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A ghost town is the home of the stories of its past residents.

[This post was written by reader Brigid Amos. Maybe you have seen her comments here. She is the author of a new book,  A Fence Around Her. I’ll let her continue…]

There is something bittersweet about a collection of abandoned homes, businesses, churches and civic buildings, all decaying slowly in a remote location. A visit to such a place always seems to evoke the dashed hopes and bitter disappointments of those who once walked its now-lonely streets, and this is true even if the ghost town is well-maintained and heavily visited, as is Bodie, California, a prosperous gold and silver mining district in the Eastern Sierra that boomed in the 1880s. Of all the stories I’ve read or heard about Bodie, the one that always gets to me is that of Lottie Johl. I find her story so sad and touching that I loosely based a major character in my novel A Fence Around Her on this real-life Bodie resident.

Lottie was a sweet, good-natured woman who found herself, through unfortunate life circumstances and limited employment opportunities, working in a house of ill repute in Bodie’s red-light district. There she met a hard-working German immigrant named Eli Johl. Although he was quite successful as a butcher, he was a lonely bachelor, perhaps due to his limited English skills, and he seemed to be searching for someone to share his life. The woman he found was Lottie, and much to the horror of the respectable people of Bodie, he took her as his legal wife. He built her a comfortable house and furnished it in the best style he could afford. Lottie showed an interest in painting, and Eli bought her an easel, a palette, and brushes, and he kept her well-supplied with oil paints and canvases. Isolated in her opulent parlor, Lottie painted fantastical landscapes. Eli had them elaborately framed in red velvet and gilt and displayed them on the parlor walls, although no one came to their house to look at the paintings, because Lottie was still shunned by society.

Finally, Eli hatched a plan to almost force Lottie upon Bodie society. A masquerade ball was to be held at the Miners Union Hall, and Eli sent Lottie to the event alone, dressed in a white satin gown covered in fake diamonds and pearls, with a matching crown perched on her blond curls. All the men wanted to dance with the lovely lady in the diamond and pearl-encrusted dress, and all the women envied her. The committee assigned to give out the costume awards decided to give the mysterious lady the first prize. But when midnight struck and everyone took off their masks, poor Lottie was abandoned by her dance partner. A member of the committee discreetly asked her to leave, and she went home in humiliation.

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Lottie Johl. Photograph used with permission of the Bodie Foundation.

And if the events of Lottie Johl’s life weren’t sad enough, her death and burial are truly heartbreaking. Lottie felt sick one day (though probably not sick enough to die), and a doctor wrote a prescription. The druggist filled it, and Lottie took the medicine. She was dead by next morning. Instead of the prescribed medicine, the druggist had given her a deadly dose of a toxic substance. It was probably a mistake, but I have to wonder if the druggist took less care in filling the prescription when he saw that it was for Lottie Johl, someone he considered of little importance.

Eli was not allowed to bury his beloved wife inside the fence of the cemetery with the “respectable dead,” so he erected an ornate wrought-iron fence around her grave. He was determined that she would have a much finer fence than the one around the cemetery, so that people would see what a fine woman she was. I think it’s ironic that so many of the people who made Lottie’s life miserable are completely forgotten, while the memory of Lottie Johl lives on.

I felt that it was important to honor the real-life inspiration for Lilly Conoboy, the mother of fourteen-year-old Ruthie Conoboy, the protagonist of my novel A Fence Around Her. I want to make it clear that Lilly is not Lottie. While Lottie was an innocent victim, Lilly brings on her own tragedy. While Lottie seems like someone I might seek out as a friend, Lilly is someone I would avoid if I could do so. But that is what we historical fiction writers do. We take history and turn it into fiction, and the two are not the same. I will always feel gratitude to the historical Lottie Johl for being who she was and leaving behind her story.

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Pamela:  You can read an excerpt of A Fence Around Her, Young Adult Historical Fiction published by Clean Reads, and purchase at the links below.

