Monday, April 22, 2019



In the Shadow of War: Spies, Love and the Lusitania 

Chapter 2

St. Patrick's Cathedral

March 2, 1915

IT WAS HARD for Josette to believe her childhood friend, Julian Laurent, was dead. Sitting in St. Patrick’s Cathedral where Julian would be eulogized during the morning Mass, his death finally seemed real. His parents received the devastating news in February. Thousands of Allied soldiers had died that day. There was no way to send their bodies home or to bury them individually. Instead, a deep trench – a common grave – had been dug near the battlefield. Mr. and Mrs. Laurent brought a portrait of their son to the service – it had been painted after his graduation from Harvard. It rested on an easel near the stairs that led to the altar.
The morning air was heavy with an icy chill that crept clear to her bones. Shivering, Josette buttoned the top button of her coat. The fact that St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a cavernous edifice of stone and marble and stained-glass windows didn’t help, either. This was the first Mass of the day, and at seven a.m., the heating system, such as it was, hadn’t yet warmed the interior of the massive structure.
Josette, her twin sister, Yvette, and their mother sat in a pew located at the far-left side of the crowded cathedral. They wore their warmest black mourning attire. Mother, always dressed as if she was off to the opera, had selected her black ensemble trimmed with white rabbit fur. Her hat had an over-sized brim and was covered with fake flowers and netting that hung to the level of her brows. Mother always dressed to impress. But then, that was Mother.
Speaking in monotone Latin, Bishop Hayes, wearing a beautiful long purple robe, struck a commanding figure. “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,” he said, interrupting Josette’s thoughts. He stood beneath the large golden cross, his back to the parishioners. After making the sign of the cross, he steepled his hands at chest height.
Looking around the massive interior, Josette noticed that the early morning light beamed a rainbow of colors through the stained-glass windows, scattering a diffused glow over the nave and rows of pews. This was one of the holiest times of the year in the Catholic faith. The weeks of Lent were underway and, as such, the edifice was made even more beautiful by the addition of silky, royal purple fabric draped across the statues and crucifixes.
Wearing a serene smile, the Bishop began to speak the special eulogy prayer in English. “Many of us have gathered here in the light of God, the Holy Mother, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to pay homage to one of our parishioners, Julian James Laurent. He was baptized in this church and served the Lord as one of our very special altar boys. We are honored to have Mr. and Mrs. John Laurent, his parents, here worshipping with us today.” He paused, nodding to Julian’s family seated in the front center row.
Bishop Hayes continued. “Let me open with a passage from Ecclesiastics 44, Verse 9. ‘And some there be, which have no memorial, who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born.’” He paused, his gentle gaze clearly locked on Mr. and Mrs. Laurent. “Though Julian’s earthly remains rest with his fellow soldiers in a field in France, you can be sure he is with God. Lo, they are all with God.” He raised his arms, looking to heaven. “‘And their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth evermore.’ They may be gone, these young brave men, but they will never be forgotten. And now, let us pray.”
Josette hadn’t seen much of Julian since he was sent away to boarding school as a teenager. And then, he had gone on to Harvard University. Glancing at his portrait again, Josette’s eyes welled with tears. She opened her purse, retrieved a handkerchief, and dabbed away the moisture from her cheeks. Julian’s parents had begged him not to sign up as a soldier with the British army. Mrs. Laurent said that when Julian read the newspaper accounts of how the German army had marched across Belgium, a neutral country, and laid waste to its capital, murdering innocent citizens and poisoning wells in the process, it had been the last straw for the conscientious young man.
Heavy footsteps echoed on the cold, marble floor, snapping her out of her reverie. She turned as a man wearing a long, brown coat walked by. Without so much as a glance at her, he stopped at the end of the next pew. Balding, with a thin fringe of very dark hair around the bottom of his head, he carried a huge cigar with a glowing end in his right hand. No one dared to smoke inside the cathedral. Everyone knew that. Josette was shocked.
The odd man stood there silently without genuflecting – obviously not a Catholic – and then settled in the empty spot in front of her. Surprised at his strange behavior, at the fact he was smoking a cigar, Josette stuffed her handkerchief back into her purse, snapped it closed and tapped him on the shoulder. He half-turned to look at her.
