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Archive for the ‘Family history’ Category

A Biographer On Reading Biographies

08 Jun

As an author of award-winning biographies, I take my craft seriously, and I am fairly critical when I read those written by other people. I recently read three totally different biographies. These particular subjects may or may not appeal to you for summer reading, but you can apply the same principles when choosing subjects of your choice and selecting your biographies this summer. These books all receive my biographer’s nod for excellence.

Cecil Smith: Mr. Polo, by Blair Calvert (1990) — This book is a must read for the student and fan of the history of polo in the United States of America. Smith was considered by many to be the best American polo player of all time. He carried a maximum ten goal handicap for a record twenty-five years. The apex of his career was early on during an East-West tournament in 1933, when Smith led the West team to show the East that they were not the only show in town. Humorist Will Rogers reported that polo had moved from the board room to the bunkhouse when the cowboys beat the east coast dudes. Publication of the book was a little rough as were some of the subject transitions, and I would have enjoyed more coverage of the later years in Smith’s career with the progression of the sport’s history. However, this biography serves the supreme purpose of saving an important and impressive life story of a true sports hero.

Eminent Hipsters, by Donal Fagen (2013) — Although this does not qualify as a biography in the true format sense, it contains autobiographical material by Steely Dan (rock band) front man and philosopher, Donald Fagen. The first half of the book shares remembrances from Fagen’s formative years with descriptions of the artists who influenced him and his work, from jazz greats to Tina Turner. The second half of the book is a diary of criss-crossing the country on the road in 2012 in claustrophobic tour buses with the “Dukes of September”, which included Michael McDonald and Bozz Scaggs. This was a decidedly lower budget style of travel than he was accustomed to with Steely Dan, and cause for recurring anxiety, from which he suffers. It was enlightening to learn what feeds the craft of this talented musician, and his viewpoint as he produced his tunes for the entertainment of rooms full of a combination of aging rockers, and those he calls “TV Babies,” who have no clue about good music and quality production. I was drawn in and understood Fagen’s outlook and frustration of dealing with everyday challenges while attempting to maintain the quality and art in his music. I enjoyed it thoroughly because Fagen approached it as a serious think piece rather than a self-indulgent tell-all gossip fest.

Stan Musial – An American Life, by George Vecsey (2011) — I kicked myself for not purchasing this book when I saw it while I was walking through the St. Louis airport, so I ordered a copy from home. I was a steadfast fan of “Stan the Man” while growing up in Illinois. I had read a fairly dry biography of his life in the 1960s. This one was a modern take on Musial’s life and times and brilliant baseball career. It took me back to good times, lurking in the parking lot at Busch Stadium with my dad, waiting for Stanley and his pal Red Schoendienst to appear from the locker room chatting away about the game, yet always ready to stop and sign an autograph. I also enjoyed reading about the struggles of a man as talented as Musial as he worked his way to the top in major league baseball, worked hard to stay there, and to maintain his character as a really good guy. He wasn’t a saint but dealt gracefully with pressure from public expectations. He worked hard and kept his character, and all that was important to him, close to his heart. I came away admiring him more than ever, for his foibles as well as his obvious assets. This is a top-notch biography. I don’t say this often, but I could not have done a better job than Vecsey of writing this important biography about my first true hero, Stan “The Man” Musial.

Biographies not only preserve details of the lives of their subjects, but give us real insights into the history and times in which they lived. Read biographies, read them often, and choose your biographer with care. A good biographer will either peel away the sludge, or else identify it for readers, so they know what is real and what is pure fabrication. You can find plenty of that in fiction.

Happy reading, Joyce B. Lohse
www.LohseWorks.com

 

 
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Posted in Family history, Western Travel, Writing Life

 

Riverside Cemetery Halloween Crawl

30 Oct
Riverside Cemetery

“Eliza and John Routt” at Riverside Cemetery

Although I’ve spoken and presented programs to about 150 groups up and down Colorado’s Front Range and beyond, I’ve never before portrayed one of my biographical characters. It was a blast! What a great way to really turn back the hands of time and embrace history, and to enjoy the most beautiful fall day imaginable in Denver’s historic boneyard.

