Tuesday, October 30, 2012

True Ghost Stories III --Kids, Animals & Monsters

Newsflash:  While reprinting my three-part series on "True Ghost Stories" during Halloween week,  I've been asking people to send me their own paranormal experiences--write to joanpgage@yahoo.com.  So far, three  people have done so, and one of them is a young woman from Arizona who is a paranormal investigator.  On Thursday I will publish an article she has put together for this blog, chronicling her experiences with ghosts and spirits and also her explorations of a ghost town dating from the Gold Rush era.

And if YOU have a ghost story to share, please send it to my e-mail address above, and I promise to tell it on "A Rolling Crone."
What are ghosts exactly and how do you know if you’ve got one?

As I mentioned on Friday and Sunday—I have a collection of 101 letters from people describing ghosts they have encountered in their homes. These letters came to me 25 years ago when I was working for Country Living Magazine and we asked for reports on hauntings. But because the subject proved so controversial with readers of the magazine—especially Christian fundamentalists—the editors told me to write a brief and up-beat article and not go into any frightening detail.

But I’ve saved the letters all these years because I thought they were an invaluable source of information about: What is a ghost? And except for one letter, they all seemed to come from responsible and sane people, who included a police officer, a librarian, a minister, a psychiatrist and a host of other evidently reliable correspondents.

Last year-- on Halloween day-- my local paper (Worcester’s Telegram & Gazette) reported on a nearby haunted house, where the owners invited a team of “paranormal investigators” to study their home while the family was away. They set up cameras connected to DVD recorders and digital audio recordings to capture “electronic voice phenomena”. Aside from some mysterious voices and the unexplained turning off of the recorder, and film showing two paper lanterns that revolved in opposite directions, these ghost hunters found nothing much, but I was interested that they later said, there are two types of hauntings — “intelligent hauntings” in which purposeful actions are observed—like rearranging the china cabinet—and “residual hauntings,” which pick up and relay random events, such as a radio broadcast from the 1930’s.

I had already worked out for myself, from reading my 101 letters, that “hauntings”, “ghosts” or “paranormal activity” (as in the blockbuster film) can represent many different kinds of phenomena.

Instant Replay Traumas--I believe that one kind of “haunting” is the re-enactment of some traumatic event that happened in that place long ago. It’s periodically re-projected—like an instant replay in a football game. One example of this was the reader from Fogelsville, PA who reported that every now and then in the middle of the night, they hear a horse trotting up, the locked kitchen door flies open and woman screams “Oh no!” (This reader has seen five separate ghosts in her house including a Civil War soldier “hanging” in their barn.”) I believe that these ghosts all qualify as “residual hauntings” and that they represent no danger to the living. The woman from Pennsylvania ended her letter: “Holidays are the most active seasons. Whether the ghosts like it or not, we’re staying.”

Lost earthbound spirits-- On TV programs like Medium, the ghosts encountered are usually people who don’t realize that they’re dead and they have to be coached to go on to the next world, or move toward the light or whatever is the next stage. Among the ghosts described in my letters, most of these lost souls were children and a few were elderly people who remained in the room where they had spent their last years of life. These old people, who don’t know they should move on, tend to get very angry at newcomers who have invaded their space. They get most irritated when renovations, restoration or re-decorating happens. One woman in Virginia used to encounter the voice and tricks of an elderly lady who once lived in the attic—where the reader would hang her laundry on rainy days. The “ghost” could often be heard rocking in her rocking chair . She opened doors and took a door off its hinges and leaned it against the wall , One day, in exasperation, she cried “Oh, just get out of here!” In many cases, according to the letters, angry lost spirits were helped to move on by a helpful priest, minister, exorcist or psychic.

More pitiful were the ten child ghosts who truly seemed lost and confused and often interacted with the living children of a household. (I learned that animals and small children are almost always more likely to see and interact with ghosts than adults. Often the small children don’t realize the spirits are ghosts and ask “Why won’t the little girl come back and play with me?” and “Why is that little boy playing with my trains?”) One reader from Wilbraham MA, called on ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren who contacted a “9-year-old earthbound boy who apparently died in the farmhouse in 1898, named Alfie. He told them he was concerned over his dog Dodo, and when he died his father was away from home in the army. Every year on July 16—the day he died—there would be a flurry of ghostly activity.” Visitors have reported seeing the little boy looking out the window of a front bedroom and waving good-bye.

From the letters I’ve read, I believe these earthbound child ghosts are unlikely to cause any harm to the inhabitants of a house, although they sometimes smash china and play havoc with electrical appliances—they have also been known to cover sleeping children with blankets and to close windows in a sudden rainstorm. Lucy Ensworth of Louisburg, Kansas who died in 1863 at the age of 12, has done both the pranks and the helpful gestures, stealing things and putting them back, and causing a visiting granddaughter to say, “It’s hard to sleep with that lady walking around—she’s sort of a big girl.”

