research

Myth vs Fact

I love Daniel Delis Hill’s American Menswear. It’s one of my go-to sources for men’s fashion in the 20th century. However, I came across an interesting myth this author chose to perpetuate.


Clark Gable in the movie: It Happened One Night (1934) killed the undershirt industry (1).

Did he cite underwear salesmen or stock owners? Letters from men saying, ‘hey if Clark Gable isn’t wearing an undershirt, I don’t have to either.’

Nope.

In fact, he didn’t cite where he got this information at all.

I guess it comes down to always check your sources whether it’s in print or online. Myths are still myths even if they did have slivers of truth to them.

Normally, I would take the time to debunk this myth myself. But Cliff Aliperti in 2013 did that already (here).

Source:

(1) Hill, Daniel Delis. American Menswear: From the Civil War to the 21st Century. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2011, 195.

Reviews

How the Brain Lost Its Mind By Allan H. Ropper and Brian Burrell (Review)

If anyone asked me would I ever want to go back in time, my answer is always no. Reading Ropper’s and Burrell’s take on the history of syphilis made my “no” even more firm

It’s an uncomfortable fact to acknowledge how deeply 19th and 20th-century science and eugenics entwined. Blood tests were a prerequisite to getting a marriage license. These tests were often used as a means for the state to promote anti-miscegenation. But there were also genuine health risks associated with these tests, too.

After the invention of the Wassermann test in 1906, syphilis could be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Why this disease? It can lead to neurological disorders. Birth defects. And even death. And 10% of the urban population had it. Mabel Dodge Luhan, a famous patroness of the arts in New Mexico, had an abortion out of fear of giving it to her child, and nearly gave up sex all together after she was infected for the third time by her third husband.

Cures were spotty and dangerous. Savaraan 606 could give you terrible migraines, seizures, and death. Arsenic and mercury treatments amounted to sixteen-month injections that worked or didn’t. By 1917 pyrotherapy was introduced which often meant trading one disease for another (mostly malaria which got the body temperature up to 105 degrees).

Yes, there are plenty of things that suck about 2020. But modern medicine is not one of them.

iowa history, research

Famous Iowa Trees

Two of my favorite trees are the burr oak and the cottonwood. I played under a leaning, rickety, crooked-limbed burr oak filled with all sorts of imaginings as a ten year old. While I stayed with my grandfather on his farm, he told me stories of how the giant cotton wood which loomed directly east of the house helped make the family butchering easier.

Elm Farm (Dec 1965)
Elm Farm, 1965 — Courtesy of Lisa Taber

Both tree species had a strong influence in altering the landscape of the native prairie. The Timber and Culture Act of 1873, granted 160 acres of public land to a claimant as long as forty acres of it were planted in trees. With any law, abuses mounted, amendments were added in 1874, 1878, and it was repealed in 1891.

IMG_0165
Tree in the Middle of the Road, 2020; Courtesy of Lisa Taber

Burr oaks and cottonwoods are native species found along rivers, streams, or in groves out in the middle of the nowhere. They were favorites of the pioneers because of their hardiness, height, girth, and wonderful buffers against the harsh prairie. The female cottonwood often gets a bad rap and many cities have banned their planting. According to Rick Hall, professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management the wispy white seeds produced in late June early July are in fact similar to the cotton plant, “but much shorter fibers and much smaller aggregation around each seed than the cotton plant has” (Iowa Radio).

Volunteers such as Mark Rouw have been on a mission since the 1970s to map Iowa’s largest, oldest, and biggest trees (“Meet Iowa’s Big-Tree Hunter”). If you feel a local tree deserves to be cherished for future generations, you may nominate it to Iowa DNR’s “Big Tree Program”. Nomination forms may be found here.

If you’re looking for a quiet, scenic tour of two of Iowa’s famous trees, you can’t beat Tree in the Middle of the Road or The Plow in the Oak.

TREE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD:

Off Interstate 80 and up and down steep minimum maintenance roads, and at the convergence of four intersections, sits a giant cotton wood some 100 feet in height and 20 feet in diameter.

IMG_0160
Tree in the Middle of the Road 2020; Courtesy of Lisa Taber

According to local legend, the tree was planted in the 1860s. Two brothers were surveying the land. One of them had used a cottonwood sapling as a walking stick. Once they reached the invisible boundaries between Cass and Auburn counties they sharpened the sapling and stuck it into the ground to serve as a marker. The tree sprouted and so it remains.

