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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Great San Francisco Quake


Market Street, 1905

     On April 18, 1906, most residents of the San Francisco Bay area were still asleep. Those who were awake were already at work or preparing to begin their Wednesday activities.  At 5:12 A.M. there was a loud rumbling and the widespread shuddering of a foreshock. Approximately twenty-five seconds later, this was followed by violent shaking for about 42 seconds. This earthquake would go down as one of the worst natural disasters in history.

     People as far north as southern Oregon, as far south as southern California and as far to the east as Nevada felt the quake’s tremors. Bay area residents were knocked to the ground, thrown from their beds, or trapped under the weight of collapsing buildings. Even though the epicenter was two miles west of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean, the earthquake was picked up by seismometers in Europe and Asia.

Market Street after the Earthquake

      Estimates of the magnitude of the quake range from 7.7 to 8.25, with the most widely accepted value being 7.8 on the Richter scale. The San Andreas Fault ruptured for a total of 296 miles, with varying degrees of impact along the length of the rupture, but San Francisco and the surrounding area sustained the most severe destruction.

     The force of the earthquake damaged and demolished buildings, tore gas lines open, snapped electric lines, and destroyed water mains throughout the city. Fires ignited by leaking gas, electrical sparks and in broken chimneys spread quickly without readily available water in many areas to fight them.  The police destroyed an estimated $30,000 in alcohol, in order to remove flammable materials from the path of the flames.

San Francisco on Fire

     In an attempt to stop—or at least contain—the fires, the S.F. Fire Department requested dynamite from the Army base at the Presidio. They planned to create firebreaks by demolishing buildings. Unfortunately, the fire fighters and the Army troops that helped them had little experience with using dynamite to fight fire. The Presidio sent black gunpowder, a highly flammable explosive, instead of nitroglycerine or stick dynamite. Consequently, the effort to establish firebreaks only created additional paths for the fire to spread by destroying buildings and walls that might have helped to stop the flames. Flaming debris created by the explosions ignited even more fires. Over the three days immediately following the earthquake, 492 city blocks burned.

     But the Army did provide many crucial services in the immediate aftermath. Soldiers patrolled the streets to help keep peace and discourage looting. They guarded government buildings. The quake itself and resulting fires left tens of thousands of San Francisco residents homeless. Initially, these displaced people established makeshift camps in parks and in or near burnt-out buildings. As the fires raged in the eastern part of the city, these people moved west in search of food and shelter. The Army assumed responsibility for feeding, clothing and sheltering the displaced men, women and children, housing 20,000 people at the Presidio and managing twenty-one of the city’s twenty-six official refugee camps.

Tent City - National Archives

     The refugee camps were small tent cities, arranged in street-like grids, with dining halls to serve meals. Some became organized like small towns, with residents establishing features of regular life, like children’s play groups and social events in the dining halls. The army oversaw the relief activities until July 1, 1906 when the city assumed responsibility for providing these services. More than two years later, many of the refugee camps were still in full operation. As new housing was built, residence at the camps gradually declined.

     Overall, around 75,000 people fled San Francisco, between 227,000 and 300,000 people were left homeless and more than 3000 people died as a result of the earthquake. Approximately 28,000 buildings were destroyed, along with the infrastructure to provide utility services to the city. Monetary damages from the earthquake and fires were estimated at $500 million. This would be more than $16.5 billion in 2022 dollars.

Post-quake Destruction - Library of Congress

      The San Francisco earthquake was the first major natural disaster to be extensively documented with photographs and moving pictures. Images of the city before and after the quake provide vivid evidence of the devastating destruction of a thriving modern city in the early twentieth century. It’s often said that “One picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, that adage is clearly true.

  Ann Markim




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Monday, November 21, 2022

My Writing Process - by Lindsay Townsend

In thinking about how and why I write, I laid out my ideas in a question and answer form. I hope you find it interesting.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about tender, realistic, developing relationships, set in the past. People in past times did fall in love and that's what I like to show. I also strive to show the non-noble, non-royal sides of history - how it felt to be a spear carrier, a slave, a medieval house-wife, a medieval hedge-witch or a serf. I like to explore the vital  role women played in history and how ancient and medieval women are different from people today because of the demands of biology (no reliable birth control) custom and religion. 