In two cases ghosts have seemed to known and react to a sickness in the family: A reader in Sandston, VA wrote they have a woman ghost “seen only twice, both times in the fall when someone in the family had been hospitalized.” A man in New Berlin, Wisconsin wrote “As a pastor I’m not supposed to believe in ghosts, but I do.” He described the experiences of friends who live in a country barn house with a poltergeist. Ferns would spin and chairs would rearrange and a cousin who scoffed at reports of a ghost had a fork fly off the table and prick his cheek. “When Jennie’s mother fell down the stairs, her arm was held so that she didn’t plunge headlong, but slid down. On her arm were bruise marks of four fingers and a thumb.” They had a three-year-old daughter who had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia during an emergency appendix operation. The night Jenny died, her bedroom pictures on the wall—mattress, etc—were hurled all over her room. After that, there were no more messages from the ghost.

Animal ghosts—I believe that spirits often return to the place where they lived before moving on—this makes more sense than ghosts in a graveyard hanging around their remains. Many readers described animal ghosts, especially cats, walking on the bed—sometimes their own deceased pets or an unknown pet. I know when my own dog died at the age of 11 years (I was away at college), my mother, who had never liked the dog that well anyway, kept seeing it out of the corner of her eye in the kitchen. A reader in Willoughy, Ohio, described her terrier named Bonnie who would run up the stairs, her nails clicking. One night, several weeks after Bonnie was put to sleep, she was awakened by the familiar sound. “Bonnie just dropped in to let me know that, wherever she was, she hadn’t forgotten about me and our many cozy nights together.”

Evil and dangerous ghosts—Most of the writers said that they view their ghost as a kindly, rather than malevolent presence. Eleven of the 101 correspondents specifically said they consider the spirit a friend. But eight people said they felt their ghost was an evil presence, and a few described the kind of dangerous evil spirit of the type made famous in The Amityville Horror (a true story) —the kind of ghost that would make you immediately put the house on the market at any price.

In each case the spirit was specifically attacking a child in the family. A couple in Surprise, New York described a ghost named Sarah who started out being helpful—caught the woman when she fell down stairs, covered the babies with blankets, put old hand-stitched baby clothes in an empty trunk. But “She hates our oldest son Eric. She threw his bed around the room one night with my husband and myself on it. We have now moved him to a bedroom downstairs. One night she choked him as he was walking in the hallway. He had red handprints around his neck…whenever she comes, our room gets ice cold and a terrible wind comes up. There is a tin-lined closet in the hall where she lives. One night we locked her in with a chair propped up against the door and taped the entire door shut with masking tape. About three a.m. a crash woke us up. The chair was flung downstairs, and the tape wadded up in a ball.”

Instead of moving out the next day, “We were at our wits end and so finally we put a bottle of holy water in our bedroom. She has been back twice since then in the last two years, but both times comes and goes very quickly. We love the house and have now finished restoring it.”

Two more writers described some sort of “monster ghost” that would terrify and torment a child in the family, sometimes trying to bite him—and both used crucifixes and holy water to protect the child and keep the ghost out of the room (in one case it was still looking in through the window.)

I’m very tempted—now that these letters are 25 years old—to write back to the addresses of a few of the most interesting haunted houses to see if the ghosts still are active there. But that might be asking for trouble.

To sum it up—I think most of the paranormal activity described in the letters was NOT dangerous to the homeowners, nor was it directed at them. And in most cases I don’t think there was an actual ghost interacting with the living, but in some cases (of “intelligent response”) there was, sometimes from children or old people still haunting the place they lived. And these spirits (which are sometimes poltergeists) are particularly agitated by re-decorating, construction, moving furniture or illness in the family.

I was amazed at how many readers mentioned: odors and aromas (pipe tobacco, a horrible stench, perfume) and a pocket of freezing air when the ghost was near. And electrical appliances acting up! Clearly, whatever ghosts are, they embody some sort of electrical energy. Fourteen readers reported spirits that played havoc with electric lights and appliances, monkeying with water faucets and setting off doorbells, phones, stoves, radios, TVs—even after they were disconnected.

Here’s a reader from Brevard, North Carolina: “Constantly bizarre happenings: we would find all the lights ablaze, an empty dishwasher swishing away, doors opened or closed. The old turkey platter hanging on the wall was smashed in the center of the room, although the nail and wire hanger were intact. Shower water goes on and off, a vaporous form comes through the bathroom door. Smoke detectors go off constantly. As I write this the lights in the office have gone off and on twice.”

