Category Archives: Historical Entertainment

Tragic Beauty Olive Thomas

 

Olive Thomas
fanpix.famousfix.com

The ethereal beauty, Olive Thomas, is the inspiration for one of the secondary characters in my novel, Grace in the Wings, a Daphne du Maurier unpublished contest winner. The novel  is the first book in a mystery series that is currently being shopped by my agent for purchase.

Sophia Michelle is the older sister of my protagonist, Grace Michelle. Orphaned at 15, Sophia vowed that she and Grace would always have a roof over their heads, never go hungry and never live in an orphanage. She relied on the only asset she possessed at the time, her captivating beauty. She spent many nights “out” but always provided for her sister until she was discovered by the famous show-man, Florenz Ziegfeld, who took the girls under his wing and made Sophia a star. When Sophia is murdered, Grace is devastated and sets out to discover who killer her sister.

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Olive Thomas was born Olivia R. Duffy, October 20, 1894, to a working class Irish American family in Pennsylvania. At 15 years of age she was forced to leave school to help support the family.  At 16 she married Bernard Krush Thomas. The marriage lasted two years. After her divorce she moved to New York City, lived with a family member, and worked in a Harlem department store. In 1914, she won “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest and landed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Having caught the public’s attention, and the eye of the famous Florenz Ziegfeld, Olive was hired to perform in his wildly popular Ziegfeld Follies. It wasn’t long before Olive had star billing in the Midnight Frolic, a show at one of Ziegfeld’s favored venues, the Roof Top Theater of the New Amsterdam Hotel. The Frolic catered primarily to well-known male patrons. The girls’ costumes, often just a few strategically arranged balloons, allowed amusement for the gentlemen who would pop the balloons with their cigars. The beauty of Olive Thomas became legendary and she was pursued by a number of wealthy men. She is said to have had “lovely violet-blue eyes, fringed with dark lashes that seemed darker because of the translucent pallor of her skin.”

Known for her beauty, Olive was also known for her wild ways. That free spiritedness became more pronounced when she became involved with Jack Pickford of the famous Pickford family. Alcohol and cocaine became part of her partying repertoire and it proved to be reckless. She had three automobile accidents in one year. After that, she hired a chauffeur.

Jack Pickford & Olive Thomas
Broadway Scene

Screenwriter Frances Marion later remarked, “…I had seen her often at the Pickford home, for she was engaged to Mary’s brother, Jack. Two innocent-looking children, they were the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers.”

The marriage to Pickford caused much trouble for both parties. For Jack, his high-brow famous family did not approve of Olive’s work in the Frolics, and for Olive, her employer Florenz Ziegfeld accused Jack of taking her away from his entertainment dynasty. There were rumors that Flo and Olive were also romantically involved.

The relationship with Pickford could even have been said to contribute to her sudden death in 1920.  After a long night of dancing, drinking, and drugs, Olive and Jack went back to their hotel room. Suddenly, from the bathroom, Jack heard Olive scream, “Oh God!”  According to Jack’s account, Olive had accidentally drank from a bottle of something marked “poison”.  After a trip to the hospital and having her stomach pumped three times to no avail, Olive Thomas died. The autopsy stated that she died of a mixture of mercury bichloride and alcohol. Mercury bichloride was the prescribed tonic for Jack’s persistant and cronic syphyllis.

Olive Thomas had a short, but successful career. She worked for the Ziegfeld Follies and Midnight Frolic and she starred in over twenty motion pictures. She was also one of the first actresses to be termed “a flapper,” along with Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and Joan Crawford.

Origins of Christmas Traditions – 5 Things You May Not Know About Christmas!

#1. Jolly St. Nick:

National Philoptochos Society
National Philoptochos Society

Much unlike the stories of Santa Claus who resides at the North Pole, the history of the beloved “jolly old elf” actually has its origins in the Mediterranean in the 4th century. St. Nikolas of Myra, now modern-day Demre, Turkey, was a Greek Bishop known for the many miracles he performed and also for his benevolence toward children. One tale recounts that he saved three young girls from a fate of prostitution when he had 3 bags of gold secretly delivered to their parents. Another story tells of Nikolas entering an inn whose inn keeper had just murdered three boys, sliced them up, and pickled them in barrels. Somehow, Nikolas sensed this horrific crime and resurrected the three boys. For these miracles he was deemed the patron saint of children. Nikolas, eventually named Nicholas, is also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant theives, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