“Excuse me, sir,” she whispered. “You need to snuff out your cigar.”
With that, he twisted completely around and shot a foul glower at her, his eyes filled with hatred. A tingle crawled up her spine, and she drew back. She was sorry she had said anything. Those eyes. Dark. Cold. So angry. Then he turned forward again.
“How dreadful!” The words slipped out of her mouth. Josette scooted to the right, as far away from him as she could, so that her body was close to her sister’s. Yvette’s head was lowered in prayer. Josette tapped her on the arm, glancing at the ill-mannered lout. “Can you believe it?” she whispered to Yvette from the corner of her mouth, her gaze still locked on the back of the man’s hatless head.
Yvette looked puzzled. “What in the world is going on?” she said in such a low tone, her words were barely audible.
Widening her eyes, Josette said, “He’s smoking!”
Yvette drew back. “What? Oh, my heavens!” she said softly.
“Shhh,” Their mother mouthed with an angry expression.
Josette and her sister pressed back in their seats. A thought ran through Josette’s mind. If the man wasn’t a Catholic, then he must have been a friend of Julian’s. That seemed highly unlikely to her, since he was rude, disrespectful of being inside a church. And looked at least forty. Julian was in his late twenties, for heaven’s sake.
She heard more footsteps approaching. Another man passed, pausing in the aisle beside the pew where the first man sat. Italians, she surmised, noting their coloring and features. This one, likely in his late twenties, had a full head of curly, coal-black hair and long sideburns. And then she noticed that he, too, carried a lighted cigar.
Josette let out a gasp. She and Yvette exchanged confused glances. Before Josette could say anything to the newly arrived Italian about the matter of smoking, the bell sounded signaling the worshippers to kneel again. Both Mother and Yvette went back to the kneeler. But not Josette. Instead, she watched as the seated man motioned to the younger man, indicating he should continue walking towards the front of the cathedral. With that, he ambled forward slowly, stopped, crossed himself and kneeled to pray near one of the enormous stone pillars at the front of the sanctuary. But why there? In the walkway? Why didn’t he slide into one of the empty pews?
Josette scooted left, back to the end of the seat, stretching her upper body into the aisle to see what he did next.
The Italian who knelt in prayer wore a long, black, split-back woolen coat. It had frayed elbows and looked as if it had faded several shades. Something, a large lump, seemed to make his coat pocket jut out.
The scrub woman, who had been cleaning the vestibule area when they entered the cathedral earlier, moved in Josette’s direction. She dusted a window sill, the gate across the aisle, a pillar base, and then strolled over to wipe the carved end of Josette’s pew. The woman smiled.
Josette forced a smile in return. The poor young dear was certainly homely—a large nose, rutted skin covered by a thick layer of caked powder, and bright red lipstick. And then a second cleaning woman appeared. Even more unattractive, she wore baggy clothes and had her faded red hair plaited into a long braid that hung down her back. The two scrub women exchanged knowing glances.
It was all so strange. Why were they cleaning while a Mass was underway?
Still holding his cigar, the unpleasant man in front of Josette rose, stepped into the aisle, pushed past the cleaning ladies, and bolted up the aisle. The shorter of the two cleaning ladies lifted her skirt, exposing a man’s laced shoes, and scurried after him.
Flabbergasted, Josette watched as the red-haired woman dashed down the aisle. In an abrupt move, the kneeling man reached inside his coat and pulled out a good-sized, strange-looking object bound with what looked like copper wire. Placing it on the floor against the marble pillar, he touched the glowing tip of his cigar to a thick cord protruding from the object. It only took a few seconds for the cord to ignite. He got to his feet just as the cleaning lady arrived and grabbed his shoulders. The pair struggled. The Italian pulled himself free and sprinted for the aisle. It was obvious the cleaning lady wasn’t a woman, but a man dressed in woman’s attire. He dove for the fleeing man, wrestling him to the floor.
The shock of what was happening swept through Josette’s body like a lightning bolt. “It’s a bomb!” she said in a near shout, as she got to her feet.
Yvette and Mother looked up with terrified expressions.
“Quick! Run!” Josette said.
Without responding, Yvette and their mother were beside Josette, pushing their way up the aisle with the other parishioners from nearby pews who had seen the commotion. The elderly, bespectacled usher who had guided them to their seats that morning, bolted past, sprinting in the direction of the explosives.
Josette glanced back just in time to see the usher’s gray wig fall to the floor as he leaped on the lighted explosives.

