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Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This is a novel of family. 

Rill Foss is a 12 year old girl in 1939, living on a shanty boat near Memphis, Tennessee when her parents have to go to the hospital with a difficult delivery of twins.  Soon, the authorities show up to take Rill and her four siblings to an orphanage with allegations that they are not being properly cared for.  She has no idea the fate that awaits them.

In present day, Avery Stafford has lived a privileged life.  Her father is a Senator who has cancer, and she has come home from her up-and-coming career as a lawyer to help her father with his campaign and work.  While there, she meets a woman in a nursing home who insists that Avery’s bracelet, a unique family heirloom, is her own.  Avery begins to dig into this woman, who claims to know her grandmother, but she has no idea what her investigation will reveal.

Wingate draws on the true story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann, a woman whose deceit and criminal dealings separated thousands of children from their families between 1924 and when the home was finally closed in 1950. If you don’t know the story of this infamous woman and the orphanage she ran for almost 30 years, it is a fascinating and heartbreaking story.

The novel weaves the story of the past and the present, leaving the reader trying to piece together the relationships between the characters.  Are things really as they seem?  I was both intrigued and heartbroken at what happened to Rill, her siblings and her parents after they were ripped apart.  And trying to process the unimaginable decisions these women made as adults, to try to maintain their ties to family after the trauma they endured.

A sad, but beautiful novel.

5 stars.

 

Circus Trip 2018: Hovenweep National Monument

Day 83, Saturday, October 6, 2018
Hovenweep National Monument, Montezuma Creek, Utah

Hovenweep is one of the most amazing places I have ever been in my entire life.  I know people say things like this a lot, but it is truly incredible.  When people ask me what my favorite place on this trip was, Hovenweep always comes up at the top of the list.  It is a hidden gem for sure!  It is also remote; I drove for miles down farm roads and gravel roads, even wondering if I was going the right way, but I was.

Hovenweep was first discovered by white men in 1854, when William Huntington came across the ruins while on a missionary trip for Brigham Young.  It was designated as a National Monument on March 2, 1923, President Warren Harding after years of concerns about the artifacts being stolen and destroyed by explorers, ranchers and others.  Despite a long history of protection, archaeological studies really weren’t done here until the 1970s. Visitation now is still very low, 39,970 people visited in 2017.

When I was there, camping was first come, first served; there are 31 campsites and there is a length limit for campers.  That said, it is soooo worth it to camp there!  It has flush toilets but no showers, and when I was there it was only $15 a night.  I got there about 3:30 in the afternoon and my first stop was at the Visitor’s Center to get some postcards and my National Parks Passport stamp. 

Then I did the loop hike of the Tower Group – it was 2.5 miles and went along the edge of Little Ruin Canyon and past several dwellings, tower and other structures built by the Puebloan people.  It was sunny and warm!  I was so fascinated by the dwellings, which provide a peek into a different style of Puebloan building.  These structures were not built into alcoves of the canyon, like the ones at Mesa Verde.  They were also not pit houses, although they were mostly built on the mesa top.  A few structures were built in the canyon itself, and many were built over the seeps and springs that are in the area. 

These people were certainly expert builders; they didn’t level the ground to build their structures, instead they shaped their construction to work with the topography.  They often built on top of large stones and outcroppings that already existed at the site.  Historians believe that the people who built these structures lived here around 1300 A.D, although there is evidence of human habitation in this area as far back as 8000 B.C.  These towers and stone houses are very well preserved.

As you walk the rim of the canyon, you pass by multiple towers and stone houses; I was in awe of these beautiful structures and once again found myself wondering what the lives of these people were like.  When you hike out here, there is almost no external noise.  I was completely alone for most of the hike and it was so quiet, save for a few birds.

I saw lots of lizards because of the warm temperatures too – I loved seeing them! 

At the end of the hike, there is a section where you climb down about 80 feet to the canyon floor and cross over to the other side to climb back out.  It wasn’t too tough though; 80 feet is nothing! 

I made dinner and sadly missed most of the sunset, and then I got a text from Carol saying she had changed her plans and had arrived at Hovenweep!  We ended up sharing my campsite that night, a bottle of Michigan Marquette wine from 12 Corners Winery.  It was a bottle I had purchased when I spent the day with my cousin back in Michigan; it was delicious!