#2. Oh, Tannenbaum:

http://www.historic-uk.com/assets/Images/victoriaalberttree.gif?1390899961
http://www.historic-uk.com/assets/Images/victoriaalberttree.gif?1390899961

By the middle ages, the legend of Jesus’ birth had grown. Although the bible doesn’t state exactly when Jesus was born, ancient peoples associated his birth with the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. After the Christ child was born, he gave new light to the world and it is said that all of the trees throughout the world shook off the ice and snow that had settled on their branches revealing new shoots of green. Many ancient peoples used evergreen branches to decorate their homes, and in the 16th century people started setting up Paradise Trees—associated with Adam and Eve’s Day, December 24—laden with fruits. During that century, some say the first person to bring Christmas Trees into the home was the German preacher Martin Luther. In fact, the Christmas Tree has  strong historical roots in Germany with the medieval German Mystery or Miracle Plays that were acted out in front of churches on Christmas Eve. Decorated trees were paraded around town to advertise the play. Christmas Trees became more popular in the Victorian period when the German Prince Albert and his wife Queen Victoria of England erected a Christmas Tree in Windsor Castle for their children. In 1848, a drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” was published in the London News. In December of 1850 the illustration was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Philadelphia, giving rise to the popularity of Christmas Trees in America.

#3. Away In A Manger:

Nativity - http://www.dominicansmacau.org
Nativity – http://www.dominicansmacau.org

The Nativity Scenes that we see all over different countries in churches and homes has its origins in Italy in the 13th Century. In 1223, St. Francis of Assissi made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. While there he visited the historical cave that housed the rustic stable where Jesus was born. It is believed that Francis was so moved by the place that he was inspired to recreate the scene for a special Mass on Christmas Eve. He held this Mass in a cave in Greccio, Italy, where he set up an empty manger or feeding trough and brought in a live ox and a donkey to more accurately recreate the first Christmas night. He is said to have wanted to do something so that people would remember the simplicity and poverty in which this child had been born, and for his people to remember the true reason for Christmas celebration.

#4 Itsy Bitsy Spider:

Ukrainian Spider Web Christmas Ornament - https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com
Ukrainian Spider Web Christmas Ornament – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

I don’t know about you, but I have never associated Christmas with spiders. However, tinsel for the Christmas Tree has its origins in spider’s webs and is reported to have come from legends in Northern European countries such as Germany, Ukraine, Finland and Scandinavia. Most of these legends center around a poor family who cannot afford decorations for their Christmas tree, which in some tales grew from a pine cone in their house and in others was brought in by the family. When the household goes to sleep, a spider housed in the tree, covers it with intricately designed cobwebs. By the time the family rises in the morning, the spider’s beautiful webs have magically turned to strands of silver and gold. Some people believed that St. Nicholas’ magical powers turned the web to precious metals and others say it was the magical powers of the light of the sun. Apparently, it is considered good luck in parts of Poland, Germany and Ukraine to find a spider or spider’s web on your Christmas tree. Spider’s Web ornaments called ‘pavuchy’ (little spider) made of paper and silver wire are very popular in those countries.

 

#5 God Bless Us Everyone:

http://f.tqn.com/y/classiclit/1/L/q/q/2/4_scrooge.jpg
http://f.tqn.com/y/classiclit/1/L/q/q/2/4_scrooge.jpg

One of my favorite Christmas stories is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Like many of his works, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol was written as a commentary on specific social issues of the day, particularly the plight of the poor and the brutality of child labor. When Charles was 11, his family was imprisoned in Marshalsea debtors’ prision in Southwark, London because of his father’s mounting debts from living beyond his means. It was up to young Charles to leave school to help pay the family’s debt and he was soon employed at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse where he worked 10 hours a day pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. When he first set out to work on the project that was to become the beloved story we know today, he intended for it to be a pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child,” but decided that he could reach the hearts of more people by telling the story symbolizing the harshness of government and the rich in Ebenezer Scrooge toward innocent families and children in the lovely Cratchit family. It was a decision that produced an immediate and timeless best-seller, followed by print, stage and theater productions.

I hope you have learned something new and heart-warming about some of these Christmas traditions. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and joyous Holiday season!