STANDING OUTSIDE the cathedral’s front entrance with dozens of parishioners who had escaped during the turmoil, it seemed quite strange to Josette that there were still hundreds of worshippers inside and that the Mass had continued.
Nearby, a rotund woman sat on the top step sobbing loudly, face buried in her hands. Her husband stood over her, trying to calm his wife. No one in the crowd seemed to know what to do next. Their faces reflected confusion, fear.
Yvette was visibly shaken. “Why? Why did they want to blow up the cathedral?” she asked Josette. “They could have killed all of us.”
Josette shook her head and exhaled a breath. “I don’t know, Yvette. I just don’t know.”
Mother looked dazed. Yvette slid her arm around their mother’s shoulders. “It’s all over now. Everything is fine.”
“As Father would say, ‘the plot was foiled,’” Josette said, attempting to lighten the moment. Yet, she knew if the bomb had exploded, the big support column would have been seriously damaged. It probably would have toppled over, bringing down part of the roof onto the worshippers below – hundreds of innocent men, women and children could have been killed.
Who were these terrible men, and why were they so calloused, so angry…such cold-blooded killers? Josette wondered. Where could anyone go these days to stay out of harm’s way? Even churches were no longer safe. A sense of anger, of sudden determination rose from deep inside her. “You stay here with Mother,” Josette instructed her sister. “I’ll be right back.”
Josette approached a nearby police officer who was speaking to a small group of people. “Pardon me, sir.”
He excused himself and turned to face her. The clean-shaven young officer looked quite dashing in his crisp, dark-blue uniform. “Yes, miss? Are you and your family doing all right?”
“We’re well, thank you. I have a question, however. Those cleaning ladies. And the usher. They were men, weren’t they?” She already knew the answer.
“They was all New York Police Officers at their finest.”
“And those men? The ones who attempted to blow up the church. Who were they?”
“The Department has been tracking them two Italians for quite a while. They’re part of a group of anarchists based right here in the City.”
“That’s a chilling thought, sir,” she said, drawing in a deep breath. “I read in the newspaper that they’ve been setting off bombs all over the country.”
“I’m afraid it’s true, miss. But we got the ones here in Manhattan dead to rights!”
“Well, then. Thank heavens for all of you brave men who risk your lives to keep us safe, and most especially the officers who kept those men from carrying out their deplorable plan.”
The officer puffed out his chest like a rooster about to crow. “I’ll pass that along to the men, miss. And don’t you worry. Them Italians won’t be planting no more bombs around here. They’re handcuffed and on their way to Police Headquarters. You’re safe and sound. You have the personal guarantee of Willie Crabtree, at your service.”
“Pleased to meet you, Officer Crabtree,” she said, politely bowing her chin. “I’m Josette Rogers, daughter of Henry Rogers. Would you please ask Captain Tunney to telephone my father at his office to tell him his family is doing well? It’s my understanding that the captain and my father are acquaintances.”
“Of course, Miss Rogers.”
“One more question, if you don’t mind, Officer Crabtree. Why do you think so many of the parishioners didn’t evacuate the cathedral when we did?”
He shrugged. “I suppose since the ruckus was all the way over on the far west side of the cathedral where all of you was sitting, the folks all the way across on the other side just didn’t hear nothing. St. Paddy’s is like a gigantic cavern, isn’t it now?”
“Yes, but—”
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get going. I’ll be sure to give your message to Captain Tunney.” With a tug on the cap’s brim, he descended the stairs to a waiting police vehicle.
Josette stepped back to where Yvette and their mother waited.
Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu! Mother muttered. We forgot communion.” She blinked several times, looking like a confused child. “We should go back inside, n’cest-ce pas? To finish.”
“Let’s go home,” Yvette said, taking their mother’s hand. “Come with me.”
“I’ll hail a taxi. Mr. Herrmann wouldn’t be here with the car to pick us up for quite a while,” Josette said.
The threesome made their way to the curb in front of the grand cathedral. The police cars were gone. The sidewalk that had been roped off to the public was now open. The ever-present throngs of pedestrians pushed their way along Fifth Avenue at a hurried pace, late for this or that, as if nothing had happened. Life, it seemed, had already returned to normal.
And yet, as she and her sister helped their mother into the back seat of the taxi, Josette knew it might be a long time before life in New York City would truly be normal again. Too many men were unemployed. People, and especially the immigrants, were starving. According to the New York Times, Italian anarchists had turned their anger towards Catholic churches; a gruesome way to express their bitterness against the wealth of the Catholic hierarchy. The church’s wealth, the anarchists believed, should be used to feed the poor. Josette could sympathize with their argument, but not the violence that had followed their protests.
On top of that, the war overseas had already claimed the lives of a generation of young men not only from England, France and Russia. The Germans and their allied countries were suffering greatly as well. Rumors of German spies swirled everywhere. The United States, the world, everything was in turmoil.
At that moment, Josette set her mind to help with efforts to keep America from becoming involved in what was now being called, “The Great War.” But what could she, a woman who hadn’t quite yet reached the age of majority, hope to do?

