Upcoming Podcast – The Doors of Heritage by Amherstburg History

 

Hough House at Fort Malden. At varied times administration building, asylum and now museum

Do you love history? No matter where you are in the world, this podcast focused on the history of a small town in Essex County, Ontario may be for you.  Amherstburg history is Canadian/American history. 

Amherstburg, Ontario is located in southwestern Ontario on the banks of the intersection of the Detroit River and Lake Erie. The cities of Wyandotte and Monroe, Michigan can be seen from the waterfront and it’s the home of Fort Malden which was established in 1796. On the outskirts of the town is the site of the first casualties of the War of 1812 as well as the bloodiest battle of Prohibition (between a small band of Canadian farmers and the Coast Guard). Amherstburg has also long been thought to have the busiest outlet for the Underground Railroad due to the narrow and fairly calm waters (I learned this at the very informative and interesting Amherstburg Freedom Museum formerly known as the North American Black Historical Museum). Amherstburg is mentioned in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Park House (now a museum) was moved from Detroit to Amherstburg in 1799. 

Amherstburg is a town rich with a colourful history which attracted this reviewer to the area in 2003. The

Park House Museum

Doors of Heritage will be hosted by historian, Robert Honor, Park House Curator, Stephanie Pouget, former deputy clerk, Cindy Hazael-Gietz and new Amherstburg resident, Sarah Haefling (who also hosts a podcast called Made it Happen. The Podcast seeks to tells stories from the past, highlight the structures making the lovely heritage landscape of the town and to tell the stories of the new people living in Amherstburg’s heritage homes.

Amherstburg Echo Building built in 1915 and designed by JC Pennington. Now home to Caffeine and Company

So why I am I recommending a podcast that has not yet appeared. I have known host Robert Honor and his wife (not a host but a truly intelligent and well informed lady) for approximately 5 years now and find the stories they tell and knowledge they have about Amherstburg and general history to be endlessly fascinating. The wealth of potential historical topics available, depth of the at-hand knowledge and general ability to speak publicly (Robert leads walking tours in Amherstburg) make for a perfect podcast format. I’ve also met Stephanie Pouget in passing and found her passion and knowledge even in our brief meeting, of the spirit that listening to her speak would be a great way to pass the time while traveling to work or take that hypothetical walk we’ll all be thinking about taking again once the weather breaks. 

Wyandotte Indian Cemetery – site of the bloodiest battle of Prohibition

While The Doors of Heritage has not been released, you can now subscribe and listen to a trailer of the show. Their first recording is scheduled to take place on March 11th in the former Echo (now Caffeine and Company – picture taken by me at some point last year) building. You can subscribe now and listen to the trailer by searching The Doors of Heritage on any podcast platform you prefer. Click here for a Spotify link.

View from Navy Yard Park of the Detroit River looking toward Lake Erie

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous by Christopher Bonanos

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for the Best Biography of 2018

 

Photographer Arthur Fellig had a second sense as to where emergency services would be and arrived in such a timely fashion that he nicknamed himself “Weegee.” The Austrian immigrant had an unflinching eye for the gritty side of life. Weegee’s flare for the experimental paved the way for photographers of the future and his outlandish personality makes for a life lived on ones own terms. Bonanos shows us the manic man behind the lens. 

 

 

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous is the story of a man born in what is now Ukraine who immigrated with his family to New York and rose from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap. Bonanos shows us a much mythologized man (often by himself – a master self-promoter), warts and all. Often, when writing the story of this sort of character, the narrative can come off at extremes – demeaning or deifying the character. In the case of Arthur Felig, there’s a clear picture of a man who always felt at odds with his world and sought to rise above those who might look down their noses at him. The author conveys an empathy to the reader for a life not easily lived.

