Resort Life in the 19th Century

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When doing some research recently, I discovered that today is the day summer officially ends and fall begins.

This summer hasn’t been easy for many of us. I recently moved from Texas to Ohio and it looks like I might have chosen a good time to leave, as many of my Texas friends experienced higher-than-usual temperatures this summer (I’m taking 105 and 106-degree type weather). Even in the Midwest, people told me it was an unusually hot and humid summer for our town. One of my neighbors posted the following sign on her lawn, maybe in an effort to encourage the colder weather to come:

A few weeks later she took it down. I guess she got discouraged by the continuing high temperatures!

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when there were no A/C units, no cooling systems, and fans that were inadequate, summer was the time for people to get away. Remember my blog post about Grace Brown and Chester Gillette (which you can find here)? Gillette lured his victim to the Adirondacks with the promise of a honeymoon vacation. The Adirondacks was a popular resort town in the East in the early 20th century.

Both Brown and Gilette were working-class people, and at the turn of the century, resorts such as the Adirondacks were just becoming accessible to them. But for the very wealthy, such resorts had been at their disposal since the 19th century. There were even those who made hopping from resort to resort a way of life.

Photo Credit: The Beach and The Sea, Blankenberghe, Belgium, from “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Belgium” catalog, 1905, Detroit Publishing Company: Fae/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD old 100)    

Resort life for the wealthy, as Charles Dudley Warner depicts in his book Their Pilgrimage (1884), was relaxing, exciting, and, oftentimes, boring. Some traveled for their health to places such as Palm Springs in California. Others traveled in the winter to get away from the harsh weather in their hometown. And many did it because it was “the thing to do” among the wealthy. 

The idea of seeing and being seen was prevalent throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and resort life offered just the place for this. What people did or what they saw in terms of the local attractions was less important than who they met and mingled with. At the same time, the anonymity of resort life gave the tightly-laced blue bloods of this time freedom to be themselves, a luxury they couldn’t afford at home. Away from the resorts, the wealthy had to watch what they said and did so as not to be shunned by their neighbors or get their names in the papers. But at a hotel, no one knew them, and they could loosen their grip a little bit.

Resort life was predominantly for women, though there were men and children as well. The hard-working, aggressively competitive Gilded Age and Progressive Era man couldn’t take time off for vacations. Ironically, women found a level of release and independence in the resort hotels that they couldn’t have at home, with the rigid boundaries of the separate spheres

Those who have read my Waxwood Series know the way of life of resort towns well. The Alderdice family aren’t exactly the kind of Gilded Age travelers that Warner’s novel depicts, as their lives are firmly rooted in San Francisco society. But, like their blue blood companions, they take full advantage of the extravagances offered once they do arrive and, in more ways than one, they become different people immersed in resort life for even just that short a time.

You can read about the Alderdices’ experience of resort life in Book 2 of my series, False Fathers. Book 3, Pathfinding Women, coming out this summer, also gives you a sense of resort life in the last year of the 19th century. If you want to find out more about the Waxwood Series, you can check out this page.               

The Adele Gossling Mysteries is grounded more in the grim realities of murder and crime, but I’m not quite done with resort life yet in my books. I already have on my agenda to write a book for this series set in a resort town which will include all of its fascinating psychological aspects amid a backdrop of crime and mayhem.

In the meantime, you can pick up The Carnation Murder, the first book of the series, for free from all book vendors. All the information and links are here. And if you’re interested in a more dramatic look at resort life, you’ll find my Waxwood Series right up your alley. You can start with Book 1, The Specter, which is free on all vendors, here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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The Murder That Inspired a TV Cult Classic

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Last month, I wrote this blog post about the fascinating unsolved case of Hazel Drew and how it inspired The Case of the Dead Domestic, Book 6 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries.

It turns out my book wasn’t the only creative endeavor inspired by the Hazel Drew case. A more unexpected connection exists between a cult classic TV show that aired in 1990 and this unsolved crime that occurred back in 1908. 

Photo credit: Photo of co-creator David Lynch and actor Kyle MacLachlan at the premiere of Season 3 of Twin Peaks, 21 May 2017, Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Esprus4/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 3.0

I remember the huge success of Twin Peaks back in the early 1990s, though I never saw the series myself. But there was something fascinating about a beautiful blond teenager found floating in a lake in a small town and the psychologically complex story that unfolds for the detective sent to solve her murder. If some of these elements sound familiar, it’s because they are. The Hazel Drew case unfolded in much the same way — with the body of a lovely young woman found dead in a lake near a small town.

