Ever hit a long-winded passage and turn the page, hoping the story would pick up later? I see a few hands out there.
This month, I wanted to share three quick writing tips to avoid page-turning-reader syndrome and let your writing sing!
(1) Look for “padding” you don’t need.
An easy place to start: those extraneous, repetitive, extra, unnecessary, duplicative, redundant and overused words. (See what I just did there?) Yeah. You don’t need every single one. Get out the pruning shears and chop away.
Here’s a great example of a slightly different kind of “padding”:
“Her mouth was parched, and a slow fever seemed to kindle in her blood, and creeping slowly through every sluggish vein, touched the torpid tide with stinging fire. Her languid eyes gleamed with a fierce light…”
Oh dear. No, it’s not a passage from a modern romance. This was an 1865 writer. A very breathless 1865 writer. And it’s a great example of what happens when you lean too hard on adjectives to paint your scene.
Moral of the story: watch out for “adjective addiction.” So, how would it read without all those adjectives?
“A fever seemed to kindle in her blood, and creeping through every vein, touched her with fire. Her eyes gleamed…”
Still a bit on the dramatic side. But way better!
(2) Vary your sentence structure.
It’s easy to fall into a “same-same” sentence pattern. But changing up the sentence structure can make things a lot more fun for your reader.
Like some examples of different ways to craft the same sentence? Here you go:
My mother loved baking cookies.
December was the time of year when the aroma of cookies always permeated our house.
Cookies? We had them all. From shortbread to chocolate chip, lemon bars to oatmeal, butter cookies to gingersnaps.
Bonus tip: Unless you’re doing technical writing or striving for formality, don’t get hung up on using complete sentences. I know, I know. It’s what we learned in school, right? But for less-formal writing, short and pithy works just fine. (Check out that third bullet point above, for an example).
(3) Chop overly-long sentence into pieces.
If you really want to know why overly-long sentences don’t work and how they frustrate your reader, how obnoxious it can be to get to the very end of a sentence and have no idea where the thought actually began, and why most editors reach for their red pencil frequently to separate long, wordy sentences into two, three, or even four different parts, just think about how your attention quite naturally wandered away when you were forced to wade through a word-salad mess — like this ridiculously convoluted sentence.
Okay, I did that one on purpose. How about this real-life example (from 1865 again):
“The opportunity was offered him in July, 1862, at Boonesville, by an old class-mate at West Point, and one who subsequently won, under Bragg and Forrest, a character for belligerency similar to that now enjoyed by Sheridan.”
Huh? That requires some real work on the reader’s part to parse out the meaning! Chop that run-on stinker into two sentences and it might read like this:
“In July, 1862, an old class-mate from West Point offered him an opportunity at Boonesville. That same class-mate would later serve under Bragg and Forrest, winning himself a reputation for belligerency similar to that of Sheridan.”
Unpacking those two ideas into separate sentences makes them easier for your reader to digest. (Extra bonus credit for anyone who noticed that the rewrite also shifted from passive to active voice! That helped, too.)
So there you go. Hope these three simple ideas help your memoir writing sing!
And now I’d like to hear from you: What questions do you have about memoir writing? Where are you getting stuck? Drop a line and let me know.
Next time you drive past Mormon Station State Historic Park, keep an eye peeled for a small, white, garage-looking structure just north of the stockade.
When Mormon Station acquired the 1.2-acre property adjacent to the Fort in 2002, that’s exactly what they thought this small building was: just a “barn or garage.” Initial estimates dated it to about 1948-50, so it was brushed off as having “no significant historic value.”
Not surprisingly, the Park Service’s 2005 Master Plan called for this small building to be torn down. At the time, planners had grand ideas to actually rebuild some of the early Genoa’s now-gone buildings, such as Gelatt’s Livery Stable and the early “White House Hotel”, which once sat to the south of the small garage. There was no place in such a glorious picture for a remnant of the 1940s or ’50s.
Well, that all sounded terrific — until the price tag showed up. Initial estimates pegged the ambitious project at $1.6 million. And even that figure could have been too low. Yup, after that wake-up call, the plan to recreate long-ago buildings was no longer in the cards.
In the meantime, however, Park employees began noticing a few things about the humble “garage” that were, well – a little bit odd. For one thing, it had been built on a stone foundation. Pretty unusual for 1940s/50s construction. There were square nails in the wooden flooring. And, a central section of the floor planking was missing entirely, suggesting perhaps a forge once sat there.
Yep, on closer inspection, it didn’t look like much a 1940s or 1950s building, at all!
Park staff already knew that the property had been owned by the Rice family from 1872 to 1902; the Rice family’s White House Hotel once was located just to the south. When Chris Johnson was hired at the Mormon Station in 2017 as Park Interpreter, he began digging more into the past ownership of the property. He started searching through the old newspapers for mentions that might shed additional light on the building and its former use. And because some early-1900s newspaper issues aren’t searchable, that meant long hours of skimming page-by-page through microfilm reels.
But Johnson’s sleuth work finally paid off! Johnson turned up a newspaper article from 1908 reporting that the White House Hotel had been purchased by a man named Nels Morrison (legal title was actually held in his wife Hattie’s name). Best of all, that same 1908 newspaper story reported that Morrison was planning to use part of the old Rice Hotel to build a blacksmith shop on the property. “Bingo!” says Johnson. His suspicions that this had been a blacksmith shop were confirmed.
As Johnson kept digging, even more fun pieces of the puzzle began coming to light.
An oral history by local Arnold Trimmer mentioned the old Hotel had been torn down and that some of the hotel’s lumber went into a house across the street. So it’s no surprise that Morrison might have used some of the lumber from the old hotel to build his new blacksmith shop, too.