I write romance and adventure as do other writers in the historical romance genre, but these points: the celebration and evocation of the non-royal, the revelation of the true role of women, the way beliefs impacted on relationships, are, I think, what makes my work different.

Why do I write what I do?

I have always been fascinated by the medieval and ancient worlds. I like the 'epic' scope of the history and the great differences in beliefs between then and now. I enjoy transporting my readers back into the past with me and to take them on an exotic, exciting journey.

How does your writing process work?

 I tend to start with a picture or scene in my head and often a snippet of conversation. That’s where my medieval romance novel, “A Summer Bewitchment”, came from—a scrap of dialogue, “I am the troll king of this land and you owe me a forfeit” and the picture that gave me.

For my other latest, “Dark Maiden,” I had a mental picture of a tall dark woman with a bow and the idea of scent—that my heroine Yolande could smell the restless dead. That seemed apt, too, because of the medieval idea of the odor of sanctity—that the bodies of saints could give off a sweet perfume. I took that belief and developed it in a different way, so Yolande could also smell less saintly souls.

From those initial ideas I usually work to a rough outline. I jot down the stakes of the story and the romantic themes , conflicts and arcs I want to explore. Sometimes before I begin a scene I note down the time of day, weather, mood, what I want the scene to do in terms of moving the plot and the relationships forward.

I don’t tend to work to a detailed plan. For my historicals I often find that the research will give me ideas that are relevant to the story. In “Dark Maiden” the threat of the Black Death, with the natural fears that people had during that time that the end of the world was surely coming, gave me a powerful driver for the final conflict and climax of the novel. In “A Summer Bewitchment” I use medieval beliefs of magic and witchcraft to shape my story.

My romantic suspense and historical mystery books are a little different in that I do plan those out in detail. They are whodunits, so I need to have clues and mystery and suspects, and  some way of keeping track of them all.

I find with all my writing that I can often use aspects that I put into the story earlier and thread these  through and out later.

Sometimes the setting itself can give me wonderful plot ideas. I have used the city of Bath twice in my stories—once as the ancient Romano-British city with its shrine of Aquae Sulis in my historical romance “Flavia’s Secret” and once in a Medieval Whodunit, "A Widow of Bath." I used the idea of the bleak landscape of marshes and fens in “Dark Maiden”—there’s something about the mix of water and big skies that I find intriguing and appealing. The Scottish highlands and lochs gave me a wonderful setting for my Viking-Pictish romance, "The Viking and the Pictish Princess."

As readers, what inspires you? As writers, do you have particular triggers?

Lindsay Townsend 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Thanksgiving Will Soon Be Here—What Are We Going to Eat?

In just a few days—okay, eleven—here in the States we will celebrate our annual food and football orgy called Thanksgiving. I’m sure you know the history, or at least the history we were all taught about the origins of the feast. And I’ll readily admit, my family is no different than others. Our menu on this big day is the longest of any we ever do, except perhaps New Years Eve, but that’s a different blog.

As my mother, sister and I began listing the foods we wanted to prepare, it started simply enough: turkey, ham, sage dressing (my great-grandmother’s recipe), gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans. Ah, but how do we want the green beans? The way I usually do them, with bacon and chicken broth? Or in a casserole with creamed soup and French fried onions on top? We still haven’t settled that one. Then, there are the pies…

My point is this annual feast with family and friends must include our favorites. For me, it’s scalloped corn or corn casserole, and cranberry sauce. I use Alex Guarnascelli’s RECIPE.

When we were in graduate school, my husband and I usually stayed in town for Thanksgiving, rather than traveling the twelve hours home and twelve hours back. We issued invitations to our fellow music students who were also staying, and when they asked “what can I bring” I said ‘anything it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without.’

What’s you’re it-absolutely-cannot-be-Thanksgiving-without recipe?

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!