Mark Frost, the co-creator of the series, came onto the story of Hazel Drew in a much more organic way than I did. As a boy, he used to spend summers with his grandmother near the Taborton area where Hazel Drew’s murder took place. He heard of Drew not as a murder victim but as a ghost. His grandmother used to entertain him and his younger brother by telling them ghost stories about the ghost of Hazel Drew who still roamed Teal Pond,  using it as a cautionary tale for the boys not to go wandering in the isolated area at night.

The story seems to have gone the way that most childhood ghost stories do until the adult Frost was brainstorming ideas for a TV series with David Lynch in an L.A. coffee shop. They suddenly had a vision of a beautiful blond girl found floating face down in a lake. This brought to Frost’s mind the stories he had heard as a child about Hazel Drew and thus, the character of Laura Palmer was born. Frost’s further investigations into the Hazel Drew case led to the plot of the series that was such a hit thirty years ago.

My fascination with the Hazel Drew case came from factors other than Twin Peaks. First, it’s an unsolved crime (in spite of recent theories about who might have killed her) and thus, Hazel Drew’s death hasn’t yet been avenged, which suits my protagonist Adele Gossling perfectly, since her purpose in solving crimes is to make sure women, dead or alive, receive justice. Second, it’s a classic crime that occurred at the turn of the 20th century, which feeds my love for the era. And third, the murder victim was as complex as the murder itself (which I talk more about in my blog post on the case). 

Book 6 of the series has just been released, so you can get it here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Release Day Blitz for The Case of the Dead Domestic!

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Title: The Case of the Dead Domestic

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 6

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: August 26, 2023

Everybody in town agrees: Arabella Parnell thinks far too highly of herself. She worked her way up to lady’s maid for one of Arrojo’s finest families, personal friends of the mayor. She attends parties given by the lady of the house as if she were the guest of honor. She writes letters to the daughter of her wealthy former employer as if they were comrades. She flirts with some of the most prominent men in the county.

So the Arrojo police are hardly surprised when they find her dead among the shrubbery in a wealthy bachelor’s conservatory.

And yet, amateur sleuth and suffragist Adele Gossling can’t help but wonder: Who was Arabella Parnell really? Was she just a servant with arrogant manners and too much self-assurance? Or was she the victim of the pride and passions of powerful men, one of whom did her in? With a hair comb, a brooch, and a candlestick to go on, can Adele solve this case?

Early reviews:

“It’s so much more than I expected from a cozy mystery.”

“The characters are well-rounded, interesting, and unique.”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Missy Grace, the editor of the Arrojo Courier, hurried into her shop, her cotton hair flying as usual around her face. She pushed back her bangs with the edge of her pencil. “Adele, what can you tell me about that body found in Virgil Riddle’s conservatory?”

Adele stared at her. “What the devil are you talking about?” 

“Don’t use such vulgar language, Adele,” Beatrice chided.

“It’s no worse than your ‘bum it,’ dear,” Missy barked. 

Beatrice’s nose went up. “I stopped using ‘bum it’ last year.”

“My congratulations.” Missy turned her back to her. “I’m talking about the sheriff and your brother rushing out of the police station an hour ago, looking very official.”

“They told you there was a body in Virgil Riddle’s conservatory?” Adele asked.

“Certainly not,” Missy said. “You know how hush-hush they are when they’re being official.”

“Then how do you know about it?”

“I caught Assistant Deputy Curd having his morning bun at the bakery and wheedled it out of him.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Adele said dryly. 

“Naturally, the boy was too dense to tell me anything of value,” Missy continued. “He could only say Mr. Riddle had found a girl’s body lying among the shrubbery in his conservatory, and she was most certainly dead.”

“Golly!” Beatrice sighed. “Another murder.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily take Assistant Deputy Curd’s word for it,” Adele said. “He’s not the brightest of men.”

“That’s why I’m coming to you,” said her friend. “You remember our bargain, Adele?” She looked meaningfully at her. 

“I tell you what I know if you tell me what you know.” Adele nodded. “Only I honestly know nothing, Missy. This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

“Well then,” her friend took her arm, “it’s our duty as star reporter and lady detective to find out, isn’t it?”

“I’m not a lady detective, you know,” Adele remarked, but she took off the apron she always wore when dealing with some of the dirtier aspects of her work. 

“You’re leaving me to mind the shop?” Beatrice’s green eyes, which had become more almond-shaped as the years passed, widened. “Golly!”

“I see you’ve replaced your ‘bum it’ with another inelegant colloquialism,” Missy remarked. 

