Monday, December 7, 2009

The Guinness Book of World Records

Extraordinary Places...Close to London comprises 30 chapters (with another 17 locations close by that may be of interest to travelers). Within the pages, there are short stories of kings and queens, witches, ghosts and Vikings. The book gives a brief history of the village or town and also what a visitor can expect today.

Following is a short excerpt from Extraordinary Places...Close to London.
The Guinness Book of World Records (1998) has Pluckley in Kent, England, as being “the most haunted village in the country.” There are perhaps 12-16 ghosts that are said to appear in and around the village depending on who is telling the tale, but the village has a rich history beyond the ghosts. At least 50 men from the village participated in the Jack Cade Rebellion of 1450 when the rebels, unhappy with the taxes imposed upon them, met with King Henry VI and their leader, Jack Cade. Most men were later pardoned for their involvement and returned to the village unharmed but others were hung, drawn and quartered. In 1610, two local men, Martin Davye and Thomas Fell had an argument that spilled into the churchyard. Davye struck Fell who later died of his injuries. Davye was charged with murder but claimed “benefit of clergy” which meant that he could read and write Latin and was therefore considered an educated man. Because of this claim, the sentence was reduced to manslaughter.

Pluckley has been the home of many influential and powerful families over the centuries, from the Tilman’s who left for America to the Bettenhams and Dering families. The Betttenham and Dering families had a long-standing disagreement concerning the ownership of the coat of arms that was displayed in the church. Each family had a crest depicting a saltire (an x-shaped animal barricade) as the emblem. Both families claimed theirs was the original design and they fought bitterly over the issue for years. Another conflict arose because both families wanted to sit in the most important pew in the church. On one occasion, physical violence broke out between two women from the respective families and Rector John Copley had to intervene.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


One of the first things that struck me when I visited Pompeii a few weeks ago was the pure size of the place. The site is absolutely huge and, instead of staying just a day, I could have stayed a week or more to explore the fantastic ruins. I could clearly imagine how the people lived, went about their everyday lives, and bought and sold their wares. Evidence of the extensive traffic can be seen in the deep ruts in the thoroughfares. One can only imagine the amount of traffic that caused such deep indentations in hard stone.

Between 1860 and 1875, a gentleman called Giuseppe Fiorelli, Director of Excavations at Pompeii began an extensive program to preserve the body forms that were left after Vesuvius erupted. Under mountains of ash, the bodies lay where they had died in 79 AD. Fiorelli used a method that is still in use today. It begins by pouring liquid plaster into the cavity left in the compacted ash by the body. The plaster dried quickly providing a near perfect form of the deceased – whether human or animal - absolutely fascinating!

Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit Herculaneum, a sister city of Pompeii that was also destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted, but I understand from other travelers, it’s well worth a visit too. Perhaps next time!

Please note: "The ascent to the edge of the crater costs 6 Euro. It closes between 3 PM and 6PM depending on the season. It is recommendable to visit the Vesuvius on working days, as locals like to visit it on weekends and this can lead to traffic jams."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tattered Book Cover Event

After publishing five non-fiction books, I was ready to write my first novel. I had this great idea of writing an historical novel based on an ancient Scottish legend. One hundred thousand words later, I knew I needed help, and found it in Laura Pritchett. Every writer should have an editor who is honest and kind, gentle with criticism, and generous with praise. However, Laura is no pushover, and challenges me over and over again – which is what I need.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of getting together with Laura at The Tattered Book Cover in downtown Denver for the release of How the West Was Warmed. Laura, together with several of the forty plus writers who submitted essays, attended the launch of the book. The event hall was packed with more than seventy-five people who afterwards lined up for a copy signed by the contributors. It was a fun event and a great way to spend a snowy afternoon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Woman Writer by Sylvia Kent

Sylvia Kent has written an account of Britain’s oldest society dedicated to women’s writing through its 116-year existence.

Although the Society of Women Writers and Journalists was created very much with women in mind, the concept was the brainchild of a man – an enterprising London philanthropist and newspaperman – Joseph Snell Wood. From its introduction on 1 May 1894, the Society has attracted the company of many of the world’s most famous women writers, journalists, poets, playwrights and associated creative people involved in the wider world of literature, film, music, theatre and entertainment. More than 200 women flocked to its first meeting and membership continued to expand year on year.

Given the small number of women in journalism at the time, almost every practising woman journalist must have applied for membership. Certainly the great names of Victorian media were there, such as American playwright, Pearl Craigie, Lady Sarah Wilson who reported from Mafeking on the Boer War, and Alice Meynell, who nearly became the first female Poet Laureate. Luminaries such as Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes, Richmal Crompton, Margery Allingham, Rebecca West, Radclyffe Hall, Elizabeth Longford, Nina Bawden, Jacqueline Wilson and numerous other well-known authors became members. Our Life President is Baroness Williams of Crosby.

· The first in-depth history of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists.
· Published to commemorate the centenary in 2010 of former President Joyce Grenfell’s birth.
· Explores the lives of some of the Society’s most famous members.
· Illustrated with 100 mono and colour photographs.

Sylvia Kent is a columnist working for Newsquest and a freelance writer. She is Archivist/Press Officer for the SWWJ, Vice-President of Brentwood Writers’ Circle and a Patron of the Essex Book Festival 2009/10. Sylvia has had six books published whilst supporting other writers, particularly in the field of local history, and is a Trustee at the Cater Museum, Billericay, Essex, England.