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

Kobo 

Smashwords  

Brigid and I would like to hear your comment!

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Author and playwright Brigid Amos

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Tennis cards, like baseball cards? Yes and no.

 

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These are called cigarette cards. Not much bigger than a modern business card, these trade cards were a bonus in a pack of cigarettes. They came in a series, usually twenty-five or fifty, with a similar theme.

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Each came in a different pack of cigarettes.

Many were aimed at male smokers:  airplanes, sports and cars. These cars were modern at the time.

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Cigarette companies wanted brand loyalty from consumers, so they gave them tiny works of art.

From the 1931 series "Picturesque London"

From the 1931 series “Picturesque London”

Another good way to get customers to keep buying from their company, and not from a competitor, was to display numbers on the cards.

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Or even letters of the alphabet.

Each letter has a different flag signal.

Each letter has a different flag signal.

The cards above and below are part of a 1910 series, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

 

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Some were embroidered silk. Recently, a quilt made of many of these was on display at the Pasadena Museum of History.

I came across all of these, and many more, by accident, at a hotel near Yosemite, the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. All of the ones there were from Great Britain, from 1890 to 1939. The cigarette cards below of British military uniforms were issued in 1939, when the country was fighting for its survival in World War II. I like to imagine people in a bleak time appreciating the small, patriotic works of art.

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Trade card from the 1880s

Trade card from the 1880s

From black and white to color:  the invention of printing by lithography brought beauty to people’s daily lives through mass production. If you are old enough to remember when color TV was new, you remember the first time you saw a show in color. I was amazed. It was so much more lifelike and vibrant than shades of gray.

In the late 1800s, lithography brought an explosion of items printed in color. People were handed trade cards like these, picked them up in the store, and pulled them from their mailboxes. Some women and children pasted them into albums.

An exotic Russian czar and brilliant color promote thread in this American trade card.

An exotic Russian czar and brilliant color promote thread in this American trade card.

Handbills distributed on the street for events, illustrations in books, free promotional posters you could tack on your wall–suddenly color was everywhere.

Recognize this painting from my last post? The Crimson Rambler, named after the wildly popular rose.

"The Crimson Rambler," ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

“The Crimson Rambler,” ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

Here’s one way that rose got so popular: trade cards.

Crimson Rambler trade card

Technology also brought colorful clothes. At this time, in the last half of the 1800s, synthetic dyes were introduced and suddenly people could wear rich colors.  Here are two silk dresses from the 1890s. These are from the Pasadena Museum of History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology brought the excitement of color. “The Color Explosion” was an exhibit at the Huntington showcasing part of their Jay T. Last Collection of lithographed items. Click on that link to see some examples that really took advantage of color, and read how it changed the world.

Take a second or two to load these beautiful paintings from “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” now at the Huntington. With the rise of the middle class and railroads, more people could commute to their job in a city and come home to a suburb.

Book published in 1901

Book published in 1901

Artists and other people enjoyed gardening in their own yards or in their artists’ colonies. Both painting and gardening involve color, form, and composition.

"The Crimson Rambler," ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

“The Crimson Rambler,” ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

“The Crimson Rambler” may look wonderfully old-fashioned to us, but its 1908 audience recognized this hybridized rose as a lovely product of technology. I like the lavender light on her white skirt, above,

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the pink in the multicolor grass,

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and the veil that is in sun and shadow.

Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.

Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.

 

"A Breezy Day," 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

“A Breezy Day,” 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

I think these women are spreading out laundered sheets to dry. This is a jewel of a painting, small (not quite 12 x 20 inches), and vivid, clear, and crisp as a windy day.

This exhibit, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is at the Huntington through Monday, May 9, and then continues its tour in the East. If you don’t live close to Los Angeles, that’s okay. I’ll keep posting about the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Can you see the banner of the painting "The Crimson Rambler?"

Can you see the banner of the painting “The Crimson Rambler?”

I’ll leave you with two artists’ own homes.