As Johnson and his crew began clearing away decades-worth of trash from inside the old building, even more fun traces of the building’s past came to light!
That “solid” wooden floor? Well, turns out three small trap doors had been cut in it. Reaching beneath one of the trap doors, Johnson discovered an intact bitters bottle, dating from the period 1906-1920. Although sold as a “medicinal” remedy, such potions contained as much as 37% alcohol. Can’t you just picture the boys sitting around the blacksmith shop, passing the “medicine”?
Lath marks on some of the interior boards of the “garage” (photo below) confirm that some of the lumber used to build the blacksmith shop had originally been part of a different building – quite possibly Rice’s earlier White House Hotel.
Three sets of initials also were found painted on the shop’s walls: “C,” “CM,” and “CF.” Although the first two are a mystery, the initials “CM” might stand for “Claire Morrison” — one of owner Nels Morrison’s sons, who worked as a mechanic at COD Garage.
But the most exciting discovery of all came to light only a few months ago.
As Park employees cleaned out the debris that was packed in the old building, they eventually uncovered the original old work bench. Johnson looked closely at the side of the wooden bench – and discovered blacksmith Nels Morrison’s “maker’s mark” stamped into the old wood!
Johnson hopes the old Nels Morrison blacksmith building will eventually be restored into a working blacksmith shop, with artifacts on display to show how it would have looked. Already, they’ve begun acquiring equipment from the 1902-1906 period, including a historic forge and blower. Perhaps volunteers might eventually operate the blacksmith shop on weekends or for school groups, Johnson said, crafting metal objects like dinner bells that might be sold in the gift shop.
So now you know the fun story of this long-forgotten Genoa gem – and the tale of just how close it came to being demolished. Stop by to see the building and the Bitters bottle next time you’re at Mormon Station!
Did you know tiny Markleeville, California has a sister city? Well, not an official one. In fact, the two towns probably have no idea they’re even related. But Newman, California and Markleeville share a common heritage.
The link that binds them? The man who gave the town of Newman its name. Here’s the tale!
Simon Newman (Neumann) was born in 1846 in Willmars, in the Bavarian region of Germany.
Simon was 16 years old when he first set foot in San Francisco in 1862, traveling by way of Panama. His arrival was courtesy of brother-in-law Solomon Wangenheim, who owned a store in Virginia City and put Simon to work for him in that bustling Comstock town.
Then in 1864, Solomon opened yet another store – in Markleeville. The store originally sat in the lower section of Main Street just south of Montgomery Street. But by 1866 “Wangenheim’s” had moved a few lots north to the northwestern corner of Main and Montgomery (today a vacant lot across from the well-known Cutthroat).
Goods sold included “fancy and staple” dry goods, as well as mining and farm implements. Need boots, bacon, or butter? Wangenheim’s was your store. Here you could find powder and fuse; revolvers; crockery; even stoves, doors and windows. And, of course, liquor!
Brother-in-law Simon Newman was not only employed at Wangenheim’s Markleeville store as a clerk; he also lived in the back.
One night in July, 1866, a fire broke out in the store – caused, it was said, by rats or mice “capering over the friction matches.” (Which gives you some idea of the pest problem!) Newman and a fellow clerk sleeping in the store managed to escape with their lives by jumping out a window. The St. Bernard dog who had alerted them to the flames was (sadly!) not so lucky.
The store had no insurance and the loss was estimated at an astonishing $20,000. But Wangenheim was determined to rebuild. He was back in business within weeks. As for Simon Newman, perhaps it’s no surprise that from 1866-67 he thereafter volunteered as Secretary for the Alpine Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1.
Biographers have described Simon Newman as “frugal and ambitious.” They should have added hard-working! In 1868, Newman purchased the store in Markleeville from his brother-in-law for $1,000. And in 1869, at just 23 years old, Newman opened another store at Hill’s Ferry, California, on the San Joaquin River. (According to family lore, he leased out the Markleeville store, providing a second source of income for his family until 1885, when another devastating fire swept through Markleeville and destroyed the building.)
After moving to Hill’s Ferry, Newman began lending money to local ranchers, securing his loans with an interest in the crops. By 1877 he not only owned his store but also a 4,000-ton grain warehouse.
Simon Newman married in 1877 and moved to San Francisco, commuting Hill’s Ferry by train every week. (Did I mention he was hard-working?!) He continued amassing ranch land, sheep and cattle interests. And when the Pacific Railroad decided to extend its line into the San Joaquin Valley, Newman donated 320 acres for the railroad – founding a townsite at the railroad’s terminus.
And how did Newman market his new town? Ever the entrepreneur, he arranged for a special train to ferry potential land purchasers and investors from Oakland to the townsite on April 28, 1888. A free picnic was provided, and lots were auctioned off. Originally called Sanger (not to be confused with the other Sanger near Fresno), the town today is known as Newman.
Simon Newman passed away of apoplexy (stroke) at just 66 years of age in 1912, and was buried in Home of Peace Cemetery in San Mateo County. But the town he founded still honors his name.
Just where is Newman? It’s located on State Route 33 between Gustine and Crows Landing. If you don’t know where those are (I didn’t!), it’s 35 miles southwest of Modesto, and just east of I-5.
Today, Newman dubs itself the “Jewel of the West Side” of the Central Valley. And it’s well worth a visit. With a population of about 11,000 citizens, it prides itself on retaining its small-town charm. There’s an annual Fall Festival; a vibrant historic downtown; a restored 1940s theater; and a district filled with beautiful Victorian homes.
There’s also a fabulous brick Museum (1209 Main Street, Newman) – open only Wed 12:30 – 4:30 or by appointment. Check out the wooden fire tank and farm equipment in the fenced yard behind.
