Tuesday, April 26, 2011

President Rutherford B. Hayes Announces Plans for a Midwestern Tour, April 26, 1879

Before George W. Bush and Al Gore battled over the presidency, Rutherford B. Hayes was thought to have "stolen" the office of president. The election of 1876 was plagued by corruption, back room deals, and bitterly contested election results. When it was over, Samuel Tilden of New York had 51% of the vote and 184 electoral votes. Hayes had 185 electoral votes but only 47% of the popular vote. Elections were contested and electoral votes up for grabs in Florida (have we heard this before, Louisiana, and South Carolina. One of the electoral votes of Oregon was declared illegal and not counted. Hayes, the Republican candidate, was awarded the contested states giving him the victory and forever marking his presidency as the "stolen election."

When the spring of 1879 rolled around, the Republicans were starting to panic about the upcoming 1880 election. The suddenly remembered that Samuel Tilden had carried the entire Midwest and all of the South except those three contested states. It also occurred to them that the deal that gave President Hayes Florida, Lousiana, and South Carolina wasn't very popular in those states. They were pretty certain that they were going to lose the whole south. To win in 1880 they needed the Midwest and West to vote decisively republican. The President was persuaded to take his message on the road.

Kentucky wasn't very receptive to the idea of hosting the president. Washington politics were not kind to Kentucky. In fact there was a great deal of fear that any stop in the state of Kentucky would be dangerous. Politically, touring the Midwest and skipping Kentucky was also filled with danger. The Republicans decided to limit the tour to one visit to hostile Kentucky. Louisville was the President's preferred stop, but the city was too connected to Northern businessmen to be considered. Frankfort, the State Capitol, had just assassinated Judge Elliott, and therefore ruled out as a possible stop. After much consideration, Lexington was deemed safe enough for the President to visit.

In April the tour was announced:

Presidential Midwestern Tour, Greenfield, Ohio, September 9, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 10, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 11, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 11, 1879

Presidential Midwestern Tour, Lexington, Kentucky, September 12, 1879

Presidential Midwestern Tour, Youngstown, Ohio, September 17, 1879
Reunion of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Youngstown, Ohio,
September 17, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Merchants and Manufacturers Exchange, Detroit, Michigan, September 18, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Fremont, Ohio, September 20, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Aurora, Illinois, September 23, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Mendota, Illinois, September 23, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Galesburg, Illinois, September 23, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Fort Scott, Kansas, September 24, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Parsons, Kansas, September 24, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Appleton, Kansas, September 25, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Neosho Falls, Kansas, September 25, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Dodge City, Kansas. September 26, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Tootle's Opera House, St. Joseph, Missouri, September 29, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Springfield, Illinois, September 30, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Springfield, Illinois, September 30, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cleveland, Ohio, October, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Indianapolis, Indiana, October 2, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Sandusky, Ohio, October 2/3, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Clyde, Ohio, October 9, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Delaware, Ohio, October 18, 1879

The President never left his train. He delivered a brief speech from the platform of his private rail car, gaining some approval from his audience when he shared memories of voting in his first presidential election for Lexington's Henry Clay. For the most part, Lexington's citizens were polite but not enthusiastic about the speech. Hayes spoke for less than five minutes before introducing one of the generals he was traveling with, there is dispute over whether it was General Sherman or General Sheridan who spoke. The public event ended. The train remained at the station for about an hour to fulfill the party's obligation of inviting some of Kentucky's top leaders to a private reception with the President).

Hayes didn't change many opinions in Kentucky. He didn't expect to accomplish much, and Kentucky wasn't expecting much from him. Not a lot has change since then. At least we haven't shot a judge lately.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Victorian Villains

Like most mystery writers, I came to the genre as a mystery reader. I particularly have a fascination for Victorian Era mysteries. Loveday Brooke, Sherlock Holmes, and Auguste Dupin held fascinating insights into the human character. In particular, they held knowledge of the criminal classes that made me look sideways at my junior-high classmates. Which of them held villainy in their heart?

So, aside from telling you that I was a weird child, what does this have to do with Victorian Villains?

The Victorians not only gave us the detective genre, they passed down their fears in the form of villains. It is not Holmes that gives us insight into what his society feared, it is the bad guys that show us the shape of evil in the minds of readers in his time. Today I thought I would talk a little about what the Victorians feared most in their society and the six basic types of villains I gleaned from reading them.

1. The Visual Villain - character showed in this villain's appearance. You could tell by looking at the physical deformities, the nervous twitches or speech problems, harsh features or scarred flesh gave this bad boy away. The Victorians not only feared deformity, they carried it to the extreme of studying bumps on the head and facial construction as a way of determining criminal behavior.

