The Lost Claddagh Ring of Playa Juanillo

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESToday’s date is October 4th, 2018. If, while combing Juanillo Beach outside Punta Cana, Dominican Republic or snorkeling or just wading around, you’ve found a man’s ring matching the one pictured (that’s a golden Claddagh design with a woven, encircling braid over a platinum band), with an inscription on the inner band that reads S.L.B. to E.M.E. and the date March 2nd, 2002 within, oh….1-60 years of today, please contact me through emerdelac@gmail.com. It has great sentimental value. It’s the ring I was married in, you see, and I wore it as I held my three children for the first time. I’d love to know it turned up.

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If you’ve happened upon this ring at some later date, maybe in the far flung future….well, you might be wondering what the story is behind it. I put this up as a courtesy. I don’t know about you, but I dislike untidy ends and unresolved mysteries.

IMAG3644I’m Ed Erdelac, and I write under the full name Edward M. Erdelac, to differentiate myself from my father, who is Edward Gerald Erdelac.  As of this writing I’ve done thirteen novels, and short stories all over the place, a couple times for Star Wars, if that’s still a thing. If this is a complete digital footprint, you can see all that elsewhere on the page. I set out to be rich and move mountains, but I’m just about the most outwardly unlucky person on the earth. You will probably think me losing my wedding band after it riding sixteen years safely on my finger is evidence of this. Here I am, pictured the day before. The ring is out of frame and I am blissfully unaware of the disaster impending. It was actually my birthday on the 28th. Hah!

IMAG3669I lost it clowning around in the waters off Juanillo Beach. It was our first trip out of the United States. My wife was a bridesmaid and we accompanied a dear friend and her family on a big honeymoon excursion to the Caribbean.  Funny enough, the bride joked to my wife to go and check on her new husband, see if he had lost his brand new wedding band yet. We’d had about a half-dozen pina coladas a piece and were just horsing around. I was trying to master a paddle board when my wife waded up, wearing that red swimsuit pictured here, and with a look of shock and a bright smile, held up her hand and pointed to her wedding band.

It took me a minute to figure out what she was trying to say, then I looked down and saw the white stripe where my ring had been since the day we’d married at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois during a blizzard, surrounded by a handful of our closest and most steadfast friends and family at the time. I’ve spent nearly seventeen years with that ring. Sure I’ve taken it off, but it’s never fallen off. I’ve swum every day of the summer with my kids and it hasn’t slipped off. I’ve surfed in Los Angeles and it stayed with me.

I sobered immediately, no longer a besotted Bilbo, but a mumbling, wide-eyed Gollum. I got the groom’s snorkel and mask and went to my hands and knees. I think I must have spent thirty minutes crawling along the bottom of that stretch of beach, clawing at it with my hands, praying to God it would somehow show up, knowing it wouldn’t, the only sound my own breathing and the occasional invocation of ‘Jesus.’  Today my back is lobster red and starting to raise into boils. I tried like hell to find that thing you’re holding.  I sifted through the muck of sargasso piled on the beach for another ten minutes, until the excursion guides from our hotel, the Al Sol, told me we flat out had to go. They took pictures of my wife’s ring, assured me that would keep an eye out for it.

I was the last one to leave the beach.

My friends consoled me, telling me we could get a new one made, they had connections to good jewelers, etc.

We’re not well off people by any means, so the monetary loss is almost as significant as the sentimental one. I have no idea what it costs to make a ring like that today. I’m not a successful writer by any visible measure. I think, if you’re reading this from the far future, it may be a more difficult feat to find a copy of one of my (lucky) thirteen novels than it will have been to have extracted this old wedding band from the piles of wet sand at the bottom of the Caribbean, or under eons of Dominican beach.

But, that’s who I am, or who I was. I liked telling stories, and this was the story behind that mysterious ring.

IMAG3674Oh also, my wife and I designed it. We wanted a Claddagh and a winding knot to represent the interconnectedness of our two lives, how we were weaving them together.  Claddaghs only came with a plain band. Funny enough, on the boat ride out to Juanillo, we explained all this to the groom. We were proud of the design. Moreso because we had a guy in Los Angeles make them for us, and a couple years later Seth Rogen’s character in the movie Pineapple Express gave it to his girl. When my wife Sandra stopped in the jeweler’s later, she saw the musician Vince Neil pictured with one behind the counter.  She asked in amazement if that were our design, and the jeweler sheepishly admitted it was. I guess he thought we were gonna sue him or something, but we just sort of laughed it off. It was a good story to tell, and I like telling stories, like I said.

Now let me tell you the best story out of this whole thing, which is not a story I told, but the story my wife told to me as I sat tearful and crushed on a rowdy bus of drunks heading for Hoyo Azul, The Blue Hole, a 300ft deep subterranean pool at the foot of an I-don’t-know-how-tall cliff at Scape Park, our final destination that day.

I had wanted to give those rings to our grandchildren someday, and I had, in my mind, ruined it.  I’d lost a precious heirloom and though I didn’t say it to her, I felt like the whole incident was emblematic of how I had regarded my marriage and my life up to that point. I had taken it for granted, not paid it enough attention or appreciated it, and it had slipped away.

I’m not a great husband, you see. I’ve never been unfaithful to my wife; this isn’t that kind of story. But in my heart, I have been selfish, or self-centered. I live out lives in my mind. I daydream. And between worrying over those inner worlds, and raising three kids, and just occupying my time with trivial things to wind down, I think I am very often a neglectful husband. I am sometimes short tempered, and befuddled by the world. I half-listen, and I miss things a lot.

But this I heard.

Sandra told me that our marriage wasn’t a piece of jewelry. She said that when she came out in the water to pester the groom and then saw the lack of ring on my finger, she was only sad an instant. She looked at me, and at the ocean around, and the waves on the beach, and instantly accepted that it was gone. Even as I started cursing and snatched the groom’s mask and snorkel and dove into the water, she knew I would be there till the bus left, because that was how I was, and what I had to do. She resolved not to interfere, but was already going over in her mind how to replace it.

She’s practical and unflappable like that, and that’s maddened me and others around her in the past, but we’re all wrong.

On the bus later, holding my hand across the back of this pretty Brazillian guy taking endless selfies with his just as pretty boyfriend, and much later at a dim outdoor restaurant, she told me, in answer to my sobbing lament that I had wanted the kids to have our rings, or their kids to have them, she told me the rings were just metal, and we put too much worth into material things. What matters is the stories behind them. The stories are how our children will remember us to our grandkids. Stories remembering love with humor and irony and affection and even sadness; those are the things our descendants will treasure, long after the last person to touch that lost ring is gone.

So we got off the bus and we held hands and walked through the jungle, and one of the bridesmaids told me we could have a party and renew our vows when the new ring’s made, and that now we had a reason to return here, and I said, “Yeah, with a metal detector.”

Sandra said we will melt down her ring and use a portion of it to cast the new one for me, so it’ll still be the sixteen year old metal that we joined our lives with symbolically.

Sandra’s story is a better one than mine, even though she’s never written a book yet (she’d probably nail it if she did). She grew up in the housing projects of Chicago where she had nerve damage in one ear from some kid shooting off a pistol too close. She lost her mother at sixteen, had a son by a boy who didn’t stay around, her father went off elsewhere. She raised herself, and her son Jonathan, got her GED, and a university education around the time we met. Early in our marriage she got her Master’s, and she spends her days as a Marriage and Family Therapist opening a heart as big and warm as the Dominican sun to total strangers, helping them sew their lives back together like the interwoven band on our wedding rings. I actually learned over the weekend that the bride, her first boss here in California, hired her having been impressed by her story. She handed out custom made robes to her bridesmaids, with nicknames she had given them. Sandra’s is ‘Bootstraps.’

She’s the strongest, loveliest, wisest woman I’ve ever known.

And that’s why, despite all my outward misfortunes, despite being an unsuccessful writer and losing my wedding ring in the ocean, I’m the luckiest man alive.

We dove off that whatever it was height into that icy blue water, the cleanest I have ever known, which the guides told us could turn back the clock ten years if you stayed in for a half an hour. When I came out, the hurt over that lost ring was fading a little, though today its imprint hasn’t quite faded from my finger.

I have not lost our love, after all, just a ring. My wife Sandra Lynn Botello is the queen of my heart, and I keep her inside, as the two hands of the Claddagh touch the crowned heart of the ring.

So if you’re reading this from the future and we’re gone and you’ve found this ring, I hope it brings you joy. Buy yourself a good life with it if you can, or give it to someone who matters to you. Tell them the story behind it, and make a good story with it going on. It was actually Sandra’s idea to post this all over the place. She said I should leave a good digital trail for whoever finds it in the future.

