Wednesday, June 14, 2023

An Afternoon Tea with Mary Shelley and a new website

 




I finally set up an author's website because I keep getting asked about my website and well, I'm a blogger at heart but I'm giving it a go by paying for a domain name and focusing a bit more on writing. Maybe you'll join me! (Click the picture to follow the link). For now, I'll probably be focusing on that website a bit more and maybe posting some gardening pictures here. Life has a way of keeping me busy.  

Monday, May 22, 2023

Black Plants for World Goth Day


Black Mamba Petunia
Midnight Oil Iris (winner)







 
Raven ZZ
I have not been the best blogger lately and have not been posting my gothiest plants and flowers on my blog but I'm pretty good about sharing them on Instagram (sort of) if you want to take a look at my recent Black Iris competition. I've determined that the Midnight Oil Iris is my personal winner as it seems (to my untrained eye) to be the blackest of the black iris blooms, it has a gorgeous shape, and the fragrance is lovely. 

Here are the current black plants in bloom (I have three Raven ZZs. This is the largest and he enjoys hanging out on the front porch during the warmer months). 



Wednesday, May 17, 2023

1863 Brown's Island Laboratory Disaster- the graves in Shockoe Hill Cemetery


On May 10, 2023, I attended a history tour at Shockoe Hill Cemetery. I was excited because Bert Dunkerly, a historian, author, and National Park Ranger was the guide and because of the topic—the Brown’s Island Disaster.  On Friday, March 13, 1863- Friday the 13th- the Confederate Laboratory, a munitions manufacturing facility on Brown’s Island that produced much of the ammunition for the Confederacy, and which employed about 300 women and girls, exploded. The Richmond Whig reported that “the force of the explosion demolished about fifty feet of the house, the sides being blown out and the roof falling…”[I]


Dunkerly’s tour explicitly focused on the fourteen young girls who were victims of the 1863 explosion who are buried in Shockoe Hill Cemetery. This was the first time Dunkerly gave the tour and I was looking forward to hearing their stories. 

 

The Laboratory employed about 300 women and girls. They were working class people hoping to make a dollar to two dollars per day by producing small arms cartridges and artillery ammunition. The location of the disaster was a structure that held a variety of activities, including breaking open cartridges to be reused, and filling new cartridges. As Dunkerly explained, there was loose powder everywhere and these activities should have been done in the same space. 


One teenager, Mary Ryan, an Irish immigrant who “was known for being careless” and had been corrected prior to the disaster, was working with friction primers that were used to ignite the powder charges in ammunition. While Ryan was working with the primers, one became stuck; she banged the wooden block to dislodge it. 

Richmond Whig, March 14, 1863.
Even having been reprimanded in the past, how could a teenager possibly grasp the severity of the situation. One can imagine how little training these young girls must have had and how the safety regulations were so different from today. Ryan’s banging set off a spark that ignited the gun powder in the room. The explosion devastated the structure and ten of the workers were killed instantly, including Alice Johnson and Mary Zerhum, both just 12 years old, and Wilhelmina Defenbach, 15, who also died immediately after the explosion. 

I grew up about twenty miles from Brown’s Island but the explosion wasn’t something that I was taught in school. I don’t recall learning anything about it until adulthood perhaps because it involved many young women including those as young as 10 and they were mostly German and Irish immigrants. The tour was held nearly 160 years and two months after one of the worst manufacturing accidents of the Civil War in the South and unfortunately, it was poorly attended. I point this out for a reason that I will explain later.

Emma Blankenship, 15


 

Alice Johnson, 12













Blankenship, Richmond Dispatch, March 20, 1863

Dunkerly’s tour explicitly focused on the fourteen young girls who were victims of the 1863 explosion who are buried in Shockoe Hill Cemetery. This was the first time Dunkerly gave the tour and I was looking forward to hearing their stories. 

 

The Laboratory employed about 300 women and girls. They were working class people hoping to make a dollar to two dollars per day by producing small arms cartridges and artillery ammunition. The location of the disaster was a structure that held a variety of activities, including breaking open cartridges to be reused, and filling new cartridges. As Dunkerly explained, there was loose powder everywhere and these activities should have been done in the same space. 

 

One teenager, Mary Ryan, an Irish immigrant who “was known for being careless” and had been corrected prior to the disaster, was working with friction primers that were used to ignite the powder charges in ammunition. While Ryan was working with the primers, one became stuck; she banged the wooden block to dislodge

it. 


Virginia C. Page, 13


Richmonders rushed to the scene only to be met by victims who were seriously wounded from burns, lacerations, and blunt force trauma. The wounded were taken to General Hospital #2 that had been the former tobacco factory of S. W. Bailey and Company. 


I can only imagine how overwhelmed the families must have felt. And while there were advertisements in the newspapers and Richmonders donated funds to help with the costs of the injured, burials began immediately with several of the victims being interred on the same day.  


 Mary Zerhum, 12



Virginia Page, Richmond Dispatch, March 16, 1863.

     

                                  

Mary Valentine, 14, and Margaret Drustly, 16

Martha Clemmons, 25, and Margaret Alexander, 14


Virginia Mayer, 12, and Wilhelmina Defenbach, 15


Caroline Zietenheimer, 16

 

 


Nannie Horan, 14














My photos of the graves of Mary Ellen Wallace, 12 and Anne E. Bolton, 14 did not turn out but I plan to return to visit these girls .