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous is appropriately illustrated with Felig’s work. Bonanos highlights the history through which the photographer lived in New York City and how the changes dictated the course of his career. There is a sense of place as well as person in this spectacular biography. I’ll admit, as a Midwesterner, I may have seen some of Felig’s work but knew nothing about him. As a lover of history and outrageous people, not knowing about Felig was a real miss that I’m glad has been corrected. 

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous was just a joy to read. Written with humor, there’s not a point in Weegees life that isn’t fascinating which isn’t to say that the book wrote itself. Challenging this author is a lack of written content from the subject himself. It is clear that he spoke through his photography and art is always open to interpretation. Weegee is clearly established as an inveterate misogynist. One might call him a man of his time. Faults and glory, the reader leaves Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous really feeling as though they got to know this enigma of a man.

If you’re still wondering, I found this book delightful. I am, however; that kid who, at 10, worked her way through the biography shelves at the library. If you’re looking for a great weekend read, pick up Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous today. It was just a great book. 

 

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If She Dies by Erik Therme

Publication Date: February 21, 2021

The drunk driver that killed Tess’ daughter got two years in prison but why should his daughter, Eve,  live when hers had died. Tess obsessively stalks Eve and when the young girl goes missing, Tess is the obvious suspect but what if it wasn’t her? 

I received this book for review from the Book Club Reviewer Facebook group.

 

If She Dies is a study in grief. Because Tess is telling us this story, we never really know how honest she’s being with us. What the reader learns early on is that Tess avoids reality with the exception of the loss of Lily which she sees as her loss alone. Tess is wrapped in sorrow and an unfocused need for vengeance that leaps from the page. What the first person method does is create a connection to the character for a reader. Tess can be a lot but we understand, she’s lost what she saw as her purpose. She feels that her husband doesn’t feel the loss as deeply as she does but then she doesn’t ask because, frankly, she’s too lost in herself to care. A twist changes the story when we see Tess receive a harassing note. She conceals it because that’s what she does, hides. As an avid reader, one wonders how much of this psychological thriller’s twists and turns are outside of Tess’ head in the spirit of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island.

If She Dies is chilling. Objectively looking at the narrative flow, it’s economical but not sparse. We’re not getting the whole story from our unreliable narrator but enough that a bridge is built. Overall, If She Dies, is a beautiful read with unpredictable twists. Tess evolves over the story in a way you wouldn’t expect when meeting her at the start of the story as she stalks a 12 year old girl. The development is natural with logical impetus that shows care and attention from the creator. The change begins when there’s danger outside of Tess’ grief bubble. She seems to see the threats as part of what she’s owed for losing her daughter as she did – part of her blame.

In case you’ve missed it in my rambling, If She Dies is a heavily character driven read. Beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted, it’s a engrossing read that is hard to put down. At times it’s chilling and at other times just really sad. As a mother of one daughter who had her child later in life, I deeply identified with this character. Thankfully, I haven’t had to live Tess’ experience but what if I had? Would I react as Tess did? Feel as Tess does? If She Dies just feels very real in an unsettling way.

This book is scheduled to come out on February 21, 2021 but is already out on ebook. If you’re looking for a good listen for the long weekend, pick this book up on audible today. 

 

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Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping by Steven C. Drielak

Publication Date: August 3, 2020

In 1937 Alice McDonell Parsons was allegedly picked up at her home by two people interested in seeing a property she had for rent and was never seen again. A note found on the floorboard of a car led police to think it was a kidnapping, which wasn’t so far fetched as kidnaping was a very popular crime at the time. The FBI became involved and Hoover assigned his best agents to the case. The complications that followed and secrets that were exposed complicated the case of the missing woman whose fate was never really known. Drielak takes a deep dive into declassified documents to fit the puzzle pieces of what happened to Alice McDonell Parsons.

