Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

18 January 2018

Death by Fairytale

by Eve Fisher

A week ago, I posted this image on my Facebook page, and Paul Marks commented, "Eve, I think there's a SleuthSayers column in this":

No automatic alt text available.

And he's right, so here it is!

Traditional English folk songs can be history (a little mossy, a little mutated), myth retold (look, everyone really wants to go to Elfland, if they can just figure out a way to come out alive), news (remember when Alisoun got shot cause they thought she was a swan?), and the occasional unique idea (I'll let you know when I find one).  They're all sung in a minor key, and can be very haunting.  That's why they're still being sung.  And why I still listen to them.

But let's break down these categories a bit:

Most of English folk songs have people dying of a broken heart.  "Barbara Allan" is actually unusual, in that it's the lass that's hard-hearted (although she does die for her dead lover in the end:  "my true love died for me today, I'll die for him tomorrow").  Most of the time it's the lass that got knocked up on velvet green and was abandoned who dies of sorrow (and sometimes childbirth).  But there's a lot of broken hearts, and there still are.  For one thing, it's hard to get to a ripe old age and never have your heart broken once.  And sad songs are cathartic.  There's nothing like a good cry, especially when accompanied by alcohol and maybe a group sing-along in the bar...

The amazingly large number of deaths by drowning makes just as much sense.  Drowning was actually a major cause of death in the Middle Ages because:
(1) People drank a lot.  Beer in the morning, beer at midday, beer at night.  Granted, a lot of it was small beer, but there wasn't any caffeine in those days, and the water wasn't safe to drink and they knew it.  And even if it was, they were still going to drink beer.  Or wine.  And if anyone offered them some whiskey, well, they wouldn't turn it down.
(2) Almost every village and every city was built along water, because water was necessary for cooking, transportation (barges were the equivalent of modern semis), power (mills), and the occasional cleaning.  This meant there was lots of water to fall into while drinking, either from the banks, bridges, or well.  You combine drinking with darkness, and stumbling along home after a few pints at the pub could lead to serious injuries and more drownings.  And the Middle Ages were not known for their seating:  it was common to sit down on a bridge or the edge of a well and have a long pull at a noggin, and tip back, back, back...  Well, watch Oliver Reed in "The Three Musketeers" above...
(3) All that alcohol and water gave you a handy place to toss someone you were tired of, whether it was your spouse, your friend, or the occasional stranger.

Cruel wars...  Well, there's still, sadly, a lot of those.  Of course, back then men were often pressed into service at sea or land, against their will, or deliberately inebriated by recruiters and signed up, or ran off to join the wars, any wars.  Most of the sad songs are about peasant lads being pressed into service and never seen again by their own true love...   Sometimes the loved one goes off in search of her true love, but that rarely ends well, either.

NOTE:  The most amazing story is a real one:  "The Return of Martin Guerre" is about a peasant who went off to the wars, leaving his wife and family, and returned many years later and resumed his life as husband, father, peasant and all was well...  until the real Martin Guerre came back from the dead, years after that, and booted the imposter out and up onto the gallows.  The movie, starring a young Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye, is magnificent.

Execution...  not so often, and usually NOT for being a highwayman or a footpad.  Although there are lots of serial killers, then and now.  And there are songs about the victims of said serial killers, such as "Reynardine", in which the lass is led over the mountains by a serial killer werefox cannibal "whose teeth did brightly shine". 

But most are about escaping Bluebeard types in the folk songs, legends, stories, and fairy tales:  a man who marries successive wives and kills them all, except the last who somehow figures a way out of it.  My favorite version is Grimm's "The Robber Bride".  I was fascinated as a child by the three glasses of wine the Robber gave his victims (one white, one red, and one yellow, which knocked them out), grossed out by the dismemberment (read it yourself HERE), and cheering when the Bride cleverly exposes him at the wedding feast, and he and all his band are executed.

Another version of nailing Bluebeard is a very old folk song called "The Outlandish Knight". Flora Thompson quoted hugely from this in her memoir "Lark Rise to Candleford", because she heard it almost every night from the local inn, as old David sang it to wind up the evening's drinking:



"He turned his back towards her  
   To view the leaves so green, 
And she took hold of his middle so small 
   And tumbled him into the stream.
And he sank high and he sank low 
   Until he came to the side. 
'Take hold of my hand, my pretty ladye, 
   And I will make you my bride.' '
Lie there, lie there, you false-hearted man, 
   Lie there instead of me, 
For six pretty maids hast thou drowned here 
  And the seventh hath drowned thee.'


"The Outlandish Knight" is a variation of "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight".  (See Steeleye Span's version.)  There's a lot of songs about Elf Knights, Elf Queens, and elves in general, and all I can say is, you don't want to go there.

Except you do.  Because it's an incredible place, full of mystery, beauty, glamour, and as long as you're there you'll never get old.  And who knows?  You may be as lucky as Thomas the Rhymer, who returns with the gift of prophecy and poetry...

Nonetheless, it can end badly, unless your true love comes to fetch you, like in Tam Lin ...  Otherwise...  I'd stay home.

And now we come to the last two:

"Wandered off, lost in the woods, and died".  One variant is the Babes in the Wood, a/k/a Hansel and Gretel, who were either murdered or driven out to starve to death in the woods... and do.  (The frequency of these tales can make you wonder about human nature.  Then again, having just seen this on the news, maybe not...)

The other variant is Rip Van Winkle, who drank the wrong wine / ale given to him by ghosts / elves / trolls, falls asleep, and awakens a hundred years later, which means that all his generation thought he died.  While Washington Irving based Rip Van Winkle on a Dutch story, "Peter Klaus", it's a very old legend.  The first go-round apparently was when, in the 3rd Century BC, the Greek historian Diogenes Laertius told the story of a shepherd, Epimenides of Knossos, who fell asleep in a cave and woke up decades later. But it might well be older than that.  There are tales of long sleepers in the Orkney Islands, where a drunken fiddler meets up with trolls, in Ireland, China, Japan, and India.  The Babylonian Talmud tells a version of it.  Who knows?  There are probably some in ancient Egypt and Sumer.  This is VERY old stuff.