(And that was before computers—wonder if ghosts can type?)

So that’s my last word on what I learned in the Country Living letters--, although I’d love to hear anyone else’s theories on “What is a ghost?” I live in a house that dates back to (at least the oldest section) 1722. Daniel Rand, the first white child baptized in Shrewsbury, MA (in 1722) lived to be 80 years old and is buried nearby. We have his tombstone on our porch.

I’m happy to say that I personally have not encountered any paranormal happenings in this house—although others have—and I’d like to keep it that way. Hopefully the spirits of all the families who have lived here for the past three centuries (and I know all their names and stories) can continue to coexist peacefully, without any paranormal activity or things that go bump in the night.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

True Ghost Stories II and One Ghost Photo

Here's Part II of my perennial "Halloween True Ghost Stories" trilogy.  If you have a paranormal experience to share, e-mail me at joanpgage@yahoo.com or leave a comment below. (I know they don't make it easy to leave a comment.)  I've already heard from two readers with brand new ghost stories--Hope I'll get enough hauntings for a new post.)

When I was writing a regular column for Country Living Magazine in the 1980’s, I asked, in November of 1983, “Tell us about the ghosts in your country house…Write us a letter describing any experiences with live-in ghosts, poltergeists and things that go bump in the night.”

I received 101 letters from all over the country and, to my delight, only one sounded like it was from a nut (she had also been kidnapped by aliens), but the rest all seemed very reasonable, from people who included a psychiatrist, a police officer and a librarian (with a haunted library.} I thought these letters were beyond price—a treasure trove that would help me learn a great deal about ghosts and haunting and what they really are.

But along with these letters came complaints to the editors saying that our question was opening us up to the work of Satan, that we were in grave danger, that ghosts were just Satan’s demons preying on vulnerable people who had lost loved ones, and that these readers wanted their subscription to the magazine canceled at once.

This naturally rattled the editors, and they asked me to keep the eventual article short and up-beat and as inoffensive as possible to the religious right who thought even a discussion of ghosts was inherently evil.

I made notes on each ghost story. While I couldn’t detail in the magazine the scarier stories I received, at least the summary I did of the letters allowed me to learn what people experience when they encounter a “ghost”. I was struck by how many described feeling a sudden patch of cold air, and many described an odor—perfume or pipe tobacco or flowers. The presence of ghosts in fourteen cases played havoc with electrical appliances –lights, toasters and washing machines that would go on and off even when they were unplugged from the wall. Then there were the flying objects.

After reading all these letters, I came to the conclusion that what people perceive as ghosts are probably several different kinds of phenomena which they grouped under that one word. But I’ll tell you in my next post about that. Right now I’m going to give you the highlights of the letters.

The article that I ultimately wrote in Country Living began:

Imagine what you’d do if this happened to you:

You see the image of a Civil War soldier hanging from the rafters in your barn.

You climb the stairs only to find the way blocked by a wall and to feel someone pushing you down.

Periodically at midnight you hear a horse gallop up to your kitchen door, the locked door flies open, and a woman’s voice screams, “Oh, no!”

The antique blanket chest in your living room erupts with such knocking that you have to grab the television set on top to keep it from falling off.

You go to bed leaving a crossword puzzle unfinished and awake to find it has been completed in the characteristic left-handed script of assassinated president James Garfield, who once lived in your home."

I did not go into detail about the few letters that described truly evil spirits that seemed determined to harm someone in the family—those I’ll tell about on Tuesday—but for the most part, people felt comfortable with the supernatural beings in their house and 24 people believed they know the real former identity of “their” ghost. Some who didn’t gave their live-in ghosts names.

Among the more than one hundred spirits mentioned, there were ten child ghosts, three Native American ghosts and four animal ghosts (two cats and two dogs) as well as haunted objects: a wicker wheelchair, a family portrait, an antique blanket chest, and a baby carriage.

Forty-one people out of 101 claimed they had actually seen their ghost —anything from vaporous shapes that would pass through a door to what seemed to be a flesh-and-blood person until it suddenly vanished. One reader saw her ghost in a mirror, two described ghosts complete except for having no face, and one reported only the top half of a man repeatedly seen crossing the dining room of her mother-in-law’s restaurant in Indiana.

In 22 cases, pets and small children reacted to the ghost first (like Ronald Reagan’s dog Rex in the Lincoln Bedroom), and children were much more likely to actually see the spirits while their parents saw nothing.