Best of all, the historic Newman Store Building is still here (see pictures below), at the corner of Hwy 33 and Fresno Street. And if you stop by, be sure to look for Simon Newman’s name, written in tile in its entryway.
So, town of Markleeville? – meet Newman. And town of Newman? – meet Markleeville.
Whether you know it or not, you’re sister cities. And you both have hard-working emigrant Simon Newman to thank for it.
It’s easy to think of our memoir as just our own story. But how many other paths crossed yours to make you who you are today? Probably thousands and thousands!
In this pool table game of life, we’ve all taken hits from a few random cue balls. Our trajectory has been disrupted by unexpected forces that coaxed us, prodded us, or simply whacked us off the table for a little while.
Not all of those forces were benign. But some were encounters with people who made us better.
Maybe those inspirational forces were your parents. Or perhaps your biggest inspiration was long-gone historic figure, or a celebrity you never met in real life.
But we never, ever forget our heroes. Role models with stories so compelling we aspired to be like them. People who challenged us to reach higher, be better, try harder.
It could have been a movie star; a saint; a surfer; a favorite teacher.
But when you ask yourself, Who inspired you? chances are someone’s face immediately came to mind!
So here’s a memoir tip: Don’t forget to mention those special forces that altered your trajectory. The heroes and heroines who inspired you can add a fascinating dimension to your memoir!
A FEW MEMOIR WRITING PROMPTS:
* How old were you when you first felt inspired by this person? How did their path happen to cross yours?
* What form did “inspiration” take for you? What about this person did you want to emulate?
* What might have happened if you’d never had their encouragement or inspiring example to follow? How did your life trajectory change as a result?
* What have you done (or might do in the future) to “pay it forward” and inspire someone else?
That’s it for this month!
Let us know how your writing is going! Leave us a post on Facebook: @WriteYourMemoir
Serendipity gives me goosebumps. Just as I was about to write this post about “food memories,” I stumbled on a terrific example of this exact form of family-history writing.
“From Billee’s Kitchen” is a great, simple collection of not only recipes but memories. Compiled in pdf form by Melissa Corn Finlay, it honors her grandmother, Billee Barton Corn. And you can read it for free, here! It’s packed with Billee’s favorite recipes, from Shrimp Victoria and desserts to die for, and great family photos. But best of all, it includes Melissa’s memories of her grandmother.
Born in 1918, Billee used to keep a jar of bacon drippings on her stove. (Sound like anyone you knew?) She went to bed every night with a Louis L’Amour novel in her hand. Granddaughter Melissa got sips of Billee’s favorite nighttime beverage (Dr. Pepper over ice) as she joined Grandma under the puffy down comforter. And Melissa can still recall the tantalizing smells of her grandmother’s apricot “fried pies.” Special memories indeed!
So, what fascinating nuggets of family history and memoir material might be lurking in your kitchen? And how can you easily preserve and share them?
Start by pulling out that old card file or family cookbook, and thumb through the recipes. What dishes were your parents’ favorites? And what do they say about your family’s travels or the way things were?
What special culinary treasures have been handed down from long-gone relatives? I treasure my great-grandmother’s recipe for Burnt Sugar Cake just because it’s a legacy. And I love the visual image of my great-aunt’s recipe for Deep Dish Peach Cobbler, scrawled in her own spidery handwriting. How fun to know that these special treats once graced their tables, too, and how rewarding to pass the recipes along to future generations!
What memories do certain recipes bring back for you? I still remember the welcome smell of my dad’s Beans Bretonne simmering in the oven — a family favorite — as I walked in the back door after school. (In case you want to try it, here’s his recipe — with some hilarious comments from my sister.)
And you might even find surprises tucked away in that old cookbook or filing box! As I was writing this story, I discovered a long-forgotten collection of old newspaper clippings in the back of our family recipe box. Domestic goddess that she was, my mother had tucked them away in the 1960s, preparing to be the perfect party hostess.
Sharing food-and-family memories doesn’t have to be a huge production. Make it easy on yourself! You might simply copy those old family recipes and bind the pages together, or paste individual recipes into a small scrapbook, as my sisters did (see below). If you’d like to “pretty it up” as Melissa did in her family recipe book, just create a Word document with images, then convert that to a pdf for sharing.
Okay, that’s your Memoir Writing take-away for today: Let favorite family recipes prompt your memories of both food and family!
And of course I’d love to hear what stories you remember.
Ah, that’s a story in itself! (And if you missed Part 1 of Winchester’s wild and crazy story, here’s where to read it!)
The eighth of 13 children, Jonas Winchester entered the world on November 19, 1810 in Marcellus, New York. At roughly age 16 he was apprenticed to Adolphus Fletcher, printer of the Jamestown Journal, a local weekly paper.
But by the time he was 18, Winchester determined to set off for adventure. He made his way to New York City, where he arrived (as he later put it) “a stranger, without friends, acquaintances, or recommendation of any kind.” He was sure a better life awaited him. “Destiny calls and I must follow,” he wrote to his mother in September, 1829.
Despite his lack of connections in the City and with only 2-1/2 years of apprenticeship under his belt, Winchester managed to land a job as a compositor for two New York City newspapers. But the pay proved meager. Wages for compositors were so low, in fact, that in September, 1830 Winchester moved back home to Western New York, where he took a job with the Fredonia Censor.
But the lure of the big city hadn’t left him. He returned to New York City again in the Spring of 1832. And in 1833, Winchester eventually landed a publishing job with Horace Greeley, likely due to his friendship with Frank Story, Greeley’s partner. Winchester had a certain “larger than life” aura about him, and perhaps a certain amount of moxie helped win him the position. Somewhere in his youth Jonas gained the nickname “General” Winchester, a military honorific with “no foundation in fact,” as his descendants would later admit. (It may have been a bit of a family joke; brother Herman went by “Colonel.” And the oldest brother in the family dubbed himself “Patriarch.”)