Also (imho) old, old, old stuff is "being mistaken for a swan by a trigger-happy hunter."  I totally buy this one.  For one thing, swans used to be eaten, in ancient Rome, in Elizabeth times, and on.  They were apparently a delicacy.  Anyway, hunting them used to be common.  And God knows it still happens, although they're not taken for swans anymore.  Back in November, 2017, a Pennsylvania woman, out walking her dogs, was shot by a hunter who mistook her for a deer.  (Newsweek)  November was actually an interesting month for mistaken shootings:  another hunter in New York shot a brown pick-up that he mistook for a deer, still another up in Hebron, Maine killed a woman on the opening day of hunting season, and yet another hunter in Oxford, Maine shot a man in the arm.  Personally, I'm staying away from the Northeast during hunting season.

Anyway, as you can see, the "Causes of Death in Traditional English Folk Songs" can all still be used today by the modern mystery writer.  Our victims can die of a broken heart, accidents, drowning, drinking (or drugs), execution, serial killers, escaping serial killers, Elf land (think cults of all kinds), babes in the wood, and hunting accidents.  The technology may change, but the ways, and the motivations, stay pretty much the same.

Related image

And you could do worse than to start with folk songs...











04 January 2018

Cultivating Hysteria with Pleasure and Terror

by Eve Fisher

A couple of weeks ago, right before Christmas, I read "A Passion for Paris:  Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light" by David Downie, and learned a great deal about Parisian geography, architecture, and the Romantics.  I already knew most of the who was sleeping with whoms - as an historian, I've kept up with all kinds of gossip across the ages - but what fascinated me was the literary exchanges.

               "I have cultivated my hysteria with pleasure and terror." - Charles Baudelaire

For example, Charles Baudelaire (considered by many to be the modern French poet, and the French poet of modernity) was obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. 

Charles Baudelaire in 1848,
portrait by Courbet
"In...1847, I came upon a few fragments of Edgar Allan Poe, and felt a strange sort of shock...[.] I discovered, believe me if you will, poems and stories that I had already thought of, but of which I had only a vague, confused and disorganised idea, and which Poe had managed to pull together and perfect...."  (Source

And Baudelaire promptly dropped (almost) everything, and spent his most productive years (1856-1865) translating Poe’s works into French.  Now he wasn't the first to do translate Poe, but he was the one who made Poe's work sing in French.  (Baudelaire's Translations at Gutenberg Press for free.)  And his translations became the standard throughout Europe.

First note:  Despite his obsession with Poe, when Baudelaire named his poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal -- Flowers of Evil in English -- it was in homage of Nathaniel Hawthorne's highly appropriate Rappaccini's Daughter.  (Link here to read on-line)

Second note:  In Memoirs of a Drudge, James Thurber reminisces about working at the Riviera edition of the Chicago Tribune in Southern France.  (And why didn't my guidance counselor ever tell me about this job?)  Anyway, there were regular printers' strikes, and after one of them, the whole press room, half-tanked, got on a train for Cannes.  Promptly another argument broke out, this time over which was better, the original or the French translation of Poe's The Raven?  And would a real raven be more likely to say, "Jamais plus" or "Nevermore"?  "He returned with the claim the claim that our fellow-passenger to a man were passionately on the side of Jamais plus."  Betcha the translation was Baudelaire's...

"Remarks are not literature" - Gertrude Stein

Another interesting connection was between Gertrude Stein and Gustave Flaubert.  Apparently, Stein set out to translate Flaubert's Three Tales into English to improve her French, but it turned into her own Three Lives, which is certainly nothing like Flaubert's subtle, supple prose.  (I have tried to read her work, but found everything other than The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas to be breathtakingly, redundantly boring...) 

On the other hand, praises be to Gertrude Stein, whose gatherings in the Rue de Fleurus brought together almost every artist and writer of the early 1900s, launching friendships, love affairs, movements, feuds, innumerable rumors, and most of what we consider modern art.

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." 
             - Gustave Flaubert

G. LEROUX.jpgSpeaking about original violence, meet Gaston Leroux (1868-1927), the author of  original Phantom of the Opera.  Maybe you haven't read the book, but I'm sure you've seen one of the 14 film versions and 4 stage versions...  (I remember seeing Lon Chaney Sr.'s version when I was a child - nightmare city!)  BTW - Some parts of Phantom are based on reality:  the "Paris Opera House" is based on the real Opera Garnier in Paris, which has underground tunnels and an underground lake. (To visit to the Opera Garnier, go Here.)  A chandelier did fall and kill someone.  There are a couple of stories about the Phantom himself:   one is that it's the ghost of a man whose skeleton was used (I don't know why or how) in a 1841 production at the Paris Opera of Der Freisch├╝tz.  The other is the sad story of Erik, one of the architects of the Opera Granier (who may or not have been disfigured - depends on the legend), but who ended up living underneath the Opera Garnier in his own apartment, with his own passages that led to his own "Box Number 5". 

          Phantom.jpg

Phantom alone should have ensured M. Leroux's fame, but he wrote more than that.  His 1907 super best-seller The Mystery of the Yellow Room has the singular honor of having spurred Agatha Christie to write mysteries.  She and her sister Madge were talking about various detective novels they liked, and The Mystery of the Yellow Room came up, which they both loved.  Christie said she'd like to write a detective novel herself, and Madge said “Well, I bet you couldn’t.” “From that moment I was fired by the determination that I would write a detective story.” 
  • (A number of Leroux's works are available for free on Gutenberg here, some in French, some in English translation.)  
While I'm at it, a few more interesting bits about Agatha Christie:

Did you know that she was a surfer?  She and her first husband, Archibald Christie, went on a trip from South Africa to Hawaii in 1922, and along the way they learned how to surf.  It's speculated that they were the first English surfers to surf standing up.  Now if I could only find a picture of THAT.  

