Guilt-Free Writing

WRITER ON BREAK. WILL BE BACK LATER.

For many years during my writing career, I suffered from guilt whenever I took time off from writing. I needed to be at my typewriter (laptop) pecking away at the keys. What was I accomplishing in a literary sense if I wasn’t? On the other hand, what was I accomplishing by staring at my typewriter paper or my laptop screen all day, struggling after ideas and stories ? Nothing, nothing at all.

I’ve since learned that little breaks are great for writers, that they’re not a waste of time. It’s how we recharge and get fresh ideas. Many a day I’ve walked away from my desk, my mental activity exhausted. Whenever I reach this point I know it’s time to do something different. Go for a drive, go for a walk, or take an entire day or weekend off. Get up from your work every ninety minutes or so instead of writing long hours on end. Nothing wrong with doing that, and I recommend it.

So, don’t feel guilty about the times you don’t write. Look at it this way: even when we’re resting, we’re working. Why? Because proper rest contributes to greater productivity. Your writer’s brain will be forever grateful.

Till next time, friends!

Shakespeare’s Row, Gentlemen Only

Gideon Deshler, c. 1850s
Gideon entered the game room and strode straight to the bar to purchase a beer. Tobacco fogs swirled over tables, and lights from gaslit chandeliers danced in their mist. Murmurs punctuated whirring roulette wheels. Along a far wall, men played games of twenty-one and faro. Billiard balls cracking against each other echoed from an adjoining room.
Gideon never played roulette, though he did sometimes play billiards, and he occasionally engaged in twenty-one and faro. Poker, though, was the pastime he’d come to love. Men who stood beside him at the bar conversed while drinking their liquors of choice. The entire place smelled of beer and tobacco.

In the above scene the protagonist in my WIP, Gideon Deshler, enters a game room in antebellum Mobile’s popular gaming establishment, Shakespeare’s Row. Like New Orleans, Mobile attracted gamblers from a variety of backgrounds—gentlemen, professional gamblers, and the unsavory types.

Shakespeare’s Row, however, only catered to well-mannered and honest gamblers, those who at least appeared to be gentlemen. Troublemakers and dishonest players weren’t allowed on its premises. One writer described it as a string of brick buildings housing numerous businesses along the street, then when a person entered through one of its two arched doorways, he’d find a courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard stood a three-story building, with stairways, that housed twenty-eight game rooms facing it. Gambling activity continued there all night.

Shakespeare’s Row is one of the central settings of my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Thoroughbreds and the Prodigal. 

Sources

Amos, Harriet E. Cotton City: Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Chafetz, Henry. Play the Devil: A History of Gambling in the United States from 1492 to 1955, N.p.,Bonanza Books, 1960.

Going “Over the Bay”

Bay Boat James Carney, 1905, Point Clear, Alabama. Historic Mobile Preservation Society, William E. Wilson Collection

My sister and I burst into laughter, pointing and guffawing at the uniformed men in Mobile, Alabama’s Bankhead Tunnel, constantly waving “come on” at our cars. We sped through it almost bumper-to-bumper as our father, driving, sped out of the city onto a causeway to go “over the Bay.” Why were they always waving at us? No car was pokey, and if one of us happened to break down, well, it was a narrow two-lane tunnel. It would be one huge traffic jam! For my sister and me, watching these men constantly waving their arms was entertaining.

“Over the Bay” is one of those expressions we Mobilians often use. It simply means crossing Mobile Bay for a visit on the Eastern Shore—to a beach, to visit a friend, a restaurant, a town, etc.

Before 1927, the year the bridges and the Causeway opened, people traveled to the Eastern Shore via bay boat. These boats, like the one pictured above, brought goods to those who lived on the Bay’s Eastern Shore as well as passengers. Toll rates ranged from $3.50 to $6.00 per person. One tragic event happened on a Sunday in 1871 when a bay boat, the Ocean Wave, exploded, killing an untold number of people. Later estimates put the number of deaths at close to 100.