My subject was Eliza Routt, which was a no-brainer to me as a portrayal. Eliza, the original first lady of Colorado and the first woman registered to vote in the state, was my ancestral first cousin from my mother’s family. We even share some resemblance. When Tom “Dr. Colorado” Noel invited me to portray her character at this year’s Halloween Crawl at Riverside Cemetery, I hesitated but only slightly. I forged into unknown territory. Dr. Tom is a first class act and it was a supreme honor to be included in his merry group. I took great pains to prepare my grand four minute speech for an audience of 200 history buffs, and it paid off. I was paired with a wonderful gentleman named John Stewart as the Governor, and our presentation came off without a hitch, with historic gems and amusing moments enjoyed by an appreciative crowd.

To prepare for the day, I augmented my Victorian outfit with a straw hat, which I decorated with streaming ribbon, and silk hydrangea blossoms fixed in place with a hot glue gun. The hat sheltered me during an afternoon in direct sunlight. My speech was originally totally written out, then highlighted for important topics, then pared down to an outline list by subject, then further filtered onto a folded recipe-sized card containing simple key words and subjects, which I never removed from my pocket. It was my insurance in case of memory lapse, and I was happy to know it was handy, although not needed.

The fun and enjoyment of this re-enactment did not quite equal the surge of writer’s rush experienced at the end of a manuscript. However, it was great fun as a more casual and recreational event. Given the opportunity, I would step back in time again, especially if I have the opportunity to channel my cousin Eliza. She is a great character, and a great presence from which to view the past during the wild and exciting days of early Colorado. The only changes I would make would be to carry a quilted bag for modern items such as camera and sunglasses, and a change to more comfortable shoes to continue the jaunt around the cemetery to watch the other speakers.

To learn more about Eliza and her partner, Governor John Routt, read my award-winning biography:
First Governor, First Lady: John and Eliza Routt of Colorado, FIlter Press, 2002. Go to:
www.LohseWorks.com or www.FilterPressBooks.com

Joyce Lohse, 10/30/13
www.LohseWorks.comRoutt Headstone Symbol

 

Welcome to Yellowstone

24 Sep

Welcome to Yellowstone

Welcome to Yellowstone

Reunions are a great way to reach back and touch history, to relive old times, and relate to those who shared it. One of the best times in my life occurred in 1973. I had just finished college and had plans to be married the following year. Little did I realize that spending the following several months living and working in Yellowstone National Park would be so important in my life on many levels. I was able to go off on my own, to grow up just enough more that I was set and confident to begin my life as an adult. I got back to the basics  with everything Mother Nature had to share in a place where steam and energy flowed from underground in an astounding array of thermal features against a backdrop of western landscapes full of wildlife. And then there were my friends. We explored and sought adventure while we worked hard and partied hearty. To this day, we are still close.

SavagesIt is amazing to us that we have reached the 40th Anniversary of our first year in Yellowstone. The reunions began at around our 20th Anniversary. We’ve always been inspired to try new things whenever we gather to celebrate Nature’s Wonderland in Yellowstone, and our friendships. This time, we rented a beautiful, spacious log home near the park which comfortably accommodated our group of seven. We cooked all of our meals allowing us to relax, visit, and enjoy the surroundings.

Our gathering was a great way to reach back and enjoy history while making more of our own. I wrote a book about our year in Yellowstone entitled, A Yellowstone Savage: Life In Nature’s Wonderland. For the 40th Anniversary, I totally revised the original publication and reproduced it in e-book format, for a new age. Who knows what will be next for the Yellowstone Savages.

