Friday, October 20, 2017

In the Footsteps of Mark Twain

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt

The calliope, an air-operated Tangley Calliaphone, played bright music from America’s past while the riverboat plowed through the muddy Mississippi. I sat beside my husband, who had joined me by plane at the end of my road trip traveling the Oregon Trail backwards on the way to a family reunion. A photograph from the trip shows us looking relaxed and happy. You’d never know that our toddler had just thrown a grand tantrum. After being strapped in a car seat for the better part of each day for a week, she'd had more than enough of our road trip. All she wanted was to run and play. Why wouldn't we let her?
Of such is life.

Mark Twain Riverboat at Glascock's Landing, Hannibal, Missouri; Image by Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Freed from what should have been a pleasant cruise but had become a memory-maker of another kind, we returned to our accommodations at Hannibal’s Belvedere Inn. We’d chosen this Italianate mansion turned bed-and-breakfast for its vintage beauty. The palatial ceiling and incredibly tall windows in our room made me feel like a child at a grown-up tea party. They knew how to build a mansion back in 1859. 

After a night’s sleep and a breakfast buffet, we visited the boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemmens (aka: Mark Twain). The picket fence surrounding the home would have needed whitewashing in young Sam’s day, of course. The home itself was modest but comfortable. Seeing the environment where young Samuel grew up connected me with a bygone era. I could almost hear the neighborhood kids playing on a summer day or shouting with joy while swimming in the river.
Boyhood Home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain); Image by Andrew Balet (Own work) [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
We went across the street to see the childhood home of Laura Hawkins, an early playmate of Samuel's. Laura’s birthday fell on November 30th and Samuel’s on December 1st, so the families often celebrated together. She was Samuel’s childhood sweetheart and the inspiration for Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Laura didn't wind up with Samuel, however. She married a physician named James W. Frazer, and the couple had two sons. He left her a widow in her forties. In 1895, Laura signed on as matron of a home for orphans and the destitute. She and Samuel Clemmens were lifelong friends who stayed in touch with one another.
The Becky Thatcher House, Hannibal Missouri By Andrew Balet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Laura Hawkins' account of going to school with her childhood sweetheart.

The day had grown hot and our feet weary, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and went back to our room to rest. We had the usual tourist's restlessness, so before long we decided to take a walk around Hannibal. Because it’s that kind of place. No matter how big Hannibal grows, I suspect it will always feel like a small town. While on our walk, we noticed a house on a hillock standing out some blocks away. We started uphill towards it, but the heat and fatigue plagued me. I kept going anyway, intrigued by the commanding home.

We followed the last stretch of aging sidewalk to discover that we’d stumbled on a historic home open to the public. To our delight, the Rockcliffe Mansion had not been spoiled by renovation “improvements,” but had largely been left in its original state. We were not allowed to take photographs, lest our flashbulbs destroy the fragile antiques. Unspoiled treasures such as I have never seen before and may never again lay on every hand, down to exquisite wallpaper, tiffany windows, carved woodwork, light fixtures, statues, carpeting – the list is too long for me to describe here. 

Rockcliffe Mansion on the NRHP since September 18, 1980, at 1000 Bird St., Hannibal, Missouri on top of a rocky hill. The name Rockcliffe is very appropriate. Built by a lumber magnate, the home sat empty for over 40 years. The mansion is now a B&B in Mark Twain's hometown. Image by Smallbones (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Images of the interior of Rockcliffe Mansion. 

We toured all the areas of the mansion except the parts that were off-limits. Rockcliffe Mansion offers bed and breakfast accommodations. I'd like to go back and sleep there someday, although like many homes steeped in history, it has a reputation. You see, this was Hannibal's haunted house and informed the description of the "ha'nted house" in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Mark Twain stood on a special platform built over the Rockcliffe Mansion’s main stairway landing in 1902 and gave a speech to the town’s worthies. Looking out over the foyer from much the same place that he stood, I could almost see his admiring audience, dressed in their best, listening, smiling, laughing. Mark Twain knew how to entertain a crowd. The realization that it had been his final visit to Hannibal brought a lump to my throat. Wealth, fame, fulfillment in work, an audience most writers can only dream about – he had it all. It hardly seemed fair. 
The sum total of even a celebrated man’s existence fades with time. 

Jesus’s words came to me then. "Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don't break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6-19-21; World English Bible.

This is why I write, to proclaim that our mortal life is not all there is, that it doesn't end with the grave, and that human souls are more important than treasures that one day crumble to dust.

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy. 


Hills of Nevermore by Janalyn Voigt

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive?
In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.

Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

Learn More About This Book

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fort Sill: An Enduring Legacy Pt 2

Fort Sill, Restored Building, Photo Courtesy of the OHS Photo Archives

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Thank you for joining us for our final fort in “The Forts of Oklahoma Series.” The exploration of the history of this great state has been, at the very least, eye-opening. When we started this series, it was, a matter of minor interest to the both of us, truth be told. With both of us coming from military families, doing these articles really opened our eyes to the greater significance of the military presence in our home state. In last month’s article, we wrote about Fort Sill, its earlier history and waning legacy up to Oklahoma Statehood in 1907.

To recap, Fort Sill was set up as a cavalry outpost on the edge of the Indian Territory to help keep the indigenous tribes from being too fractious. Initially, it didn’t work out very well and required the intervention of the US Army. Although in 1907, the role of the fort changed drastically when the last troop of cavalry moved out and left only the artillery.