 

Sources:

“Christmas in Italy,” Christmas Around the World—Why Christmas.comhttp://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/italy.shtml

“Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?” Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Christian History, December 2008 http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/december/why-do-we-have-christmas-trees.html

“Saint Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Mr. Claus, Brian Handwerk, National Geographic, December 20, 2013 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131219-santa-claus-origin-history-christmas-facts-st-nicholas.html

“Pagan Roots? 5 Surprising Facts About Christmas,” Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, December 22, 2012 http://www.livescience.com/25779-christmas-traditions-history-paganism.html

“The Real Reason Charles Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol,” John Brioch, Time.com, http://time.com/4597964/history-charles-dickens-christmas-carol/

 

A Born Rebel – Belle “La Rebelle” Boyd – This Month in History

There is something very endearing about women in history who defied social norms and stepped outside of the boundaries the world imposed on them to fight for their causes, their faith, their family, or their beliefs.

Belle Boyd is one such woman. This month in history, on December 1, 1863 Belle Boyd, Confederate spy, was released from prison in Washington, D.C. She was only 19 years old.

Belle Boyd Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM
Belle Boyd
Education & Resources – National Women’s History Museum – NWHM

I am always scouring the internet for interesting stories about empowered women in history. Belle’s story caught my eye because I also write about a confederate spy in my novel, Dead Eye Dame—the fictionalization of Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth (now being marketed by my agent for publication.) My spy is not as crafty and endearing as Belle, nor is he female, but he shares the same rebellious and cause-driven nature.

Belle’s story begins in 1844 in Bunker Hill, VA (now West Virginia) where she was born to Benjamin Boyd, a tobacco farmer and shopkeeper, and his wife Mary Boyd. In 1855 the family moved to nearby Martinsburg. The oldest of 8 children, Belle seemed to come out of the womb a rebel. At the age of 10, Belle defied her social status—and the law—by teaching Eliza Corsey, one of her family’s slaves, to read and write. Belle and Eliza had become fast friends growing up together, and Belle wanted Eliza to enjoy some of the rights denied to her because of her color. She later states in her memoire Belle Boyd, in Camp and Prison, published 1865, “Slavery, like all other imperfect forms of society, will have its day, but the time for its final extinction in the Confederate States of America has not yet arrived.”

Always quick witted and bright beyond her years, at age 11, it is reputed that Belle, in rebellion to being denied attendance at one of her parent’s parties because of her age, rode her horse into the family’s living room during the party. She is said to have stated, “my horse is old enough, isn’t he?”

At 12 years old, Belle’s parents sent her to the esteemed Mount Washington Female College of Baltimore. After graduating at 16, Belle enjoyed a life of dancing and parties as a debutant in Washington, D.C. This must have been when she honed her skills as a flirt and expert communicator. After a season, she returned to her life and family in Martinsburg.

Martinsburg was a town supported by the Union cause, but Belle’s family were true southerners and devoted to the Confederacy. Her 45-year old father enlisted in the Virginia Infantry under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle and her mother supported the cause by sewing clothing and raising funds for the Confederate soldiers.

In July, 1861, Union soldiers captured Martinsburg, invading homes and businesses. When a group of drunken Union soldiers tried to hang a Union flag over the entrance to the Boyd’s family home, Mary, Belle’s mother, intervened. When one of the soldiers accosted Mary, Belle grabbed a Colt pocket pistol and shot him dead. Thus began her career as a “rebel spy” at the tender age of 17.

Realizing her feminine power, and having mastered the art of flirting, Belle knew that she could fly under the radar of suspicion and through family connections began gathering information from Union soldiers. With the help of Eliza, Belle would send the information to the Confederate side. When one of her letters was intercepted, Belle was arrested, but managed to get off with a warning for a crime that was usually punishable by death.

belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com
belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com

Undaunted, Belle ramped up her support for the South by becoming a messenger for Confederal generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle used her feminine wiles to steal weapons from Union camps and smuggle precious quinine, a medicine used for malaria, across the Potomac River to secessionist towns in Maryland. One of her most significant missions was to obtain crucial information that would allow Stonewall Jackson’s forces to recapture the town of Front Royal.

In society, Belle became known as the sort of girl a boy wouldn’t want to take home to mother. She worked at seducing both Confederate and Union officers and was considered the lowest form of “camp follower” around. Not a beautiful woman, Belle had a confidence that made her looks secondary to her charms. She also had no qualms about impersonating Confederate soldiers to further garner information from Union officers.

Whether dressed as a man or a woman, Belle never wavered from her devotion to the Southern cause and that transparency became a part of her persona. It was only a matter of time before Union officials saw Belle as a potential threat. Shortly after her contribution to the recapture of Front Royal, Belle was again arrested and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. where she spent a month in prison, and then subsequently spent another five months in prison after yet another arrest. After several more arrests, Belle met and married one of her Union captors, an officer named Samuel Hardinge. The two were married and had a daughter. Although unable to completely convert Hardinge to the Southern cause, he did serve time in prison for giving aid to Belle.