Sunday, January 20, 2019


THE CURSE OF GRIFFITH PARK
By Colleen Adair Fliedner


Griffith Park’s history is something straight out of a Hollywood movie, complete with tragedies, murders, a ghost, and a curse.  The story began when the land, which would later include Griffith Park, was granted to Jose Vicente Feliz, one of the Spanish soldiers who escorted the 44 original settlers from Mexico to establish the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781. 

Years later, Jose Vicente Feliz’ descendent, Antonio, lived in the Rancho’s hacienda with his sister, housekeeper, and niece, Petranilla.  Life was good for the Feliz family:  the cattle had grown fat on the wild grasses that grew in the pastures, and the fertile land had produced abundant crops.  Everything changed in 1863.  A smallpox epidemic swept through Los Angeles, and Antonio Feliz contracted the disease.  He was near death when his lawyer and a friend came to see him at the Rancho.  The legitimate heirs to the Feliz land later claimed that the pair tied a stick on the back of Antonio’s neck, using it to make the barely conscientious man nod his agreement to the terms of a new will.  Not surprising was that the two beneficiaries named in the revised will were the lawyer and the friend, and that the Feliz family was excluded.  Petranilla, Feliz’s beloved 19-year-old niece, placed a curse on the two men, their descendants, and the land. Some accounts say that the lovely Petranilla committed suicide as a result of the fiasco.

Curse or coincidence, from that point on bad luck followed everyone who subsequently owned Rancho Los Feliz.  There were deaths, murders, fires, droughts, floods, and crop failures. To make matters worse, the ghost of Antonio Feliz was spotted at various places on the grounds for years.

Finally, in 1882 a newcomer named Griffith J. Griffith purchased the Rancho.  At first, Griffith seems to have escaped Petranilla’s curse.  He made a fortune by selling off pieces of the land for development, especially during 1886 and 1887, when Southern California real estate boomed.

It was around this time that Griffith set his sights on Christina Mesmer, daughter of a rich and socially prominent local family.  According to his contemporaries, Griffith was a pompous man, who carried a gold-topped cane and had an annoying, patronizing snicker.  On the other hand, he was handsome, wealthy, and charismatic.  Christina agreed to marry Griffith and moved to the Rancho. 

Although the marriage lasted 16 years, it was an unhappy union.  There were numerous failed business ventures, and Griffith soon became as notorious for his alcoholism as he was for his arrogance.

In 1896 Griffith gifted 3,015 acres to the city for use as a park.  People speculated why the “fat little millionaire” would make such a generous donation.  Some said it to get out of paying taxes, while others believed it was because Griffith had been a victim of Petranilla’s curse and hoped to placate the angry Feliz spirits.

According to Horace Bell, a famous newspaper reporter who covered the story, the ghost made frequent appearances at the old Rancho, including the night when city officials gathered to accept the land from Griffith.  Bell wrote that the ghost materialized at the head of the banquet table and invited the men to dine with him “in Hell.”  (Not surprising was that Bell was noted for sensationalizing his articles to sell more newspapers!)

If Griffith had made this generous bequest to the people of Los Angeles to appease the old Spanish don and end the famous curse, his efforts failed.  Not only did his drinking worsen, Griffith became delusional, ranting that his wife was in collusion with the Pope to kill him for his money.  Suspicious that she had poisoned his food, he switched their plates and glasses when she turned her back.  Pacing nervously, biting his fingernails to their quicks, Griffith’s hallucinations   had become frightening. Of course, there was no poison, but the sad story didn’t end there.

