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“The Widow of the South,” and Franklin, Tennessee

Robert Hicks’ bestseller, The Widow of the South, an excellent historical fiction novel to read before a trip to Franklin, Tennessee.

The Battle of Franklin near Nashville, Tennessee, may not be the most famous battle of the American Civil War. Yet, for lovers of historical fiction, the story told in Robert Hicks’ novel The Widow of the South is gripping enough to inspire travel to Franklin, Tennessee, to see Carnton Plantation and other sites where the story takes place. If you go, you’ll discover why the Battle of Franklin is considered the last great battle of the Civil War.

And, you’ll find plenty of modern-day activities that make Franklin a great destination above and beyond the battlefield. It’s so cute, it even inspired a Hallmark movie, based on Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge.

The True Story and the Fiction

The Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate Army, with nearly 7,000 casualties.  (For a detailed explanation, see the Battle of Franklin Trust website.) During the battle, which raged not just in fields but also in people’s back yards, Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of injured and dying Confederate soldiers. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house and the adjacent cemetery. (See my previous post on the Carter House where the battle also raged.)

 Robert Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note, “Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’  She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy.  From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.”

Hicks constructed his book using letters and diaries but added a number of fictional characters to the factual mix, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Serious Civil War buffs no doubt roll their eyes about the book’s fictional additions.

Hicks says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story.  Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.”

Sign describing Carrie McGavock as “The Good Samaritan of Williamson County.”

As you tour, you’ll discover that the Battle of Franklin was anything but imaginary.  Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.

Outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481 young soldiers, a staggering reminder of the epic battle.

TheCemetery that Carrie McGavock created after the Civil War.
The cemetery that Carrie McGavock created on her plantation after the Civil War.
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Updated and More Inclusive

The Carnton tour used to somewhat glorify the business acumen of Carnton’s white owners. That neglected the horror of slavery and the fact that all of us could succeed in business if our laborers worked for free. I’m happy to report that the plantation has added a Slavery and the Enslaved: Tours at Carter House and Carnton.

So, I maintain that quality historical fiction serves an important role to spark interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate. I, for one, had never have heard of the Battle of Franklin before reading the book. More importantly, historical sites must present their stories from multiple perspectives and with an eye in include the facts, not just those with a nostalgia for the old South.

…And While You’re in Franklin

Yet, everything in Franklin isn’t about war and death. The charming town makes a great girls’ getaway or weekend trip, not just for history buffs. There’s unique shopping an abundance of live music and some charming inns, too. Don’t miss Landmark Booksellers, inspiration for Karen Kingsbury’s novel, The Bridge.

Independent Landmark Booksellers of Franklin, Tennessee was the inspiration of the New York Times bestselling novel ‘The Bridge.’ Photo courtesy Visit Franklin.
Music at Gray’s on Main in Franklin. Photo courtesy of Visit Franklin.

Where to Stay

The new Harpeth Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton luxury hotel, is the only hotel in downtown.  There are also a wide array of charming B&Bs.

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Find the Texas of Your Imagination in Amarillo

If you’re a fan of western literature and movies, put Amarillo, Texas, and the surrounding Panhandle of northwest Texas on your travel “to do” list.  The longhorn cattle you may see trotting down Polk Street, the rickety old windmills pumping water for cattle and the dry, rugged terrain makes you think Clint Eastwood will ride up on his horse any time and squint into the sunset.

But this is no movie, nor it this a place of where folks don western wear but have never seen a ranch. Instead, it’s easy to find a true taste of the American west here among real life cowboys and cowgirls whose roots and ranches go back to the mid-1800s and the first cattle drives.   

Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S.
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Head first to Palo Duro Canyon, this country’s second largest canyon, gouged into the flat, dry terrain not far from Amarillo.  In Palo Duro Canyon State Park you’ll find great hiking and plenty of animals including bobcats, roadrunners and Texas horned lizards.  Hikers may also come across the park’s resident longhorn cattle T-Bone, Brisket and Omelette (members of the state’s longhorn herd).  Or, they might find a dugout shelter that early ranchers used despite the fact that this was the winter home of the Comanche.  In 1874, the ultimate struggle between white settlers and the native Comanche played out in the brutal Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.  The army destroyed the Comanches’ supplies, slaughtered their horses and eventually sent them to reservations in Oklahoma, a story told in S.C. Gwynne’s bestseller, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

Then in 1876, Charles Goodnight (the inspiration for the Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove) opened the famous JA Ranch in the canyon.  At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle on 1.5 million acres and remains a working ranch today.  The park, originally part of that ranch, opened in 1934. 

