Book Review Thursday: The Secrets of the Notebook: A Woman’s Quest to Uncover Her Royal Family Secret

Even after the author’s family fled Nazi Germany to take refuge in London, they still faced danger as Hitler’s blitzkrieg pounded England.  On the day Eve Haas (nee Jaretzki) turned sixteen her father showed her a piece of family history, a notebook, which contained secrets about her family’s history.  Years later after both of her parents had passed away Eve finally came into possession of the notebook.  Although her family had warned against researching the secrets lodged in the notebook, Eve decided to pursue it nonetheless.  The notebook’s opening inscription alone was intriguing enough to propel her forward, ignoring her family’s warnings. By this time she had a family of her own, having been raised as a non-orthodox, secular Jew.  Her grandmother had been left behind and more than likely suffered death at the hands of the brutal Nazi regime.  The details which began to unfold revealed one startling revelation after another, but in order to get the complete story Eve and her husband had to find a way to access records which at this time were stored in Communist East Germany. The process of discovering her family’s secret history took years of patience and research and Ms. Haas gives a thorough account of  both triumphs and disappointments.  At the heart of what she discovered was a touching love story and the identities of her great-great grandparents, one of which was Prussian royalty (and a distant relative of England’s Queen Victoria).  Due to the treachery of his own family and attempts on his young wife Emilie’s life, Prince August was forced to take extraordinary measures to protect their only...

Felonious Females: Kate “Ma” Barker and Her Wayward Children

She was born Arizona Donnie Clark on October 8, 1873 to parents John and Emaline (Parker) Clark in Greene County, Missouri.  Arizona, or Arrie (and later Kate) as her family called her, grew up on a Missouri farm, and raised as a good Christian went to church and Sunday school. In 1892 she married George Elias Barker, a farm laborer, and together they had four sons: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur and Fred, or Freddie as she liked to call her favorite son.  Kate remained faithful, taking her family to church and singing hymns “with the same lustiness as the rest of the congregation”  George, described as a “mild, inoffensive, quite man who seemed somewhat bewildered by his dominating wife”, was dragged along with the family to church.1 As the saying goes, boys will be boys, but the Barker boys seemed to get in more than their share of trouble in Webb City – petty at first, but eventually escalating into more serious crimes which brought their names into the headlines.  In 1909 sixteen-year-old Herman had been sent to jail for ninety days for receiving stolen property. George purchased a farm in Stone County, Missouri, but Herman left home and went back to Webb City where he got into trouble and landed in jail.  In late June the judge granted clemency for Herman and told him to go home to his family and behave himself.  That didn’t happen, however, after he and Lloyd formed a gang.  By 1910 every one of the sons had been accused of breaking some state law – even little Freddie. In 1915 the family moved to...

Time Capsule Thursday: Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic and the Rise of Public Enemy No. 1

America’s first official kidnapping accompanied by a demand for ransom occurred in 1874 when four year-old Charles Brewster Ross, son of Philadelphia merchant Christian Ross.  The kidnapper demanded ten thousand dollars via an anonymous communication.  Mr. Ross notified the criminal he was willing to negotiate but had offered only three hundred dollars to obtain the release of his son. Charles was never found although his father later offered five thousand dollars in late 1874 for the safe return of his son.  He was satisfied the abductors had been killed on Long Island on December 14 and was begging for information as to Charles’ whereabouts.  Despite the mayor of Philadelphia’s proclamation the following year urging the state legislature to enact a law granting immunity to the person or persons holding Charles, nothing had turned up.   By the end of March all hope would be gone of ever finding him. Until the 1930’s hundreds of kidnap-ransom crimes would be committed, although most were handled as local crimes.  Federal agents only stepped in when a kidnapping had occurred on federal lands such as a national park or Indian reservation.1  That all changed following enactment of the so-called Lindbergh Law in 1932. On January 1, 1934 William Hamm, Jr., 1933 kidnapping victim of the Barker-Karpis gang, was finally getting on with his life, marrying his fiancé Mrs. Mary Hersey Carroll of St. Paul.  (NOTE: In case you missed yesterday’s “Wayback Wednesday” article on the Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic you can read it here).  The trial of his alleged kidnappers, the Roger Touhy gang, was over, resulting in their acquittal.2  In reality it had...

