Pittsburgh had a department store chain called Joseph Horne’s, or Horne’s Department Store, or simply Horne’s.
An electric Christmas tree decorated the building’s corner each holiday shopping season.
Horne’s merged with another chain in 1994. Then, the building which housed Horne’s downtown flagship store became offices for an insurance company (Highmark).
However, this tree still graces the building each year from the week before Thanksgiving until New Year’s.
Here is a photo of the building and its tree.
Everything that I know about Horne’s Department Store came from “American Elegy: A Family Memoir” by Jeffrey Simpson. This particular book detailed the author’s family’s experiences in Parnassus, a sort-of Pittsburgh suburb. In the Chapter titled “Parties (Quint and Ruby),” the author wrote the following about his step-grandmother Ruby’s affinity for shopping at the downtown Pittsburgh Horne’s:
When my mother and Ruby were young women in the late 1920s and 1930s, there was a lounge on Horne’s mezzanine where you could wait for friends. The lounge had a book in which you could leave messages for your chums if you had to leave early or had dashed up to Lingerie for a quick purchase while you were waiting; it was an amenity that seemed to belong to a period of orange minks and nose-tip veils, when girls fresh from college, eager with their first salaries, met “in town” for lunch on Saturday.
Simpson wrote that Ruby grew up “poor” and thus as soon as she received her first very own paycheck, she spent it at Horne’s. Ruby referred to Horne’s as the “good” store. She relished the chance to be seen shopping there. Simpson noted that the Parnassus community and Ruby herself thought that Ruby had married up (to a widower with a good family and a good job). That Ruby’s clothes, purchased from Horne’s, helped her to achieve this marriage.
The Horne’s boxes, cream-colored pasteboard with Jos. Horne Co. in light, bright blue on the lid, represented for Ruby the life she had made for herself.
My own maternal great-grandma worked for Horne’s. However, I don’t have any stories about her retail career.
I myself work directly across the street from the old downtown Horne’s building. I never shopped for clothes there. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I started working in Pittsburgh years after Horne’s closed.
When I interviewed for my job, the building housed an Old Navy store.
By the time that I started my job, the Old Navy was a Rite Aid.
I have family who lived in the Greensburg-ish, Pennsylvania, area in the early 1900’s. A bunch of them died young and / or poor, so I can’t tell you much about them. However, because of them, I got stuck on Western PA history.
I read this historical fiction novel titled “Remember the End” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. Turnbull was a New York Times bestselling writer from New Alexandria, PA. How sad that Turnbull didn’t have a snappier pen name! Like Mark Twain. T’would be easier for me to blog about her.
Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). (My sister, a double IUP grad, told me that IUP used to have a Turnbull Hall. This got knocked down and replaced with a parking lot.)
Anyway, Turnbull wrote Remember the End. This novel began in the late 1800’s in Scotland, then moved to the Greensburg area, then ended in Greensburg around 1917.
(The book didn’t actually list dates. I only knew that the book ended around 1917 because at the end of the story, several of the characters talked about fighting in the War (World War I). The War started in 1914. The United States entered the War in 1917. As an FYI, my own great-grandfather did actually fight in this War. He got captured by the Germans and lost the use of his arm in this same War. He returned to his farm in Westmoreland County, and he named one of his mules after the German kaiser.)
At the very beginning of Remember the End, (the very poor) Alex McTay left his home in Scotland. He emigrated to Pennsylvania. He fell in love with Maggie, a (poor, but not quite as poor) Westmoreland County horse trader’s daughter.
Alex married Maggie. He opened coal mines. He became a millionaire before his 35th birthday. He built a fancy home for Maggie in Greensburg.
I think that Turnbull based the protagonist on a hybrid of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. At one point in the story, McTay referred to Andrew Carnegie as his hero or his role model or something.
Unlike Andrew Carnegie, McTay didn’t become a philanthropist.
McTay deliberately ruined his business rival’s life after the rival humiliated him at a fancy Greensburg party.
