Having a Drink with Hemingway

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Last night I went to Shaker’s Cigar Bar in Milwaukee. The bar, once a speakeasy and brothel, built over the site of a cemetery, is said to be haunted. They have discovered quite a few spirits. There is eleven year old Elizabeth, thought to be pictured below, who broke her neck in a fall from a tree when it was a cemetery in the 1800’s  (ladies, be careful – she’s known to haunt the woman’s restroom).

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There are two ghosts of unnamed women who worked the brothel and committed suicide on the property, and one of Molly Brennan, a woman of the night who was murdered by her lover. With two murder victims buried in the basement, and an unknown number of bodies that were not moved when the building was constructed over the cemetery, there are plenty of restless spirits roaming the property.

The building was also once owned by Al Capone. He even left behind a safe. The current owner has elected not to break into said safe. Probably a good idea, just ask Geraldo Rivera.

 

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Any of you who know me, know this is right up my alley. Just check out my other blog posts “Spiritual Journey” and “Life Imitates Art, Art Imitates Life, Life After Death“. I am not a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and the spirit world. Despite my desire to meet someone from the other side, we did not have any supernatural experiences while on the tour. As the tour guide will tell you, ghosts don’t perform on command. The history and architecture alone were interesting and worth the ticket price.

Another attraction of the bar are their cocktails featuring, the once illegal, absinthe.  For those of you who don’t know what absinthe is, it’s a liquor made from anise, fennel, and wormwood. Once called the “Green Fairy,” it was first produced in Switzerland in the late 18th century.  It became very popular in Switzerland, France and the United States, especially in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately for absinthe, it got a bad rap. There is a chemical in wormwood called thujone, that is not only poisonous, but thought (at the time) to be a hallucinogen. It’s no wonder that J.K. Rowling made one of the main ingredients in her Draught of the Living Death potion.

Of course, serving hallucinogenic alcohol to the customers, has nothing to do with anyone possibly seeing ghosts on the tour!

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During it’s heyday, absinthe became the drink of the creative crowd; the writers and the artists. French poets Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud were absinthe drinkers. So were artists  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent Van Gogh. The authors that favored the licorice flavored beverage included Oscar Wilde, Alfred Jarry, and Ernest Hemingway. These are just a few of the artistic minded that preferred to partake in absinthe.

Hemingway loved absinthe and even created his own cocktail. He mixed absinthe with champagne and called it “Death in the Afternoon” after his book of the same name.

I have to admit, I have yet to  read Hemingway. I know…  his books are Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning classics, but I was initially turned off by the idea of over 100 pages of an old man sitting in a boat. That being said, his books are on my list of books to read, but I have a lot on that list, and I’m still in the midst of the entire works of Charles Dickens. Sometimes I feel like Henry Bemis in the Twilight Episode Time Enough at Last.”

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock”

I can understand Mr. Bemis – so many books, so little time! So Hemingway, along with many other greats, are on the ever increasing, impossible to complete, “to read” list.

Regardless of the fact that I cannot call myself a fan of Hemingway, as an author, the man is an icon. So I raised a silent toast to his creativity and success (and secretly hoped his spirit would bestow just a bit of it on me) as I sipped on a glass of the cocktail he created. I do hope I enjoy his books more than I did his cocktail.  Just a note, I did try a sip of absinthe served the more traditional way, with water and a sugar cube. I found that to be much more palatable than Hemingway’s drink.

Unfortunately Hemingway, along with absinthe, met a tragic demise. Hemingway committed suicide, and absinthe was made illegal. It was blamed for crimes, immoral behavior, and murder.

Here is a quote from Oscar Wilde on the effects of absinthe.

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad. Three nights I sat up all night drinking absinthe, and thinking that I was singularly clear-headed and sane. The waiter came in and began watering the sawdust.The most wonderful flowers, tulips, lilies and roses, sprang up, and made a garden in the cafe. “Don’t you see them?” I said to him. “Mais non, monsieur, il n’y a rien.”

Now absinthe is back. Yes, thujone is poisonous, but you cannot consume enough absinthe to reach toxic levels without first dying of alcohol poisoning and the new liquor contains less thujone than the early versions. As to it’s hallucinogenic properties –  despite Van Gogh and Hemingway’s known mental instability, and regardless of Oscar Wilde’s tulips, it is not proven that it has any hallucinogenic effects at all.  I certainly didn’t see any ghosts after imbibing  my “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail.