The Woman Writer
The History of The Society For Women Writers & Journalists
Sylvia Kent
Published on1 November 2009 at £12.99
paperback original ISBN-10 9780752451596

Available from all good bookshops, Amazon and The History Press.
Direct sales – telephone 01235 465577 or
For information about talks or interviews, please contact
Kerry Green at The History Press on 01453 732 512

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Local Brewery in Norfolk, England

On a recent visit to Acle, Norfolk, I had the pleasure of sampling a local beer that was being displayed at a small country market (in the Parish churchyard of St. Edmund no less.) I had to stop and visit with Jason who displayed a fine list of local brew. He gave me a brief history of the brewery.

The Tipples Brewery of Norwich offers ten fine beers with another five that are produced for special occasions. Some of the beers have intriguing names such as "Lady Evelyn which is one of three beers named after ghost stories from the Norfolk Broads. It’s made with a single type of malt so the ale a very pale golden hue. It gets a generous hop addition which lifts the delicate malt flavor. At 4.1% ABV, the beer has a crisp, dry finish which lingers long after the glass has been drained. This beer is available year round."

Another favorite is Topper which is a stout with lots of great flavor and I must not forget Moonrocket with has a heady 5% ABV. A new beer is scheduled for release called Black Forest at 6.3% it is flavorful, strong dark ale.

There are simply too many beers to describe here in detail, but if you’re in Norfolk...try visiting the breweries in Acle and Norwich. For more information go to:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Argo Gold Mine, Idaho Springs, Colorado

The Argo Gold Mine is a must to see if you are visiting Colorado. For years and years, I have driven by and only last week ventured inside. There is a great presentation about gold, silver and other precious metals which is followed by a self guided tour. The mine celebrated its 116th anniversary this year and although much of the 4.16 mile mine is now closed, it is still a fascinating place to visit. The finale is a lesson in gold panning. To actually see flecks of gold in the bottom of the pan as I hit “pay dirt” was very exciting...and I got to keep it! By the way, there is also a museum and a gift shop at the mine.

The mine’s success began with Samuel Newhouse, a young Englishman who, with two other men began the tunnel with $100,000 seed money. An issue of the Idaho Springs News reported on February 10, 1893:

“The object of the corporation is to run a line of railroad west from Denver, through tunnels and over the range to the coast.”

The following excerpt is from the Denver Post, September 24, 1930.

“Samuel Newhouse, one of the great mining men of Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states, died Monday evening at his apartments in the Chateau De Marnes, near Paris, France...he was 77 years old.

For 51 years, the name of Samuel Newhouse in mining circles has been one to conjure with, and since the boom days of 1879 in Leadville he made many millions in Colorado, Utah and Idaho. For many years he had been a resident of Salt Lake City but was a resident of Denver from 1888 to 1896.”

For more information you may visit:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Auditorium (Formally the RLDS Auditorium)

Photo courtesy: Nancy Bishoff

A regular visitor to my blog is Nancy Bishoff and her husband Al. Both are originally from Missouri and had their graduation class at the Auditorium (formally the RLDS Auditiorium). When in Missouri, they often visit the site because it brings back such pleasant memories. Nancy feels the Auditorium is a “must see” for anyone visiting the area.

The following information is from wikipedia:

“Construction of the Auditorium was a massive undertaking, illustrating the vision of church Prophet/President Frederick M. Smith who provided the building's inspiration. Groundbreaking began in 1926 and the building was only completed in 1958.The Conference Chamber was originally supposed to be about 66% larger than it is today. It seats nearly 6,000.Construction was virtually halted during the Great Depression when the church struggled under a massive debt.

The Auditorium houses an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ with 6,334 pipes. It is listed in the top 75 largest pipe organs in the world at World Conferences of the church are traditionally held here every two years in the World Conference Chamber. It is also the site of an annual performance and broadcast of Handel's Messiah by the Kansas City Symphony and the Independence Messiah Choir. In addition to its use by the church, the Auditorium is made available for high school graduations and cultural events in the surrounding area. Numerous dignitaries have spoken in the Auditorium, from Independence native, Harry S. Truman, who spoke during his presidency, to the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Most recently, former United States President Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at the Auditorium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Truman Presidential Library.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Broncos Pre-Season Game

Just last Thursday night, I have the privilege of attending the second pre-season Broncos game of the season. Actually, it was my first ever football game since arriving in America all those years ago. In any case, there I sat in a suite at the 50 yard line (which I guess is really important) eating fabulous ribs, shrimp, crab and helping myself to a full complement of beers, wines and soft drinks. It was a "friendly" or "practice" game against the Cardinals, and I'm glad to say the Broncos won 19-0. Of course, I didn't know what on earth was going on and had to have the plays explained by our hosts each time. But what an experience! It is one thing to see it on the television - it's quite another to see it in real life!

Soon after this photo was taken, players ran from the mouth of the inflatable Bronco as flames shot into the air, and the crowd cheered. The Bronco cheerleaders did a fantastic job of rallying everyone and the game began. At intervals a rider on a spectacular horse galloped across the field to the cheers of the audience. I couldn't take my eyes off the whole thing - was fascinated in fact.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Baby "Doe" Tabor, Leadville, Colorado

The story of Baby Doe is fascinating! She must have been an exceptional woman, full of courage and determination, and well ahead of her time. She went from rags to riches and then back to rags. Honestly, Baby Doe's life is so interesting, I couldn't make it up if I tried. There's simply not enough room here to do her justice, so I encourage readers to purchase a book on her life, and also visit the site.