Remember the End haunts me because my family lived in Western PA during this same time frame. Fictional Alex McTay’s fortune could very well have been built upon my family’s backs.
I posted above a photo of Greensburg’s train station. The Pennsylvania Railroad built this station in 1912. So, if Alex McTay existed in real life, he and his family could have travelled through this station. Did Turnbull visualize Alex McTay in this station?
Turnbull is now buried in New Alexandria. Remember the End is now out of print. I purchased my copy (used) from Amazon this month.
I went to a lecture at a Carnegie Hall last night.
No, I didn’t travel to THE Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.
Jonathan drove me to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. I heard an author speak about her historical fiction novel about the industrialist Andrew Carnegie and his (fictional) Irish maid, Clara Kelley.
I learned that the staff at this library refer to the place as the “Carnegie Carnegie.”
Andrew Carnegie gifted the community of Carnegie with this library since they named their hometown after him. Most of the other libraries named after Andrew Carnegie in Greater Pittsburgh required community contributions to build. Not so with the Carnegie Carnegie. Andrew Carnegie funded this himself.
I came there for the talk by author Marie Benedict about her novel Carnegie’s Maid.
Benedict created the character of Clara Kelley based in part on her own Irish immigrant ancestors who worked as maids during the Industrial Revolution. She cast Clara Kelley as the fictional lady’s maid for Andrew Carnegie’s strong-willed Scottish mother, Margaret Carnegie. The book took place during the years 1863 – 1868. At this point in time, Andrew Carnegie was rich enough to pay for a lady’s maid for his mother. He was rich enough to pay an immigrant to take his place as a Civil War soldier. He was not yet one of the richest men in American history.
I enjoyed reading Carnegie’s Maid. I enjoyed the book talk even more. This was one of the best book talks / author visits that I ever attended. The author brought a slide show with photos of Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Carnegie, and historically significant buildings that figured into the novel. She taught us about her research process.
Here’s something that I noted when I read the book, but that Benedict came out and said: Pittsburgh’s dirty air occupied a role as “its own character” in Carnegie’s Maid. Benedict’s narrator mentioned the dirty air often. Now, the book took place in the 1860’s. However, my own husband’s late Babcia (the Polish word for grandma) worked in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. In that time, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. Babcia brought TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.
Pittsburgh’s air was DIRTY for a century or more. In fact, as I mentioned last week, I wonder often about the role that Pittsburgh’s air played in my own mother’s death from lung cancer.
I was born before Pittsburgh’s steel industry imploded and took a lot of American dreams with it. I visited my grandparents in Pittsburgh (Carrick) during my early years. I remember how the city smelled of sulfur from the mills on a late December night.
Pittsburgh was built on the backs of Americans and future Americans who ingested this filthy air.
Now I work in downtown Pittsburgh. My downtown Pittsburgh is much cleaner than Babcia’s downtown Pittsburgh. I hear the hype about Pittsburgh’s exciting renaissance. I visit some of the trendy, gentrifying “hipster” neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. And I remind myself that people suffered – still suffer – from Pittsburgh’s gritty past.
I brought much of myself and my past into this book as I read it.
Carnegie’s Maid showed Andrew Carnegie as a complex human being. As a hungry opportunist who also built libraries and defined philanthropy.
I want to attend another talk by this author after she releases her next book.
What’s it like to be the real-life great-great granddaughter of a famous ghost? A ghost that prime time television featured?
I just learned all about this from reading American Ghost, by Hannah Nordhaus.
This is a non-fiction / travel/ family memoir. Julia Staab, a Jewish German American who died in 1896, allegedly haunts an upscale hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The author Nordhaus is Julia’s real-life great-great-granddaughter. (The book referred to her as “Julia” so I will as well.)
Julia died in the Santa Fe mansion that her husband, the merchant Abraham Staab, built for their family. She was 52 years old and the mother of eight children. Her youngest child passed away a few years before Julia’s own death. Julia allegedly spent a significant part of the end of her life shut up in her bedroom. She did not attend her own daughter’s wedding.