So pass this around.

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Hasta luego.

ADDENDUM:
(I’ve got an update to this post now….read here)

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My Favorite Americans: Temple Lea Houston

Every July 4th I dedicate this space to a person in American history whom I admire. I’ve peppered this space with bold men and women who stood up for just causes and risked life and limb, often making the ultimate sacrifice, often standing against the unjust policies of this very government. John Brown, Silas Soule, Mary Elisabeth Bowser, Geronimo….

But this year I felt like a lighter entry, and so I turn your attention to the mostly unsung offspring of Sam Houston, the Old Raven and Father of Texas. Sam Houston is a fascinating guy, perhaps a man worthy of this space in his own right, but it’s his son Temple Lea I’m concerned with here. I wrote a screenplay about him years ago that nobody’s taken to yet. Maybe one of these days.

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Anyway, Sam Houston died when Temple was three years old, having abdicated the governorship of Texas after refusing to swear loyalty to the Confederacy.  Temple was the only one of Houston’s eight children to be born in the governor’s mansion. At thirteen he landed a job on a cattle drive to Great Bend, Kansas, and caught a steamboat all the way down to New Orleans working as a night clerk.

In New Orleans he met Texas Senator James Winwright Flanagan, an old friend of his father’s, who secured him a job as a page in the Senate in Washington DC, where he worked for three years.

He graduated with honors in law and philosophy from Baylor in 1880 after completing his courses in nine months and became the youngest practicing lawyer in Texas at 20 in Brazoria, where he met his and married his wife (on St. Valentine’s Day), Laura Cross. Maybe he was brilliant, or maybe his pedigree accelerated his career. His father was beloved, after all.

An announcement in the Brenham Weekly Banner about the graduating class of Baylor reads;

“He is a young man of steady, temperate habits and a hard student; he won the J.M. Williams medal for the best logical speech on commencement day. Temple stands upon the battlefield of life with high aspirations, and we believe, with energy to carry them through.”

He was already a renowned orator, and in 1882, at the age of 22, he was appointed district attorney for the 35 Judicial District of Texas, which comprised 26 unorganized and wild counties of the Texas Panhandle. Settling in Fort Elliott and later Mobeetie in Wheeler County, this is where his personality starts to shine in the accounts. Riding far and wide through his district, he shunned hotels, preferring to sleep outside, often in the various cattle camps, where he got the nickname Lone Wolf of The Canadian. He was a good father to his five children, one of which, Louise, only lived two years. Contrary to the popular practices of the time, he reportedly never beat them.

Maybe there was something about growing up in the huge shadow of his father that induced him put on such a big show.

“He loved clothes,” his wife Laura wrote. “He would dress up in a yellow-beaded vest, Spanish caballero-style trousers and sombrero with a great silver eagle on it, and go to Kansas City on railroad business. Of course, he attracted a lot of attention. When people asked why I let him dress that way, I would say, ‘That’s why I married him – because he was different.’ ”

Around this time the story got out that he bested Bat Masterson and Billy The Kid in a shooting contest in Tascosa. The story’s almost certainly apochryphal as Henry McCarty was already dead by now (unless you subscribe to the Brushy Bill Roberts theory). Maybe he let it out himself, or at least, didn’t deny it. It was true that he was a sure shot with his nickel plated pearl handled pistol, a skill that would come into play later.

Defending hapless cowboys became a staple of his early career. Supposedly he was appointed to the defense of a young horse thief, and begged the marshals to give him time alone with his client advise him.

After a few minutes the marshals broke into the room to find Temple sitting alone, the window open.

“Well boys,” he said, “I gave him the best advice I could give.”

In 1884 he was elected to District 19 of the Texas Senate for a single term. Asked to speak at the dedication of the Texas State Capitol, he wowed constituents, who pushed him to run for U.S. Senate.

When he expressed his own doubts about carrying a statewide election, somebody urged him to ‘just stand on your father’s name, and you will win.’

Outraged, Temple declared;

“A man is only what he makes himself!”

He departed the meeting and refused the opportunity.

“I care not to stand in the light of reflected glory. Every tub must stand on its own bottom.”

Maybe he saw that he could never shake his ‘son of Sam’ appellation in Texas.

In 1893 he participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush, and settled with his family in Woodward, Oklahoma, leaving Texas behind, much to the ire of the notoriously proud populace. He became an attorney for the Atchison Topeka-Santa Fe Railroad.

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Temple’s Home Office

He befriended Kwahadi Comanche chief Quanah Parker, and the Comanche were reportedly frequent guests in his home, pitching tipis in his backyard when they passed through town. He was a collector of Indian artifacts, and an expert on Aaron Burr and Napoleon.

 

In Oklahoma, his legend grew by leaps and bounds, and numerous amusing anecdotes about him pop up.

One of the most famous is his bizarre defense of a hapless horse thief who gunned down the horse’s owner before he had a chance to draw.

Approaching the jury box, Temple asked the jurors to consider the reputation of the deceased as a notorious gunman, and the fear with which the defendant (“an ordinary, hard-working citizen….little experienced in the use of firearms”) regarded him.

He explained that the victim was “so adept with a six-shooter that he could place a gun in the hands of an inexperienced man, then draw and fire his own weapon before his victim could pull the trigger—like this!”

Temple then proceeded to draw his own revolver and rapidly fan six shots (all blanks) at the startled jury, whose members fled in every direction, jumping out the courtroom windows and following the onlooker out the doors into the street.

The judge threatened Temple with contempt, but he apologized, explaining he only “wanted to show what speed this dead man possessed.”

After the restoration of order, Temple’s defendant was quickly found guilty….but he immediately motioned for a mistrial, citing that the jury had dispersed and mingled with the crowd, and was at such time no longer properly sequestered. He won his mistrial, the case was heard again with an impartial jury and a new judge, and Temple won his client’s freedom.

Not every case turned out so well.

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He developed a rivalry with the Jennings clan, lawyers Ed and John and their father, Judge J.D.F. Jennings. Arguments between the legal teams in a property case in October 1895 grew heated, with Temple proclaiming Ed Jennings ‘grossly ignorant of the law’ and Jennings calling him a liar and lunging at him. Guns were drawn, bailiffs separated them, and court was adjourned.

Temple and ex-sheriff Jack Love went over to Jack Garvey’s Cabinet Saloon, and at nine o’clock the Jennings brothers entered, backed by their cousin, a gambler named Handsome Harry. The Jennings brothers went directly to Temple and Jack Love’s table, whereupon Temple suggested they settle their business outside.

“We can settle it inside,” Ed purportedly said, and the two attorneys drew their guns, one of the first shots knocking out the lights.

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Al Jennings

Whether Temple killed Ed Jennings with a shot to the head or his brother John accidentally killed him somewhere in the ensuing gunfight (in which fifteen to twenty shots were reportedly fired) is unclear, but Temple (acting as his own defense) was acquitted for acting in self defense. John Jennings, wounded in the shoulder left lawyering. His brother Al Jennings swore revenge, but never made good on it (although possibly he tried – later in Enid, Temple was blown from his saddle by an unseen shooter. He had been carrying a thick copy of the Oklahoma Statutes though and the book stopped the bullet) going on to a middling outlaw life and a career as a consultant in early western movies, once getting into a brawl with the actor Hugh O’Brien.

A year later, the Jennings patriarch Judge J.D.F Jennings, passed Temple’s eleven year old son Sam coming home from school in front of his house and spit in the boy’s face. Temple marched up to him (again, in the Cabinet Saloon), pressed the muzzle of his gun to the judge’s chest, and killed him.

He pleaded guilty, saying “It was my life or his,” and was fined $300.

The greatest moment of Temple Houston’s career, for which he is most remembered, is undoubtedly the legendary Plea For A Fallen Woman, also known as The Soiled Dove Plea.

In 1899, a woman named Minnie Stacy was charged with prostitution, and told the judge she had no money for an attorney, or for bail.

Temple, in court for another case, but in earshot, stepped forward and asked to defend her. He took her aside for ten minutes, and then delivered this address to the court, entirely extemporaneous;

Gentlemen of the jury: You heard with what cold cruelty the prosecution referred to the sins of this woman, as if her condition were of her own preference. The evidence has painted you a picture of her life and surroundings. Do you think that they were embraced of her own choosing? Do you think that she willingly embraced a life so revolting and horrible? Ah, no! Gentlemen, one of our own sex was the author of her ruin, more to blame than she.

