“Back in the Saddle Again!”

In June, I was finally  able to get back in the saddle concerning appearances.  After one fun reading in May at TidePool books in Worcester, I first did a joint author event with my friend and colleague, Leslie Wheeler, on Saturday, June 4th at the Booklovers’ Gourmet.  We had a responsive audience and a lot of fun.  Leslie suggested that we, ourselves, be more interactive.  So, instead of just reading and talking separately, after each  short reading, we asked each other questions about our methods of writing, our particular joys and pains in writing, future writing plans, etc.  Our questions and responses, in turn, drew questions and observations from the audience.  Totally interactive! I think we even made some new friends and readers, as well.  I’m especially excited because we talked about Leslie’s new book, Wolf Bog, which will be released July 6th, this year!
Next, I joined an even bigger group of writers from Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America at a corner of the Natick Farmers’ Market called Beach Reads, organized by Tilia Jacobs.  I shared my table with Janet Raye Stevens, who also writes mysteries set in the 1940s.  It was a gorgeous day, where we enjoyed chatting with people -and each other- of course, also selling some books.  Here’s a tip for writers:  have a QR code on your bookmarks, postcards, or advertising poster so that if people don’t have cash, they can use their smartphones to connect to a site where they can buy the book (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, your web site) there or later.  Anyway, it’s great to see people and enjoy a beautiful afternoon.

I already have some plans for August. On August 24th, from 7:00-7:30 p.m., I’ll be interviewed by Barry Eva on A Book and a Chat. I’ll provide more details when I have them. Next  is Lala Books in Lowell, MA on August 26th from 7:00-8:00 p.m., so come and hear all about the latest 1940s mystery adventures for Jessica Minton, James Crawford, and Dusty – as well as talk about writing and publishing! I may be able to give you a sneak peek at book #4, Shadows of a Dark Past.

 

“You’re Own Private Audubon”

You’ll pardon me for paraphrasing the B-52s, but bird watching in my back yard since spring has sprung really has been like living in my own private Audubon. Yang pointed out that we often see more birds (in number and variety) through our sun porch windows than we do on many of our nature walks! It’s been a delight to see many old friends return.

First back were these Mockingbirds. Usually we see one in February or early March. S/He doesn’t stay long, but chows down for a day or two – maybe a week – and then is on the way to wherever Mockingbirds like to chill. This year, we got TWO. A honeymooning couple? I don’t know, but they were a pleasure to see.

 

Another of the spring early birds are the Red-Winged Blackbirds. In my yard, they are one of the earliest sign of spring rolling in. These guys actually showed up in the end of February – and I’ve never seen so many of them! Usually their numbers tend to thin out as we get into May, but this year we still have many of these visitors with the red and yellow epaulets. You can see this chap flashing his shoulder embellishments as he shares the feeder with a grumpy-looking Grackle – tons of Grackles off and on since February. Below is the blackbird taking a turn on the suet.

SONY DSC

In fact, everyone seems to be into suet this year! You saw the Mockingbirds above. And get a load of both the female and male Downy Woodpeckers. You can distinguish their genders by the red dot on the back of the male’s head.

 

 

 

 

 

These two aren’t the only woodpeckers who visit us. Through the winter and still into the spring, we’ve had a pair of Redbellied Woodpeckers chilling with us. In fact, this male is probably the one Yang and I saved from frostbite after he was stunned from hitting a window – the woodpecker, not Yang. Anyway, we call him Red and his mate Ruby. Original, aren’t we?

Of course we also had a spring newcomer woodpecker: my friend Flicker (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.). Just last week, I saw him hunting insects where my and my neighbor’s yard meet.

One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird. I love the way they say my name in one of their calls: “Sharon!” Last year we had two. This year, I’ve seen four! I don’t think they’re all pals, either. One day, I saw two of them in my Canadian Maple with their heads up, beaks pointing skyward, and their shoulders thrown back in a stand off. Bird number three was merrily chowing down on suet all the while. Who knows where number four went. Still, I do see two, three, four of them traveling together, making the rounds of the bird feeders in my yard.