THE PLOW IN THE OAK:

Roughly thirteen miles away sits another famous tree. Alongside Hwy 71 in a small park is The Plow in the Oak.

Tree Near Exira Iowa 1934
Shari Beymer,  “Tree Near Exira, Iowa, 1934.” Facebook. 6 June 2018. Accessed: 16 August 2020.

Local legend has it a farmer upon hearing of the Civil War, set his plow against an oak tree, joined the Union never to return. Paul Walther, the agriculturist for Audubon County, said there could be some truth to the legend as the oak does predate the Civil War (Klingaman). An image from Shari Beymer on Facebook from 2018, shows much more of the plow in 1934. By 2020 the oak has pretty much swallowed up the plow.

IMG_0178
Courtesy of Lisa Taber 2020

If you feel like you want to take a scenic drive to one or both of these two famous Iowa trees, you won’t be disappointed.

Directions:

  • Tree in the Middle of the Road: Tree in the Road, 2401-2449 350th St, Brayton, IA 50042
  • Plow in the Oak: Plow in the Oak Park, Exira, IA 50076

Map of the Two

Sources:

Beymer, Shari. “Tree Near Exira, Iowa, 1934.” Facebook. 6 June 2018. Accessed: 16 August 2020.
Big Tree Program.” Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 2020. Accessed: 08 August 2020.
Bur Oak.” Extension and Outreach. Iowa State University. 2020. Accessed: 16 August 2020.
Butler, Bill. “Cottonwood Tree.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa: 27 May 1990, 5B. Newspapers.com Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Cottonwoods, Maples ‘Overproducing’ Seeds This Spring.” Radio Iowa. 2 June 2008. Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Goetz, Katheryn R. “Land For Trees: The Timber Culture Act of 1873.” MinnPost. 4 June 2013. Accessed: 14 August 2020.
Ise, John. “The Early History of the United States Forest Policy.” Ames Forester, Vol 3, Article 5, 1915. Accessed: 14 August 2020.
James, Bob. “Iowa Has Two Historic and Unique Trees, Just Miles Apart.” 98.1 K.H.A.K. 10 January 2019. Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Klingaman, Mike. “Iowa Harbors Two Legendary Trees.” The Baltimore Evening Sun Online. 4 October 1990. Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Kutzi, Marilyn. “The Secrets of the Cottonwood Tree.” Clinton Herald Online. 24 September 2016. Accessed: 16 August 2020.
Meet Iowa’s Big-Tree Hunter.” The Gazette Online. 01 July 2018. Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Raffensperger, Gene. “Motorists Yield for Fabled Tree.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa: 27 May 1990, 1B & 5B. Newspapers.com Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Tree in the Middle of the Road to Plow in the Oak Park“. Google Maps. 2020. Accessed: 16 August 2020.
Tree in the Middle of the Road.” Travel Iowa. 2020. Accessed: 07 August 2020.
Young, Aaron. “This Iowa Road Has a Massive Tree Growing in the Middle of It.” Des Moines Register Online. 14 December 2016. Accessed: 07 August 2020.
iowa history, research

Summer Nostalgia

I just wanted to know more about private swimming pools.

A lead character in my current WIP comes from a very wealthy family. He had an injury where swimming/exercise alleviates pain and lessens his dependence on prescribed opiates.

I put off researching swimming pools for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hadn’t yet reached the necessary point in my story,
  2. Ignorance (how they work/who had them/ect.; swimming, as a child, wasn’t my thing).

One of my go-to sites is a closed group on Facebook called “Lost Des Moines“. Pictures and stories are posted about Des Moines, Iowa, where nostalgia often supersedes fact. For the most part, I treat this site as I would Wikipedia. It’s a good starting point, but if I want better truths I look elsewhere.

Terrace Hill Pool Party, 1937
“Pool Party at Terrace Hill, 1937.” Courtesy of John Pemble & Terrace Hill. “Terrace Hill Pool to Return.” Iowa Public Radio. 19 November 2015. Accessed: 08 August 2020.