Carol and I sat at the picnic table talking, and watching the most incredible dark skies.  You could see the Milky Way spread out across the dark sky and it was huge.  I have never seen the Milky Way pop the way that it did that night; it completely filled the sky with bright stars.  I can’t even describe how beautiful it was.  I need to get back into timed exposures with my camera and night photography!

Having a bottle of wine with a friend while watching the Milky Way that night was truly one of my favorite life experiences.  Simply incredible! 

 

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mesa Verde, Long House

Day 82, Friday, October 5, 2018
Mesa Verde National Park, Wetherill Mesa

It was my last day in Mesa Verde National Park.  That morning I got up about 6:30, because I had a big day waiting for me!  I got changed and on the road about 7:30 am.  My ranger-led tour of Long House was at 9:30, but it was about an hour and 10 minute drive to the meeting point on Wetherill Mesa.  I arrived in plenty of time.

My tour of Long House was awesome!  It is a 2.25 mile hike, mostly flat and on a paved trail.  Long House is one of the later cliff dwellings, and it is as large as Cliff House.  The ranger explained what historians know about the Puebloan people who lived in this dwelling.  To get into Long House you have to climb up two ladders and climb down one small one to get back out at the end.  The ranger also showed us some black and white pottery shards that were found at the site. 

On the tour I met Carol, a young woman from Wisconsin who was living in Chicago and finishing her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy.  She was on a solo road trip like me!

Carol and I hiked to Step House afterwards, which is a one mile round trip hike near Long House.  It is self-guided, but a ranger is there to answer questions.  Step House has a rare reverse pictograph where someone long ago put their hand up and blew pigment around it.  It was cool!  There used to be a Bighorn Sheep petroglyph there, but the National Park Service removed it for safekeeping in the 1960s.

After our Step House hike I said my goodbyes to Carol and got back on the road.  I really enjoyed my time in Mesa Verde, but it was time to see new places.  I was headed to Hovenweep National Monument next!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mesa Verde NP

Day 81, Thursday, October 4, 2018
Mesa Verde National Park, Chapin Mesa

Can I just say that I love Mesa Verde!?  I visited this park once before in 2014, and I was so excited to come back and explore more.  I wrote about the history and my visits to Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, and Cliff Palace, as well as seeing the wild horses that live in the park, if you want to take a trip down memory lane…

On Thursday morning I left camp about 8 am, and on the way out I saw several Mule Deer – there were about a dozen of them!  I stopped to take photos from my car of these beautiful animals with their huge ears.

I drove up to the Chapin Mesa, and did the loop road to visit the various viewpoints and overlooks.  The various stops show the different time periods of habitation in the park, from the period when the Puebloan people constructed pithouses, which were partially sunken in the the earth and had poles erected with mud covering them. 

Over time, they began building pole and mud homes directly on the top of the mesa.  Later still, their most advanced construction came along; the cliff dwellings that these people are most known for.  The cliff dwellings were first built on top of the mesa, beginning about 1200 they were built into alcoves in the cliffs to provide protection from the weather (and possibly from other ancestral tribal people).  They were elaborate dwellings made from handmade bricks and support timbers.  Some of the largest cliff dwellings here had dozens of rooms, and may have been home to hundreds of people.

Each stop along the tour has interpretive signs, so you can see the progression of the society.  In all, the Puebloan people lived here between 550 and 1300 A.D., but the period of time when they lived in the cliff dwellings was the shortest period – only about 100 years.  By about 1300, these dwellings were deserted and the inhabitants had moved on.  Researchers do not know why.

My favorite stops are at Spruce Tree House, which is the best preserved cliff dwelling, and also one that you were able to hike down to when I was there in 2018.  Unfortunately, it is current closed to visitors due to falling rocks above.  I also really enjoyed the Sun Point Pueblo, Sun Temple and the Fire Temple.  From the Fire Temple you get an excellent view across the canyon of one of the cliff dwellings in the park.  I went on a tour of Cliff Palace in 2014, so I didn’t do the tour this time around.  There is an excellent downloadable audio-tour available on the Mesa Verde National Park website if you would like to learn more!

Square Tower House is another cliff dwelling that you can tour during brief periods during the year.  It wasn’t open for tours when I was there, but there must have been researchers there, because when I looked down from the overlook there were people there.