At a recent trip to Leadville, I had the opportunity to go into Baby Doe's cabin and look around. It's tiny inside but contains many of Baby Doe's personal items. Wonderful photographs of her and her family line the walls, her rocking chair sits in the corner with a kerosene lamp on a table, and her black, threadbare parasol is in a basket by the door. It's all that's left of a once fabulously rich (and beautiful) woman who once owned a mine called the Matchless.

Years after Baby Doe's husband died, she held on to the property hoping it would fulfil her husband's dream of once more "striking it rich" but it was not to be and eventually she was put in foreclosure. In the end, she lived alone accepting the charity and kindness of the present day owners of the Matchless Mine. It's where she died on March 7, 1935.

For more information on the activities and events in Leadville, Colorado go to:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Arena de Verona

Photo and text courtesy: Theresa Francis.

On a warm July evening we join a few thousand others and stroll to the Arena de Verona. We climb the ancient stone steps to our unnumbered seats high above the stage set for Aida. As the seats are not numbered it is necessary to arrive well ahead of the performance. Along with almost everyone else we have a small picnic of cheese and wine. The atmosphere is amazing. Just before the performance begins at 9.15 the people in the plush seats down below start to arrive in their beautiful gowns and evening suits.

If you don't know this opera, it is the story of Aida, an Ethiopian princess enslaved in Egypt where she falls in love with Radames, a young warrior and captain of the guard, who feels the same way for her. When the Ethiopians, led by Aida's father King Amonasro invade Egypt, Radames is chosen to lead the Egyptians into battle.

The Ethiopians are defeated and Radames returns victorious. Among his captives is Aida's father. Out of his love for Aida, he asks the king to release the Ethiopian captives. The king agrees but refuses to release Aida and her father.

Aida's father persuades her to obtain information from Radames about how they can escape. Radames agrees to run away with Aida and tells her the position of the guards they must avoid. Aida and her father flee, but Radames is taken prisoner. He is sentenced to death and will be buried alive in a crypt. Aida returns and hides herself in the crypt to die with him. They accept their terrible fate, bid farewell to life's torment and sorrows and await their death.

Verdi's wonderful music and the voices of the performers fill the arena which is truly remarkable given that there are no microphones in use.

If you have never listened to the music, do try. I defy anyone to hear the 'Triumphal March' at the beginning of Act 2 and not feel their soul fly.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tour de France 2009

Photo and text: Derek Francis

Montélimar – Le Ventoux
17th edition – 170 km
July 20 2009

“The sun was already shining in the streets of Montélimar this morning at 7am for the start of the 17th edition of the l’Etape du Tour Mondovélo.

A record 8500 riders headed on to the roads of the Drôme and Vaucluse departments in their collective quest to climb the giant Mont Ventoux.

Numerous family members, friends and tourists were on hand at the refreshment points at Buis les Baronnies and Bédoin as well as the southern façade of the Mont Ventoux. The climb of the amateurs was achieved in an ambiance worthy of the Tour de France. A majority of those who rode will also line this same route when the professional take their turn this coming Saturday July 25th.

Recently crowned French road racing champion, Dimitri Champion won the event in 5 hours, 11 minutes after a stunning attack on the first inclines of the Mont Ventoux. Jean-Marc Bideau finished runner-up with junior rider Jimmy Turgis completing the podium.

In the ladies’ division, Magdalena De Saint Jean won and finished 74th overall in an incredible time of 5 hours, 47 minutes.

The 7396 riders who crossed the finish line were spoiled by the sweet aroma of lavender and extraordinary scenery along the roads lined with olive, apricot and cherry trees. It is with this pleasing image that we invite you to an all new Etape du Tour Mondovélo.”

The above was quoted from a press release for an annual event known as the "Etape du Tour" which this year boasted 8500 riders at the start.

Following Lance Armstrong's success in the Tour de France, many Americans now travel to watch the race, mainly in the mountain stages, and those fit enough enter the "Etape"(French for “a stage”) which is run on exactly the same route as the Tour itself.

This year it was particularly tough, consisting of 100 miles and finishing on the mountain of Mont Vontoux which is considered to be the hardest of all the mountain stages due to its severity of climbing, up to 6500 feet, coupled with the landscape which is often described as moonscape with no trees whatsoever.

It was the mountain that claimed the life of Tom Simpson, a British racing cyclist, in 1967 due to dehydration and drugs he had taken to combat dysentery. Today a memorial stands just two Kilometers from the finish, and is constantly being visited by cyclists of all nations

This year’s Etape was won in 5 hours by only a few riders with the majority taking up to nine and half hours. The slowest Tour rider was around five and a half hours, the winner achieving 4 hours 39 minutes.

An American Dave Ward, editor of Cycling Utah, travelled from his home in Salt Lake City to compete in the Etape and finished in nine hours, three of which was taken up by the climb. However, not to be deterred, the next day he climbed Mont Vontoux three times as a challenge.