“Lost Des Moines” posts regarding public pools were from adults who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Private pools, like anywhere else in the United States, were reserved for the wealthy. I was able to find swimming pools belonging to The Hubbells and Ding Darling (across from the Hubbell mansion, Terrace Hill, now home to the Governor of Iowa). Pool houses and how the swimming pools worked, I found in books centering on the wealthy elite from New York or Los Angeles. Technically, I found what I’d set out to find: the what, how, and why of private swimming pools. But in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t done. An NPR story and Clare Foran’s CNN article on Senator Tom Cotton solidified for me just why my research wasn’t complete.

The insidiousness of sites such as “Lost Des Moines” is nostalgia erodes the sharper points of history. The troupe of “things were better back then” may be true for one person, but not another. While Des Moines was often touted as an “open town” in the 1920s-1940s, well intentions often bucked reality.

When Marguerite E. Cothorn took her son swimming in the 1940s, she was often harassed or made to feel uncomfortable for allowing her son to play in Birdland Pool. Her harassers wanted to know why she wouldn’t take her son to Good Pool.

Good Park
“New Swimming Pool in Good Park, The.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa: 25 June 1936, 13. www.newspapers.com Accessed: 21 July 2020.

Good Park has University Avenue on the north and Keosauqua Way on the east. The park and pool were also located near Center Street, a segregated African American business district (destroyed under the guise of urban renewal and McVicar/235 Hwy). Good Pool was a WPA project completed in 1936. The upkeep of the pool amounted to $3,000 a year for the city. The Des Moines Register and city ofificals perpetuated racism in several ways. While articles never specifically stated it was a segregated pool, they did a make a point to state, “There will be a Negro lifeguard at the pool.”  Or when other pools in Des Moines had to list the prices for admission ($ .25 for adults; $ .15 children), Good Pool’s cost would “probably be lower than at the other two pools”.

Misogyny plays a far bigger role in my current work than racism (single woman/P.I. 1937–you get the picture). However, when I am confronted with the uncomfortable realities of the past, unlike the Senator from Arkansas, I make a conscious effort to try and educate myself. And I still have a long way to go.

Sources:

“13 Acres Along River Wants City to Buy a Park Purchase Price is Set at $2,200.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa: 29 May 1937, 3. www.newspapers.com Accessed: 21 July 2020.

“City Swimming Pools Open June  1.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa, 13 April, 1937, 3. www.newspapers.com Accessed: 21 July 2020.

Cothorn, Marguerite E. “Civil Rights and Black History of Iowa.” Audiocassette. Vol. 72. 2 vols. Iowa Oral History Project. Des Moines, Iowa, 1986.

David, John. “Stalking Des Moines with my Camera.” Lost Des Moines. Facebook. Accessed: 22 Juy 2020.

Foran, Clare. “G.O.P. Senator Tom Cotton Pitches Bill to Prohibit Use of Federal Funds to Teach 1619 Project.” CNN Online.  24 July 2020. Accessed: 24 July 2020.

Gary, Thomas A. “The Rise and Fall of Center Street: 1945-1972.” Masters, Iowa State University, 2003.

Gillespie, Bob N Betsie. “Terrace Hill.” Lost Des Moines. Facebook. 9 July, 2017. Accessed: 22 July 2020.

Jabbar, Akil. “Terrace Hill Pool.” Lost Des Moines. Facebook. 14 April 2015. Accessed: 22 July 2020.

Leeuwen, Thomas A.P. van. The Intimate History of the Swimming Pool. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT, 1999.

“New Swimming Pool in Good Park, The.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa: 25 June 1936, 1, 13. www.newspapers.com Accessed: 21 July 2020.

Terrace Hill Pool to Return.” Iowa Public Radio. 19 November 2015. Accessed: 08 August 2020.

Wiltse, Jeff. Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

iowa history, my novels, research

Speakeasy in Des Moines

Two years after statehood, the Iowa legislature attempted unsuccessfully to pass its first prohibition law. They finally succeeded in 1916. Up until the federal government enforcement four years later, sheriffs and local agencies did the enforcement. Prohibition worked but wasn’t popular. While federal prohibition ended in 1933, many states continued to have some

In January a tour of an old speakeasy became available through the Des Moines Historical Society.

From the outside, the 1920s bungalow didn’t appear to have secrets, but there were clues if one looked close enough. The rocked arched way could have clued patrons to the basement stairway. Inside patrons could have enjoyed all kinds of booze. A huge boiler remains. There was speculation by the owner that it may have been used to distill alcohol. Elaborate designs on the woodwork and peepholes added to the general mystery. If only these walls could talk I’m certain they would have a lot to say!

