Some of you are familiar with my short story mysteries featuring Clara, an engaging prostitute who plied her trade during the Civil War with men whose sexual preferences included “soft” fetishes—i.e., nothing painful, more like making love in caskets, lapping brandy from her bellybutton, or enjoying chocolate applied with feathers. (So far, no one’s complained about the lack of explicit sexual detail on the page!) And somehow, she was repeatedly embroiled in solving mysterious deaths.
Well, I’m working on another Clara story, and here are some bits of info I think you’ll find interesting.
I stumbled across this book some years ago in the gift shop at the Museum of the Confederacy and bought it, because who isn’t interested in sex? Since then, Thomas P. Lowry has become my favorite writer on the topic! However, I’ve also searched online. I won’t be giving specific citations, because many of these facts pop up in several writings.
The topic of prostitution isn’t as intensively researched and written about as many other Civil War topics, and one might assume that’s because it was a minor issue. Wrong! In 1864 there were 450 brothels in Washington and over 75 in Alexandria, Virginia. A newspaper estimated there were 5000 “public women” in DC and another 2500 in Alexandria and Georgetown—and this is just an example. Whenever army troops set up camps, nearby small towns were overrun with women in the sex trade.
One estimate was that 40% of soldiers suffered the pox (syphilis) and/or the clap (gonorrhea). These STIs were nearly as dangerous to soldiers as battle—which prompted military officers to take action. That often took the form of moving bawdy women elsewhere.
For example, Major General William Rosecrans ordered that all prostitutes found in Nashville or known to be there be seized and transported to Louisville. What followed was that a recently christened steamboat, the Idahoe, was basically conscripted to move 111 of the most infamous of the sex workers. Louisville refused dockage to the Idahoe, and ordered them on to Cincinnati instead. Cincinnati also refused to accept them, so they were sent to Kentucky, but were turned away by Covington and Newport. Bottom line: they ended up back in Nashville.
Similar rounding up of prostitutes and forcibly transporting them to the enemy’s city by train was common between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC—which promoted women being spies. (But spying is for another day.) In any case, such transportation did not take into account the convenience, preferences, or comfort of the women. For example, one report on the women aboard the Idahoe said the women were in bad shape when they returned to Nashville: “The majority are a homely, forlorn set of degraded creatures. Having been hurried on the boats by a military guard, many were without a change of wardrobe.” Nor were they properly fed after the first three days.
Bottom line: Prostitution during the Civil War is a fascinating topic to pursue!
In my print interview with Bradley Harper, he mentioned an event that changed his life but was too long to go into just there. Well, here he goes into it!
For three years I volunteered at a small pilgrim hostel in Galicia, Spain, caring for pilgrims walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. The hamlet where the hostel lies is named Ribadiso, 41 kilometers from the end. Some pilgrims started in Sarria, 60 kilometers away, some back as far as the border with France, or even farther. Some walked three days, others six weeks or more. I spent a fair amount of time treating the blisters of the “Sarristas,” but the long distance hikers were well past that.
The reason for the pilgrimage varied by age group. Mature pilgrims like myself often did so as an act of atonement, or to keep a promise. Younger pilgrims were often seeking “something.” Ribadiso is two days from the end, and these young pilgrims were often in a panic. They hadn’t had their burning bush moment; no Divine Tweet as to what this particular journey meant, and they were nearly done. They feared returning home no wiser than before.
To these pilgrims I gave a different kind of treatment. I have the white beard, so find playing the role of wise old man a good fit—though don’t tell my wife! I told them a parable from the Tao tradition, which often has helped me in stressful times.
Two monks, an older one and his apprentice, are on a pilgrimage when they come to a shallow but wide river. An old woman approaches the elder and demands he carry her across. He bends over, she climbs on, and once they reach the other side she hops off without a word of thanks.
That night as the two monks prepare to sleep, the apprentice confesses that he is still very angry over how the old woman treated his master. “You must be very tired, my friend,” answers his teacher. “I put her down when I crossed the river. It seems you have been carrying her ever since.” I then pointed to the pilgrim’s rucksack. “Everything in there weighs something. You carefully considered the burden it represented, versus the value it would provide you on your journey.
“Perhaps the purpose for your pilgrimage was not for you to gain something, but to guide you to what you should put down. Consider that, and when you arrive at the cathedral in Santiago, decide what you want to lay at the feet of the saint.”
I carry that parable with me to this day. I used to stress out over traffic. When someone
cut me off or tailgated, my blood pressure would rise, and I might be angry for some
time afterwards. Now I think of the old woman, and let it go. My path lies ahead. My
pilgrimage continues. No need to add to the burden.
Bradley Harper bio: Dr. Harper served over 37 years in the Army, first as an Airborne Infantry Platoon Leader, and culminating as the Deputy Assistant Surgeon General for the US Army in the Pentagon.
While serving as the Command Surgeon for US Army South he spent time in Colombia overseeing a joint training course with the Colombian Army, and had a $1.5 million bounty on his head (alive) for anyone who could deliver him to the FARC alive (offer no longer valid).
Fluent in Spanish, he speaks four languages other than English and for the five years after retirement he volunteered in Galicia, Spain, to assist pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela. He had the unique experience of serving as the acting commander of the US Army Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, on the fiftieth anniversary of GEN Patton’s death there, and presided over the commemoration ceremony involving both US military and German local dignitaries.
Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, he has conducted over two-hundred autopsies, several of them forensic in nature, and uses his clinical experiences to inform his writing. He has worked as a professional Santa Claus for the past five years at a local theme park. A soft touch, he only threatens those on the Naughty List with burnt cookies.
His writing credits include a short story sold to The Strand and The Sherlock Holmes Magazine of Mystery, as well as his award-winning debut novel, A Knife in the Fog, featuring a young Arthur Conan Doyle, Professor Joseph Bell, Doyle’s inspiration for Holmes, and Margaret Harkness. Miss Harkness was an author and Suffragette who lived in the East End of London for a while to do research on her novels featuring the working poor. Together these Three Musketeers assist the London Metropolitan Police in the hunt for the man who became known as Jack the Ripper, until he begins hunting them!
Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly.
As a child, I dreamed of having a job where I could read children’s and middle-grade literature all day. Granted, I don’t get to do it all day, but one amazing perk of my job is I get to read over some wonderful new literature coming from that genre!
Most recently, I picked up Hello, Universe, the 2018 Newbery Award winner. Folks, this book is fantastic. I can absolutely see why Kelly won the award. The book follows four characters: Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, all of whom have varied personalities and backgrounds. Their stories collide when Chet, the neighborhood bully, plays a prank on Virgil that will change the course of all of their lives. See its description on Goodreads (I’ve deleted spoilers!):
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous Filipino family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends—at least not until Chet pulls a prank that puts Virgil and his pet guinea pig in danger. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.
One of my favorite tropes (is it a trope?) in books is when multiple storylines finally converge into one and something clicks with the reader. The best example I’ve ever seen—not just in children’s literature, but in all of the books I’ve read—is Holes by Louis Sachar. Hello, Universe has a more low-key way of converging storylines (and it’s not a surprise it happens—read the dust jacket!), but it’s still satisfying in a way that I’m sure will delight its young readers.
Don’t just take it from me; there are so many starred reviews of this book that it’s hard to pick just one quote. Booklist and Kirkus are among its starred reviewers, which is a huge accomplishment.
Bottom line: Hello, Universe is a delightful book for lovers of children’s and middle-grade fiction. Check it out!
“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.”