Ghosts & Jefferson Barracks Historic Site – Oh, My!

Ghosts. Witches. Vampires…yes it’s almost Halloween and the time of year where things go bump in the night. Time to question once more – do you believe in the supernatural? Werewolves? Zombies…I truly don’t get the zombie-thing. Nevertheless…I believe, from personal history, that ghosts, spirits, exist among us. Let me explain.

I closed on my house the day my father died. He’d never seen the inside of the house – he was too ill to see it. But he’s been inside my house since he died. How do I know? He used to smoke pipes. His favorite tobacco was Bondstreet. But he didn’t like moist tobacco. He used to dry it out in the oven, later microwave. Why? I don’t know. But that gave that tobacco a distinct aroma and I’ve never smelled it anywhere else. No one smokes in my house but the scent of that tobacco has been strong at three different times since I moved in. Nice.

Laborers House JB 1Another incident came from when I used to work at Jefferson Barracks Historic Park. JB itself was an operation military post from 1826-1946. Today, some of the historic buildings date back to the 1850s. One is the Laborers House. The two-story limestone building is a freestanding exhibit that had to be manually opened and closed daily by the staff. The windows to it were the old wood-framed ones that had to be manually lifted and a pin in the frame to keep it open to push back the shutters. Yes, shutters that swung open and shut. Cool, actually. The building had 1 light – in the shotgun hallway on first floor. The only lights in the rooms (1 main room on first and 2 bedrooms on second) were the two windows in the front and back.

098379pvSo one evening, I was the only staff there and had to close the house. It was fall and dusk was descending. Upstairs, the two bedrooms had a door between them that was open. The doorways from the hall were Plexiglas panels so people could look into the rooms. So the staff entered back room’s door because it was close to stairs. I closed the front windows then went through the adjoining door to the back room. Closed the farthest shutters then went to the last window. As I looked into the glass as I raised the window, I saw a reflection of a man leaning in the adjoining door. His arms were crossed as he watched me. He wore white cotton pullover shirt, tan breeches. It was the strangest thing. I also realized I had to cross within three feet of him to leave the room. So I did what anyone else would do – I jammed the pin into the frame to keep the window open, slammed the shutters fast, latching them, almost dropped the window in closing and looked down as I sped out the room.

Odd. Totally cool. Yes, I am a chicken.

People have been in that house tell me they can sense the spirits there. Upstairs in particular, especially the back room. There, they claim, are a lot of men, busy playing cards and talking.

There are many other stories of ghosts at JB that I know. Plus, I had another encounter at General Daniel Bissell’s House too, which I’ll tell later.

So yes, I believe in ghosts, in spirits still making their presence known for whatever reason. Tell me, have you seen ghosts?



As to vampires, check out Her Eternal Rogue – the Regency story of vampire/pirate and the lady.GinaDanna_HerEternalRogue200Amazon  Barnes & Noble   iTunes

The Muse & A Horse

The Muse. The driving force inside us that inspires us to create the stories we write. The gateway to the voices inside our heads, the ones who scream write about me!! And once the gate opens, a flood of voices and emotions spill into our conscious, even prying into our subconscious. Sometimes, it’s hard to discern the storyline through all the mayhem. Other times, the problem lies our muse holding part back – giving the writer just enough to entice thus getting our hands to the keyboard and write only to then push us to “discover” just how the plot unfolds.

But how do you know your Muse?

IMG_1158           I discovered my muse is my horse, Shetan. I know, I know – a horse? Writers are slightly insane as it is – as Bob Mayer states, no sane, rational person knowingly sits down and writes 100,000 words – but a horse? I have a friend, a lawyer, who simply can’t believe it and gives me a bad time over this. But it is true. Shetan, my beautiful Arabian, is a perfect muse. Where I have him boarded is an hour drive away. A bite on gas but I get a space where I can think, play with plot, characters, ideas without people interrupting me. Yes, there is the cellphone but I veer clear of texting & driving and emailing. Mostly, I listen to soundtracks. Last few months, its either Fast5 or the latest, Spartacus: Vengeance (perfect since my current wip is on Rome). Set music, nothing really new, becomes background music – perfect for a mind to wander to.