"My House in Winter" by Charles Morris Young

“My House in Winter” by Charles Morris Young

The labels with “The Artist’s Garden” exhibit state that the garden in winter was often discussed in books and magazines. The winter garden was considered a relaxing retreat, and winter a time of renewal.

The artist's home. "Snow" by John Henry Twachtman.

The artist’s home. “Snow” by John Henry Twachtman.

At the Huntington, I had read “renewal” to mean the sleeping gardens. I think of renewal in springtime grass and flowers. Maybe the writer meant personal renewal. Gardens, and impressionist art, renew and refresh me.

Happy Spring! Enjoy nature. I’ll post again on the first Monday in June.

TV murder mysteries with 1920s fashions–including cars–that are to die for.

Australian Broadcasting’s “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” features fabulous 1920s clothes and hats, as well as strong personalities.

“I’m not the marrying kind,” says the uninhibited Miss Fisher. I love that line! She uses that charming euphemism for a woman who sleeps around, and she’s at ease with herself. She loves to drive her own “motorcar,” and she has such an adventurous spirit that I was not surprised when she jumped into the cockpit of an “aeroplane” and flew it. Of course Miss Fisher can fly.

The next clip is from the first show, where she meets the prickly Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.

As Phryne solves crimes, Jack’s irritation turns to respect. He isn’t the man you saw in her boudoir, and much as we want it, that scene may never come to pass. Instead, he and Miss Phryne Fisher share affection and a crackling sexual tension.

Based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, at the end of the day, each 55-minute 1920s extravaganza is a solid whodunit, in my opinion, and I usually watch a TV whodunit at the end of the day. I get my Phryne fix on Netflix, on Watch Instantly, but I get it on Acorn, too. I just finished the 2015 season and will have to wait for more while I re-watch the old ones.

Mostly set in Melbourne, the Australian buildings are sumptuous, as in the opening frames of the next clip. Speaking of frames, love the 1920s sunglasses, too.

“The cattle business became a fad–a fashion. Rich men’s sons, college and university graduates, foreign investors in France, England and Scotland put their money in the business.” (Bartlett, History of Wyoming, Vol. 1)

The Cheyenne Club opened its doors in 1881. It was three stories tall with a kitchen and wine room in the basement. Servants trained in the East poured the finest liquors, which were brought in by train. Two vaults for the expensive wines. Caviar.

Members enjoyed a billiards room and a reading room with magazines and newspapers from the East. The club was decorated with paintings and thick carpets.

While the cattlemen dined in luxury, the cattle were left to fend for themselves during the winter, to find grass and unfrozen water or die. Even at the time, other people pitied the distressed animals.

The harsh winter of 1886-7 killed more cattle than usual, and the investors lost money. That spelled the end of their Cheyenne Club. Here’s a photograph of their grand building.

References:

Bartlett, I.S., ed. History of Wyoming, Vol. 1. Chicago, S.J .Clark, 1918

Dary, David. Seeking Pleasure in the Old West. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Larson, T.A. History of Wyoming. University of Nebraska Press, 1965.

The Old West: The Cowboys. New York, Time-Life Books, 1973.

 

 

Artist Chris Burden was profiled in the Los Angeles Times on May 11, the day after his death. The first line says that he once had himself shot in the arm for a performance piece. Luckily, the bullet just grazed him. Although shocking, that’s not why art critic’s Christopher Knight article about him was on the front page of the L.A. Times, where only the famous, such as statesmen and Hollywood celebrities, get their obituaries. Burden’s is there because his “Urban Light” has become a Los Angeles landmark.

Chris Burden saw art in vintage streetlamps. He painted them gray and installed them in front of the L.A. County Museum of Art, on busy Wilshire Boulevard. They are now solar powered. The lampposts in each row are identical, so that even the most ornate have a peaceful grace.

This video by Mike Fix showcases the art installation with aerial views and gorgeous music: “Experience” by  Ludovico Einaudi.