2. The Working Class Villain - yes the butler did it, or the coachman, even the upstairs maid might harbor reasons to take the master's possessions away from him. If they killed the master, so much the more affirming of the black-hearted working class mindset. If they were good people, they would be rich too.

3. The Upper Class Other - this guy is dark, foreign, elusive, and often mysterious in origin. He may be of the upper class, but he's NOT one of us. The British were particularly good at this typecasting of other races and cultures.

4. The Mysterious Woman - sometimes this is portrayed as the fallen woman. She is exotic, mysterious, and/or erotic. A woman on her own is suspect. An attractive woman of independent means is exponentially more suspect. If she shows signs of being well read, educated, and able to hold her own in a conversation... watch out.

5. The Supernatural Villain - one of the most feared. The Victorians consulted the mediums, created Hellfire Clubs, brought mystery objects from Egypt, drugs from the orient, and picked up superstitions from dozens of conquered cultures. Detectives might explain the phenomenon as a fraud, but the bad guys frequently resorted to supernatural threats to prey on the upper crust.

6. The Domestic Villain - this is the friendly villain that can hide in plain sight. He blends in: a college chum you would never suspect of holding a grudge, the professor in gold-rimmed glasses you met on the train to London. He blends in, he is one of us, but behind the smile, evil lurks.

That's my take on Victorian Villainy. What do you think? Are there more ways the nineteenth century writers shaped their bad guys? The more interesting thoughts to me is how often these types of villains show up in our today and how often our own fears color our writing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oldest Mental Hospital West of the Alleghenies

Eastern State Hospital is moving. The old buildings will be torn down. In their place, the Bluegrass Community College and Technical School will build a larger campus. I have nothing against the Community College expansion, or against modern, state of the art, facilities for Eastern State. But I find the move an incredibly sad event because the hospital is a living part of Lexington's rich history.

Eastern State Hospital was started by private citizens, mostly from Lexington, through a fund raising campaign announced in the Lexington Register. Many gave anonymously. Some of Fayette County's most famous citizens were involved in the efforts to raise money for the hospital. John Hunt, Andrew McCalla, George and Samuel Trotter, Alexander Parker, Thomas January, John Bradford, JD Young, William Morton, Thomas Pendell, J. Postlethwaite, John Pope, Lewis Sanford, John Bradford, Robert McNair and Samuel Ayers were among the contributors. A ten acre tract of land at Sinking Spring was purchased for construction of the Fayette Hospital, as it was originally named. Henry Clay not only supported the effort financially, he delivered the oration when the cornerstone for the first building was placed.

Fayette Hospital was intended to treat "lunatics" and the "sick poor." But the Panic of 1819 halted construction. Lexington was devastated by the panic. Thomas January, one of the largest contributors to the project, had to close his factory after 24 years of operation. Governor Adair was able to keep interest in the project alive in the legislature. He pressed the state to take over and finish the hospital. After studying the advisability of the project, the state decided to purchase the property and complete the hospital, but wished to use it exclusively as a mental hospital.

Eastern State is the oldest hospital in the United States built for the express purpose of treating the mentally ill. The hospital opened on May 1, 1824 with a single brick building 66 feet square and three stories tall. As news of the work done there spread, the hospital became more and more involved in the care of mental patients from all over Kentucky with diseases of the mind were sent to Eastern State. Later, additional property was purchased to provide a park and farm to the hospital. Eastern State was a village within a growing city. Within the walls of the hospital grounds there were medical facilities, a farm, houses for employees, stores, parks, trails a cemetery and a private lake. Events like the "Lunatic Ball" allowed local citizens to visit with residents of the hospital community, but there was little interaction beyond these special events.

Today there is archeological research going on at the site of the cemetery and volunteers are trying to build a database of information about the patients buried there. Some of the graves discovered contain as many as four bodies. Geological studies have indicated there could be more than 10,000 people buried on the grounds. Many will never be identified. I truly wish there were some way to preserve what remains of this historical site.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend Writer: Follow-up to Authorfest

Discussing Writing Historical Fiction at the Schaumburg Township Public Library
It isn't often that I have the chance to talk about two of my favorite topics, history and writing, at the same time. This past weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to do a presentation titled "The Devil is in the Details: Incorporating History into Your Novel." I couldn't resist.