Boat person that I am, I enjoyed using a bay boat as a setting in one of my chapters. Mobile Bay is beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset!

Later, the Bankhead Tunnel was built. Nowadays, the city has two, more heavily-used tunnels.

As for me, whenever I visit my hometown I always drive the Causeway through the old Bankhead. No longer is it bumper-to-bumper, and numerous fond memories flood my mind. I only wish I’d been able to take a bay boat “over the Bay,” at least once in my lifetime.

Sources:

Angela Levins. “How to get to the other side? Vintage photos document storied past of Mobile’s tunnels and roadways,” Mobile Real-Time News, Updated March 6, 2019, https://www.al.com/news/mobile/2015/06/how_to_get_to_the_other_side_v.html

Angela Levins. “Quick Facts of Mobile Bay’s Tunnels and roadways with vintage photos,” Mobile Real-Time News, Updated January 13, 2019, https://www.al.com/news/mobile/2015/06/quick_facts_of_mobile_bays_tun.html

Tom McGehee, “What caused a bay boat to explode at Point Clear in the summer of 1871?” Mobile Bay Magazine, August 17, 2020

Michael V.R. Thomason and Carol Ellis, Mobile Bay: Yesterday, Today, and Forever, n.p.: Beers & Associates, LLC. 2009

The Great Post Stakes Race, Lecomte’s Revenge, Part Four

Photo by Tobi on Pexels.com

After Lexington won the Great Post Stakes his owner, Richard Ten Broeck and Lecomte’s owner, Thomas Jefferson Wells, had a rematch. Instead of racing each other, however, they agreed that their horses would race against the clock for four miles.

Riding Lecomte: Abe Hawkins, whom Wells obtained from Abe’s owner, Duncan Kenner.

Riding Lexington: a famous white jockey named Gilbert Kilpatrick

Race Date: April, 1855

Place: Metairie Race Course, New Orleans, Louisiana

Course conditions: dry

 Grandstands: about 10,000 spectators

When the timekeepers nodded “ready,” the starter lowered his flag, and Lecomte and Lexington galloped down the track, their hoofs thundering amidst cheers.  

Lecomte, sweating hard and breathing hard, surged ahead as Abe, fierce competitor that he was, urged him on. Wider and wider the distance between the horses stretched, Lecomte constantly in the lead till he defeated Lexington by six lengths and set a world record: seven minutes and twenty-five seconds.

Upon hearing this time announced, clapping and hurrahs rocked the grandstands. Everyone, it seemed, had gone wild.

All wasn’t lost for Lexington yet. He had one more heat. But Abe galloped Lecomte into racing history when he won it as well. Though jockeys who were slaves were seldom referred to by name, such wasn’t the case with Abe. Everyone involved in racing in this era now knew him. As for Lecomte, every January at the Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans a race is held in his memory—the Lecomte Stakes.

Lecomte and Lexington, half-brothers who shared the same sire, became the greatest Thoroughbreds of their era.

Sources

Mooney, Katherine. Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2014.

Weldon, Nick. “From slavery to sports stardom: Abe Hawkins’ rise from a Louisiana plantation to horse-racing fame,” The Historic New Orleans Collection, January 11, 2019, https://www.hnoc.org/publications/first-draft/slavery-sports-stardom-abe-hawkins%E2%80%99s-rise-louisiana-plantation-horse-racing.

FINALIST!

I am pleased, and honored, to announce that my Civil War novel, Vengeance & Betrayal, is a finalist in the Notable Book Awards. The winner will be announced on Saturday, February 6, at the Southern Christian Writers Book Expo. This book, and many others, will be available for purchase on the Expo’s public Facebook site on that day.

The Great Post Stakes Race, Part Three, The First Races

Photo by Gusztu00e1v Gallu00f3 on Pexels.com

April, 1854—a delightful spring day. Metairie Race Course conditions—dry. New Orleans’s St. Charles Hotel—thronging with guests. Some 20,000 people had arrived, eager to watch a special horse race, among them former U.S. president Millard Filmore. And why not? America’s two greatest Thoroughbreds, half-brothers, were scheduled to race each other in the Great Post Stakes.