Sunday, November 6, 2022

Dia de los Muertos

Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Family Ofrenda 
from Wikipedia

I recently attended a local Dia de Los Muertos celebration at the local Fine Arts Center on November 1. It was a beautiful, celebratory, and meaningful event. There was a section where people could write down those they wished to remember along with both old and new art celebrating the day of the dead. There were also ofrendas, (alters) that were created by some of the local schools.

The most interesting thing to me was not only the remembrance of people but animals and places. Some of the school art with composed of photos and handcrafted figurines.

 For a bit of history of the day of the dead is a holiday where families welcome back the souls of family members who have died. This Mexican holiday is considered a blend of Mesoamerican, Spanish, and some European religious cultures. Some people celebrate it from October 31 through November 2 others celebrate November 1 and 2.

One legend says that on October 31 the spirits of children can join their families and November 2 is the time when adult souls join their families. The souls are allowed 24 hours to spend with their families.

From Wikipedia

The following is a story of La Calavera Catrina. A local artist had done a small replica of this symbol and he told me the background. This quote from encapsulates what he told me:

"the most prominent symbols related to the day of the dead calacas (skeletons) and calavaras (skulls). In the early 20th century, the printer and cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada incorporated. skeletal figures in his art mocking politicians and commenting on revolutionary politics. His most well-known work, La Calavera Catrina, or elegant skull, features a female skeleton adorned with makeup and dressed in fancy clothes. The 1910 etching was intended as a statement about Mexicans adopting European fashions over their own heritage and traditions. La Calavera Catrina was then adopted as one of the most recognizable Day of the Dead icons."

Taking part, even if it was a watcher, was a beautiful look into another culture. Will it become part of one of my stories? The experience was something that will stay with me, so it probably will.

I leave you with a link to a song that seems to fit this celebration: Hold on to Memories 

Until next time, keep smiling, writing, and enjoying life.

Doris McCraw

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

November's Explosive Historic Festival

November's Explosive  Historic Festival

  C. A. Asbrey

“Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…” 

We all know that way back in 1621, America's founding pilgrims started a holiday tradition that is still celebrated today. Those same colonists would have already been familiar with a festival we still celebrate across the UK today. Both holidays are founded on a celebration of survival in very different ways, but one is a considerably more stark event than the other. In fact, it was the same culture of religious persecution and sectarianism that caused the pilgrims to sail for America in the first place. 

It would be difficult to understate how wide the toxic gulf between Catholics and Protestants had become in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It would be easy to blame it just on religious dogma, but in reality, it was also driven by wealth and power. Recusants were forced to lose property, political influence, and the right to hold certain offices, all of which dented their wealth and the future of their families. Further discriminations quickly became enshrined in law, and Catholic priests were forbidden from celebrating the rites of their faith on pain of death. Many were killed, but that didn't stop people from worshipping. Wealthy families had priest holes built into every nook and cranny: a kind of Elizabethan panic room where the priests could hide out in the event of a raid. And they did, some even suffocating or starving before it was safe for them to come out.   

A Priest Hole in Harvington Hall

It was into this poisonous era that Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes and John Johnson, was born in 1570. His father's family were Protestant, but his mother's side were recusant Catholics. His father died when Guy was eight, and by the time his mother remarried several years later, the young Guy had been heavily influenced by the Catholics in the family. Some might even describe him as radicalised. Some say that Guy was heavily influenced by the Harrington side of his maternal family, as they had a history of hiding priests, one of whom accompanied Guy to Europe at a later date.  

Guy was soon heavily involved in the Catholic cause, fighting for Catholic Spain against the Dutch, and becoming involved in political intrigue in England, Ireland and Scotland. And although the Catholic King of Spain gave him a hearing, he refused to finance action in England. So it was up to Fawkes and his conspirators to go it alone. They met at the Duck and Drake Inn in London, and plotted to assassinate the king and replace him with his daughter.