 

We’ve also had some more colorful returnees as well. Although a Goldfinch or two would come by during the winter, we had a huge influx in April. They’ve thinned out a bit, but it’s been fun watching the boys gradually change back to their bright yellow duds. They’ve also broadened their tastes. Rather than only snacking on sunflower hearts, they are now going for the black oil seeds, no longer too lazy to crack them open with their powerful finch beaks. This fella is giving the feeder a quizzical study before he zeroes in on dinner.

 

Finally, May brought back two of my favorite friends. First, the Baltimore Orioles. This year we’ve seen two adult males and one juvenile. These guys love their oranges! Yang gets them the good ones from the Asian grocery store in town.

 

One day, Yang and I saw Dad taking his young son out for his first drink.

Dad says, “Watch me, son, it’s simple.”

 

The Kid dives in and proud Pop looks on.

 

Then they both turn to our window and stare: “What’re YOU lookin’ at?!”

One week later, who should come to town but the last of our colorful spring regulars: the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Usually we get a couple of couples. However, this year, I’ve only seen the male. Still, for all I know, it’s not the same male every time. There could be a bunch of them, each showing up one at a time. However many, these guys are always gorgeous to see! Here one of them is sharing the feeder with a House Finch. He doesn’t look too chummy, though, does he?

Of course, we’re not the only ones who like to watch the birds from the sun porch. But the girls are kept safely apart from feathered visitors.

Now, bring on the Indigo Bunting and the Scarlet Tanager!

 

 

 

Late Winter Birds, Far and Near

These waning days of winter have given Yang and I some fun bird watching, whether at home or away.  For instance, Yang went for a stroll one day on a canal that runs perpendicular to the Blackstone River and sighted some interesting ducks and the peripatetic Kingfisher.  So, the next day, I had him take me back there. Sure enough we saw some swell birds.  Yang got some really nice shots of a pair of hooded mergansers.  At first we thought they were both females, but I noticed that one had a distinctive long, pointed tail sticking above the water, as well as a fluffier brush of feathers at the back of the head.  I suspect that one was a juvenile male.  We either had a Mom and her teenage son or a Cougar duck.  Who can tell? Enjoy the pictures!

 

I also got to see the Kingfisher, a male.  I heard his excited chatter way down toward the end where the canal ran into the Blackstone.   I kept my eyes peeled until I saw a blob of white way ahead in a tall tree over the waters.  Training my binoculars confirmed my suspicions, bringing into focus a magnificent male Belted Kingfisher.  Yang came up and got some shots with the binoculars he could attach to his cell phone.  We had a great time watching His Majesty swoop down into the water, skimming along to fly off with his fishy dinner.

Further from home, we visited Forest Park in Springfield on our way to lunch in Montague.  This turned out to be the mecca for Common Mergansers. We saw tons of them in one of the ponds.  They were shy guys, as whenever we got  close to the shore, they paddled off to the middle of the pond.  Yang did get some nice pictures of them, though.  I love how the males gleam white, their green heads almost black.  Their head feathers in the back are far smoother than those of the male Red Breasted Mergansers.  In both these types of Mergansers, the females are beautiful, with their Rita Hayworth-red locks! Yang loves the ducks’ red beaks.

We also found some American Black Ducks enjoying the same pond as well.

Unfortunately, a nice swim almost ended in a trip over the dam! Can’t you just hear his wife yelling, “Dam/n!” Her husband responding, “Don’t you cuss at me . . . Whoa!!!”

 

 

 

Closer to home – as in  the bird feeders next to my house –  we’ve been seeing some nifty birds, old friends and new.  The Mockingbird and the Redwinged Blackbirds are back.  Would you believe that even in the snow, the Robins have been scooting about for at least two weeks?  Here we have a Robin and a Downy Woodpecker chilling (literally with all the snow)  in a tree outside my sun porch window.

I must say that this Robin loves his/her? suet.

 

We also had the pleasure of this Red Bellied Woodpecker’s company. Since it’s a female, it wouldn’t be the one who was stunned after hit our sun-porch window.  We brought him in in a box and let him warm up for about an hour then set him free. Whoosh!  He was in great shape and off to the races.  We see him and his mate here quite a bit.  They’re also big suet lovers.