The ranch my boy is at is not a public boarding place but private therefore mostly vacant of people. It is a place that I leave everything in the car, including the infamous cell, and spend time playing with my boy. As any horse owner will tell you, to spend time with one of these fabulous creatures is like manna from heaven. He touches my soul and renews me every time – regardless if we ride, do groundwork or just spend time together. It clears my head. Any tension, any pressures from everyday life lift. With all that gone, the story flows and plot problems untangle or get deeper.

Of course, sometimes, a new voice yells what about me?!? Yeah, another problem. The new “boyfriend.” Ooops!

So tell me – what or who inspires your Muse?

Scones and Chocolate – A Taste for the Past

cw-picnicAs writers, we often weave tales to bring our readers into the world we depict in words. As historian, it is a great delight to open the past, to walk through it, down the streets of old. To feel the turn of the carriage wheels, the touch of saddle leather, the scent of the air – both perfumed and tainted, and what past through their lips.

Food. An enticing subject. More years ago than I’d care to admit, back when romance novels were referred to as “bodice-rippers” & Fabian donned many covers, the favored Regency breakfast for the heroine was a drink called chocolate and scones – always served in bed by her maid. Far removed from true meals. Upon research, the chocolate wasn’t hot chocolate like we know it today but a mixture of true chocolate and hot water, similar to tea. Scones are more of a teatime offering, not breakfast fare.

I write of various periods so finding out groceries, mentioning correctly what was devoured, adds more depth to the story when appropriate. Many times, what you find is fascinating and educational. Remember, the past, the periods I write about, have no refrigerators, no microwaves, no pasteurized milk, and no frozen pizza – no pizza period! And that’s just the beginning of elimination of our eating today…

A Victorian picnic -From Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861 a picnic for forty people:

A joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, two ribs of lamb, two shoulders of lamb, four roast fowls, two roast ducks, one ham, one tongue, two veal-and-ham pies, two pigeon pies, six medium-size lobsters, one piece of collared calf’s head, eighteen lettuces, six baskets of salad, six cucumbers. Stewed fruit well sweetened, three or four dozen plain pastry biscuits to eat with the stewed fruit, two dozen fruit turnovers, four dozen cheesecakes, two cold puddings in moulds, two blanc-manges in moulds, a few jam puffs, one large cold plum pudding, a few baskets of fresh fruit, three dozen plain biscuits, a piece of cheese, six pounds of butter, assorted breads, rolls and cakes, on half pound of tea. Coffee is not suitable for a picnic, being difficult to make.

As to beverages – three dozen quart bottled of ale, packed in hampers; ginger-beer, soda-water and lemonade, of each two dozen bottles; six bottles of sherry, six bottles of claret, champagne a discretion and any other light wine that may be preferred and two bottles of brandy.

Water, of course, was available wherever you set up your picnic.

I’m not sure where you’d find a collard calf’s head – nor do I think I’d want one. Also think I’d pass on the tongue but otherwise, most of the menu we have available today. Go back further in time and find limitations. I write stories in Ancient Rome. Wine is available and grape juice (before fermentation), cider, barley water but no coffee.

Roman meal 1Some of the recipes I’ve seen have been modernized to try today, such as Boiled Ostrich with Date Sauce, Stuffed Thrushes or Pigeons, Stuffed Hare, Squid Patties, Peas or Fava Beans a la Vitellius, Beets with Mustard, Carrots with Cumin Sauce, Artichokes with Egg. Desserts included Egg Pudding, Honey Custard, Peach Patina and Melca (curdled milk) – and the majority of all their dishes, including some desserts like Melca, called for garum – inherited from the Greeks and its use spread over the Mediterranean region. Garum is a fish sauce. Gargilius Martialis, De medicina et de virtutue herbarum, 62 (3rd Century AD) –

Use fatty fish, for example sardines, and a well-sealed (pitched) container with a 26-35 quart/liter capacity. Add dried aromatic herbs, possessing a strong flavor, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, etc, making a layer on the bottom of the container; then put down a layer of fish (if small leave them whole, if large use pieces); and over this add a layer of salt two fingers high. Repeat these three layers until the container is filled. Let it rest for seven days in the sun. Then mix the sauce daily for twenty days. After that time it becomes a liquid (garum).

From what I’ve investigated, garum is very strong fishy sauce. It isn’t sold in the US but even if it was, not sure I’d want to try it.

So how far do you go in portraying menus of the time you write?