In 1903, the situation went from bad to disastrous.  Desperate to help her husband, Christina rented the Presidential Suite at a fancy hotel in Santa Monica.  Perhaps the cool ocean breezes and soothing sound of the waves would help his deteriorating mental state. Obviously, it didn’t work.  Entering the room one day, he carried two items:  a revolver and a prayer book.  Handing his wife the prayer book, he ordered her to her knees and told her to prepare to meet her maker. She begged for her life, but he had no pity. As he took aim between her eyes, she jerked to one side.  The bullet missed its mark, going through her eye. Griffith was about to take another shot when Christina managed to scramble to her feet and jump out the open window.  Luckily, she landed on an awning.  Though she was badly injured, Christina survived.

The resulting trial was beyond sensational.  In spite of the fact that Griffith was guilty, he only received a two-year sentence in San Quentin, because his attorney came up with a new defense, which he called “alcoholic insanity.”

When he left prison, Griffith moved back to Rancho Los Feliz.  If the odd man was disliked before he shot his wife, he was now hated by local residents.  Alone and penitent, Griffith decided to give the city fathers $100,000 to build an observatory atop Mt. Hollywood (the name was changed from Mt. Griffith when he was imprisoned).  They turned down the offer.  In 1913, Griffith offered $50,000 to build a Greek-themed theater on his land.  And, again, his money was refused.  No one wanted to have anything to do with Griffith J. Griffith.  Still, he was determined to find a way to bequeath a portion of his fortune to Los Angeles so that the observatory and Greek Theater could be built.  Upon his death in 1919, Griffith’s wish came true. 

Thanks to Griffith, we now have beautiful Griffith Park, which includes the L. A. Zoo, Greek Theater and the fabulous observatory overlooking the sprawling city.  Griffith certainly succeeded in clearing his name with future generations of Angelinos.  Few people know the park’s curious past or the strange story of the man who made it possible.  The ghost of Antonio Feliz seems to have found peace, and Petranilla’s wrath has been apparently been appeased.

Built in 1830, the Feliz adobe house still stands and is currently used as the Park’s headquarters.

Thursday, January 10, 2019



GERMAN SPIES IN NEW YORK CITY
In 1915 while the First World War raged in Europe, Americans, and especially New Yorkers, faced their own “silent war” at home.  Angry with America’s so-called promise of “neutrality” and overt trade deals with England and France, the German government set up a spy ring headquartered in Manhattan.  Their espionage and terrorist networks had tentacles reaching all the way to the German Ambassador in Washington D.C.  German operatives planted explosives on American and British ships enroute from New York to England, France, and Russia successfully sinking hundreds of cargo vessels.  They plotted to blow up trains, bridges, factories, and even the U.S. Capitol Building.  There were attempted assassinations of powerful Americans, including J.P. Morgan, Jr.  They even used germ warfare to kill much-needed horses and mules waiting to be shipped to the warfront in France.
Based on these and other true events, my novel, IN THE SHADOW OF WAR, tells the story of how Americans, and especially residents of New York City, faced the constant threat of terrorism.  Through my characters’ eyes, the story shows the human toll experienced by people on both sides of the war.  In their heads and hearts, the
characters wrestle with their own feelings about whether the United States should join its Allies and send American men to fight in what was considered a European war.  Ironically, the majority of Americans were of German descent at that time! 
Although America was supposedly a neutral country, J. P. Morgan facilitated a $500 million loan (approximately $ 625 billion in today’s dollars) to bail out the nearly bankrupt British and French governments.  American businesses also benefited from selling materials and products to the Allied nations who were need of supplies and weapons.  The German government protested that the United States had clearly sided with England, France, Italy, Russia and Japan, and that they and their affiliated nations (Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) had been rebuked.  Blatant evidence of this was the growing number of German ships, including passenger liners, that had been seized by the American military.  By 1915, an estimated 80 German-owned vessels were moored along the Hudson River. Although their German crews and passengers weren’t arrested, they weren’t allowed to return to the Fatherland.  Imperial Germany protested that this favoritism shown by the U. S. was tantamount to an act of war; that they should be receiving the same treatment as were England, France, and Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm and his generals felt justified doing anything necessary to level the playing field.   
The German espionage network was efficient and effective. Bombs, chemical warfare, spy networks, the attempted assassination of J. P. Morgan, the bombing of the U.S. Capitol; and sinking the palatial passenger ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania, all woven into the book’s plot, weren’t enough for President Wilson to declare war on Germany.  That didn’t happen until 1917 following the Kaiser’s policy change which had allowed passenger liners to travel safely through the English Channel.  All ships, regardless of whether they were cargo ships, military vessels, or ocean liners, could and would be sunk.
Meanwhile, the Germans continued their undercover spying throughout the war.  Many were captured and jailed.  Most surprising was that they were simply released after the war was over, including Lothar Witzke, who set off a huge explosion on a military base on California’s Mare Island, killing an entire family whose home was completely destroyed.  He was also involved in the huge explosion at Black Tom island in New Jersey killing 7 and destroying much more, including damage to the Statue of Liberty.
 Photo citation: ( ca. 1916 )  Broadway from Bowling Green, New York City. Photograph from the Library of Congress, ..