 

Now, here some of our other visitors.  There are cheeky Goldfinches,

 

 

 

 

caring cardinals,

 

 

 

and perky Downy Woodpeckers.

 

Bring on the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks!

 

How to Outfit the Well Dressed 1940s Mystery Heroine

Last December (2021) I did a ZOOM with fellow mystery writers Lisa Lieberman and Janet Raye Stevens on “Writing the War Years” – as in WWII.  One aspect of doing research to give our tales verisimilitude was looking into the kinds of clothes that people wore.  That topic and the fact that many of my readers and reviewers seem to get a kick out of my descriptions of the wardrobes of Jessica Minton and her fellow players set me thinking.   It would be fun for me and interesting for you, my readers, if I revealed the inspirations for the clothes that helped create a sense of “being there” in my novels.

To be honest, I can’t take credit for “designing” those 1940s outfits, not all of them, anyway.  True, some do come out a familiarity with fashion developed from perusing films, magazines, and Sears catalogues.  However, a large number of my creations are inspired by films that helped spark my tales.  The trigger for Bait and Switch might be traced to this image of Joan Bennett from The Woman on the Beach.    Studying this picture, I wondered, “If you just look at this out of context, what tale does it tell?  What is this woman’s conflict with the man she faces?  What could be in the package?”  The answers that I spun out from those questions led me to create Jessica’s exciting adventures with James Crawford and Nazi fifth columnists.  What I perceived of her garb in the picture inspired an outfit that not only re-appeared in at least one other novel in the series, but a fashion reflecting a major shift in women’s empowerment.

When I first looked at the picture, in a smaller version, I perceived the woman in question as wearing a light coat over a white blouse and dark slacks.  That white blouse with the flowing sleeves and dark slacks became a staple for women who were independent, free-moving, and downright comfortable.  Think of Barbara Stanwyck pounding away on her typewriter, casual but still determined, in her first scene in Christmas in Connecticut.  However, as she becomes imprisoned in playing the domestic roles imposed by men, we see her cinched up and confined in skirts and suits. So, Jessica’s taking off on an adventure that might save her country, while rejecting her boyfriend’s protective attempts to curb her independent agency, is best served by that same outfit.  Here you see her, from the cover of the novel, comfortably outfitted and ready for action, though a bit trepidatious of what the future holds.

The eponymous blouse and slacks prove the importance of ease of movement when Jessica dons them in Always Play the Dark Horse to explore a wrecked ship that reveals dangerous secrets, to ride out on a mysterious black horse to rescue a friend, and later to face off against a murderer and spy.

Of course, a smart talkin’ gal of the forties like a Joan Bennett, Lynn Bari, or Rosalind Russell could still assert herself and delve into danger even when back in a dress and heels, as Jessica proves with this number:  “this light dress, with its pale raspberry swirls on white” and “her white turban.”  Thusly garbed, in Bait and Switch, Jess finds herself confronted at the racetrack by her mystery man and spirited away from the crowd; however, a fitted dress in no way prevents her from letting him have it on the jaw when he oversteps bounds.

In Letter from a Dead Man, Jessica is back in this silky number of “raspberry swirls on creamy silk” on another  hot summer afternoon while helping her sister search the secret room of a murdered friend, then dive into a closet when their nemesis unexpectedly shows up with two torpedoes. The inspiration for this frock?  Joan Bennett’s white and color swirled dress in Trade Winds.  Now an interesting thing about describing this and some of the other outfits Jess wears is that I got to see the originals in black and white, either on the screen or in publicity shots.  So, it’s up to me to imagine what colors swirl through the white with this, and other outfits.  I saw a soft raspberry pink: perfect for a summer afternoon.  What color do you see?

In Dark Horse, I had to use my imagination when having Jessica model two of her dress-designing sister’s creations.  This is the outfit I adapted for Jessica’s visit to the tea sponsored by the college where her husband is teaching and where murder and espionage lurk in the shadows.  It’s a tea where Jess has to look great while trying to maintain her cool amongst dangerous suspects and startlingly unexpected revelations.