Wayback Wednesday: Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic

In 1934 it seemed to have indeed reached epidemic proportions.  Thousands of times that year readers would find the word “kidnap” headlined in their local newspaper, sometimes more than once in one issue.  Just two years previous the nation had been riveted with news of the kidnapping of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s son, Charles, Jr. On March 1, 1932 Charles Lindbergh’s son had been abducted from the family home and later found dead near their home on May 12.  Richard Hauptman was finally arrested in 1934, tried in 1935, found guilty and executed on April 3, 1936 for the crime of first degree murder.  In 1932 Congress passed a law making it illegal to transport kidnap victims across state lines, the so-called Lindbergh Law.  If a person was not returned within twenty-four hours, the FBI could become involved in the case. The law was amended in May of 1934 in the midst of what many were calling a kidnapping epidemic.  The amendment, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on May 24, 1935, provided for the execution of anyone guilty of interstate kidnapping who had harmed the victim(s).  The term “harm” was left wide-open to interpretation, having not been specifically defined by the amendment. Following passage of the original law and increased FBI involvement in these type of cases, kidnapping crimes were up, however.  It would take more than a year to get the epidemic under control.  By 1936 FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was telling reporters that “kidnaping is well in hand in America”.1  Indeed, every one of the sixty-two kidnappings perpetrated since the Lindbergh law was...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Shafter, The Silver Capital of Texas

This area of Texas is home to just a handful of residents these days, but once boasted a population of four thousand.  The town was named for Colonel (later General) William R. Shafter, commander at Fort Davis, and located about eighteen miles north of Presidio.  It became a mining town after rancher John W. Spencer found silver ore there in September 1880. Shafter had the sample assayed and found it contained enough silver to make it profitable to mine – profitable enough for Shafter himself to invest.  Spencer had thought it prudent to share his secret with Shafter since the area was prone to periodic Indian attacks.  Protection would be needed to carry out successful mining operations. Shafter called upon two of his military associates, Lieutenants John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi to join his venture (and clear the area of unfriendlies).  The following month Shafter and his partners asked the state of Texas to sell them nine sections of school land in the Chinati Mountains.  Eventually only four sections were purchased, but lacking capital the partners leased part of their acreage to a California mining group.  Shafter later obtained financial backing in San Francisco and the Presidio Mining Company was organized in the summer of 1883. The company contracted with Shafter, Wilhelmi and Spencer individually to purchase their interests, each receiving five thousand shares of stock and $1,600 cash.  Bullis had purchased two sections in his wife’s name, but when the company’s manager William Noyes found deposits on the Bullis acreage (valued at $45 per ton), a dispute arose.  Bullis claimed the two sections had been purchased outright...

Monday Musings: Spring Cleaning (and a few odds and ends)

Have you started spring cleaning yet?  I’m not sure if you’d call it spring cleaning, but of late I’ve been trying to organize my life a little better.  I spent a few hours recently cleaning and re-organizing my storage unit and found some long-forgotten stuff (and some stuff I should have forgotten and thrown away a long time ago, truth be told!). Of course, that got me to thinking about the history of spring cleaning.  Whenever or however it all began, it appears to have first been practiced for religious reasons.  For instance, the Jewish season of Passover is preceded by Unleavened Days of Bread – seven days when not a crumb of leavened bread is to remain in the house.  Orthodox Jews would clean their home thoroughly to eliminate the possibility of violating this sacred observance. Traditionally in Eastern Orthodox faiths the home is thoroughly cleaned during the week of Great Lent – the first day being “Clean Monday” or “Pure Monday”.  For the faithful, the week represents a time of spiritual cleansing as well. Excavations to uncover the ancient city of Pompeii began in 1738 following earlier discoveries in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, marking the beginning of the modern science of archaeology.  In 1871 American newspapers were reporting an intriguing discovery, titling the article “Seventeen Hundred Years in the Oven”. One home had been found in a state of repair at the time of the volcano eruption.  The family may have been absent, but evidence of “painters’ pots and brushes and workmen’s tools were scattered about.  Tell-tale spots of white-wash stained wall and floor.”1...

