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The Rise and Fall of Aviation’s Golden Couple

by Corey Mead

During the height of the roaring twenties, Jessie Miller longs for adventure. Fleeing a passionless marriage in the backwaters of Australia, twenty-three-year-old Jessie arrives in London and promptly falls in with the Bright Young Things, those gin-soaked boho-chic intellectuals draped in suits, flapper dresses, and pearls. At a party, Jessie meets Captain William Lancaster, married himself and fresh from the Royal Air Force, with a scheme in his head to become as famous as Charles Lindbergh, who has just crossed the Atlantic. Lancaster will do Lindy one better: fly from London to Melbourne, and in Jessie Miller, he’s found the perfect co-pilot.

Bill and Chubbie 1928

Bill Lancaster and Chubbie Miller (Launceston, 1928)

Within months the two embark on a half-year journey across the globe, hopping from one colonial outpost to the next. But like world records, marriage vows can be broken, and upon their landing in Melbourne Jessie and William are not only international celebrities, but also deeply in love.

Yet the crash of 1929 catches up to even the fastest aviator, and the couple finds themselves in dire straits at their rented house on the outskirts of Miami—the bright glare of the limelight fading quickly. To make ends meet Jessie agrees to write a memoir, and picks the dashing Haden Clarke to be her ghostwriter. It’s not long before this toxic mix of bootleg booze and a handsome interloper leads to a shocking crime, a trial that rivets and scandalizes the world, and a reckless act of abandon to win back former glory.

The Lost Pilots is based on years of research, and full of adventure, forbidden passion, crime, scandal and tragedy. It is a masterwork of narrative nonfiction that firmly restores one of aviation’s leading female pioneers to her rightful place in history. Keep reading for an excerpt of this extraordinary true story.

* * * * *

On a muggy June night in 1927, a whirl of music, laughter, and conversation spilled from the open windows of an artist’s Baker Street studio in London. Paintings crowded the studio’s walls, but actual furniture was sparse, with only a low sofa, a few scattered cushions, and a single chair in which to sit. The party guests that night didn’t care; as they weaved throughout the crowded, cigarette-smoke-filled room, they felt an immutable kinship with the chaos and promise of the blossoming Jazz Age. They were young women in pearls and fashionable dresses, and young men in suits, their jackets abandoned in the heat, with sweating tumblers of gin and tonic eagerly clutched in their hands. They were the Bright Young Things of London, a pleasure-seeking assortment of wealthy socialites, bohemian artists, and middle-class rule-breakers, who gloried in their own irresponsibility and blissfully debauched fun. But beneath the bright, shiny facade, though they were not eager to admit it, the traumatic shadow of World War I lingered always over their frivolity, adding to it an air of desperation, a last-ditch alcohol-soaked escape from the black dog that trailed in their paths, no matter how privileged their social status and connections.

One of the party guests, a dark-haired, full-lipped twenty-five-year-old Australian woman with sparkling eyes who shared a one-room apartment downstairs, stood entranced at the scene before her, thrilled by the vitality of her newly adopted city. Jessie Keith-Miller—jokingly called “Chubbie” by her friends, a childhood nickname that had evolved into a winking reference to her slender five-foot-one frame—had arrived in London only weeks before, leaving behind Australia and a husband to whom she was unhappily married. This was her first London party, and it was filled with the kinds of glamorous, intriguing artists and bohemians who she had dreamed would fill her new life.

With the party in full swing, Jessie followed the party’s host, George, around the room. He introduced her to a smattering of acquaintances, before stopping in front of a tall, lean, well-dressed man with a high forehead, thinning brown hair, and a crinkly smile. “This is Flying Captain Bill Lancaster,” George told Jessie. “He’s flying to Australia. That should give you something in common—you ought to get together.”

Lancaster radiated geniality and good cheer, and he was in a chatty mood. In no time at all the handsome pilot was telling Jessie about his plans for an upcoming solo flight to Australia, a feat that had never been attempted with the type of “light” airplane he intended to fly, one that would weigh significantly less than the heavier variety of plane that previous fliers had employed. (In aviation, the terms “heavy” and “light” refer simply to an aircraft’s takeoff weight.) Though the idea had been germinating for some time, Lancaster’s imagination had been newly fired by an event that had electrified the world just one month earlier.

On May 20, 1927, at Roosevelt Field on Long Island, Charles Lindbergh, an unknown U.S. Air Mail pilot, had climbed into his self-designed lightweight aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis, to begin the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Thirty-three hours later, an exhausted Lindbergh touched down at Le Bourget Airport in Paris before an ecstatic crowd of more than a hundred thousand spectators. In that instant, Lindbergh’s life, and the world of aviation, were forever changed.