“Jessica sprang up, undoing her robe to reveal a gorgeous white silk dress, fitted in the bodice, with a graceful A-line skirt that swirled as she moved and flatteringly shaped itself to her when she stood still. The square neckline revealed its wearer’s collarbones without dipping too low. What Jess thought really gave it elegant flair was a pattern on the bodice of abstract shapes, almost like an archangel by Picasso, in unexpectedly complementary soft liquid blue, green, and pink, bordered by silver.”

I will tell you, it was not easy to try to give you an image that would evoke the patterns on this dress.  What do you think?

In Dead Man, Jessica’s fitted black linen dress with the white linen color is inspired by this outfit from She Knew All the Answers.  As you can see from the picture, I didn’t have to use much imagination to come up with black and white for this one.  The colors do play an important role in the narrative, though.  For when Jessica tries to hide behind the refuge of one of the NYPL lions, she lives in terror that a flash of white from her collar will give her away to her deadly pursuers.

 

In Dark Horse, it’s the cut not the color of the dress that adds to the story.  Jess finds herself caught in an awkward position when the dress’s sweetheart neckline and flattering fit causes an old boyfriend’s wife to see red rather than the black of the dress, though that wasn’t Jessica’s intention. And that woman may have permanently eliminated a real revival for her husband.

 

Finally, as you may have noticed, I repeated several outfits from one book to another.  Why?  Well, part of it has to do with the images inspiring what I write.  However, another, and especially important, point is that most women throughout  decades past hung on to outfits over a period of years.  We find something we like and we keep wearing it .  I am writing in the era before fast fashion took hold, not that Jessica would ever be such a frivolous shopper.  So, it creates verisimilitude to show my characters wearing the same outfit more than once over a few years.  However, I’m not looking forward to hitting 1948/9 when the hemlines drop drastically.  Will Jessica have to get a whole new wardrobe?!  Well, I can at least promise you that our Jess will not be chopping off her hair, as was that late forties and early fifties fashion!

How about you?  Are there any outfits from the series that you’d like to ask me about?  I’m ready and waiting to answer.

 

The Dark Horses Inspiring Always Play the Dark Horse

I’ve been a horse-racing aficionado since 1966, when I started watching the Triple Crown races on TV.  My pick was Amberoid, who finished eleventh in the Derby, moved on up to third in the Preakness, then blasted home first by 2 1/2 lengths in the Belmont Stakes. ­ Sorry Kaui King on crimping your Triple Crown bid.  So it’s been lots of fun for me to bring my favorite sport into play in Always Play the Dark Horse.  For verisimilitude, I drew on some real race horses’ interesting quirks when creating the equine players of my story.

Equipoise, a handicap star of the 1930s, was known as “The Chocolate Soldier” for his dark brown coat and his warrior-like determination to win. A tough horse, he ran for five seasons and won an impressive 29 of 52 starts.  If he couldn’t outrun his competition, he wasn’t above taking a little chunk out of a horse who challenged him in a stretch drive – ­ hence his disqualification in the 1934 Metropolitan Handicap.  That loss actually was used for the final twist in the play and movie Three Men and a Horse. He brought such disqualifications on himself two other times as well, but he was also known as “the best assistant starter” for keeping fractious horses in line when he was set on the business of getting the race started clean.  An honest, hard-working, hard-knocking horse (literally), Equipoise was a leading stakes and money winner.

Another champion handicap horse, equally determined but far less free with his chompers, was Kelso.  For 4 years (1961-65) Kelso dominated handicap racing, knocking heads with such stars as Gun Bow, Mongo, Beau Purple, and Roman Brother.  He was horse of the year four consecutive years and won one handicap triple crown as well four consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cups, eventually became leading money winner, just missing being the first horse to win two million dollars.  Kelly may have been a tough nut to crack on the track, but he was a tenderhearted guy when it came to kids, letting them feed him ice cream sundaes.  After he retired, his owner, Mrs. Allaire Dupont even turned him into a saddle horse, but Kelso was not one to poke along trails. She noticed he had an affinity for jumping natural obstacles on their rides, so to keep her equine friend from getting bored, she successfully trained him as a jumper.  I can remember one of his exhibitions at a New York track where the old guy showed himself a master in yet another equine endeavor.  The racehorse to jumper story almost made it into Dark Horse; but, alas, necessary cuts sheared it from the story.  Maybe a sequel where this equine character makes a return engagement?