Far-Out Friday: Death By Pimple

I ran across this intriguing subject while researching an early Surname Saturday article about the Pimple surname.  I found several references to so-called “death by pimple” and researched further.  Clearly, the problem was due to lack of an effective way to treat infection prior to the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. That’s not to say doctors didn’t try to treat infections.  There were advertisements galore during the nineteenth century hailing various “miracle cures” for all sorts of maladies, pimples included.  The first instance found in a search of “pimple” at Newspapers.com yielded an article about a suspect in the disappearance of a surgeon who “hath been set upon by some ill people.”  The suspect was described as a “short square man, with an oval Face, red and full of pimples, and is about 60 years of age.”1  Early on, it appears to have been used as a means to identify someone – pimples were a distinct feature. Two months later, in the same publication, an advertisement appeared hailing the efficacy of The Royal Cosmetick, chemically prepared in private practice and formulated to “infallibly free the Face of Worms in the Skin, Pimples, Pustules, Heat, Redness, Yellowness, Sunburnings, Tawnings, Morphew, and such like Defilements.  Being indeed, the greatest, certaintest, the safest restorer, preserver and Improver of a good Complection or Natural Beauty yet known.”2  Pimples have been a problem for ages it seems. According to Receipts and Remedies, published in 1908, the following was recommended.  If pimples weren’t bad a daily morning washing with very hot water and ichthyol soap would be beneficial.  If, however, the condition was persistent an...

Early American Faith: Sophronia Farrington, Missionary to Liberia

Presbyterian minister Robert Finley founded the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States in 1816, convinced that free black people would never be able to fully integrate into American society.  Instead, they would be returned to the “land of their fathers” following manumission. One of the most distinguished members of the society’s founders was Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay who, unlike his fellow Southerners, believed slavery to be a drag on the South’s economy.  Attended by other influential men such as Daniel Webster and John Randolph, the first meeting was held on December 21, 1816 in Washington, D.C.  These men had a goal in mind of ultimately ending slavery by sending free persons of color to Africa, although some of the slave owners like John Randolph were more outspoken about their views.  To Randolph, free blacks were “promoters of mischief.”1 The group, comprised of both slave owners and early abolitionists, were all of the same opinion as Finley:  there was no way for free blacks to integrate fully into American society.  The newly formed society continued to meet over the course of several days and on January 1, 1817 elected its first slate of officers.  George Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, was chosen as president.  Thirteen vice presidents, including Clay and Finley, were joined by a roster of managers, the most prominent being Francis Scott Key.  The first order of business would be presenting their case to Congress. The federal government consented to the provision of funding for the society, assisting in the purchase of land along the coast of West Africa which would eventually...

Book Review Thursday: The Mapmaker’s Children

I really enjoy books like this one: historical fiction with a goal of writing not only a compelling story but educating the reader about a little-known or long-forgotten historical figure.  Such is the case with The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy as she juxtaposes the Civil War era with a strikingly similar modern story set one hundred and fifty years into the future. The narrative alternates between two women: Sarah Brown and Eden Anderson.  Sarah is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, afflicted with a childhood illness which left her barren.  Similarly, Eden is struggling with infertility in the twenty-first century world of hormone injections and the unsuccessful and frustrating attempts to conceive via modern technology. As the story unfolds the reader will eventually get a sense as to the direction it’s heading as the two women’s lives (and their struggles) intersect.  Faced with the inability to bear children, both women struggle to find purpose in life.  For Sarah, she continues to champion her father’s cause by using her artistic skills to paint maps for slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad. On the other hand, Eden struggles with her marriage and the failure to conceive.  Her husband Jack purchases a puppy for her, and although she regards it initially as insensitivity to her emotional needs, she eventually embraces the pet (named Cricket) and finds a way to move on with her life and later become an entrepreneur.  Through a series of clues found in her new home Eden begins to piece together an important historical link to not only the house, but the townspeople who have befriended her.  As...

Military History Monday: Hello Girls of World War I

During World War I they were officially known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, but more informally known as “Hello Girls”.  The United States had been reluctant to join its European allies in the conflict, but when Germany began an all-out effort in early 1917 to sink American vessels in the North Atlantic, President Woodrow Wilson’s hand was forced.  He asked Congress for a declaration of war, “a war to end all wars”.  On April 6, 1917 Congress officially did so, engaging the Germans and hoping to make the world once again safe for democracy. The British had been at war with German for nearly three years when the United States joined the effort.  With their men away fighting the war, large numbers of women were working in munitions factories throughout Britain.  Their work was dangerous as explosives and chemicals caused deaths.  The greatest single loss occurred in early January 1917 when a munitions factory in Silvertown, England exploded due to an accidental fire – seventy-two women were severely injured and sixty-nine perished. President Wilson’s cousin John Wilson was in England at the time and described it as a “terrific crash, accompanied by a red glow in the sky.”1  Another American observed that London was shaken from one end to the other – windows within a twenty-mile radius were shattered.  Perhaps this catastrophic event compelled British officials to find a safer way for women to contribute to the war effort. By early March the decision had been made to find ways for women to serve in other capacities such as cooking, mechanical and clerical tasks.  The women...