One poignant moment of the tour was when Dunkerly shared how with so many war-related memories happening, this disaster did not continue to make the newspapers. His research could not find mention of the first or tenth anniversaries being recognized with wreath-laying ceremonies or even tributes in the paper. With so many lives affected by the explosion, it's unlikely the tragedy was forgotten by those close to the victims. A low tour turnout reinforced the message of these girls being forgotten. I'm so appreciative of researchers like Dunkerly and the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery for working to keep their stories alive. 



[i] “Terrible Explosion at the Government Laboratory,” The Richmond Whig, Sat March 14, 1863, 1. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

I wrote another book!


My forthcoming book
 The Souls Close to Edgar Allan Poe: Graves of His Family, Friends and Foes is being published by The History Press on August 21, 2023. Some of the cemeteries that I visited were places Poe visited. For some of the cemeteries in this collection, Poe would recognize only the names on the graves, not the place itself. And for other cemeteries, Poe would recognize the names and be familiar with the land—although prior to it being established as a burial ground. I love the idea of standing where the author once stood and walking the paths he once walked. I enjoy physically being in a place associated with history—where authors walked and lived. To have a fuller story of Poe and the people with whom he associated, I went to cemeteries and visited graves of his mother, wife, foster family, first and last fiancĂ©e, bosses, friends, cousins, school peers and instructors. I hope that my book encourages readers of Poe to visit the cemeteries in the collection to create their own experiences with those connected to the famous author. I focused on cemeteries in the South including those mostly in Virginia and Maryland, along with Washington, D.C.; Kentucky; South Carolina; and West Virginia. 

The book isn't up on their website yet but it's being shown on Bookshop.org. I'll add a link below: 

Description:

Journey to the burial places of the people who lived in Poe's world. 
Edgar Allan Poe considered himself a Virginian. Credited with originating the modern detective story, developing Gothic horror tales, and writing the precursor to science fiction, Poe worked to elevate Southern literature. He lived in the South most of his life, died in Baltimore and made his final home in Richmond. His family and many of his closest associates were southerners. Visit the graves of the people with whom he worked and socialized, who he loved and at times loathed and gain a fuller understanding of Poe's life. These were individuals who supported, inspired, and challenged him, and even a few who attempted to foil his plans. Professor and cemetery historian Sharon Pajka tells their stories. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

...we'll muddle through somehow...

I have been thinking about time machines lately. What if I could go back to one day just for a bit and not interrupt anything but just live that day harder than before? The thing is I actually try to appreciate every day. Before the pandemic, I would say “TGIT” (Thank God it’s Tuesday) in class with my students because why live for Fridays or weekends? We might not even make it until the weekend. 

I remember the first day I was a teacher. I had graduated, completed a practicum and a student-teaching internship; I was as prepared as a teacher can be in this country. A super uncomfortable event occurred, and I immediately thought, “shit, get the teacher” which quickly changed in my head to “shit, I am the teacher.” After that moment, I realized no one really knows what to do in times of crisis. No one actually teaches us how to be adults. We just try our best. 

Since August when I made my last update post, I have been trying my best. That doesn’t read quite as scary as it’s been on this end. To make a very long story short, or to condense the last five months, my mother, who has struggled with her mental health, now has dementia. In the last few months, I’ve only started to understand dementia. My mother has had visual and auditory hallucinations, confusion, and an inability to pay attention to someone or something. She’s had sleep difficulties, apathy, and depression. My mother stopped recognizing my father. This was probably the most devastating aspect of her diagnosis to him. I just keep thinking how fortunate we are that she did not hit my father on the head with a hammer while he was sleeping, which is what she revealed to me later. In fact, she told me exactly how she was going to kill the man whom she ominously said, “that’s not your father.” 

Without much guidance and a whole lot of confusion, I was able to find assisted living with memory care. I could rant about American health care and how we treat elders but what’s the point. My working-class family saved all their money and lived like ants (as opposed to grasshoppers-- see the Aesop Fables if you’re not sure what I mean) only to have it all drained away. But we’re lucky. I’ll keep saying that because it could have been worse... it still could be worse. The last five months have proven that life gets worse. 

My mother-in-law’s kidneys failed and within a month, she has moved from her home being an independent woman living alone and caring for herself to a woman who is dying in hospice care. Even hospice care isn’t what I imagined nor is palliative care in this country. But we’re lucky that we have *vacation* time to use so that we can be there by her side. 

When my father’s visit to my mother became so stressful one day that his blood sugar dropped, a security guard found him parked on the side of the road. But we’re lucky that he had pulled over and not killed someone or himself.  

It’s been a hectic last half of the year. I’ve been medicated for stress that was affecting my blood pressure; I’ve started to dehoard my parents’ home (I was even able to make room for a Christmas tree. The first one in over 15 years. It's little but mighty). I’ve been journaling like mad and focusing on exactly what needs to get done. I’ve accepted that this is the new normal. I hate that phrase when it comes to the pandemic but having Silent Generation parents means that I have new responsibilities as a caregiver. As long as I have a plan, I’m okay. My plans keep changing and that’s okay too. I’m just trying my best and trying to muddle through somehow.