Studio publicity Gene Tierney.jpg
Did you know that The Mirror Cracked is based not just on Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott but on the actress Gene Tierney?  In 1942, she was volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen when a fan sneaked out of a rubella quarantine to meet her. Tierney was pregnant, and yes, she got rubella, and the result was that her daughter, Daria, was born deaf, partially blind, and severely mentally disabled. It broke her heart, and the child had to be institutionalized.  A couple of years later, Tierney was approached by the fan at a garden party who proudly told her what she'd done: "Everyone told me I shouldn't go," the starstruck woman told Tierney years later at a tennis match, not realizing what she was responsible for, "but I just had to go.  You were my favorite."  (Biography)  

Did you know that Agatha Christie qualified as a "dispenser" (a/k/a pharmacist) in 1917?  That's certainly one way to learn all you want to know about poisons...

Supposedly, she ‘saw’ Hercule Poirot twice in her life, once lunching in the Savoy and once on a boat in the Canary Islands.  And Miss Marple was based on her maternal grandmother who, just like Miss Marple, "always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right."  

Speaking of "seeing" a detective, how about "seeing" an author?  Look at the three portraits below. 


McKee Dagurreotype of Edgar Allan Poe  


These are all (supposedly) Edgar Allan Poe.  You tell me how Edgar Allan Poe's physical appearance went from the first daguerreotype (the McGee portrait, 1843 or earlier) to the middle portrait (an 1845 painting by Samuel Stillman Osgood) to the final, most famous, one (the "Ultima Thule" daguerreotype) taken in 1848.

And go a step further:  check out the various Poe portraits at the Edgar Allan Poe Organization website.  Frankly, most of them - except the last - look nothing like the image I've always had of Poe.  Who was this shape-shifter, anyway?  Was that why he was found delirious, in great distress, and in clothes that didn't belong to him?  Was there a possession of some kind?  I don't know.

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” ― 
Edgar Allan Poe

But he was always a master of cultivating terror with hysteria and pleasure...





















07 December 2017

The Mirage

by Eve Fisher

Image result for desert highway
He was walking out on the desert, sand-whipped and alone
Shuffling on feet that felt in the heat like they had turned into stone.

Behind him in the distance, a dust cloud and a big foreign car,
shimmering brighter and brighter in the heat rising up from the tar.

The roar chewed up the silence.  The man stopped and turned around.
He raised his hand, hesitating, his head aching from the sound.

The roar slid towards silence; the car purred like a cat in the road.
The woman waiting at the wheel stared at the lines in the road.

She asked, "Where are you going?"  He said, "Nowhere I haven't been."
The heat was hissing around them; she said, "You might as well get in."

The woman drove like a demon, she never once turned her head
Toward the man sitting beside her; he might as well have been dead.

The desert stretched out around them, it lay everywhere that he turned.
It had calmed and cleaned his body, but his soul felt terribly burned.

He finally asked, "Where ya going?" She looked at him through her hair.
"Sort of the same as you I guess, just sort of going nowhere."

"Lady you picked the right place; if this ain't nowhere, nothing is.
I've been out here a week or more, so I know how empty it is."

Image result for desert highwayThey gave each other a quick glance.  Then he stared at the clouds in the west.
After a while she asked him if he'd come out on some spiritual quest.

He laughed so hard she was wincing, then he answered her mockingly,
"Yeah, I thought if I got sunburned enough, I'd get high naturally."

His eyes were as harsh as his laughter; their look was like a blow from a fist,
Curving around her hips and breasts, then settling down at her wrists…

His eyes fixed on the carved crosses; he drummed his hands on the seat.
"Maybe this is what I came here for, to see what I would meet."

"Don't think that it matters," she said.  "There's nobody's keeping score.
We start running early and keep running late until we run right out the door."

"Still," as she glanced towards him, "there's times when life's pretty sweet."
She stopped the car and said with a nod, "There's a bottle in the back seat."

They sipped the sweet tequila.  They chased it with warm foamy beer.
They drank until the silence was the only thing they could hear.

The liquor was gone so he kissed her.  Her face seemed to swell in his hands.
Her hair smelled like cactus and liquor and hay and he seemed to taste every strand.

The heat was melting their bodies.  They were burning up from the sun.
They were burning inside and burning outside and burning after they'd done.

They reached Cochise by sunset and her car was about out of gas.
"This is where I get off," he said.  "It's been real."  She agreed, "Yes it has."

He saw her again through the window in the cafe by the garage.
She was almost at the horizon when she walked into the mirage.

— Eve Fisher © 2017

Wikipedia - Farallons Islands Mirage

23 November 2017

I'm Not In Prison... A Thanksgiving Meditation

by Eve Fisher

Image result for alternatives to violence projectI spent last weekend at the pen, doing another Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop.  This time we were training inside facilitators, which we do every two years or so.  These are inmates who have done basic and advanced workshops, and have shown themselves to be really good at walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  These are guys who have gone a long time without being written up or put in the SHU, who know how to and do defuse situations on the ground, and want to be a part of spreading the word to others.  Without them, we couldn't do AVP.  (NOTE:  Check us out on Facebook!)  We outside facilitators need their help in all sorts of ways, and I can't say enough good stuff about them or give enough thanks for their help.

Meanwhile, I'm so glad I'm not in prison.  It's one of the things for which I am truly thankful.  And I don't take it for granted.  There's a long, long, long list of things which will send you to prison and I know very few people who have done none of them.  And it can happen so fast...  I've seen guys in the pen who are absolutely shell-shocked because suddenly they are there, and they almost don't know what's happened.  (Some, who are mentally disabled, really don't know what's happened.)


Image result for prison v. nursing homeMeanwhile, this meme - the one on the right - has been going around the internet for a long, long time, comparing prison (favorably) to nursing homes.  And I've refuted it every time I see it, and will continue to do so.  One version of it starts "Let's put Grandma in prison", to which I always respond, you must really hate your Grandma.  And then I explain why this meme is absolutely, one hundred percent false.  Not to mention pretty damn hateful...

