Lois Leveen

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February 14, 2012

Valentine’s Day at the Pleasure Garden

Spend Valentine's Day at the Pleasure Garden! The antebellum Pleasure Garden, that is.

Today's Fascinating Fact from The Secrets of Mary Bowser is not about the Civil War, per se. It's about where Mary goes for a date when she is living in Philadelphia in the 1850s. Unlike me, Mary did not get to spend her teen years hanging out at the Multiplex. She got to hang out at the pleasure garden.

Less kinky than it might sound to modern ears, the pleasure garden was a feature of many 19th-century cities. Living in Philadelphia, Mary's pleasure garden of choice was Lemon Hill.

As you can see from this photograph (downloaded from the Lemon Hill website), there is no place kids would rather be. Well, maybe that is less true now that they have the Multiplex. Not to mention the Youtube. But for Mary, it really was a hot time in the city.
Bored kids on a field trip
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February 13, 2012

No Starbucks Neath the Stars and Bars

It's a fact: there were no Starbucks back in the days of the Stars and Bars. Which perhaps is why you never see a portrait in which Robert E. Lee is sipping a Triple Venti Sugar free, Non fat, No foam, extra caramel, with whip caramel macchiato (btw, I do not drink coffee; I had to google to get that description. I know the punctuation is off, but I'm scared to touch it, because I have no idea what any of it means).

In fact, coffee was one of the many items in short supply due to the Union blockade of the Confederacy. At least, real coffee (you know, the kind made from coffee beans) was in short supply. So desperate coffee drinkers turned to all sorts of ersatz alternatives. The most popular of which was parched corn coffee.

Which makes you wonder what the *unpopular* alternatives were.

And so concludes today's fascinating fact.

92 more days till publication! Only 92 more facts . . . oh it is so hard to choose. Lemme know if there's a fact you'd like to share or a question you'd like me to answer. Something that has something to do with my book, not with my fantastic fashion sense (answer to that is always LEOPARD).
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February 12, 2012

Plastered Presidents

Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis both got plastered. Or at least their walls did.

While I was researching my novel, I was fortunate to travel to Richmond, Virginia and visit the Museum of the Confederacy. It's located in the former White House of the Confederacy, which means I toured the actual rooms where Mary Bowser spied on Confederate leaders by posing as a slave.

At one point in the tour, the guide called our attention to the wallpaper in one of the rooms, which was patterned to look like wood paneling. The guide told us the same wallpaper was used in the White House in Washington, D.C.

It seems a nation can be torn apart by slavery and by war, and yet unite around household decor. Or maybe that's the other way around? Anyway, if you have a chance to visit the MOC, definitely check out the wallpaper.
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February 11, 2012

It’s Halftime in the Confederate States of America

Did you know that Clint Eastwood in the campiest film EVER made?

And that it happens to be about the Civil War?

Wounded prisoner, remote girls' boarding school.



How's that for today's fascinating Civil War "fact"?
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February 10, 2012

When Goth Chicks Wore Hoop Skirts

Today's fascinating fact is more of a fascinating phenom, namely the mid-nineteenth-century obsession with death and mourning. In the antebellum period, death was part of life. Families experienced the death of children. Most people died at home (rather than in hospitals). And then the Civil War brought death on an unprecedented scale.

Even before the war, mourning was a highly ritualized event.

Entire stores, such as Beeson and Son's in Philadelphia, were dedicated solely to selling mourning attire. Yes, Goth chicks, a store where ALL THE CLOTHES were black.

Godey's Ladies' Book, which was sort of the Cosmo magazine of the day, but without all the sex tips, ran articles about what to wear and do in mourning (alas, these did not come in Cosmo-quiz format).

And of course, there was the exceptionally creepy practice of wearing jewelry made out of your dead loved one's hair. And not just a single lock, like some hairy version of the Italian horn. Women wove whole landscapes crafted out of different shades of dead beloveds' hair. I have yet to see the 21st century Goth chicks take that one on.

While you await the 95 more days till *The Secrets of Mary Bowser,* you can bide your time learning more about nineteenth-century-mourning attire here: http://www.librarycompany.org/laurelhill/dressed.htm

And don't worry, I won't be wearing anybody's hair but my own on book tour. Well, maybe some of the cats' but that's pretty much par for the course.
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