Provence is the most spectacular of regions in southern France with high mountain ranges, wonderful vineyards and, of course the famous Cote d'Azur. No trip to France is complete without a visit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Robinson Caruso by William DeFoe

The novel, Robinson Caruso by William DeFoe was inspired by a character called Alexander Selkirk who was born in Lower Fargo, Scotland in1676. He was the son of a craftsman, a tanner and cobbler who did well in life and wanted the same for his wayward son, but that life was not for Alexander. He yearned for adventure and excitement and found it sailing the high seas. He ran away to sea at a very young age, and never looked back.

Over the years, Alexander Selkirk became an able bodied seaman who questioned authority, and the decisions of the captains he served. On one occasion, he quarreled with the captain of the Cinque Ports suggesting the ship was not sea worthy having been damaged after several attempts of “rounding the horn.” Instead of continuing the journey, Selkirk asked to be left alone on a deserted island with few items to survive a short stay. The short stay turned into four years. During this time, Selkirk became accustomed to his isolation talking to the goats and cats that inhabited the island.

In 1709, Selkirk saw the telltale flag of an English ship. The captain sent a rowing boat towards the island and the men were amazed to see the wild man running back and forth along the beach calling to them. Woodes Rodgers, captain of The Duke, a privateer ship, later recalled “...He (Selkirk) ran with wonderful swiftness through the woods and up the rocks and hills…. We had a bull-dog, which we sent with several of our nimblest runners to help him in catching goats; but he distanced and tired both the dog and men…"

Although now a rich man, Selkirk could not assimilate back in society. Instead he lived in a cave in complete seclusion but later returned to sea where he later died from drinking infected water. He was forty-five years old.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trevi Fountain - Italy

You can hear the fountain long before it comes into view. Walking with other tourists, I could almost feel the growing anticipation and excitement as we neared our destination – and once there, the sight did not disappoint a visitor. I remember a collective gasp as we rounded the corner and the full view of the Trevi fountain appeared before our eyes. It is truly a magnificent sight and one I shall never forget. It is great to see during the day, but I feel it’s best seen at night. It is absolutely charming and almost magical!

The following information was provided by:

Construction of the Fountain
In 1732, Pope Clement XII commissioned Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square. A previous undertaking to build the fountain after a design by Bernini was halted a century earlier after the death of Pope Urban VIII. Salvi based his theatrical masterpiece on this design. Construction of the monumental baroque fountain was finally completed in 1762.

The Trevi fountain is at the ending part of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC. It brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx 20km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water.

The Fountain
The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the girl after whom the aqueduct was named.

Tossing a Coin
The water at the bottom of the fountain represents the sea. Legend has it you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Book Signing at Barnes and Noble, Aurora.

Most people understand the temperamental weather of the Rockies. During springtime, we can often experience sun, rain, hailstones and tornadoes, all in one day! Yesterday was just such a day! Even so, there was a steady stream of customers milling around the Barnes and Noble store at the Southlands Shopping Center in Aurora, Colorado. Last weekend the shopping center was hit by a tornado and, although some damage was done, I’m glad to say the mall has reopened and ready for business.

As usual, the staff at Barnes and Noble was great and well prepared with signs advertising the book signing. Robert Aikens did a wonderful job of promoting the event, and Jack Broekstra did a super job having everything prepared for me and gave announcements during the two hour book signing. A big “thank you” to everyone at the store.
Photo left to right: Jack Broekstra, Assistant Manager and Elizabeth Wallace.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Greensted Church, England and the Leper's Squint

It is believed the tiny church of St. Andrew at Greensted, Essex is the oldest wooden church in the world. Located one mile from Chipping Ongar and approximately 10 miles from Epping, it appears more like a residential home than a place of worship.

The church has a rich and interesting history dating back to 1013 when an ancient chronicler recorded that the body of St. Edmund had been held overnight at Greensted Church before being taken to Bury St. Edmund, Suffolk. There are several items dedicated to St. Edmund inside the church including a beautiful stained glass window and a wood carving of a wolf guarding a severed head. A small opening in the oak wall on the north side of the church is believed to have been a Leper’s Squint, although some now think it may have been a holy water stoup.

There is an intriguing legend attached to St. Andrew’s Church. Following is an excerpt from my book Extraordinary Places...Close to London. The chapter on Greensted is located on page 49.

"He was crowned King of East Anglia on Christmas Day in the year of 855, at the tender age of 15 and died when he was only 29 years old. King Edmund was a good and virtuous ruler who cared deeply for his people but he perished at the hands of Ivar the Dane because he would not renounce his Christianity.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (a detailed account of the history of England covering 1000 years from Roman times to the middle of the 12th century) “…a great heathen force” of Vikings arrived in 865 on the eastern shores of England known as East Anglia. They lost no time in conquering every village in their path; ravaging and pillaging until nothing was left. Then came a threatening message to King Edmund from Ivar, the captain of the Danes, “You will surrender your possessions and your people to me or die.” The king summoned his most faithful bishop for guidance but his suggestion that the king should flee was unacceptable. “…Alas bishop, I would rather die fighting so that my people might continue to possess their native land.” The bishop informed the king that word had just come from the battlefields that his armies were defeated, all was lost and surrender or flee were the only options.

The Chronicles tell us King Edmund was captured, tortured unmercifully and suffered unmentionable terrors. The Dane offered Edmund his life if he would renounce Christ. He would not, and was lashed until he almost died. With every lash he cried Jesus’ name infuriating his captors. Finally, he was tied to a tree and killed by a hail of arrows so that “…hardly a place on his body was not covered with arrows…” He was then beheaded. As a final insult, the pirates hid King Edmund’s head in the forest so that it could not be buried with his body.