Lindbergh became the most famous man of his day, while aviators themselves became the age’s new idols. In the words of aviatrix Elinor Smith Sullivan, at that time the youngest U.S.-government-licensed pilot on record, “[Before Lindbergh’s flight] people seemed to think we [aviators] were from outer space or something. But after Charles Lindbergh’s flight, we could do no wrong. It’s hard to describe the impact Lindbergh had on people. Even the first walk on the moon doesn’t come close. The twenties was such an innocent time, and people were still so religious—I think they felt like this man was sent by God to do this.” Speaking the month after Lindbergh’s flight, former secretary of state Charles Evans Hughes captured the common mood: “Colonel Lindbergh has displaced everything… He fills all our thought. He has displaced politics… [H]e has lifted us into the upper air that is his home.”

Jessie Miller

Jessie Miller (Parksfield, 1930)

As Lindbergh biographer Thomas Kessner writes, “It is impossible today to comprehend the scale of his popularity, the void he filled in a bloody era searching for fresh heroes and new departures. War on a scale no one had ever imagined had drained the world of optimism. And in an age desperately searching for a moral equivalent of war, he demonstrated transcendence without menace.” The groundbreaking employment of aircraft in World War I—the first major conflict to feature such large-scale use of flying machines—had proven aviation’s effectiveness as a tool of death and destruction, but Lindbergh recovered its essential thrill. After his record-setting flight, applications in the United States for pilot’s licenses soared, the numbers tripling in the remaining months of 1927 alone. The number of licensed aircraft almost immediately quadrupled, as a long-skeptical public embraced air travel with the fervor of the newly converted.

Though he didn’t mention it to Jessie Keith-Miller at the Baker Street party, Bill Lancaster had witnessed World War I’s atrocities firsthand, from the gory battlefield trenches, and his natural recklessness, combined with his inborn optimism, made him a perfect example of the 1920s breed of flier. With Lindbergh as his model, Lancaster seemed to take it as a given that the flight from England to Australia he envisioned would bring him worldwide fame.

Lancaster’s knowledge of Australia was limited, however, and so, as he chatted with Jessie, he peppered her with questions about her country’s airfields, local routes, and weather. Twelve months earlier Lancaster had left his job as a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot, and now, at age twenty-nine, with flying jobs growing scarce and a wife and two children to support, he was anxious to make a name for himself. Though Jessie could answer few of his questions, and though she could barely hear him above the noise of the party, Lancaster was positive she could help him simply by virtue of her being Australian. No doubt her impish buoyancy and wide, winning smile added to her considerable appeal. “Come and have tea with me tomorrow at the Authors’ Club at Whitehall,” he urged her. “I’ll show you the plans I’ve made so far.”

The party’s freely flowing alcohol may have enhanced the moment, but Lan- caster’s invitation was a perfect match for Jessie’s own impulsiveness. It was a far cry from the circumscribed nature of her upbringing in a family marked by religious conservatism and Victorian sternness. Her father, Charles Bev- eridge, was a clergyman’s son; her mother, Ethelwyn, a clergyman’s daughter; her uncle ran a parish in Melbourne.

She was born Jessie Maude Beveridge on September 13, 1901, in the tiny western Australia settlement of Southern Cross, little more than a decade after the town’s founding by gold prospectors. Her father had arrived in town four years earlier to manage the local branch of the Commercial Bank, setting up residence in a small apartment above the bank. The year after Jessie another daughter, Eleanor, was born, but, tragically, she died an infant.

In 1905 the Beveridge family moved to Perth, where Jessie’s mother gave birth to a son named Thomas. Here, in the capital city, Jessie and Thomas formed an indissoluble bond, one that grew only more robust with each passing year. When Jessie was seven, the Commercial Bank relocated her father to a branch in the mining town of Broken Hill, halfway across the country, where the family finally bought their own house. Jessie and Thomas attended Convent High School, where Jessie excelled in singing, piano, and music theory. By all accounts she could have had a fine career as a professional musician if she had so chosen.

In 1916 the bank transferred Charles to a new branch in the agricultural town of Timaru, New Zealand. Jessie attended the elite Craighead School, a newly founded private institution dedicated to producing “refined” and “cultured” young women. At Craighead, Jessie was a socially popular star athlete, but just three years later the family moved once again, this time to Melbourne, where Charles worked in the bank’s main office. By this point Jessie had had her fill of relocating—each time the family moved, she had to go through the lengthy and painful process of re-establishing herself and gaining new friends. She also felt oppressed by her family’s staunchly religious lifestyle, which entailed endless visits to church and nonstop Bible reading. For an energetic, audacious spirit like hers, the atmosphere was insufferably claustrophobic. Jessie was keen for an escape.