 

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is a fascinating read. The author spent 30 years in law enforcement and examines the historical evidence relaying it in a very readable way. There’s no whitewashing of the historical investigation. It was held up by clashes between law enforcement agencies and, in some cases, pedantic investigators. Readers start with the events of June 9, 1937 as relayed by Alice’s housekeeper/business partner, Anna Kupryanova, and Alice’s husband, William Parsons. Anna’s son, Roy, left on his bike for school while William went by train to New York City for a meeting. The changing stories and disdain that Anna had for Alice as well as Anna’s affair with Alice’s husband left suspicion in the minds of law enforcement but what would investigation show?

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is extremely well crafted. It’s linear and, as horrible as Anna is, relies on the facts of the case rather than the character of it’s suspects to prove it’s case. The mishandling of the case is outlined clearly. That Anna was so easily able to dominate and intimidate William was not helpful to the case. Drielak starts where the investigators do, with the idea that this is a kidnapping. The facts of the case influence the trajectory of suspicion. Why would William say that his wife couldn’t drive? Why did he lie about his relationship with Anna and why did both of their stories morph over the course of early days? 

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is 100% a true crime read. The details derived from law enforcement paperwork prove that truth is stranger than fiction. Did Alice walk away or did someone get away with murder? Draw your own conclusion. She certainly had the family connections and wherewithal to disappear and perhaps exact a little revenge in the leaving? Alice is a walking Dateline victim description, described as pleasant looking, gentle and happy. Loved by her family and close to her siblings children. This is true crime so there are times the morphing stories get confusing and also the narrative drags as there’s just nothing going on in the case. As the title reveals, the case was never solved. If William and Anne knew anything, they went to their graves without giving anything up and, as it’s in the title, that’s not a spoiler. 

Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping  is a great read and if you are a fan of history, true crime or just a really good story, this is a book that must not be missed.

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Highland Lioness: A Highland Romance of Tudor Scotland (The Highland Ballad Series Book 4) by Kristin Gleeson

Publication Date: January 15, 2021

Morag McGregor is sent to Scottish Court by her father in hopes that she will make a match or, at least, dampen her desire to get revenge on her neighbour, the Campbells. In a setting tense with religious and political strife will Morag sate her desire for revenge and return to her secret love who is waiting at home?

I received this book for review from the Book Club Reviewer Facebook group.

Highland Lioness is the fourth book in the Highland Ballad Series

 

I have not read any of the previous three books in the Highland Ballad Series and believe that this is the first book I’ve read by Kristin Gleeson and to be quite honest, I did not have high hopes for Highland Lioness in meeting Morag and she and her co-conspirators were lying in wait to sabotage the Campbell’s cattle. First impression was that she was going to be one of these borderline compulsive characters that would careen brainlessly from scrape to scrape until someone “tamed” her completely discounting the historical context of how dangerous a spirited woman might be (especially unmarried) to her own continued health and future. Lets not forget there was a time that women were institutionalized for reading. Gleeson sets the stage well so we know that, at some point, this kid is going to be smacked down and we get that right off of the bat when her brother steps in to command her future path with the help of their father as she’s already gone too far in their eyes. 

Morag begins to take life when we see her with her father. She is young and innocent and very convinced of her position. She reaches to her sister in law for support but she is very aware of her place in society and is just scared. We are given a very real teenager who knows her family has been wronged and is determined to even the score though she may be temporarily roadblocked with the court. She will align herself with whoever she needs to in order to achieve her goal.

Gleeson’s style is very descriptive. Readers will feel that they have a look into Scotland of the day. The culture and clothing are described with a deft hand in a way that does not weigh down the narrative. The Scottish Highlands are painted with a loving hand by the author and are vivid for readers in a very similar way to MC Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series though that series is set in modern times. The description of Stirling Castle is vivid and impressive and readers get a sense of it’s dominance over the landscape. Mr. Rabid Readers and I watched a documentary about Edenborough Castle a few weeks ago which led me to research if Stirling Castle is fictional. It is not fictional and it looks amazing. Approximately 40 kilometers from Edenborough Castle, it is also built on a cliff made of volcanic rock. Certainly a magnificent and impressive place which can still be toured but is currently closed due to COVID. 