In 1911, “The School of Fire for the Field” was founded for artillery soldiers and continues until this day. In 1917, the Henry Post Army Airfield, shortened to Post Field, was constructed for artillery observation and training. During the 1930’s, the WPA (Works Progress Administration), in conjunction with the Army, built more permanent buildings and training facilities. The oldest currently standing building is Building 4908 Aircraft Maintenance hanger built in 1932.

By the end of World War II, the Field Artillery School had permission to train its own fixed wing pilots as field artillery spotters. In 1942, Fort Sill held approximately 700 Japanese, interned by the Department of Justice, most of whom were non-citizens who had been arrested as spies or “fifth columnists,” despite the lack of charges against them. Three Hundred and Fifty of these inmates were transfers from Fort Missoula, Montana. In addition to the Japanese, Fort Sill also hosted German prisoners of war.

The Army Ground Forces Air Training School (later known as the Army Aviation School) was established at Post field on December 7th 1945. In October 1948, pilot training for helicopters began, and the first warrant officer class started in 1951. Post Field is the oldest continually-operating airfield in the US Army to date.

Fort Sill serves as a training base for not only artillery and aviation, but it also serves as one of only four basic training bases in use by the US Army. The harsh climate and rugged terrain allows for the hardening of the soldiers to serve overseas.

Fort Sill operates and maintains the Fort Sill National Cemetery, also referred to as the “Post Cemetery.” This graveyard has several notable facts tied to it, the biggest of which, is that it was never segregated. Buffalo soldiers are interred next to Apache and their families, who were buried next to white cavalry troopers. Three of the most notable names found among the graves are Satanta, Geronimo, and Quanah Parker.

Parts of Fort Sill are open to the public and well worth the time, mileage, and effort it will take to get to the Wichita Mountains, as we discovered on our honeymoon three years ago (Happy Anniversary, beloved!). This diversely rich historic fort has given us an enduring legacy of honor and history.

Please join us next month as we discuss the Red River War (and we’re not talking about football), in our continuing discussions about the rich military history of our home state, Oklahoma.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Andrew Ure - And a Giveaway

With Nancy J. Farrier

The month of October is often focused on the odd and disturbing. I happened to stumble across the historical account of Andrew Ure and thought the story would fit well within the oddities of the month.

Welcome Library, London    
Andrew Ure, born in Glasgow, Scotland, achieved great success in many areas. He became a physician and served as an army surgeon, but his great love was chemistry and physics. He served on the Faculty Board at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow and was well loved for his interesting lectures. He spoke often on chemistry and mechanics. He also had a love of geology and was considered an expert from the number of texts he devoured and the information he absorbed.

Louis Figueir (author) 
One of Ure’s fascinations had to do with the reanimation of the body after death. He began some experiments which he later incorporated in his lectures. In 1818, he lectured on the galvanic experiments he’d been conducting. He brought in the body of a murderer and thief, Matthew Clydesdale to demonstrate his findings. Clydsedale had been executed by hanging and left hanging for an hour. Ure wanted to demonstrate the by stimulating certain nerves with voltage he could bring the person back to life.

These experiments were allowed at that time on the bodies of condemned murderers who had been put to death. The thought of the day was that these men were further tormented for their crimes by being experimented on and that would be all right.

Early depiction of Frankenstein
When Ure sent voltage through the body, Clydesdale’s muscles responded with shuddering which looked to the audience as if he were shivering from the cold. Ure made the body do different movements by touching nerves in other areas. When he touched the hip, one of his assistant was nearly thrown to the floor by the violence of the muscular reaction. He was also able to manipulate the facial expressions, giving the impression Clydesdale was experiencing emotion. Many of the onlookers had to leave the room they were so horrified.

Mary Shelley
By Richard Rothwell 
One of the interesting side notes I read while studying Ure, was that Mary Shelley heard of his experiments and was fascinated by the thought of reanimating the dead. This sparked her writing of Frankenstein, which released in 1818 about the same time Ure was doing the lecture on Clydesdale. Shelley’s book and Ure’s experiments caused quite a stir in that era. The original Frankenstein made no mention of using electricity to reanimate the body, but in her rewrite in 1831, Shelley added that part to the text.

Frankenstein frontispiece
By Theodore Von Holst 
The origin of life and scientific experiments have long been interesting to the public even to the point of excusing tests on the living in the name of science. Ure did not use the living in his demonstrations, only the dead, but some of his tests were horrific. He also inspired other scientists to experiment on animals and humans. Shelley’s depiction of Frankenstein brings out that nature of scientific curiosity and vividly describes human nature in the events that occur in her book.

Have you ever read Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein? What are your thoughts on experimenting with the dead? ((I realize that some people sign over their bodies before they die, but am referring to those who haven’t.) Have you ever heard of Andrew Ure?

I am doing a giveaway of my book, Bandolero. To be entered, please leave a comment and your email on this blog before midnight. If you already have Bandolero, you may have another of my books.

Yoana Armenta’s reckless behavior results in her being captured by bandoleros, Yoana fears her impulsive nature has caused irreparable disaster. Amado Castro gave a death bed promise that he intends to keep – at all costs - even if he must break a childhood vow. When his choice endangers Yoana’s life, he struggles with the decision to honor his word, or to protect Yoana, whom he has come to care for more than he could have imagined. Now as the bandoleros threaten to sell Yoana and her tía to a fate worse than death, and the rancheros want to hang Amado, they must make choices. Will they trust God, or will they do what seems right to them?

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: