Lee's headquarters Gettysburg

Lee's headquarters Gettysburg
The recently restored area around Lee's Headquarters in Gettysburg PA!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Phantom Killer by James Presley

I just finished the hefty volume with the large title of "The Phantom Killer:  Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Killer Murders: A Story of a Town in Terror" by James Presley the other day.

James Presley has a very personal connection to this case, as he is related to one of the original investigators.  AND, he had been contacted by the main suspect at one time about writing a book on his case!  It definitely gives the book some authority.

I enjoyed this very complete telling of the crimes of the serial killer who terrorized Texarkana in 1946.  A couple of horror films have been made about the incident, and several books have covered the crimes. 

James Presley discusses the entire known events of the crimes (which includes 5 murders and several assaults), the evidence, law enforcement involved, etc.  The crimes were pretty horrifying for the time, as the Phantom at first attacked young couples parked in cars.

Authorities do find a major suspect through tracking some car thefts.  Eventually they even get a statement from the main suspect's wife that is pretty damning.

Presley makes a pretty good argument in this book that the crime was basically solved, but not officially.  The suspect was put away for life, relating to his other crimes, though he does find a way to get out later.  AND, despite some pretty convincing evidence, there were holes in the case against him.

In a lot of ways, this is also an interesting read relating to the handling of crimes and suspects in the 40s.  Its a fascinating time capsule.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lost! A Ranger's Journal of Search and Rescue by Dwight McCarter and Ronald Schmidt

I mentioned the book "MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  Aircraft Crashes in the Smoky Mountains" way back in 2012!  Well, that book's co-author, Dwight McCarter contributed to another fascinating book about search and rescue in the same area.

"LOST!  A Ranger's Journal of Search and Rescue" by the previously mentioned Dwight McCarter and his co-author Ronald Schmidt gives the story of about a dozen rescues that McCarter was involved in.  The chapters are taken from his journal, and each one is its own little short story.

All are fascinating.  Some end very happily with a successful rescue.  Some end sadly with the discovery of a body.  AND, Dwight gives his firsthand account of the search for Dennis Martin- possibly one of the saddest stories associated with the Smoky Mountains.

Dates and times are noted in the journal so you get a bit of a play by play kind of feel as the search continues.

This book is a very interesting and easy to read volume for anyone who has ever explored the Smoky Mountains.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

"A Season with the Witch" by JW Ocker

I just finished reading JW Ocker's A Season with the Witch:  The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts".

This is one of those books that I was pretty excited to pick up right when it came out.  I know that Ocker is someone who sincerely enjoys weirdness and strange things and places (check out his blog, OTIS for proof).  AND, he is pretty big on the town of Salem Massachusetts..... a town that I am also pretty fond of!

So, last year JW was able to spend the entire month of October in the "Witch City."  In fact, he and his family were able to hang out, and take in all of the Halloween festivities that go down in Salem in October.

I am certain that everyone is familiar with the Salem Witch Trials that happened in 1692.  Well, for better or for worse, the town has always been associated with witches ever since.

That association of/connection to/celebration of witchiness just seems to get stronger here.  Even as perceptions of witches can be diverse..... anything and everything witchy seems to come together in Salem!

Ocker points out that there is something weird about this.  Many other areas took more victims during their moments of witch hysteria.  And, why has Salem become a mecca for modern practitioners of Witchcraft and lovers of Halloween?

The author tries to figure those questions out as he explores this great city.  Along the way he interviews the people you might expect-  local celebrities, authors, politicians, and museum operators.  He also gets some fascinating dialogue going with a Salem cop and the person who provides security at the cemetery.

I don't think that JW Ocker meant to have a villain in his book, but one does accidentally emerge.  Salem's Peabody Essex Museum has some Holy Grail type relics relating to the witch trials of 1692 IN STORAGE!  This sad fact is brought up a couple of times in the book.  In their defense, PEM does try to explain why they do not display these items..... but I think for many of us their excuse is a bit on the weak side.

As someone who has visited Salem a few times, I really enjoyed reading about some of the businesses in town, and whats going on there right now.  The city does change a lot, but it remains the historic, Witch City.

This is a great read for this time of the year!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Random Thoughts On Friday

I had a conversation the other day with a co-worker who is a couple of decades older than me.  A third person involved in the conversation was about 10 years younger than I am.

We were talking about horror movies and scary TV shows that we have enjoyed.  Its that time of the year.  OK, its always that time of the year for me.

Anyway, the Twilight Zone was brought up.  I (like most people) love the show.  I think it still packs a punch and I appreciate the ironic twists that happen in the episodes.

Plus, the show always had a very ISOLATED feel.  Someone was stranded somewhere having difficulty getting back to where they belonged.

I think that now, in 2016, it is hard to conceive of being helpless like that.  You have a cell phone on ya.  Your buddy hanging out with you also has one.  Anyone that passes by you has one too.

AND, with access to a car, I can pretty much get anywhere I would want to go in the US within a day or two.  Gas is something most of us can afford.  Travelling by plane is pretty accessible too.  I simply can't think of a desperate situation where I would not be able to get somewhere I would need to get too in a reasonable amount of time.

However, I personally do remember being a kid (pre-cellphone), and my mom's car broke down once.  We had to walk a pretty long ways until we found a house.  Luckily, there was a very nice lady home who let us use her home and helped us out.

I had a friend in high school who had a very bad wreck on a dark country road one night.  He had to walk about a mile to a house and he knocked on their door.  No one answered.  He had to walk a long distance to the next home, and they helped him.  Though bloody, he was OK.

A friend told me about a time in the early 90s when they ran out of gas in rural Kentucky around midnight.  They were very terrified but, again, someone helped them.

I think it is hard for younger people now to have such a concept of being stranded, and being helpless.  I am very glad we have gotten to that point as a society, but it might be nearly impossible for a younger person to conceive of (and relate to) the horror of being stranded in the Twilight Zone.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Indianapolis Haunts" by Alan E. Hunter


Not too long ago Alan E. Hunter put together about the most perfect book concerning hauntings ever written.  Hunter knows his history, he knows how to research, and he visits the sites.  Plus, he knows Indianapolis.

Hunter's book, "Indianapolis Haunts" focusses on the Indianapolis Indiana area.  Each chapter gives short (but very complete) histories of the location Hunter covers.  The last paragraph or two of the chapter discusses the hauntings of the locations.  Then, at the very end of each chapter, Alan has a "psychic" friend who gives her impressions of the sites.

Alan does give a lot of space in the book to the psychic, and to ghost hunting friends of his, but he still sticks very closely to the known facts.  He doesn't deal with the whole, "locals say someone died here some time ago".  If someone died at a home or business, he knows the names and dates.  And that's what I really appreciate about this volume.

Alan covers EVERYTHING you would expect to have covered relating to the Circle City.  In the first few pages, Hunter gives a complete history of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  I love this area, and I had NO IDEA of all of the transitions it has been through!  AND, I had no idea about the sad falls that have happened there.

Alan Hunter covers all of the famous Indianapolis crime- the LaSalle Street murders, the Fox Hollow Farms murders, and the death of Sylvia Likens (one of the all time saddest tales associated with this great city).  Being a local, it is interesting to find out that the author actually rubs elbows, through coaching baseball, with one of the scariest people to ever call Indiana home. 

Hunter covers a lot of ground in the book.  Famous Hoosiers you would expect to appear are here (Benjamin Harrison and Kurt Vonnegut show up).  The author deals with some unexpected territory (there is a brief mention of Wood fairies).  Plus, there are some villains from the past that are strongly linked to the area (Chicago's H.H. Holmes and Charles Manson make appearances).

The deceptively thin book (its right under 160 pages, but the type is small) is a great read if you have any interest in Indianapolis.  This is a complete intro to haunts, true crime, and just general history relating to Indy.  This book gets my highest possible recommendation.  Also, check out Al Hunter's "Weekly View" contributions here.  Hunter has a real passion for history and weird stories.