Decades later, this mansion became the La Posada de Santa Fe, a hotel and spa.
In the 1970’s, a La Posada hotel employee reported seeing a ghost. More ghost claims followed. Rumors and local folklore spread regarding Julia’s “real” cause of death and her existence in the spirit world.
Nordhaus researched family documents, letters, diaries, immigration records, etc. She interviewed family members who had personally known Julia and her children. Nordhaus is a direct descendent of Julia’s daughter, Bertha. She obtained Bertha’s diary, written during the final years of Julia’s life. She travelled to Santa Fe and to Julia’s childhood home in Germany. She discovered that although Julia died in Santa Fe in 1896, Julia’s younger sister, Emilie, perished (at the age of 81) in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943.
Years ago, I watched the NBC primetime show Unsolved Mysteries each week. This show’s season 7, episode 2 (which aired October 2, 1994) included the story of Julia Staab’s haunting at La Posada. The show included coverage of an actual “scientific” ghost hunt, complete with EVP recordings! (If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can watch this episode on Prime at no additional charge. The episode is SO CHEESY!)
If you listen to the Spooked podcast by Snap Judgment, note that Season 2, Episode 14 (The Intruders) told Julia’s story. The podcast included an interview with Nordhaus and promoted her book. I actually found out about American Ghost from this podcast episode.
Now, to be honest, the “tragic story of Julia Staab,” as the general internet presented it, reminded me very much of the internet rumors about the Lemp family of St. Louis. (Here’s a good podcast about the Lemp family.) The patriarchs of both families were extremely rich self-made German immigrants in the mid 1800’s. Both had matriarchs named Julia. Both families included significant amounts of children. Rumors of unexplained tragic deaths followed both the Staabs and the Lemps. Both families struggled with mental illness. Both families lived (and died) in Victorian mansions that fell into decline, underwent renovations, and then became upscale “haunted” hotels.
Dark tourism industries (including ghost hunts, etc.) sprang up around both the Staab and the Lemp family tragedies.
How refreshing to read about Julia in American Ghost, a family memoir written by her own great-great granddaughter!
Now, on a more personal level, I thought about my own personal travel experience to Santa Fe in 2009 when I read American Ghost.
Jonathan and I rode an Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Chicago, and then in Chicago we switched trains and rode to Lamy, New Mexico. The train didn’t go to Santa Fe. In Lamy, an Amtrak contractor picked us up in a cargo van and drove us 18 miles to a car rental in Santa Fe. We did a reverse of this route for the trip home.
We went to Santa Fe that weekend for a wedding. The other guests from Pittsburgh all flew into Chicago, and then flew from Chicago to Albuquerque, and then rented cars and drove to Santa Fe.
We joked that a city that had a RAILROAD NAMED AFTER IT didn’t actually have direct access to the railroad.
I learned from reading American Ghost that Abraham Staab fought to have the railroad build a spur from Lamy to Santa Fe. American Ghost even remarked on the irony that Santa Fe had a railroad named after it, and yet Staab struggled to have the railroad come to Santa Fe. A few decades later, Santa Fe lost its railroad spur.
Speaking of the reference to “Lamy, New Mexico,” American Ghost devoted over a chapter to that town’s namesake, the Catholic Archbishop Lamy. Abraham and Julia Staab apparently fostered a very close relationship with Archbishop Lamy.
American Ghost explored the claims that Abraham Staab’s money helped to build Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (St. Francis Cathedral).
We actually toured the cathedral when we visited Santa Fe.
American Ghost has a copyright date of 2015. I wish that I could have read this before I toured Santa Fe in 2009.
A few months ago, I went to a Barnes and Noble store to watch a “Psychological Thriller Author Panel.”
At this event, five novelists answered questions from the audience and then they each signed books purchased by their fans.
The actual five authors who performed at this event are immaterial to this story, so I will name them as Jane Doe, Jill Doe, Joy Doe, Joanna Doe, and Jada Doe.