So, let's compare apples to oranges, prisons to nursing homes:

Yes, prisoners get a shower every day - it's to prevent lice, mites, and scabies.  It's a health measure, not for their pleasure.  Believe me, a lot of prisoners would just as soon not take showers, because they don't want to be in a large group of naked men, some of whom are hostile, and - what with steam, slippery tile, soap, etc. - it's a place where rape and other assaults can happen.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  In a nursing home, they do get a bath or shower every day, but in private.)

Image result for prison cell usa toilet in front
Prison cell
Yes, there is 24/7 video surveillance.  That's for security.  Yes, the lights don't go off at 7 PM in the pen - they don't go off at all.  That's for security.  The average prison cell is 6 x 8 feet, and (except for lifers) it's shared by two inmates, and the toilet is open, right in the front, by the door, so that literally everyone can see them doing their business.  That's for security, too.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  The average nursing home room is at least six times that size, and the toilet is in a private bathroom with a door.  And no, the lights are NOT turned off in a nursing home at 7:00 PM.)

Yes, there are three meals a day.  They're awful.  I know, I've eaten a lot of them.  (We don't go out for meals during a weekend workshop.)  They get no fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, or red meat.  (The exceptions:  once a day they get canned corn or canned green beans or lettuce or raw carrots.)  There are a lot of carbs, which is why, even if you don't have diabetes before you go into the pen, there's a good chance you'll develop it before you go.  (Nationally, 21% of inmates have diabetes.)  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  I've eaten many a meal in assisted living centers, while visiting my parents, God rest their souls, and they weren't cold, except the salads, and they were pretty good.)

Yes, prisoners are allowed to have a TV - if they can afford it.  (No, they're not free.)  This is also a security measure, believe it or not.  Unless they have a job (and as many as half the prisoners don't), they're locked down, in their 6x8 cell 23/24.  Lately, they're also being given tablets (provided for free by private corporations, and not on the taxpayers' dime), which allow them to make telephone calls from their cells (using earbuds), listen to music, and access the digital law library.
(NOTE:  The digital law library has caused some prisons to quit having a paralegal on staff to explain the law to the inmates, which is sort of like providing a medical library and firing the doctors.)  Working or not, inmates are only allowed 1 hour for recreation (rec).  Depending on staffing levels, or climate, even rec is cancelled.  Inside rec is in the gym, which does come equipped with basketball hoops and weight equipment.  (Personally, I want them to burn off their energy somewhere....)

Prison tiers, SDSP
When the weather is nice and staffing levels are good, rec is outside, where inmates can play baseball and walk / jog around the track.  But, as soon as the temperature goes below 50, all rec is indoors, because the inmates - for security reasons - aren't given coats unless they have a specific job outside.  So, here in South Dakota, that generally means that for six months out of the year, inmates don't get to go outside, at all.  And because of the configuration of cell blocks, most cells don't have windows; and where there are windows, they're covered with iron mesh, which means that inmates don't even get to see the sun for six months out of the year.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Now let's talk about medication.  Most prisoners are now given Vitamin B and D supplements, because of the lack of sunlight, the food, and the constant fluorescent lighting.  Yes, there's generally a paramedic and a nurse on duty 24/7 at a prison.  Yes, there is free prescription medication, and if you really want people with bi-polar, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses to go without medication in an over-crowded environment of people who are stuck there for years for criminal behavior, well...  that one's beyond me...

But notice I said prescribed medication.  You have to get that prescription, and getting it can take a while.  First you have to get an appointment to see the doctor, which takes a while.  Diagnosis takes a while.  And the medications are given out on the prison time schedule, not the prisoners.  Diabetics don't get to check their blood sugar and medicate accordingly.  They get their insulin at the scheduled time.  Period.  Inmates on chemo get to ride out the side effects in their 6x8 cell, without any special diet or help.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Image result for elderly in prisonA lot of prisoners are elderly.  You get 20, 30, 40, 50 years or life, you're going to grow old in prison.  Eventually, elderly and disabled prisoners are allowed knee braces, walkers, and eventually even wheelchairs.  Those who are in wheelchairs are often assigned a pusher, which in this case is an inmate who will push them to where they want to go.  But they're not given any special help in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, up and down the stairs, to and from the chow hall, the medication line, etc., until they're actually at the hospice stage.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

All I can say, is that if your elderly loved ones are in a nursing home that does what the meme says, you have put them in the wrong nursing home.  (That or you really do hate them.)  Get them out.  Immediately.  Here are the official Nursing Home Care Standards:  find some place that follows them!

Meanwhile, I hope that reading this has made us all truly thankful for the things we have:  a home, with a private bathroom, a soft bed with comforters and pillows, weather-appropriate clothing, the ability to go outside whenever we want, do what we want, eat whatever we want.  The simple fact that I can actually turn the lights on and off is wonderful.  The fact that I can have a Thanksgiving Dinner with friends, loaded with good food...  it's fantastic.  I am truly, truly, truly, thankful.






09 November 2017

Mornings in London by Janice Law

by Eve Fisher

Mornings in London (The Francis Bacon Mysteries) by [Law, Janice]
Amazon Link Here
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Well, not if you have a really good nanny. Which Francis Bacon has.  (But more about that later.)

Yes, Francis Bacon, artist, gay, designer, bon vivant, adventurer, sometime spy, and always, always, always up to his neck in trouble is back in Janice Law's latest mystery, "Mornings in London".

But the first morning is in the country, at Larkin Manor, where Francis wakes up with a hangover and a naked footman, which is fine with him.  The trouble is, all around him are the county set, and (aside from the footman) Francis is already bored to death.  But he's down there at the request of a lady, his cousin Poppy, whom he hopes to rescue from Freddie, a bounder and a cad whom Francis knows a little too well and a little too much about.

Actually, that problem gets solved pretty quickly:
The morning of the hangover, Francis gets up to go to the bathroom and finds Signor Rinaldi, Italian diplomat under Mussolini, emerging from Freddie's room wearing nothing but a dressing gown.  "I was returning a book he so kindly lent me," Rinaldi offers - but no one believes that, especially Poppy.  The fight that follows attracts everyone's attention, and the main topic at dinner is that Poppy broke her engagement.  The next day, she and Francis go for a restorative walk, they find Freddie, his throat cut, lying in the grass.