Devil His Due was a racer of the 1990s who looked as if he could have played the title role in Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series.  Unusual for a champion stallion, he was not retired early but ran into his sixth year. Also unusual, he was sound enough to never have run on Lasix.  I was even lucky enough to have seen him at Belmont Park when he ran in the 1994 Woodward Stakes.  Unfortunately, it was Holy Bull’s day of glory not Devil’s.   This black stallion still won more than his share of stakes: Pimlico Special, Brooklyn Handicap, Gulfstream Park Handicap, and back-to-back victories in the Suburban Handicap (with 1994 victories in the Brooklyn and Suburban, he copped two legs of the Handicap Triple Crown).  He was especially admired for his determined stretch battle with Lured in the Wood Memorial, finishing in a dead heat for first with the other horse.

Our black stallion was also famous for a little escapade with the IRS, a version of which makes it into Dark Horse.  Apparently, the IRS didn’t believe that the horse actually belonged to Edith Libutti, but thought the ownership was a tax dodge for her father.  They had a court order to take possession of him.  When trainer Allen Jerkins warned the IRS reps that race horses were temperamental and dangerous if not handled properly, the head agent snapped back that the government had a lien on Devil, could do whatever they wanted with him, going into the stall to seize him.  Devil was having none of this: laying back his ears and barring his teeth, he chased the agents out.  Apparently Devil was too tough even for the IRS.  He was back on the track and winning that same racing season.  Blackie in Dark Horse puts on a similar show, demonstrating that we should all use our horse sense – if not our flashing teeth and hooves.

 

Sources for information and Images on each of the thoroughbreds.  If you believe the posting of an image here violates your copyright, please contact me and I will remove it.  No violation of copyright intended.

Amberoid photo:  Turf and Sport Digest Cover, September 1966

Equipoise
1. History of Thoroughbred Racing in America, William H.P. Robertson
2. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/214268/bh-100-equipoise
3. https://www.champsofthetrack.com/post/10-facts-about-equipoise
4.https://www.equibase.com/profiles/Results.cfm?type=Horse&refno=146348&registry=T&rbt=TB

Kelso
1. History of Thoroughbred Racing in America, William H.P. Robertson
2. A Horse Named Kelso, Pat Johnson and Walter D. Osborne
3. Richard Stone Reeves Paintings also from A Horse Named Kelso

Devil His Due
1. SuperPickle, Registered User Join Date: Nov 2014 Posts: 1,121 Rep Power: 7 SuperPickle is on a distinguished roadhttp://www.paceadvantage.com/forum/showthread.php?t=138591
2.https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/221713/grade-1-winner-sire-devil-his-due-dies-at-28
3. https://www.thoroughbreddailynews.com/devil-his-due-dies-at-28/
4.Post Parade Image: Author’s collection
5.  https://twitter.com/drflivingston/status/578934814767751168
6.Confirmation Portrait: Thoroughbred Times 1997 Stallion Directory

Adventures with Waterfowl at Silver Sands Beach

Yang and I went to the beach last week when we had some warm weather– in New England, in winter,  you can call 40 degrees warm. It started out as a trip to Tea with Tracey in Connecticut for tea (obviously), but since the day was so sunny and “warm,” Yang suggested that after tea, we head to nearby Silver Sands Beach to see what birds might be visiting.  I think he felt bad for me because we were the only people at Plum Island the week before who didn’t see a Snow Owl. Anyway, once we got there, we were NOT disappointed, with a special guest star appearing that neither of us had ever seen before!
As we approached where the waves broke on the shore, we were delighted to see Herring Gulls mixing and mingling with Brant Geese.  The gulls I’d seen many times before.  However, I’d only seen Brants twice previously.  They were not afraid of us and let Yang take lots of photographs.  Here are some neat ones we saw of them along the shore.
When the Brants took to the water, they proceeded in well-ordered convoy fashion.  You’d almost think they were heading to Britain with Lend-Lease weaponry, on the watch for Nazi U-Boats.
Maybe they had air support from the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.  I think some gulls might even have been acting as the Armed Guard.