While I was on my driving tour of the viewpoints, I almost got caught in a huge hail, thunder and lightning storm, but luckily I made it back to my car just in time!  The sky had looked pretty ominous and I had been watching it, so I’m glad I got under a roof quickly when the sky looked like it was going to open up!  I sat in the car to wait it out, there was water running everywhere!

After my tour of the loop road, I went to the Cafe at the Chapin Museum for an early lunch.  I had a steak salad; it was good, but the steak was a little tough.

Next I did one of my favorite hikes of the trip; the Petroglyph hike!  This 2.5 mile hike was definitely on my bucket list. The trail starts at Spruce Tree House, but is considered a back-country hike and you are supposed to sign in at the Museum so they know who is out there.

Sadly, a man named Dale Stehling disappeared on this trail in June 2013.  Although the area was extensively searched, no trace of him was found.  In fact, Stehling remained missing until September 2020, when a hiker called in an anonymous tip.  Stehling’s bones were finally found with his identification in a remote canyon that is closed to the public, about 4.2 miles from where he had gone missing.  This area had also been searched in 2013, so there are certainly more questions than answers.

Despite the tragedy, the Petroglyph hike is an amazing hike.  It is remote, despite being so close to the Chapin Museum, one of the most heavily populated parts of the park.  It leads to a panel of Petroglyphs about 1.4 miles from the trailhead, with about 30 petroglyphs.  It is fascinating to see this language left by the people who lived here over one thousand years ago.  The hike is a bit strenuous, winding through the canyon at the base of a cliff, often with steep dropoffs on the other side.  The trail isn’t always super obvious, and I could see how easy it would be to get lost if you weren’t paying attention.  I was alone for the entire hike.

The most challenging part of the hike is where you have to use the foot and hand holds that are carved into the rock to scale the cliff and return to the top of the mesa.  I was pretty nervous to try this part, but I also didn’t want to double back!  I really had to psych myself up but I managed just fine, and I was so proud of myself!  It was amazing!  Once you are back on top of the mesa you just walk around the canyon to get back to the museum.  It was such a fun hike!

That evening I took a shower a the campground facilities, and was treated to my first, “don’t poop in the shower drain,” sign.  This friends, is why you always wear shower shoes when camping!  EWWW!

That evening I got to bed about 10 pm, because I had to be up early for my Long House tour in the morning!  I was awakened at 2:12 am by a coyote howling, but managed to get back to sleep after he stopped.  There’s nothing like camping in a National Park!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Garden of the Gods

Day 78 & 79, Monday & Tuesday, October 1 & 2, 2018
Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’m rarely if ever sick, but when I do get sick, I go all in.  Thankfully this time it wasn’t for long!  I had stayed at a La Quinta the night before, because the price difference between camping and a hotel in Colorado Springs is not significant.  So when I woke up the next morning feeling dizzy and nauseous, it was easy to just stay for another day.  I slept, and relaxed and watched television for the day. I also had the gyro platter from the Caspian Cafe next door; it was so delicious! 

The next day, October 2, I was feeling better, and got on the road again.  My stop for the day was at the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs. The Garden of the Gods was discovered by white settlers as early as 1859, when two surveyors were in the area.  One of them announced that the area would be a perfect place for a beer garden!  His companion exclaimed instead that it was the a place for the Gods to assemble, and therefore it should be called the Garden of the Gods.

The park’s natural rock formations were caused by the upheaval of a fault line millions of years ago.  Native Americans are known to have been using the area as early as 1330 B.C.  Several tribes, including the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Pawnee, Shoshone, and Ute people, all claim a cultural tie to the park, and petroglyphs that are similar to Ute styles have been found in the park.  In 1879, Charles Elliott Perkins purchased 480 acres that included sections of the current park.  When he died in 1909, he donated his property to the City of Colorado Springs, with the stipulation that it become a free park. 

This free park is amazing!  There are paved and gravel trails, and plenty of rock formations to wander among.  It is so stunningly beautiful!  There are 21 miles of trails winding by rock formations, rock overhangs, and scenic views.  I really enjoyed hiking in this park and taking photos.  The views are amazing, and I had so much fun hiking here.  There is something incredible around every corner.

There was a rock formation called the Siamese Twins, where you can see Pike’s Peak through the arch in the rock. 