Soon after King Edmund’s death, the Britons and some reformed Danes began to regard him as a saint because of his courageous life and honorable death. A shrine was erected and pilgrims traveled from all over Britain to honor this great man.

It is thought the final resting-place for the remains of Saint Edmund is a town called Bury St. Edmunds, in Suffolk, but some believe his remains are in the churchyard at St. Andrews’s church."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nederland, Colorado and the Frozen Dead Man

How did Nederland, Colorado get its unusual name? Well, it began in 1871 when Abel Breed bought the silver-rich Caribou Mine and shipped the silver ore from Caribou Hill, elevation 10,000 feet down to Middle Boulder at approximately 8,000 feet because it was “warmer.”

In 1873, Breed sold the mine to a Dutch company, and the miners nicknamed the town Nederland. A year later, when the town was incorporated, the locals chose Nederland as the official name.

Nederland is notorious for the Frozen Dead Guy, who is celebrated in a winter festival each year. It seems that Bredo Morstoel, a native of Norway visited his daughter Aud and his grandson, Trygve Bauge in Boulder, Colorado. Unfortunately on his return to Norway, he would not survive a second heart attack and on November 6, 1989 died. Trygve and his mother owned land in Nederland and decided to use it as the base for a new business venture. They planned to build a cryonics storage facility and place grandpa there along with other cryonic bodies believing that one day they could be restored to life using advanced technology not yet developed. Bredo’s body was shipped from Norway to America in dry ice, processed with liquid nitrogen in California and eventually sent to Nederland.

Unfortunately, Aud and Trygve's business plan did not work out. Their visas were revoked, and they had to return to Norway leaving poor Bredo behind.

For almost 15 years, Bredo Morstoel has been in the hands of Bo Shaffer who is known locally as the Ice Man. Shaffer has been driving from Denver to Nederland hauling nearly a ton of dry ice up the mountain every month since 1995. It is an expensive trip that is paid for by the family. Mr. Bredo Morstoel still resides in his original steel coffin, packed in dry ice, surrounded by an insulated wooden box and sits in a Tuff Shed overlooking Nederland, Colorado.

For more information go to:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wild Bill Hickok & Dead Man's Hand

Wild Bill suffered from consumption or TB as it is currently known, and so traveled west hoping the clean air would help his condition. It was not only medical reasons that drew him to Deadwood, South Dakota but also the lure of gold. Unfortunately, it would be the death of him because he died on August 2, 1876 at the hands of a drifter called Jack McCall who supposedly wanted to settle a score . He accused Hickok of killing his brother back in Kansas, and so cowardly crept up behind Hickok as he played cards, shooting him in the back of his head killing him instantly. A jury later acquitted McCall believing his story of revenging his brother’s death. McCall spent the rest of his life boasting of killing the infamous gun slinger.

The whole incident should never have happened because Wild Bill, conscious of those who wanted to kill him for the notoriety it would bring always faced the door in a saloon. Although he was ambidextrous and kept two guns in a sash around his waist, he always used his left hand to drink his whiskey leaving his right hand to draw his gun. On that fateful day, he took the only seat available at the card table, a chair that backed to the door and therefore he never saw his killer’s approach. At his death, Hickok was holding a very strong hand, a pair of aces and a pair of eights since known as the Dead Man’s Hand.

Wild Bill Hickok is buried in St. Moriah’s Cemetery, Deadwood with Calamity Jane’s burial site close by.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Linda Berry's Latest

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Linda Berry's latest book Death and the Crossed Wires at the Denver Woman's Press Club. It was a wonderful afternoon as Linda read a short piece from her new book and then fielded questions about the six Trudy Roundtree Mysteries she has penned over the years.

Besides being a member of the Denver Woman's Press Club, Linda is also a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She describes herself as a community arts activist and an insatiable theatre-goer.

For more information on Linda Berry's books go to:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Piracy on the Open Seas (origin Jolly Roger)

It was called the Golden Age of Piracy and had colorful characters such as Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, Blackbeard and Black Bart. These pirates roamed the open seas causing fear and creating havoc from 1698 to 1718. Just the sight of their flag, the Jolly Roger, could bring about the surrender of a much larger ship. Often, a captain would rather lose his ship and merchandise than the lives of his men.

A common tactic for a pirate captain would be to sail without displaying a flag of any kind. Then, once they were close enough for battle, the pirates would hoist their flag to intimidate the merchant vessel’s captain into submission. Over years, the color and design of the flag changed. Originally, the flag was red in color with no emblem; the color indicated the pirates would take no quarter. Later, a black flag replaced the red, and sometime later still, an individual sewed the emblem of a grinning skull complete with crossbones (sometimes cutlasses) on the black flag. Perhaps the flag became known as the Jolly Roger because a pirate’s nickname for the devil was “Old Roger” but the exact origins are unknown.

Acts of piracy were not exclusive to men; there were at least two women pirates. Mary Read and Anne Bonny masqueraded as men and by all accounts were able to manage the work and keep their identity hidden. These women played a small part in the history of piracy, but men such as Blackbeard, alias Edward Teach and Black Bart, alias Bartholomew Roberts are the subjects of legends.