On Thursday evening, armed with a PowerPoint presentation and a handful of novels from some of my favorite historical mystery writers, Sarah and I headed out to Illinois. It is good that we both write mysteries. Our deductive powers got their first workout when "Greta", our rented Garmin, quit working. It wasn't Greta's fault that the rental company neglected to recharge her and gave us a charger that was broken, but just when we had to detour from our planned route, she died. We had to rely on our powers of deductive reasoning to find our hotel. 

The next morning, we drove about twenty miles out of our way to the Indianapolis Airport to get a replacement charger for Greta (we named her for the great Greta Garbo). Confident that once we got out of the airport parking garage there would be no further complaints from the Garmin, Sarah and I set off again for Schaumburg. It didn't take long to realize that we were right about getting no complaints... Greta was still dead.

We got a map. For the next fifty miles, we discussed the fact that in another generation knowing how to read a map will be as foreign to children as understanding the difference between clockwise and counter clockwise.

Despite resorting to archaic navigational techniques, the rest of the trip went as smoothly as it could in eight to twelve lanes of traffic on unfamiliar roads. We arrived safely in Schaumburg and headed to the mall. Yes, the mall. Schaumburg once hosted the largest mall in the United States until the title was stolen by the Mall of America. It is still the largest shopping mall in a five state area. Besides, we had some time to kill before checking into our hotel.

On Saturday, we were up early. The car rental company opened at 7:30 AM and we were finally able to get the Garmin a working charger.
By 10 AM we were at the library. I was amazed to discover that there was a line of people waiting for the doors to open. It was awesome. For a moment, I thought everyone was there to attend Authorfest. Then the first people I spoke to didn't even know there was an author's event. The crowd waiting was there for the library. My ego might have been wounded if the nice couple hadn't wanted to hear all about my book. It is impossible to feel bad when a little old lady is really interested in what you write and thinks your wife is beautiful. I think I could live in Schaumburg, if it weren't for those Chicago winters.

The second surprise of the day was learning that the library has funding to run a lot of programs. Having a dozen authors come in and speak on a Saturday was just a normal business day for them. At the same time we were talking, there were photography classes, children's reading times, and a host of other events. When I think of the little libraries in Kentucky and the struggle they have just to keep the doors open, I can't help wondering what those librarians would think if they had funds for even one of the programs going on regularly in Schaumburg. Even here in Lexington, where we have some of the best libraries in the state, there are no lines outside waiting for the doors to open. 

This isn't a complaint. I love our libraries; I just got a look at how much more is possible.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: Fish Tales: The GUPPY Anthology

Fish Tales: The Guppy AnthologyFish Tales: The Guppy Anthology by Ramona DeFelice Long

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sisters in Crime GUPPY Chapter has come up with a winning recipe for mystery and intrigue. The twenty-two stories that make up Fish Tales are a tasty blend of flavors and writing styles. The anthology is well-written and has enough variety to suit any mystery reader. I look forward to seeing more from these new voices in mystery fiction.

While the collection as a whole is very good, there are some stories that were so delightful or delightfully evil that they merit individual recognition. My personal favorite story was Betsy Bitner's Amazing Grace. Her murder method is ingenious and her writing style made the story a fun read. I haven't seen Betsy's work before, but will be looking for more. SASE by Karen Pullen was an excellent read. Her dark humor and tongue-in-cheek look at the publishing industry made the story stand out from the crowd. Sarah E. Glenn puts an interesting spin an old fashioned PI story in a new age setting in New Age Old Story. Her characters are well drawn and I would like to see her detective again in a longer work.
With twenty-two authors in the anthology, I don't have space to talk about every story I liked or to mention every author, so I will end with a shout-out to Nancy Adams for her historical mystery story, The Secret of the Red Mullet. Her young protagonist came alive on the page. Her bio states that she is working on novels with an older version of the girl, but she should consider doing some young adult stories with the character.

Now that I have given you a small sampling of what is in store for you in Fish Tales, I hope you'll consider diving into the book and sampling these stories for yourself.

<View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Guest Blog by Marilyn Meredith

This week I have invited F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, to talk about her bad guys. She is the author of nearly thirty published novels. Her latest in the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, from Oak Tree Press, is Angel Lost. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter , Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit  her at http://fictionforyou.com and read her blog at http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com .


The third book in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Fringe Benefits, was all about a bad cop who took advantage of his badge. Other books in the series have had an abundance of bad guys, murderers and other unsavory characters, but in my latest, Angel Lost, the bad guy is sort of in the shadows. He doesn’t make an appearance until near the end of the book though he’s hinted at much earlier.