They plotted to tunnel under the Houses of Parliament and stuff the cellars with barrels of gunpowder to blow the place up, but soon found a room that was the undercroft of a nearby house. It was situated directly under the House of Lords, and was deemed the perfect place to store their explosives. The threat of plague delayed the opening of the Houses of Parliament, giving the conspirators more time to stuff even more gunpowder in the cellar. In the end a total of fifty-six barrels were accumulated. A recent study by the University of Aberystwyth found that the resultant blast would have razed everything to the ground within a radius of about 40 metres. Within 110 metres, buildings would have been at least partially destroyed. And some windows would have been blown out even as far as 900 metres away. Nobody within 330 feet of the bomb could have survived. The explosion would have been visible for miles, and audible far further than that. Even if only half the gunpowder had gone off, it would have killed everyone in the House of Lords, and injured people for some distance.   

The Blast Area of the Proposed Explosion 

Whole books, and doctoral dissertations have been written about the plot, and learned historians have made it their lives work to unravel the complex knot of betrayal and counterespionage that led to the betrayal of the thirteen co-conspirators of The Gunpowder Plot. Some even claim that there were only twelve plotters and a government spy. Others allege that in an attempt to keep Catholic lords away from the explosion, warning were given, and that these resulted in the exposure of the the plan. Others say that the Earl of Salisbury invented the plot as an act of agent provocateur, and that the plot was allowed to go on as an attempt to discredit the Catholics in England. Whatever the truth, there is little doubt that the Catholics would never have been able to seize power, even if the King had been killed. The outrage would have been so profound that the Protestant majority would have risen up and slaughtered the Catholics, who made up no more than five percent of the population at that time. 

Eight of the Thirteen Conspirators 
However it was done, someone did betray the group, and they were arrested. They were quickly found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered in 1606. All of those arrested were tortured to expose others in the conspiracy, but when it was time for the execution Guy Fawkes broke his neck at the hanging part of the sentence. He thereby avoided the agony of being drawn down when almost dead, and "drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. They were to be "put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air."

The first ceremony related to the event took place the next year, primarily as a Protestant celebration of delivery from the Papist plot. Initially known as Gunpowder Treason Day, this thanksgiving gala soon spread, and developed into parades that ended around a bonfire where the evil 'Guy' was burned in effigy. People brought food and drink, fireworks were added and it wasn't long before it spread to the whole country. Raids could be mounted to rob the firewood from the rival bonfire, sometimes even ending up in public disorder. It suffered a ban under Oliver Cromwell, and his puritan rule, but was reinstated in the restoration, ending up as even more of a night of celebration than before.
Penny for the Guy

In true British style, it soon became an irreverent secular night of raucous fun, the religious overtones forgotten, and dismissed. In 1865 a police constable was killed in Guilford as the authorities tried to stamp out the worst excesses of drunken debauchery and restore public decorum. Although the origins were never forgotten, the anti-Catholic sentiments declined, and even ended up being celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike—seen more as a triumph of a win of a terrorist attack, or just an excuse to watch a spectacle and get roaring drunk. It became a matter of neighbourhood pride to have a bigger bonfire than your nearest village, and by the 18th century children were pulling along a stuffed figure and begging for a 'penny for the Guy'. In later periods that money was used to buy fireworks, but in earlier periods it was used to buy food and was an aid to begging. The stuffed figure of the 'Guy' comprised of old clothes and a mask, but the term 'guy' became a term for a scruffy, or oddly-dressed person. It the cascaded down into the modern usage meaning a casual way to refer to a person of any gender.
Lewes Bonfire Night Parade

The tradition was carried around the world with the growth of the British Empire, but fell out of use in the USA after the revolutionary war, however, it carried on in Salem until 1817. Sometimes the effigy can be changed with the times with political figures being burned instead. Prime Ministers, terrorists, unpopular members of the aristocracy, and even Benedict Arnold have made the list. Lewes in Sussex has a huge parade and burns different unpopular figures every year.   
In modern times, people tend to forego the bonfires, although many are still burned. Most either attend firework displays, or release their own in their back gardens. Neighbours gather to enjoy a sociable evening with fare like baked potatoes, sausages, and burgers. 

