This week I have the pleasure of speaking to groups on either end of the age spectrum On Wednesday, I went to Career Day at Earle B. Wood Middle School in Rockville and on Monday, May 6, we’ll be speaking at the City of Gaithersburg’s Active Aging Expo at Bohrer Park.
Dorothy and I are scheduled to speak at 11:15, but we’ll be there all day signing and selling. Please join us. The event is free and there are many other interesting programs (just don’t look at the programs concurrent with ours). Here is the full program:
A little about Career Day – This was the first time I had participated in a career day. I had many requests when I was at the Montgomery County Historical Society, but always said no as I could never think of what to say. I almost said no this time as well. When I was asked to talk about being an historian and author, I could only think that the best advice I could give was to marry someone with a good income (perhaps not the message they were hoping for). In the end, though, I decided I would talk about doing historical research and the decisions writers, in particular historians, have to make whenever they are writing to publish. I deconstructed the Headless Horseman and the Annington Guest House for the students, two stories where I did a lot of research and ended up with more material than was used in the final version.
Historians are often viewed as impartial observers of the past and their writings are expected to reflect that impartiality, and the best strive to do that. Yet, we do give the story we are telling a bias simply because of the choices we make as writers. We usually end up with more sources, more material, than we ever thought we would, or less. Either way, we want the story to be clean, and we cut and past to make it so.
Those may sound like highfalutin words from someone who writes ghost stories, but I am an historian too. First I had to find a ghost story, and then my historian background kicked in, and I researched persons, places, things, and other strange happenings that might be involved in the story. Here is where I might find too much information. I had to sift and sort what I found and then combine the ghost with the chosen history. Some of my stories may be a little thin in the haunting area, but the connected history was so rich that I felt it justified telling the story. Of course the opposite happened sometimes when there was no relevant history to connect with the ghost .Then I just let the ghost stand alone.
Let’s revisit the Headless Horseman of Game Preserve Road, one of the scariest stories in the book. What you don’t know is that the original story, as told to me, said that the ghost was either a Confederate cavalryman who was decapitated in a skirmish along the road where the railroad bridge now crosses (the railroad didn’t come through until 1873) OR a Confederate cavalryman who was wounded and made his way to the farmhouse of Francis Clopper. The Cloppers took him in, but he died of his wounds anyway. They then quietly buried him, in the dead of night at St. Rose of Lima Church, where a stone now marks his grave (it was added many years later). I chose to only use the story about the decapitated soldier because it made more sense in the story. If he was able to make it to the Clopper Farm, then he still had his head, therefore he couldn’t really be the Headless Horseman. In searching for an article about the murderer who supposedly died along the tracks, I also found newspaper articles about drownings along that stretch of road, which is near Seneca Creek, but I didn’t use them because my focus was on the railroad track and by using the more grisly beheadings I had a tighter story.
And now you know the rest of the story.