1. A LIZZIE BORDEN BOOK
A few weeks ago I headed for Providence, RI, to have a visit with my son, Jere, daughter-in-law,Kim, and their four ex-feral kitties. I have a surprise in store: Jere and Kim are taking me to Fall River, Massachusetts, specifically to 92 Second Street, the home of Lizzie Borden, infamous ax-murderer charged with killing her parents. Never mind that the jury found her innocent. To this day, everyone believes she did it as best expressed in the 1975 Elizabeth Montgomery TV movie, "The Legend of Lizzie Borden." The network feared they would be sued by a descendent if there was any insinuation that the story was being presented as a true crime, hence the title.
We arrive and park in the little lot behind the dark green house with white trim, now a B & B. (You can sleep in Lizzie's bed!) Alongside the lot, is a one-room museum that used to be an outhouse of sorts. There were two deep holes in the ground to.... Use your imagination. Now there is a unisex bathroom with a toilet that won't flush unless the person selling souvenirs tells you the trick to it.
In poking around the museum,we enjoy the seven artifacts, including an ax that is not the murder weapon. We peruse the newspaper clippings and photos pinned on the wall. We like what we see of "The Legend of Lizzie Borden." The museum people play the video over and over all day. I remember the movie very well. Everyone watched it what with the entire country in love with "Bewitched".
In reading a few pamphlets, we learn there were no descendants of Mr. Borden other than Lizzie and her sister Emma, both...forgive me...spinsters. That's what they were called in the 19th century. Lizzie's mother, by the way, was not murdered. Her mother was already dead. The second victim is Abby Borden, Lizzie's childless stepmother. No descendants for her either. There was no love lost between the sisters and their stepmother. In fact, they didn't call her Mom, they called her Miss Borden. Hmmmm....
Next: the official tour of the house.
The tours leave every half-hour. We have a few minutes to...uh...kill. Kim buys me a mug with Lizzie's portrait from the souvenirs available. The address of "The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum" is on the back. I will keep it on my desk for inspiration. In fact, I just glanced at it a moment ago, allowing me to give you Lizzie's address.
A kid who looks like he's in high school appears. He will be our tour guide. He herds his group out--maybe eight of us--and toward the house. He tells us he's in high school. As we walk, I ask him if it's really true about the original plumbing. He says it's true and also says, "Lizzie's dad was such a cheapskate he not only didn't have indoor plumbing, he wouldn't pay for electricity either even though he could afford it. He used gas lamps that were no brighter than today's night lights in babies' nurseries." This is actually 1892 to be specific. (In 1892, Mark Twain had seven bathrooms with flush toilets in his home in Hartford, Connecticut. There were bathtubs in each bathroom and one even had a shower. No one who visited knew what it was. He also had electricity, needless to say.)
The Bordens' Victorian house is nondescript and small. Mr. Borden cleverly saved money by eliminating hallways in the design, meaning the family and maid must walk through each other's bedrooms to get from one place to another. (Plot thickener.) Mrs. Borden was killed in an upstairs bedroom. You can see right into it from the stairs leading up from the foyer Traversing the zillion square miles of profusely flowered carpeting, each room having its own busy pattern, makes me a little dizzy.
The tour is gruesome, how can it not be? Along with the narrative, our guide sees to passing around photos of the dead bodies of Lizzie's parents. Two members of the tour group are children. Their parents don't seem to have a problem with them looking at the photos. When they do, they say things like, "EEEEE-yewwwwww!" I am reminded of the children who were in my tour groups when I toured the Wax Museum in London. When we reached the crime scene of one of Jack the Ripper's victims in the wax museum in London, which was way beyond gruesome, I overhear a small boy say to his mother, "He was a rotter, Mum." Indeed.
One room is not much different from the next--lots of heavy dark furniture, fringe, and shiny satin, none of it authentic but typical of the day's strangulating style. The tour is over in a fairly short time as I'm the only one who asks questions what with the high schooler's rule of not asking questions till the end of the tour. I'd written mine down--everyone else has forgotten what they wanted to know.