Sources:

Bauer, Bryce. Gentlemen Bootleggers: The True Story of Templeton Rye, Prohibition, and a Small Town in Cahoots. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press, 2014.

Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Porter, Sierra A. “Shhh! Des Moines Woman Discovers Hidden Speakeasy.” Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa: 05 January 2020, p. 1E, 3E.

iowa history, my novels, research

Booze and Writing

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammitt is one of my all-time favorite novels. It’s relatively short, hits all the marks for what a mystery should be, and the dialogue is just plain awesome. I adore the sexually charged banter between Nick and Nora Charles (and they’re actually a married couple!).  Re-reading it again recently I was also struck by the exceedingly high levels of their alcohol consumption.

My current novel takes place in Des Moines, Iowa in 1937, where Hammitt placed his characters in 1934 New York. After Volstead was repealed each state was left to determine how much alcohol they’d allow their citizens to consume.

Iowa has a long history of tried and failed attempts at prohibition. They were one of a handful of states that went dry prior to the Federal government demanded it with the passage of the Volstead Act. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Iowa legislature passed the Iowa Liquor Control Act the following year, giving the state a monopoly over the wholesale and distribution of all alcohol except beer.

Liquor by the drink was banned in restaurants and taverns (beer had to be > 3.2% alcohol content). However, an individual could still buy liquor by the drink. They applied for a liquor logbook which they were required to take with them when they made their purchases at the state-run liquor store. These stores were often in run-down and out of the way places. Browsing was not allowed. An individual filled out a form and the liquor store clerk pulled the bottles off the shelves. From the 1930s to the 1950s punch cards were used. The store clerk had sole discretion on what and how much they sold to an individual. If you had more punches then they thought reasonable they had the right to deny the sale. By the 1950s the punch cards were replaced with logbooks.

Many businesses flouted the rules to meet the needs of their customers. Illegal “key” clubs were the direct results. The business kept a row of lockers where individuals would store their liquor. An individual would give the waiter their key and the restaurant would supply the set up (glasses and ice). The legislature in the early 1950s made key clubs legal, but selling booze directly to restaurants was not. It wasn’t until the 1960s when a charismatic politician decided to change the law that Iowa’s liquor by the drink controversy would meet its end.

Harold Hughes was a WWII vet, former alcoholic, truck, driver, and, astute politician. He made it a part of his platform as governor to change the law. He said:

Let’s face it. You know and I know and every honest person in Iowa knows that we have liquor-by-the-drink in this state now…The moral issue, then is: Shall we straight-forwardly legalize the sale of liquor-by-the-drink, enforce the law and really control the liquor traffic in this state? Or shall we perpetuate the present wide-open club system that subsidizes the bootleggers and racketeers with revenue that rightfully belongs to the taxpayers of Iowa?

In January 1963 Hughes wielded his powers of the executive branch and began a system-wide crackdown on businesses, taverns, and even places like the VFW. Public pressure pushed the Iowa legislature to act and by July 4, 1963, liquor-by-the-drink was legal. The legislature, however, continues to hold a monopoly on the distribution of all liquor (except wine and beer) in the state.

Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

my novels, Uncategorized

New Year, New Project

It’s strange how ideas pop into your mind and leave just as quickly. In December 2019, I was on a mini-vacation in the southern U.S. I knew I would have a lot of downtime in airports and at the hotel, I’d stocked up on books to keep me occupied. I’d no plans to work on my current writing project as I’d fallen into a crater on that one and hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to crawl out.

I loaded up my Ipad with the following author’s I love:

Followed by some new stuff:

I decided to read the new stuff on my way down south. So I bounced back and forth between Ashe’s An Indecent Apposal series and Wonderwoman/Bondage. Finished with Ashe’s three novels I couldn’t shake this feeling of irritation. On a scale of 1-5 on my writing scale (1 worse; 5 best), Ashe was a strong three. She got points for hitting all the checkboxes for hot pepper-heat-level romance. However, the characters in each novel were nearly identical as were the sex scenes. What turns people on should be as varied as the characters themselves. They shouldn’t be the same. Overall Ashe’s novels felt too…well, disposable to me. On my trip home I jumped back to reading my favorite authors, but I couldn’t shake this itch in my brain Ashe’s novels had left behind

I wanted to read a novel with Anita Davison’s level of historic details. Nicola Davidson heat level and incorporate Wonder Woman/Bondage. The Thin Man’s wicked sexual banter between the two leads and M. Ruth Myers kick-ass take-no-prisoners female P.I.