Highland Lioness is a good read but not classic fiction though the author is clearly familiar with the classics. Well-read readers will recognize the works that inspire Kristin Gleeson.

If you enjoy romance and intrigue, Highland Lioness is the book for you. I have no plans to run out and buy the preceding novels in the series but, had I more time in my day, might be tempted. 

 

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Stage Mother (2020)

Release Date: August 21, 2020

A Texas Choir Mistress (Jacki Weaver) inherits a San Francisco drag club from her late son, Rickey, (Eldon Thiele) with whom she hadn’t been in touch since he came out.

 

 

I’m going to be 100% honest with this review and tell you that I equal parts loved and hated Stage Mother. A mother loses her only child with whom she was very close in his early years to a drug addiction. The audience sees him indulge in his drug of choice, go out on stage and pretty much drop dead. His mother, Maybelline, who is the epitome of fabulous is notified of her son’s death and is determined to attend the funeral, disregarding the objections of her husband (Hugh Thompson). Once in San Francisco she seeks to build bridges with the family she feels she has left which are her son’s partner and the people he valued in his life. 

Stage Mother is a wonderfully acted movie with weak storytelling. There are number of storylines and if just one or two had been followed and developed it would have been a much stronger piece but the actual focus seemed to be an almost masturbatory “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone/ fabulous straight mother figure saving the motherless.” I wondered what scenes had been deleted that would help the weaker story threads come together. Rickey is addicted to drugs; people tell Maybelline there’s a lot of drugs in the drag community; Maybelline intervenes when she sees one of Rickey’s drag sisters taking drugs basically verbally smacking her hand and staying up with her and all is good? It’s took simple. I’m not saying that this would have been a better movie with a focus on that storyline but with a better focus on any storyline. 

Now, let me just say, I wept when Maybelline honored Rickey toward the end of the movie. It was beautiful and, if nothing else, a connection was made with the characters. I would have loved to know more of Cherry Poppins’ (Mya Taylor) story. We meet Cherry and the other queens with a superficial overview and when Cherry goes to speak with her estranged wife, Maybelline tags along but the depth of Cherry’s struggle is unknown to the viewer other than that brief moment. Its the filling in the blanks moment that we often see in fiction that because the audience maybe knows a transgender person, they’ll assign that struggle to Cherry.

Stage Mother also too easily course corrects for the mother of this late gay man. Jacki Weaver is a wonderful actress and the emotion with which she plays the role convinces the audience that the “loss” of her son has weighed on her for many years and she mostly crumbled to the pressure of her husband. We’re supposed to believe the husband is a villain but Hugh Thompson plays that role unconvincingly. We don’t really get a history of why, for so many years, Maybelline didn’t reach out because if we know nothing else about her from this movie it’s that she’s a woman that does what she wants to do. 

I had mixed feelings about Stage Mother but overall it’s a very watchable movie and one that people should see. Jackie Beat is great as Dusty Muffin even if she is in the piece too little. Allistair MacDonald as Joan of Arkansas and Oscar Moreno as Tequila Mockingbird are wonderful in their roles. I would love to see movies following each of them and expanding on who they are and where they came from.

Watch it and let me know. Am I offbase in this review? Did you cry as I did during the honorary musical piece?

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Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

On November 6, 1920, in the midst of Ontario’s prohibition, Provincial liquor inspector, Reverend  J.O.L “Leslie” Spracklin walked into the Chappell House Hotel in Windsor, Ontario and shot Beverly “Babe” Trumble at close range, killing him. What happened that day and how did Spracklin get away with murder?