Jere drives us to the cemetery where all the Bordens are buried together in the same plot. A creature of habit, and having been raised a Catholic I say a little prayer for any of them who still might be suffering in Purgatory so they can get out. There are coins on Lizzie's stone. I'll have to find out the significance of that.
Finally, Jere brings us past the house that Lizzie bought with her inheritance. It's a private home. We will learn that part of the house was an animal shelter created by Lizzie. Apparently, she loved animals. So do we.
Back home, my wheels are still spinning. I'm now determining the structure I need in order to reveal most effectively who killed Andrew and Abby Borden. I knew who did it five minutes into the tour. It surely wasn't Lizzie. Also, after quite a bit of research, I'm wondering why no one knows the motive but me. Kim thinks it was a conspiracy. Maybe. I do believe she's semi-right. Did I say it was a sex crime? It was.
My work is...uh...cut out for me.
2. THE HONOURED GUEST: Anne Alger Craven, Witness to Sumter, in Her Words
(Draft available online here in ebook edition.)
I have been working on this novel for years and years. I wrote the first draft when I was a writing fellow at the Black Mountain Institute at UNLV in 2009-2010. I thoroughly enjoyed my year as a Runnin' Rebel.
Since then, I've probably written fifty more drafts.
But I guess it is too long, although it's a Civil War novel so how can it be short? And maybe my narrator/protagonist isn't quite sympathetic enough, I can't tell. Not so easy to make a 19th century woman a feminist, a metallurgist and the owner of a successful ironworks. Maybe her language can be tweaked to make her "sound" more sympathetic. I'll have a think on that. I mean, she's a very serious woman.
Recently, I decided to self-publish THE HONOURED GUEST in an ebook edition when I was writing FIRST, YOU GET PISSED. I visit Anne fairly often and edit here and there. Ergo, it's full of types. What was really fun was designing my own book jacket for the first time ever with the help of the formattingfairies.com as well as a most wonderful employee of the National Portrait Gallery in London, who explained what I had to do to use one of their portraits for a book jacket. This portrait IS my fictional memoirist, Anne Alger Craven. The woman in the portrait is exactly who I imagined.
Below a synopsis and Chapter One. If you like it and decide to go to an online store to buy THE HONOURED GUEST draft, feel free to send me your critique. Thanks.
November, 1860: Anne Alger Craven is an abolitionist. She leaves her home in Abingdon Square, Manhattan, prepared to enter the lion’s den that is Charleston, South Carolina where the penalty for supporting emancipation is execution.
Anne is also a metallurgist, granddaughter of Cyrus Alger, founder of Boston's Alger Iron Works, birthplace of the great cannon, the 50,000 pound Columbiad. She has inherited the foundry becoming last in her family’s line of ordnance specialists. So when the opportunity arises to travel to the newest and grandest United States fort, Sumter, she cannot resist. She will join with the bare-bones, U.S. Army 1st Artillery to observe the mounting and testing of the guns she helped develop.
Anne’s husband, Tunis Augustus MacIntosh Craven, United States Navy, commands the blockade of the Mississippi River aboard the Mohawk . Though he has deemed her plan brilliant, their letters expose his fear for her safety.
Aboard a locomotive, the metallurgist in Anne is in wonder at traveling annihilating speeds of 30 to 35 miles per hour encased in cast iron.
Sumter surpasses all her expectations, and the intimacy of Army life allows Anne to feel part of a tight-knit family, one devoted to gallantry. Then Abraham Lincoln is elected president, and South Carolina acts on its threat to shred the Constitution and secede. Major Robert Anderson, Commander of the Federal Installations at Charleston, as an officer and gentleman, must see to Anne’s protection even as she and her band of brothers, along with their wives and children, come to be trapped at Sumter upon a man-made island in the center of Charleston Harbor.
April, 1865: The Sumter Company is surrounded by 6,000 bellicose Confederate troops—most untested volunteers—manning state-of-the-art batteries.