An unfortunate politician who was caught with a lover becomes Lewes' effigy of the Year in Sussex

But the Houses of Parliament has never forgotten. Before the official opening of parliament, it became a routine to check the cellars, and that quickly became a ritual. Nowadays, there is, of course, a thorough search by counter-terrorist officers, but as part of the ceremonial aspect of the Opening of The Houses of Parliament, the Yeoman of the Guard (commonly known as Beefeaters) perform a ritual search in full uniform. Even though this is unseen by the public, it still carries on to this day as part of the pageantry of the occasion.
The Yeoman Searching the Cellars Under the Houses of Parliament. 


A firm hand grabbed his shoulder as a hoarse voice whispered in his ear. “Git your hands up and come with me.” 

Nat’s hands rose along with his hackles. “Why?” 

“’Cause I’m robbin’ you, you idiot. Why d’ya think?” 

Nat heaved a sigh of relief. Robbery was way better than the law. “You’re kidding. You’re robbing me? This is a joke.” 

“What’s with the questions? I’m robbin’ you, now git into that alley where we can work in private.” 

“We? What’s with the idea we’re a team? You can’t rob me.” 


“Never mind why. Just go away.” 

“No, gimme your cash. All of it.” 

Nat’s Irish rose to the fore. “Sod off.” 

“You ain’t listenin’, mister. Git over to the alley and hand over your valuables.” 


What d’ya mean, ‘why’? I want your money.” 

“Oh, I understand, but why do I have to go in an alley? You can take it right here.” 

The robber’s irritation seeped into the tense voice. “Fine. Give me your money here.” 

“No. Go away.” Nat felt the hardness of a revolver in the small of his back. ”You realize that if you shoot me now, people will pour out of every building the minute you pull the trigger. You won’t get ten feet before you’re cut down.” 

The robber paused. “Get in the alley.” 

“Now you’re repeating yourself. You haven’t thought this through. How do you know I’ve even got any money?” 

“Because you’re hangin’ around the best hotel in town.” 

Nat turned his head but the robber whacked his shoulder. “Stay still.” 

“You’re hanging around the best hotel in town, too. Give me your money.” 

“I ain’t got no money. That’s why I’m stealin’.”

“Well, neither have I. None I’m handing over to you, anyway. Maybe we should split what you’ve got?” 

“What kind of a robbery is this? You’re the most annoyin’ victim I ever met. I’ve got a good mind to shoot you for the hell of it.” 

“A good mind doesn’t do stupid things like hold up men in the street without a plan.” Nat could detect the growing uncertainty in the man’s thin voice. “Am I annoying enough to die for? That’s what’ll happen.” 

“I want your money. Hand it over or I’ll—” A dull clang cut the man off mid-sentence, followed by a thump as he tumbled to the floor. Nat swirled around, his eyes lighting with delight at the sight of the woman he was here to see not only wielding a spade, but raising it once more to slice at the robber’s right hand as it reached for the gun which had tumbled from his grasp. Nat drew his own weapon and pointed straight at the man’s head. “You’ve lost your gun, friend. Get out of here before you lose a hand, too.”  The skinny figure shimmied over the boards of the sidewalk before clambering upright and scampering off as fast as his feet could carry him. Nat grabbed the discarded weapon and thrust it into his waistband, tilting his head to keep his face in the shadow of the brim of his hat. “Thank you, Miss…? Sorry, who do I thank?” 

“You’re welcome. Don’t you want to go to the sheriff?” 

I don’t think so,” Nat holstered his own gun. “They might want to know why you were taking your shovel for a walk in the dark. It’s all a bit funereal isn’t it?” 

Her laugh tinkled through the chilled night air. “Funereal? Now, there’s a word I didn’t expect to hear in a cowtown,” she put the blade on the boardwalk and leaned on the handle. “The spade was over there. And I saw you were in trouble and stepped in. It’s none too clean.” He found the way her nose crinkled adorable. “I think someone has been clearing horse droppings with it.” 

He grinned. “So you thought you’d clean up the town? Hang around and they might give you a star to wear.” 

“A woman in the law? How ridiculous.” Her slim brows knotted in curiosity. “Where have we met before?”