Then let us judge her gently. What could be more pathetic than the spectacle she presents? An immortal soul in ruin! Where the star of purity once glittered on her girlish brow, burning shame has set its seal and forever. And only a moment ago, they reproached her for the depths to which she had sunk, the company she kept, the life she led. Now, what else is left her? Where can she go and her sin not pursue her? Gentlemen, the very promises of God are denied her. He said: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” She has indeed labored, and is heavily laden, but if, at this instant she were to kneel before us all and confess to her Redeemer and beseech His tender mercies, where is the church that would receive her? And even if they accepted her, when she passed the portals to worship and to claim her rest, scorn and mockery would greet her; those she met would gather around them their spirits the more closely to avoid the pollution of her touch. And would you tell me a single employment where she can realize “Give us our daily bread?”

Our sex wrecked her once pure life. Her own sex shrink from her as they would the pestilence. Society has reared its relentless walls against her, and only in the friendly shelter of the grave can her betrayed and broken heart ever find the Redeemer’s promised rest.

They told you of her assumed names, as fleeting as the shadows on the walls, of her sins, her habits, but they never told you of her sorrows, and who shall tell what her heart, sinful though it may be, now feels? When the remembered voices of mother and sisters, whom she must see no more on this earth, fall again like music on her erring soul, and she prays God that she could only return, and must not — no — not in this life, for the seducer has destroyed the soul.

You know the story of the prodigal son, but he was a son. He was one of us, like her destroyers; but for the prodigal daughter there is no return. Were she with her wasted form and bleeding feet to drag herself back to home, she, the fallen and the lost, which would be her welcome? Oh, consider this when you come to decide her guilt, for she is before us and we must judge her. They (the prosecution) sneer and scoff at her. One should respect her grief, and I tell you that there reigns over her penitent and chastened spirit a desolation now that none, no, none but the Searcher of all hearts can ever know.

None of us are utterly evil, and I remember that when the Saffron Scourge swept over the city of Memphis in 1878, a courtesan there opened wide the doors of her gilded palace of sin to admit the sufferers, and when the scythe of the Reaper swung fast and pitiless, she was angelic in her ministering. Death called her in the midst of her mercies, and she went to join those she tried to save. She, like those the Lord forgave, was a sinner, and yet I believe that in the days of reckoning her judgment will be lighter than those who would prosecute and seek to drive off the earth such poor unfortunates as her whom you are to judge.

They wish to fine this woman and make her leave. They wish to wring from the wages of her shame the price of this meditated injustice; to take from her the little money she might have — and God knows, gentlemen, it came hard enough. The old Jewish law told you that the price of a dog, nor the bite of such as she, should come not within the house of the Lord, and I say unto you that our justice, fitly symbolized by this woman’s form, does not ask that you add to the woes of this unhappy one, one only asks at your hands the pitiful privilege of being left alone.

The Master, while on Earth, while He spake in wrath and rebuke to the kings and rulers, never reproached one of these. One he forgave. Another he acquitted. You remember both — and now looking upon this friendless outcast, if any of you can say to her, ‘I am holier than thou’ in the respect which she is charged with sinning, who is he? The Jews who brought the woman before the Savior have been held up to execution for two thousand years. I always respected them. A man who will yield to the reproaches of his conscience as they did has the element of good in him, but the modern hypocrite has no such compunctions. If the prosecutors of the woman whom you are trying had brought her before the Savior, they would have accepted His challenge and each one gathered a rock and stoned her, in the twinkling of an eye. No, Gentlemen, do as your Master did twice under the same circumstances that surround you. Tell her to go in peace.

The jury acquitted Minnie Stacy unanimously after a few minutes’ deliberation.

Word of the speech traveled beyond the Oklahoma Territory, and the court stenographer was inundated with requests for copies.

Newspaper lauded it as “the most remarkable, the most spellbinding, heart-rending tear-jerker ever to come from the mouth of man.” It was even put on display in the Library of Congress.

The story goes that Minnie Stacy became a washerwoman in Canadian, Texas and died there in the 1930s, a reformed Methodist.

As for Temple, there was talk of a gubernatorial nomination, but days before his 45th birthday (and two years before Oklahoma statehood) he suffered a brain hemhorrage that left him blind and confined to bed, possibly brought on by years of suffering from St. Anthony’s Fire, a bacterial infection that drove him in his later years to intemperance.

Texans had a long memory, and while the Dallas Times-Herad declared backhandedly that he was ‘a chip off the old block, he had great gifts and strong passions. The gods were kind to him — he was not kind to himself.’

Contemporary attorney R.B. Forrest, said of him, “He could touch a heart of stone in painting its sorrows. He seemed to feel the agonies of others and portrayed them with electric power.”

The novelist Edna Ferber modeled her character Yancy Cravat after Temple Houston in the 1929 novel Cimarron, which was adapted twice in 1931 (and won the Academy Award) and 1960.

Maybe sometimes you don’t have to have a hand in world changing events. Sometimes it’s enough to show compassion in life, to be a good father, a good friend, to say the write words when they’re needed, and hope you’re a good son. Volatile, bigger than life, but very human, Temple Lea Houston’s one of my favorite Americans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on July 4, 2018 at 1:07 am  Comments Off on My Favorite Americans: Temple Lea Houston  
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My Favorite Americans: Captain Silas Soule

The last couple Independence Days I’ve chosen a person from the country’s past to write about. I’ve previously covered African American intelligence operative Mary Elizabeth Bowser, abolitionist John Brown, and the Chiricahua guerrilla leader Geronimo. This year, I figured I’d write a bit about an obscure personality, but one I’ve admired since running across his name my senior year of high school, Silas Stillman Soule.

Silas_SouleSilas Soule was born in Bath (or Woolwich), Maine in 1838 to an abolitionist cooper, Amasa Soule. At the age of 17 his family moved to the small community of Coal Creek south of the free state oasis of Lawrence, Kansas as part of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. At this time the Kansas Territory was in the midst of a bitter partisan battle for its very soul, with Missouri and the north pouring in pro and anti-slavery settlers respectively to swing the popular vote on the question of whether it would be admitted into the Union as a slave or free state. Kansas swiftly became a battleground, a prelude to the Civil War, with pro and anti slavery neighbors eventually clashing in open guerrilla conflict. This was the same environment in which John Brown and his sons hacked a group of pro slavery settlers to death with swords and the anti-slavery or Jayhawker capitol of Lawrence was actually attacked and burned.

By 1859 Soule and his family had established their home as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and regularly escorted escaped slaves to freedom. John Brown was a regular guest, and became a good friend of the family.

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The Immortal Ten, Silas Soule 2nd from the right

Twenty pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri crossed into Kansas and overtook a party of thirteen slaves led by anti-slavery man Dr. John Doy headed for Iowa. The slavers were captured and resold and Doy was sentenced to five years in the pen. He was incarcerated at St. Joseph, Missouri.  Abolitionist James B. Abbott put together a group of ten men including Soule to break Doy out. They headed to St. Joseph, where Silas Soule talked his way into the jailhouse, convincing the jailkeeper he had a note for Doy from his wife.

The note said only, “Tonight, twelve o’clock.”

Two of the rescuers arrived with a third, pretending to be bounty hunters who had apprehended a horse thief. They drew their firearms inside and overpowered the guards, breaking out Doy, riding hard for Lawrence.  The rescuers became known as The Immortal Ten.

Following John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on the Harpers Ferry federal armory, Silas Soule disguised himself as a drunk and got into a cell adjoining Brown and two of his men, Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens in Charles Town, West Virginia. Hoping to duplicate the earlier success of The Immortal Ten, Soule was authorized as part of a clandestine abolitionist group, The Secret Six to attempt to break the raiders out of jail. Brown and his men famously refused, having decided their executions would do more to galvanize the cause of abolitionism.

In 1860 Silas Soule, his brother William, and a cousin, John Glass, emigrated to Colorado to prospect, but a year later the Civil War broke out, and he enlisted in the 1st Colorado Infantry, fighting the Confederacy at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico, rising to the rank of captain and commanding Company D of the 1st Colorado Cavalry.

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Silas front row on the right

In 1864 his regiment was ordered to Sand Creek, Colorado to apprehend dissident Cheyenne leader Black Kettle, who had made his camp with the Arapahoe there. Soule’s commanding officer, Colonel John M. Chivington, a former abolitionist but noted Indian hater (“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”), ordered the regiment to attack Black Kettle’s camp despite the fact that he was flying the Union flag as a sign of peace.