I have only actually read the work of Jada Doe. I met Jada Doe at a previous event. I enjoyed Jada Doe’s last novel so much that I read it in one weekend. However, I didn’t watch the event particularly to see Jada Doe speak. I attended the event to watch five different writers speak to the audience and to each other about their experiences. Also, the event was free for me because I didn’t purchase any books that night.
One of the other authors at this event – Jill Doe – is currently NTF. That is, Network Television Famous. At least, her work is Network Television Famous.
Anyway, this event occurred on the same evening as a live music show that my husband Jonathan wanted to attend. The events took place on opposite sides of Pittsburgh. Jonathan dropped me off at Barnes and Noble two hours before the “Psychological Thriller Author Panel” began so that he could find parking at his show.
I won’t complain about having two hours to kill at Barnes and Noble.
However, I got bored looking at books on the Barnes and Noble shelves that I intended to purchase from Amazon. So, I sat down in the special section that a bookstore employee prepared for the “Psychological Thriller Author Panel.” The section consisted of a head table in front of several rows of folding chairs. A sign printed with the five author’s names stood between the chairs and the table.
When I walked into the special section, three people already sat in the front row: a young woman and an older man and woman.
The man pointed at the sign and said loudly, “Which one of those is the famous writer?”
“Shhh!” the young woman said. “You’re embarrassing me!”
A woman with a Barnes and Noble name tag introduced herself to the three people sitting in the front row. The young woman explained that she was a college student and also a huge fan of Jill Doe’s work. The young woman introduced the older man and woman as her parents. She explained that her parents drove her from their home in Greensburg into Pittsburgh so that she could meet Jill Doe.
The five authors showed up, and then the “Psychological Thriller Author Panel” commenced. The five spoke well about their work and their experiences. The question and answer session ended. The spectators formed a line to get their books signed.
I didn’t plan on meeting any of the writers at this book signing, so I watched the young woman who travelled from Greensburg with her parents to meet Jill Doe.
Jill Doe signed the young woman’s book, and then posed with her for a photo.
The young woman bounced back to her parents with her newly-signed book.
So, this isn’t a story about a famous person being a jerk to a nobody.
Sorry to disappoint you.
What I remember most about this evening was that a young woman enjoyed a book (or several books) so much that she convinced her parents to drive her through rush-hour Friday evening traffic from her home in a remote suburb to the major city, so that she could meet this book’s author for five minutes.
I thought, We all have our own people who “love” us in that same way.
Thanks for sticking with me through 2018 and 2019. I am learning how to use another “new to me” camera. Let me entertain you with new scenes and stories.
I’m proud of all four of my sisters. However, tonight I will brag about my sister K.
K. is a librarian in Eastern Pennsylvania and a mother to multiple young children. K. is also a Quizzo champion. (Quizzo is a form of competitive pub trivia.)
K. played Quizzo regularly through several stressful times in her life. She found fellowship and community during these evenings.
So, K. established a Library Quizzo program at her library. She designed a website to instruct others on how to establish Quizzo programs at their own libraries. Finally, K. spoke at the 2019 Pennsylvania Library Association’s annual conference about Library Quizzo.
I attended a “ghost” history walk in Prospect Cemetery last week.
The people of Brackenridge, PA, established Prospect Cemetery in 1864.
This cemetery includes markers from as far back as 1817. (The Victorians moved graves to Prospect from other local burying grounds.)
The remains of Brackenridge’s founder and namesake (Judge Henry Marie Brackenridge) and his family rest here.
The 13 acre cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the Allegheny River, upstream from Pittsburgh.
A few years ago, the cemetery met financial troubles. A local newspaper covered the issue in several articles.
Later, volunteers organized annual “history ghost walks” to raise money for cemetery upkeep.
Jonathan and I attended the walk each year. (We paid $10 per ticket this year.)
Each year’s ghost walk featured Judge Brackenridge and his wife. The other featured cemetery residents varied each year. Volunteers dressed in period costumes as “ghosts” – the people featured on that year’s tour- and reenacted that person. The “ghosts” featured included deceased community members from both the 1800’s and the 1900’s.