I started to think well if this is the book I want, why not write it myself? It’s amazing how quickly the first draft of this novel is coming together. I don’t even have a ‘real’ title for it yet.

For right now it’s “1937” until I decided on something different.

craft, the

Nebraska Writer’s Guild Writing Conference (2019)

I’ve been wanting to go to a writer’s conference for some time. Finding one close to me has been a challenge. My dream conference is sponsored by the Historical Novel Society (my main genre). Most of their events have concentrated on the east coast (MD this year) or over seas. The only other option in my state is the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I work a day job and taking that amount of time off for this workshop is not a viable option. Where could I go?

Nebraska Writer’s Guild sponsors two conferences a year. One in the spring and fall with each location in different parts of the state to get a more well-rounded representation at each event (I had no idea the Guild is nearly a hundred years old with a mission to promote Nebraska writers!).

How Did I Hear About It:

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and was surprised not to see this conference advertised there (however, that’s what Google is for). I do belong to a couple of Facebook writing groups that were plugging the event, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Date(s):

  • Thursday, April 11
  • Friday, April 12
  • Saturday, April 13

Location:

  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Comfort Inn & Suites, 7007 Grover St

Price:

  • Non-Nebraska Writer’s Guild Member:
  • Nebraska Writer’s Guild Member:
  • Hotel Cost:

Experience:

One of the main draws for me was the Writing Gals. A group of sweet romance authors who share their experiences on Youtube or on Facebook. While I don’t write romance, many of their episodes cover topics writers of any genre may encounter (how to make an engaging first chapter, troupes, marketing, ect.). Several of these authors were going to speak at the event or facilitate classes.

I only attended the conference (Friday and Saturday). I had no difficulty find the hotel. Once inside, the place was well marked. Approximately 125 people attended. So it was a nice crowd. Not too big. Not too small. Two literary agents did pitches via Skype. There was a wide range of classes offered on how to do research, marketing, and character development. The facilitators were well versed in their craft and were externally open to networking and sharing their experiences. Each class was close in proximity and there was time allotted after each course so one wouldn’t be late to the next one.

Next Time:

If I have availability next time and if it is offered again, I would probably have done the writing retreat and the writing boot camp. Any time I can add word count to what I have already and get feedback is always a plus.

I would have networked more than I did. Since this was my first writing conference, I had brain fatigue after each day and had no trouble falling asleep. There was so much to learn and every writer I met was helpful and friendly. Writing is such a solitary act. The more writers I can support the better.

Additional:

It was cheaper to become a member and attend the conference than to be a non-member attending.  So I did sign up to be a member of the Nebraska Writing Guild. Membership includes additional perks that some might find useful (such as critique groups, discount at Office Depot/Max, ect).

If you’d like a sample of some of the events, you’ll find pdf. document here: NE WRITERS CONFERENCE 2019.

 

 

 

 

craft, the, research

Those Pesky Details

When writing historical fiction, it’s so easy to get lost in the details and never write. That’s where I’m at in my current scene. It takes place at the Plaza in late October 1924. There are lots of pictures of this famous hotel inside and out. However, I have been unsuccessful in finding a photograph or a vivid description of the Grill. Below is my process on how I mix both fact and fiction to create my settings.

# One: I knew nothing about the Plaza or where it was located. Nowadays it’s far easier to just jump online and go to the first link that pops up in your Search Engine. Not me. My first stop is still a book(s). One of my go to beginning sources are children’s non-fiction. They get to the point quickly and don’t offer a lot of details. I picked up: (1) New York: Everything You Wanted to Know (2) Eloise at the Plaza.

1 - Start Small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

# Two: My library had nothing on the Plaza at all. So I did a quick Amazon.com search to see what was available. I found five sources: (1) Sonny Kleinfield. The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza (2) Ward Morehouse III. Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel (3) Curtis Gathje. At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel (4) Eve Brown. The Plaza Cookbook (5) Eve Brown. Plaza: Its Life and Times. 

# 2

# Three: I checked Worldcat to see if any of these five books were at my local library or libraries that were within driving distance. Nope. I was out of luck. So then the crabby cheap scape voice in my head starts whining about not spending any more money on books this month that I should intern library loan them. However, when I go to ABE.com, all five books were under $5.00 with free shipping. That’s just $2.00 more than an interlibrary loan. I decided to splurge and buy all five books.