A Yellowstone Savagehttp://www.amazon.com/Yellowstone-Savage-Natures-Wonderland-ebook/dp/B00CTSA7BI/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369061111&sr=1-4&keywords=A+Yellowstone+Savage

 

Next stop: Leadville

28 Jun

Baby Doe Cover

As a historic biographer, my focus is writing about pioneer characters, which often takes me to places with a colorful past. When I researched and wrote my award-winning biography, Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen, my search for truth and information about The Tabors and their Matchless Mine took me to the nooks and crannies of Leadville’s mining district. Interestingly, the fun did not end once the book was published by Filter Press in 2011.

This June, I was invited by Bob Hartzell, former director of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, to present the story of Elizabeth Tabor during a special event. After several emails and phone calls, plans were in place. Museum members were invited to a banquet to honor Mrs. Tabor followed by my PowerPoint presentation about the Tabors’ life in the boom town and my research findings. Guests were invited to wear period clothing, which motivated participants, including myself, to show off Victorian finery. A signed copy of my book was included at each place setting.

After the banquet, the group of twenty people drove cars to the shack at the Matchless Mine where Mrs. Tabor lived her final years. We shared more stories in the dimly lit cabin. Although we witnessed no supernatural occurrences, we felt strongly that Mrs. Tabor’s spirit was present.

The next morning, we met again at the Matchless Mine for a tour of the site. Our guide was retired geologist Fred Mark, a remarkable researcher who combined a passion for history with his professional knowledge and expertise in geology and mining. After hiking over some rough terrain to study the property, we returned to the restored headframe where I signed more books.

My weekend in Leadville, sharing stories with knowledgeable history buffs, was easily one of my most fun and fascinating experiences as a writer. Leadville is still working its magic, and I look forward to more adventures there.

For those who visit Leadville, 100 miles west of Denver, there are many historic attractions. Stop by the visitors’ center on Harrison Avenue to pick up brochures and maps, for current access, hours, and road conditions. They can provide directions for a walking tour in town as well.

HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS IN LEADVILLE:

  1. National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum – 120 W. 9th St., open year round
  2. Matchless Silver Mine and Baby Doe Tabor’s Cabin – 1 ¾ miles east on 7th St., open May-September
  3. Mineral Belt and Road of the Silver Kings – in California Gulch, site of Oro City’s ghost town and Tabor’s General Store, follow Monroe Street from Leadville
  4. Tabor Home Museum, home of Horace Tabor and his first wife, Augusta – 116 E. 5th St.
  5. Annunciation Church, where Elizabeth Tabor worshipped, at Poplar and East 7th St.
  6. Tabor Opera House, 308 Harrison Ave., open May-Oct, closed Sundays.
  7. Delaware Hotel – 700 Harrison Ave., built in 1886, offers various walking tours.
  8. Silver Dollar Saloon – 315 Harrison Ave. – built in 1879.
  9. Baby Doe Room in the Lake County Public Library, for quiet reading and
    research among period antiques.
  10. Heritage Museum – 102 E. 9th St., – open May-Oct.
  11. Healy House & Dexter Cabin – 912 Harrison Ave., open May-Oct daily.
  12. Boom Days Festival – historic celebrations and parade – 1st weekend in August

Joyce B. Lohse is administrator for Women Writing the West. When she is not writing historical biographies, she enjoys lurking around in cemeteries and archives looking for stories.

Joyce B. Lohse – Centennial, Colorado
www.LohseWorks.com

 
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Posted in Family history, Western history, Western Travel, Writing Life

 

A World’s Fair in a Contemporary Context

21 Mar

When I saw a copy of Colorado Goes to the Fair for sale recently at a library used book sale, I jumped on it. It’s subject, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, was certainly focused and specific. The event was a huge cultural phenomenon attended by people from all walks of life and from all over the country, and the world. Although Colorado was spiraling into a deep, dark recession due to a silver crash when the U.S. government chose gold over silver as the foundation for American currency, many people still overcame the expense and hardship of travel to attend this sprawling worlds fair. It was an experience not to be missed.