Monday, October 24, 2016

"The Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967" by Acadia Publishing

In general, I really like the Arcadia books....  Though I have picked up a few that were more miss than hit.... but their book on the Silver Bridge disaster is very well done.

I am sure I have mentioned the event here before, but if you are not familiar with it, I will give you a little info.  The Silver Bridge was built in 1928 connecting Point Pleasant West Virginia to Gallipolis Ohio.

Around 5pm on December 15th, 1967 the bridge (filled with cars) collapsed.  46 people died.

The book, "The Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967" does a great job of covering the disaster.  The photos are dark, but- along with the captions and paragraphs accompanying them, give a real, 3 dimensional feel.  I have been to Point Pleasant several times, and have had a rough idea of how things happened, but this book truly puts the pieces into place in my mind's eye.

There is a section on those who died in the collapse.  I did appreciate seeing the pictures, and reading their stories.

There is a section on the new bridge built to replace the old one.  Another section covers what exactly caused the bridge to fall.  Pieces of the bridge were examined in a nearby field during that investigation.

I really have to tip my hat to the authors of "The Silver Bridge Disaster" (there are several credited contributors, including the Point Pleasant River Museum).  I think a pre-teen or an avid adult reader  could read this one and appreciate the devastation felt in the area in 1967.  MANY great photos from different angles are included.

The writers stick to the facts and are descriptive.  Also to their credit, they avoid any mention of other events at that time sometimes associated with the bridge collapse (I do love scary Mothman stories, but these authors do not mention the Mothman or Cornstalk legends at all) sticking strictly to the facts.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Canal Street, New Orleans, La.

Sent in 1944.  The postcard says on the back-

Canal Street and the ever-growing skyline of the South's Greatest City.  This 171 foot wide thoroughfare has been termed America's most beautiful business street.  It has terrazzo paving lined with pink borders.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"The Widow of the South" by Robert Hicks

Remember several months ago, when I talked about our trip to the Franklin Tennessee area to visit several Civil War sites?  Well, one of them was Carnton Plantation and I noticed that there was a book written about the place!

Robert Hicks has written a really cool book of historic fiction based on Carnton and what happened there during the Civil War.

I do have one issue with historic fiction, and I generally try to avoid it, because I don't want to get confused on the facts!

This is FICTION, and the writer takes his liberties.  BUT, I think the spirit of people in Franklin at that time is accurately guessed and conveyed.

For example, the main character, Carrie McGavock, who has lost 3 children already before the Confederates declare her home to be a hospital, comes off as suffering from some serious mental health issues.  I don't know if the real life Carrie McGavock would have behaved the way the fictional one does, but I would understand it if she did. 

Robert Hicks is doing a lot of guess work on the characters, but I think he does a great job of his guesses.  The characters are believable.  AND, as he switched voices (different parts of the book are from different character's points of view) they seem right.  The language....  the way of talking and thinking, feels accurate for the 1860s.  Some writers are great at getting their character's voices right, and I think Robert Hicks really has that talent.  That is something that I admire in an author.

And speaking of giving character's a voice that feels accurate....the author has Civil War legend Nathan Bedford Forest show up a couple of times.  Love him or hate him (there are no in-betweens with Forrest) he adds something to any story.  I have to say I felt that Hicks did a good job with estimating how Forrest would talk and act.

So, author Robert Hicks takes a very simple event that we know happened in history- Carrie McGavock selflessly helps out at the Confederate Hospital/Her Home, and then continues her service to the Confederate dead by setting up and maintaining a cemetery for those killed in the battle of Franklin.  He takes this giving character and creates a story for her.

This was a really interesting novel that held my attention.  It was especially interesting reading it after visiting the actual Carnton Plantation AND the cemetery on the property once cared for by Carrie.