Belle eventually made her way to England where she wrote her memoir and launched a career as an actress. Several years later, Belle returned to the United States and married twice more, had four more children, became estranged from her oldest daughter, and spent time in a mental institution. She died in 1900, during a performance on stage in Wisconsin.

Although Belle’s life did not end on a happy note, in her later years she learned that her efforts had not been in vain. Women all across the South had taken to impersonating her, claiming to be Belle Boyd, the “Siren of the Shenandoah” or the “Cleopatra of the Secession.” She had become a symbol of feminine empowerment and an inspiration to future generations.

Sources:

National Women’s History Museum https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/belleboyd/

Bio. http://www.biography.com/people/belle-boyd

“The ‘Siren of the Shenandoah'” by Karen Abbot, New York Times, May 23, 2012 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/the-siren-of-the-shenendoah/?-r=0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Gentle Ghost” of Santa Fe

Halloween is again upon us and so closes my series of ghost stories for October. I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the ghosts of Hawaii and New Mexico. I have saved my favorite ghost for last.

Julia Schuster Staab was the wife of Abraham Staab, a Jewish German immigrant, who came to New Mexico in 1846 to establish himself as a merchant on the Santa Fe Trail. After Abraham became a wealthy businessman, he went home to Germany to find a bride. He found Julia Schuster, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from his home village of Ludge. Having come from the same small village, it is thought that perhaps Abraham knew Julia’s family before he left to find his riches in America. With great expectations he brought Julia back to his new home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1865.

Young Julia Staab and Julia & Abraham
jwi.org

Completely out of place in the village of Santa Fe with its mud houses and arid landscape, Julia had been accustomed to more a more elegant lifestyle and grand home. Eager to make his wife happy, Abraham built Julia a beautiful white mansion. The Staab House, a Victorian masterpiece with a large ballroom on the third floor, suited Julia’s excellent taste.

Original Staab House Jewishbookcouncil.org
Original Staab House
Jewishbookcouncil.org

The couple had seven children, but at the death of their eighth, Julia changed both physically and mentally. She became sad, depressed, chronically ill and inconsolable. It is said her hair turned grey overnight. Her grief took a toll on the couple and they slowly grew apart. This did not help Julia’s situation and some say she went insane. She spent most of her latter days locked in her bedroom until she died in 1896, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Rumors of Abraham’s extramarital affairs and Julia’s possible murder or suicide were never proven.

In the 1920’s a fire burned through the Staab house, destroying the third floor. When the house was rebuilt as a stuccoed, Pueblo-style hotel, the builders simply built around the remains of the mansion and then added charming casitas across the 7-acre plot as additional guest rooms.

Although she died in 1896, Julia’s ghostly presence had not been reported until the 1970’s. A janitor at the hotel stated that he saw a translucent dark eyed woman in a white Victorian gown, with white, upswept hair standing near the fireplace. From that moment on, more sightings of the same woman were reported. Staff and guests alike saw her wandering the hallways, lounging in a chair in the downstairs sitting room or standing near the fireplace.

The excerpt below is from the book American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus, great-great granddaughter to Julia Staab. The book is an enthralling read and I highly recommend it.

“Strange things began to happen in the hotel. Gas fireplaces turned off and on repeatedly, though nobody was flipping the switch. Chandeliers swayed and revolved. Vases of flowers moved to new locations. Glasses tumbled from shelves in the bar. A waitress, not known for her clumsiness, began droppings trays and explained that she felt as if someone were pushing them from underneath. Guests heard dancing footsteps on the third story, where the ballroom had once been—though the third floor had burned years earlier. A woman’s voice, distant and foreign sounding, called the switchboard over and over. ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’”

One guest decided to test Julia when he and his wife requested to stay in Julia’s room. Hearing that Julia’s ghost was very particular about things in her room, he purposely left the top dresser drawer opened. Later that night, he and his wife were awakened by the sound of the drawer being slowly closed.

Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby www.10best.com
Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby
www.10best.com

I became fascinated with the story of the La Posada Hotel after our daughter decided she wanted to be married there last year. She, her fiancé and I took the hour long drive to Santa Fe to stay the night in the hotel and speak to the event planner who worked there. As luck would have it, the engaged couple was put up in one of the casitas, and I was assigned to a room on the second floor of the mansion—the room right next door to Julia’s. I had heard some stories that the hotel was haunted, but at the time, I didn’t know Julia’s story. Which is probably a good thing. Fortunately, the only thing that kept me up that night was the rowdy party in the bar at the foot of the stairs to my room.