Thursday, November 16, 2017

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017


ARMISTICE DAY VS. VETERANS’ DAY
Did you know that November 11th was originally called Armistice Day?  After the end of World War 1 in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson chose that date because it was when the Germans finally surrendered. 
President Wilson had been reluctant to involve the nation in a war that didn’t directly involve America.  That all changed, however, when German U-boats (submarines) attacked American ships and had spy networks that detonated bombs and incendiary devices on American soil.  The final blow came when a letter to the Mexican president was intercepted and taken to President Wilson.  The letter’s contents were shocking: the German government offered to assist Mexico invade America to take back the border states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Within days, Wilson declared war on the “Central Powers” (Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies) in April of 1917, four years after the war had begun.  By the time the Germans surrendered on November 11, 1918, the war had claimed over 18 million lives, with an additional 23 million wounded (including civilians). 
Versailles ~Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

The official peace agreement, The Treaty of Versailles, wasn’t signed until June, 1919, after months of meetings, arguments, and negotiations between the representatives of the conquering nations regarding how Germany and the Central Powers should be punished. 
An interesting fact is that representatives from the Central Powers – most importantly, the Germans – weren’t included in the actual peace negotiations in France. When the dust settled, the Germans were fined what amounted to a half-trillion dollars (in today’s currency), a monumental debt that wasn’t paid off until 2010.  The war devastated Germany economically.  The people were mpoverished,  starving, and humiliated. Germany was seriously in debt, not to mention that they had lost millions of young men.  In addition, they had lost face by their defeat. 
The Germans were forced to sign the Armicist agreement.  Germany was humiliated, their economy ruined, and millions of their young men were dead.  Kaiser Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria, had been at the helm during the war and had been forced to resign his position as unquestioned leader of the German Empire. 

All of these factors contributed directly to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.  He had been a foot soldier who had been injured in a mustard gas attack by the British.  His anger at the countries which had defeated Germany grew. He used the devastating reparations the Germans would pay for generations to ignite the fuse of hatred that would lead to World War II less than twenty years later. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

HALLOWEEN IN THE HUDSON VALLEY 

Fall comes to New York’s Hudson Valley in October, just in time for area’s multitude of annual Halloween events.  The town of Sleepy Hollow, immortalized in Washington Irving’s classic tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, welcomes thousands of visitors for all-things-Halloween during the entire month. 
Years ago, I wrote an article for AAA Home & Away Magazine about the awesome Halloween events held in the beautiful towns skirting the Hudson River, including Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.  And yet, I had never actually visited these legendary towns in the autumn, when the trees morph into variations of orange, crimson, and gold.  When the air is crisp and the brisk wind nudges fallen leaves into the streets and walkways.
Lyndhurst  Mansion
Several of these towns have Halloween parades, with costumed residents, floats, and bands.  In Sleepy Hollow, Horseman’s Hollow is the biggest event, a lengthy, spread-out maze of dark and scary walk-through buildings filled with monsters, ghosts, and ghouls.  They loosely represent the story of the Headless Horseman…who actually makes his appearance on his steed as you leave the Hollow.
Just south of  Sleepy Hollow is Lyndhurst Mansion, a Gothic Mansion once used as the setting for the Dark Shadows television series and several creepy movies.  Open for tours, the house’s beautiful interior is converted to a more Halloweenish, haunted d├ęcor at night, when costumed actors occupy the hallways, frightening the stream of guests who dare enter the realm of the unliving.
The little burg of Sleepy Hollow has assorted events, including readings of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (what else?), tours of author Washington Irving’s house, haunted hayrides, and lantern-led tours of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
By far, the most fantastic Halloween event, the Great Jack O'Lanter Blaze, takes place about 30 minutes north of Sleepy Hollow at the Van Courtlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.  Some 10,000 pumpkins are carved and arranged into exhibits unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  Follow the pumpkin-rimmed paths to see an over-sized pumpkin clock; life-sized dinosaurs; circus animals and a small train; a sea serpent; an enormous cake made from layers of elaborately carved pumpkins; ghosts, singing skeletons, and a giant spider web and super-sized arachnid, and much more…all made from myriads of the orange orbs.  Volunteers scour the exhibits daily to make sure none of the pumpkins need to be replaced, a full-time job throughout the month.
Whether you live on the East Coast, or plan to visit during leaf-peeking season, don’t miss spending a few days in the gorgeous Hudson Valley.  Visit www.hudsonvalley.org for more information.  Tickets are available online.