Black Beard stood approximately 6’4” had long black hair and a black beard. He was known to matt his black beard into long tendrils and, to further intimidate his opponents, he would push hemp cords under the brim of his hat and then light the bottom so the cords appeared like a mane. These slow burning fuses around Blackbeard’s head gave him an even more menacing appearance. Blackbeard’s pirate flag had a distinct design. His flag displayed a full skeletal figure holding an hourglass in one hand and a weapon pointing towards a bleeding heart in the other.

Blackbeard favored the seas around South Carolina and was anchored at Ocracoke Island in his sloop, the Adventure, when his career ended. It was here that he died after a battle with Lieutenant Robert Maynard, Captain of the HMS Pearl. It is believed that Blackbeard had been drinking heavily and this may have helped in his demise. Later, on examination of his body, it was determined that his death resulted from 5 gunshot and at least 20 stab wounds. Legend has it that Blackbeard’s crew fulfilled their captain’s request should he die in battle. Those instructions were to remove his head and throw his body overboard. It is said Blackbeard’s headless body swam around the ship several times before it sank to its watery grave.

Bartholomew Roberts, alias Black Bart, was a completely different character to Blackbeard. Black Bart dressed immaculately, supposedly drank only tea (although this cannot be substantiated) and rarely used profanity. He ruled his crew with fierce determination and had them adhere to a code of conduct that included a disability clause stating that any crewman losing a limb or becoming unable to work due injury in battle would receive a portion of the bounty commensurate with the injuries received.

Roberts’ career in piracy lasted only four short years but he was extremely successful seizing over 400 ships. At one time, he had over 500 men manning four ships. Black Bart lost is life in battle after being hit in the throat by cannon fire. His crew weighted his body and threw it overboard in accordance with his previously stated wishes.
Black Bart’s motto: A merry life and a short one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Barber's Pole

When we see one, we know immediately what it means. The red, white and sometimes blue stripe on a pole outside a shop indicates that a barber is hard at work within. The Barber’s Pole has an interesting origin that dates from the Middle Ages. It was associated with the art of bloodletting, leeching, surgery and tooth extractions. After a procedure, the bandages were washed and hung on the pole to dry. As the bandages whipped around in the wind, they formed a spiral, and it’s believed this action began the tradition of a striped pole to indicate a barber’s shop. It is thought the red respresents the blood spilled during surgery and the white the bandages. In England during the late 1800s, a statute was enacted that separated surgical procedures from those performed by barbers. From then on, a red stripe on a pole indicated a surgeon and blue for a barber. This made their places of business easily recognizable for the mostly illiterate population.

The barber’s pole in the photograph is in historic downtown Fort Myers, Florida.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pub Signs in England

Pub signs have been used in England since the 14th century when in 1393 King Richard II ordered landlords to put signs outside their premises so they were easy to identify. Some pubs have maintained the same name for centuries. The signs were highly graphical to make it easy for travelers who would neither read nor write to recognize the name of the establishment. Pubs (or inns if they offered rooms to rent) were often used as landmarks together with churches, milestones and cairns to help a traveler find their destination. Often the signs indicated an allegiance to the crown with names such as “The King’s Head” or “Queen’s Head”, but others signified the area specialty such as “The Lamb and Fleece” (farming) or “The Cutlers Arms” (an area known for their cutlery expertise).

Another visual image used by the innkeeper provided an instant message. When he had brewed a new batch of ale, he would advertise the fact by wrapping a garland around his door post. The sign was instantly recognizable by any traveler who was therefore enticed into the inn for refreshments.

By the way, a pub is actually short for “Public House”. The landlord “invites” an individual into “his house” and therefore reserves the right to decline service and ask an unruly patron to leave his premises.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Smuggling Signals

The Horsey Wind Pump located close to the North Sea was an important instrument in assisting smugglers of wool, brandy and other contraband to avoid the Revenue Men as they scoured the area. The taxes imposed on these items were so high; the local merchants did all they could to avoid paying them and so reverted to smuggling their goods in and out of Norfolk in a clever and ingenious way. If the Revenue Men had been sighted in the area, the wind pump operator was notified and he would stop the sails so they made an X (the Cross of Saint Andrew). When the danger had passed, the operator would put the sails in the sign of a cross + (Cross of Saint George) to indicate the “all clear.” In the absence of wind, a boy would be asked to climb to the sail and his weight would accomplish what the wind could not and the operator would lock the sails in place.
Seeing the coast was clear, the wherry captains who had dumped their contraband overboard and marked the site with a pointer known only to them, retrieved their goods and went on their merry way.
The Horsey Wind Pump is owned and maintained by the National Trust and is in excellent condition. On the site, there is a little tea and gift shop that is open for refreshments.
More on smuggling can be found in my book Extraordinary Places...Close to London page #35 as well as stories on Vikings, kings, queens, ghosts, witches and the witch finder general. ISBN 0-8038-2031-3

Thursday, March 19, 2009

St Edmund King and Martyr, Acle, Norfolk

This wonderful church is approximately 1100 years old. It has a round tower and thought to be of Saxon origin dating from between 850 and 950 AD. It sits quietly in the village of Acle, Norfolk, England and is open daily to visitors. It is built mostly of local flint, brick and rubble, but has a thatch roof giving a pleasing look to this ancient church. Inside, the church is in excellent condition with a 15th century rood screen and interesting information relating to the plagues that swept through the Norfolk countryside. The church is a “must see” for anyone visiting the area. It is also close to the river Bure which is frequented by vacationers.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pink Slip & Others

The dreaded Pink Slip - none of us want to receive one. I’ve been unable to find the origin of Pink Slip although the term has been used for nearly a hundred years. We can only assume that termination notices were once printed on pink paper. There are many work-related terms and phrases that have interesting origins. Some of these sayings we hear almost every day, others may be less familiar to you.