La Posada Hotel today View from the garden
La Posada Hotel today
View from the garden

Months later, after our daughter and her new husband’s stunning wedding, I wandered into the lobby and saw Nordhaus’ book sitting on the concierge’s desk. When I asked the woman sitting at the desk about the book, she proceeded to give me the highlights and told me some of the fascinating stories other staff and guests had told about Julia’s ghost. I asked if she had any similar experiences and she said she hadn’t, although she wanted to. After her last chemo treatment, she and her daughter decided to celebrate with a weekend stay at the hotel. They requested Julia’s room in hopes they would get a visit from the familiar “gentle ghost” and sat up all night waiting for her. In the wee hours of the morning they fell asleep and slept undisturbed. The concierge believed that Julia was too shy to make an appearance when someone was expecting her. She said she’d rent the room again sometime.

That concierge is braver than I am. Now that I know the story, I’m not sure I’d request to stay in the main house again. In fact, I would definitely request one of the casitas.

If you ever get to New Mexico, a stay at the La Posada Hotel is a must. Even if you don’t get Julia’s room.

Ghosts in the Land of Enchantment

Having been born and raised in New Mexico, I grew up hearing stories of New Mexico’s history, its multi-cultural legends and its haunting ghost stories. Infused with lore from the Mexican, Spanish, Native American and Anglo cultures, I can tell you, New Mexico’s past is alive and well, even in the modern age.

Perhaps the most famous ghost of New Mexico is La Llarona (The Weeping Woman). We share her with many states in the southwest and even in parts of Europe and Latin America. Texas, Arizona and New Mexico all claim La Llarona as their own, and we will probably never know where she actually originated, but her story is no less haunting, no matter where she came from.

llorona1
livepuntamita.com

Some tales say she was an Aztec woman named La Malinche who became the lover of Hernan Cortes, the Conquistador who came to the Americas in the 16th century to help Spain gather new territories and build a new empire. La Malinche had two sons by Cortes and the couple was reputed to be very happy. However, as one story goes, the King and Queen of Spain feared that Cortes would attempt to build his own empire and they demanded he return to Spain. When he refused, they sent a very rich and beautiful Spanish lady to the Americas to seduce him and bring him back. The ruse worked, but Cortes would not leave without his sons. On the night of his departure back to Spain, La Malinche, crazed with jealousy and grief, took back her sons, stabbed them in the heart and threw them in the nearby lake. This particular story says she lived another ten years, but throughout that decade was seen on the beach of the lake moaning, “Oh, hijos mios!” (Oh my children)

The first documented appearance of La Llorona after La Malinche’s death occurs in Mexico City in 1550 where she is said to wander the streets in a white dress on nights with a full moon, wailing and looking for her children. Sightings of La Llorona spread throughout the Americas, with each town or city claiming she is local to their area.

Other tales claim that La Llarona was a woman named Maria who fell in love with a noble man of Spanish descent and had two children by him. When it came time for the man to marry, his family would not accept Maria, so he refused to marry her. He would often visit with his new wife to see his children, but he would pay no attention to Maria. Angry and jealous, Maria drowned her children in the river and then drowned herself, full of grief and regret for her act. Since then, she wanders the banks of the river crying for her children.

Acquecia near the Rio Grande
Acquecia near the Rio Grande

I grew up with the latter tale. Our house was built next to the main irrigation ditch that flanks the Rio Grande. When I heard wailing cries in the night, I’d run to my parent’s bedroom. My father would explain that the sound came from the packs of coyotes that ran the ditch banks, but to this day, I’m pretty sure it was La Llarona crying for her lost children.

Many of New Mexico’s old hotels are said to be haunted. One of the most famous is the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. The St. James, once the Lambert Inn, was built in 1872 by a Frenchman named Henri Lambert. Lambert, personal chef to President Abraham Lincoln, decided upon Lincoln’s assassination to move west in search of gold. He first settled in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, but ended up in Cimarron where he built the Lambert Inn, a saloon for cowboys, traders and miners. The saloon became so popular that Henri decided to add guest rooms and made it one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi River.