“A woman may speak as she needs to be heard,” Beatrice said with meaning. 

“You know how to handle the cash register, as I showed you?” Adele asked.

“No one will come in anyway,” said the young woman. “It’s too early.”

“Nevertheless, we must always be ready to serve anyone.” Adele put on her gloves. “We’ll fetch Nin first.”

“Has she appointed herself lady detective too?” Missy eyed her.

“You might consider her the unofficial medium for the police,” Adele said as they emerged from her shop. “She’s helped them a great deal in the past, Missy.”

“I don’t object if she doesn’t,” she said.


About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with the town’s more conventional ideas about women’s place. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy plant-based dishes.


Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tammayauthor/

Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/tammayauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/ 

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May

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Family and Servant: Domestic Relationships in Upstairs, Downstairs

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When I first conceived the idea of the Adele Gossling Mysteries, I wanted to know what life was like in the first years of the early 20th century. I knew my first book, The Carnation Murder, was going to involve an aristocratic family, so I went in search of anything (books, movies, etc) that portrayed life among the aristocracy. I stumbled upon a series that, although it takes place in Britain, mirrors the life wealthy Americans would have lived during this time. I immediately fell in love with it.

Photo Credit: Jean Marsh, who co-created and starred in Upstairs, Downstairs at a signing at the Broadway Theater in Barking, East London, cropped, 12 December 2009, taken by Tim Drury: Rhain/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 2.0

Photo Credit: Dame Eileen Atkins, co-creator of Upstairs, Downstairs, reciting poetry at the British Library, 7 October 2021, The Josephine Hart American Poets Hour: Starkinson/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 3.0

The British TV series Upstairs, Downstairs was the brain-child of two veteran British actresses: Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins. The two women were dismayed when they watched an earlier British drama The Forsyte Saga (from 1967, not the 2002 mini-series), and realized the series never portrayed the life of the servants who played such a major role in the Forsyte family members’ lives. They wanted to make a comic series set during a time when the class hierarchy was still pronounced in Britain about the troubles and turmoils of those who worked for these aristocratic families – the “downstairs”.

However, when the series was sold, the production company that bought it changed a few things. First, they decided the series should portray not just the downstairs but also the “upstairs,” or, the aristocratic family for which the servants in the series worked (the Bellamys). Second, they decided to take the comedy out of the series and make it more of a drama along the lines of The Forsyte Saga, which had aired four years before the launch of Upstairs, Downstairs in 1971.

One of the fascinating things about this series is that you see how life in the early 20th century (the series ends in 1930) wasn’t easy for either masters and mistresses or servants. Aside from the modern conveniences both had to do without (even though the Bellamys were wealthy so money was no object), the social expectations for both were sometimes difficult to manage.

The pilot episode shows this beautifully, though more from the “downstairs” point of view. Right from the first scene, we see a young woman (played by Pauline Collins) who comes to the house to interview for a position as a maid make the social faux pas of the century — she knocks on the front door. The butler Hudson (Gordon Jackson), his expression one of stoic rage, motions for her to descend the stairs and come through the kitchen entrance and then chews her out for not knocking on the proper door. It’s clear the young woman has never worked in service before, something the other servants, even more than the lady of the house, grumble about. In fact, Lady Marjorie Bellamy (Rachel Gurney) is more sympathetic to the nervous young lady — until it comes to her name. The young lady gives her name as Clemence — a rather “uppity” French name. Lady Marjorie immediately changes it to Sarah and insists she be called by this name. This was actually not uncommon, as mistresses oftentimes either changed the names of their servants or they simply couldn’t be bothered to remember their name so they called them by the name of a former servant they had become used to.

Sarah ends up leaving service quite early in the series (though she does return later on) because, after getting a taste of not only the physical harsh labor but the social and psychological humiliation as well, insists on something better for herself. Members of the family feel the constraints of their social position as well, though in different ways. We see this with the father (whose background is respectable but whose aristocratic standing comes from his wife, and his Parlament peers never let him forget it), the son (whose military position doesn’t always suit his tastes), and the mother and daughter (both of whom suffocate under the constraints of the separate spheres so heavily cherished, especially in Britain, during this time).

Sometimes research can be really fun, and I was lucky enough to catch this series when it was on Netflix in its entirety. It served me well for my upcoming release, The Case of the Dead Domestic, which involves the death of a lady’s maid and the divide between the wealthy of Arrojo and the working class. The book comes out at the end of this month but feel free to pick up a copy now at a special preorder price here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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A Survey of Women’s Issues: Revisited

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Women’s Equality Day is this month (on August 26). Women’s equality is central to so many of my books, including the Waxwood Series and the Adele Gossling Mysteries. A friend of mine recently posted a quote on her Facebook page from a well-known author who claimed that every book is a political act. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but for myself, while I don’t see each book of mine as a political act, I do incorporate in my books the things I’m most passionate about. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, subscribe to my newsletter, and/or read my books, you know I am passionate about women’s equality and women’s rights. 