Even then, though what he does is the pivotal point of the plot, he still isn’t a central figure in the book. Having said that, I guess I should explain that in all of the Rocky Bluff novels, the focus is on how the job affects the police officers’ families and how what is happening in the family affects the job.

No, the police officers in my fictional department aren’t perfect, but in this particular book the villain is not a major player. Officer Stacey Wilbur is so focused on her upcoming wedding to Detective Doug Milligan she doesn’t put enough attention onto what is going on around her. Sergeant Navarro is worried about his mother who is displaying Alzheimer’s symptoms and he misses something important at work. Officer Felix Zachary is excited about becoming a father in the near future, and though he knows something may be amiss with a new-hire he doesn’t pursue his feelings. Detective Milligan is as anxious to get married as Stacey, but not much interested in the wedding, he just wants to be sure his renter, Officer Gordon Butler, finds a new place to live.

Of course, nothing goes quite as planned and the appearance of an angel in a furniture store window causes a stir in the town and puts Officer Zachary and the new guy, Vaughn Aragon, together policing the crowd.

Angel Lost is the seventh in the series, written under the name F.M. Meredith. It’s available as an e-book and trade paperback from the usual places. If anyone would like an autographed copy, they can go to my website: http://fictionforyou.com

Advance praise for Angel Lost:

In ANGEL LOST, author Marilyn Meredith has created a thrilling adventure that weaves together the lives of several point-of-view police officers, with Officer Stacy Wilbur and Detective Doug Milligan in starring roles. I truly, truly, TRULY loved every minute of this terrific story!  So there!  Read it yourself and find out why.
Radine Trees Nehring
Author of the Carrie McCrite and Henry King "To Die For" mystery series.  

F.M. Meredith has another hit on her hands with her latest installment of the Rocky Bluff P.D. series.  A fast-moving mystery full of suspense, well-developed characters and realistic interpersonal relationships, Angel Lost wants for nothing.  Meredith weaves a compelling story that keeps you guessing with a satisfying ending guaranteed to please even the most discerning mystery lover.  Impossible to put down, Angel Lost is the first must-read of 2011.  
Holli Castillo
Author of Gumbo Justice
Reading a F.M. Meredith Rocky Bluff novel is like having a wonderful family visit—without having to travel farther than your favorite chair. Once again, Marilyn delivers a story you want to get into, a mystery you want to unravel (several actually), and characters you like and want to root for. In “Angel Lost,” F.M.’s Rocky Bluff  Police Department “family” must really come together to save one of their own--with a little help from an angel. A most enjoyable read. Thank you Marilyn!"
Madeline (M.M.) Gornell, the author of “Uncle Si’s Secret,” “Death of a Perfect Man,” and “Reticence of Ravens.” http://www.mmgornell.com

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Weekend Writer: Preparing for Authorfest

I am doing a talk next weekend on incorporating history into your fiction. I'm calling it "The Devil is in the Details." I chose that title because the details are critically important to readers of historical mysteries.  Before I write I research, research, research more, then pray that I did not miss one of those devilish details that plague writers everywhere.

Long before I ever tried my hand at writing, I was one of those evil and unforgiving readers. I never read another book by the author that put General John Hunt Morgan's statue in a story more than a dozen years before the statue was cast. Of course, I have never forgiven the sculptor either.  Everyone in Kentucky knows Morgan's horse was a mare named Black Bess. Pompeo Coppini, the sculptor, thought no hero should ride a mare and had the audacity to put Morgan on a stallion.

You might think talking about the statue is a digression, but it isn't. I am simply pointing out that if you change an important part of history you will not be forgiven. In the case of Black Bess, students at the University of Kentucky have responded to this insult by composing a ballad to her proclaiming respect for "a lady's balls" and frequently sneak onto the old courthouse lawn to paint them either blue and white (the school colors) or some florescent shade. I am sure that Black Bess is kicking up her heels in some horsey heaven and having an old-fashioned horse laugh every time those balls get a new coat of paint.

As I place the finishing touches on my talk for next weekend, I hope that readers of my book are more forgiving than I am. I am sure that under close examination, errors could be found. No matter how much time a writer spends researching a historical novel, it is impossible to find everything on a subject. There are also details that are widely misreported. In my research, I discovered that Belle Brezing is believed to have moved to Jenny Hill's on December 24, 1879, but her diary clearly gives the date as 1878. Her obituary in Time Magazine incorrectly reported the date, and everyone else took their information from them. Her biographer and the University of Kentucky website both use the misinformation, and I have already heard from one reader that I have the date wrong. Such is life.