A David and Goliath story is set into motion. Major Anderson manages to see to the evacuation of the men’s families, but his eight officers, sixty-four enlisted men—half of them musicians of the regimental band—and one civilian, Anne, all freezing and near to starving, can do nothing but wait for the inevitable hair-trigger act that will bring about war and their destruction.
April 13, 1865: The first shot is fired. The attack on Sumter is a non-stop torrent of cannon balls, exploding shells, and flying canisters filled with white-hot shot. All quarters and barracks are set afire until the entire parade ground is a carpet of flame, every embrasure filled with black smoke and deadly fumes. But the National Banner remains dangling by a single halyard from the snapped flag-staff, the Company prepared to fight to the death. Major Anderson has made clear: “Battle leaves no room for sentiment. Kill or be killed.”
Anne Alger Craven exposes the dual-edged sword of what men call honor and glory. From the unique perspective of a woman caught up in the commencement of the Civil War, she reveals exactly how and why the war began, what might have been forestalled, or even prevented, and the catastrophe to follow.
MY FIRST TRIP to Charleston in November, 1860, was aboard a locomotive. Now, four years later, I traveled the rails again. They were, of course, but barely repaired.
And so, through increasingly devastated landscape all the way from my home at Abingdon Square, Manhattan, New York, to the South Carolina harbor, I arrived at the city again. My carriage, hired upon arriving at the depot, was unable to traverse the rubble that had been Charleston’s streets. It managed only a few hundred yards until it became most obvious I would have to walk the remaining mile to my destination.
The driver said, “I thought I might attempt it, Mum, what with your baggage.”
He then suggested I have my valises and hat boxes carried by a freedman with a wheelbarrow. I agreed; he would arrange all. I thanked him for his assistance and his admirable effort to do more.
I stood on the mangled street, recognized nothing except the shocking remains of Fort Sumter’s walls out upon the waters. Four years ago I wouldn’t have been able to so much as glimpse the new fort behind the great forest of masts, so busy a port was Charleston. Now, three lone vessels rocked at a temporary wharf, carrying the insignias of the United States Navy and flying the National Banner.
I began my walk.
I’d certainly seen photographs of the city in its present state and read the stories in the broadsheets depicting the decimation but, oh, to experience it. The lanes and byways were a mass of broken stones bordered by houses bombed and burned into near oblivion. All that remained of some were open cellars filled with sand, mud, and wild weeds. Along the main thoroughfares where grand mansions and churches once reigned, I saw a wasteland. Any remaining walls held window panes empty of glass but for jagged pieces. In places, wreckage still smoldered.
I was stricken at the horror of it, my anticipation of the ceremony, next day, muted.
I continued on. But where were the people? Finally, I saw movement: Clusters of homeless men, most in filthy and blood-encrusted Confederate uniforms were gathered within cemeteries amidst toppled tombstones. What they devoured from their tin pots, I did not want to know. I walked past.
At the harbor-side, mangy dogs roamed the shelled warehouses and rotted wharves. The beauteous Customs House built just a few months before the battle for Sumter had been the first Federal installation taken by the disunionists. Miraculously it was standing, somehow intact, in misplaced glory.
To the side of the Customs House were long lines of ladies with children, waiting to step up to stations where Union soldiers handed out food under signs reading, WIDOWS ONLY.
Other than the Customs House, my landmarks were no more. I could scarce get my bearings until the roof of St. Michael’s Church, or what was left of it, caught my eye. I walked the barren block to the once-dignified structure. The bombed steeple had collapsed into the altar below the plunge destroying both. So too, the bronze bell, cracked asunder, lay in pieces. Where was the Bishop?
From the church I was able to make my way to the address of Samuel Carr and his wife, benefactors of the Sumter Company before we were isolated, banned from having contact with friends or relatives at Charleston. Mrs. Carr was the sister of Louisa Seymour, wife of Brigadier-General Captain Truman Seymour, our third-in-command, she my close, beloved friend. How I longed for that moment when I would set eyes upon her again.