Horace Greeley himself was a relative newcomer to New York City, too, having arrived in late 1831. By the time Winchester became an associate, Greeley had already launched and lost the short-lived Morning Post – a publication which cratered within three short weeks of its January 1, 1833 debut. A few months later another tragedy struck Greeley — his original business partner (and Winchester’s friend), Francis V. Story, drowned suddenly in July 1833.
Story’s death presented a fortuitous opening for Winchester, who stepped in to become Greeley’s partner. In March, 1834, Greeley and Winchester launched a new publication called the New Yorker — a “large, fair, and cheap weekly folio” based on Ann Street, New York, dedicated to literature with a sprinkling of news. Greeley handled the newspaper’s editing, while Winchester did what he did best — promotion — taking charge of the profitable “jobbing business” (contract printing). Before long Winchester would solidify his fortunes by marrying Story’s sister, Susan — the wedding taking place on Winchester’s own 25th birthday, November 19, 1835.
Although launched with only a dozen subscribers, the New Yorker’s circulation eventually reached 9,000. But it never became a rip-roaring financial success. Instead, it took “a terrible struggle on the part of its proprietors to keep it alive.” Greeley and Winchester eventually dissolved their partnership in September, 1836. Winchester carried on “job printing” on his own, then tried to make a profit by reprint literature from abroad. But he got himself deep into debt (thanks to what one observer called his “careless and venturesome way”), and about 1844 was forced to declare bankruptcy. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a new family man; Winchester and his wife, Susan, now had two children: Frank S. Winchester, born in 1840, and Julia, born 1844.
Eager for a new start, Winchester was bitten by the “gold bug” when glittering tales of California gold began circulating in late 1848. It was a chance to redeem his fortunes!
News of the California gold strike at Sutter’s Mill was all over the newspapers in New York. Reports circulated that some $2 million in gold dust was already sitting in San Francisco, just waiting for transportation to the East. Despite stories of earlier “disturbances” in the mining districts, the New York Tribune assured its readers that “excellent order [now] prevails.” As for tales about “thousands starving,” those rumors were simply “greatly exaggerated,” the press reassuringly reported.
Winchester learned of a three-masted “half-clipper” ship leaving New York and headed for California. She was called the Tarolinta, Indian for “floating rose,” owned by the Griswold Brothers of New York and captained by William P. Cave. With a capacity of 549 tons and a crew of 27 (some 20 of them African-American), the Tarolinta expected to carry both a lucrative load of cargo and roughly a hundred passengers to the gold fields. Winchester was determined to be among them, and quickly booked passage.
The Tarolinta was initially scheduled to depart from New York harbor on December 28, 1848. But not enough passengers signed up at first, so the date was postponed until January 9, 1849 in hopes of recruiting additional passengers. Then arrangements for additional freight to be delivered to South America caused the date to be pushed off yet again, to January 13. You can only imagine Jonas Winchester tapping his toes in frustration.
The morning of the 13th of January, 1849, dawned clear and cold. A huge snowstorm had dumped as much as three feet of snow on the streets of New York. Passengers were instructed to board promptly at the pier at the foot of Wall Street. And finally the Tarolinta pushed off.
Champagne was passed around as the ship was guided out of the harbor by pilot boats. She was heavily laden indeed. Freight was lashed into tall piles on deck, and included barrels of provisions, small boats, and “house frames.” Total passengers came to 125 – more than originally planned.
Winchester was among the passengers happy to turn his face toward California. He still owed thousands of dollars to his creditors. But he left behind his wife and two children.
Ads for passage on the Tarolinta had promised travelers “superior accommodations.” In fact, however, space was minimal and the food less than ideal. One passenger reported a dozen men were sharing a 22-1/2 x 7-1/2 foot “stateroom” that was “nearly filled up with our trunks, chests, and other baggage,” leaving meager sleeping spots just three feet apart.
Passengers, of course, eagerly discussed their possible prospects in the California goldfields. At least 15 separate mining “companies” were organized aboard the ship, each with a name and its own distinctive pennant. Jonas Winchester was no doubt one of the founding members of the ten-person “Leyon Winchester & Co.”
Fellow printers James B. Devoe and Daniel Norcross of Philadelphia (later manager of the San Francisco New Age) were also included among the passengers. Others included an “accomplished Oriental scholar” named Caleb Lyon, and Dr. J.C. Tucker, whose diary of the journey would eventually be published.
A physician named Dr. Nelson whiled away the hours at sea by conducting “experiments on the porosity of glass” — a misguided effort to see if submerging a hermetically-sealed glass tube to 89 fathoms would cause water to penetrate the glass itself. (Not surprisingly, the answer was no. But Dr. Nelson nevertheless shared his “experiment” with the world in an issue of Scientific American.)
The Tarolinta reached Rio in February, 1849, a happy milestone for the passengers as the stop offered fruit and “lots of mint juleps, and porter-house beef steaks.” These were quite a treat indeed after the shipboard fare. One passenger filed a report from Rio describing typical shipboard fare as a “curious concoction of mouldy bread and frozen potatoes, boiled down in salt water” and “apple fritters, about two inches thick, eighteen inches around, and weighing four pounds and a half each.”
As they continued on around the Horn, passengers aboard the Tarolinta endured stormy weather, extreme cold, poor fare, and personality clashes. Perhaps predictably, disputes arose over food rations, hammock space, bathing water, petty thievery, and other matters. Some led to fisticuffs.