Bill and Chubbie in Darwin

Bill and Chubbie after arriving in Darwin Mar19,1928 (AP Photo)

At the age of seventeen, Jessie met a Weekly Times journalist named Keith Miller, who was five years older. Though Miller’s personality was far more sober than hers, Jessie, desperate to leave her family, unhesitatingly said yes when Miller proposed to her the following year. The two were married in a Melbourne suburb on December 3, 1919. It soon became apparent, however, that the young couple had little in common. “We were quite maladjusted,” Jessie recalled later in life. “It was like two babies getting married. Our characters were poles apart.” Jessie was headstrong and temperamental, whereas Keith was calm and steady. The quickly apparent gulf between their personalities was exacerbated by an inability to have children: the couple lost one baby born twelve weeks early, and two subsequent miscarriages convinced doctors that Jessie wasn’t fit to bear a child.

Eventually, the couple settled into a rhythm as friends, but they both accepted that they were no longer in love. Keith wanted a traditional wife who would stay at home, whereas Jessie wanted to travel the world and have “the right to live my own life.” She was still itching to break the bonds of her sheltered existence.

Not long after, Jessie’s father passed away from throat cancer at the relatively young age of fifty-seven. Two years later, her beloved brother, Thomas, who had become a midshipman in the navy, died suddenly of cerebral meningitis at age twenty-one. Jessie, caught utterly off guard, was devastated. As children, she and Tommy had spent hours lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, concocting plans to travel the world in search of adventure. He had been her closest confidant, her most intimate sounding board, the person who had kept her sane in the midst of her family’s upheavals and cloyingly pious beliefs. Now her world seemed permanently scarred by misfortune: Tommy and her father were dead, her sister, Eleanor, had died an infant, and Jessie was stuck in a passionless marriage. Emotionally, she was hollowed-out—if not suicidal, then certainly deeply depressed. She felt trapped at the bottom of the world, doomed to wither, barren and alone, beneath the unforgiving Australian sun.

The Lost PilotsIn the throes of her depression, Jessie decided her only option was to find something worth living for—even if she had no idea what that might be. For months she cast around fruitlessly for ideas, until finally a workable plan presented itself. Her father’s family lived in England; at the urging of her aunt, she would go and visit them in an attempt to escape her gloom. Pleading with Keith that the trip was essential to her mental health, Jessie found employment as a door-to-door carpet sweeper saleswoman in order to save up funds for her trip. She even invited Keith to accompany her to England, but he demurred, possibly because his journalism career was well established in Australia. The two may have made a poor married couple, but they were on friendly-enough terms, and Keith agreed to Jessie’s plan: she would live in England for six months while he provided her with a three-pound weekly allowance. He asked only that she earn enough money to pay for her return voyage home.

The driven, headstrong Jessie made a powerful saleswoman. As one of her customers later recalled, Jessie had knocked on the door of his Melbourne apartment sporting an ear-to-ear grin. When he opened up, Jessie had “thrust a neat, suede-shoed foot between the door and the sash, and refused to remove it until I had agreed to buy a newfangled carpet sweeper that I did not want.” When the customer later spotted Jessie at a club, he asked a female friend who she was. With a knowing smile, the woman replied that Jessie was “a hurricane saleswoman.”

As soon as she had saved up enough money, Jessie, with her devoted friend Margaret Starr in tow, purchased a third-class ticket for the voyage to England. She and Margaret planned to stay in London for six months. When they arrived in the city, in the spring of 1927, they rented a flat and began insinuating themselves into the local community of Australian ex-pats. The freedom and stimulation Jessie had craved for so long were finally hers for the taking.

Now, at the Baker Street party, chatting with Bill Lancaster about his plans to fly to Australia, Jessie had a sudden vision of how she might further change her life.

COREY MEAD is an Associate Professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is the author of Angelic Music: The Story of Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Armonica and War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict. His work has appeared in TimeSalonThe Daily Beast, and numerous literary journals.

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The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy

by William Klaber & Philip Melanson

Updated for the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s murder, Shadow Play explores ignored witness accounts, coerced testimony, bullet-hole evidence, and other issues surrounding the political homicide.