Four readers described being repeatedly pushed down a flight of stairs and two others started to fall down stairs, then were suddenly caught by an unseen hand that left a red handprint on their body. A woman who rented a house in East Kentucky wrote “My first trip downstairs after moving in was on my backside…tearing the muscles in my shoulder. Every time I was on the stairway, I had to hang onto the wall or I’d slip or stumble.’ After three weeks, she and her husband had their pastor come and command the evil spirits to leave, and they did.

Five readers described ghosts who showed concern for their children, covering up babies with blankets, putting toys in the crib, sitting by a bedside and rubbing a feverish brow. Lucy Ensworth, a 12-year-old girl who died in 1863 in Kansas, haunts her Victorian home (she’s buried in the small cemetery on the property).

Lucy has been known to tuck in the baby and to close all the attic windows—propped open with sawed off broomsticks—during a sudden downpour, but she also has emptied a glass of water on a napping adult, smashed dishes all over the kitchen floor, pulled the pegs out of a gun rack before the eyes of its owner, kept the four-year-old granddaughter awake by walking around and rapping on the walls, “just the sort of things a bored, restless pre-teen would do,” according to the woman who wrote the letter.

Ten people said their ghosts make small objects disappear and then reappear in the strangest places—like a flyswatter stuffed into a radio. People described watching flying teapots, mugs, candle snuffers and crystal vases that leaped off a table, rocking chairs that rock by themselves, a wicker wheelchair and a baby carriage that move their position every day. One told about a fork that rose from the table and pricked the cheek of a visitor who scoffed at hearing the house was haunted.

Ten readers told about being repeatedly startled out of sleep by a deafening crash; sometimes to find a scene of chaos, but more often to find nothing broken. (One woman and her daughter would leap out of bed at hearing the din and meet in the hall every night, while her husband slept quietly, never hearing a thing.)

A California woman woke up and found her bed shaking from side to side, while she could see that the prisms on the chandelier weren’t moving. Three people described having their bed shaken, and not by an earthquake.

I have lots more ghost stories from the letters which I’ll tell you about on Tuesday—including the scary ones that resemble the “Amityville Horror”, but I’ll stop now.

The photo above was sent in by a woman from New Jersey who wrote:
“While vacationing in sunny California this summer (1983) my husband and I came across an interesting small town in Northern California called Los Alamos. [She actually wrote "Los Alimos" but I couldn't find a town of that name.] …We came across this Victorian house...I snapped a photo. We certainly were surprised when we got our pictures developed. The image of a girl dressed in clothing not of this era was clearly visible…. I would really like to find out more about the history of the house.”

To her it looks like a girl in old-fashioned clothes—to me it looks more like the Grim Reaper. What do you think? And have you had any encounters with the other world?

Friday, October 26, 2012

True Ghost Stories 1: Reagan's White House Ghost

It's nearly Halloween, which means that it's time once again for my three-part series of posts about true ghost stories, each one of which I learned directly from the horse's, uh, haunting victim's mouth.

(I’m planning a three-part Halloween series of investigative blogging this weekend on the question of Ghosts—Are they real? Are they dangerous? And what are they exactly? My answers are based on the fascinating stories from 101 letters I received many years ago from readers of Country Living Magazine who answered the question “Is your house haunted? Tell us about it.” Most of the contents of these letters have never been published, because the magazine toned down the piece after discovering how controversial the subject was, so you’ll hear it here first.. But I wanted to start off my Halloween ghost extravaganza with my favorite haunted house story because it was told to me by the President in the White House.)

Ever since the White House was first occupied in 1800, there have been rumors of hauntings, but I got this story direct from the President. No, not President Obama. I first heard about the White House ghosts directly from the lips of Ronald Reagan.

It was March 18, 1986, and my husband Nick and I had been invited to a state dinner in honor of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The State Dining room was filled with gold candlesticks, gold vermeil flatware and vermeil bowls filled with red and white tulips. I had the great privilege of being seated at the President’s table along with Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton; the Canadian Prime Minister’s wife Mila Mulroney; the president of the Mobil Corporation; Donna Marella Agnelli, wife of the chairman of Fiat; Burl Osborne, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, and Pat Buckley, wife of William Buckley.

The President, a brilliant storyteller, entertained the table throughout the meal and the story I remember best was about his encounters with the White House ghostly spirits. Here is how I wrote it later in an article about the dinner for the Ladies’ Home Journal: “According to the President, Rex, the King Charles Cavalier spaniel who had recently replaced Lucky as First Dog, had twice barked frantically in the Lincoln Bedroom and then backed out and refused to set foot over the threshold. And another evening, while the Reagans were watching TV in their room, Rex stood up on his hind legs, pointed his nose at the ceiling and began barking at something invisible overhead. To their amazement, the dog walked around the room, barking at the ceiling.