 

 

Given the part that Ontario played in the US prohibition, which started in 1920, one would not assume that Ontario was dry at that time. The Ontario Temperance Act was passed in 1916 and while liquor could be produced and exported, it was not legal to consume. Brode begins Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder outlining Ontario’s history with alcohol and its citizens lack of reverence for the newly established rules after prohibition passed. Windsor, which is across a river just south of Detroit, Michigan,  was a special concern for the officials in Toronto as liquor seemed to flow freely back and forth across the water. There were speakeasys everywhere and hotels and social clubs would serve both locally produced and homemade products.  There are stately homes now in the lovely Walkervile area of Windsor, built by people that got rich off of the illegal flow of alcohol.

The Ontario Attorney General of the day, William Rainey, opted to bypass the local police and engage private enforcement for the liquor laws. He appointed Spracklin, the Pastor of Sandwich Methodist Church, a liquor inspector and Spracklin brought on board his own force including a very dubious Hallam brothers. From the start, there was a massive overreaching on the part of the team and allegations that when “inspections” would happen, things would go missing. The team didn’t shy away from violence and didn’t seem to care about the optics of their raids or the positions of the subjects. Rather than seeming the law of the Wild West of Ontario, they were coming off as bullies. What caused Spracklin and his men to raid the Chappell House on that November night is unknown but stories of what happened varied wildly and seem to have been the last straw for those that employed Spracklin. It may seem a spoiler in the title to say that Spracklin got away with murder but, as in any true crime, the journey is key.

At 216 pages, a quarter of which is bibliography, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a quick read. Brode, a local historian, covers Prohibition and how it was passed before going into the lives of the participants and the difference in the ways they were raised and how they looked at life. Their mothers came from the same area of Ontario to Windsor and were friends. The retelling of the event itself it brief with more detail going into the subsequent trial. It was interesting, as someone who has lived in Essex County, for 21 years, to read the names that remain familiar in the city of Windsor. Trumble’s body was handled by Janisse Funeral Home which is still in operation 100 years later. Spracklin’s men stopped people leaving Our Lady of Assumption Church, a church that was a risk for a few years but is now being restored, to search vehicles for alcohol. The trial took place at Mackenzie Hall; now an event space and where Mr. Rabid Readers and I had our wedding reception. There is a historic courtroom preserved with original furnishings in the building that is now used for Landlord-Tenant Court and as an interpretive display piece.

If you are interested in the subject, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a great read. The start is a bit dry so one must bear with the work but once the author gets into the local events and his subjects; Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is utterly fascinating and a very quick read.

 

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Human Rights Day 2020: Starlight Tour; the Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild by Robert Renaud and Susanne Reber

Publication Date: November 23, 2005:

On November 29, 1990, two construction workers found the body of 17 year old Saulteaux First Nations tribe member, Neil Stonechild. His friend, Jason Roy, last saw him in the back of a police car on November 25, 1990. The initial inquiry into his death by the Saksatoon police ruled it to be accidental and not as a result of foul play. When a surviving victim of a Starlight Tour came forward, it led to the reopening of the case in 2000 and would shine a horrible and cruel light on the practices of certain Saskatoon Police Officers and the full coverage they received of the “Blue Curtain,” a practice in which a police officer doesn’t inform on his fellow officer.

 

In the wake of police brutality in the United States, I see a lot of people from other countries saying “We feel for you but we can’t relate.” In Canada, we sit atop the United States and look down our noses at our seemingly less evolved neighbors. What we completely ignore when doing that is the treatment of First Nations people in Canada which, frankly, is what allowed the Saskatoon Police to go unchecked as long as they did and, maybe still do. Our First Nations people don’t have potable drinking water and scores of women go missing without the authorities taking their disappearance seriously (Go to this website for information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls).

Starlight Tour refers to the Saskatoon Police taking mostly male member of the Indigeous community, often intoxicated, and dropping them off in the middle of nowhere. They would sometimes take their clothing, abandoning them in extremely cold temperatures. The first documented “tour” was in 1976 and continued until recently and, considering that no officer has been convicted of this offense, may still go on to this day. Indigenous people often don’t come forward probably due to the troubled relationship with the police and the knowledge that these members of the community have gone unchecked so what stops them from coming back after the person makes a report? If they do, as one man found out, there’s a good deal of victim shaming. 