Many famous guests came to stay at the hotel including Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Lew Wallace, and famous author Zane Grey. Other distinguished guests included Buffalo Bill Cody and, one of my favorites, Annie Oakley. The first three books of my Annie Oakley mystery series do not feature Annie Oakley in New Mexico, but I suppose there is always room for a fourth. Perhaps she could team up with Wyatt Earp to track down the notorious criminals and murders that were have said to stay at the Lambert Inn. Back in the late 1800’s law and order were in short supply in New Mexico. It is reported that over 26 men were shot and killed within the Inn’s adobe walls. When Lambert’s sons replaced the roof in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the saloon’s ceiling. A double layer of heavy wood prevented the guests upstairs from harm.

St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico TripAdvisor.com
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico
TripAdvisor.com

Many of those gunslingers are said to still haunt the place. In fact, the spiritual activity of the hotel is so well known, it has been featured on the television shows Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair. Psychics who have visited the hotel have identified the strong presence of at least three restless spirits inhabiting the hotel today. One of them is the ghost of Thomas James Wright who bled to death from a gunshot wound in Room 18 of the hotel. Reportedly, Wright had just won the rights to the hotel in a poker game and as he made his way up to his room, someone shot him in the back. He continued to the room and died there, but apparently he hasn’t left. One former owner said she often saw an orange light floating in the upper corner of the room and was once pushed down while cleaning the room. Room 18 now remains locked. Rumors have flown about a number of mysterious deaths occurring in that same room before it was permanently inaccessible to guests.

Henri’s second wife, Mary Elizabeth has been said to haunt Room 17 since her death there in 1926. Staff and guests have reported the aroma of Mary’s rose scented perfume and an incessant tapping on the window occurs if the window is open. Once it is closed, the tapping stops.

Objects from many of the rooms and the common areas have turned up missing only to be found in an area where they don’t belong. This is supposedly the work of a little “dwarf-like” man who has also been seen at the hotel. The staff have nicknamed him the “Little Imp.” Once while two of the former owners stood in conversation in one of the rooms of the hotel, he was said to have tossed a knife, it’s blade point landing in the wooden floor between them.

Cold spots, lights turning on and off, electrical equipment behaving strangely and items falling from walls and shelves have also been reported at the hotel. I have not yet been to the St. James, but now that I have potential plans for a fourth book in the Annie Oakley mystery series, I may have to investigate. I wonder if there is a Holiday Inn next door?

 

 

 

October and the Ghosts of Hawaii’s Past

In many places in the United States, the month of October brings the turning of leaves, crisp air at sunrise, elongated shadows in the early evenings and the urge to pull sweaters, hats and boots out of the closet. In my home state of New Mexico, October is always  my favorite time of year when I like to take my horses out on long trail rides along the Rio Grande, enjoy Albuquerque’s world renown Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, and revisit the rich ghost stories of old New Mexico.

This year, my husband and I decided to spend the early part of October at our home in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to cheer on the athletes participating in the Ironman World Championship, another world renown October event. No turning leaves, crisp air, elongated shadows or hot air balloons, and definitely no desire to wear a sweater occurs here, but one thing is still the same—the wealth of ghost stories that abound in such an old, spiritual place.

I’ve been learning about the many ghosts that reside on the Big Island since I’ve been researching a mystery series I hope to start sometime next year. My protagonist is a young woman who travels to the Island of Hawaii in the late 1920’s to escape a scandal involving a young man far beneath her station (according to her parents) and the possibility of a love child. She comes to the Island, lives at the Kona Inn on Alii Drive, and starts a newspaper. Oh, and of course, – she acquires a horse that she rides all over the island to find her stories of murder and intrigue. That is all I’m going to tell you – you’ll have to read the series when it comes out to learn more!

historickailuavillage.com
Hulihe’e Palace

I had hoped that I would find a story about a ghost living at the Kona Inn, but none could be found. However, it is reported that some ghosts do reside right down the street. In fact, two are said to live next door at the Hulihe’e Palace. The Palace, built in 1838 was eventually passed on to Princess Ruth Ke’eikolani in 1848, who opened it up to the Hawaiian Royal Family and other reigning monarchs, to use as a summer home. (She herself preferred to sleep in a grass hut on the Palace grounds near the sound of the crashing waves.) One of the ghosts, a young boy has been seen playing on the Palace grounds, or heard stomping up and down the stairs. It is thought that he might be the ghost of Prince Albert, the son of King Kamehameha III and godson of Queen Victoria, who died of appendicitis at age 4.

Princess Kaiulani
Princess Kaiulani

A ghostly young woman in a white gown has also been seen at the Palace. Many think it is the spirit of the beautiful Princess Ka’iulani, who also died at a tragically young age, 27, from illness caused by complications of thyroid disease.