What happened is recorded in a letter from Major Edward Wynkoop to his former commanding officer;

 

We arrived at Black Kettle’s and Left Hand’s camp at daylight. Lieut. Wilson with Co.s “C”, “E” & “G” were ordered to in advance to cut off their herd. He made a circle to the rear and formed a line 200 yds. From the village, and opened fire. Poor Old John Smith and Louderbeck ran out with white flags but they paid no attention to them, and they ran back to their tents. I refused to fire and swore that none but a coward would, for by this time hundreds of women and children were coming toward us and getting on their knees for mercy. Anthony shouted, “kill the sons of bitches” Smith and Louderbeck came to our command although I am confident there were 200 shots fired at them, for I heard an officer say that Old Smith and any one who sympathized with the Indians, ought to be killed and now was a good time to do it.

When the Indians found there was no hope for them they went for the Creek and got under the banks and some of the bucks got their bows and a few rifles and defended themselves as well as they could.The massacre lasted six or eight hours, and a good many Indians escaped. I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. One squaw was wounded and a fellow took a hatchet to finish her, and he cut one arm off, and held the other with one hand and dashed the hatchet through her brain. One squaw with her two children, were on their knees, begging for their lives of a dozen soldiers, within ten feet of them all firing – when one succeeded in hitting the squaw in the thigh, when she took a knife and cut the throats of both children and then killed herself. One Old Squaw hung herself in the lodge – there was not enough room for her to hang and she held up her knees and choked herself to death. Some tried to escape on the Prairie, but most of them were run down by horsemen. I saw two Indians hold one of anothers hands, chased until they were exhausted, when they kneeled down, and clasped each other around the neck and both were shot together. They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated. You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did.

Robert Bent related to the New York Tribune –

I saw one squaw lying on the bank, whose leg had been broken. A soldier came up to her with a drawn sabre. She raised her arm to protect herself; he struck, breaking her arm. She rolled over, and raised her other arm; he struck, breaking that, and then left her with out killing her. I saw one squaw cut open, with an unborn child lying by her side.

The cavalry suffered 15 dead and 50 wounded, apparently mostly due to friendly fire (they had been drinking heavily) and the death toll for the Indians was estimated at 150 to 200, the majority women and children.

In the days following the attack, soldiers were reported as displaying the ears and genitalia of dead Indians in Denver saloons.

When word of the Sand Creek Massacre reached the public’s ear, an official inquiry was made in January of 1865 and Silas Soule volunteered to testify against Chivington in the face of threats to his life from his commanding officer’s various supporters. However, Chivington avoided military prosecution since he had resigned his commission prior to the inquiry, and never suffered any penalty other than having his political aspirations curtailed.

In April, 1865, Soule married Hersa Cobley and was appointed Provost Marshal in Denver.

80 days after his testimony against Chivington he was shot dead in the street by Charles Squier, a former cavalryman in the 2nd Colorado. Though one of Soule’s friends, fellow officer First Lieutenant James Cannon tracked and apprehended Squier in New Mexico, and brought him back to Denver to stand trial, Squier escaped and was never seen again.

We are often taught to celebrate our soldiers as heroes unquestioned for putting their lives on the line at the behest of their country, but how much greater the hero is the one who has the bravery to turn against the tide and refuse an unjust order?

Happy 4th.

Silas-Soule-Marker

 

 

 

To The Undecideds

Well my last blog post broke my rule about not giving writing advice, so since I’m on a roll, I’m now gonna make the one and only political post you’ll ever read here. Feel free to skip. Next time I’ll be back to talking about movies and comics and hawking books. I swear.

august-landmesser-man-refused-salute-hitler-1936I am an idealist and a fantacist. I make no claims to being a realist. I’ve never voted for a winning president (or governor) in an election.  I’ve also never voted against anybody in my life, only for the person I thought was best suited to the office.  I was told again and again that third party candidates can’t win, and the last election had me pretty convinced. I saw the best man lose over and over, and had just about resolved never to vote again, because I had come to understand that my vote doesn’t count.  That’s just the way of the world, of politics. It’s a two party system, and I swore I’d never vote Republican or Democrat. They have always represented to me two sides of a coin I didn’t care to pocket.  There are differences in policy, in approach, but they ultimately serve the same unchanging system.

Then, last year, breaking yet another of my own rules, I registered as a Democrat.

I think you can guess which candidate convinced me to do that. It wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

But I don’t want to sit here and sling mud at her. My candidate wouldn’t like that.

I’m not gonna sing his praises either (much), or post a bunch of dank memes, or try to convince you of what’s great about him. Go to his website.  Watch his speeches. Seriously, do it. Listen to the man.

Instead, I’m gonna talk about something very important.

This election is going to be won or lost in the next two weeks, when the delegates and superdelegates choose the nomination for the Democratic party. Everybody knows it.

Our country is on the precipice of a very steep drop into a darkness it will be very difficult for us to climb out of should we choose to let ourselves fall. And it is a choice, make no mistake.

Is it our choice? Yours and mine? I really don’t know. I hope it is. I hope the collective will of the people counts for something in this election. Even more than that, I hope it’s a good and just will that animates the majority of us, that idealism and benevolence can prevail against ignorance, greed, and hatred. If it doesn’t, then no, our votes don’t count for anything in the end. Not if they’re misused.

Because make no mistake. The front-running Republican candidate is not a clown to be laughed at. I have never laughed at him. I remember 2004 and the re-election everybody said would never happen in a million years. I remember the bona fide war hero they put up against the draft dodging goof. I remember who won.

Moreover, I have seen the power of celebrity with people. It overruns reason. It whips up passions. It’s infectious. Level heads do not prevail.  The celebrity always wins. Always.  You have to consider all the prior years of entertainment as free campaigning. Name recognition is greater from the get-go.

Combine the influential power of celebrity, the vapid but forceful cult of personality, with bad or selfish intentions, and you have disastrous consequences. It’s happened before elsewhere throughout history. Are we going to let it happen here?

Just as I’m not going to champion my candidate (much), I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong with Donald Trump if he’s yours. If you’re honest with yourself, you know the answer to that in your heart.  Any reason you may have to support a man like that is yours to live with.  Nothing I can say will dissuade you, so I’m not addressing this post to you.

Who I am addressing is the undecided. Those delegates in states whose votes haven’t yet been tallied, those superdelegates who have not yet publicly backed a candidate.

You have a very important decision before you.  Not many people are given the opportunity to make a direct, positive influence on the course of human history. Not many people find themselves with the chance to affect the lives of their fellow human beings for the better.

But you do.

Hillary Clinton will not defeat Donald Trump in a general election for the Presidency of the United States. She can’t win. She’s evasive, unlikable, untrustworthy, and uninspiring.

A hypothetical clash between her and Trump has been thoroughly analyzed elsewhere, but I’ll summarize it here.

She has too much baggage. Too many poor decisions and unpopular stances to be taken to task for. Too much fodder for a juvenile bully like Donald Trump. Trump is a muckraker and he will not hesitate to loudly attack these many years of misdeeds and character defects.  His supporters will froth and cheer him on. Hillary will constantly be on the defensive, making her look weak and ineffectual. The din of Trump’s crowd will drown out anything she says in retort. Eventually, she will go on the attack herself, and the entire thing will devolve into the sort of mudslinging fracas a guy like Trump thrives in.

She can’t win.

In a fight with Bernie Sanders, Trump can’t attack his opponent’s integrity, or poke at his inconsistencies. He can’t dwell on the mundane or resort to ridicule. Bernie is nothing if not consistent. Finding no purchase for his usual tactics, Trump will look like the buffoon he is. He will be forced to address the core issues he has danced vaguely around thus far. Without his trademark sideshow distractions and schoolyard taunts, his woeful inexperience will be more apparent.  Yes, Hillary is more experienced than Bernie. But taking all her perceived character defects into account (rightfully earned or not), it just doesn’t matter in this instance.

I can’t guarantee Bernie Sanders can beat Donald Trump. Ultimately, that decision will define the character of our nation. If the majority of us elect to give in to the basest, most reactionary, most unworthy aspects of our own souls, then America deserves every subsequent disaster that befalls it.

But first, we have to get to that fight.

You have to decide now who’s better suited to face this threat to our integrity. This election is a clash between the summit of the most humane ideals our country is supposed to embody and the lowest, most unscrupulous, barbarous, and inhumane depths to which we unfortunately sometimes fall. There can be no compromise, no middle of the road.  Pandering will not get us past this. Untruths can’t prevail. Moderation will not sustain. Party loyalties won’t serve. It’s all or nothing.

My candidate is not a messiah. He won’t solve these deep divides overnight. I know that. But last night, when he said –

The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is ‘I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about [is] myself; I need to make another $5 Billion.’

But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing.

So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child… I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say ‘hey, this whole world , I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in. And I think most people around the world, whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings.

The truth of the matter solidified in my mind.

The most important question to be answered in this election cannot be are we more Hillary or more Bernie.

