Remember the End: Greensburg Historical Fiction

Greensburg Station. Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Photo taken November 3, 2019. This is now the Greensburg Amtrak station. This was originally a Pennsylvania Railroad station. The station opened in 1912. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

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.

My Trip to Carnegie Hall

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.

Book Report: American Ghost

Hill, railroad tracks, Lamy, new mexico.
Lamy, New Mexico. June 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

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.

St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico. June 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

American Ghost has a copyright date of 2015. I wish that I could have read this before I toured Santa Fe in 2009.

Embrace the People Who Love You

Linn Run State Park, PA, October 26, 2019
Jenny Woytek

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.

Cokie Roberts Inspired This Blog Post

FYI: NOT our boat.

Blogger’s Note: I originally posted this on July 6, 2019. However, today (09/17/19) I learned of Cokie Robert’s passing. So, I present to you my redux of the blog post that Cokie Roberts inspired.

My husband Jonathan and I recently purchased a 35 foot sailboat.

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.)

Stay tuned for my next sailing update.

Fates and Traitors

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.

Betrayed by Technology?

I promise you that I actually blogged today about a woman writer and history. However, if you wanted to read straight history right now, you could just go to Wikipedia or something. So today, I took a page from Sarah Vowell’s playbook and wrote about myself for a few paragraphs before I got to my actual topic.

I grew up without internet access as a country girl in Somerset County, PA. At some point, I got the idea that everyone from Fox Chapel (a Pittsburgh suburb) was rich and sophisticated. When I was in high school, I met this guy who actually lived in Fox Chapel. I thought that the guy was All That because he came from Fox Chapel. (Looking back, he was probably just trying to get by in teenage life, like me.) Anyway, one day he and I and a bunch of other people our age had a discussion about how to keep in touch. The Fox Chapel Guy said something to the effect of, “And of course, there’s always email.” Well, I had never before heard of email. However, I didn’t want to look like a bumpkin. So, I didn’t say, “What’s email?”

In the years since high school, I changed from the girl who had never heard of email to the woman who felt betrayed whenever Technology did not behave the exact way that she expected Technology to behave.

Case in point: my mother-in-law passed away in 2016, and then my own mother passed away in 2018. Both losses devastated me. I announced both deaths on Social Media shortly after they each happened. I felt betrayed by Social Media when I decided that the Social Media reaction to my mother’s death was not as strong as the Social Media reaction to my mother-in-law’s death.

Here’s another example of how Technology let me down: I don’t use Twitter extremely often. However, I thought that I was brilliant because I curated my Twitter feed to follow the PA Turnpike, the National Weather Service, the Pittsburgh Port Authority (since I take public transit to Pittsburgh for work), the local emergency management office, etc. (Also, whenever we travelled through Ohio, I followed the Ohio Turnpike’s Twitter feed that day.) However, on the day that we had a major flash flooding event and I depended on Twitter to plan my trip home, Twitter broke.

(Technology doesn’t always betray me. I’m shy, so I hated it whenever I showed up for a social event and I didn’t see anybody that I knew extremely well. I used to sit alone and feel like a loser. Now that I own a smartphone, I can sit alone, play on my smartphone, and not feel like a loser.)

When I read about history now, especially history from the Industrial Revolution, I pay a little bit of attention to the ways that Technology changed the story. Especially communication-related Technology.

I read part of “The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant).” Julia Dent Grant (JDG) was born in 1826. In 1844, Samuel Morse sent the United State’s first telegram over a wire from Washington to Baltimore. (Congress partially funded this.) In 1845, JDG’s father, Frederick Dent, travelled from their home in St. Louis to Washington for business. He sent a telegraph to Baltimore. JDG wrote that her father received an answer within an hour and that “it savored of magic.” The event was such a big deal that Frederick Dent brought the telegraph repeater tape back home to St. Louis to show the family.

Now I’m going to skip ahead in the memoirs to 1851. At this point in the memoirs, JDG is married to Ulysses S. Grant and they have an infant son. Julia visited family in St. Louis while her husband was stationed at Sackets Harbor, near Watertown, in New York State. JDG planned to telegraph her husband from St. Louis, and then travel with her nurse to Detroit. Then, she would release her nurse and meet her husband in Detroit. Finally, she would travel with her husband from Detroit to Sackets Harbor. I am under the impression that the trip from St. Louis to Detroit to Watertown was all by train.