A Cushy Job - A great job with little effort
During World War II a cushy job was one that did not involve danger or too much hard work. An Anglo-Indian term, cushy is derived from the Hindi, Khush, meaning pleasant. It was also used in World War I as a slang word to describe trivial wounds.

Get Sacked - To be fired
This expression originated in the Industrial Revolution in England around 1700. In those days, mechanics were expected to supply their own tools while working in the age-old factories of the period. When a worker was discharged, he was usually given a sack to carry his tools away.

Where There’s Muck There’s Brass - Money can be made from hard, dirty work
At the end of the 17th century in England, pennies, halfpennies and farthings were made in brass because it was less expensive than gold or silver. As a result, a farthing (one fourth of a penny) was worth nothing. This led to the saying; it’s not worth a brass farthing. Since that time, brass has become a slang word for money.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

England’s Hidden Places

The concept for Extraordinary Places...Close to London came to me after almost 20 years of my American friends, associates and colleagues asking the question, “I’ve done all the usual tourism places in England and I’m ready to be more adventurous and seek out those unsual places off the beaten path...” The question was asked so many times, I began a file and handed it a potential visitor. It’s that very information that led to the publication of Extraordinary Places...Close to London.

Included within the pages of Extraordinary Places...Close to London there is the history of Lawrence Washington great-great grandfather of our first President who was treated so poorly by the Parliamentarians that his son (John) left England for the New World. Other stories include kings and queens, Vikings, witches and ghosts. The Guinness Book of Records has Pluckley (Kent) listed as “the most haunted village in the country” boasting between 12-16 ghosts depending on who provides the information.

Although I have listed 30 villages or towns, I have also included another 17 locations I feel are worthy of a visit. Other information includes where to eat, where to stay and travel info from London. Some places can be reached by train but others, because of the location, need to be approached by car.
ISBN: 0-8038-2031-3

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Origins - Valentine's Day and Others

February derives its name from the Latin februa, which signifies the festivals of purification so popular during Roman times.

St. Valentines Day – When lovers traditionally state their affection for each other. Chaucer mentions this special day so we know the expression was used in the 14th century and it is thought to be the day the birds chose their mates for the coming season. The origin is shrouded in mystery with at least three men with the given name of St. Valentine. Some say he was a priest in Rome who died because he helped Christian martyrs. Another theory is that Claudius II decreed that unwed soldiers made for a better army of men than those with a wife and family. Believing this is to be a bad decision, St. Valentine secretly wed some soldiers to their beloved ladies. Yet another theory is that a certain St. Valentine while in prison fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and just before he was put to death, he sent a letter to the young girl and signed it “from your Valentine.” In the end, none of this matters because St. Valentine won the day because his name has been forever immortalized.

Warms the Cockles of the Heart – To make one feel warm and emotionally happy.
As a person of English heritage, I find this phrase particularly interesting because the cockle is a small shellfish that is widely available throughout England and doesn’t appear to have anything to do with warming or hearts. The real origin is the Latin term cochleae cordis meaning “ventricles of the heart” and obviously warming the ventricles means reaching the depths of ones heart or emotions.

To Wear One’s Heart on his Sleeve – To show one’s affection openly. Some believe the origin of this phrase lies in ancient times when knights wore the scarves or kerchiefs of preferred maidens on their sleeves thus displaying their emotions openly. We do know for sure that in 16th century England, Valentines were exchanged and that if a man was truly smitten by a woman, he wore the heart-shaped Valentine of his beloved on his sleeve.

Love me; Love my Dog. John Heywood first used this term in his collection of proverbs that was published twenty years before Shakespeare’s birth. The expression is almost a 1000 years old and was used by St. Bernard (no relation to the breed of dog) who used it in a sermon “Qui me amat, amet et canem meum” (“Who loves me will also love my dog.”)

Love Apples – A mistake in etymology and a legend is born. At one time, tomatoes were known as “love apples” and thought to be an aphrodisiac. Originally, tomatoes grew in South America and were imported to Spain soon after Columbus discovered the New World. The apples migrated to Morocco and finally Italy, where they were known as pomo dei Moro (apple of the Moors). Evidently, a romantic Frenchman translated this incorrectly to read pomme de’amour (love apple) and legend was born.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Peddle Power in San Diego

Mikael (Michael) makes his living ferrying visitors back and forth along the promenade in San Diego. For a modest fee (depends on the journey) the "human taxi" provides not only a relief on a hot summer's day and a running commentary on the history of the area, but he also gives advice on the best ferry rides and recommends a place to eat.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bob Hope and the Military

It is hard not to shed a tear when visiting Tuna Harbor Park in San Diego, California. The exquisite sculptures of the men and women who served our country and gave their lives is something not to miss.