We also saw some old favorites, American Black Ducks.  Here are two in conference.

 

 

 

Over here is another guy just chillin’ on a rock.  Maybe he felt he’d be chillin’ too much, literally, if he joined his pals in the ocean.  What do you think?
Then, there was this lonesome stranger.  Yang and I spotted a white dot in the ocean.  We almost dismissed it as yet another Hooded Merganser, but Yang had second thoughts and trained his binoculars on this guy.  Well, what do you know?  A duck that neither of us had ever seen before.  He was a study in art decco black and white, with a whitish Presley pompadour swept and puffed up off his forehead. His yellow eyes contrasted with a black pupil.  Even his pink beak had symmetric black patches on either side! Then, when he dived, there was that long, slim tail flipping up.

What could he be?  A Harlequin Duck?  A funky Woodduck? A pintail of some kind? My guess was an Oldsquaw – and darned if a peek in my Peterson’s and a look on-line didn’t prove me right.  Now, some people don’t like the term “squaw” in his name, feeling it’s offensive.  So, considering that yellowish white pompadour, could we rename him an OldElvis?  Too soon?
Anyway, like our new friend, I’m going to take a dive and say, “so long!”

 

Haunting by the Riverside

The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten.  On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct.  When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty.  Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore.  We  were not disappointed.

Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea.  The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air.  As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated.  On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely.  The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling.  Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back.  What has happened to them since?  I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments.  One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield.  This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury.  The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior.  The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument.  Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?

 

 

The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury.  Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief.  This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good.  The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population.  Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone.  They are a little creepy though, don’t you think?  I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well.  If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument.  I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk.  How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ?  Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison.  The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory.  Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.

 

And roll those slopes do!  I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling  through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall.  Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror.  I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen.  There were so many haunting statues of women.  For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum.  Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home?  Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?

 

 

This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss.  Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world?  The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm  around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible?  Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter  indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption.  This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.

 

It’s hard to select which other statues to show you,  there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues.  The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron.  so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them.  Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible.  More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere.  Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery.  Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.

 

Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me.  Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially  draped urn.  This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death.  Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn?  Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much?  I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
 I’ll just wrap up with  an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.

 

Last Glimpses of Autumn

Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st.  So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass.  Remember how we were in drought status that year?  Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged  by the flooding to create the reservoir.  We even caught sight of the phantom bridge!  This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year.  Unfortunately,  in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year:  Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees.  This year, there was water, rocks, and trees.  We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot.  Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year!  Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see.  Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head.  We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain  in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw  at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower.  Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein,  While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower.  The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living  room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929.  Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his  building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times.  Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead!  Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group  Save Talcott Mountain.  Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture.  For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all.  There are several trails to get to the Tower.  The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest.  We were in good enough shape not to!  Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below.  The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat!  This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like.  My shot lets you see an updated in-color version.  The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era.  Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance.  And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below?  How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea?  I wonder  what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations?  Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day.  And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.

 

How about some of those bedrooms?  Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough.  Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor.  But you’re on a rustic  retreat, so who needs frills?  Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock.  And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning!  Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck.  Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up.  Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors?  It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room.  Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture.  Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck.  During the day, you get views  for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors.  Feast your eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace.  How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other.  Light pours in the windows.

Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery?  This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse.  So, how should we work this?  Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner,  a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her?  Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do.  Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room?  Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand?  What do you think?

 

Lobster Rolls, Waterfowl, and Joan Bennett: What an Adventure!