Mr. Carr built his mansion to withstand earthquake and tempest; in consequence, a great portion of his home was still habitable after surviving the bombings. Major-General Robert Anderson, the Company Commander, 1st Artillery, United States Army, and his family, would stay there as well as the Seymours and myself, the rest of the celebrants returning to the steam-ships that brought them. No hotel or guesthouse was yet equipped to take visitors.
And how did all of us come to be back four years after forsaking our magnificent fort? Four years after the South Carolinians seceded from these United States? Four years after they finally devised an excuse to shred the Constitution? How, indeed. Because we’d been invited by President Lincoln.
When news reached Abraham Lincoln that General Robert E. Lee, on 7 April, 1865, had sent a missive to General Grant asking for terms of surrender, the President happened to be having breakfast with Mrs. Lincoln. He would declare his thoughts to her of a formal ceremony commemorating the end of the war. According to Mary, he went on to say that such a commemoration should be officially observed at the very place where the traitors fired the first shot, letting loose the cataclysm come to be known as the American Civil War. That place: Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
After musing further as he was wont to do, he suddenly stood, and having paid no attention to his wife’s opinion on the matter, made an announcement:
“The ceremony shall take place upon the anniversary of the exact moment General Anderson lowered our scorched national banner and marched out of Sumter with his heroic Company.”
Next: “I will attend the celebration myself!”
Mary Lincoln had leaned toward me over our tea tray. “And need I say, Mrs. Craven, the man did not finish his breakfast?”
She did not.
The President immediately saw to writing a document, appointing an Honor Guard to stand to the ceremony: none other than the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, the nation’s first Negro Union Army unit, half of them slaughtered upon their attempt to reach and retake Sumter in July, 1863.
Along with the Stars and Stripes, the 54th Massachusetts would bear their regimental banner with its image of the Goddess of Liberty and the Latin words above her head to mean: By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.
Mr. Lincoln sent a personal plea to the retired General Robert Anderson, domiciled in France, to make the journey home and raise that same burned and tattered flag himself, having it in his possession. The stalwart former Commander, though still suffering from grave wounds sustained in the Mexican War, as well as the incapacities set upon him during the battle for Sumter, agreed. He had six years left to his illustrious life.
The President continued to concoct his plan, creating a list of men of prominence he would ask to participate, the blessing to start offered by the Reverend Matthias Harris, the 1st Artillery’s Chaplain. On the night of 26 December, 1860, upon the Company’s safe crossing from the perils of Fort Moultrie to the safety of Fort Sumter, Reverend Harris had beseeched the years after such deadly events as I will never forget, the Stars and Stripes would, indeed, fly over Sumter, fly over South Carolina, fly over the United States.
Mr. Lincoln said to his Mary, “Why, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, himself, will give the first address followed by the greatest orators of our times!”
It was two weeks ago that I received my gilded invitation from the President to attend the ceremony, as did all surviving members of the Company present at the surrender of the work, including their families, forced to evacuate Sumter two months earlier or die of starvation—the fourteen wives of the enlisted men and their thirty-six precious children.
When the General’s second-in-command, the redoubtable General Abner Doubleday, received his invitation, he was quoted in The New York Times as saying: Who could have imagined that this Negro race so despised by the Carolinians was destined to govern them in the future, overcoming the dense ignorance which the South itself had created by prohibiting their education.
With the stands nearly constructed, the buntings at the ready, Mr. Lincoln managed to fit into his schedule a quick visit to Richmond upon the retreat of Robert E. Lee and his treasonous government. He brought along with him his young son Tad so the boy could observe history as made.
The President entered that city unheralded and without fanfare, accompanied by a very few escorts and his boy. With no such expectations, he was met by a drama not unlike that which took place upon Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, for in addition to the sight of the devastation of the formerly beauteous city, he was greeted by wave after wave of now-freed slave and their makeshift musical bands. All crowded about him, knelt before him, held their babes to him while calling out to Jesus in a great collective voice of thanksgiving.
