It is still unknown to this day how one of America’s greatest and darkest writers met his untimely fate. Edgar Allan Poe was found on the morning of October 3, 1849, wandering the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium. It has been speculated that this was caused by any number of ailments stemming from overuse of alcohol, tuberculosis, cholera, rabies, or even murder at the hands of a poisoner. He was not conscious long enough to explain what happened, and was even wearing another man’s clothes when he was found. Before he died four days later on October 7, he supposedly yelled out the name “Reynolds!” and his last words were, “Lord help my poor soul”. However, any confirmation of this (as well as his actual death certificate) have been lost to history. Whatever the case, Poe’s death did not signal the end of his fame. Though depictions of him over the years have painted him as a tormented soul whose own inner depravities inspired his work—a man often alone and miserable, toiling away at his desk cranking out stories and poems to make just enough money to stay alive—these are actually quite the opposite of real life. Poe most likely did suffer from depression due to his childhood and death of loved ones over the years, but he actually lived quite comfortably. His works were seen as groundbreaking back then. He was a literary star in his own right. Unlike some authors and artists, it did not take his death or hundreds of years of hindsight to recognize the genius that was there.
This past September, I was thrilled to have my first book published, titled, Ghost Hunting Confidential: Investigating Strauss Mansion. In this book, I split time between information on the ghost hunting hobby, its history, and the various methods and equipment we use, while the second half tells of the paranormal investigations I have conducted at the Victorian-era mansion in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. It is a small volume, friendly for all ages, and I would like to think it had more of a “Haunted History” approach than just rambling on and on about ghosts. So far, personal comments made to me have been positive, and many have asked if I have another book in the works. Actually, I have two paranormal-themed books that are either finished as drafts or need work. The problem, as I found, is not the writing—that’s the easy part. As any author/historian will tell you, the main hold-up is money. I was very lucky to have my first work published by the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society (in return, I let them keep the profits). Anyway, on to Ghost Hunting Confidential, it has been reviewed by Garden State Legacy, an online New Jersey history magazine, for their June issue which came out earlier this week.
Every once in a while a book will come out that perfectly achieves what it initially set out to do. How They Croaked, by Georgia Bragg, is a children’s book (though I use that term loosely) which will completely gross the reader out to no end in all kinds of unimaginable ways, yet does it with intelligence, wit, and historical accuracy. The purpose of this work is to inform the audience how some of the world’s most famous people died, and the horrific journey their last days took them on, in a world where medicine was either in its infancy, or the doctors at hand just did not know what the heck they were doing. Everyone from Henry VIII and George Washington, to Cleopatra and Charles Dickens is profiled here, each getting their own brief chapter with plenty of neat little factoids and nuggets of information scattered about the overall disgusting subject matter. Now, why is this perfect for children? Well, they just love gross things! I borrowed this from a colleague and read a few chapters to a fifth grade class I was substituting in, and they loved it so much that five of them went out and bought it that weekend. I also lent it to students in older grades, and they too loved it. Oh, and what about me and people my age and older? Yes, the consensus is complete: this is a book that can be enjoyed by all.
Frosty the Snowman’s corncob pipe was taken away several years ago, and now, thanks to a hack author from Canada, Santa’s has now gone missing as well. Yes, that’s right, the politically correct, over-sensitive lunacy that has engulfed this continent has made its way to Clement Clarke Moore’s timeless tale, Twas the Night Before Christmas, as a new edition has been released with verses related to Santa’s evil pipe smoking deleted. The author, Pamela McColl, has omitted all references to tobacco, along with adding the subtitle, “Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century”, because she feels that Santa’s bad habit will negatively influence the young, malleable minds reading and listening to the story. While some may see this as harmless, I see it as a desecration of literature, much in the same way that people were aghast when Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was edited down a few years ago, removing all uses of the N-word, to appeal to “modern audiences”. Twain, the complete reverse of a racist in real life, used such language to articulate a point, and tell a story, one which has been butchered by the ultra-liberal pansies who want to shield young eyes from the slightest upsetting remark or image. Apparently, the jolly old elf enjoying a pipe after flying around the world is so disgusting, it had to be removed as well.
Well, look at that: three Lincoln-related posts in a row, though I hope this will be more accurate than Honest Abe hunting vampires and zombies…
This may not be “news”, but it just came to my attention, thanks to an actor I know who is auditioning for the part of Abraham Lincoln in this documentary project for National Geographic slated to air in 2013, and be produced by Ridley and Tony Scott. This special will be based on the best-selling book Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, which examines the events leading up to the president’s assassination and immediately following it. I was actually given this book as a gift last November by one of my students following the conclusion of a middle school-level twelve-week elective course on the Civil War I taught, and although I was very happy to receive such a gift, I just could not bring myself to read anything written by Bill O’Reilly, a personality which I do not care for. However, over time, I eventually skimmed through it, and I must admit, I enjoyed it.
Wanting to both learn more about the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as take a short break from Civil War and WWII studies, I picked up William Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance (Back Bay Books; 1992) at a recent book sale. Having a bad habit of starting books, getting engrossed and breezing through the first half, before getting preoccupied with something else and never completing it, I was not sure if I would ever end up reading this. However, one day, as I pondered something to do in my free time, I just decided to flip it open and read a random page, which had to do with the Inquisition, therefore it intrigued me (anything involving Church corruption is more often than not going to alert and keep my attention). I started reading it that day, and I do not think I have ever been so into a historical narrative, not from any other subject. This book had me in its grip the entire time and would not let go until I was finished. I will be quick to say that this is the best narrative I have ever read, hands down.
When used to describe a person, the term “gadfly” is usually considered an insult, as it refers to a type of fly that can be seen hovering around cattle pens, acting as quite an annoyance to the livestock. A “social gadfly” is even worse, as it is a person who upsets the status quo. Normally, one would not want to be called this, but it is a nickname that White House Press Correspondent and political talk radio show host Les Kinsolving has earned over his many years of service, and one that he relishes, so much so, that his biography is even titled as such, and it was written by his own daughter Kathleen, the subject of this next interview. I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Les last year in regards to his work in the films Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, as he portrayed Confederate General William Barksdale (he is also a distant cousin of his as well), but as I did more research on his background, I realized he built up quite an esteemed career in the White House press room, always asking the tough questions and keeping establishment leaders uneasy. We met briefly at the Extended Director’s Cut World Premiere last July in Manassas, and once again, I was honored. Our political beliefs may be very different—he’s more of a conservative (though not completely, as I was reminded) and I’m a liberal—but as I told Kathleen Kinsolving when we were first in contact, “…I have never listened to his show, but I hear he takes shots at anyone and everyone who he does not approve with, which I think is a very admirable quality”, to which she responded with that little word, “Yes, he’s quite the Gadfly—very fearless and provocative!”