Beyond that, this topic continually pops into my consciousness and onto my radar, and from the strangest places. A family friend gave us beautifully framed lithographs of scenes from the historic fair as a wedding present many, many years ago. At the time, I had no knowledge of it. My understanding increased considerably when I researched my book, First Governor, First Lady: John and Eliza Routt of Colorado. The Routts, like me, were from Illinois. They jumped at the opportunity to return to Illinois in 1893 to attend the fair. Colorado’s first couple were honored guests during opening ceremonies. Also, Eliza Routt’s committee commissioned a famous statue, The End of an Era, which was unveiled at the fair, before it was placed permanently on the east lawn of Colorado’s capitol building to honor Native Americans.

As a Buffalo Bill Wild West researcher, I was interested to learn that William Cody’s show was not allowed within the grounds of the world’s fair. No problem. He set up camp and his tents outside the boundary, and did a splendid business on his own. With so many references to the fair, I take notice whenever it comes up now. Who can overlook the chilling book, Devil In the White City, a real page turner about shocking crimes during the fair. My dad gave me a gavel made from the floor of Libby Prison, a confederate prisoner of war camp in the Civil War. This souvenir was purchased by my civil war veteran great-grandfather John B. Innes, who was visiting the world’s fair in 1893. The reconstructed Libby Prison museum in Chicago was a popular enticement to veterans.

Ferris Wheel_edited-1

The largest and most compelling attraction of the Columbian Exposition, which was named to honor the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, was the Ferris Wheel. It was the largest one constructed at the time, and was built to surpass the splendor of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When I was in Chicago with my family last summer, we enjoyed the magnificent huge Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier, a nod to the history of the Ferris Wheel in Chicago, beginning with its grandiose appearance at the 1893 World’s Fair.

The Ferris Wheel pulls the whole World’s Fair together for me. It brings a historic experience to life in a setting contemporary to many of my biographical characters, and carries over to modern times. After all, the World’s Fair provided a setting enjoyed and shared by people of many backgrounds. It brought understanding of the life and times contemporary to historic characters to something they and we could understand, while they contemplated glimpses of their future at the exhibits. The Ferris Wheel certainly provides a fun way to reach back and touch history, and there is a heck of a view from the top!

Joyce B. Lohse, www.LohseWorks.com

 

What Happens in the Salon …

09 Feb

Midway through February, I will revisit the Denver Woman’s Press Club for some more historic journalism magic. My second visit within a month is part of their salon series. The program is entitled, Almost Famous: Crafting Characters from Colorado’s Past, which will feature myself and fellow DWPC journalist, Kimberly Field. In this program we will discuss several aspects of crafting characters from historical data into biographies. One of the inspirations for the program is my biography, First Governor, First Lady: John and Eliza Routt of Colorado. It is the story of Colorado’s first elected governor and his wife, the first woman registered to vote in Colorado, who happens to be my first cousin, a few generations back.

Gertrude Stein

Before this program came up, I was not especially familiar with the concept of a salon and what it means. I knew that at the beginning of the Twentieth Century there was a cluster of artists and writers living on the Parisian Left Bank, encouraging one another, feeding off of their respective talents, and repeatedly toasting their good fortune. A ring leader of these talented folks was an eccentric writer named Gertrude Stein. Whether she was brilliant, or simply good at positioning herself as such, is not clear, but as her influence increased while her writing gained in importance and popularity, she hosted salons, a series of casual gatherings in her parlor for her talented friends. It was an affirmation of a person’s artistic talent and status in creative circles to be included in Stein’s salons, where abstract ideas and conversation flowed, lubricated by liquid attractions.