A bit further north on Alii Drive brings us to one of the most important historical sites on the island; Kamakahonu, the bay of King Kamehameha I’s final residence. The hotel situated adjacent to this sacred place is the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel, also home to a number of ghosts. Guests of the hotel have reported hearing footsteps, chanting, and battle cries. During his reign Kamehameha I rebuilt Ahu’ena Heiau, a temple next to where the hotel is located, dedicated to the Hawaiian god of peace, Lono. Kamehameha spent many hours in the temple with his councilmen chanting ritual prayers. Perhaps those prayers echo out over the water, disturbing hotel guests. Other guests claim that the portrait of Queen Lili’uokalani on the bottom floor gallery of the hotel is so lifelike they have seen her image breathing, leading some to believe that the painting itself is haunted.

"Breathing" portrait of Queen Liliuokalani
“Breathing” portrait of Queen Liliuokalani

Though Hawaii might not be filled with the rich colors of fall, it is always filled with the spirit of endless summer and a rich cultural past full of legends and myth. Come back next week for more history and mystery of the ghosts of Kailu-Kona, Hawaii.

 

Cowboys, Indians and Queens, Oh My!

Relationships between royals and commoners don’t happen very often. In 1936 England’s King Edward VIII’s affiliation with a commoner forced him to lose the crown when he wanted to marry the famously divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Since his time, things have loosened up a bit. Prince Charles married the late Diana Spencer and is now married to Camilla Parker Bowles. England’s beloved Prince William married Kate. All of these relationships, perhaps aside from Charles and Diana, sprung from shared passions. As I wrote in my last article about Queen Elizabeth, “The Queen’s Private Passion” (https://karibovee.com/2016/08/04/the-queens-private-passion/), we all know about QEII’s passion for all things equine, particularly the horse itself. This passion has led Her Majesty, too, to engage in an on-going, unlikely relationship with a commoner—who is also an American.

An avid thoroughbred racehorse breeder, the Queen wants only the best for her four-legged friends. In the late 1970’s, the longest reigning monarch of all time reached out to a cowboy from California who had fostered the reputation of being “the man who listens to horses.”

Like his fellow horseman Pat Parelli—also a cowboy from California whose had an audience with the Queen, Monty Roberts decided as a young man that violent means for training performance animals was not the answer. Roberts studied horses in the wild and learned how they communicated with one another. He noted their body language, how they set boundaries, showed fear and expressed annoyance, relaxation or affection, and then developed gestures to mimic those behaviors. Robert’s method came to be known as “Join Up.” Impressed with his philosophy and training methods, the Queen hired him to help train her racehorses.

Roberts Shows Her Majesty a copy of "The Man Who Listens to Horses". www.horsecollaborative.com (wikipedia)
Roberts Shows Her Majesty a copy of “The Man Who Listens to Horses”. www.horsecollaborative.com (wikipedia)

Robert’s relationship with the Queen has remained steadfast since the 1980’s. With the Queen’s encouragement, he wrote a book entitled, “The Man Who Listens to Horses.” Published in 1996, the book became a phenomenon. Documentaries were made and more books were published. In 1998 he became one of several natural horsemen who served as inspirations for the movie “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford.

In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed Roberts with an honorary Membership of the Royal Victorian Order—an order of people who have served Her Royal Majesty in a personal way—for his contributions to the racing establishment. He has served the Queen and her horses for a quarter of a century.

The relationship between the QEII and Roberts was much more widely accepted in the late twentieth century than the relationship held between her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, and one of her Indian servants. In fact, Victoria’s friendship with 24-year-old Abdul Karim, who was 42 years her junior, was viewed as more akin to a scandal.

After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Victoria missed the companionship of a man. Albert provided support, ideas, and indispensable advice to the Queen from the time they courted, until his death. Queen Victoria later found solace in John Brown, a servant she also had a deep and lasting platonic relationship with after Albert’s death. In Karim, Queen Victoria was once again able to find the same comfort after John died.

Queen Victoria at her desk, assisted by her servant Abdul Karim, the 'Munshi'. Date: c. 1885 (www.dailymail.co.uk)
Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, the ‘Munshi’. Date: c. 1885 (www.dailymail.co.uk)

Brought to England in 1887 as a personal servant to Queen Victoria for the Golden Jubilee, Karim immediately endeared himself to Her Magesty with his gentle nature and advanced intellect. She gave him the title of “ Munshi”, the Urdu word for “clerk” or “teacher”.  Within one year, he had become one of her most trusted confidants and she promoted him to a status well beyond servant.