By and large, Captain Cave tried not to intervene. When two passengers got involved in a brawl on the poop deck, the Captain merely told them to move their dispute down to the quarterdeck so neither would fall overboard. But when eager passengers began trying to chop up barrel staves to make tent stakes in preparation for their anticipated mining adventures, the captain finally asserted his authority and stopped them. Barrel staves were a precious cargo.
Some would later say Cave was a “cold, ruthless and stubborn man, whose odious character would become clear to all as the voyage unfolded.” Others called him “big and blustering.” More likely he was just overwhelmed by trying to corral such a large group of eager, unruly passengers.
After 174 days, the Tarolinta finally sailed into San Francisco harbor on June 29, 1849 (July 6, 1849, according to other sources), much to the relief of all aboard, the captain no doubt included. But there they found the dock space completely occupied. They were forced to drop anchor in the harbor and hire rowboats to get their parties and goods ashore. And goods there were, a-plenty! Operators of the “Russian Store” at San Francisco soon advertised the arrival of assorted silk shawls, handkerchiefs, ladies’ fancy cravats, ribbons, plaid silk, buck gloves, silk scarves, plus a “superior assortment of cigars,” all courtesy of the Tarolinta.
Stepping on shore that summer of 1849 put Jonas Winchester among the very first eager members of the California Gold Rush. He and his associates briefly tried their hand at mining on the North Fork of the American River. They purchased steam-powered equipment, and built dams and even roads. But the fall rains washed all of their hard work away.
By the winter of 1849 Winchester turned back to what he knew best, securing a post as editor and part-owner of the Pacific News – one of the first San Francisco newspapers. In May, 1850, Winchester also took over the appointment of H.H. Robinson, California’s first State Printer. The government printing contract offered plenty of steady work, but payment by the State was issued in semi-worthless warrants, making it difficult for Winchester to meet his obligations. He resigned the post in March, 1851.
The Pacific News folded in 1851, the victim of several fires. But Winchester was still intrigued by mining, and convinced that “greater things were in store for him.” He moved to Grass Valley, where it’s said he built the first sawmill and quartz mill in the vicinity, and acquired interests in mining companies.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Winchester’s wife, Susan,was suffering from consumption (tuberculosis). Winchester’s California mines had failed to produce the great returns he’d hoped for. So Winchester decided to return to New York.
Susan died in Brooklyn in February, 1855, at just 43 years of age. Sometime after 1855 Jonas wed widow Margaret Bartholomew Brown in New York. Margaret was a supporter of women’s suffrage and an associate of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. But apparently that marriage did not last. In April, 1869, Winchester married a third time, wedding Laura Karner. Their first child, Ernest, was born in 1870 but died in infancy.
Winchester had launched a patent medicine business, “Winchester’s Hypophosphites” — proudly putting his own signature on the label. The endeavor helped him make ends meet, bringing in an estimated $3,000 per year. But he was still eager to try his hand at mining.
In the 1860s he acquired the Globe Gold & Silver Mining Co. and other mining interests in Monitor Canyon, in Alpine County. As early as 1867, Alpine locals were receiving letters saying Winchester intended to come out “next season.” And come out he finally did, moving to Monitor with wife Laura in 1871. They would have two children who were born there at Monitor.
So that’s how Jonas Winchester wound up in Alpine County. And that’s where our story picked up last time! (Here’s the link again, if you missed Part 1 of Jonas Winchester’s amazing story.)
Call it serendipity. But as luck would have it, Winchester’s 209th birthday was November 19th — just about the time this story came out in our 2019 newsletter. We hope you’ll light a candle to celebrate the birthday of the wild, wonderful, adventurous life of Jonas Winchester! What a life he had.
The year was 1871. Hope was in the air, in the tiny mining town of Monitor, California. “General” Jonas Winchester and his wife had recently arrived from back East. And word was that the Globe Gold & Silver Mine was finally going to be pushed in earnest.
The title of “General” appears to have been self-applied. Jonas had no military experience (at least none that we’ve been able to find). In addition to that confident title he also adopted an equally confident motto: “Push things.” And promote he did! Advertising flyers screamed about the Globe Mine’s prospects — its ores, they said, were “believed to be incalculable in quantity.” And best of all, they could supposedly be worked cheaply. Winchester assured investors he had “invested all his own fortune in the business,” and intended “to reside permanently at Monitor.”
But despite such bravado, things actually weren’t going terribly well for the Globe. It did have a mill, but the ore was yielding just $10 a ton. Its workmen being unpaid, both mill and mine were soon shut down. In April, 1871, Winchester candidly acknowledged to a fellow miner that there had been “too much coyoteing” going on. A family feud may have been part of the problem; Winchester complained bitterly about the “treachery” of a brother. The Globe’s mill had also barely escaped a devastating fire, he said, and there was a “need for re-organization of its finances.” Prospects were looking gloomy indeed.
By July, however, the mood had switched from gloomy to gleeful. A rich copper vein had just been struck in the Globe, and there was “every indication of a mammoth copper ledge” just ahead. Early assays produced up to $75 in copper and $20 in silver, and ore as rich as 36% copper was said to have been found in the deeper levels. That summer, Winchester also had one more cause for celebration: his third wife, Laura, presented him with a son on August 10, 1871, born there in Monitor.