Richard Ten Broeck, the course’s primary shareholder, conceived the idea. For an entry fee of $5,000, a state could send a Thoroughbred to represent it in the competition.

By race day, only four horses participated:  Arrow (Louisiana), Highlander (Alabama), Lexington (Kentucky), and Lecomte (Mississippi). Because Louisiana had Arrow, Lecomte’s Louisiana owner, Thomas Wells, entered him to represent Mississippi. Ten Broeck’s horse Lexington, Lecomte’s half-brother, represented the state where he was foaled.

Because the standard Thoroughbred racing track is one mile, these horses would run four laps in two heats with a break for a rub down in between. Lexington won the first heat, clocking just over eight minutes, but Lecomte gave Lexington a run for his money in Heat Two. For three miles, Lecomte galloped ahead of Lexington. Kentuckians attending the race fretted. Their champion, losing! It couldn’t be!

And then, Lexington got “a new set of legs,” gained on Lecomte, passed him, and defeated him by four lengths. The grandstand’s spectators went wild! Roars of approval hit the clouds.

In 1855, LeComte and Lexington would again compete to determine which horse was the fastest.

Sources

Mooney, Katherine. Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2014

Perrault, Matthew Saul. “Jockeying for Position: Horse Racing in New Orleans,1865-1920,” LSU Digital Commons,Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, 2016. https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/gradschool_theses/3455/

The Great Post Stakes Race, Part Two: Abe Hawkins

This jockey is not Abe Hawkins. I was unable to find a photograph of him.

In the antebellum world of Thoroughbred racing, one jockey’s name stands head and shoulders above all others—Abe Hawkins. Like most Southern horsemen in this era, Abe was a slave. Enslaved jockeys held a special status which included freedom of movement, unaccompanied, to other horse farms.

Usually, a jockey’s name wouldn’t be mentioned in racing publications. Abe, however, was the exception. Everyone involved in Thoroughbred racing knew his name and respected him. A determined competitor, he was driven to win races. And, he often did.

We don’t know much about his growing up years, nor his exact day of birth. We do know he once belonged to Adam Bingaman, a Louisiana planter.

In 1853, Duncan Kenner purchased him from Bingaman for over $2,000 and brought him to his Louisiana sugar plantation, Ashland.

In 1854, Abe rode Lecomte against Lexington at the Metairie Race Track in New Orleans.  More on Abe’s role in this race in a future post.

During the Civil War, as the Union army bore down on Ashland in 1862, Duncan Kenner escaped capture but Abe fled north where he continued winning races, earning fame and fortune. After the war, afflicted by tuberculosis, he returned to Ashland and Kenner’s nursing care. He died in 1867, but his name and reputation on the turf lived on.

Sources

Katherine C. Mooney, Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Nick Weldon, “From slavery to sports stardom: Abe Hawkins’ rise from a Louisiana plantation to horse-racing fame,” The Historic New Orleans Collection, January 11, 2019, https://www.hnoc.org/publications/first-draft/slavery-sports-stardom-abe-hawkins%E2%80%99s-rise-louisiana-plantation-horse-racing

The Great Post Stakes Race, Part One: The Half-Brothers

Gideon followed Elvira and her mother through the rambunctious racing crowd, the ladies’ bell-shaped, poplin skirts parting a path through spectators and gamblers mobbing booths selling liquors. At other booths, proprietors hawked snacks and sandwiches, candies and cookies. Shouts and low conversation surrounded them, men making wagers with other men, black people and white people of all social classes in attendance. Horse racing broke down the city’s social divide, if only for a few hours.

Lexington, painted by famous equine artist Edward Troye.

The above paragraph is taken from my work-in-progress, tentatively titled Thoroughbreds and the Prodigal. It shows what Thoroughbred racing in the antebellum South was about. For a brief moment in time, it broke down social barriers. Horse racing was the “football” of the antebellum South— its most popular sport.