When I was invited to host a DWPC salon, joined by respected journalist Kimberly Field, I jumped at the chance. What an honor to share my craft with my peers while enjoying the ambiance of a lovely, historic setting. This should be a really special event. RSVP to DWPC (www.dwpconline.org) for the Almost Famous salon on Sunday, February 17 from 3-5 p.m. Otherwise, to learn more about salons, rent or borrow the movie, Midnight In Paris, starring Owen Wilson, produced by Woody Allen. It is extremely entertaining and a must see for those who are passionate about writing.

Au revoir! A bientot!
Joyce Lohse – www.LohseWorks.com

 

Old Faces and New Places

20 Nov
Shrine of the Sun

Shrine of the Sun

In the early stages of writing a biography, ideas sometimes percolate on the back burner and germinate slowly through the seasons. Ideas grow as the creative cells divide. Sometimes I find myself in a locale that calls to me while I decide my next move. Usually, the place I seek is a cemetery. When I see the final destination of a person’s journey, I can visualize and speculate about the life which brought them there. Sometimes, I find inspiration, a hint of what brought them to this spot, or a familiar and surprising landmark when paths intersect.

View

View of the Eastern Plains from the Shrine

This past week, I drove an hour south of Denver to my former home, Colorado Springs, for a book launch. Pikes Peak Library District published another fine compilation, Doctors, Disease and Dying in the Pikes Peak Region, which included my chapter about Dr. Justina Ford. Before the event, I visited the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, high above Colorado Springs and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. On a crisp, clear fall day, the view was expansive, dizzying and breathtaking. I had the place to myself.

Mural at shrine

Familiar history through art at Shrine of the Sun

I was thrilled and watchful as I climbed the narrow staircase of cool stone outside the majestic tower made entirely of rock and mortar, except for the metal of the inside staircase, rails, and doors. In the entrance, I spied a familiar face. Was that General William Palmer on that painted mural, welcoming travelers on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad? I was back home now, on familiar turf, encountering an old friend from Colorado history. Was the clanking sound I heard above an uneasy spirit, or another pilgrim in this fortress? No, it was just a flagpole rope, caught by the wind, batting the metal flagpole. Perhaps the sound was demanding my attention, urging me forward.

This grand and glorious place, created by Builder of the West, Spencer Penrose, was built as a shrine to his entertainer and philosopher pal, Will Rogers, after his death in a 1935 airplane crash. The shrine also contains a chapel where the Penrose’s cremains were buried later. This enchanting haven could definitely qualify as the starting point for a new story and writing adventure.

Joyce Lohse
www.LohseWorks.com

 
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Posted in Family history, Western history, Western Travel, Writing Life

 

When you lose a friend

03 Nov

Sad Sky

The sky was sad and dark the day I learned my friend Gwyn Ramsey died. In fact, the sky made me think her time had come, and sent me to check her Facebook. After all, that is how we often learn personal news these days. I wasn’t surprised, since she was struggling during her eighth round of battle with breast cancer. While I mourned when she entered hospice the week before, I wrote down some thoughts to share with our writing group, Women Writing the West. This was a list I created for myself:

  1. Send a message to Gwyn. NOW!
  2. Wear a breast cancer awareness lapel pin in her honor.
  3. Find a way to honor this person with a donation that would make her smile.

I did not sleep well that night. At 3 a.m., I got up and wrote a message to Gwyn on a special card. It was a beautiful western scene of two people on horses in the snow, created by an artist friend. I told Gwyn that I always enjoyed our shared research and adventures, and she would always be a part of my journey. I took it to the mailbox first thing that morning. My heart was gladdened to think that it might be sent in time. The rest of the list was easy to follow. The pin was already on my jacket. Since Gwyn was our Raffle Queen, the donation that would make her smile was an antique book by Willa Cather for our WWW WILLA Literary Fund Raffle.

Joyce & Gwyn 09

Joyce and Gwyn in Denver in 2009

We learn of so much that is important in our lives through social media these days. When I saw the news that my friend passed away, I wasn’t sure whether to believe it. I waited a full day before I passed along the message, wondering if it would be confirmed, and it was. I’ve had trouble finding obituaries from other recent losses, and I wonder if obits will become a less used way to announce the end of a person’s life. This would have a large impact on later researchers who are seeking information about personal data.