Although the Queen benefited intellectually and spiritually from Karim’s advice and companionship, the rest of the royal household did not see his value. Many of Victoria’s other staff and servants thought him well beneath them and resented the closeness between Karim and the Queen. The fact that she showered him with gifts, honors, and a large land grant in India didn’t help matters.

Wikipedia
Wikipedia

I found this relationship so interesting that I have infused it into my second Annie Oakley mystery novel. Like the unusual relationship between QEII and Monty Roberts and Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim respectively, Annie Oakley found herself in an unlikely friendship with royalty of another kind. Chief Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux Chief and warrior, who was also a principal player in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, became smitten with Miss Oakley, when he first saw her perform in 1884. The great Sioux Chief felt that Annie was “gifted” by a supernatural force that enabled her to shootequally accurate with both hands. Because of this, and their close rapport, the Chief symbolically “adopted” her and named her Watanya Cecilia, the Sioux name for “Little Sure Shot” – a moniker that stuck with her throughout her career.

"Little Sure Shot" (www.ohiohistoryhost.org)
“Little Sure Shot” (www.ohiohistoryhost.org)

I think that unlikely relationships are always the most interesting to read and write about. The single factor in each one that bonds each of the people in them together is a profound respect that crosses social, racial, and religious boundaries. It is truly remarkable and heartwarming for Her Royal Majesty QEII to reach out to a cowboy fromCalifornia; for Queen Victoria to take in an Indian servant as a confidant, and a for a famed Indian warrior to be so touched by a young white girl’s special talent, that he wants to make her his daughter. It reminds us that no matter what a person’s title or status in society, we are all human beings who have a desire to share our passions and interests. I think it is a good lesson for all of us.

Whirlwind Summer

IMG_2527I have just returned from the beautiful, historic city of San Antonio, Texas where I attended the Romance Writers of America National Convention! The week was filled with meeting new friends, making great contacts, hanging with my local LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) chapter mates, a couple of parties, a two hour ghost tour and a riverboat ride. It was all wonderfully fun despite the heat! And . . . it’s always great to come home.

My next adventure takes place the second week of August where I will be attending a month long natural horsemanship clinic at the beautiful Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. This has been a dream of mine for about eight years and I cannot believe I am finally able to attend. A month is a long time to be away from loved ones, friends, the daily routine and the animals left behind, but I will persevere and try to get the most out of the course as possible. I will be taking my challenge horse, Chaco, and I hope this will be the opportunity for us to learn better communication and understanding. It will be just me, my horse, my RV, new friends and the beautiful mountains of Colorado – a life changing experience to be sure and I cannot wait!

Please check in with me as I will be blogging daily of my adventures in the Chaco Chronicles! Launch day is August 9. See you then!

 

Downton’s Dynamic Duo

*Spoiler Alert* If you are not caught up to Season 4 of Downton Abbey, you might not want to read this post.

Don’t you love these two?

They actually make me laugh out loud.

I think the writers of the show did a wonderful job of showing the interesting dynamic between these two strong, outspoken, bossy, meddling yet compassionate women. They truly have met their match in one another.

Outwardly, they can barely tolerate each other, but in times of crisis (like when the Dowager had the flu or when Mathew died) it becomes obvious that they actually care about each other. It is the quintessential love/hate relationship, which many of us have within our own social and family circles.

What do you  think about the relationship of these two characters? Do you have an Isobel or a Lady Grantham in your life?

Anna’s Dilemma

*Spoiler Alert* If you are not caught up to Season 4 of Downton Abbey, you might not want to read this post.

I’m still reeling from Season 4. One of the things I love about Downton is that it takes social issues from that time period and brings them to our attention in the present. We take so much for granted. We are allowed so many freedoms – like the freedom to stand up for ourselves, the freedom to speak out, and the freedom to do something about a crime that was committed against us. During the 1920’s women were definitely starting to find their way to speak out in society, they had just obtained the right to vote, but still, there were things that were simply not discussed for a variety of reasons.

The episode where Anna was raped proved to be very controversial in the UK and the US. More so than the makers of the show expected. I found this interview with actress Joanne Froggatt who plays Anna Bates where she talks about why Anna was so terrified to speak up.

I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Leave a comment (on either one of my Downton posts) and receive a chance to win a hardback copy of The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellows. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book.

Jessica Fellowes  is an English author, freelance journalist, and the niece of Lord Julian Fellowes, writer and Creator of Downton Abbey.