This year’s featured “ghosts” included TWO Civil War veterans. One of these veterans was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and taken to Andersonville Prison. He later wrote a book about his wartime experiences. This year’s tour also included a World War I veteran who later served as a police officer for decades.
In my opinion, the “history ghost walk” is a creative solution to the cemetery’s situation.
This year’s walk occurred under a nearly-full moon.
(I’m not aware of any historical fiction that included Henry Marie Brackenridge. However, his father, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, appeared as a character in the novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. Hugh Henry founded the University of Pittsburgh. Here’s another blog post that I wrote about the Brackenridge family.)
I just learned that Parnassus (in New Kensington, PA) shares a man’s brutal life story with downtown Columbus, Ohio. In fact, this story even left its mark on Columbus’ current National Hockey League arena.
Cutright shared one ghost story from his tour – the tale of haunted (cursed, even) Nationwide Arena, the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL team. Cutright revealed that the arena was built on the parking lot for the former Ohio Penitentiary.
Cutright noted that an indigenous Mingo village (Salt-Lick Town) once stood on this entire property. He talked about the village’s destruction in 1774. He noted the tragic death toll of Mingo families, at the hands of white settlers led by a man named William Crawford.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Our William Crawford?“
See, I live in the Parnassus neighborhood in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Parnassus emerged from the remains of Fort Crawford, at the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River.
Colonel William Crawford’s troops in the Continental Army built Fort Crawford in 1777. This was during the American Revolutionary War. Crawford previously fought with the British in the French and Indian War in the 1750’s. Crawford survived the Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat) in 1755. Crawford knew George Washington!
I Googled “William Crawford” and “Columbus.” I saw the portrait of the man who led the attack on Salt-Lick Town in present-day Columbus. This was indeed “our” William Crawford!
Now, to be clear, I do realize that William Crawford doesn’t “belong” to New Kensington. Crawford was born in Virginia. Connellsville, PA, reconstructed his Pennsylvania log cabin. Crawford County, PA, was named after William Crawford. Crawford County, OH, was also named after William Crawford.
I just read a bunch of Crawford’s top Google search results. I skimmed his Wikipedia page. He incites controversy today. He led military expeditions during a time when colonial America was at war with various Europeans and also with various Native Americans. Carnage resulted. I could write an entire blog just on Crawford’s bloody travels and still not get my hands around his legacy.
For instance, Crawford entangled himself in Lord Dunmore’s War. The white settlers and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes attacked each other in this conflict. Virginia and Pennsylvania also violently challenged each other over their border, including a chunk of Western PA. The Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh has an exhibit about this.
Let me tell you a little bit about how Colonel William Crawford died.
First, keep in mind that the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783. However, in the years before this, the settlers in colonial Pennsylvania and Ohio fought the British and they also fought assorted Native American communities. The settlers killed Native Americans, and the Native Americans killed settlers.
In 1778, Crawford led an expedition of colonial settlers that massacred a village of Native American women in Ohio. (The men who lived in this village were away from home at the time.) This colonial expedition included a guide named Simon Girty.
Girty witnessed the slaughter of these Native American women. He later expressed his revulsion for this violence.
Girty returned to his “home base” at Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh. However, Girty then fled west from Pittsburgh. Girty defected from the colonial settlers and joined the British who were in Ohio and Detroit. (Again, this was during the American Revolutionary War against the British.)
The whole “Simon Girty thing” was a big deal at this time because Girty was a white man from Central PA who had been captured by Seneca warriors as a child. Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. Girty built relationships with several Native American communities. He worked as a guide and interpreter. Can you imagine the talent and “institutional knowledge” that he could provide to the British?
(Alexander McKee, of McKees Rocks fame, defected with Girty.)
Then, in 1782, Crawford led the Crawford Expedition against Native American villages along the Sandusky River in Ohio. These Native Americans and their British allies in Detroit found out about the expedition, and they prepared to engage it. These Native Americans and the British troops defeated Crawford and his militiamen.