Absinthe is not all innocent though. It has a very high alcohol content (110 to 144 proof) which may have enhanced  the genius and creativity of those who used it , but also, most certainly, aided in their eventual deaths.  Besides Hemingway and Van Gogh’s suicides; Wilde, Lautrec, and the other artists I listed, (with the exception of  Rimbaud who died fairly young of bone cancer) all suffered from poor health that was attributed at least in part, if not completely, on drug and alcohol addiction. So although absinthe is  not the creator of visions that drove men to kill, it still had the ability to kill. To be honest it still does, but only as much as any other alcoholic beverage. One only needs to practice moderation, as with anything else to avoid it’s curse. At Shaker’s there is a three absinthe drink limit for any customer on any given evening.

As for me, I’m glad I tried it, but I think I’ll just have to find my creativity on my own. I may not win a Pulitzer, or recreate the magic of a starry night, but I may live long enough to enjoy the things I do create.

Besides, I want to remember, in vivid detail, any ghost sightings I may have, and not wonder if it was just a hallucination! And if the ghost of Hemingway himself ever visits me? I will thank him for a pleasant evening, sharing his drink, even if it wasn’t to my taste.

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Journey

Spiritual Journey

by D.L. Marriott

 

 

My husband and I love to travel. We usually travel with friends, shared experiences are always better. This time it provided witnesses. This story would be hard to believe, even to me, if I didn’t have them.

First a little bit about myself. My favorite time of the year is fall. I love the food, the crisp air, and the bright, yet earthy colors of the season.

I’m intrigued by early American history, and collect early American antiques. My love of all things colonial is enhanced, by the fact that my mother’s family settled on the east coast only a few years after the Mayflower. My family has played a part in U.S. history, my great-great-grandfather’s first cousin was President Grover Cleveland. We were royalty, so to speak, in America.

So I was, understandably, like a five year old going to Disneyland when we took a trip to New England in the autumn of 2004. It was my dream trip. It turned out to be much more than that.

We started in Boston and drove north through every seaside village we along the way, finally landing in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was breath taking. Every view out the car window looked like a picture postcard. I was particularly drawn to the quintessential white clapboard church. They’re all over New England, you can’t drive five miles without finding one. The image of the old white church, surrounded by fall foliage was the epitome of “Autumn in New England” to me. I’m pretty sure I turned from that delighted five year old into an obnoxious little urchin to my companions, as every time we drove past one I pointed out the window practically hopping up and down in my seat.

“Oh, look at the pretty little church,” was my mantra.

At first everyone agreed. By the end, it was usually a groan and a nod. I couldn’t help it they were just so…pretty.

Then there were the antique stores. Now I’m like the five year old in a candy store! You just don’t see antiques of this quality back home. We were stopping at every antique store we could find.

The first morning we awoke in a lovely bed and breakfast. Did I mention I just love country inns too? We started out early, wanting plenty of time to enjoy the sites as we made our way up the coast. The first town we came to was Essex, Massachusetts. Started in the 1700’s, it’s a town frozen in time. It’s also dotted with cute little antique stores. What more could I ask for? Unfortunately it was a bit early in the morning and most of the stores were still closed. We didn’t have the time to wait so we chalked it up to fate. Maybe we weren’t meant to stop. There were plenty of other towns, plenty of other shops to see. At the last moment, we noticed one antique shop that was open, but we couldn’t find a parking spot. Fate was toying with us. We had decided to just go on to the next town when we spied one solitary parking space. We pulled in, not believing our luck.

Knowing my family’s history in the area, I had talked with our friends about how fascinating it would be to find the grave of one of my ancestors on this trip. Of course, we weren’t going to take the time to actually wander through graveyards, so it was mostly said in jest. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the car and found myself standing in front of a very old cemetery. The only parking spot in this whole town and it is right in front of a cemetery. Is fate messing with me?

I laughed. “Hey! I wonder if any of my ancestor’s are buried here?”

I never got another word out as my eyes fell on a sign attached to the old wooden gate. It stated that the Reverend John Cleaveland was buried there. It turns out the Reverend helped to found the church and the town. I wasn’t sure this was one of my relatives, but I did know that that was the spelling my ancestors had used. We wandered in and found his grave along with the graves of his two wives, Mary and Mary. His first wife had died young and he wed again. Eventually I looked him up, our time was not wasted, he was family.

Already excited by this experience, we made our way into the antique store. It was packed full of wondrous treasures. In Wisconsin, it would have been a museum. My husband and I were both drawn to a cabinet in the corner of the basement. We fell in love with it immediately. Even the price was right, but we had a weeks worth of antique shopping. We couldn’t buy the first thing we saw.