Why? There are several reasons. I was born in 1970 just as the second-wave feminist movement was beginning to pick up steam. I came of age in the 1980s when third-wave feminism was picking up. 

But even more so, I sadly did not grow up in a household that valued women’s equality. My parents were born in the mid-20th century and my mom grew up with June Cleaver values (though she was not raised in America). Our house was very patriarchal. My father went to work and earned and took care of the money. My mom, though she had several careers in her lifetime, took care of my dad, my siblings, and me above all else, sometimes to the detriment of her own identity. Even the careers she had were of a more “traditional” vein (nurse, electrologist). I don’t begrudge this, though, as it was what led me to want more as a woman and to discover feminism in college.

In light of my recent blog post about disassociative feminism, there is perhaps no better time to ask the question: Do we still need feminism?

It seems some of the younger generation would answer a firm “no” to this question. A while back, photos began appearing in my Facebook feed of young women holding up signs reading “I don’t need feminism.” These young women claimed admitting we still need feminism creates a victim mentality and demonizes all men, encouraging man-hating among women. As someone from an older generation who writes about women’s oppression, this was deeply disturbing, to say the least!

Women have had a lot to fight for: in the 19th century and 20th and (dare I say it?) even the 21st. It’s not the fight that has changed but the nature of the issues.

In the 19th century, organized suffragism was born of a group of brave women whose names are branded in history like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. During this time, suffragists focused first on getting society to recognize women were equals to men (with limitations dictated by the separate spheres, of course — no use rocking the boat too much). But later, their focus shifted to one solitary goal: to win women the right to vote. Why was this so important? Suffragists were smart enough to realize that without the right to vote, they would never be able to implement changes into public policy that would carry through to future generations. 

When progressive movements took center stage at the turn of the 20th century, suffragism continued with women such as Jane Addams, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells. Women achieved success when the 19th Amendment was ratified in the United States in 1920. The Progressive Era made many women more aware that equality wasn’t just about the right to vote. It was also about psychological freedom and throwing off the shackles of 19th-century femininity that limited what women could and could not do and be. In that light, the New Woman was born: active, athletic, and freer in body and spirit than her mother and grandmother.

After the fight for suffragism and breaking the stereotype of the Victorian “angel in the house”, the post-World War” II generation brought back a more modern version of the angel. Betty Friedan labeled her “the feminine mystique”. Magazines, advertisements, and doctors advocated for a woman’s place in the home, and her identity became tied to her relationships with others rather than her identity in and of itself. Friedan found these women in American suburbs living a life that fulfilled this destiny, but they were not happy because they suffered from The Problem That Has No Name. These women felt discontented and frustrated, as if something was missing from their lives but they couldn’t define what it was.

Friedan’s book inspired others to speak out about their frustration and disillusionment, eventually leading to second-wave feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s with activists such as Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Bell Hooks, among others. These women, whose slogan was “the personal is political” went further into the political sphere than their 19th and early 20th-century sisters. They zoomed in on social and personal oppressions, including issues such as domestic violence, rape, and reproductive rights. 

This meme is from a Tumblr site called “Confused Cats Against Feminism” and is meant as a tongue-in-cheek attack against the anti-feminist movement of the 21st century. You can read more about it here

Photo Credit: Meme from the Confused Cats Against Feminism, taken 27 July 2014 by Jym Dyer: Jym Dyer/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

But the question still remains: Do we need feminism in the 21st century? My answer would be as firm as the “I don’t need feminism” movement: YES!

Why? Because we’re still fighting many of the issues 20th-century feminists were fighting. To give one example, 20th-century women fought for women’s reproductive rights, including a woman’s right to choose whether to have children or not. In 2022, the supreme court overturned the law (Roe vs. Wade) that legalized abortion. Whether you’re on the side for or against it, there is a deeper issue here of taking away women’s right to choose what they do with their bodies. That freedom is one women have been fighting for for years and will continue to fight as a basic human right.

If you want to read about women fighting for equality, go to my Adele Gossling Mysteries! Book 1, The Carnation Murder, is free on all bookstore sites. And Book 6 is coming out soon, so pick up a copy at a special preorder price here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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