It’s are we Bernie or are we Trump?

Please, for my children, for my daughters and my sons, and for everyone’s, look directly and truthfully into yourselves and do not flinch from the importance of the contention that lies directly before us all. Forget your loyalties if you have them, try to look past the misgivings or doubts you might have, don’t worry about your careers. Remember that policies and economics aside, the American dream is first and foremost a dream.

Don’t let it become a nightmare.

 

Now to the rest of you who are like me, and feel pretty powerless to affect what’s about to happen, if you agree with me, let these people know.

I couldn’t compile a list of every undecided Democratic superdelegate  on Facebook. Some don’t allow public posts, some don’t have profiles at all or I couldn’t confirm their identities, some already have banner pics of themselves smiling beside Hillary Clinton.

But the rest are below.  52 of them, culled from the list of undecideds on Wikipedia.

The first fifteen are from California. When I got to the end of that list, I decided it might be best to find as many as I could, not to limit myself. Tell them who you, the people want to represent you in the 2016 election this November.  I don’t know if this system is rigged against us all or not. I don’t want to believe it is. But this is all I can do.

You know his name. Tell them.

https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php

https://www.facebook.com/JoeBuscaino/

https://www.facebook.com/RepJimCosta

https://www.facebook.com/RepSusanDavis/

https://www.facebook.com/RepMarkDeSaulnier

https://www.facebook.com/bdoten

https://www.facebook.com/mariaelena.durazo.1

https://www.facebook.com/RepSamFarr/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepBarbaraLee/?fref=nf

https://www.facebook.com/Assemblymemberlow/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepLowenthal/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/NancyPelosi/

https://www.facebook.com/CongressmanEricSwalwell/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepJuanVargas

https://www.facebook.com/keith.umemoto?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/belinda.biafore

https://www.facebook.com/sanfordbishop/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/artie.blanco?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepRobertBrady/?ref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/bob.bragar?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/nerissaforguam/

https://www.facebook.com/oregongovernor/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ray.buckley

https://www.facebook.com/GovernorBullock/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/PDX.laura.calvo

https://www.facebook.com/Representative-Garnet-Coleman-173213409377439/

https://www.facebook.com/leah.daughtry.5?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepPeterDeFazio/

https://www.facebook.com/debra.delee.9

https://www.facebook.com/Brandon-Dillon-145520418836519/

https://www.facebook.com/lloyddoggett/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4947004&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/OfficeOfTheStateAttorney/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/VoteTulsi/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681862349&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/gilberto.hinojosa.5?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

https://www.facebook.com/Marcy-Kaptur-6225522279/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/repronkind/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/BellisimaLH?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/marymancini?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004229267122&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/BetoORourkeTX16/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/StephanieForChair/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/Kylieoversen/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/renee.pfenning.7?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/repmarkpocan/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/JaxonRavens1?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/laborrichardrayray?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/Virgie-Rollins-294464844076391/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/CongresswomanSinema/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

https://www.facebook.com/casey.steinau?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ann.tornberg?fref=ts

From Pompeii To The Endeavour

Visited the California Science Center yesterday to see the Pompeii exhibit.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Ancient Roman artifacts were very elegant and striking, but the last room with its casts of dead men, women, and children left me a bit shaken. The physical attitudes of a group of three people who expired on a set of stairs, the last apparently huddled behind the legs of another, and that of a young pregnant woman turned on her face, one hand to her belly…. I couldn’t help but project myself into the lives of those long deceased citizens facing what must have amounted to Armageddon. With no word for volcano in the ancient Latin language and no mass communications lines to inform them of natural phenomena they did not personally have knowledge of, what must they have experienced on that final terrible day when the ambivalent mountain in whose shadow they’d lived their lives suddenly burst open and vomited fire and hot ash into the sky? It must have been horrifying; mind-splitting. They must have died in abject terror; what an ant suddenly exposed to focus sunlight through some unfathomable child’s magnifying glass must experience – to have your life choked off by something completely beyond your comprehension.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe ended the visit with a look at the space shuttle Endeavour, a really awe-inspiring sight in its own right. When you walk in the shuttle is like an immense bird only a few feet overhead, a bit battered and weathered from its journies.

The myriad heat panels that cover it are very like an intricate mosaic from the floor of one of Pompeii’s atriums, perfectly interlocked shingles whose individuality are only perceivable upon close inspection. Nearly two thousand years in the span of an hour or two. I couldn’t look at the two without thinking that one was the pinnacle of human achievement and the other one of the deepest troughs of human tragedy. Did the children of Pompeii, who probably didn’t understand the volcanic eruption that killed them ever conceive of the world 2000 years in the future in their daydreams?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESPeople live and die, new people are born. Do we feel cheated when we expire that we won’t see the progress of humanity? Is every individual a single piece in the advancement of all of humankind? The shuttle doesn’t mourn the loss of one or two heat tiles, and the artisans of Pompeii did not abandon their portraits in the face of a handful of broken tesserae.

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Dionysus (Bacchus) Enthroned

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Ptolemy II

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Unidentified bust of a forgotten Roman

Bit depressing I guess, but it was kind of an emotional seesaw to go from sorrow to elation SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESpompeiithat quickly.

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Household Lare

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Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Among The Mounds: Cahokia

P1030072 (Medium)Happy New Year, all and sundry.

First blog post of the year after a long long hiatus deep in the land of frost and dial up internet. Not gonna post New Year’s resolutions or manifestos for my first writing of 2013. I’ll be doing the same thing I do every year. Putting out books and stories for you to read. Plenty of time for all that later.

During my holiday stay in Indiana with the family, we drove my son back and forth from college in St. Louis and while we were there, I took the opportunity to drag my wife to Cahokia Mounds, a state park about seven miles out of the city and a location I’ve been wanting to see for a long time.

It amazes me almost nobody knows about Cahokia. It’s North America’s first bona fide urban center, a metropolis and trading center whose cultural and economic influence extended into Canada and the Southwest according to archaeological evidence.

P1030056 (Medium)Of course, Cahokia isn’t the original name. Nobody knows what that is as the Mississippiean inhabitants had no alphabet and left no written record. But it was settled around 6oo BC (or CE, if you’re new school), about 500 years before a European contact and at its height supported a popuation of around 20,000 people, through farming, hunting in the winter months, and river trade.

Cahokia consisted of a hundred and twenty earthen mounds constructed over decades, including the enormous Monk’s Mound, a ten story (900 ft) pallisaded pyramidal flat top mound which was capped by the ruler’s temple dwelling, an impressive 50 ft tall thatched rooft structure. Monk’s Mound (named for a group of Trappist monks who settled near there in 1809) is actually the largest prehistoric earthen structure north of Mexico.

Monk’s Mound is still there today and can be ascended by a flight of modern day stairs placed in the same general position as the original wood staircase.

Monk's Mound in winter

Monk’s Mound in winter

It was a snowy December day a week after the solstice when we visited the cultural center and climbed up Monk’s Mound. You’re buffeted by the wind at the top, and you can see the site in its entirety, and the St. Louis arch as well. A modern road cuts right through the center of the city at the base of Monk’s Mound, destroying what was once an immense hard packed plaza on which were held massive annual games, chunkey (a hugely popular gambling game in which athletes flung spears at a rolling discoidal stone, betting on who could get it closest) and the equivalents of lacrosse, mainly.

P1030076 (Medium)French missionaries built a chapel for the Illiniwek Indians on a corner of the first terrace in the 1700’s, and a man named Amos T. Well once built a house on the very top, but no remnants of either structure remain. Whether they were carted off or blown away as my wife suggests, I have no idea.

Woodhenge

Woodhenge: Where the demons dwell. Where the banshees live and they do live well

I mentioned the solstice above. Had we visited a week earlier we might’ve seen the annual solstice ceremony traditionally conducted a little bit west of the mound, where the city’s woodhenge has been reconstructed. Woodhenge is just what it sounds like, a prehistoric solar calendar constructed of standing wood poles, same as England’s Stonehenge. It’s situated in such a way that when the sun rises to the east, it peaks right over Monk’s Mound. Scholars posit that this was a way for the ancient rulers to tie their authority to the supreme authority of the sun itself. I walked out to the center pole and found browning rose petals in the snow at the base, remnants of the previous week’s festivities.

Mound 72

Mound 72

Also of interest to me was the infamous and yet innocuously named Mound 72. Not all of the mounds have been excavated, but Mound 72 was. It sits on the southern edge of the site near the tree line, and could easily be mistaken for a low natural hill in the shadow of the massive Monk’s Mound, or the nearby Twin Mounds.