History Behind the Texas Tales

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A statue of Molly Goodnight and buffalo at the Goodnight Historical Center
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You’ll find more about Charles Goodnight and his wife Molly, one of history’s unsung western women, at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center on their ranch in what is now Goodnight, Texas. The buffalo still roam this ranch, saved from extinction by Molly Goodnight’s efforts. In addition to Lonesome Dove, history buffs will want to pick up a copy of J. Evetts Haley’s Goodnight biography Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.

To gain a better understanding of the sweep of Panhandle history, point your wagon toward the fabulous Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the town of Canyon.  It’s Texas’s oldest and largest history museum and lies on the campus of West Texas A&M University.  Its vast collection includes dinosaur skeletons, pioneer life exhibits, memorabilia of the great Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, oil derricks, antique cars and western art including works by O’Keefe, who lived in the area for a time.  Like guns?  They have an immense collection.

Saddle Up

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Phyllis Nickum of Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West

Still, Panhandle life must be experienced from the saddle.  There’s no better way to do that than to ride with Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West at Los Cedros Ranch.  Owner Phyllis Nickum and her crew welcome visitors from around the world to this working ranch on the edge of the canyon.

From atop her in her golden palomino, Jake, she explains the story of the vanquished.  “This is the sacred home of the most powerful Indian tribe and greatest horsemen in American history, the Comanche.  History books are written by the victors so I do my part to infuse the majesty of the tribe in the story.”  She also calls attention to the strength and endurance of the women of western history—women like Molly Goodnight and Stagecoach Mary who are often overlooked in story of the west. 

Back in Amarillo, you can see Nickum cheering on her ranch hands when they participate in a series of lively ranch rodeos that culminates with the World Championships in November.  You’ll see bronc riding, wild cow milking, stray gathering, team penning and the mutton busting competition in which tiny kids cling on for a sheep ride. “Toughens ’em up,” says Nickum.  

Amarillans take pride in another era of Panhandle history, the glory days of Route 66. 

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Serving up a 72 oz. steak at the Big Texan

Amarillo, the largest Texas city on the route, commemorates its place on the “Mother Road” and maintains the Route 66 Historic District on Sixth Avenue.  It features a mile of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars in historic buildings.The giant-bull-topped Big Texan Steak Ranch relocated from its original Route 66 home to its current sprawling spot on I-40 but retains every bit of its outsized personality.  Keep an eye out for carnivores attempting to consume the 72 oz. steak.  Eat it in one hour and your meal is free.  Wash it down with a Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and a side of mountain oysters.  

There’s much that’s new in Amarillo, too, including breweries, a jazz club, cool coffee shops, and some trendy restaurants and hotels.  A minor league baseball park with a Double-A Texas League team will open in time for the 2019 season.  Finally, the new Dove’s Rest Resort offers cushy cabins on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon that make a great place to stay, relax and keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood.

Reading for Rome

What to Read Before You Travel to the Eternal City

There’s such a massive amount of history to take in when you visit Rome, Italy, its helpful to do a little reading—fiction and non-fiction before your trip to get a sense of the place.  

One of my favorite non-fiction books about life in modern Rome is Anthony Doerr’s Four137852._UY500_SS500_ Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Doerr wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See.  But, before that he enjoyed a a year-long fellowship at the American Academy in Rome which he chronicles in this book and his descriptions of life there are wonderful.  You’ll wish he  (and you) could stay longer.

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The Colosseum in Rome

Quite different from Doerr’s book, Rome inspired several  authors to write  about women who go astray in the city.  They offer a sense of history along with little tours of Rome’s sites and winding streets.  For example, Daisy Miller by Henry James follows Daisy’s exploits as she scandalizes American society living in Rome in the late 1800s.  You may visit the real-world places she goes with a “dangerous” Italian gentleman ending, fatefully, with their trip to the Colosseum. 