Friday, June 9, 2017


SOPHIE CHOTEK:  THE SHUNNED DUCHESS

While Sophie Chotek’s youth was one of privilege, palaces, servants and dances, her later years were filled with rejection and frustration.  Born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1868, Sophie was the daughter of the Count of Hohenberg, which was a small area near what is now the German/Czech border. Sophie’s high-ranking status gave her access to meeting royalty, including Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the royal prince and heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

It’s believed the Archduke met Sophie at a ball in Prague in 1894. Franz was smitten by Sophie’s beauty, and the couple fell in love.  Theirs was a clandestine courtship, and it was kept secret for good reason. When their engagement was finally announced, the news created a huge scandal.  Although Sophie’s family tree included nobility that could be traced back to the 18th century, her blood wasn’t “royal enough,” simply because none of her ancestors had been of “dynastic status.” In other words, there were no kings in her bloodline. The Archduke’s uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph, ruler of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia, intervened, forbidding the couple to marry.

Infuriated by his uncle’s proclamation against Sophie, Archduke Franz was determined to spend his life with the woman he loved.  On July 1, 1900, after suffering humiliation and denouncement by her husband’s family and the members of the Imperial Court, Sophie married Franz. Very few of the nobles attended the ceremony, including Franz Ferdinand’s own brothers.

Shortly before the wedding took place, Sophie had to sign legal documents acknowledging that she would never be Empress or hold a high-ranking title. She eventually received the lower-level title of Duchess of Hohenberg, despite the fact that one day, when the aging Emperor Franz Joseph died, her husband would become the new Emperor.  

Throughout their fourteen-year marriage, the couple continued to be shunned by most of the royal courts of Europe. We can only imagine how she felt about being prohibited from accompanying her husband on official trips, riding with him in the Imperial carriage, or standing beside him at most functions.  As if it wasn’t enough to punish the Duchess for lacking the appropriate royal blood, none of the couple’s three children or their descendants would ever be allowed to acquire any royal titles.

Ironically, it was the United Kingdom’s King George V and Queen Mary who finally welcomed the Archduke and Duchess Sophie at Windsor Castle in November of 1913.  Were the British King and Queen reaching out to the future rulers of Germany’s biggest allies (the multitude of smaller countries that once made up the Austro-Hungarian Empire) at a time when so many European royals had rudely rejected Franz and Sophie?

THE END OF THE LOVE STORY

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was disliked immensely by his uncle, the Emperor. Not only did he marry Sophie, going against the Emperor’s direct orders, his nephew, Franz, had very different political ideals.  The Archduke was reformist who planned to ease the tensions between countries included in the realm. There was so much political unrest in Europe by 1912, the entire area of today’s Balkan region was like a powder keg just waiting to be ignited.

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was invited to Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Normally, Sophie’s lower rank would prevent her from accompanying her husband on any official visit.  However, the Archduke insisted that Sophie be allowed to attend the dedication of the new museum with him.  The couple rode together through the streets of Sarajevo in an open-topped touring car unaware of the impending danger.  Minutes later a man in the crowd threw a grenade at the Archduke’s automobile. Spotting the explosive device hurling in their direction, their driver sped up the vehicle. The grenade landed under the official car behind them and blew up, seriously injuring a number of people. 

Believing the danger had passed, Franz and Sophie were driven to City Hall for an official reception.  When Franz insisted he wanted to visit the wounded in the hospital, he was warned that it was still quite risky, as no one knew how many men were involved in the plot to assassinate him.  Still, the Archduke wanted to go, though he told Sophie that she should remain at City Hall.  Duchess Sophie refused to stay behind, arguing that if her husband was going to expose himself in public again, she would be at his side.