The worm that et of a king? In the midst of death, life

The worm that et of a king? In the midst of death, life

But a mound it is, ridgebacked, and easily ascendable. You could picnic on top of it. Yet beneath it, over 250 skeletons were discovered, the majority of them sacrificial victims. At various layers, Mound 72 contained the bodies of 50 women with their heads bashed in, 40 men and women who had been interred alive (as evidenced by the position of their skeletons, clawing through the earth before they expired), four males, their arms interlocked, missing their hands and heads, and a regally dressed man lain in a grave atop a bed of 20,000 sea shells arranged in the shape of a falcon, a revered mythical figure in ancient Mississppean religion. A kind of charnal hut once stood alongside the mound, perhaps a priestly hut intended for the preparation of occupants, maybe a kill house, or who knows what. The purpose of Mound 72 and the reasons for its various inhabitants’ burials can only be surmised (my own weird suspicions will of course be made known once the story I wrote against the Cahokia backdrop sees print), but one gets an odd sensation standing alone at such a site, with only the snow hissing off the clacking tree branches.

Cahokia in the summer, from the air

Cahokia in the summer, from the air

What became of Cahokia is a subject for debate too. Maybe the people lost faith in their rulers and dispersed, maybe ill fortuned climate changes or sickness derived from overpopulation and dwindling resources led to its dispersal. I think it was a combination of the latter two which probably led to the former. Maybe it had to do with things that went on at Mound 72.

The Twins, thought to have once been connected by a bridge

The Twins, thought to have once been connected by a bridge

Cahokia in it's heyday (artist's impression)

Cahokia in it’s heyday (artist’s impression)

In the summer months the mounds are covered in green grass. From pictures it almost seems like the inhabitants could be cavorting just over the next earthworks. We saw them blanketed in frozen white, leaving one with the impression that the past was dead and dreamless.

But it’s an impressive site. And an impressive sight, well maintained by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. A nice excursion for those histroically or weirdly inclined.

Driving out away my wife and I started speculating about every low hill we saw. The St. Louis area is not naturally hilly. Proceeding through Collinsville we actually saw one fenced off vacant lot that consisted of nothing but a single large mound, apparently recognized and rescued by the scientific community. It was situated between a trailer park and an auto body shop. Wish I’d been able to snap a picture of that one, but we were in a moving vehicle.

On the summit of Monk's Mound

On the summit of Monk’s Mound

The visit drove our imaginations in all directions. By the time we hit the interstate we were seeing mounds everywhere.

The author on Monk's Mound (underdressed)

The author on Monk’s Mound (underdressed)

My wife points out our car

My wife points out our car

Kids sledding down a mound.

Kids sledding down a mound.

Bread And Circuses For The SPOLA (Senate and The People of L.A.)

P1020920 (Medium)So tonight I took my daughter to see Spartacus And The Roman Legion, a live gladiatorial pageant put on at the LA Equestrian Center’s Equidome by a French historical reenactment group called Heroes Of Antiquity and a company called Histor’Event (and assisted by some American re-enactment clubs).

Saw the offer via an email from Groupon and jumped at the chance to see guys in Roman cuirasses and half armor duking it out on the sand. I’m a sucker for sword and sandal stuff, from Ben Hur to HBO’s Rome. My daughter wanted to see the cavalry horses.

P1020923 (Medium)Though Groupon advertised chariots and sixty combatants, I counted about thirty, representing Thracians (though they looked a bit more Celtish/Gaulish to me) and Roman legionnaires. No chariots either, just two horses. This might’ve been a miscommunication between the performers and Groupon however, as the two people taking tickets at the door had no idea what I was talking about when I sheepishly told them I hadn’t thought to print out my confirmation email since Groupon had said I could just show up with photo ID.

Whatever, though.

This is not to knock the show. It was still a one of a kind experience. Here in America we have Civil War, Medieval Times, SA Cowboy, and World War II re-enactments (even a few Revolutionary Era) by the dozen. How often do you get to see Roman soldiers and gladiators clash?

P1020925 (Medium)I’m a huge fan of history as any of my readers know, and I’ve been mulling around a story centering on gladiators and ancient Rome for about a year and a half now, so as I said, I leapt at the chance to see re-enactors in action. There’s something about watching the stuff actually being used that you don’t get from watching movies or reading histories. The clatter and clank of the armor, the swords on the shields, way people move and react. The gear was pretty authentic as you can see by the photos.

The first half of the show was a sort of pageant or play loosely retelling the history of the actual Spartacus (one of my favorite historical personages), from his capture and enslavement in Thrace, through his insurrection, and at last to his final battle. After the death of Spartacus and his followers at the hands of Crassus’ legion, a guy dressed as Charon came out and ushered the slain to the Underworld. Spartacus refused to go, and so was cursed to return two hundred years later during the reign of Commodus as a gladiator once more. The segue to the second half was admittedly a bit goofy, but it was in the tradition of Roman entertainment and I was willing to go with it.

P1020928 (Medium)Now at this point let me say that the sun had gone down (this being an hour and a half program), and the temperature in the Griffith Park foothills had definitely dropped to the high thirties. The Equidome is covered, but open air, so it was C-O-L-D in them thar hills. And these guys were dressed in period, meaning little more than loincloths for the gladiators.

Now when the guy playing Spartacus was killed and condemned to sleep for two hundred years, he was laid out in the sand and covered with a sheet (and I mean of pillowcase consistency) while everybody else left the field. What followed was a fifteen minute (more like twenty) intermission while people got up to use the bathroom and grab tacos and soda.

In the meantime, Spartacus remained on the field.

My buddy took my daughter to the concession stand and I sat there watching this guy laying in the center of the damp sand, in a loincloth, under a thin sheet.

Now the writer/romantic/what-have-you is gonna come out and say that my thoughts sort of went to the historical Spartacus, how little was actually known about this guy who had broken free of slavery and used the skills taught to him by his masters to cause all of Rome to quake. After Spartacus and his fellow gladiators escaped their school at Capua, he turned his men into an army and raided Roman country homes, freeing slaves wherever he found them, arming them, and thus swelling his own ranks, until the Senate itself was convening specifically to discuss how to deal with him, fearing he would set his sights on Rome itself. It’s really an inspirational story (and actually did inspire the abolitionist John Brown to attempt a similar feat in the 1850’s against the African chattel slavery institution), and a testament to the kind of strength an individual can summon, such that his name lives on centuries after even the grandchildren of anyone who actually ever knew him have turned to dust.

Spartacus at rest

Spartacus at rest

I don’t know if the guy portraying Spartacus has as high an opinion of his alter-ego, but I got the feeling he did, because he lay there in exactly the same posture (in thirty degree weather in a loincloth, I remind you), unmoving, for the entire intermission.

That took dedication.

You will never catch me playing the asshole American card and denigrating the guts of a Frenchman ever again, that I swear.

P1020951 (Medium)The second half of the show was much more enjoyable. The announcer claimed the outcomes of the subsequent combats were not predetermined, and I can believe it, since Spartacus, outfitted in my favorite gladiator gear, that of the trident and net (or retiarius) wound up losing to a Thracian gladiator. Audience participation was encouraged. Before hand we were given tissues, and after each combat were instructed in the traditional ‘live or die’ signals (waving the tissue called for the loser to be spared, whereas a sort of knife hand gesture meant death) to influence the decision of Emperor Commodus (seated in a canopied area of the arena).

P1020960 (Medium)I have read that the horse duel (said to be between two young men from disapproving, wealthy families) with spears was choreographed, but when the weapons and shields were ditched it became a sort of galloping bare knuckle brawl, with each man trying to wrestle the other from the saddle, and looked pretty dang dangerous for horse and rider alike. If it was staged, it was very well done.P1020972 (Medium)

After the show, the participants were good enough to stick around and take pictures with all and sundry, so I and my buddy snapped a few, including one of my daughter and Charon and a lady legionnaire that just impressed the hell out of her (and let her hold her gladius, which to Nolie, was a delight).

P1020973 (Medium)All in all, it was a fun spectacle. The first half is just a bit disorganized, but for me, it was worth it to see these professionals in action. These weren’t pudgy goat-bearded history buffs imitating Rebel yells and burning through Pyrite (and don’t get me wrong, I like watching those guys too), but real athletes, diving from horseback (and riding hands free), flipping over each other, rolling under sword swings, smashing shields together, and appearing to have a heck of a good time.

Nolie rubbing elbows with Charon

Nolie rubbing elbows with Charon

I read a bit on the troupe that put the show together (here), and apparently they have a large scale to do annually in Nimes, France, where they also maintain a modern day gladiator school. I believe this was their first American outing (and understandably smaller in scope). Attendance Saturday night was admittedly pretty sparse, so if you’re in the LA area, I urge you to attend the Sunday performance.