Continuing the work on the mine, of course, required a continued influx of capital. Winchester put his best literary skills to work in an 1872 prospectus, teasing investors with fabulous statistics. Capitalization of the company was now a rich $650,000. Progress thus far included a 5.5 x 6.5-foot double-tracked tunnel, “nearly” 1,500 feet long (a shameless exaggeration, as later facts showed). Rail had been extended conveniently from the mine to an adjacent 45’ x 60’ mill, which was almost ready to work the ore. “When finished,” the mill should be able to crush 40 tons of ore a day. A 30-horsepower engine and boiler had already been purchased, and 500 cords of wood were on hand. Hoisting works had been erected, and the company’s claims crossed “some half dozen or more veins.” The promised return to those willing to invest? “25% per annum in gold.” How could you go wrong?!
By fall, the Globe again found itself unable to pay its bills. But Winchester’s glowing advertising evidently did the trick. Frank Winchester (a son by Jonas’s first marriage) arrived in Monitor in October with enough cash in hand to pay off the debts of the Globe. And, as an added sign of confidence, Frank signed a contract to extend the tunnel another 100 feet. Frank quickly departed for the East again, but his father, “General” Winchester, remained behind at Monitor as mine superintendent.
Winchester may have been a terrific mine promoter, but he’d apparently had little experience running a silver mine before. What he lacked in practical know-how, however, he made up for with sheer bravado. And on top of his naturally boisterous personality, Winchester was a firm believer in Spiritualism. He firmly believed that he had been personally chosen by the “Ancients” to run the Globe, and that the spirits would guide him to make the mine a success.
Spiritualism was a quasi-religious movement that depended on mediums to communicate messages from the spirit world to convey wisdom to the living. Seances and “table-rapping” sessions were in great vogue in the 1860s and ’70s. Even newspapers in such remote outposts as Silver Mountain and Monitor carried advertisements like those of “Madame Remington” and “Madame E.F. Thornton,” promising to send readers a picture of the “very features of the person you are to marry” — for a mere 50 cents, remitted to the medium by mail.
Winchester, a firm believer in Spiritualism, was convinced that a band of “Ancients” could speak to him through mediums. The leader of this spiritual band was supposedly an Atlantean named Yermah, while Yermah’s wife was the towering six-foot “Queen” Azelia. Winchester went so far as to name his newborn son Yermah, and a subsequent daughter, born in September, 1873, after the spirit Queen.
Winchester wasn’t alone as a devotee of Spiritualism in early Monitor. Fellow resident O.F. Thornton (no relation to the clairvoyant) corresponded regularly with both psychics and fellow Spiritualists, including one William H. Sterling. “The Spirit World is on our side, and they will take care to bring us success at the right time,” Sterling assured Thornton in one letter in September 1871. Meanwhile, Spiritualism may also have had a practical application. Sterling confided to Thornton that he was using “Spiritual topics” to persuade an investor to sink money into Thornton’s Good Hope mine.
The opportunity for profit from this connection with the “Ancients” was not lost on Winchester, either. In early 1871, he reached out to acquire rights to a set of “spirit pictures” drawn by a pair of San Francisco mediums while in a trance. There was profit potential in selling the images, he was convinced.
Despite the helpful advice of the “Ancients,” Winchester’s stewardship of the Globe was roundly criticized. One aggrieved investor concluded that Winchester’s “reckless and incompetent manner of doing business would prevent forever any success, no matter how rich or extensive the mine should prove.” Winchester was simply a “reckless spendthrift,” he added, notwithstanding supposed selection “by the Ancients as the only man in the world” for the job.
Winchester did manage to push the Globe’s tunnel some 1,000 feet into the mountain, with several side-drifts. A steam furnace and boiler were installed in a separate building at the mouth of the tunnel, and the steam conducted in insulated pipes to an engine and pump located in an underground chamber. Marketing genius that he was, Winchester also had a series of beautifully-detailed photographs taken of the mine and surrounding settlement to help induce investors to continue to float the operation.
Despite the massive work done on the mine, the Globe’s stout 4” Cornish pump eventually proved unable to keep up with water flowing in. The boiler’s steam capacity also proved insufficient to work the pump and the hoist. By the end of 1873, work at the Globe was abandoned. As one mining report concluded, the mine’s sad history had been one of “difficulties, delays, expenses, and disappointments.”
Winchester and his family finally shook the dust of Monitor from their feet in November, 1873, and moved west to San Francisco. He brought along his “well-magnetized desk” to their new abode (perhaps magnetism helped the spirits to focus). Soon he was hawking those “spirit pictures” he’d acquired in a new “Spirit Art Gallery.” Winchester managed to bring in about $6 a day from his gallery, at least for a time — enough to cover costs, though not enough to afford him a salary. Ever upbeat, he claimed to a friend he was simply happy to “re-enter upon civilized life.”
Winchester’s Spirit Gallery featured reproductions of pencil portraits of 28 of the “prehistoric and ancient spirits.” These included “Yermah” and other natives of Atlantis from 16,000 years ago, plus the “progenitors of the Mississippi mound builders, and the architects of the lost cities of Central America. In case you’d never heard of Atlaneans, there was also Confucius, Gautama, Jesus, and Mother Mary. Included in the mix was a “Hindoo Necromancer and Alchemist” from 8,000 years ago who, by the way, had discovered the Elixer of Life. Not to be overlooked: a Magician priest from Ancient Ninevah, and another learned Egyptian from the time of Moses. Visitors to the Spirit Gallery could acquire a photographic reproduction of these sketches: just 50 cents for a card-size picture or $1 for a larger cabinet card. Such a deal.
A solicitation for subscribers penned by Winchester in 1874 promised that the “locked-up knowledge of prehistoric ages” would soon be opened, thanks to the “lost arts and occult powers” of the ancients communicated through “highly-developed” mediums. “Let a cordial welcome be given to these ancient spirits,” he wrote, who come “offering the priceless boon of knowledge.” The spirits were prepared to share “an outpouring of ancient lore which will bless mortals and point the way to an era of brotherhood which shall no longer be a dream of Utopia but a living reality.”