Now everyone at Larkin Manor know that none of them could have done it.
Francis Bacon by John Dekin.jpg
Francis Bacon, Wikipedia

Signor Rinaldi?  A diplomat?  Never!
Lady Larkin, wealthy, a supporter of fascist movements at home and abroad?  Never!
Major Larkin, "the nice old architecture buff, the henpecked husband of a rich and politically ambitious wife"?  Never!
Basil Grove and his horsey wife, the wealthy Daphne?  Peter Tollman, the silver-haired government man and his trilling wife Lea?  The Larkins' pudgy daughter?  Never, never, never!

But Francis Bacon, dodgy decorator of rugs and furniture?  And his cousin Poppy, who broke off the engagement in a fury?  Well...  maybe.  Why not?

Francis knows trouble when he sees it - and it grows by leaps and bounds.  Someone - as well as the police - are after Poppy.  Someone mugs her.  Someone searches her rooms.  And when the lady vanishes, Francis knows he has to find out what's really going on.

Was Freddie murdered for love?  For blackmail?  For politics?  And the last is possible.  "Mornings in London" is set in the late 1920s, early 1930s, when fascism was rising both on the Continent and in England, especially among the aristocrats, to whom Mussolini was a handy tool for providing social stability.  (They thought.)  Everywhere Francis turns he runs into intelligence officers, including his exceptionally dodgy Uncle Lastings, who shows up with his own ideas on the murder...

Image result for jessie lightfootAnd then there's Nan.  I am so glad she is a major player in this book.  I love Nan.

Nan, who "sometimes has more imagination than a nanny requires.  Of course, that was exactly why she was ideal for me." 
Nan, who always knows a secret place to slip a bit of evidence.
Nan, who will sleep / eat / live anywhere to be with Francis.  (Seriously, in the 1940's, when Francis lived in Millais' old studio in South Kensington, for lack of an "alternative location", Nan slept on the kitchen table. Wikipedia.)
Nan, who encourages Francis to give up decorating and go into painting full-time, saying, "I've been poor.  Money's better, but life's too short to pass on happiness." 
Nan, who cooks and cleans and nurses - believe me, after reading about her, I am certain that all artists, of any genre, need a nanny like Jessie Lightfoot.  

Thanks, Janice, for giving us Francis, Nan, and "Mornings in London". 

                                                










26 October 2017

The North Forty

by Eve Fisher

With any luck, my husband and I just got back from a much-needed vacation, so here's an update from my friend Linda Thompson. She wrote this letter to a mutual friend of ours who lives in New York City, who likes to keep informed about life in Laskin, South Dakota... 

...Every summer as you know, a friend of mine goes on a dig with a group of archaeologists.  I've suggested that he could find really interesting things by staying in town and excavating my garden, but he just laughs.  He has no idea what can get buried in a small town.  Remember when Mary Olson killed her husband?  That asparagus bed's still pretty lush...  (I know, I know, it was never proven he was ever buried there, but you can re-read all about that here in "The Asparagus Bed".)

But the truth of the matter is, my friend only interested in dinosaurs.

Image result for wall drug dinosaur

Of course, America's been dinosaur-happy for a long time.  I was, too, once, but I got over it when I learned that birds were direct descendants of dinosaurs, which sounds sillier in a book than it does watching a flock of pelicans.  Pelicans are 30 million years old.  Pelicans are sharks with wings.  In flight they look like large albino pterodactyls, and I'll bet they'd whip the pants off of any leather-winged pterosaur stupid enough to not be extinct.  On the water, they patrol the lake with the same carefree approach of prison search-lights on a moonless night with bloodhounds baying in the background.  If I were a fish, they'd give me a heart attack.  As it is, they just give me the willies.



Of course, once you start observing things like that, you can't stop.  At least, I can't.  I started watching the crows and flickers stalking my yard, head cocked, one eye staring cold and unblinking down at the ground until they spot their prey.  Maybe I saw "The Birds" too young, along with "Psycho" and "Marlin Perkins' Wild America", but I believe birds spook more people than me:  why else would carry-out fried chicken be available in every convenience store in America?  It's our way of reassuring ourselves of our place on the food chain.



The reason I'm able to make all these observations is that my yard is the neighborhood wildlife sanctuary.  Besides the birds, a tribe of rabbits comes and frolics on my lawn every night.  This isn't because I leave out little nubbins of carrots and pretend that I'm Beatrix Potter.  It's because I have the only chemical-free lawn on my block, full of dandelions, clover, and creeping charlie.  (You can imagine how popular I am with my neighbors.)  The rabbits love it.  They eat and gambol and do all the things that rabbits do.  They must stay up all night doing it, too, because morning always finds a couple of them sprawled out on the grass like limp cats.  Sometimes a cat is sprawled out like a limp rabbit, not five feet away.  Who's imitating whom, I don't know.  All I know is that they're all too tuckered to move.

Now I don't mind the rabbits eating all the clover they can hold.  I'm certainly not going to eat it.  Nor do I mind them fraternizing with cats, although I think it proves the truth of the phrase "hare-brained".  What I mind is this Roman-orgy atmosphere they give the place.  The way some of them look, I expect to see little togas and vine-wreaths lying under the marigolds and zucchini.

Solanum melongena 24 08 2012 (1).JPGAnd there's the problem.  You see, my garden is in my front yard because it's the only place that gets enough sun to grow anything but moss.  In any major urban center - say 12,000 and up - I would have been run out of town on a rail for plowing up perfectly good sod to grow vegetables.

But here in Laskin, it's a tourist attraction. Every walker in town stops at my chicken-wire fence and comments freely about the condition of my soil.  My neighbors bring their out-of-town visitors over for the afternoon, which tells you something about the entertainment options of Laskin.  I stepped outside one day and found a dozen people, none of whom I knew from Adam's off-ox, standing around wondering why I put the beans there, why my peppers weren't blooming, and what in the world was THAT?  (Eggplant.)