A force of Lenape and Wyandot warriors captured Crawford. They tortured Crawford. They executed him by burning him on June 11, 1782.
Simon Girty was there, at William Crawford’s execution.
In fact, witnesses alleged that Girty “egged on” Crawford’s captors as they tortured him. Witnesses even alleged that Crawford begged Girty to shoot him as he burned alive, and that Girty laughed at Crawford.
Girty denied that he encouraged the warriors who tortured Crawford.
Girty settled in Detroit, among the British. Years later, Detroit became part of the United States and Girty fled to Canada. At least one internet source listed Girty as a Canadian historical figure. I learned that Girty’s name appears on an Ontario memorial for “Loyalists” (to the British Crown).
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) dedicated at least two plaques in Girty’s memory.
Now, Hannastown was the first county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. I read that the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition. On July 13, 1782, Seneca warrior Guyasuta and his men burned Hannastown and its crops. Greensburg became the county seat after this.
If you want to read historical fiction in which William Crawford and Simon Girty appear, then I suggest “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.
I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.
When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.
We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.
Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.
That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.
Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.
We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.
That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.
Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.
I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.
The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.
Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.
This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!
After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.
For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.
Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:
“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.” . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”
Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”
Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!
Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.” Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)
This spring, author Jennifer Chiaverini released Resistance Women, a novel about the German Resistance in World War II. The protagonists in this novel included Mildred Fish Harnack, a Wisconsin native whom the Nazis arrested for spying. Adolf Hitler personally ordered Harnack’s execution. Resistance Women reached bestselling lists and garnered accolades this summer.
I didn’t read Resistance Women (yet). Instead, I read Chiaverini’s 2016 historical fiction Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth.
In case you’re not an American, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, in April 1865.
“Fates and Traitors” told the story of Booth and these four women who “loved” him (according to the book jacket):
1.) his mother Mary Ann Booth;
2.) his sister Asia Booth Clarke;
3.) his secret fiancée Lucy Hale (the daughter of an abolitionist Republican senator from New Hampshire); and
4.) boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt. The United States government executed Surratt over her alleged role in the Lincoln assassination.
Now, before I get into too much detail about Fates and Traitors, I want to use Chiaverini’s work to explain one reason that I love historical fiction so much.
Chiaverini’s published historical fiction highlighted these families (among others): the Booths, the Lincolns, the Chases (Salmon P. Chase and daughter Kate Chase Sprague), the Grants, and the Byrons (Lord Byron and daughter Ada Lovelace).
The historical characters in Chiaverini books discussed the characters from other books.
For instance, several of the historical figures from Chiaverini’s other books (including Abraham Lincoln) went to see the Booth brothers perform prior to the Lincoln assassination. Several of the historical figures from these books enjoyed reading Lord Byron’s poetry. Several of the historical figures from these books gossiped about Kate Chase Sprague’s political ambitions for her father. Several of the historical figures from these books observed Mary Lincoln’s fine wardrobe. In Fates and Traitors, John Wilkes Booth stalked both the Lincolns and the Grants prior to the Lincoln assassination. In another Chiaverini book, Mrs. Grant observed John Wilkes Booth stalking her.
I learned from my reading that nobody’s family dynamics are perfect.
I personally enjoyed Fates and Traitors. However, the first part of the book moved slowly. I learned about the large Booth family. Family patriarch Junius Brutus Booth Sr. was named after one of the assassins in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Junius Sr. established a highly successful Shakespearean stage acting career in London and Europe. Junius Sr. and Mary Ann fled to the United States to avoid a scandal. Junius Sr. reestablished his acting career in America to great fanfare and acclaim.
The Booth family struggled with one family crisis after another. (Pardon the cliché, but the Booth family created a lot of family drama!)
Three of Junius Sr.’s sons (Junius Jr., Edwin, and John Wilkes) followed their father into acting. I’m under the impression that historians considered Edwin to be a more accomplished actor than his famous father.
Asia raised her own large family and also established herself as a writer and poet. She produced several memoirs about the Booths.
I recommend this book to readers of Civil War historical fiction.