Robert Hicks hit it out of the park with this effort.  "The Widow of the South" gets my highest possible recommendation.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Random Thoughts On Friday

I wanted to mention a couple of things while I am thinking about them......

I am still sorting through photos from our road trip to Niagara Falls, but I am coming to an end on that.  I wanted to take a break though, and put some seasonal type posts up.  Mostly I have read some books that are good reading for autumn, and I wanted to give them a mention.

Also wanted to mention that I have caught a couple of episodes of the new TV show Timeless.  Anybody else watching that?  I really like what they are doing.  Sure, some nitpickers might find issue with some of the laws of time travel they are using, but it is still a fun show.  I REALLY enjoyed the whole Lincoln episode a lot.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Skyline, New Orleans, LA

 Sent from New Orleans in 1948 to Orleans Indiana.

"New Orleans covers 200 square miles; is the fourth largest US City in the area; greatest wholesale and financial center of the south.  Here is the hum and throb of industry, natural scenic beauty, the antique and picturesque contrast of old and new civilization."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"The Hartford Circus Fire" by Michael Skidgell

One of my favorite folk duos, John and Mary released a very sad song called "July 6th" back in 1991.  That was the first time I had ever heard about the Hartford Circus Fire (which happened on July 6th, 1944).

I was curious again about the fire, and found that author Michael Skidgell put out a book about it called, "The Hartford Circus Fire: Tragedy Under the Big Top".

This is a very non-traditional book in a lot of ways.  Skidgell gives a lot of time to the fire, and discussing how people got trapped (168 circus goers died that day).  Obviously things happened fast and the fire spread quickly.

Then the author spends a lot of time giving a bio of the victims.  Though sad, I appreciated the generous amount of the book that is devoted to those who died at the fire, and their stories.  It was nice that photos were included showing many smiling, and enjoying themselves at an earlier point in their lives.

The last section covers the aftermath of the fire.

"The Hartford Circus Fire" feels more like a nice little tribute to those who died in the fire than a usual book on a topic.  I did appreciate this one a lot!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Clifton Hill Niagara Falls Canada

There are several great natural and historic places that develop.... well, a Clifton Hill.  You know, rows of fudge shops, rides, restaurants, museums, mini golf, a Hard Rock CafĂ©, etc. etc. pop up near that amazing place.

In general, I am very OK with this.  You can go to Niagara Falls and not even bother with Clifton Hill.  You can visit the Smoky Mountains, and deal with the actual park, while avoiding the lights and shows of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge if you want.

Some places, you can't avoid the "other attractions".  We visited the Alamo in San Antonio Texas earlier this year and there is no way to avoid all that has popped up around the remnants of the legendary Fort.  A mall, hotels, a Ripley's and infinite shops are all within view of the Alamo.  You would have a hard time standing in front of the Alamo and imagining the landscape of the battle.

To be honest, I think a lot of people LIKE having so much to do near a park.  You can enjoy the natural beauty of a place during the day, and see a show or visit the shops in the evening.  For a family with young kids, this might be a good way to introduce them to parks, nature, and history, while still holding their interest with promises of a festive carnival experience too.

There are some areas that have been resistant to allowing an excessive amount of over the top businesses take over a historic site.

Some towns that have benefited from Civil War tourism in particular have even worked hard to reclaim and restore land in an effort to see the battlefields look like they did at the time of the battles.  Franklin Tennessee and Gettysburg Pennsylvania both come to mind when I think of areas making an effort to get back to what they once were.  With the help of the Civil War Trust (a charity of which I am personally very fond) pieces of battlefields have been purchased from private owners, and donated back to the parks.  Hotels, and fast food buildings have been removed.

Could something like this ever happen to Niagara Falls, or the Smoky Mountains?  I don't think so.  AND, there is something historic and attractive about some of that too.  I remember my dad asking me, after our first trip to Gatlinburg, if we saw the lights and shows.  He told me that when he was younger and passed through the town, he thought a huge carnival had come through.  He asked a local about it, and they told him that it was always there.