Kissing Camels is on the main trail.  The Sentinel and the Three Graces both have huge fins. 

 

And Balanced Rock is right off the parking lot.  There is a lot to see and do here. 

After leaving Garden of the Gods, I drove through Old Colorado City, which is the historic section of Colorado Springs.  I would love to go back and do some exploring there someday.  Upon leaving Colorado Springs, I drove on Highway 24, which was very scenic.  The aspens were starting to put on their show and I was lucky to see some!  I passed through several cute towns, including Divide, and would love to see more in that area too.

I stayed that night at a KOA in Buena Vista, Colorado, with a very good view! 

Oh Joy, the Holidays…

I hope all of you enjoyed your Thanksgiving!  I had a relaxing day, with an early meal, a nap, some reading, and a puzzle.  I did some exploring for the rest of the weekend.

Which means we are now moving into the downhill slide to Christmas…  I’ve made no secrets about the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the holidays, but I’ll do my best to get into the holiday spirit.

Meanwhile it’s been over two months since I quit my job.  It’s been so relaxing and I’m certainly enjoying the retirement spirit.  I’ve been reading a lot and exploring.  I’m loving having the time to write again!  I’m really hoping that I can swing not returning to work; my financial advisor says I can! I’m pretty excited to be able to say I’m retired at 47; I worked hard for this.  I’ll write more on this at some point…

It has been so nice not having to stress about the impact of my toxic former boss (that’s another story for one day when the investigation is complete…).  Fun fact: my former boss finally “retired.”  That’s code for they let him save face instead of officially firing him.

I’ve been in Minnesota, which is so different from the Pacific Northwest.  It has been unseasonably warm here lately; after a few days of snow it warmed up and has been in the high 30s and low 40s for the last several days.  It has been lovely, but I shouldn’t get used to it.  Soon it will be downright frigid!  I’ve been trying to take advantage of it while I can.  The lakes and rivers around here are starting to freeze; they thawed out quite a bit during the warm days, but soon they will be freezing again.  And there is supposed to be snow starting this afternoon.

But I’ve been doing some hiking, finding trails in the area, and I even found a Bald Eagle nest with two eagles in residence! My cell phone photo didn’t do it justice so I plan to go back with my zoom lens. 

Some of the historic homes in the area have opened up for a few weekends, with all sorts of Christmas decorations.  It is a fundraiser they do – usually these homes are only available for special events.  We checked out a couple of them; they really did them up beautifully!  One had a Nutcracker contest.  They put nutcrackers everywhere, and you can go around the house and try to guess how many there are.  I guessed 192, but there are a lot!  I enjoyed wandering the homes and talking to the volunteers, hearing about the lives of the families who lived here.  A history nerd in her element!

There are a few cideries in the area making craft ciders; they are all so good!  They have tasting rooms with games and cards to make it a warm, family experience. 

So my world has been pretty relaxed lately, and I’m glad for that.  Soon I’ll be ready for some more travel, but for now I’m enjoying the low key days.

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Nicodemus NHS

Day 77, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Nicodemus National Historic Site, Nicodemus, Kansas

Sunday morning I woke up in Ellis, Kansas, with a plan for making my way west.  It was raining, foggy and cold, not a very pleasant morning. 

But first, I checked out Ellis a little bit.  Ellis has about 2,000 people, and was the boyhood home of Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of the automotive giant, Chrysler Corporation.  They call it the Chrysler Boyhood home, but it was built in 1889 when Chrysler was 14 years old (Chrysler is a really tough name to type, by the way…). Unfortunately for me, the home wasn’t open on Sundays, so I took a photo outside and headed out. 

I also stopped to get a photo of St. Mary’s Church, an enormous Catholic Church for such a small town.  The sound of the bells was beautiful! 

After leaving Ellis, I drove up to Nicodemus National Historic Site.  This is a very rural area, and there wasn’t much to pass by except farmland on the way.  The residents of Damar, Kansas have a good sense of humor though!

I arrived at Nicodemus, after driving quite a while in the mucky weather, to find it… CLOSED…  I should have checked online, but most historic sites are open seven days a week so I didn’t even think about it.  THWARTED!  Good thing gas prices were a lot cheaper in 2018 than they are today.  I wandered around the town for a few minutes and took some photos, but there wasn’t much to see. 