'I started thinking about it,' the President continued, 'And I began to wonder if the dog was responding to an electric signal too high-pitched for human ears, perhaps beamed toward the White House by a foreign embassy. I asked my staff to look into it.'

The President laughed and said, 'I might as well tell you the rest. A member of our family [he meant his daughter Maureen] and her husband always stay in the Lincoln Bedroom when they visit the White House. Some time ago the husband woke up and saw a transparent figure standing at the bedroom window looking out. Then it turned and disappeared. His wife teased him mercilessly about it for a month. Then, when they were here recently, she woke up one morning and saw the same figure standing at the window looking out. She could see the trees right through it. Again it turned and disappeared.'

After that White House dinner, I did some research and discovered that half a dozen presidents and as many first ladies have reported ghostly happenings in the White House. It’s not just the ghost of Lincoln that they see, although he tops the hit parade. He caused Winston Churchill, who was coming out of the bathroom naked but for a cigar when he encountered Lincoln, to refuse to sleep there again. And Abe so startled Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands that she fell into a dead faint when she heard a knock on the door and opened it to find Lincoln standing there.

I also learned that the Lincoln bedroom was not a bedroom when Lincoln was President—it was his Cabinet Room where he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

It’s well known that Abraham Lincoln and his wife held séances in the White House, attempting to contact the spirit of their son Willie, who died there and who has been seen walking the halls.

The ghost of Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, appeared often in the Rose Garden, which she planted. There is even reportedly a Demon Cat in the White House basement that is rarely seen. When it does appear, it is foretelling a national disaster. While the Demon Cat may at first look like a harmless kitten, it grows in size and evil the closer one gets. A White House guard saw it a week before the stock market crash of 1929 and it was also reportedly seen before Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Abigail Adams’ ghost has been seen hanging laundry in the East Room—she appeared frequently during the Taft administration and as late as 2002 and is often accompanied by the smell of laundry soap.

Lincoln himself told his wife he dreamt of his own assassination three days before it actually happened. Calvin Coolidge’s wife reported seeing Lincoln’s ghost standing at a window of the Oval Office, hands clasped behind his back gazing out the window (just as Reagan’s daughter saw a figure in a similar pose.) Franklin Roosevelt’s valet ran screaming from the White House after seeing Lincoln’s ghost . Eleanor Roosevelt, Ladybird Johnson and Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan all sensed Lincoln’s presence near the fireplace in the Lincoln Bedroom.

I’d love to find out if the Obamas have encountered any ghostly knockings, or if their dog Beau has suffered the same alarming anxiety attacks as Reagan’s dog Rex. Next week, as the portals between this world and the other world swing open, I suspect the White House will be hosting a ghostly gala of the illustrious dead.

(If you have any  personal paranormal experiences to report, let me know about them at: joanpgage@yahoo.com )

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Presidential Pumpkins & Cool Halloween Decor

Every year Halloween gets bigger and more expensive.  This year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Americans will spend  over $8 billion on Halloween  costumes, candy and decor--averaging about $80 per person.  According to the New York Post, Americans are going to spend $310 million just on Halloween costumes for their DOGS.

Which pumpkin are you voting for?

In the past couple of weeks I've been photographing Halloween decor as it appears in the Worcester area of Massachusetts where I live.  On Saturday I checked out the Great Pumpkin Fest at the Ecotarium, Worcester's Science Museum, which included 1,500 carved and lighted pumpkins and about a zillion kids in costumes.

Would you prefer one of these guys?

Or maybe this one?

Here's the entrance to the Museum.

And a black cat nearby.

Private home owners are getting competitive, spending as much time and money decorating for Halloween as they do for Christmas.  Maybe more.

Here's a home in Grafton right down Route 140 from our house, which is stopping traffic.

This house-owner on Lake Quinsigamond has inflatables for every holiday.

But I guess no one around here can complete with this house in  Leesburg, VA. which lights up and dances Gangnam style to the piped in music.  It has more than 8,500 lights and lots of computers.

Here's a skeletal couple that I glimpsed outside a bar while passing through the Miami, FL. airport recently.  They're ready for  Day of the Dead (Nov. 1 and 2), which is an even cooler holiday that celebrates the return of the souls of the dead.  In Mexico it's celebrated with wonderful decorations of flowers on the graves, candy skulls, candles, sitting up all night in the cemetery passing out the food and drink enjoyed by the dear departed, welcoming friends and relatives with music and fun and molé negro and decorated bread.   That's the kind of holiday I'd like to come back to when I'm gone.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

She Fought for Women’s Right to Divorce

 I’ve often written about fascinating historical figures whom I met through my passion for antique photographs (some of them are in the list at right under “The Story behind the Photograph”.)  This time I met Caroline Norton through a framed engraving I bought for a few dollars at a yard sale. 