At the end of the last week, I’d come down with a head cold!  Too much heavy-duty activity and book promotion, I guess, in cold weather.  Anyway, after lots of rest under the medical supervision of Rosalind and Natasha,  I felt well enough to join Yang on a little adventure to Connecticut.  First stop?
Lobster rolls, cole slaw, and french fries at Bill’s Seafood in Westbrook.  Yum!  That lobster has loads of cold-fighting protein, right?  Though there weren’t the usual osprey and laughing gulls and various ducks, we did see this neat cormorant circling the deck, then landing and arching his wings the way cormorants love to do- very vampirelike.  I think he saw himself as Count Cormorantuala.  I forgot to get my own pictures; however, here’s another photographer’s depiction of that favorite cormorant stance.
I did manage to get  some nice shots from the rest of our journey.
Next stop?  Rocky Neck, where you can see the fall colors are still going, even if some trees are a bit denuded.  In fact, the drive down treated us to some lovely golds, burnt oranges, saffrons, and burgundies.  Just in the parking lot was this lovely tree flaming into orange.  Yang especially loves multicolored trees, where the foliage morphs from green to yellow even to orange. This tree gives us orange, crimson, and burgundy!
If you look to the marshes, they are bordered by more foliage-enhanced trees.  Those marshes are circled by a trail and some lookout platforms, which have afforded lots of views of many different types of aquatic fowl.  this time, we didn’t see a lot, but we did sight some old friends:  black ducks; mallards, hooded mergansers (the speedboats of the duck world), and the Great Egret.  It was the latter we got some nice shots of.  In fact, as we walked the trail and paused on a bridge, we were able to get rather close to this fellow without him flapping a feather.  Rather, he had quite a time for himself fishing.  What a beauty, right?  As we were leaving, we actually passed seven of them all chillin’ together in another marsh, right near the road.
Ah, and then there was a stroll along the ocean and a nap on the rocks as I could hear the waves lapping those rocks and feel the breeze dancing around me.  It’s so nice just to let go!
Our final stop, after a wonderful ride down winding country roads, framed with glowing foliage in the sinking sun’s light, was to the cemetery where Joan Bennett rests.  We  found three bouquets of yellow roses, a small painted stone with a sweet message, and an arrangement with a patriotic theme, happily showing that our Joanie is so fondly remembered. Well, Joan certainly was a patriot in the best sense of the word.  Five of her forties films had her joining the fight against the Nazis, she went on bond selling tours, she was a member of the AWVS (American Women’s Voluntary Service), and she spoke out for protecting people’s civil rights.  So, it was our pleasure to pay our respects.  We tried to clean her Mom’s grave stone, but couldn’t do much.  Another member of our Joan Bennett FB group had done a beautiful job of cleaning Joan’s grave earlier, however.  Maybe Joan and my Mom can have a cup of tea and a cigarette together up in the Great Beyond.  You never know!  Just watch out for those Singapore Slings, ladies!

 

 

Cormorant Image:  https://www.macfilos.com/2017/09/15/2017-9-11-cormorants-reconsidered-birds-of-ill-omen-get-makeover/

Forest Hills Cemetery: Touching or Eerie? Both?

Yang and I found a gorgeous old cemetery in Utica, NY when we went to the Joan and Constance Bennett film festival in Rome this past summer.  However, life has just been so busy with all the prep for Dark Horse‘s release, then it’s actual release, that I just didn’t have time to put together a pictorial blog on it.  Maybe that’s just as well, because aren’t we in just the right season for a sepulchral tour?
So, welcome to Forest Hill Cemetery.  You know this is going to be one neat burial ground when you enter through these wonderfully Gothic gates.  And the cemetery is definitely well-named, winding up above Utica on an extensive tree-shrouded, green hillside.  Maybe we don’t have flaming autumn colors; however, the misty green mossyness perfectly emanates a Keatsian melancholy.
The statuary here was marvelously haunting:  women, angels, urns, unique mausoleums, and one guy backed by a tree that seemed like something out of a Lovecraft piece.  Let’s start with the angels.  The first one that I noted, just getting out of my car (me not the angel), was a uniquely colored creature.   It wasn’t as large as many or the others and the tip of one wing was chipped.  Yet it’s lines were straight and powerful, grace and strength in a soft glow of gold.
Yet, there were other more traditionally imposing figures.  This angel rose above a long bench that curved like his wings.  It’s an imposing figure that makes you uneasily recall the Dr. Who injunction, “Don’t blink!  On the other hand, this  angel below sits peacefully atop the Ives family monument exuding comfort and repose.  If it came to life, it would offer gentleness and compassion.  The day’s sky, still a tad cloudy, softens the gleaming white of its stone.