Nicodemus was a black community, founded in 1877.  It was a planned community, with six black men and one white man coming together to form the Nicodemus Town Company.  They traveled to Kentucky churches and encouraged people to move to Kansas, advertising it as a place for “African Americans to establish a black self-government.”  Kansas had been a free state during the Civil War, with abolitionists fighting aggressively in the days before it came into the union in 1861. 

Nicodemus had a modest early boom, and grew to a town with a small hotel, three churches, and two newspapers, but unfortunately they were never able to entice the railroad, and the population fell to only about 50 people in the 1880s.  The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s contributed to the further decline.  The Works Progress Administration did some work in Nicodemus, building the Town Hall in 1939, which is the Visitor’s Center for the Historic Site now.  In the 1970s, Nicodemus was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and donations from former residents helped to preserve and rehabilitate some of the historic structures. 

It was designated a National Historic Site on November 10, 1996, and has an annual visitation of about 28,000 people per year.  Despite all this, the town’s population is only 14 people.  The day I visited, I didn’t see another soul.  I will have to go back someday to get my passport stamp.

After leaving Nicodemus, I learned that the road I wanted to take was closed…  This left me taking a dirt road with caution signs, I’m sure due to the fact that it was raining and there was a risk of the road turning to mud.  Plus no cell service!  I managed fine and after some bumps and some photos of birds that didn’t seem like they belonged in Kansas, I made it back to pavement. 

It was certainly an interesting detour and I wish Nicodemus had been open! 

Circus Road Trip 2018: Oz Museum and Wamego, Kansas

Day 76, Saturday, September 29, 2018
Wamego, Kansas

Have you ever heard of Wamego, Kansas?  What? No?!?  I hadn’t either…  But there is a small town in Kansas called Wamego, and it is home to the Oz Museum.  As in the Wizard of Oz.  Why Wamego?  Was it Dorothy’s hometown?  Nope.  Apparently somebody felt that there needed to be an Oz Museum in Kansas and they created one!  There was a guy who loaned his Oz collection to the museum and it opened in 2003.

There was just one issue.  You see, the collection was only available for five years.  Fortunately for the museum, they were contacted by a second collector before the five years was up, and he happened to have an even larger collection of Oz memorabilia than the first one. 

There are memorabilia items from Oz’s entire history, from first editions of the Oz books to a reproduction pair of ruby slippers, made for the 50th anniversary of the movie.  There are displays featuring the characters from the movie, life-sized and perfect for selfies, and even some characters from the book series that didn’t make it into the movie.  You know that Oz was a book series long before it became a movie, right? 

The displays and items include more recent memorabilia too, even featuring Michael Jackson’s The Wiz version of the movie.  All in all, it’s a small museum that will please Wizard of Oz fans, and takes about an hour to see (unless you stay to watch the movie, which plays on an endless loop). 

Next door was the Oz Winery, and I stopped in to do a tasting of their wines, and found a couple that I liked.  I bought a bottle of the Emerald City Lights and they had all sorts of Oz themed items for sale, so I got a friend a t-shirt that she loves! 

Before I left Wamego, I wandered around a little bit to see a few of the Toto statues that are placed around town; each one is painted differently and they were fun to see.  There was even a Yellow Brick Road!

On the way out, I saw a sign for the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church.  Of course, I had to check this out.  What the heck is a Rifle Church?!?  As it turns out, the town of Wabaunsee, Kansas, where the church is located, was founded in 1855 by emigrants from New Haven, Connecticut who established the Connecticut Kansas Colony.  The colony then became known as the Beecher Rifle Colony, due to the following history. These abolitionist settlers heard a sermon by abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother) and he also helped supply rifles for the men to defend themselves.  Remember, at this time, there was a heated debate about whether Kansas Territory would become a free state or a slave state and tempers were high. As legend goes, the rifles were smuggled through pro-slavery areas in crates marked “Beecher’s Bibles,” and later the guns themselves were called Beecher’s Bibles. Wabaunsee became part of the Underground Railroad in late 1856 and helped Lawrence, Kansas after Quantrill’s Raid.  How’s that for some pre-Civil War history?  Of course, none of this history was explained at the church so I had to look it up later on the internet. 

I also learned that the church was finished in 1862, made of local limestone with stone accents, and built by church member Robert Banks.  It is built in a style known as Plains Vernacular and the church has designated men’s and women’s sides.  How interesting!  The church was closed, so I took a photo outside and continued on my way. 