I think Clifton Hill and Gatlinburg are part of the experiences that go along with their respective parks.








Monday, October 17, 2016

Niagara Daredevil Exhibit at Niagara Falls, Ontario

While at Niagara Falls, I wanted to swing by and see some of the barrels/contraptions/boxes that have been used to go over the Falls.  Well, they are on display at the Niagara Daredevil Exhibit!

I THINK some were replicas, but many were the real deal.  Plus, there is a nice write up on each adventurer who has gone over.  Some have been successful, some not.

You do have a much better chance of surviving going over the Canadian Falls than the American Falls.  Still, the numbers are small.  Pretty much no one has ever survived going over the American Falls.  Only a couple dozen or so people have ever gone over the Canadian side and survived.

According to Wikipedia, about 5,000 bodies have been found at the foot of the Falls between 1850 and 2011.  About 40 people are killed each year by being swept over.  Wikipedia also notes an estimated 20-30 suicides there each year, most of which are not officially publicized.  Those are some crazy and sad numbers.

A couple of books on the subject are written by T. W. Kriner and cover the whole subject in detail.  I mentioned them here previously.

The Niagara Daredevils Exhibit really covers all of the main barrel jumpers at the Falls.






Sunday, October 16, 2016

Niagara Falls Canada

Here are a few random photos we took from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.

One of my favorite stories/things to see at the Falls involves the scow.  I have mentioned it before, but I am surprised at how many visitors to the Falls never take notice of the barge that just sets right above the Horseshoe Falls.




Saturday, October 15, 2016

Skylon at Niagara Falls Ontario

We have enjoyed visiting tall towers in various cities (in Texas and in Tennessee).  So, going to the top of the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls was a must!

Here are some photos I took.  The Falls and the area are so photogenic- it is very easy to take great photos from this point!  There was a guy doing some work right outside of the observation deck area.  That was interesting.








Friday, October 14, 2016

Niagara Falls Incline Railway in Ontario Canada

There is a short, slow moving incline railway at Niagara Falls.  It does help connect a couple of areas, but I think most people ride it just to ride it.  That's what we did.

The first incline railway went in in 1845!  The only one in the area now is this one, built in 2013 to replace one that had been there since 1966.

Here are a few photos.




Thursday, October 13, 2016

American and Canadian Falls From Oakes Garden Theatre, Niagara Falls, Canada

This postcard is undated and unused.  I am sure it is at least half a century old.  Oddly, a lot of the scenery here still looks similar.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Niagara Falls From Michigan Central Train

This is a unique, dated view of the Falls, and I LOVE the train in the picture!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Oakes Gardens Niagara Falls Postcard

"View showing part of Oakes Gardens at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.  American Falls in background."

Monday, October 10, 2016

American Falls of Niagara in Winter

Another great old postcard showing Niagara Falls covered in ice.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

General View by Illumination, Niagara Falls

"Niagara Falls- a sight unequalled in its splendor.  This is one of the wonders of the world, a real triumph of Mother Nature."

This is another postcard with great.... though exaggerated colors.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Niagara Falls by Illumination

"Exceeds Sun's Brilliance.  When the new floodlights are marching across the Falls, and resting on either or both of the American and Canadian faces of them, or playing in the mist of spray above them, they are described by beholders as more beautiful than ever the Spray and the Sun combined could make them in the past, or than ever the Moon and the mist could make them.  The effect is described as one suggesting that both the Sun and the Aurora Borealis have combined to do their utmost in the creation of a new spectacle."

I love these old postcards- with vibrant pictures and descriptions.

Friday, October 7, 2016

View From My Room, Niagara Falls Ontario

Just for fun, here are a few photos I took  from my hotel room in Niagara Falls Ontario.  A couple show the fireworks show over the Falls!  It was a cool show, though a bit short.

It was fun seeing the area at this angle.  We did notice that there are some (mostly shabby) houses sandwiched in between various tourist attractions.  I am not sure of the value of those properties, but it was a bit surprising to see these homes taking up space here.