 

This family must, indeed, have had clout!  Not only do they have a fancy sepulchre, but they have two angels guarding the way to their entombed remains.  Facing us, you can see that one angel holds a book, while, in the case of the one with its back to us, you can just make out its trumpet.  Clearly that divine guy is ready to blow the horn to announce Judgment Day – or it’s Harry James.

 

 

Speaking of sepulchres, there are some really neat fancy ones here.  This one makes me think of a stone beehive.  It also has a medieval look. The stones fit together like the blocks of a castle.  There are spires and arches like in a Gothic cathedral.  Even fleur de lis are carved on joining stones on the sides and back. Note the brass door gone green. The graceful furl of draping ribbons carved on the doors evokes the unfurling of a gentle melancholy sigh, doesn’t it?  Here’s a closeup so you can better perceive the detail.  Notice how flowers trail from the end of the ribbons.  A symbol of life’s fragility like a flower or of life’s renewal of flowers from seeds shed by flowers past/passed?

 

This mausoleum is more in the art deco vein.  It’s shape is square-angled with blocks sharply cut.  The woman on its metal door, though Grecian garbed, has the stylized posture of art deco figures.  Pressing herself to a door carved with a gate of flowered shapes holding her out, her stance and expression are quietly yet powerfully sad.  Is she reaching for the lost departed or is she a departed soul reaching back for life?
The statues of women representing faith, loss, families also abound here in some beautiful forms. I loved the view of this weather-stained woman peering down the hillside, through waving grass and dark green trees into the world beyond her, outside the grave.  In a closer view from the front, you can see she supports stalks of harvested grain.  The soul harvested from this earth?  Or her life’s harvest of experience, carried into the next realm?

 

Here sits a pensive female, pure white against the greenery.  Though she marks the reality of death,  there is peace in her expression. Does she represent the soul’s passing into a realm beyond suffering to a place of calm contemplation or the quiet remembrance that those left behind have of loved ones   now  beyond the veil? I love capturing a close up of her features against the vivid blue streaked with the  gauzy whiteness of clouds.
This woman is celebrated as a dignified Roman matron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here an angelic figure points an attentive Victorian mother and plump toddler heavenward.  There are no wings on the rising figure, but there are definitely suggestions of her angelic nature. Interestingly, her trumpet points downward.  A reference to the family in the world of the living below? The sculpture beautifully creates the illusion of the female figure rising through the sweep of her garments. I can’t help thinking that perhaps this monument commemorates the loss of a young wife and a child.  Is the rising figure a younger daughter who had angelic qualities?
Then there is this far from traditional carving of gleaming white marble.  The figure does not seem  carved so much as  transforming  stone into a vibrant, pure flame  consuming a body  into a higher, ethereal form.  Is her expression joyous, pained, both – combining the two in the ineffable constitution of the sublime.

 

 

 

Of course, we can’t forget about the gents, either.  This chap must have been something, taking up the center of an enormous monument that surrounds him as if part of a capitol building or cathedral.  Gothic arches and fancy urns denote his prominent family standing. You can see me standing there in front providing scale. The book he holds in his hand and his far away look seem to mark him as a scholar of some sort, or at the very least, a man of great learning.
I’m not sure who this guy was, but he certainly must have been important to get such a fancy statue of himself.  He must have been wealthy, too, to be so well fed.  Reminds me of Sidney Greenstreet.  What do you think? Something else that’s neat is that if you look carefully behind him, you can see a tree that almost seems to have a cyclops eye; a long, bowed nose-trunk; and menacing upraised arms.  The image didn’t photograph as well as it should have, but it’s still very Lovecraftian. Below is a picture of just that just shows that eldritch, daemonic tree, appearing to stride forth on an unspeakable quest of relentless destruction.  And here’s a link to a list of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to say that this tree also  looks as if it’s up to no good, eldritch or otherwise.  There’s a horror story in here somewhere.

There are still more wonderful monuments of unique shapes and beautiful scenes of a sea of stones, but I’ve just no more space.  Perhaps, I can do a second edition on this cemetery.  We’ll see.  October is a busy month.  Hmm, what’s that I hear tapping at my window pane?  I hope it’s nothing cyclopean or eldritch.
Say “so long” to Forrest Hill as we drive out those wonderful Gothic Gates!