It was time to continue on the road west.  I drove for a few hours and then stayed the night at the Ellis City Campground, in Ellis Kansas, just off I-70.  It was a small campground on the shore of the Ellis City Lake, and a quiet place, even on the weekend.  And for $15, it was a steal!  It was cold and windy that evening, so after my dinner of leftover BBQ ribs, I nestled early into my car cocoon.  One of the perks of having the bed in my car, rather than having to sleep in the tent!

Circus Trip 2018: Brown V. Board of Education NHP

Day 76, Saturday, September 29, 2018
Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park, Topeka, Kansas

After staying a night at a KOA in Topeka, Kansas (nice place), I took the opportunity to visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park in Topeka, Kansas.  This was one of the pivotal sites in the Civil Rights Movement! 

The Monroe Elementary School had a long history even before the Brown legal case.  John Ritchie, an abolitionist, bought a 160 acre plot of land in 1855 and after the Civil War, a number of black families built homes on this land.  Due to the large size of the black community here, the local school board decided to set up a school here for the black children in the neighborhood.  The current Monroe Elementary School is the third school on the site; it was built in 1926 and operated as a school until 1975. 

So, back to Brown v. Board of Education.  You have heard of this landmark case I’m sure, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, ruling that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.  And this, I agree, is true.  But how did they know?  It’s interesting, because social scientists helped to answer this question.  They had done research with black children, showing them white and black dolls and asking the children which dolls were good and which dolls were bad.  The black children overwhelmingly said that the white dolls were good and felt that they were most similar to, and preferred, the white dolls.  Evidence was presented during the case to show that this impact of segregation would follow the children for the remainder of their lives.  More recently, implicit bias studies performed at Harvard have shown similar results. 

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  At least at Monroe Elementary, a segregated school wasn’t necessarily a bad school.  Black teachers sat on the committees to select books for the school district, so books were the same at all of the schools in Topeka.  Teachers at Monroe were highly educated.  Teachers and parents alike worried (rightfully so) that black teachers would be unable to find jobs at the desegregated schools.  However, the research showed that even at good segregated schools, the segregation itself would leave black students with a lasting feeling of inferiority. 

Monroe Elementary School had a self-guided tour and the exhibits were interesting.  I spent about an hour reading the information and exploring the rooms of the school, which was in good shape for a school that was almost a hundred years old.  One of the dolls from the experiments was on display, along with a detailed timeline of the case, as well as timeline of this history of African Americans in the United States, from the time they were first brought to the colonies on slave ships. 

It was certainly worth a visit to this important site in our nation’s history!

As I made my way west, I made a couple of brief stops at historic buildings.

The historic Ritchie House, built in 1856, was the home of John Ritchie, the abolitionist who bought the land where the community and Monroe Elementary were built.  It is open to the public a few days a week, but it was closed when I stopped by.

And the historic Hinerville School was a cute stone one-room schoolhouse, built in 1898, in Alma, Kansas.  Both places were neat to see!

Book Review: The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair, by Margaret Creighton

What a fascinating book!  I was wandering around the local bookshop with the last $5.00 on a gift card.  If you know me, you know me in a bookshop is dangerous news.  But I digress.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World's Fair

This book was just sitting there, with it’s brightly colored cover and the words Assassination and World’s Fair.  Wait!?!  A book about McKinley’s assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair?  Of course this book was going to suck me in!  And it was on sale! (but I probably would have paid full price)

But it is much more than that.  The book details the events in Buffalo, New York over the summer and fall of 1901, from the World’s Fair, to the assassination and McKinley’s slow death, to the decision to execute Jumbo II, the enormous circus elephant who was exhibited at the fair.  She captures the peripheral events involving the daredevils at nearby Niagara Falls; men and women attempting to make a name (and a fortune) for themselves by surviving a plunge over the falls, as well as the performers who made up the cast of the midway, one of the most popular parts of the fair. 

The author skillfully weaves together the stories, using a number of primary sources, including the journal of a young woman who visited the fair dozens of times over the course of the summer.  I was intrigued and interested, as Creighton told the story of a major event in U.S. History, and juxtaposes it with the smaller, mostly forgotten stories of people who never achieved fame. 

Very well done.

4 stars.