In Tennessee Williams’s novella The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, the story centers on an thaging actress who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband, the loss of her good looks and a life that is rudderless.  Perhaps a gigolo will make her feel better. Williams spend a great deal of time in Rome and his descriptions of the city shine. 

The Woman of RomeAlberto Moravia’s 1949 novel, is a classic tale of a young woman who becomes a prostitute in the time of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Further back in time, Colleen McCullough, author of the Thorn Birds offers a seven-volume fictional account of early Rome called the Masters of Rome series. It starts with The First Man in Rome.

Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy isn’t necessarily historically accurate but it offers a view of  Michelangelo’s struggle to paint the Sistine Chapel.  Also popular, Dan 64aa55532c468d5597a56545651444341587343Brown’s Angels & Demons,  is a wildly fictional page-turner about a secret society and a time bomb in the Vatican. You can even take an Angels & Demons tour to see the sites mentioned in the book.

Ernest Hemingway in Michigan

You’ll enjoy these northern Michigan spots as much as the Hemingway family did.

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Ernest Hemingway spent 22 summers living the outdoor life in northern Michigan.

Each summer, around the turn of the last century, Ernest Hemingway’s family left their home in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago and headed for the beautiful woods, lakes and rivers of Michigan.

Clarence and Grace Hemingway purchased their cabin on Walloon Lake in 1898, before their son Ernest was born. Here, he grew up immersed in the manly world of hunting, fishing, and boxing. He met lumberjacks, bootleggers and hobos–and quite a few lovely young women, too.  These experiences became fodder for his Nick Adams short stories.

He said of the area, “It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country. And nobody knows about it but us.”

Torrents and Tours

Many readers associate Hemingway more readily with Cuba, Key West, Pamplona and Paris than Petoskey, Michigan. Yet, he spent 22 summers in the resort area of Petosky/Walloon Lake and he was married (for the first time) in nearby Horton Bay. You can read about this early life and marriage in Paula McLain’s best seller, The Paris Wife. It’s also where he began to hone his minimalist, staccato style and storytelling that later earned him the Nobel Prize.

If you’ve read The Torrents of Spring, you’ve read about Petoskey; the story and locales the-torrents-of-spring-9780684839073_lgare based on the town.  Petosky is understandably proud of its Hemingway connection and as you stroll the town, perched above Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, you’ll see historical markers outside locations where he spent time. Hemingway fans can download a list of some of the places young Hemingway frequented: Horton Bay General Store, Stafford’s Perry Hotel, and City Park Grill, to name a few.  At City Park Grill, you may want to sit at the lovely Victorian bar where Hemingway raised a few glasses.

The Michigan Hemingway Society annually hosts a Hemingway Weekend in the Petoskey area, usually in October.  The weekend brings visitors from across the country together for readings, tours and exhibits. The national Hemingway Society also provides a great way to meet other Hemingway fans. The group meets every two years and in 2018, in contrast to the wild country of Michigan, the organization will meet in Paris.  It’s a chance to experience Hemingway’s “moveable feast” in person.

Read On

While you’re in Petosky, be sure to stop in at McLean & Eakin Booksellers where you’ll find plenty of works by and about about Ernest Hemingway, books by local authors and booksellers who are happy to suggest great reads.   I mentioned the shop in a previous post about how much author Ann Patchett loves reading and travel.

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McLean & Eakin, a great bookstore in Petoskey, Michigan.

 

Reading for Current Events–Human and Stellar

Books are so important to understand our world.  I occasionally like to share with readers books that aren’t related to a Warmth_Of_Other_Suns_Coverparticular trip or region. Here are two books I want to pass on in light of current events in the U.S.

The first is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabell Wilkerson.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it’s a masterpiece of narrative journalism and reveals a piece of American history few Americans know or understand unless they know someone who experienced it first hand. Wilkerson traces the lives of three African Americans who lived in the south, the unbelievable treatment they received at the hands of whites (not very long ago), and how they made new lives in the north and in California.  It’s a hefty volume, but very readable and gripping–a real eye-opener.  My book club read it and I’ve been passing it out and telling friends it’s a must-read ever since.

On a lighter note on the subject of racism, if you haven’t seen it you must see Tina Fey’s commentary on SNL.