On the back of the frame was a typed piece of paper saying: “Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Sheridan Norton was the granddaughter of [playwright] Richard Sheridan.  She was a major Victorian campaigner for women’s rights and a poet and a playwright.  She wrote several pamphlets on the property and custody rights of women in response to her divorce experience.  She was influential in the passage of the Infant Custody Bill of 1839 and later the overhaul of the divorce and property laws.”

When I turned to Google, I learned a lot more about this British society beauty’s tragic history, enduring physical abuse from her husband and separation from her young children in a time when no woman could sue for divorce for any reason, nor could she testify against her husband, because she belonged to him.  All the money of a married woman—even income that she earned herself—belonged to her husband.

Caroline Sheridan Norton (1808 – 1877) was the middle of three sisters in London society, all so beautiful and accomplished that they were called the “Three Graces.”  Although their mother came from titled aristocracy, their father died in South Africa  when Caroline was nine, leaving his family penniless.  His daughters knew they had to marry well as soon as they were launched into society.

Caroline’s sisters married a duke and a baron, but Caroline, at the age of 19, married the Hon. George Norton, a barrister and M. P. and the younger brother of a Lord. She was 19 and he was 26.

Caroline and her husband had opposite political views and he disliked the fact that she was clever, wrote poetry and prose and was known for her beauty, wit and political connections, yet he encouraged her to use those connections to advance his career. Thanks to her influence with one of her well-placed friends—the Home Secretary Lord Melbourne, in 1831 Norton was made a Metropolitan Police Magistrate with an income of 1,000 pounds a year.

From the start of the marriage George Norton was given to violent fits of drunkenness and abused Caroline both physically and mentally.  She gave birth to three boys, but miscarried a fourth child after a savage beating.

She poured her energy into writing poetry and prose to find solace and make some money, and her novels in 1829 and 1830 were well received.

The beatings continued, and after she miscarried their fourth child in 1835, Caroline took her three young boys and moved in with her relatives while her husband spent time with a wealthy cousin of his, Margaret Vaughan. 

Caroline and Norton had a quarrel about where the children would spend Easter, 1836, and when Caroline left the house to talk to her sister, Norton sent the children to his cousin Margaret Vaughan and told the servants not to let Caroline back in.

According to the law of the time, the father had legal control of the children, no matter what the mother wanted, and he also by law owned the house and all his wife’s belongings including her manuscripts, clothing and personal correspondence.

On May, 1836, George Norton brought a suit against Lord Melbourne, who was now England’s Prime Minister, for “Criminal Conversation” with his wife. Norton planned to eventually sue Caroline for adultery and he also demanded 10,000 pounds from Lord Melbourne in damages.

The suit caused a scandal, tarnished Caroline’s reputation for life and almost brought down the Melbourne government.  It went to trial, but Caroline had no legal identity apart from her husband and could not attend the trial nor testify.

At the end of the trial, on June 23, 1836, the jury unanimously decided in favor of Lord Melbourne.  After the trial, Caroline talked to lawyers to see if she could divorce George Norton, but she learned she could not.  A husband could sue for divorce, but a wife could not, and the only grounds were the wife’s adultery.  Since the court had decided Caroline was not guilt of adultery, she could not be divorced from her husband.  Furthermore, George Norton had complete legal custody of their children.

Caroline decided to change the law and lobbied people she knew in government to reform custody laws. Parliament eventually introduced a bill to give mothers the right to appeal for custody of children under seven years old.  She also wrote political  pamphlets advocating change in custody law.  In 1839 Parliament passed the Infant Custody Bill allowing mothers to appeal for custody of children under seven and access to children under sixteen.

Nevertheless, her husband figured out how to keep Caroline away from her children—by  sending the  boys to Scotland where the laws of England didn’t apply. In 1842 their youngest child, William, fell from a horse while riding alone and eventually contracted blood poisoning, according to Caroline because his wounds weren’t properly treated.   When it was clear he was dying, Norton sent for Caroline but the ten-year-old died before she could reach him.

Caroline continued to write pamphlets advocating social justice for women and changes in divorce laws, and listing her own difficulties with her husband.   “An English wife may not leave her husband’s house. Not only can he sue her for restitution of ‘conjugal rights’ but he has a right to enter the house of any friend or relation with whom she may take refuge…and carry her away by force,” she wrote, and “Those dear children, the loss of whose pattering steps and sweet occasional voices made the silence of my new home intolerable as the anguish of death…what I suffered respecting those children, God knows…under the evil law which suffered any man, for vengeance or for interest, to take baby children from the mother.”