No my North Forty is good clean family fun.  It's also a lot of hard work.  Note to Martha Stewart:  the real key to a perfect garden is to put it in the front yard, where every weed becomes public knowledge.  God knows that after years of this, my character has been thoroughly shredded, and what I should do is just quit, but that would start even more rumors... 

I need an excuse, a reason, like an excavation.  I believe there's something under the potato patch.  We just haven't looked properly.  I need professional archaeologists.  After all there are dinosaurs on the property already, and it's not my fault if they've evolved to the point where they have feathers...

12 October 2017

Fun With Funerals!

by Eve Fisher

I hope many of you watched the series "My Name is Earl" with Jason Lee.  I thought it was hilarious.  One of my favorite episodes was when John Waters did a guest spot as Walter Hamerick, a creative funeral director who liked to put his clients in familiar conditions:  hence the guy in this picture, who'd spent his life as a couch potato is surrounded by all his favorite things.  I watched that, and besides laughing my head off, thought THAT'S the way it's done.  Even if it does look like a spooky Duane Hanson retrospective.

Locally, we have a funeral home that offers a motorcycle hearse (shout out to you, George Boom!) which provides not only one of the best funeral billboards I've seen in years, but makes a whole lot of sense, considering that Sturgis, South Dakota, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world.  (Yes, it's the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.)

NOTE:  You'd be amazed at the performers who've played at Sturgis.  From Bob Dylan to Ozzy Osborne, from Motley Crue to the late, great Tom Petty...  (here's Tom Petty's Set List from Sturgis 2006).

Anyway, back when I was a child, my father drove my mother and me to northern Kentucky every summer, where we spent at least a few weeks, if not the whole summer, with my grandmother.  She lived in a small town of probably 500 people (which was considerable growth from the 40 who were there in 1800), settled in the late 1700s, and everyone knew / knows everyone.  Everyone knew my grandmother, because she taught school there for 40 years.  And my grandfather worked in the bank as a teller until the late 1950s.

Image result for 1858 pennySide storyEvery time someone brought in a very old coin to the bank to deposit, my grandfather would take it and replace it with a modern equivalent from his own pocket.  The result is that I have a modest but authentic old coin collection.

Anyway, another family everyone knew was that of the local morticians.  The Walworths (the names have been changed so as not to embarrass anyone) had been burying everyone in Falmouth since the 1800s, and had / have every intention of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future.  Whenever Mother and I went to Falmouth, we stopped and paid our respects.  Mrs. Walworth, the matriarch, gave me lemonade and cookies, and the adults discussed old, literally dead days with great relish.  Mrs. Walworth especially like to reminisce about when she and Mr. Walworth first met.
"We didn't fall in love at first sight.  No, he had to work to get me.  But oh, those were sweet times.  Hand in hand, courting and embalming..."  

She also told the sad story of when her first son died, as a little boy, and having to lay him out and bury him themselves.  And, after the funeral, there was a tremendous rain storm, and she couldn't sleep thinking about how cold and wet it was out there in that grave...  (BTW, both those stories gave me a few nightmares.)

But back to Fun with Funerals.  Maybe.

Fast forward 30 years, and my grandmother died.  I went back up to Kentucky with my parents, in my one black suit, a 1930s linen number that I'd bought at the thrift store and gave my mother something to talk about instead of crying the whole way.  Randy Walworth (who was about my age, and had taken over for his parents a few years back) met us, and we finished making the arrangements:  lilies, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", and cake as well as cookies for the viewing that evening.  Then we went and booked a room for the night at the local motel, because there weren't any living relatives left in town.

I swear to God everyone over 60 came that evening for the viewing.  The three of us went from little old lady to little old man and on to the next until I at least was dizzy.  At one point I stopped by the coffee and looked out on the sea of tinted grey, the chatter like the sea in my ears, and realized I desperately needed a cigarette.  So I stepped back into the office, where Randy was taking a little time off from his duties as well.

"I just need a cigarette," I said.

"No problem.  You want a drink to go with it?"

"Hell, yes."

funeral-humor-old-people-at-weddingsRandy pulled out a bottle of bourbon and poured us both a stiff one.  We sipped away, in silence at first, and then Randy started talking.

First about what a good crowd we had, because my grandmother had always been hugely popular.

We reminisced about Falmouth in the old days - we were very close in age - and how we'd run from house to house and race each other over the railroad tracks, which ran right through the middle of town.  Who lived where.  When.  When they died.  Where they were buried (his contribution).

And then Randy started talking about "restoration work" (we were on a multiple of drinks at this point), and how delicate it is, and what wonderful things he'd done for my grandmother, and how he'd done them.  He went into some detail, and I tried very hard to look interested while not hearing one single word of it.

He wound it all up with, "Now I want you to do me a favor."  "What?" I asked.

"Whatever you do, don't ever have an autopsy.  Autopsies just wreak havoc with a person's body, and the funeral director is stuck with the damage.  Please, please, please, whatever you do, make sure you don't ever have an autopsy, because I simply can't guarantee my work if you do."

Well, I promised.  Without pointing out that I'd have nothing to say about whether or not I'd have an autopsy, if the issue ever arose.  And then I went back to the party, because for some reason...

Well, it's interesting to chat with the man who plans to embalm you.  But it isn't really comfortable.  Even with bourbon.




 

28 September 2017

The Goodfellas Return to South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

South Dakota made it to the national news this week, thanks to Rep. Lynne DiSanto, R-Box Elder, and State Legislature Whip, who posted an image earlier this month on Facebook or some such social media:

  

After people called her out on the meme, she took it down and wrote:  “I am sorry if people took offense to it and perceived my message in any way insinuating support or condoning people being hit by cars.  I perceived it differently. I perceived it as encouraging people to stay out of the street.” Yeah, right. That's why she commented:
"I think this is a movement we can all support. #alllivessplatter"  

To be fair, as some of us have noted, she's from West River, where there's a wee bit of racism. That's where I was denied a motel room 27 years ago because they thought I looked Native American.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 
has the lowest per capita income in the country.
That's where, for 2018, the Native Americans of Tripp, Dewey, Jackson, and Buffalo Counties will be provided only 9 days of the official 46 days allotted for early voting at one satellite center each for the Rosebud, Cheyenne, Pine Ridge, and Crow Creek Reservations, respectively.  Why? you might ask. (Although you may also have already ferreted out the reason.) Because that's all that the county commissioners asked for, according to Secretary of State Shantel Krebs.

