Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 27 Dude! Where’s My Poe

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 16•17

 
Author Edgar Allan Poe is known for some of the best horror fiction around.  He’s also a bit of a sad sack for whom things never seemed to go right.  In the days leading up to his death, he vanished.  He was found in clothes that didn’t belong to him, unconscious.  Though he did wake, no one could make sense of his ravings before he died.

Join author Melanie Miller Fletcher and I as we discuss our favorite theories about what might have happened to Poe.

I Am Not Making This Up: When is a Ghost Not a Ghost? When It’s a Boat.

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 09•17

It seems odd that there are still places where large numbers of people can vanish without a trace. But as recently as early this year, ghost ships have washed up on the shore of Japan.

And while there is an easy explanation for these ghost ships – fishing vessels from North Korea – what happened to some ghost ships remains shrouded in mystery.

Such is the case with the Mary Celeste, possibly the world’s most famous ghost ship.

On December 5, 1872, a Canadian two-masted sailing ship named the Dei Gratia sighted a ship off the shores of the Azores islands. But something seemed wrong.

The ship moved toward them in an erratic line, with it’s sails in dissarray. As the strange ship drew closer, the crew of the Dei Gratia couldn’t see anyone aboard. Attempts to hail the strange ship went unanswered.

So Captain David Moorehouse sent his first and second mates, Oliver Deveau and John Wright in a ship’s boat to investigate. The two men reported back that the ship was the Mary Celeste.

This may have caused some concern for Captain David Moorehouse. As a Captain who sailed the same general shipping route as the Mary Celeste, he would have been a colleague of the Mary Celeste’s Captain Benjamin Briggs — Sort of the nautical equivalent of a water cooler friend. Moorehouse might have known that Briggs sailed with his wife and two year old daughter aboard the ship.

The two man expedition to the Mary Celeste reported that the ship was completely abandoned. Yet they could find nothing wrong with the ship. The cargo of crude alcohol remained intact. There was a single lifeboat missing, and the ship’s log was last updated nine days previously. It was as if the ship’s crew had simply abandoned in a great hurry.

To this day, what happened to the Mary Celeste’s crew remains a mystery. Theories range from the outlandish — UFOs and Sea Monsters, to practical — the captain may have feared that the cargo of alcohol would explode, and abandoned ship. Suspicion even fell onto the crew of the Dei Gratia, who stood to benefit from salvage of the Mary Celeste.

Even Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the world’s most famous detective novels, weighed in with a sensationalized fictional account that blamed a murderous crew member.

As recently as 2007, a documentary claimed that Briggs ordered an abandon ship due to fear of sinking after a combination of rough seas, a broken pump and a broken chronometer.

Whatever the real story might be, we may never know. But the mystery is what keeps the story alive in our minds.

It could be that some of us would prefer the mystery to remain a mystery.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 26 The Birth of the Byronpire

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 02•17

Author Melanie Miller Fletcher is my special guest for this episode.  Join us as we discuss the birth of Science Fiction and the modern vampire (A.K.A. the Byronpire).

In 1814, Mount Tambora erupted, sending volcanic ash into the atmosphere and causing an unseasonably cold summer in 1815.  During this summer, called “The Year Without Summer,” poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, writer Mary Godwin (soon to be Shelley), and Mary’s sister Claire Clairmont stayed at Lake Geneva with Lord Byron and his doctor, John Polidori.

To amuse themselves over the long, dreary summer, they told each other ghost stories.  Out of those storytelling sessions we got the first Science Fiction story: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, as well as the first modern vampire story: The Vampyre (who was totes modeled after Lord Byron).

I Am Not Making This Up : Reality TV Before There Was TV

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 25•17

When we think of reality shows, we think of people who look like rockstars decorating cakes with power tools. But reality-based entertainment is older than you’d think.

The monarchy in the courts of Louis XIV up through Louis the XVI (up until the French Revolution) lived life in a fishbowl, allowing random nobility to watch them do everything from eating to giving birth.

Prior to Louis the XIV, the royal monarchy of France was locked in a power struggle with the nobility. Away from Paris, nobles ran their own lands as they saw fit: avoiding taxes and service to the crown while ignoring pesky laws when it suited them.

Louis XIV changed that by creating a cult of personality around the monarchy. The Monarch ruled by divine right. The power he displayed came to him by divine appointment. And this power should be put on display for anyone to see.

First he moved the royal family to a country home (a hunting lodge named Versailles, which he then renovated into the lavish estate we know today).

Moving the royalty to the country helped Louis control the nobility. If courtiers wanted the King’s favor, they had to spend most of their time at Versailles. And they had to adhere to strict etiquette that determined everything, right down to which stool they could sit on. This kept them from building their own power bases to challenge his rule.

Louis then developed a rigid schedule of ceremony for the royal family and nobles to follow. You could set your watch by the Sun King’s schedule. And tourists and nobles could watch the royal family and officials get up, dress, eat, take walks and go to bed.

During the time of Louis the XVI, nobles could even watch the queen give birth. (The birthing room was so crowded when Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first child, that the queen fainted, prompting Louis XVI to throw open a window and ban courtiers from being present at subsequent births).

Because of the performance nature of life at Versailles, the court became an attraction for tourists from other countries. France gained a reputation for style and taste that it still holds today.

But like many reality shows, the performance of life in Versailles declined in quality after the first season. While the Sun King stuck to a rigid schedule and never varied his performances, his grandson Louis XV (Louis The Good) and great-grandson Louis XVI (The one who got his head cut off) chafed under their lack of privacy and retreated from public life as often as possible. Courtiers often complained that they never saw their king.

To make things worse, neither of the later kings was a very good ruler. Louis XV set the country on a dangerous path to financial instability, and Louis XVI wasn’t able to turn the show around. He was too busy playing with his locks.  That’s not a euphemism.  He had a lock collection the way some modern basement dwellers have a bug/stamp/comic collection.

Ultimately, the French Revolution gave the reality show life at Versailles a literal axe by cutting off Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette’s heads. If you want to watch anything resembling it these days, you have to watch the non-reality-based TV show, also named Versailles.

FenCon Is Coming!

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 19•17

One of my favorite conventions of the year, FenCon is coming. My schedule, however, is here.

Friday:

3:00 Invasion Of The Podcast People

4:00 Return Of Son Of Super – Hero

10:00 Yard Dog Press Roadshow

Saturday

10:00 FenCon Squares (yee Haw!)

1:00 autographs

1:30 Reading

Sunday

11:00 – female Fighters and armor

See you there!

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 25 Lifestyles of the Rich and Poisonous

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 18•17

Though The Robert Browning poem The Laboratory is a fictional poem, it may be based on a true event. A scandal that swept 17th century France, leading all the way to the Sun King’s inner circle, and right to the doors of his official mistress.

I Am Not Making This Up: Like Ghost Rider, Only With Camels

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 11•17

In 1883, two ranchers near Eagle Creek Arizona left their wives and children in their ranch house and rode out to check their cattle.

One of the women went to draw water from a nearby spring, leaving the other to tend to the children.

The woman in the house heard a scream. When she looked out the window, she saw some kind of monster, riding a fearsome red beast. Frightened, she locked the door and pulled the kids close. Her friend never returned.

When the ranchers returned that night, they found the other woman’s trampled body, surrounded by cloven hoof prints.

***

We invent tall tales, Folklore and legends to explain the unexplainable. And as more sightings of the ghoulish rider and red monster occurred around Arizona, the creature earned a name: the Red Ghost of Arizona.

Over the next few months, the ghost would appear again and again. It would trample a tent filled with miners near Clifton, and be spotted by ranchers and miners all around Arizona.

Then a rancher named Cyrus Hamblin offered an explanation. Hamblin was working on his ranch near the salt river when he spotted the Red Ghost. But Hamblin recognized the beast. It was a camel.

To Hamblin’s horror, he could see a skeleton tied to the camel’s back.

A few months later, when some miners shot at the Red Ghost, something fell from it’s back as it ran away. The miner’s were terrified to find that what had fallen off was a mummified human skull.

***

To trace the birth of Arizona’s Red Ghost, you have to go back to 1848. Settlers were expanding westward into the American Southwest despite the hostile landscape and even more hostile natives.

‘Why not bring in camels to help settle the land?’ Thought some. Camels are more resilient than horses. They can go longer without water. Their hooves are adapted to cover the sand like a pillow rather than sinking in like a horse’s.

Some prominent men lobbied congress to bring camels over for the army, including Army Quartermaster Major Henry Wayne and secretary of war Jefferson Davis. (Yes, future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. That guy.)

And so in 1857, the army received 72 camels. And they quickly learned that camels would bite, spit, kick, scare horses and wander off at night. Soldiers assigned to the camels hated them.

This is where the legend of the Red Ghost’s skeletal rider came from. Stories say that a young camel rider was afraid to get onto his mount. So his friends tied him on with rawhide rope. Then they slapped the camel on the bottom to make it run – only to find that they couldn’t catch up with it after.

Even though the camel program floundered, the army kept it going. Since the government had payed so much to bring camels to the US, the army couldn’t really get rid of the camels when buyers remorse set in. Some remained in at Camp Verde, Texas while others went to California.

Then the civil war broke out. Suddenly, with the Union’s shifting priorities, the camels were a liability.

Most camels were sold to butchers, miners, circuses and some even worked on the transcontinental railroad.

But when Confederate forces seized Camp Verde, they released some of the animals into the wild. Thanks to that, feral camel sightings were reported from Arkansas to Arizona right up into the 20th century.