Give these guys a reason to come back to the USA, cause next time it’ll be a bigger show and it’s better than sitting home on your butt watching TV.

P1020966 (Medium)

I blame Ryan for the blurriness of this photo...or perhaps my magnificence caused the camera to shake.

I blame Ryan for the blurriness of this photo…or perhaps my magnificence caused the camera to shake.

Here’s the Youtube channel of the company behind the show, where you can see videos of the action.

http://www.youtube.com/user/thrace23?feature=watch

Check ’em out, LA!

-Hasta Pronto.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Stoker

Hey look what arrived in the mail today on Bram Stoker’s birthday….proof that he approves of the new book?

Preorder the paperback or get your e-books here – http://journal-store.com/fiction/terovolas/

I’m also willing to let these go, and will ship them to you signed, if you’re willing to go through Paypal. E-mail me at emerdelacATgmailDOTcom for that.

Hasta pronto.

Published in: on November 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beyond The Borgo Pass: The Van Helsing Papers

I, like most of the world, always understood Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be a work of fiction. Seminal in the horror genre, surely, but entirely the product of Stoker’s imagination. I stopped believing this in or around the summer of 1997, when, between jobs and trying to make the rent on a two‐bedroom apartment on Carmen Avenue in Uptown Chicago, I answered a classified ad placed by the University of Chicago in The Chicago Reader for a seasonal position.

This wasn’t academic work, but a reorganizational project of the reference stacks at the university’s Regenstein Library. This still makes it sound overly important though. In effect, I and about ten other part‐timers were carrying boxes to and from the basement under the direction of a perennially bored student intern. It was backbreaking work, and tedious, but ultimately not without its reward.

The Joseph Regenstein Library

In the course of the job, in one of the Reg’s two basements, I happened across a dust‐covered box of unopened packets postmarked from Purfleet, dated 1936, and addressed to the head of the archaeology department.

The label on the box had it earmarked for the library’s Ravenwood Collection, but it had somehow been physically separated and omitted from the catalog. It had sat forgotten on the back of a shelf of totally unrelated material for at least half a century.

I have a curious nature when it comes to old things, and a knack for staying out of the way of supervisors, which was easy in the maze of the Reg with only a disinterested intern to answer to. Though I knew it could possibly cost me my job, I managed to pop one of the manila packets open with my apartment key and shimmy the old yellow papers out for a look on my lunch break, a ritual I would repeat without fail innumerable times on that job.

What I read shook me to my core. I say this without exaggeration.

Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, that stalwart vampire hunter I had seen depicted in countless films and comic books, portrayed by everybody from Peter Cushing to Mel Brooks, was real.

It was like finding the logbook of the Pequod written in Ahab’s hand, or reading Joseph of Bethlehem’s name on a Roman census roll from the Augustan Age.

But the figure that emerged while studying these papers (and from fact checking later among the Reg’s microfilm collections and via long years of independent research), was no two dimensional crossbow wielding, fanatical monster hunter, but a substantial man of letters, a serious academic, a contemporary and associate of Flinders Petrie, T. E. Lawrence, Dr. Martin Hesselius, Madame Blavatsky, Max Muller, and a host of other scholars I (as a woefully undereducated liberal arts student) would only come to know later as I studied the man himself. He pitted his learning against the supernatural not by choice, but by chance,

though his name has become inseparable from that pseudo‐scientific offshoot, that embarrassing cousin of natural science now thought of as ‘paranormal investigation.’

Not only was Van Helsing real, but so was Dr. John Seward, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Arthur Holmwood, and Quincey P. Morris (whose brother’s grave I once visited at the old Fairview Cemetery during a research trip to Bastrop, and whose Bowie knife, the very same one he sank into Count Dracula’s heart, was anonymously donated to, and is still innocuously displayed at, the Autry Museum here in Los Angeles).

It’s hard to prove this, of course, outside of the papers, as most of the major participants in the Dracula affair faded into intentional obscurity, with the exception of Quincey Morris (who died) and Van Helsing himself, whose total eradication from academic record is almost Egyptian in its totality.

But he did live. One of my prized possessions is a 1907 Dutch edition of Arminius Vembrey’s Western Cultures in Eastern Lands, one of Van Helsing’s rare translations, which I unfortunately can’t even read.

If I can confirm the existence of Van Helsing with a little research, then what about the things Van Helsing claimed to have encountered in his travels? Vampires. Werewolves. Ghosts. There are things Van Helsing says he tangled with which would make cryptozoologists and theologians alike faint dead away.

Now you see why I say I was shaken up.

But, you might say, the man spent time in a lunatic asylum. Who’s to say he didn’t write all his memoirs as some kind of therapy while convalescing?

Well, mainly because of the corroborative writings by outside parties. The papers collected with Van Helsing’s journal entries (newspaper clippings, personal diaries, correspondences), some provided by the professor, some by Seward, and some gleaned from my own personal research into primary source documents, bear him out every time. It’s unlikely that Van Helsing’s writings are entirely fictional when they are substantiated by so many people from so many diverse backgrounds and stations.

For me, the world became an exponentially bigger place in 1997, squinting in the dim light at old typeface with the musty smell of antiquity in my nostrils.

I knew I had to continue Dr. Seward’s work, see his ambition fulfilled, and tell the world about Van Helsing. As the forward to this book points out, Abraham Van Helsing’s longtime friend and colleague Seward first intended the initial volume of the late professor’s writing to see the light of day in 1935, seventy seven years ago.

For whatever reason (Seward suggests active resistance by the academic community, though by this time he was himself embittered toward the establishment), he failed to secure a publisher, possibly in the eleventh hour.

Seward continued to pursue the book’s publication for the next five years, soliciting literary agents on both sides of the pond and mailing facsimiles to many of Van Helsing’s former academic associates in the hopes of gaining professional support.

Battersea Park Railway Crash 1937

A succession of personal tragedies hindered his efforts, however. His wife of thirty‐five years was sadly killed in the Battersea Park railway crash of 1937. Then, in 1938, the asylum in Purfleet he had co-founded and administered for close to fifty years closed its

doors, forcing him into a retirement he had long resisted.

You have to admire the dedication of Dr. Seward, who from his writings and personal correspondences seemed to really feel he owed Van Helsing a debt. Seward was one of the parties who willingly provided personal records (in his case, phonographic recordings, mostly pertaining to his patient, R.M. Renfield) to Bram Stoker, which Stoker then used in the publication of his ‘novel’ Dracula in 1897.

Excerpts from Van Helsing’s personal journal were included in that book (translated from Dutch, as are the ones that appear in these papers, by Seward), but among the descendants of Lord Godalming, there is still some question as to whether these pages were obtained with the professor’s consent, or at least with his full understanding that they would be made public. Holmwood himself believed the account compiled by Stoker under the direction of the Harkers was solely intended for the edification of their young son Quincey.

 The Holmwood family, in point of fact, assert that the fragments from Van Helsing’s journal of the 1890 period are believed by them to have been copied by Seward himself during the professor’s stay at Purfleet Asylum, or else by one of Seward’s staff. The reason for this, the Holmwoods claim, was monetary. It is known that the asylum was in dire straits financially at the outset, and that it experienced a substantial economic turnaround in 1898, a year after the publication of Dracula.

As Seward wrote, Van Helsing had been ostracized by the academic world for appearing in Dracula. Even some colleagues who had previously shared in his adventures turned their backs on him publicly when their own reputations were endangered.

Everyone suffered a small degree of embarrassment at the hands of Stoker, of course. Lord Godalming was branded an eccentric, which was sort of inconsequential to an English lord. The Harkers were a private people, not well known in the first place. Being that publication was mainly their idea, and they shared in Stoker’s profits and raised their son comfortably on residuals (under a new surname, legally petitioned for by Jonathan), it was little to them. Dr. Seward, by his own admission, deflected any criticism from his peers by pointing out the fact that Dracula was labeled as fiction, and claimed in private circles at the time to have nominally participated in it as a favor to Stoker, or as a lark. He wasn’t known much outside the psychiatric community, and not well regarded outside of London, at that.

But Abraham Van Helsing, when confronted by his detractors, out of personal honor or perhaps naivety, denied nothing (note these events will be better understood and brought to light in a subsequent collection).

And that wasn’t the end of his exploits, nor even, as I found, the beginning.

Van Helsing, by his own assertion (records are scant), was born in 1834 in Natal, South Africa to Voortrekker Arjen Van Helsing and his German wife, Konstanze Gottschalk. He died in Holysloot, North Holland in 1934 (This can be confirmed. I’ve seen his death certificate.)