Well, JDG telegraphed her husband in St. Louis per the plan. She left St. Louis and travelled with her nurse to Detroit. She dismissed her nurse and waited for her husband in Detroit. Her husband never showed up. JDG eventually travelled alone with her baby to Buffalo, hoping to meet her husband there. Her husband wasn’t in Buffalo, so she continued on the train to Watertown. From Watertown, she had to hire a carriage (the Uber of the 1800’s), and travel to Madison Barracks, the military installation at Sackets Harbor. The entrance to Madison Barracks was closed, so she had to yell to get a sentry’s attention.

The telegram that JDG sent to her husband from St. Louis arrived at Sackets Harbor IN THE NEXT DAY’S MAIL.

That’s right – at some point in the journey, the telegram failed to perform its basic function as a telegram. The telegram became snail mail.

After JDG’s husband was promoted during the Civil War, he travelled with his very own personal telegraph operator. (In fact, the Grants learned about President Lincoln’s assassination through a personal telegraph received by the personal telegraph operator.)

By the end of the Civl War, the Grants had come a long way since their days of “snail-mail telegrams.”

Other people have actually written entire books about how telegraphs and semaphores affected the Civl War.

Here’s one of my favorite parts of JDG’s memoirs: At one point during the war, JDG asked her father, Frederick Grant, why the country didn’t “make a new Constitution since this is such an enigma – one to suit the times, you know. It is so different now. We have steamers, railroads, telegraphs, etc.

I just find this so fascinating because JDG witnessed her country’s tremendous changes that resulted from Technology. She wondered how all of these Technology changes affected her country.

I, personally, spend a lot of time wondering about how Communication Technology in general – the telegraph, the internet, whatever – changed our national culture and also changed each of us as people.

Do you wonder about this?

I forgot about Jessie Benton Fremont!

In my last blog post, I completely forgot to mention Jessie Benton Fremont (1824-1902).

She was the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton and also the wife of John Fremont.

My high school history class didn’t teach me this story about Thomas Hart Benton: Benton served as an aide-de-camp under General Andrew Jackson in the war of 1812. Benton got into a dispute with Jackson over something.

One day in September 1813, Jackson was in Nashville. Benton and his brother Jesse Benton (not to be confused with Jessie Benton) arrived in Nashville. Jackson found out. Jackson headed towards the hotel where the Benton brothers were staying. Jackson reportedly yelled, “Now show yourself, you damned rascal!”

Jackson ended up in a gunfight against the Benton brothers. Jesse Benton (Jessie Benton Fremont’s uncle) shot Andrew Jackson twice. Jackson almost lost his arm in this gunfight. Jackson survived. Jackson’s arm also survived.

Jackson later won the Battle of New Orleans and eventually became POTUS.

Thomas Hart Benton later became a United States Senator for Missouri.

Jessie Benton eloped with John Fremont when she was 16 or 17 years old.

John Fremont was the Republican party’s very first presidential candidate and also a governor of California. He served as a general in the American Civil War. Fremont emancipated all of the slaves in Missouri without authorization, before POTUS Abraham Lincoln issued his own Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln removed Fremont from his command.

Decades later, Jessie Benton Fremont wrote several books about her husband’s adventures and her own in the American west. Her earnings from her career as a writer supported her family during a financial crisis.

As I mentioned in my prior blog post, I’m curious about the events and “influencers” who made it acceptable – trendy, even – for the high-status women of the Civil War to strive for their own writing careers. After all, Dolley Madison didn’t write a memoir about that time that she fled the British.

Presidents’ Wives and Generals’ Wives

I wrote this blog post about privileged married women from elite families who wrote about their experiences during the American Civil War.

I recognize that women of color, women across the socioeconomic spectrum, unmarried women, and LGBT women also wrote stuff. However, this specific blog post is about privileged married women from elite families.

Now, in this earlier Parnassus Pen post, I blogged about Juliette Magill Kinzie. Kinzie wrote several books about the Kinzie family’s role in the history of Fort Dearborn and the founding of Chicago. (Here’s a magazine article that mentioned the controversy regarding Kinzie’s book about the Battle of Fort Dearborn.)

(This article from the Chicago Tribune speculated that Kinzie’s father-in-law, the trader John Kinzie, committed Chicago’s first murder. Kinzie’s granddaughter, Juliette Gordon Low, later founded the Girl Scouts of the USA in Savannah, Georgia.)