Because of Caroline’s efforts, Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act in 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870.

An article in “A Celebration of Women Writers” says of Caroline Norton, “In attempting to change the law, Caroline Norton was faced with making the case that women existed AT ALL in a legal sense.  For the position of married women under the law was that they were ‘NON-EXISTENT’. The properties, the persons and the rights of English women were all subsumed into and controllable by their husbands, by law, upon marriage.”  That is why Caroline wrote:  “I exist and I suffer; but the law denies my existence.

George Norton died on March 20, 1875, freeing Caroline, then 67 years old, to marry again.  Two years later, on March 1st, 1877, she married Sir Willliam Stirling-Maxwell, who had been a good friend to her for 25 years.  She took ill and died three months later.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Amalia Picks the Perfect Pumpkin

Although she insists on calling them "apples", granddaughter Amalía quickly caught on to the purpose of the trip to Houlden Farms in North Grafton, MA-- our annual October outing to pick up various colors and shapes of squashes and pumpkins for Halloween decor.  And  maybe some of their special homemade granolas and fruits and decorative kale.

Now that she's nearly 14 months old, Amalia took it very seriously when Tia Marina and Mommy told her to pick out the perfect pumpkin for herself.

But there's so many to choose from!

So many shapes and sizes and colors...

This one's bigger than I am...

I can't even lift it!

Now here's one about the right size for me.

But this one's an interesting color....

Oh no! There's more of them in there!

At last!  Out of the whole  pumpkin patch-- I've found the perfect "apple" for me.  
Now who's going to carve  it?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Courageous Sister Dies

Lillia, aged 16 in 1949, points to the mountaintop 
battleground where she had just escaped from the  Communist
guerrillas during the Greek Civil War
Last Monday, October 8, Glykeria (Lillia) Economou, 79,  the sister of my husband Nicholas Gage, died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  She was, as our priest Father Dean Paleologos said on Thursday at her funeral at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Worcester, MA, a true “profile in courage”.

Lillia was third in line of four sisters and a young brother born to Christos and Eleni Gatzoyiannis in the Greek mountaintop village of Lia, Greece.  In her childhood, from 1940 on their village was invaded by Italian soldiers, then Germans who burned down her grandfather’s house along with an old woman relative  who refused to leave her goats. Next, in 1948, their village was occupied by the Communists guerrilla army during the Greek Civil war.  By then Lillia was 15 years old.

The children’s father, Christos, worked in Worcester, MA as a chef, and after his last visit in 1939, he was unable to return to help his family because of the war.  When Eleni Gatzoyiannis learned that the guerrillas were planning to collect the children of her village and send them behind the Iron Curtain to train them as future Communist soldiers (as they ultimately did in many villages),  she began to plan her children’s escape, so that they could eventually join their father in America.

At the last moment—as Nick has recounted in the book and film “Eleni” and the subsequent book “A Place for Us”—the guerrillas demanded two women from their household to go to a distant village to harvest wheat.  Their mother Eleni chose herself and, when she asked who else might go with her, Lillia, although third oldest and only 15, volunteered: “Let me go.  I’m stronger and I’ll be all right.”

While her brother and three sisters fled down the mountain on foot under cover of darkness and reached Greek government forces the next morning, their mother was imprisoned, tortured and executed for planning the escape. Afterwards, Lillia was taken, with the surviving villagers behind the Iron Curtain into Albania.  On the overcrowded boat filled with 250 women and children, violently seasick and crammed together, Lillia reached out and grabbed the clothing of a girl, her 11-year-old cousin Niki, who nearly fell into the sea as she was vomiting over the side.  Niki had lost her own mother to the firing squad that killed Eleni Gatzoyiannis and 12 others. Their bodies were thrown into a ravine and left unburied.

After sleeping in a stable and scrounging for dandelions and other weeds to supplement their ration of one hard roll a day, Lillia was forcibly conscripted into the guerrilla army and sent at 16 to the battlefront back in Greece.  Because she refused to carry a rifle, she was given a field radio.  In a brutal battle in the mountains of Vitsi in Macedonia, as the guerrillas retreated, Lillia hid among dead bodies in a ravine until the Nationlist soldiers arrived and she surrendered.

A colonel in the Nationalist army who knew her grandfather recognized the girl.  After being interviewed about the positions and fortifications of the guerrillas, she was sent to a detention center in Kastoria, Greece. The black and white photo above shows her, aged 16, pointing to the mountaintop battleground where she had just escaped from the guerrillas.
On August 24, 1949, a telegram sent by a relative in Kastoria reached her father and siblings in Worcester, saying that Lillia had been found alive.  On Feb. 10 1950, she arrived in New York harbor on the steamship LaGuardia, and was met by her father.  Her escape and arrival were covered in the Worcester newspapers.

