Before I welcome my special guest today, a quick note. Today at the Lady Scribes blog, I’m starting a new weekly feature called ‘High 5 Friday.” Today, I’m revealing the results of my recent poll on favorite comfort reads–and giving away a copy of a “comfort book” to one commenter. Head over if you have a chance!
Now, please help me welcome my friend Betty Bolté back to Preternatura. Betty’s latest book is Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure, a collection of historical fiction tales based on the lives of 19 girls living in the 1800s in America. These stories were inspired by the fact that each of these girls have a landmark dedicated to them in America as a result of their efforts. Today, she’ll talk about, well, graveyards.
Betty writes both historical and contemporary stories that feature strong, loving women and brave, compassionate men. No matter whether the stories are set in the past or the present, she loves to include a touch of the inexplicable (i.e., supernatural or paranormal). The first edition of Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure won Honorable Mention in the 2003 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards and 2000 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. She’s the author of several nonfiction books and currently marketing a romantic historical fiction trilogy. Watch for her romantic ghost story, Traces, to be released in the near future. You can learn more about Betty by visiting her website, on facebook or by following her on twitter.
ABOUT HOMETOWN HEROINES: Did you know that girls and young women made a difference in America’s history? During the 1800s, many girls helped America grow bigger and better, yet are missing from many history books. Virginia Reed, at 12, survived the trek to California with the Donner Party. Joanna Troutman, at 17, created the first Texas flag. Belle Boyd risked her life to spy for the Rebels during the Civil War. Grace Bedell wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln that changed the way he faced the nation. Kate Shelley, at 15, crawled across a high trestle in a ferocious thunderstorm to stop the next train from falling through a washed-out bridge. A young teacher, Minnie Freeman led her 17 students to safety through the blinding snow of the Blizzard of 1888. These are just a few of the 19 inspiring true stories of 19th century American girls who touched the hearts of their hometowns. You can remember them today by visiting their historical markers, monuments, exhibits, and parks, or by reading their poems, and singing their songs.
And now, let’s hear from Betty…
Whistling Thru the Graveyard
When I was a child, my mother taught me the proper way to walk through a graveyard. Specifically, how to show respect for the deceased by walking at the foot of the grave. She cautioned me to not walk near the headstone so that my feet didn’t walk across the “body” buried there. This lesson in cemetery etiquette served me well when I was researching to write Hometown Heroines. One of the common threads between the young women featured in Hometown Heroines is that they all have historic landmarks dedicated in honor of their achievements. These memorials range from parks to roadside historic signs to statues. Let me tell you, I spent a good bit of time in graveyards hunting for where the girls and young women had ultimately been buried so I could share that information with my readers.
Headstones and monuments have changed a great deal over the centuries. It’s fascinating to me to see how poetically people were remembered. Most markers relate the essential information: name, birth date, death date. Others share the heartbreak felt by those placing the stone or monument. By looking at the graves surrounding the one I searched for, some surprising details—often heartrending to consider—came to light.
Winnie Mae Murphree was awarded two horses by General Nathan B. Forrest during the Civil War when she and her sister, Celia, captured three Yankee soldiers and marched them into Forrest’s camp. Winnie grew up, married, and had children. I went in search of her grave and came across a family plot that contained not only Winnie, but also her husband Asa Bynum and three of their children. I’m assuming a disease or tragic accident struck the Bynum household because Winnie died on November 29, 1899, preceded by her daughter Maud who died at age 16 on November 13 (or 18), 1899, and followed by her son Albert who died at age 20 on December 3, 1899. Also buried in the family plot was a young daughter, Murty, who died at 10-11 months old in 1887. How tragic for Asa who lived 7 years after his wife and children died? I know he grieved deeply for his wife from the moving and poetic inscription on her headstone:
We miss thee from our home dear mother
We miss thee from thy place,
A shadow o’er our life is cast,
We miss the sunshine of thy face.
Likewise, Vinnie Ream was a famous sculptor in her day whose grave I sought out. She is known for many beautiful sculptures, but the two most impressive to me are still on display in Washington, DC. One is a life-size marble statue of Abraham Lincoln that stands in the Rotunda of our nation’s Capitol. The other is a bronze life-size statue of Admiral David G. Farragut that is in Farragut Square, made from a bronze anchor from the ship he commanded. Vinnie was only 17 years old when the Congress commissioned her to make the Lincoln statue, the youngest person at that time to ever be so tasked. She was also known for her personality and was friends with people such as composer Franz Liszt. One of her marble statues was of Sappho. When Vinnie passed in 1914, her husband Richard Hoxie had a bronze replica made of Vinnie’s Sappho statue. This bronze statue was placed in 1915 at her grave site in Arlington National Cemetery, with a stone bench nearby facing the emotional inscription that reveals how very much she was missed:
Words that would praise thee are impotent.
My husband accompanied me on many of my treks through the graveyards, helping me locate the markers and monuments, and photographing them. (A funny aside on the photos is that when I decided this year to make Pinterest pages for all the supporting photos that didn’t make it into the revised edition of Hometown Heroines, I couldn’t find them in my CDs and computer file backups. My husband scoured all the media in the house looking for and gathering together every photo into one CD. But it took me a good day after he handed me the disk labeled “Photos 2004-2013” to realize the reason: those photos were taken in the late 1990s, before we owned a digital camera! I have photos, I just have to scan them into digital format before I can create my Pinterest page. That’s on my to-do list now!)
Having traipsed through so many cemeteries both for writing research and genealogical curiosity, I sometimes ponder what I would like inscribed on my own headstone, if I were to have one. (I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in the mountains where I met my husband, so that probably won’t happen.) But if I were to have a headstone, what would it say? Hmmm. Perhaps:
Loving Wife. Doting Mother. Fabulous Author.
No, not that. While perhaps true, that’s not quite right. Maybe:
She did it her way.
Yeah, I like that! I may not have done things the way others felt I should, but I can definitely say I did it in my own way. So now it’s your turn. What would you like to see on your headstone? Or what don’t you want it to say? Care to share?
Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure. Good luck! (If you don’t win, Barnes and Noble has the Nook book on sale through 2/15. You may have to scroll through to find my book.) Betty Bolté
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Thanks for stopping by! Leave a comment to win a signed copy of Betty’s book. As for me…Um….I hope my tombstone says: “She lived a long, long, long, long life!”