“Priceless” that ancient wisdom may have been. But the spirit pictures proved a commercial dud. In May, 1874, the local press in Monitor noted Winchester’s current “financial impecuniosity, resulting from his late adventure in the ‘spirit picture’ business.”
Perhaps aware of the benefit of diversifying, Winchester had his finger in more than one entrepreneurial pie about this time. In addition to the spirit picture business, he also was engaged in selling a patent medicine, under the catchy title ofWinchester’s Hypophosphite. His own signature was prominently featured on the label.
Winchester’s patent medicine was hardly a novel idea, but it made use of all the recognized ingredients for snake-oil-style success. As one tongue-in-cheek article advised readers in 1872, the “Recipe for Getting Rich” from a patent medicine was:
“Get any simple stimulating compound or tonic, or take cheap whiskey and color it, adding any cheap stuff to give it a medicinal taste. Adopt any name you choose, the more nonsensical or mysterious the better. Get up fanciful bottles or boxes or labels. Look out that the package, contents included, don’t cost over 5 to 8 cents. Invent 50 to 100 or 1,000 wonderful cures wrought by your medicine, giving names in full, with residences, date etc., but be careful not to blunder into giving any real name of any person living in the same place. If you connect with your medicine a touching story about some old mythical person, or Indian, or South American, all the better.”
Eventually, Jonas Winchester took up “fruit-growing” near Columbia, California. And on February 3, 1887, the wild and crazy life of Jonas Winchester finally came to an end. He was 76 years old. His obituary described him — accurately — as energetic, warm-hearted, and a man of high intelligence. He was laid to rest in the Odd Fellows graveyard at Columbia, Tuolumne County, California.
As for Winchester’s family, his obituary reported that in keeping with Winchester’s own Spiritualist views, the family “rejoice in the assurance that the dear patriarch still watches over the loved of home, and will see that no evil attends their footsteps.”
So, just how did Jonas Winchester manage to get to Monitor in the first place? Ah, that’s a wild and crazy story in itself! Tune in next time for the rest of Jonas Winchester’s amazing story!
’Tis the season (or soon will be) for gift-giving. And don’t forget those upcoming New Year’s Resolutions. (Hope yours will include writing!)
Whether you’re thinking about a gift for a fellow writer, or perhaps a motivational gift for yourself, here are sixfun gift ideas. And keep reading to the end for three helpful writing tips to keep your inspiration level high through the holidays!
* * * * * * *
Notebooks to Take Everywhere: Every writer needs a handy notebook to keep them at all times — because you never know when inspiration will strike! Check out hundreds of artist-created notebooks on Threadless.com – including this charming “PalmPlants” design. From silly to crazy to just plain beautiful, grab your favorite for between $10 to $20 bucks. Or if nothing strikes your fancy, upload a design and create your own notebook! (Wouldn’t that make a great holiday gift, too!)
Preserving Memories: Gaylord.com offers tons of archival supplies that make great gifts for memoirists. They even devote a special section of their website to products for preserving family history. The Gaylord website includes helpful free tips and how-to videos, too. Just one gift possibility: their embossed leatherette photo album.
Pens & Ink:
Love the feel of a great pen? Ink & Volt is just one site offering beautiful writing implements for every taste and budget – including fountain pens ranging from $18 to over $150. Doesn’t the “Pilot” pen, shown below, look like something writer Erle Stanley Gardner would have used for his Perry Mason novels!?
Calendars for Writers:Okay, you could buy a traditional “writer’s calendar” from Writer’s Digest. Or you could make your own! Here are five free calendar templates, courtesy of Lemon Thistle. (You can’t get better than free, right?) In addition to a spot for notes on the side, this one also includes a prominent box at the top for your goal. Great concept.
A Memoir to Read by the Fire: Amazon is full of memoirs to read. And there’s nothing like a great example as a teaching tool. Choose a memoir to read this holiday season — not only as something to enjoy, but as a sample to learn from and help you improve your own craft.
A couple of possibilities: “Reminiscence: Life of a Country Doctor,” by Carl Matlock, about medicine in a small town back in the days when doctors made housecalls. (Here’s our AmazonAssociates link to find the book).
Then there’s “My Stars Are Still Shining” by Amina Warsuma, about her journey from the streets of Harlem to a career as an international fashion model. (Here’s our AmazonAssociates link for the book). As she puts it: “I have felt throughout my life that people were my greatest asset as they suddenly appeared and disappeared in my life. I have wondered for years why I came in contact with wonderful and not-so-wonderful people. As I reflect back, there is a lesson I learned from each significant encounter and involvement.” Bet you can relate!
Getting From Stuck to Finished:
And, of course (bit of shameless self-promotion here), our own “Writing a Memoir” book about the craft of memoir-writing makes a great holiday gift, too. Hope you’ll consider gifting a copy to someone you know who’s working on their life story! (Find the book here with our AmazonAssociates link).
And here are 3 Memoir Writing Tips!
These cold winter days are a great time to stay indoors and write, right? Try these three Keep-Going Tips — just for memoir writers!
1. Picture Your Hero: Choose someone who’s already written a memoir similar to the one you’re hoping to write. (Perhaps it’s the person whose memoir you picked to read, above!) Post their photo or a picture of their book right over your computer. Remember: If they can do it, you can do it, too!
2. Narrow Your Lens: A wide-angle lens is a great tool for photography. But it can be overwhelming as an approach for memoir. Instead of trying to figure out how to jam your entire life into book form, choose just one event, one place, or one person to write about next. How to pick just one? Your heart probably already knows what you most want to write about. Or, if you’re still stumped, jot down ten possible ideas as quickly as you can and throw them in a hat – then close your eyes and pick one. (The “quickly” part makes sure you don’t over-think this step.) Extra bonus from this exercise: Now you have nine more ideas just waiting for you!