Lincoln was their Messiah, come to them in person. Cries of “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!” and “Bless the Lord, Father Abraham is here!” filled the air.
Upon so daunting a repercussion, Mr. Lincoln beheld the sacred side of the war’s expiration, was humbled and made yet another impulsive decision: He would not aggrandize the ever-expanding festivities planned for Sumter with his presence. Mary Lincoln noted to me that when he told her of his reversal of plans, she was in agreement, reminding him that the date itself, ten days hence, was the Saturday of Easter weekend. Far better to be home to attend church and perhaps to speak of his new insight from the pulpit.
She said, too, “Such makes far more sense than rubbing the South’s face into the muck of Charleston’s streets.”
He said quietly, musing, then, “The city gave birth to the unspeakable.”
And she, “Yes,” thereby relieving him of the burden of guilt he felt in having to disappoint the hundreds who would attend the celebration.
Just as he’d known all of us who were in the midst of our plans to be present at the ceremony were sorely disappointed when we heard of the President’s change of heart, including myself for this reason: Upon the death of young Willie Lincoln three years earlier, I’d brought the condolences of General and Mrs. Anderson to the White House.
The President’s eyes were swollen with crying, Mary’s glassy from doses of laudanum. He thanked me. She didn’t know who I was. I left the darkened and misery-laden place hoping to, one day, see President Lincoln and his dear wife beyond the period of such terrible shock and distress as I witnessed.
But so, after my long walk through the wretched city, I found the residence of Mr. Carr, there to be enveloped in a long and warm embrace by his dear wife. She could barely speak, barely breathe, so anxious was she for the next day to come, when she could hold her sister and nieces to her breast once again.
Mrs. Carr soon had me settled into a bedroom, where I offered my assistance. At first, she wouldn’t hear of it, but then, upon my pressing her to allow me to help, she reluctantly accepted. We reviewed her hurried instructions, and when she expressed gratitude, I insisted the pleasure was entirely mine. Mrs. Carr bustled off to continue her preparations.
The next day, the multitude assembled around the flag-staff at the mountainous piles of broken walls of a fortification that was once the world’s newest and most splendid defensive work.
All stood together and joined in the singing of “Victory at Last,” a doxology composed for the occasion by William Bradbury who led the singing. Next, a heartfelt rendition of “Rally Round the Flag,” played by the surviving members of the Sumter Company’s decimated regimental band. Oh, the loss of their fellows!
The Reverend Mr. Harris who made so simple a prayer at the initial raising of the flag over Fort Sumter, the day past Christmas, 1860, now would pronounce a new blessing upon the same old flag, another brief but poignant prayer.
“To Thee, God of our fathers, we render thanksgiving and praise for that wondrous providence that has brought forth from the harvest of war the seeds of liberty and peace. We invoke peace upon the North and upon the South. In the name of God, we lift up our banner and dedicate it to Peace, Union, and Liberty, now and forever more. Amen.”
All repeated, “Amen,” and then the greatest huzzahs rose, a genuine thanks to the bravest of men.
Reverend Dr. Henry Martyn Storrs, advocate for oppressed freed-men, followed to read from Psalms, and then, General E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General, United States Army, stepped up to introduce Major General Anderson. The former Commander of the Federal installations at Charleston, a leader among men, stepped up to the flag-staff to thunderous applause. He was a small man but held the stature of a prince, and today the lines of medals and insignia across the General’s chest shone in the sun. He spoke the following:
“I am here, my friends and fellow citizens, and brother soldiers, to perform an act of duty which is dear to my heart, and which all of you present appreciate and feel. I will restore to its proper place this very flag which floated here in peace since the Revolutionary War until the first act of cruel rebellion four years ago. I thank God I have lived to see this day—”
Huzzahs rose again, but were quickly silenced by the General’s arresting gaze and then his concluding words:
“Perhaps, this will be my last act of duty to my country in this life.”