We spent our week reenacting witch trials, hiking, sailing, whale watching, and eating a ton of seafood. I was amazed by the scenery, including all those pretty little churches. We went through dozens of antique shops, but never found another piece that we loved as much as that first one. Something about the fact that we found it in a town of one of my ancestors made me want it all the more. For all I knew, it was once his. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. I talked to my husband, and we talked to our friends. In the end the plans were changed and they agreed to go back to Essex. My heart ached with the hope that the mahogany secretary was still there. Fate was still with me, when we got there, it was still standing in the corner. Now for the haggling. When we discussed it amongst ourselves, we had to take in account our finances. The cost of shipping would be almost a third of the tag price. As much as we wished it, even out loud, we could not expect the owner to drop the price by that much. We would be lucky to get the customary ten percent discount. It was with this knowledge that we approached the woman behind the counter. She had quite the story to tell us.

“My goodness, everyone seems interested in that secretary. Three floors of antiques and we’ve had more people asking about that one piece than anything else all week. We even had one couple who had agreed to buy it, but the husband got angry when we had to ask him to move his car that was blocking our driveway. They just drove off, didn’t take it after all.”

Was there some otherworldly force at work? All that interest and it was still here waiting for me? What else did I need to believe that it was meant to belong to me?

We explained that we would need to make arrangements to have it shipped to Wisconsin. We were shocked beyond belief when the owner offered to not only make all the necessary arrangements, but to cover the cost of shipping if we paid the asking price. We never even asked for the discount. This piece was meant to be mine! We were told a little about the piece. It had been acquired from a local estate. It had possibly spent it’s entire life in Essex, and was from the same era as the time the Reverend had lived there. It fueled the illogical idea I had that this might be a family heirloom.

On the way back to the airport, we stopped in Rockport to do a bit of shopping. We were returning to the car when I realized that even though I had taken hundred’s of pictures, I had never taken one of any of the “pretty little churches” that I had oohed and aahed over. I could see a white steeple towering over the shops down the street. It was in the opposite direction of where we were headed. I sighed in defeat, following along behind my friends. They had put up with enough of my childlike behavior, I couldn’t ask for this too. Then I stopped. I wanted that picture. It was silly, but I wanted it enough to tell everyone to wait while I walked two blocks out of my way to take it. This time it had to be more than fate. It wasn’t until I got home and looked up the history of the church, that I discovered it was founded by another one of my ancestors, the Reverend Ebenezer Cleaveland. Of all the “pretty little churches” I had seen, I was compelled to take a picture of that one. I felt like my ancestors were speaking to me.

By the time the secretary arrived at our home, I was convinced it had to belong to my family. There were just too many coincidences, too many times fate stepped in to bring it to me. As soon as we had it out of it’s crate, we searched for some marking, some slip of paper that might give us a clue. We never did find any, but what we did find was that the upper cabinet was locked and there was no key. I had to question fate. That was until I remembered the beat up margarine container full of old keys we had taken from my grandfather’s house when he passed away several years before. Why we had taken that, of all the things my pack rat grandfather had collected, I do not know. Fate again? We went through every key, it was the last one that opened the doors. The Cleveland family had the key. I know it isn’t proof. I know some would call me crazy. But I know what I believe. I believe in fate, and I believe in spirits. That was no mere vacation. Those were not just coincidences. The spirits of my ancestors took me on a journey, and I have witnesses to prove it.

Addendum – November 10, 2012

My husband and I had gone through a series of moves, the last one in the fall of 2011. Somehow, during the move, the infamous key was again lost. We were upset, but held out hope that we would find it eventually.

Today, we were organizing some items in the antique secretary and my husband mentioned the key and how upset he was about it’s loss. I was more so, as I had been the one in charge of making sure the key had stayed safe. I found myself silently wishing we would just find that key. I pulled open a drawer in another cabinet to put something away and there, right out in the open, on top of everything else in the drawer, sat the key. Not only had I searched that drawer more than once, but I had just been in that same drawer a week before, and I know the key wasn’t there.  So, did the spirits of my relatives hear my plea and return the lost key? I personally think so.

Life imitates art, art imitates life, life after death…

Life imitates art, art imitates life, life after death...