That was a fatal mistake.  On their way to Sarajevo Hospital, a teenager, a radical Serbian named Gavrilo Princip, stepped towards the Imperial automobile, aimed his gun and fired twice at close range.  Sophie was shot in the stomach, and Franz was struck in the neck.  Reportedly, Franz begged his dying wife to live for their children’s sake.  Sadly, they were both dead within the hour.

UNIMAGINABLE CONSEQUENCES

For decades, the political climate in this part of Europe had been shaky.  War was inevitable, and the assassination of the Archduke and Sophie was likely the catalyst to the events that would trigger World War I, resulting in the deaths of more than 17 million people.

In one final insult to Duchess Sophie, her earthly remains weren’t allowed to be entombed in the Imperial crypt.  Aware of this situation before his death, Archduke Franz Ferdinand had left instructions that he be interred beside his beloved wife at Artstetten Castle northwest of Vienna.  Because she could never be considered his equal in life and in death, Sophie was placed on a bier 18” lower than the Archduke’s. 

I found it terribly disturbing that Sophie is rarely mentioned in books about World War I.  That’s why I decided to write this Blog article focusing on Sophie, rather than her famous husband. For the most part, Duchess Sophie has been forgotten…until now.

 

 

 

 
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Colleen's reflections

Colleen's reflections
WHAT'S NEW !!!

            As some of you know, I’ve been working on a historical novel, The Winds of Change, for the past couple of years.  The Winds of Change—the first book in a two-part series—takes place in 1915 and 1916 during World War I.  The story is set in New York City; on the luxury liner, RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine, killing nearly 2,000 men, women and children when it sank; in Queenstown, Ireland, where both the survivors and bodies of the dead were taken; and in England and Scotland. 

The novel is currently with editors, and I’m beginning the process of finding a new agent.  Thus begins the next step on the ladder to publication.  Stay tuned.

            In the meantime, while researching the book, I found so many fascinating details that wouldn’t “fit” into a work of fiction, I’ve decided to share them with you in a Blog.  For example, in the early 1900s, a German professor at Harvard University, Eric Muenter, killed his wife, disappeared for years, and then showed up again in 1915 when he committed numerous acts of espionage in New York City.  I’ve included Muenter in my novel and the true facts that on July 3, 1915, he set off a bomb inside the U. S. Capitol building.  From Washington, D.C., he took the train to Long Island, New York, barged into J. P. Morgan, Jr.’s mansion, and shot the millionaire…twice.  I’ve inserted my male protagonist, Curtis Carlson, into that horrific scene, so we can experience what happened through his eyes. The life of Eric Muenter will be one of many thought-provoking Blogs, and perhaps, even a great nonfiction book.  Hmmm….

            Other Blogs will include interesting life stories about many of the people who died on the RMS Lusitania. I hope to eventually put these accounts into a book called Voices from the Lusitania.  I’ll also write Blogs about the underground German spy network in New York City and the fact that they planted explosives on countless ships traveling from New York Harbor to England.  Did you know that German spies brought germ warfare to the U. S. to kill the horses and mules being sent by ship to the Allied troops?  Ever heard of Mata Hari, the seductive woman spy who was convicted and hanged in 1917.  Was she truly a German spy, or was she innocent.  There are tons of great stories to share with you.

I was a history major in college, and WWI was barely mentioned.  And yet, the impact of the war, the millions of people who died, and the resulting repercussions changed the course of world history.  Most importantly, even though Germany lost, the terms of the Treaty of Peace signed at Versailles, France in 1919 were so severe, the result was a growing resentment among in the German people, allowing Adolph Hitler to come to power. (Incidentally, did you know that Hitler fought as a soldier on the battlefields of France and that his life was spared by a French soldier, who chose not to shoot the “young German” who had run out of ammunition?)  Can you imagine…?

            Please join me for my next Blog, which is scheduled for Friday, June 2.  I’ll begin with the why, where, and how there was a First World War.  Here’s an often-over-looked fact:  Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June 1914.  But what most articles don’t mention is that his wife, who sat by the Archduke’s side in the carriage, was also shot and killed by the assassin. Who was she and why has she been forgotten.  And how did their deaths prompt Germany and Austria to declare war on France? The story will be on my website: www.colleenfliedner.com.  I look forward to meeting you and discussing your questions and comments.