Here Bob Hope is captured in time as he entertains the troops in his Army fatigues. He holds a microphone from the 40s as he addresses 16 men and women all beautifully sculptured. Everyone is laughing, some clapping and obviously cheering as they enjoy the show. Some are fully dressed as others look as though they've rushed from their duties because they are still wearing their standard-issue drawstring pants and boots before grabbing a box to sit and enjoy the fun, their dog tags hanging at their backs.
The sculpture of the young sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square us titled "Unconditional Surrender" and is on temporary loan from the Sculpture Foundation, Inc.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stephen King at the Stanley Hotel

As a fan of Stephen King and living in Colorado, I just had to go and stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park where it is reputed Mr. King wrote the blockbuster novel (and film) The Shining. As a writer, I stood outside the room he used and tried to imagine what it must have been like all those years ago when the idea for the novel came into his mind. I could envision him feverishly pounding the story out behind that closed imagine my disappointment when I discovered he was living in Boulder at the time and actually wrote the book almost 40 miles away.

The Stanley Hotel is a wonderful place to stay. While I was there, a wedding reception was in progress and happy people were milling around in lovely clothes, posing on the magnificent Georgian staircase and in the grounds. It's a great place to hold an event and the staff are professional and friendly.

Not long after visiting the Stanley, having published several nonfiction books, I was inspired to write my first novel (Forbidden). One year and 78,000 words later - I can happily say "I'm done!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Princess Pocahontas at Gravesend

Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia. She was one of many children born to the chief and his many wives, and was reportedly one of his favorite daughters. She was a loving and cheerful child with a pleasant disposition and was given the name Matoika which means “Little Wanton.”

In 1607, Pocahontas and her Algonquian tribe met the first Englishmen to land on the shores of Virginia. Much has been written about that first meeting and the fact that Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith. There may be some truth to the story, but it is generally assumed their first encounter has been romanticized over the years. However, the man who stole Pocahontas’s heart was another settler called John Rolfe. Rolfe loved Pocahontas but would not marry her until she became a Christian. This she did and took the name of Rebecca Rolfe. In 1616, Rolfe, his wife and their young son Thomas, travelled to England, a journey that would be disastrous.

After a whirlwind visit that included much of London’s society, Pocahontas was presented to King James I. She was considered a fine young woman and treated as a princess by the court of King James. Eventually, the young family made plans to return to Virginia but on the eve of their journey, Pocahontas became seriously ill, possibly with an advanced stage of tuberculosis. She was taken ashore at Gravesend where she died. She was buried at the Parish Church of St. George at Gravesend. It is said her last words to her husband were "all must die. 'Tis enough that the child liveth." Pocahontas was 22 years old at her death.

The memorial reads:

“Princess Pocahontas, the first North American Indian to become a Christian, who had been received at the Court of King James I died as she began her return journey to Virginia and was buried in the chancel of the church on 21 March, 1617.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mayan Ball Game

Imagine playing a game that if you win or lose it might mean the end of your life!

Evidence of the Mayan Ball Game can still be seen in many ruins in the jungles of Mexico and Honduras as can be seen in this photograph I took at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan recently.

It is believed the game was played with a hard rubber ball that participants had to through the vertical ring located at the top of the wall in order to score. The ball was not allowed to touch the ground during the competition and had to be kept in motion by using various parts of the men’s bodies, with the exception of the hands. The thighs and upper torso were the main parts of contact with the ball, although the lower parts of the body were also used. Sometimes, a ‘yoke’ was placed around the waist of a player which helped him direct the ball towards the desired goal.

There do not seem to be any firm rules or regulations in regard to the actual size of the courts that have been found around the world, but the court at Chichen Itza measures 12 meters high by 166 meters long and 68 meters in width. Another interesting point at the site are the carvings on the walls. These carvings depict serpents that are intertwined -- one can only imagine their meaning.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

St. Fillan's Cave

Pittenweem, ‘the place of the cave’ gets its name from the legend of St. Fillan, the 7th century missionary to the Picts. He is said to have lived in a cave in one of the wynds and had a luminous left arm by which he saw to read and write.

The cave has traditionally been associated with St. Fillan although there are stories of other saints that have lived in the area. Some evidence found in the graveyard at St. Monans (another great place to visit in Pittenweem) suggests that pilgrims came from many locations including Spain (Santiago di Compostella).

Inside the cave it is quiet, peaceful and has a spiritual atmosphere. It is still a place of pilgrimage where Christian services are still held from time to time.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dewar's Whisky & The Angel's Share

On a recent trip to Scotland, I had the pleasure of taking a tour at the Dewar's Distillery in Aberfeldy. It was built by John and Tommy Dewar in 1898 and is a great place to visit. The heritage tour begins in the old malting barn where you can spend as much time as you wish exploring the history of Dewar's. The guided distillery tour then takes you through the whole craft of making whisky, from milling, mashing and fermentation and into the Still House for distillation, and finally maturation. According to our tour guide (who was very good indeed) Scottish law requires that spirit must be stored for a minimum of three years before it can be sold as Scotch Whisky. At the Aberfeldy Dewar's distillery they allow their whisky to mature for a much longer period. They offer a Single Malt Whisky at 12 and 21 years old - both absolutely excellent and highly recommended.

There was a little mystery attached to the spirit because as it matured in the casks almost 2% "disappeared" every year. There were lots of suggestions as to who were the culprits but it was later determined the spirit merely evaporated and therefore was given the delightful term "the angel's share".