On that November night in 1990, Stonechild and his friend, Jason Roy, were drinking together. They parted ways and in the initial inquiry in which Roy gave a false name, he said that he didn’t remember what happened after that event. In a secondary inquiry in 2000, he said that he last saw Stonechild in the back of a police car bleeding profusely from a cut on his face and crying out to his friend for help. 

The authors of Starlight Tour are not looking for cheap sentimentality. The case of Neil Stonechild, and the others who died and suffered at the hands of the Saskatoon Police, in it’s facts will inspire the reader.  The authors wrote the book with cooperation from the Stonechild family and their lawyer, Donald Worme. Starlight Tour chronicles their struggle, frustration and sorrow. The goal was to expose the horror of the events and the injustice served to Neil Stonechild and other members of the indigenous community and Starlight Tour delivers.

I am delighted to report that this book was curriculum in my daughter’s Grade 11 English class. The light is shining on this subject and we can only hope that attitudes change and that events long covered by shadows and ignored come to light. We can only hope for a day where those in authority won’t victimize a marginalized community and ignore the crimes to which they’re subject. There’s a reason that serial killers tend to prey on the vulnerable and marginalized. Our hope is that one day every crime will be investigated no matter race, creed or the criminal history of the victim. And, as this book will show, even when the horrible cruelty comes to light and those responsible pinpointed, it doesn’t mean that any actual justice will be meted out. 

Pick Starlight Tour up today. If you’re in Canada, this should be required reading. Value your fellow human and be aware of what is going on in your world. 

 

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Eubeltic Descent by Nadine Keels

Publication Date: August 22, 2018

Abigaia Grena has only known a life of crime. A talented thief, she has come to hate what she’s become. She dreams of returning to her ancestral home but her intended isn’t interested in making the trip across the ocean. What will she do when the Euebeltic Realm needs her?

The author, Nadine Keels, gave me a copy of Eubeltic Descent in exchange for my review.

We learn the most important thing about Abigaia in the first few sentences; she rationalizes morality. She’s a thief but vendors anticipate thievery and make allowances so Abigaia suggests that it’s something of a social contract. At her core, she’s a deeply principled person caught in a situation she’s unable to control but she can dream and, perhaps; find the strength to make dreams reality. She’s a master of distraction and analytical thinking in her craft and uses that not only to misdirect vendors and readers. She’s led a rough life having lost her mother young and while her father was physically there for a while and impressed upon her the importance of her heritage, she’s terrified of him. Abigaia, now living with her aunt, has turned to something of a pack of thieves. Her aunt knows she can’t afford the things she brings from market but asks no questions. Keels impresses on us that these are desperately poor people living on the edge and hence, the world to which Abi’s ancestors immigrated isn’t quite the bright land of opportunity it once was and as she learns about her ancestors, her hope grows.

There’s a metaphor of modern life in Eubeltic Descent. The class system and shattered lives and the proud ancestry that one would hope is re-found. Keel’s writing style is an intelligent mix of a classic world and a carefully constructed progressive plot that shows massive growth in its main character that is in keeping with the girl we meet in the first few chapters. Abi starts as a little girl sure she’s too old for the games and matures into a strong and capable woman. Keel’s skill with the language is visceral. We see Abi’s hair fall to act as a disguise, we see Tarek’s raking smile, we stand in the kitchen with Abi’s aunt as she makes apple tarts. Its hard to go into the story without revealing massive spoilers but the lines of the plot come together smoothly taking readers on a journey to the unexpected.

As fantasy novels go, Eubelic Descent is a good one. It flows well and is a fast read. If you like character driven fantasy, be sure to pick this one up today.

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About Nadine Keels
For more information about Nadine Keels, visit her blog. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @nadinekeels.