# 3

# Four: They took about two weeks to arrive. Playing the waiting game, I decided to search online to see what I could find on the Plaza and the Grill. I could find only two online sources that fit my needs (1) (2), but none of these offered a photograph of the Grill. Both of these sites did mention F. Scott Fitzgerald of whom I completely forgot about his obsession with New York City and the Plaza. I attempted to check out Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, but my library couldn’t locate it in their collection (even though their website said it was checked in). So, I had to go here. Fitzgerald described the Grill but in very limited terms.

4

# Five: The books began to trickle in slowly. (4) Eve Brown. The Plaza Cookbook, I had been looking forward to reading thinking it would really meet my needs was a bust. More of a craft book than a cook book. (1) Sonny Kleinfield. The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza, I was actually going to have to read this book cover to cover. The events depicted were well past the 1920s (1990s), but I figured not too much as probably changed for the workers of the hotel. (2) Ward Morehouse III. Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel & (5) Eve Brown. Plaza: Its Life and Times, were okay. I could skim them, but they touched on similar things except told me when the Grill closed. (3) Curtis Gathje. At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel, provided the best photographs and images of the hotel. There were no photographs of the Grill, though. The closest thing I could find was the remodeled version from the late 1940s in the Rend-vous room.

5

# Six: Now, I combine the sources I found from the internet and few tidbits here and there from the books.

6

# Seven: Then the scene looks something like this with the few items I need to research put into [brackets]:

I waited a half hour after Laura and C.J. departed before heading down to the lobby with my purse and the stack of newspapers clutched beneath my arm.

Laura’s new companion didn’t even bother coming up to our suite. He had the front desk announce his arrival from the telephone. I put his rudeness aside. His presence had allowed me one night of freedom.

The gloominess outside couldn’t penetrate the hotel’s interior. The walls were painted a blinding white. The light from the chandeliers winked at me like the glint in the eye of a half a dozen mischievous boys. I had to grip the railing tighter than normal. Every step downward jarred my ribs. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken Jake so far on that walk.

In the lobby, my footsteps echoed off the elaborate marble. The perfume of freshly cut flowers dulled the odor from the unwashed bodies of the travelers grouped around the L-shaped desk. After months of rooming in cheap hotels and boarding houses on the campaign trail, the opulence of the place made a queer knot form in my stomach. Even if Walley could have afforded a place like, staying here would have alienated his voters. I felt the guilt creep back in and I tried to ignore it. Maybe another cigarette, a good stiff drink, and some food would take my mind off him for a little while.

“May I help you?” The attendant behind the desk wore a swell suit. He had parted his hair down the middle and smoothed it down with Brilliantine. His hair’s severity didn’t soften his sharp features at all. It gave him the impression he’d sucked on one too many lemons. Maybe the last lemon wasn’t so tart. He smiled at me and his brown eyes were kind.

I stepped toward the desk and told him what I wanted. A phonograph with some Negro records, a suggestion on where to eat, and where I might purchase some food for Jake. C.J. and Laura hadn’t bothered themselves with him since we’d left Chicago.

The attendant smiled and gestured toward the hallway near us. “The Grill has delectable food with a wide selection of wines and champagnes not found elsewhere in the city stocked well before that inconvenient law.”

“The place have anything stronger than wine and champagne?”

His smile widened a little bit and his brown eyes danced like the twinkling light overhead. “I’m certain that may be arranged. I’ll send someone out to fetch the records and a phonograph immediately. And as for your dog, room service has a menu strictly devoted to meeting you and your canine’s needs.”

My eye brows rose at that. Room service for pets. What else did this hotel offer?

“Thank you, Mr. …”

“Caldwell. And you are welcome, Miss O’Brian.”

I frowned. There had to be well over two hundred room in the hotel and twice as many guests.

 “How’d you know my name?”

The man’s smile dimmed, but the sparkle in his eyes remained. “It is my job. Enjoy your evening, Miss O’Brian.”

Maybe I should have found another place to eat. The clerk’s suggestion led me to the basement. With my hand pressed against my side and my pinched face, I must have given the impression that I required immediate attention.