In between that time he was a seminarian, a husband and father, a Boer farmer, a scientist, a field scout and interpreter, a medical doctor, a philosopher, an amateur archaeologist, a mystic, a respected lecturer, instructor, and a world traveler.

It took me nearly thirteen years of fact checking and emailing, meeting and compiling (to say nothing of legal wrangling over the authenticity and ownership of the papers themselves) to release the first installment of the Van Helsing papers in accordance with the late professor’s initial wishes.

In the end I was reluctant to do so. My own career after all, has been in novels, and in doing this I risk consigning the professor’s true history to the realm of speculative fiction, just as Bram Stoker did (albeit unwittingly – Stoker believed the papers he transcribed and polished to be works of amateur fiction).

Yet I can only humbly submit the first collection of these documents and ask that the reader overlook the presenter and see the truth within. We are obliged to put out the stories that come to us.

Dr. John Seward’s own efforts at vindicating his friend were cut short on September 7, 1940, when the German Luftwaffe initiated operation Loge and he was killed in the first strike of the London Blitz.

It is my hope that I, in accidentally uncovering these documents and laboring to continue Seward’s work, have been passed his torch, and that in publishing them, I have at last done right by both men.

Terovolas, culled from The Van Helsing Papers (1891) will be out from JournalStone Publishing November 16th. You can get the ebook version right now. An excerpt can be read here.

The book can be purchased on Amazon or directly from the publisher here.

http://journal-store.com/fiction/terovolas/

A FINAL NOTE: I’d like to apologize to readers, but due to an unfortunate mishap on my part, paperback editions of Terovolas will be shipped without a footnote which explains a recurring reference Van Helsing makes to Lucy Westenra’s having wed Arthur Holmwood a day before her death. This in itself, is not a mistake. Yet to be published accounts among Van Helsing’s papers do in fact bear this out, though the event was deliberately excised from Bram Stoker’s novel, for reasons which will become clear when the relevant papers see the light of day.  The blame lies solely with myself, a fiction writer’s first foray into non-fiction.

Mea culpa,

EME

Dubaku: An Excerpt

It occurred to me that I began this blog long after my first work was ever published, so I’ve never written about my debut novella, Dubaku from Damnation Books.

Ah well, better late than never.

In 1760 somewhere near the Bight Of Benin, Dubaku, a powerful African shaman belonging to an obscure interior tribe (the Waziri, whom certain readers may be familiar with by name) surrenders himself willingly to an English slaving expedition.

Dubaku has come in search of his wife Zuberi, an Aja warrior woman of the Dahomey Amazons, abducted and sold to another party of whites by her brother for marrying Dubaku in place of Mwenye’s best friend, to whom she was betrothed. Not knowing one ship from another, Dubaku boards the slaver hoping to find her.

The captain, a cruel and careless man named Bryce, mistrusts Dubaku and his imperious bearing immediately, and when a rampant sickness takes its toll on the superstitious crew and their human cargo midway through the voyage to Jamaica, Bryce decides to offer up the shaman to the sea as their Jonah.

But when a violent squall drowns the entire compliment of would-be slaves, Dubaku calls upon dark and terrible powers to enact a fitting vengeance on Captain Bryce and his men.

Dubaku is a work of horror fiction, but like much of the horror I write, the most heinous parts are true. If there ever was a more reprehensible and morally depraved institution as human chattel slavery (in all its forms, many of which continue to this very day), I haven’t seen it yet, and hope I never do.

Writing Dubaku changed my life, as it was my first published standalone work. But researching it was a harrowing experience in and of itself. There is a horror and there is Horror, and the latter has nothing to do with zombies and everything to do with men who ignore the basic human rights of their fellow men.

Here’s an excerpt –

Dubaku had seen strange things in his journeys. He had trucked with spirits under the tutelage of Subira. The deep magic of his father’s people was now married to the wild rituals of Vodoun in his heart. As the dirty fat man prodded him and the other Aja into the waiting boat, he touched the concealed packet he had brought with him, and it was as though he could feel the magic of its contents throbbing like a living heart. He prayed to the Dahomey lwa and to the spirits of his ancestors and to the deepest Waziri powers he knew of that he had all he needed, and that the whites would not discover it.

They were brought to the tall ship, men, women, and children, most too stunned by their capture to fight or protest. They were roughly ushered onto the decks and herded into pairs, where a blue-armed man fit shackles about their ankles and ran long lengths of chain through them. Next, a dented tin pannikin was jammed into their tremulous hands. A disinterested sailor sloppily ladled water from a barrel into it, which mattered little as their shaking and the jostling of the bodies meant that they spilled most of it anyway.

Then the hatch was thrown open, and for the Aja it was terrifying – like the wooden maw of a creaking, big bellied sea beast waking to swallow them whole. This beast breathed out a hot blast of putrid stink – the noisome smell of sweat and excrement and death and sickness, like the breath of some pestilential entity native to the inferno.

There was no light down below, only the shaky glow of the whale oil lamps the sailors lit and carried with them. The Aja were pushed and pulled down into the deceptively cavernous mouth, and there found that in fact there was no room at all.

Waves of them were force-fed into the ship’s groaning timber bowels. The swinging light of the lamps cast a faltering glow on the floor, which was carpeted in row upon row of swooning black bodies. They tread upon the bare skin of exhausted figures who recoiled at their touch or else lay in the stiff cold of death, bones snapping beneath their collective weight. Women whimpered and clutched at each other, and the weeping of the children was redoubled.

What was this strange precinct of hell into which they had been brought? What cave, carpeted in barely perceived forms that shifted and struck out like irritated sleepers? Chains clinked and voices moaned, begging for water and gripping at the pantaloons of the white men only to be clouted down. Others pulled the water tins away from the newcomers and avariciously sucked the precious wetness from them in the dark.

It was hot from the press of the bodies. Bodies, all around, stretching on down the dark passage. They could not step without treading upon another or slipping in drek and waste. Still, they were pulled through the utter darkness by the hunched over sailors, and now some pairs were yanked down and told to sit with their knees up against their chest. They found that their allotted space was very little, and they were pressed on every side by slaves sitting in the same posture so that they could not shift at all for want of comfort. Unfamiliar heads lolled against them on exhausted necks. Crowds of biting lice jumped from their neighbors onto their skin as soon as they settled, and this could not be helped.

Their chains were run through iron rungs in the floor and they could not stand. Some tried when the slavers moved on with the others, only to dash their heads on the low ceiling and fall back down senseless.

Dubaku and another man were the last. They stood listening to the commotion below the deck until the last of the hundred Aja had been packed in. The sailors tore away Dubaku’s cloak and necklace.

They fitted them both with chains and Dubaku stared up the tall mast at the sky, which was filled with crying, wheeling gulls, and prayed Zuberi was alive and wherever they were bound. The man beside him trembled and wept. Urine rained down his bare legs and splashed Dubaku’s foot. The white men jeered and kicked them both, until the little captain climbed aboard and told them to cease.

The little captain stood before him and smiling, nodded to the fat man, who took up a lantern. Dubaku and his partner were seized and taken down below deck, amid the chaos that therein dwelt. Some tried to take his sloshing pannikin, but he slapped them away. Dubaku heard the voice of the fat man close, and felt a hairy fist strike his lips. They forced him to sit and chained him to the floor. He tasted blood.

He watched the bulky shadow of the fat man and his lamp make its way back toward the faraway square of fading light that shone down the hatch through which they’d passed. The fat man went up the ladder and in a moment the hatch slammed shut. They were all in complete darkness and some screamed louder than before. He tried to yell above them, tried to bring order somehow, but it was useless. They babbled in a half dozen languages of which he mostly knew nothing.

He touched his forehead to his knees as the vermin, emboldened by the reinforcement of the shadow, began to scuttle over his feet. He prayed once more to all the lwa that his wife and child lived somewhere.

What some people said of Dubaku –

‘The suspense and pace of the story never relents…the pace is incredibly fast and the scare is compacted into a few short bloody pages to create a
heart-pounding read.’ –Kelly Fann, Monsterlibrarian.com

‘Erdelac has written a haunting novella filled with magic (both black and white), death and humanity. For in the end it is all about what humanity really is, and whether or not God or Gods listen to prayers and answer them.’ –Bitten By Books

‘Erdelac’s voodoo-tinged revenge tale features…a “Death Ship” scenario that makes the “Death Ship” films look like unaired episodes of The Love Boat.’ – The Horror Fiction Review

You can pick it up from Damnationbooks.com or here at Amazon in print or Kindle –

http://www.amazon.com/Dubaku-Edward-M-Erdelac/dp/1615720235/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347503695&sr=8-1&keywords=dubaku