Kinzie lived from 1806 – 1870. She published her first work in 1844. I bookmarked Kinzie as an example of a woman from a well-connected family who upset the status quo as a woman writer BEFORE the Civil War.

(Incidentally, Kinzie’s husband and sons were Union Army officers during the American Civil War. Her son-in-law was a Confederate Army officer. Her family knew General William T. Sherman socially.)

Then, I came up with a list of elite wives and widows who wrote their own memoirs and first-hand accounts in the decades AFTER the Civil War.

For instance, Mary Boykin Chesnut (wife of former U.S. Senator and Confederate Brigadier General James Chesnut, Jr.) revised her Civil War diary several times, hoping to see it published. Chesnut passed away in 1886. She didn’t live to see her diary published. However, the diary was published decades later to great fanfare.

Varina Howell Davis (wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) was friends with Mary Chesnut. According to Wikipedia:

Davis became a writer after the American Civil War, completing her husband’s memoir. She was recruited by Kate (Davis) Pulitzer, a distant cousin and wife of publisher Joseph Pulitzer, to write articles and eventually a regular column for the New York World. Widowed in 1889, Davis moved to New York City with her youngest daughter Winnie in 1891 to work at writing.

Then, Wikipedia had this to say about Varina and Jefferson Davis’ daughter, Winnie Davis:

Later in the 1880s, she appeared with her father on behalf of Confederate veterans’ groups. After his death, she and her mother moved in 1891 to New York City, where they both worked as writers. She published a biography and two novels .

In 1899, Julia Dent Grant (the wife of Commanding General of the United States Army and POTUS Ulysses S. Grant) finished her own memoir. She became the first First Lady to write such a thing.

(Per this Washington Post article, Mrs. Grant couldn’t find a publisher for her memoir during her lifetime. The memoir was published decades after her death. I purchased it in Kindle form, so I can read it on my iPad.)

I know that Varina Davis became acquainted with Julia Grant after both women became widows.

So, I wonder how much of an influence the elite woman of both sides of the Civil War had on each other in regards to their individual writing careers.

Here are some other elite women who wrote books after the American Civil War:

In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Elizabeth Bacon Custer (the widow of United States Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer) wrote several articles and books about her husband’s military experiences.

LaSalle Corbell Pickett (the widow of Confederate General George Pickett) wrote three books between 1899-1913 about her own husband’s military career.

Now, I realize that in earlier time periods, society didn’t look favorably on women who wrote books – or even drew attention to themselves! I read one novel about the antebellum south which noted that respectable women expected to have their names in a newspaper only three times: at birth, marriage, and death. As far as I know, Dolley Madison never wrote a book about that time that she fled from the White House before the British burned it down. (Also, if you have time to kill, Google “Rachel Jackson” and “presidential election of 1828.”)

I know that U.S. Grant finished his memoir less than a week before he passed away in July 1885. I know that quite a few of the prominent men from the Civil War wrote their own memoirs. However, in this blog post, I don’t care greatly about the books that the men wrote. I care about the books that the women wrote.

I’m curious about the events and “influencers” who made it acceptable – trendy, even – for the high-status women of the Civil War to strive for their own writing careers.

You readers are all fabulous. Please come back soon.

Edit: I forgot all about Jessie Benton Fremont! See my next post.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” By Maria Semple

I committed to blogging this month about women writers. Then, I realized that the movie “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” will finally be released this month.

This movie was based on the book of the same name by Maria Semple. The movie was supposed to be released over a year ago, but the release date was pushed back twice.

The story actually took place mostly in Seattle. However, the actual movie was filmed in Pittsburgh and my current town, New Kensington. In fact, one scene was filmed down the street from my house, at the former Bloser’s Jewelry building. I pasted above a photo that my husband, Jonathan Woytek, took of this same building in 2009.

I read the book a few years ago. I didn’t care for it. I took the book too seriously. This novel was a dark comedy. Just about every adult who appeared in the story was a jerk. The protagonist’s husband was a fancy schmancy developer at Microsoft. The protagonist (Bernadette) was an award-winning architect who dropped out of her own life after professional and personal setbacks. I personally believe that “untreated mental illness” was another main character in this story. I think that I would have enjoyed the novel more had I read it with a “tongue-in-cheek” attitude.

I’m interested in seeing which scene or scenes from the movie were shot in New Kensington. I’m also interested in seeing how well the novel’s dark comedy translates to the big screen. I might possibly watch this movie.

Check out this link to the blog post that I wrote about the book two years ago, on my old blog.