NOTE 1: There's $9 million in the kitty for early satellite voting centers for South Dakota Native Americans. "Buffalo County auditor Elaine J. Wulff requested $2,100 to open the Crow Creek satellite voting station on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for three weeks in October 2018."  (Dakota Free Press)  (Indian Country Media Network)

NOTE 2:  For those worried about fraudulent voters, I can assure them that each and every person on the reservations was born in this country, and their ancestors have been in the Americas for thousands of years.

And, in answer to the question you may not have asked, Yes, most SD county commissioners are white.

DiSanto did lose her job - real estate - and she was dropped by the group Working Against Violence, Inc., as a speaker from an upcoming event.  But our own South Dakota legislature refused to reprimand her in any way.  (Argus Leader 1 and Argus Leader2)  And no, I'm not surprised.  After all, it was just a couple of weeks ago that the Minnehaha County Republicans sponsored a "Liberty Rally" at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Sioux Falls. About 80 people, including five state legislators and two Republican gubernatorial candidates, showed up to listen to a New Zealand writer and filmmaker named Trevor Loudon urge South Dakota to pass laws labeling Muslim advocacy and student organizations as hate groups and block Muslim refugees and immigrants from even entering the state.  (I guess we need to build a wall around South Dakota, too...) Argus Leader 3

But enough about that.  What about money?

Remember Gear Up, the federal program to help give Native American students scholarships? Remember Scott Westerhuis, who apparently embezzled $1.4 million and then, when it was all about to come out, killed himself, his wife, his four children, and set fire to his house and destroyed everything (except for the safe, which is still missing)?  Well, the latest twist is that Legislative Auditor General Marty Guindon has done a new audit, and said that the funds used for the Gear Up grant were all returned, and South Dakota owes the feds nothing.  Huzzah!  (Argus Leader 4). Instead, Mid-Central owes $3.4 million that it stole from 14 central South Dakota public school districts via representatives of those 14 public school districts. Now, South Dakota not only wants the money back, it's suing... wait for it... the school districts! (Argus Leader 5)  Even a former Republican State Senator is appalled by this.  
Stace Nelson 2014-02-14 00-02.jpg
Stace Nelson
"The burden of ongoing corruption in SD just got real for the taxpayers in Armour, Burke, Colome, Corsica, Ethan, Gregory, Kimball, Mount Vernon, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Stickney, Wessington Springs, White Lake, and Wolsey-Wessington School Districts! On June 29th, the “Lead Grant Partner” to MidCentral Education Cooperative (MEC), responsible for the administration, management, and oversight of the GEAR UP grants since 2005, named those schools contracted to MEC for services in its $4.3 Million lawsuit to recoup monies fraudulently misappropriated. The “Lead Grant Partner?” The SD Department of Education (DOE)!...
"U.S. history is replete with political corruption like New York’s Tammany Hall, and the Chicago Daley political machines that robbed taxpayers from within government through cronies protected from prosecution. We are seeing the same subversion of law in South Dakota for protection of cronies, in an ever brazen fashion."  (read the rest of Republican State Senator Stace Nelson's op-ed here at Dakota Free Press)  
Tri-Valley school boardBut that's the big boys.  How can we, as individuals, do our part to participate in gaming the system? So glad you asked.  Meet Tri-Valley school superintendent Mike Lodmel, who figured out a quick way of getting more funding for his school.  He invited all the homeschoolers in the area to attend school on September 29 to receive a free laptop.  Interestingly, September 29th was the day that the state took its official student enrollment count to figure out the district state aid for next year.  Each and every homeschooler that showed up meant $3,000 more for Tri-Valley.  Well, the governor's office heard about this and shut it down. Mr. Lodmel sent letters to all the homeschoolers, withdrawing the offer of a free laptop. He also said that his attorney said the plan didn't break any laws. "Frankly, our district has rescinded the offer because (I feel) moving forward just wouldn't be worth it... I honestly didn't believe this would be 'such a big deal." (Argus Leader 6)  

Although it's irrelevant to Mr. Lodmel's funding idea, Mr. Lodmel is also the man who made Tri-Valley the first district in South Dakota to utilize the 2013 school sentinal law, allowing school employees to carry firearms...

Like I said, this is South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

14 September 2017

"The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" and Other Quacks

by Eve Fisher

Two blog posts ago I discussed the wonderful Goat Gland Doctor, Doc Brinkley and his crowd way down south.  Today, we're on to radium, oxygenated air, and murder.

William John Aloysius Bailey

First, a contemporary of Doc Brinkley, John Aloysius Bailey (May 25, 1884 – May 17, 1949), a Harvard University dropout who claimed to have a physician's license and promoted using radium as a cure for coughs, flu, and other common ailments. Bailey started up Bailey's Radium Laboratories in East Orange, New Jersey, and while the FTC kept investigating him, he managed to die wealthy (as opposed to Doc Brinkley, who died broke).

While Bailey claimed that adding radium to your drinking water (!) could treat everything from mental illness to diabetes, anemia to constipation, headaches to asthma, his two most famous products were:
  • Arium, a restorative that "renewed happiness and youthful thrill into the lives of married peoples whose attractions to each other had weakened." An analysis of Arium tablets showed that they contained radium, of course, but also strychnine...  (see Arium)
  • Radithor, marketed as "A Cure for the Living Dead" as well as "Perpetual Sunshine".  A man named Eben Byers swore by Radithor, which worked so well for him that he gulped down bottles of it - 1,400 to be exact.  At the trial (for Mr. Byers died) it was stated that "The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" - see HERE, p. 18.  
  • And then there was the Radiendocrinator, as pictured below in its beautiful dark blue embossed leatherette case, which contains the gold plated Radiendocrinator nestled in its velvet lined pocket...  (Always give the punters something for their money.)  