Then the faithful Peter Hart, General Anderson’s old orderly, appeared on cue, carrying a carpet-bag containing that National Banner of which his former superior had spoken. All became hushed when Mr. Hart lifted the flag most gingerly from the bag, next aided in the unfolding by a member of the Massachusetts Volunteers’ Honor Guard. The orderly then stood beside the General and attached the blackened flag to the halyards.
The pair saluted each other sharply, and Mr. Hart backed away.
When our once-Commander hoisted the Stars and Stripes, all eyes were riveted as it rose to the Heavens and unfurled in a loving breeze, presenting the white stars still vivid on a field of blue, though the cloth all but shredded. I clenched my fists and willed away the rising of tears to my eyes. Most could not even make such an attempt, eyes filling so quickly.
The band struck up the National Song, and the lines of Francis Scott Key came up from our very hearts to resound in a chorus of thrilled voices. Six guns on the ravaged fort gave forth a 100-gun salute followed by a crescendo of blasts from the remains of the surrounding batteries that had once bombarded us.
Four years ago 6,000 treacherous troops fired at our little Company for thirty-four continuous hours, 4,000 shots per hour, guns leveled at eight officers, sixty-four enlisted men, five laborers, and two non-combatants, Mr. Hart and myself. And when fire caught and spread, we were enclosed together in a heinous circle of hell.
The salute ended. The smoke from the exploded powder rose to mar the cloudless sky.
The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher next stood to pronounce his oration, having made a decision not to change the words meant for Mr. Lincoln’s ears. He spoke them thusly:
“We offer to the President of these United States our solemn congratulations that God has sustained your life and health under the unparalleled suffering of four bloody years and permitted you to behold the auspicious consummation of that national unity for which you have labored with such wisdom.”
I do believe I was the first to rise to my feet when the wildest applause ensued, the loudest of huzzahs, as if we desired most fervently that Mr. Lincoln might hear the tribute from the White House.
At the end of the festivities, after a joyous yet tearful parting, I returned with General Anderson to the home of the Carrs along with General Seymour. He and the now-legendary Louisa Seymour, still my close companion, somehow fit their four children amidst a brood of Charleston cousins into a section of the roofless piazza, where the Carrs had woken in the pre-dawn hours to watch the bombardment of Sumter, their cherished friends and family members trapped inside its walls like rats.
When I bid good-night, the General embraced me. He said, “My dear Mrs. Craven, we have lived to see the flag of the country flying above the remains of Fort Sumter…to float there forever. It is over.”
He let go of me and then took my hand, pressing it to his lips.
When he turned to leave, I realized how much alone I felt. I spoke. “Mr. Anderson?”
He turned. “My dear?”
“How did we come to slaughter one another? Hundreds of thousands of us dead?”
I did not know I was weeping until I felt against my cheek the fabric of his jacket. He had pulled me to him again. “There, there, Mrs. Craven.” He then took his leave.
The evening was deathly quiet. I wrote observations of all into this diary. When I finished, I was just to turn down the lamp’s wick, when there was a soft rapping at my bedroom door. I opened it to General Anderson. Upon his visage, I recognized terrible tidings.
“What has happened, sir?” Please tell me.” I feared for his infirm wife recently delivered of a child.
He apologized for disturbing me at such an hour and then sank into a chair before I could offer him an invitation to do so. His face was as drawn and lined as it had been the day he was forced to surrender his fort to the enemy. His eyes met mine.
“I have just received a telegraphic wire.”
I waited. Nothing more. I reached out and touched my fingers to his hand. “Go on, sir.”
He took a long, deep breath. His gaze was grave. “Mrs. Craven, we are informed that upon this evening President and Mrs. Lincoln chose to attend a dramatic performance at the Ford’s Theatre. There Mr. Lincoln sustained a gunshot wound from a barbarian’s gun.”
I could not absorb such words. To be sure I understood, he added, “A mortal wound.”
Tears began spilling down his cheeks but, still, his eyes held mine. “My dear girl, my good friend…. Our President lies dying as we speak. There is no hope. He is assassinated.”
Then his head went down into his hands. I could barely hear his muffled words to come.
“May God save us all."