But unlike the Wild Mustangs, or Pablo Escobar’s hippos, camels didn’t thrive in the southwest. There just weren’t enough camels concentrated in one spot to create a sustainable and growing herd. So eventually the feral camels died out.

But what of Arizona’s Red Ghost?

In the mid 1880’s a rancher in Arizona spotted a camel in it’s garden. The rancher shot the camel with a Winchester rifle. When he examined the creature’s body, he found scars across the torso from where something had been tied to it’s back with a rawhide rope and left there until the rope rotted away.

If the Red Ghost ever existed, it was gone now.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 24 The Real Rapunzel

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 04•17

There is a story of a girl who is locked away in a tower and forbidden to see her one true love.  But this is no story about a signing princess with a talking animal friend.  And the king in this story is the bad guy.  

I Am Not Making This Up: Killing Sherlock Holmes

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 28•17

Imagine if JK Rowling hated Harry Potter. Hated him so much that she killed– ok, bad example.

But there is one author out there who killed off the protagonist of his best-known work because he actively hated the character. That author is Arthur Conan Doyle.

Doyle’s extended family came from wealth, though thanks to his own father’s alcoholism, his immediate family was impoverished. Thanks to his uncles, he was able to attend boarding school and eventually college.

He took a break from studying to be a doctor in order to work as a ship’s surgeon, first on a whaler in the Arctic, then on a steamer to West-Africa.

His adventures brought him as close to death as Sherlock Holmes would have come during one of his adventures. During the Arctic job Doyle fell into icy water and nearly froze to death. His trip to West Africa involved close calls with malaria, sharks, crocodiles and a shipboard fire.

Later, as he struggled to make ends meet establishing his practice, Doyle turned to writing. First accounts of his trips, then novels. During this time he wrote A Study in Scarlett.

In writing A Study In Scarlett, Doyle was dipping his pen into a new kind of genre: the detective story.

Just a short time earlier, Edgar Allan Poe penned a story called The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The protagonist was a detective with unique talents far beyond those of ordinary men.

In writing A Study in Scarlett, Doyle’s Holmes acknowledges Poe’s stories. Yet Doyle also based Holmes on a real person, a doctor who he had served as an assistant to: Dr. Joseph Bell.

Like Holmes, Dr. Bell could make deductions based on a person’s mannerisms, speech patterns and other tiny clues. To a generation raised on CSI, this kind of thing seems elementary. But to the Victorians reading the Holmes stories, the notion was sensational.

Sensing that he had something in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle switched to shorter works that he could write quickly and sell easily to the magazine market. Because in those days, one could actually make money writing short stories. (Did unicorns exist back then too?)

Then an awful thing happened. (Hand wringing, clutching the pearls, swooning on the fainting couch.) The stories became popular. Holmes captured the public imagination and held it.

Doyle, who wanted to be known for writing serious historical accounts, instead felt pressured to crank out Holmes story after Holmes story. Plus he had to devote mental energy to plotting each mystery so that it would satisfy the reader with it’s complexity.

And while Sherlock Holmes was popular, Doyle didn’t receive the respect he wanted. His name wasn’t emblazoned alongside the names of literary giants. He was a writer of popular fiction, and disregarded as such.

So he killed off his greatest creation. Pushed him over a waterfall. And good riddance.

Except it didn’t end there. Fan backlash like that wouldn’t be seen again until Bella chose Edward over Jacob. . . Or so I heard.

Men wore armbands in mourning. A woman attacked Doyle with a handbag. But eventually money won out. Doyle brought Holmes back in 1902. By 1927 when Doyle published his last Holmes story, he’d written 4 novels and 56 short stories about Holmes and his ever-present sidekick Watson.

Doyle’s adventures continued outside the scope of his detective stories. He served as an army doctor in the 1899 Boer War and wrote a best-selling history of the conflict. He was knighted, not for his Holmes stories, but for his service in the war.

Twice he ran (unsuccessfully) for parliament. He pushed for reform for divorce law, led the move for an English Channel tunnel, and (ironically) got involved in the spiritualism movement (which I touched on in my podcast about the Fox sisters).

Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, but Sherlock Holmes has taken on a life of his own. Since his inception, the famous detective has appeared in additional stories, movies, tv, plays and even a ballet. As of this writing there is a BBC series and one on CBS, both set in contemporary times. There was also recently a medical drama in which a doctor is loosely based on Holmes, as well as two movies.

In writing Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle created an enduring character who appeals to every generation. Too bad his creator hated him.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 23 Why You Shouldn’t Order The Lincoln Special

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 21•17
Hearse

This hearse conducted Lincolon’s body from his train to scheduled public viewings.

When you’re a high-profile figure, your life isn’t really your own.  This can even be true of elected officials.  Particularly martyred elected officials.  Such was the case with Abraham Lincoln, who was sent on a farewell tour after his death that would have been worthy of any rock band.