I have to start this out with the statement that, although I write a lot of fiction, this story is completely, absolutely, without embellishment, pure non-fiction. This is exactly how it happened, or should I say is currently happening to me as I sit and type this. Cross my heart and hope to die.
Given what I’m about to tell you, maybe I shouldn’t say that.
This week started out with my attempt to write something for this blog. My head was not in the best of places, feeling frustrated with my lack of time to do any quality writing. What I wrote, I decided, was poor at best so I didn’t post it. That made me feel even more frustrated as I am feeling pressure to blog more often. Today, Wednesday, is my one day off of work, devoted to writing. I spent all day at my favorite coffee shop. Although I did some great re-working and editing on my novel, I wasn’t feeling very inspired.
As some of you may know, the novel I’m currently working on is about a young woman, Katherine.  While walking through an old cemetery, contemplating the lives of the people buried there, she inadvertently ends up traveling back in time directly into the life of the person’s headstone that she touches, just before their time of their death. This idea was born as my husband and I drove past a small local cemetery (pictured above). Although we’d driven by it many times, on this particular occasion I tried to read as many headstones as I could. I, like my main character, started to wonder about those names. Who were those people? What were their lives like? Did they still have family members that remember them… visit their graves? Or were they lost in time, just names and dates etched in stone? I went back to take some pictures of the cemetery. It seemed small, quaint, with a chapel at the back. There were a mix of newer stones right alongside very old, almost, illegible ones. Perfect for my novel.
In my story, which is a fair way toward finished, I needed the cemetery to be bigger, yet I didn’t want to lose that small old cemetery feel. So I had my character discover a path behind the chapel that leads to a hidden section she’d never known was there. This was already down on paper, or virtual paper I should say, as everything is written on my laptop.
In fact it had been a part of the story for at least nine months when a good friend, Sue, asked me if I’d ever really walked around that cemetery. I said I’d been there once, but didn’t go too far. She said she’d just recently gone on a geocache (a treasure hunt led by hand-held GPS). My first thought was, really? In a cemetery? But that thought was quickly halted when she said “Did you realize there are two more cemeteries hidden in the woods behind the church?” Well, as you can imagine, I was shocked. So today, after my less than inspired day of working on my book, I stopped there.
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By my friends recommendation, I parked on the street and walked, rather than drove into the cemetery. I walked up the hill towards the church and around the back. There, winding through the woods, up a steep hill, was a paved road. At this point I heard a loud caw and look up to see a solitary crow in a dead tree, juxtaposed against the scene of the butterfly fluttering around the flowers at the base of the trunk. I made a mental note to make sure to add that to my story.
I followed the road around and up and sure enough, it opened up onto another cemetery. This graveyard also had a mix of older and newer stones and was even smaller than the main one that I had just come from. By this time my heart was beating a bit faster. I’m not sure if it was finding the hidden cemetery of my imagination, or the hike up the hill in the heat and humidity. I didn’t walk around this middle cemetery, instead I searched for the way up to the third cemetery my friend had mentioned.
There in the corner, barely visible, was a narrow path in the woods. This one was not paved, it was merely mowed through the woods. The path wound around a bit, the overgrown trees and shrubs brushing against my shoulders. I made another mental note to include this imagery into my story as it was doing a good job of creeping me out in real life. My only thought was that it was too sunny, the beams of light dancing through the leaves too pretty. In my story I needed to make it cloudy, maybe even an approaching storm. Again I must emphasize, this is REALLY true. Only moments after this random thought, a rumble of thunder echoed in the distance. REALLY!
So, this path did indeed open up into a third cemetery. This one much larger than even the first and looked to be more modern. I wandered a bit but decided I would wait and come back another day, since that rumble of thunder had been the precursor to some approaching clouds that were definitely calling for rain. As I walked back toward the path, I thought to myself that it was that middle cemetery, carved into the woods, that had the ambiance I’d imagined. I started to mentally go through the gravestones and lives my character visits to figure out exactly which one(s) she would find in this back cemetery. Although I already had a description of the cemetery written along with it’s hidden back cemetery, I still hadn’t decided which grave she’d find there. There were certain ones that needed to be clumped together, and in the more visible portion of the cemetery, for reasons I can’t tell you here (sorry, you’ll just have to buy the book when it’s finished). It came to me that the best one for her to find in this hidden cemetery would be the one of an eight year old boy. I would make that hidden cemetery a children’s cemetery. As soon as that idea occurred to me, I knew it was the perfect choice. Just the idea gave me goosebumps.
As I came out of the wooded path back to the middle graveyard, I decided to take the time to look around a bit. I walked up to the first headstone and was shocked by the dates. It was a child. I walked to the next one. No dates, just the word infant under the name. The third stone, another child. I swear to you this is just how it happened. I thought “it should be a children’s cemetery” and it was, or at least the section I was standing in was.
I started to walk briskly back to my car. I had to write this all down. As I passed a bush on the way out, a bird suddenly flew out of it. I think I jumped a foot! I’m pretty sure that will make it into the book as well.
So I sit in my car, laptop balanced against the steering wheel, still parked by the cemetery. Despite the sweltering 90 degree weather and the barely cracked windows because that rain finally came, I’m trembling and have goosebumps. I couldn’t wait, I needed to write this all down as soon as I could. I’ve gotten inspiration, not only for this blog, but also for my novel.
And it seems to have come from the grave.