In 1854, the era’s most famous horse race took place at New Orleans’ Metairie Race Course. Known as The Great Post Stakes, it pitted the era’s two greatest Thoroughbreds, Lexington and Lecomte, against each other. These horses were half-brothers who shared a famous sire named Boston.

Richard Ten Broeck, a majority shareholder in the course, owned Lexington. Three other prominent shareholders in the Metairie Course were Thomas J. Wells, William J. Minor, and Duncan Kenner.

Lexington’s original name was Darley, owned by Elisha Warfield and trained by Harry Lewis, a black man who some think may have been free when he trained the famous horse. Darley had already won races before Ten Broeck and three other turfmen pooled their resources and purchased him for $2,500. Ten Broeck renamed him Lexington, the place of Darley’s birth.  

Although two other horses competed in the famous race, Lecomte was Lexington’s biggest rival. His dam, Reel, won seven races before Thomas J. Wells purchased her.

Like his mother, Lecomte enjoyed a stellar career. He’d won every race up until his showdown on the track against his half-brother. For those race fans who witnessed their competition, it would be a race for the ages, and one they’d never forget.

Bibliography

Hervey, John. Racing in America:P 1665-1865, vol. II, Private Print. The Jockey Club 1944. Auburn University Special Collections. Call #: folio SF 347.14

Mooney, Katherine. Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2014

Reilly, Kellie. “Lecomte: The Short Life But Long Legacy of a Racing Hero,” Brisnet.com The Handicappers Edge, September 10, 2020 http://www.brisnet.com/content/2019/01/lecomte-short-life-long-legacy-louisiana-racing-hero/.

Wikipedia; Wikipedia’s “Lexington (horse)” entry

Wikipedia; Wikipedia’s “Reel (horse)” entry

Edward Troye: The Horse’s Artist

Edward Troye, 1808-1874

For horse lovers and those who love Thoroughbred racing along with the sport’s history, we can thank a famous artist who played a pivotal role in chronicling many of the nineteenth century’s famous race horses. His name was Edward Troye (1808-1874). According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, he was “nineteenth century America’s first important portrait and landscape painter.”[1]

          Though born in Switzerland, he eventually moved to the United States and later lived in Mobile, Alabama (1849-1855), where he taught painting and French at Spring Hill College[2]. He painted horses as well as people, but his horse portraits are what earned him fame. His accuracy and attention to detail are stunning, to say the least. His work included not just the horses, but jockeys and trainers as well, providing us with a visual chronicle of the antebellum era’s favorite sport.

          In 1869, he retired and moved to a farm in Owens Crossroads, Alabama. Even though he’d now turned to farming, he never quit painting and died of pneumonia in 1874.

          In my current work-in-progress, primarily set in Mobile against the backdrop of Thoroughbred racing, Edward Troye is a teacher at Spring Hill College and is in much demand by the city’s turfmen as a painter of their horses.

To view some of his paintings, visit the National Sporting and Library Museum at

http://www.nationalsporting.org/nslm/exhibition_details/562.


[1] Genevieve Baird Lacer, “Edward Troye,” the online version of the  Encyclopedia of Alabama,  accessed Jully 16, 2020, http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2560

[2] “Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye,”  Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, accessed July 16, 2020,  https://harnessmuseum.com/content/edward-troye

The Flag Officer

Admiral David Glasgow Farragut

When Captain David Glasgow Farragut assumed command of the newly designated West Gulf Blockading Squadron, he was also assigned the title of flag officer. He’d risen to the highest rank a United States officer could hope to achieve at the time. In the army, he’d have held the rank of colonel. The American navy did this because it didn’t want to be like the British navy, which did have admirals.

A flag officer, or in earlier years a commodore, was the highest ranking captain in a fleet or naval squadron. Thus, he was the overall commander.

The Civil War brought changes to the Navy’s command system. New ranks were created by Congress — ensign, lieutenant commander (formerly called a lieutenant commanding if he commanded a ship) and yes, admirals. Because of his victory at New Orleans in April 1862, Congress made Farragut a vice admiral. Eventually, he worked his way up through the ranks to become a full admiral.