And finally, speaking of light, the solar eclipse takes place on Monday, August 21.  Even if mediumyou’re not setting out to follow the path of totality across the U.S., you may be curious about what this whole event is about.  I came across “Your Literary Guide to the Solar Eclipse” on Goodreads and I’m picking up, American Eclipse:  A Nation’s Epic Reach to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by David Baron. A non-fiction book, it chronicles how three scientists raced to study the rare solar eclipse of 1878 as it darkened America’s wild west.

Says Baron, “On August 21 millions of Americans will witness this same ineffable sight. They will find themselves with a new understanding of the immensity of the universe—and the inadequacy of language.”  Here in Minnesota we won’t get the full impact of this event, but I can’t wait to read about it.

 

 

 

Mackinac Island, Michigan, Travel and Reading

Mackinac Island, Michigan, sits in on the Straits of Mackinac where the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron converge. That location made it the ideal place for Native Americans and fur traders to make their summer rendezvous to trade and it was here that John Jacob Astor made his fortune in the fur industry. Missionaries, soldiers and eventually Gilded Age tourists from Detroit and Chicago pulled ashore to enjoy this remarkable island. Today, people from around the world arrive on the island and become part of that centuries long summer tradition.

History and Tradition Come Alive

I visited Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island in summers when I was growing up so the island has a special place in my heart. I returned earlier this summer and was happy to see little has changed. I felt the same sense of anticipation as the ferry ride (about 20 minutes from either Mackinaw City or Michigan’s upper peninsula) brought the Mackinac Bridge into closer view. The island still bans cars making it very bike, buggy and pedestrian friendly.  And, the smell of the island’s trademark product, fudge, continues to greet visitors on arrival. The lovely Victorian cottages still charm and the Grand Hotel remains grander than ever.

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Mackinac Island’s historic Grand Hotel features the world’s longest porch.

While Mackinac Island offers a terrific array of places to eat, drink, pedal and kayak, it’s the history here that has always grabbed me. That’s why I always urge fellow visitors to get away from the crowds on Main Street by the ferry docks and explore the island by foot, bike or horse.  Start with the famous Fort Mackinac which offers canon blasting, rifle shooting, historic displays and a spectacular view of the island and surrounding waters. (Slightly off topic, here’s one of the crazy things I remember from visiting as a kid.  There was a grisly display in the fort back then about Dr. William Beaumont who was an army surgeon at the fort and a young voyageur who had been accidentally shot in the stomach. The stomach wound didn’t heal and Beaumont was able to view the workings of the stomach through the hole–for a very long time. The exhibit is now at the Fur Company Store and Dr.Beaumont Museum.)

1118797Somewhere in Time and Literature

For a sense of history, I also recommend reading Iola Fuller’s classic tale of Mackinac, The Loon Feather.  It’s a romantic tale of a young Native American woman and it’s ending is improbably happy, but I’m a sucker for all that. And, the book conveys quite accurately the early days of the fur trade on the island.

At The Island Bookstore on Main Street, they’re happy to share their ideas for island-related reading and much more. If they’re not too busy, it’s fun to chat with owner Mary Jane Barnwell and store manager Tamara Tomack about literature and island life. Mary Jane is among the 500 or so people who live on Mackinac Island year-round. Because the island is accessible in winter only by snowmobile or airplane, you can bet she has a few stories to tell. And she does have a several adorable books of her own for children about the island, including Grand Adventure and Goodnight Mackinac Island, a children’s vacation journal.

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At The Island Bookstore, store manager Tamara Tomack (left) and owner Mary Jane Barnwell share their love of books and tips for your Mackinac Island reading list.

Here are their suggestions if you want to read up before your island visit: Once on This Island by Gloria Whelan,  Open Wound—the Tragic Obessions of Dr. William Beaumont by Jason Karlawish, and The Living Great Lakes: Searching For The Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis. Finally, Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson is a must-read for Mackinac Island visitors.  It was written about the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, but the movie version of the story with Chrisopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed on Mackinac Island, mainly at the Grand Hotel.

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A Great Gift for Readers Who Travel

Just a reminder, friends, if you’re looking for gifts this holiday season, don’t forget Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways.  Help your favorite book and travel lover plan the next trip. Order it from IPG Books, Longitude Books or any of your favorite booksellers.

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