body was gone.

Bandit never returned and Partridge never saw the dog again.

The bulk of Mothman sightings occurred from 1966 to 1967. During that period over 100 people reported seeing the creature, most on a tract of land about five miles north of Point Pleasant in an area locally known as the TNT Area. During WWII it was used to store ammunition and is located adjacent to what is now a wildlife management station. Densely forested with steep hills, wetlands and tunnels, it’s a virtual labyrinth of secluded hiding places.

Many believe the Mothman sightings of ’66 and ’67 were an omen of looming catastrophe.

Tragedy struck on the bitterly cold day of December 15, 1967. Rush hour traffic was at its peak when the Silver Bridge connecting Point Pleasant to Kanauga, Ohio, abruptly collapsed. Thirty-one cars fell into the icy waters of the Ohio River, resulting in forty-six deaths. Two of the victims were never found, their bodies forever claimed by the frigid river.

Were the Mothman’s appearances and the collapse of the bridge related?

An eyebar-chain suspension bridge built in 1928 and named for the color of its aluminum paint, the Silver Bridge was not well-maintained and was known to sway in strong winds. The mayor at the time even banned its use during parades. Later analysis revealed the bridge collapse was caused by a small, 0.1 inch defect in a single eyebar—a straight metal bar with a hole at each end for connecting to other bars in the chain.

Scientific and rational scrutiny aside, it’s interesting to note sightings of the Mothman virtually stopped after the Silver Bridge collapse. Had the creature been trying to warn of impending danger?

Skeptics claim the Mothman may have been a sandhill crane, a bird that can reach a height of over three feet, with a six-foot wingspan. Given the wetlands and wildlife refuge nearby that may be a legitimate argument, but cryptozoologists and many residents of Point Pleasant believe otherwise.

If you visit the small town, don’t be surprised by the sight of an imposing stainless steel Mothman statue leering down at you. You can find “Mothy” in downtown Point Pleasant’s Gunn Park, a reminder of the brief span during the 1960s when sightings were rampant. You can also take part in the annual Mothman festival, held every September. Whatever you do, I caution against visiting the TNT Area. Who knows what danger lurks among the concrete munitions igloos and densely treed hillsides?

Harbinger of doom, or messenger sent to warn of danger, the Mothman legend continues today. I’m intrigued by it so much I’m already planning a novel!

Mae Clair: Rats, Worm Castles and Gettysburg

IMG_0099I’ve had some fun stuff going on this week, including a new 5-Star review of WEATHERING ROCK by Dii of Tome Tender. These always get me seriously jazzed and this one was no different. Dii had some lovely things to say about the story and my characters that left me floating on cloud 9 (yeah, that cloud). You can find the complete review here.

I also finished the final round of content edits on TWELFTH SUN, my contemporary mystery/romance releasing in August. It was great to visit with Elijah and Reagan from Twelfth again. I forgot how much fun they were. Wait until you see what those two get up to! 😀

I also managed a new chapter on my current WIP, THE MYSTERY OF ECLIPSE LAKE starring Dane Carlisle and Ellie Sullivan. With all of these characters vying for attention in my head, I ended up with a virtual party. Mixed together, I entertained a Civil War Colonel, photojournalist, marine archeologist, interior decorator, an ex-con and a history teacher. Quite a potpourri of imaginative friends. And then there’s Jesse, Dane’s highly opinionated seventeen-year-old kid who would probably give even the colonel a thing or two to digest. Actually, there’s no ‘probably’ about it. 😀

But we won’t go there. For this post, I want to talk about Gettysburg and Caleb, my hunky werewolfy colonel from WEATHERING ROCK.

Caleb is originally from the 1800s and fought in the battle of Gettysburg on the side of the Union Army.  I’m fortunate that Gettysburg is only about a forty-five minute trek from where I live. As a child, I visited the battlefield several times during field trips, then pretty much forgot about it until many years later when I rediscovered history as an adult. Since then, my husband and I have been there many times.

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The Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg. Notice the person standing on the upper level to the right of the dome.

In WEATHERING ROCK, I mention the Pennsylvania Monument. For those of you who have never been to Gettysburg, it really is the largest and most impressive monument on the battlefield. During one of the visits my husband and I made, we happened to hit the monument at the same time as a busload of junior high school kids. I remember walking up the steps (it’s raised and has two stories) as a young girl came racing down. She must have been the tattler in the group because she immediately rushed up to a woman (who I guessed was the teacher) and breathlessly informed her two of the boys were spitting off the upper level, betting on who could hit someone below.Hubby and I had a good laugh over the whole thing (although not in front of the woman). When I wrote about Caleb and Arianna visiting the Pennsylvania Monument—along with several of Arianna’s schoolchildren—I used the ‘spitting scenario’ at the Pennsylvania Monument. It was too good to resist. But I also had some fun with the kids earlier in the story. Here’s a snippet from their bus trip with Caleb and Arianna:

“Ms. Hart, when are we going to stop for lunch?” Beth Regal asked, joined in a chorus of whiney fidgeting by Lisa and Trudy.

“Soon,” Arianna promised. There was a picnic area a short distance down the road. After that, she could let everyone burn off excess energy by hiking up Little Round Top. “I hope everyone packed a good lunch. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m hungry.”

“I brought a sandwich, soda and chips,” Beth piped up. “And I have oatmeal cookies for desert.”

“What about Slim Jims?” Danny wanted to know. “Lunch ain’t squat without a Slim Jim.”

“Don’t say ain’t, Danny,” Arianna corrected. “And I think you need more than a Slim Jim for lunch.”         `

Caleb looked puzzled. “It’s got to be better than hardtack.”

“What’s that?” Scott Albright asked.

“A type of food soldiers ate during the Civil War. It was made of flour, water and salt. Sort of like a hard cracker. Not very appetizing, especially when weevils laid their larvae inside. Most of the men took to calling them ‘worm castles.’”

“Ewww!” Trudy proclaimed.

Caleb chuckled. “If you think that’s bad…” And he went on to relay how as the war progressed and times grew worse–especially in the South where hardships were more severe–people were sometimes reduced to eating things like snakes, rats, locusts, cats and dogs. The girls shrilled their revulsion while the boys found this new information worthy of intense examination.

“You mean like real rats?” Danny was incredulous.

“You could buy a dressed one in a butcher shop in some cities for about two dollars and fifty cents,” Caleb confirmed.

Arianna shook her head. “Caleb. You could have picked a better topic before lunch.” But she couldn’t stop smiling at how animated the group had become, the boys exuberantly discussing rats hanging in shop windows, the girls indignant that anyone would consider eating a cat or a dog. Somehow, despite the subject matter, everyone managed to down a sandwich when they stopped at a shaded picnic area.

~ooOOoo~

As someone who’s hiked Little Round Top numerous times and stopped for a sandwich at some of Gettysburg’s shaded picnic areas, I can tell you it takes more than a few hours to observe. You can take it in by horseback if you prefer and there are plenty of bike trails. Because the park is so large we usually drive it, stopping here and there for short hikes. I haven’t been back since they redid the visitor’s center, but will probably make a trip this summer. If I’m lucky, I might even run into a blond-haired colonel from the 1800s, a harried school teacher, and a group of kids discussing rats and Slim Jims (although I’d be more than happy to settle for the colonel).

I’ve lost track of the historical sites I’ve visited over the years. How about you? Have you ever been to Gettysburg? If not, where else have you been that the ghosts of history still linger?