Says the curator of a collection of quack cures, "The Radiendocrinator in the above photo was sufficiently radioactive that I had to remove the source before it could be put on display." Remember where it was supposed to be placed on the human body. https://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/quackcures/radend.htm

Mr. Bailey did serve his country during wartime - he was the wartime manager of the electronic division of IBM during WWII.  Who knows how much radiation he carried with him?  In any case, Mr. Bailey died of bladder cancer on May 17, 1949.  When his body was exhumed nearly 20 years later, it was found to be "ravaged by radiation".

Charles Lewis Blood

C. L. Blood (transparent).png
C. L. Blood, physician
and conman
And now, murder.  Charles Lewis Blood (September 8, 1835 – September 27, 1908) alias C. H. Lewis, a/k/a C. L. Blood was yet another self-styled physician, who operated in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  He sold what was known as "oxygenized air", which he promoted as a cure for catarrh, scrofula, consumption, etc.

Now most quacks are relatively harmless, if you disregard the fact that none of their treatments worked, and could kill you in the trying. But they weren't deliberately  trying to harm people.  Blood was different. He had a rival in the oxygen game in Boston, Dr. Jerome Harris, a real doctor, who was giving people "super-oxygenized air" which was really nitrous oxide.  And probably any patients who tried it thought it was a lot more fun that Blood's version.  Anyway, one day Harris treated a man named Carville, who began frothing at the mouth, rolling on the floor, and having a fit. Harris sent him home, Carville called his own physician who cured him! Miraculously!  And the next day the newspapers were plastered with the horrific story of the poisoning of poor hapless Carvill by the evil Dr. Harris, who was only saved by the amazing treatments of his personal physician...  Dr. C. L. Blood.  Harris ended up having to leave Boston because of all the bad publicity.
NOTE:  In 1880, Blood published "A Century of Life, Health and Happiness", a compendium of medical information for the home, and if I ever find it on a used bookstore shelf, I'm buying it.  As long as it's a dollar.  
In May 1884, again in Boston, Blood was arrested for blackmailing Ernest Weber, a local musician. They were, apparently, courting the same woman, Jennett Nickerson.  Cap'n Blood procured from her, allegedly by force, an affidavit to the effect that she had been ruined by Weber (i.e., had sex with him) after he promised marriage, and that Weber had later forced her to have an abortion.  Blood tried to blackmail Weber with the affidavit, but he took it to the police, who arrested Blood.  He was convicted and sentenced to prison. 

Hiram Sawtelle
But Blood got out, and in February, 1890, Blood was implicated in the murder of Hiram Sawtelle, a Boston fruitseller.  Isaac Sawtelle, Hiram's brother, had gotten out of prison "after securing, at great expense, a pardon for his rape convictions."  He moved in with Hiram, Hiram's wife Jeanette, and their mother, a household that was apparently as happy as that of the Bordens.  The main problem was money.  Dad had died, leaving all the money to Mom, but Hiram was managing it, and Isaac was broke (it cost a lot to get a pardon in those days), and he had a friend named Blood, who came up with a plan, involving a third man named Jack...

(Don't worry:  it gets more complicated.)

Isaac Sawtelle
Isaac kidnapped Hiram's daughter, Marion, and used her to get Hiram up to a secluded camp near Springvale, Maine.  Whatever was supposed to happen, it didn't.  Hiram was shot four times, stripped, decapitated, and the body buried in a shallow grave across the New Hampshire state line. When Hiram's wife noticed her husband was gone, she told the police that she thought Isaac had killed him.  Isaac was eventually captured in Rochester, NH.

Meanwhile, Blood's picture was being circulated by the Boston newspapers, where two hoteliers up in Dover, New Hampshire, recognized it.  One of them reported that Blood had been carrying two bundles, one done up in wrapping paper and apparently containing clothes, and the other wrapped in newspaper and "about the size of a man's head".[9]

Isaac was charged with conspiracy, murder, and was awaiting trial.  On April 13, he confessed that he'd plotted to get the property from Hiram, but denying that he planned or had any part in Hiram's murder.  Instead, it was Jack who led Hiram away, Jack who probably killed him.  Isaac knew nothing about it until the day he was arrested, when he got a letter from Blood that read "Your brother had to be put out of the way. Let each look out for himself."[14]

Here's the fun part:  Despite Isaac's jailhouse confessions and the hoteliers' statements, Blood was never even questioned by police. Even Hiram's widow denied that Blood had any dealings with Hiram.  And at the trial, Isaac himself changed his story, confessing that he'd shot Hiram and that all Blood had done was prepare the legal instruments of transfer for Hiram to sign.  Isaac was convicted and sentenced to death.  Almost immediately he recanted his confession and once again laid full responsibility for the murder on Blood:
"Dr. Blood is the man who is responsible. Some time it will be known, a deathbed repentance, perhaps, and when all is known it will be found that I am innocent of anything to do with the murder. I have accused him; I accuse him now. If he had come forward I would have accused him to his face. But why didn't he appear? He didn't dare to; he didn't dare to face me. Now that I am practically dead he can do what he pleases. He has had a chance to establish and prove an alibi, while I have been in jail, tied hand and foot… Blood was responsible in every way. I do not mean to say that he killed Hiram—that he fired the shots which caused his death—but I do mean that he knew of it and was responsible for it."[17]
Isaac Sawtelle died of natural causes on December 26, 1891, shortly before his scheduled execution.

[A reproduction of a visiting card from c. L. Blood.  The card bears the text "Dr. C. L. Blood" in cursive script, and a captioned photograph of Blood in the upper left corner.]
There was no deathbed repentance on the part of Dr. Blood.  Instead, he moved to Manhattan, where he died on September 27, 1908, in Manhattan.  The short obituary in his hometown Ayer, Massachusetts newspaper, reported that Blood "had lived in New York city twelve years, where he was in a manufacturing business."[12] He was buried in Ayers, in the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, but his widow and four surviving sisters did not add his name to the family memorial.  His calling card must suffice...