Monday, December 28, 2009

The Glassblower by Laurie Alice Eakes

The Glassblower combines the enchanting story-telling of a historical aficionado and wordsmith, with layered characters and a suspenseful plot full of lovely imagery and romantic interludes which take the reader to another time and place. The second half of the book leaps from a brisk trot to a gallop in pace, and I stayed up all night to finish it once the momentum took hold of me.

Meg Jordan is the only daughter of Isaac Jordan, a widower and owner of a large farm and glassworks in early 19th century New Jersey. Her sweet, assertive nature wins her father’s favor in everything from adopting stray kittens to preparing a school for the children of Salem County—everything, that is, except the husband of her choosing. Her father has informed her that she must marry Joseph Pyle, the wealthy, young land-owner whose smile doesn’t reach his eyes when he looks at Meg.

A new man—Colin Grassick—arrives in town, a master glassblower from Scotland whom her father has brought over to turn the finances of the glassworks around. His emerald eyes and warm, courtly ways captivate Meg as he helps her rescue a kitten in peril. But a girl of her station must not associate with a working man. Colin could lose his job, or worse, if caught consorting to the master’s daughter, especially when a series of events points to sabotage of Meg’s school and an accident at the glassworks.

Particular highlights for me were the wedding scene of Meg’s friend Sarah, with its rich descriptions of period apparel and the contrast between Joseph’s and Colin’s characters. The Christmas party made a nice touch to bring the romance to a satisfying conclusion. The theme of trusting God to work in seemingly impossible circumstances imparted inspiration without feeling extraneous or false. The hero and heroine exemplified the character and choices that made the happily-ever-after not only believable, but well-deserved.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Elmira Prison Camp, part II

Last time we discussed the infamous role that Elmira, New York played in the Civil War as the host of a prison camp with the highest death rate. A full 24% of all Confederates incarcerated as political prisoners in Camp Chemung lost their lives to a plethora of causes from smallpox, to dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, gaillardia, cholera, malnutrition and exposure. As gruesome a picture as this paints, the locals seemed to have little idea of the deprivation and inhumanity that lay within their city limits.

In a particularly maudlin account, it appears that two different entrepreneurs capitalized on the morbid curiosity of Elmira citizens concerning the camp. In late July, the same month in which the camp opened, an observation tower was constructed outside the eight-foot-high stockade and catwalk surrounding the camp. For a nickel apiece, customers could climb the crows’ nest and peer down on the prison population. Shortly after, a second tower rose for the same purpose. By all accounts, these early reality shows made brisk business until the military commandeered both towers in August, slating one for demolition and sanctioning the other for official purposes.

Around the same time, sutlers who had been given access to the camp to sell their wares to prisoners were cut off. For many who received money from home, the sutlers’ fruits and vegetables had been the thin line between them and scurvy or starvation, and their blankets and clothing, the last bastion of protection from the elements. In October, a snowstorm hit, early for Elmira. The cold is described that year of 1864-65 as being particularly bitter and unrelenting. The Chemung River flooded its banks more than once, as well, as if nature conspired ill-will against the hapless rebels.

Some respite was provided in the form of early release to the sickest among the population. Starting in October, trains bound for Baltimore carried away those whose severe illness made their reenlistment unlikely, but who were nonetheless able to travel.

The rails brought prisoners to Elmira from the front, and transported troops from the military rendezvous and training in Elmira back down to the front. In July while the camp was still brand new, a rail accident occurred in a town called Shohola, Pennsylvania. A head-on collision occurred on a single track due to a drunken telegraph operator who failed to report an oncoming coal train. According to Joseph C. Boyd, a noted historian speaking on the incident 100 years later, "...the wooden coaches telescoped into one another, some splitting open and strewing their human contents onto the berm...where flying glass, splintered wood, and jagged metal killed or injured them as they rolled. Other occupants were hurled through windows or pitched to the track as the car floors buckled and opened.” 51 Confederate and 17 Union casualties were reported. All are buried at the Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira.

For further reading, see: for a first-person account


Monday, December 7, 2009

Review of Autumn Rains by Myra Johnson

I love Heartsong Presents. For a few bucks, you get a small book, but a big story. Likewise, Autumn Rains was no lightweight fluff piece. Despite the slim size, Myra Johnson had a great deal to say, and said it in a way that flowed with a genuinely good story and three dimensional, flawed but endearing characters. And the result is deeply satisfying.
I am usually a historical fiction reader, but Johnson hooked me and kept reeling me in with the hero, Healy, a man who served time for manslaughter and found a deeper walk with the Lord during his sentence. His character was so humble and endearing that I was rooting for him from his first scene.
The heroine, Valerie, with her emotional trauma surrounding the night her husband was killed, brought me to several moments where I blinked back tears, feeling her fear and struggle to trust again. I felt connected to each of the main characters in their believable journey toward wholeness and romance. The epilogue was a highlight for me, as the story came full circle and showed the difference a person can make, no matter his or her past. A beautiful and inspiring story.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chrstmas Letter from a local Civil War soldier

My son had a wonderful opportunity to transcribe hand-written letters for the Chemung Valley Historical Society. This one in particular is from a young Civil War infantryman from Elmira named Charles Personius. In this letter, he writes to his mother at Christmastime. His anticipation for his visit is so evident.
Also, his grammar and spelling choices are as accurately depicted as possible. I wish you could see his beautiful script, as well.

Christmas Morning
Dear Mother
I will try
finish up the sheet which
Ella commenced to write on
though I have nothing of
importance to write about
except to inform you that
we are well and enjoying
christmas finely and expect
to have a nice dinner of
your own cooking which
I am sure will relish first
rate for I allways liked
home victuals better than
any other When Pa and Ella
came down here their trunks
got delayed at Baltimore
and they did not forward them
on so Walker telegraphed
there and they will be in
on the express train about
noon so if we wait untill
one or two oclock I think
we will have a fine time

Pa and Ella came quite
unexpected but I was
awful to see them I am
afraid we wont be able to
keep Pa here a great while
for he is getting uneasy
and thinks that he must
go back home He cant
stand it to stay from home
like the Captain and myself
for we don’t think of such
things I must close for it
is time for the mail to leave
so good bye for this time

This from Charlie