3. Talk It Out: Sometimes we’re just not ready to start writing. Sometimes we need to talk about what we’re going to write, first. My theory: talking out loud and writing words down on paper use different parts of the brain. But once you can sayout loud what you’re excited about writing, it unleashes new energy. Find a friend; take them to lunch; and describe what you’re working on and what you hope to write about next. You might be amazed at the fresh inspiration you come home with to sit down and write!
Well, that’s it for this month!
Please keep me posted how your writing is going!
And if you’d like to get more memoir tips every month, you can sign up for our free Memoir Writing newsletter here — and get a free Scheduling Tool, too!
Show of hands: Who positively hated history class in school?
Virtual high-fives, my friend . . . history class was soooo boring!
Yet this is how crazy life can be: now I write books and give talks about it. So what’s changed?
Well, I finally discovered history isn’t about memorizing names, dates, and wars. Nope. It’s about people. Their loves. Their struggles. Their heartbreaks and successes.
Right now I’m preparing a talk for a local historical society. Dreading it? More like totally jazzed! I get to introduce my audience to great people and great stories – tales they’ve likely never heard before.
Stories of sadness and stories of survival. About lives taking fascinating twists and detours. Dangerous times and surprising discoveries.
Want to skip the yawns and keep your audience wide-eyed and eager to hear more about a historical topic? Here are four tips for the history teachers out there – or anyone fortunate enough to be speaking about “days gone by.”
Make it about people—because it’s the people-stories that really capture our hearts and imagination.
Use illustrations. Lots and lots of illustrations. Images that grab the imagination. (Wouldn’t you want to know what mission that gent at the very top was off to?)
Focus on forgotten or hidden history – not the names, dates, and snooze-worthy facts everyone already knows.
If possible, add something that connects those “old days” you’ve been sharing with your listener’s life today. Maybe your presentation includes a photo of an old building that’s now facing demolition. Ask people to consider helping to preserve it. Or perhaps you’ve shared facts or details that you discovered in an unpublished family history. Remind your listeners to think about getting their own life story down on paper, while they still can!
One last point: If there’s a “special sauce” that makes any speaker more fun to listen to, it’s speaking straight from the heart. Let your passion for history’s amazing tales come out. (Because, after all, if you’re not passionate, you can’t possibly expect your audience to be!)
I suspect that’s why I’m asked to speak again and again — because my own excitement is contagious. And that energy is definitely a two-way street. There’s nothing that quite beats the high of looking out at your audience and seeing eyes opening wide and hearts opening up – to history!
Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. And yes, she loves talking about history! For more about Karen and other fun stuff she’s done lately, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.
Call it the Hand of Providence. How else to explain a fragile ceramic figurine surviving one of the worst disasters to hit Genoa, Nevada — and making it through another 132 years, too?!
As you may remember, the Great Avalanche of March 17, 1882 wiped out several Genoa homes — and took at least ten lives. [In case you missed it, here’s our earlier story about the avalanche:http://blog.clairitage.com/2018/10/12/genoas-avalanche-of-1882/] Casualties included Mr. and Mrs. Nimrod Bowers, whose bodies were discovered buried in the debris of their flattened home.
The Bowers* were a German couple who’d settled in Genoa in 1864, after crossing the plains with the same wagon train as the G.W.G. Ferris family. But the tragic avalanche wasn’t quite the end to the Bowers’ story.
Sometime after the disaster, neighbor Mary Raycraft Virgin was examining the ruins of the Bowers’ home. And there amid the chaos and destruction she discovered a small porcelain figurine of the Madonna and Child — nearly unbroken except for one tiny chip. Mary eventually handed down the fragile and beautiful statuette to her daughter, Lillian Finnegan, who in turn gave it to her aunt, Annie Raycraft, who later passed it to her daughter, Josephine Raycraft Hellwinkel.
Imagine how excited we were to learn that the statue that survived the Genoa Avalanche still exists! Today it occupies a place of honor at the home of Josephine’s granddaughter, Donna Jo Hellwinkel. And it’s just as beautiful today as the day that Mary Virgin rescued it from the ruins.
Delicate details on the figurine are embellished with gold, and the features of the faces are delicately tinted. There seems to be no maker’s mark to identify where the figurine was made. But the Bowers were Catholics, and this little religious statue could well have accompanied them when they emigrated from Germany. We’re so grateful that the family has allowed us to share this photo of the precious statue with you!
And that isn’t quite the end of the Bowers’ story, either. Somehow, the Hand of Providence reached out yet again as we were working on this story. Thanks to Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, we learned that photos of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers themselves still exist, too!
The graves of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers at Genoa Cemetery are presently unmarked. But if you’d like to visit, they’re resting in Section F, Plot 15 — just downhill and a teensy bit north of Snowshoe Thompson’s grave.
Although the Bowers’ lives were cut short by the avalanche, somehow the “hand of Providence” made sure that these tiny pieces of their lives survived (as one newspaper story put it in 1947), “whole and beautiful and safe.”
_______ Grateful thanks to Marlena and Donna Hellwinkel and to Mark Jensen, Curator of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, who kindly provided information and photos for this story!
*The Bowers’ names are spelled many different ways: Meinrod, Nimrod, and Minrod; and Bower, Bauer, and Bowers. It’s thanks to Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park that we know the name of Mr. Bower’s wife: Margaret. What luck that another Margaret — Margaret Gale Ferris Dangberg — wrote Mrs. Bowers’ name on the back of her photo!
Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.