I was seated at a round table with a placement of four. I nudged aside an empty glass, a fancy plate, and silverware to deposit my newspapers and purse onto what appeared to be a soft, white tablecloth. Clouds of cigarette smoke hung so thick in the air I had to blink away the stinging sensation. The yellow light overhead waved back and forth as I was in a giant shadowed fish bowl. I could make out the faces of the patrons closest to me. A couple [Arnold & Carolyn Rothstein] and several of the college set giggling at the empty bottles of champagne on their table. But the men in the orchestra playing Mozart’s [piece] at the back of the room, their faces were mere hazy outlines. I hoped their food and liquor proved better than the atmosphere.

craft, the, research

What is Historical Fiction?

Looking back, I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction. I know this comes from growing up on a farm. My Grandfather’s brothers and cousins all lived within a two-mile radius from us. Everyone helped each other. During these group efforts of farm work, there was always plenty of time for gossip. I always gravitated toward my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, and my Great Uncle John. I always thought they were the best storytellers.

What is historical fiction exactly?

The Historical Novel Society defines this genre as:

To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).

Most of the stories told to me growing up were G to PG-rated. Maybe ventured toward a PG-13 rating by the time I got older (usually for language). One of my favorite stories was told to me first by my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, then my Dad last year. This story always ended the same and varied only by the point of view. Coming at this story if it were fictitious would be labeled as historical fiction because I was neither alive at the time and had to approach it through research. Whereas my Dad and Grandfather and Great Uncle would bristle at the definition because they lived during this time.

THE RAM

My Dad said he was seven or eight. My grandfather said he was ten. Great Uncle Laverne only referred to my Dad as ‘when he was a little cuss’ (‘cuss’ changed to ‘shit’ when I was older). My Great Grandmother Mamie who had retired and moved into town at this point, still came out to assist with the farm work. There was a particular ram that had taken a terrible dislike to her and anyone that wore a dress. This was the late 1950s or early 1960s (depending on who was telling the story), so every woman pretty much wore a dress. This ram had a particular animosity toward my Great Grandmother Mamie. Uncle Laverne had suggested she had ‘done something’ to the ram. What exactly she had done was never explained. The worst instance involved Great Grandma Mamie while she was milking. The ram waited until she was bent over. He butted her right into the barn wall and busted out her front teeth.

‘THE LITTLE CUSS’

My Dad was ornery. This was something he never grew out of. He knew the reputation of the ram and liked to goad it for fun. Sometimes he would go in the pen, antagonize it enough so it would put its head down and charge him. My Dad would make a game out of it waiting as long as possible to jump out of the pen so the ram hit the fence instead of him.

One early spring day, (this varied too, Dad said spring, Laverne, and my Grandfather always said summer) my Grandmother announced she was going to have a picnic on the front lawn and would be inviting all of her friends from Circle (this is what the Lutheran women called their organization at church). She made a point of making sure my Dad understood that he was to be on his best behavior.

No matter how many times I heard this part, I always thought it was a rather foolish thing for my Grandmother to do. She would have been better off saying nothing. My Dad, being his ornery self — took this as a direct challenge to her authority.

My Dad watched from the barn while he was doing his chores while my Grandmother and Grandfather set up the tables and chairs. All the food. The shiny cars began to snake down the lane and park in the grass. Women exited their cars in their finest hats and dresses. An idea began to formulate in my Dad’s brain. Something mischievous. Maybe even a little evil. But hilarious none the less.

He waited until he finished his chores. He did his usual batting to get the ram riled up. When he knew the ram was good and mad, he let it loose.

The ram didn’t hesitate. He ran straight for the group of ladies. My Grandmother saw him first and screamed. The other ladies scrambled up out of their chairs. Some of them fell. When they attempted to get back up, the ram in a fit of joy, knocked one lady in the rear then another.

My Grandmother never found the incident amusing. My Dad thought it was hilarious. He knew he would get the belt for what he did, but he hadn’t cared. It was so worth it to see the ladies looking like a bunch of bright dominos getting knocked down over and over again. My Grandfather said it was one of the hardest times he had to discipline my Dad. My Grandfather never admitted this to him, but he had laughed just as hard if not harder at the chaotic scene caused by his mischievous son and his devilish ram.

In the late 1980s I asked my Grandfather whatever became of the ram. My Grandfather paused for a minute, then offered me the usual response to the fate of any animal on a farm. They ate him. But he didn’t taste very good, he had said. The meat was too tough.