When a person leaves this life, their internet presence continues. When I later checked Gwyn’s Facebook page, I learned that her husband followed her when he passed away just a couple of weeks later. In its way, the electronic age makes us less connected, but it also binds us closer to people we care about more than 1,000 miles away. Gwyn will also always be present through her books about western history adventure published by Treble Heart Books.

Joyce B. Lohse
www.LohseWorks.com

 

Life After the Titanic

03 May

Survivor CollageBefore we move on from the Titanic disaster and Margaret “Molly” Brown’s heroic actions as a survivor of that tragedy, it is important to note that her life following that event was full of activism. She must have known as she fought for survival that she still had much to do during the rest of her life. Her immediate concern was for other survivors who lost their belongings and loved ones, and suffered terrible losses and difficulties. She organized a survivors’ association while still on the ship, and stayed on the rescue ship Carpathia until each person received care, was allowed to send translated messages to their loved ones, and she made sure all had a place to go from the port in New York City. Although she wasn’t invited to include her testimony with other survivors before a Congressional hearing, she used her connections to tell her version of the story in Denver newspapers. She helped organize a memorial for those who perished, and arranged special recognition of the crew of the Carpathia for coming to the aid of survivors.

The following year, Mrs. Brown briefly ran for Congress until it became apparent that she had no chance of winning her campaign. The following year, she organized Denver women to send supplies and assistance to poor mining families following the Ludlow Massacre in Southern Colorado. While visiting southern Florida, she led guests of the Breakers Hotel to safety when fire broke out. She turned her house in Newport over to the Red Cross during World War I, and traveled to France to help there with the war effort. She helped injured soldiers when they returned from battle, earning the French Legion of Honor Award. She attempted to organize a female military troop, and succeeded in establishing a female coalition for mine operations in Leadville. She supported the arts by organizing art collection displays, and helped mentor young women studying drama. When her life ended, previously arranged gifts arrived for struggling mining families in Leadville, so their families would have presents to open for Christmas. Her life, which continued to be full of adventure, was that of an involved person with intelligence, spirit and purpose.

Joyce B. Lohse
www.LohseWorks.com

 

An Evening with Muffet Brown

13 Apr

Muffet Brown

In Denver, Colorado, we are fortunate to have access to many fantastic resources of Western history in general, and specialized repositories and museums such as the Molly Brown House Museum. The staff at the Molly Brown House has done their usual magical planning by hosting Muffet Brown for the 100th Anniversary of the RMS Titanic Steamship’s Maiden Voyage and ultimate demise in 1912. Last evening, Margaret Brown’s great granddaughter spoke and answered questions to a roomful of history buffs at the historic Brown Palace Hotel. I was able to visit with her briefly, and gave her a copy of my book, Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story.

An Unsinkable Gift

An Unsinkable Gift

Muffet Brown’s presentation was enlightening and entertaining. She is thoroughly charming, intelligent, and a real person. Margaret Brown, her great-grandmother, must be smiling and appreciative of the job Muffet is doing to preserve the family legacy and to share its fascinating part in history in an open and unobtrusive manner. Her opinions and observations are fair and provocative. It was truly a pleasure to hear her speak. While in Denver, she is also visiting school classrooms, and a gala Titanic dinner celebration, which will bring out many historians dressed in period costume.

It occurs to me that descendants of historic figures carry a responsibility to maintain and preserve the stories and artifacts of a time past, to solidify their place in history, share their stories with those who wish to learn more, and to clarify the truth from past events whenever possible. I found this to be true when writing about Eliza Routt, Colorado’s Original First Lady, the first woman to vote in Colorado, and my cousin from my Illinois homeland. Accepting her induction in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame was an honor I will not soon forget.

Joyce B. Lohse
LohseWorks.com