Like her two older sisters, Lillia, by then 17, worked at Greek-owned Table Talk Bakeries, where  she didn’t need to know English.  In 1956 she married a fellow immigrant, Prokopi (Paul) Economou.  With her husband, she operated the Westboro House of Pizza in a two-decker on East Main Street in Westborough, MA.  After Prokopi’s death in 1993, their two sons took over, expanding it into the present Westboro House Restaurant and Lounge.

Lillia was the glue that held Worcester’s large Greek community together, and  she was also the telegraph operator who spread and commented on all the news within that community.

At Lillia’s funeral last Thursday, our daughter Eleni, who carries the name of her grandmother, who died because she saved four of her five children, gave a brief eulogy to her “Thitsa Lillia”.  In it she said:
 Lillia holding our granddaughter Amalía, Eleni's daughter, last year.
The baby's father, Emilio Baltodano, is behind her

“Thitsa Lillia was a celebrated chef and a beloved local businessperson running the Westboro House of Pizza with Theio Prokopi. And she was a mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, and friend whose love was all-encompassing. She was so warm, even her customers called her Mom."

Despite  all the challenges fate threw at Lillia, from the murder of her mother to her conscription at 16 into the guerrilla army to the early death of her beloved husband, she somehow managed to remain, as Father Dean said at her funeral, the kind of person who saw her lot as a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.   Throughout her life, Lillia managed to enjoy her family, her grandchildren, her occasional visits back to the village of Lia where she was born.  

She longed to return to Lia one more time at the paneyiri--the three-day celebration that happens every August to mark the village's saint's day--the festival of the Prophet Elias.   She never made it back, but next year, as we, God willing, join the throng who climb to the top of the mountain to ring the bell of the small Chapel of St. Elias and then descend to the waterfall to eat and dance, we know that Lillia will be there  with us in spirit, observing all the village and family news and gossip and passing it on to the heavenly host.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What I Wore to the Mad Men Party

It WASN'T these unique and authentically 1960's palazzo pajamas designed by Anne Fogarty!

If you recall, the challenge I accepted from daughter Eleni was that I would wear  these appallingly ugly pajamas to the Worcester Art Museum's Mad Men Party on Saturday night, instead of the more seventies black suit I picked out, but only if 100 people voted that I should, voting on this blog or Eleni's or my Facebook pages. (Isn't that more fun than Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Brown?)

While over 300 people read the post, only about 36 actually cast a vote, and the result was two to one -- 24 for the palazzo pants and 12 (mostly my friends) for the black suit.  But I only said I'd go for the pajamas if 100 people wanted me to.

So this is what I wore to the party.  I know, it's more "Dallas" than  "Mad Men", but at least the Beverly Feldman shoes were sort of psychedelic.

The party was a blast.  Six hundred people crowded into the Museum and had a great time--many of us revisiting and remembering our youth in the wild, wacky and tumultuous sixties.

The exhibit was brilliant--all the iconic news photographs of the decade including two Kennedy assassinations, the Beatles, Patty Hearst, Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe --my husband Nick remarked that as a reporter, he'd met and interviewed most of them.

The Renaissance Court was packed with people drinking martinis around the mosaic floor excavated from Antioch.  Shrimp cocktail in martini glasses, deviled eggs, smoked salmon, and later Jello with ReddiWip carried through the Sixties theme.

Museum Director Matthias Waschek spoke about the Museum's acquisition of the personal collection of David Davis to create the "Kennedy to Kent State" exhibit.

And everybody listened.

Including a lady in her mother's mink stole.  ( I realized I have my mother's silver mink stole in a closet somewhere--I'd forgotten all about it.)

Upstairs in the cafe, everybody was grooving to Rock'n'Roll, reprising their long-forgotten dance moves.

Barbara revisited the Carnaby Street Mod era.

Young folks were learning to love martinis.   Everyone was having fun.

But because I chickened out of wearing the palazzo pajamas, and so many people felt I should have, including a number of my friends at the party, Eleni insisted that I pose for the first photo above, wearing them in the privacy of my bedroom.  Maybe I'll work up the courage to don them for some future Sixties party, if I imbibe enough margaritas first. (I was going to pose holding a martini glass, but we don't own one.)

Behind me in that first photo you can see my 1960's self (lower left) in a grouping that includes four generations of teenagers--my maternal grandmother, Anna Truan Dobson (upper left), my mother, Martha Dobson Paulson (upper right) and my daughter, Eleni Gage de Baltodano (lower right.)   I can only imagine what my mother and grandmother would have to say about the Anne Fogarty palazzo pajamas.