Robert F. Kennedy

On June 4, 1968, just after he had declared victory in the California presidential primary, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Captured a few feet away, gun in hand, was a young Palestinian-American named Sirhan Sirhan. The case against Sirhan was declared “open and shut” and the court proceedings against him were billed as “the trial of the century”; American justice at its fairest and most sure. But was it? By careful examination of the police files, hidden for twenty years, Shadow Play explores the chilling significance of altered evidence, ignored witnesses, and coerced testimony. It challenges the official assumptions and conclusions about this most troubling, and perhaps still unsolved, political murder. Keep reading for an excerpt of William Klaber and Philip Melanson’s Shadow Play.

* * * * *

John Howard stepped through the door of the interrogation room and stared at the man seated in the chair. The prisoner, now showered, looked considerably better than he had before. Still, nobody knew his name.

An hour earlier Howard had told the prisoner, who had not been saying anything, that he had the right to remain silent. The slightly built, dark young man responded politely that he wished to “abide” by that “admonishment.” Well, that settled one thing; he could speak English. The deputy district attorney then offered a card with his telephone number: “If you want to talk to someone.”

Upon learning that the husky man in a suit was with the Los Angeles County DA’s office, the prisoner brightened and made his first non-perfunctory utterance since being in custody.

“Remember Kirschke?”

“I’ve known Jack for a long time,” answered a surprised Howard. “Why? Why did you ask that?”

“Interested,” the young man replied.

When John Howard got word a little later that the prisoner was asking to speak with him, he had forgotten all about Jack Kirschke. But the mysterious young man had not. To Howard’s chagrin, that is what he wanted to talk about.

“Yeah, we were talking about Kirschke.” Howard sighed, thinking that if they could get going about one thing it might lead to something else. “How come you followed that?”

“No, I didn’t follow it. I was hoping you’d clue me in on it, brief me on it, you might say.”

“It was a tough lawsuit. You’d have to know Jack. He was a deputy. I worked with him.”

“No, I mean—I mean the substance of the case.”

Jack Kirschke, like Howard, had been a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. Several years earlier, he had been charged with the bedroom murder of his wife and her lover. The story made headlines for months.

“The substance,” Howard found himself saying, “actually was whether or not he was the guy that—there is no question his wife and a friend of hers got shot. There is no question about that. The question was who did it.”

But the prisoner wanted to talk about things more subtle than guilt or innocence. Had Jack Kirschke sown the seeds of his own destruction? In prosecuting others, did he feel he was above the law?

Suddenly the absurdity of the situation overwhelmed John Howard. Only hours before, the unidentified man in front of him had gunned down a United States senator, a presidential candidate. Now the two of them were having a friendly philosophical discussion. Either this guy was one cool customer, or something was wrong. Howard’s instincts took over.

“Do you know where we are now?” he asked. “I’ve told you you’ve been booked.”

“I don’t know,” replied the prisoner.

“You are in custody. You’ve been booked. You understand what I’ve been—”

“I have been before a magistrate, have I or have I not?”

“No, you have not. You will be taken before a magistrate as soon as possible. You’re downtown Los Angeles in the central jail. Now when I say this, if you know, you know—you know—I’m not saying this because I don’t know. We’re not communicating very well up to now, but you are downtown Los Angeles, okay? This is the main jail for the L.A. Police Department. You’ll be booked into a cell . . . do you understand that? Do you understand where you are?”


At about 4 A.M. Howard was relieved by George Murphy of the DA’s office and Sergeant Bill Jordan of the Los Angeles police. The prisoner still had not revealed his identity, nor had there been any talk about what had happened earlier that night. The conversations that did occur were the kind one might have in a bus-terminal waiting room. The officers asked the prisoner if he had an extensive education.

“No,” he replied. “I read a lot.”

“I gathered that,” said Jordan. “You like to read?”

“I enjoy it.”

“What do you like to read?” asked Murphy.

The prisoner tried to engage the officers in a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Depression-era novel about a white attorney in rural Alabama who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 and touched the conscience of the nation. Now, in the basement of police headquarters, it was being offered as a topic of conversation by the captured assailant of a United States senator. Neither Murphy nor Jordan, however, had read the book.

The men found common ground for conversation when the prisoner confessed that he didn’t understand the stock market and asked the officers what they knew about it.

“A lot of money changes hands on stocks,” said Jordan. “It’s kind of a legalized gambling is about what it boils down to.”

“If you wanted to buy stock, you’d do it just the same way I would,” said Murphy.

“How?” asked the prisoner.

“Call up a broker and say, ‘I’d like to buy some stock.’ ”

“But, hell,” the prisoner replied, “if you want to gamble, you can call up any old bookie and say, ‘Play such and such a bet.’ ”

“No,” said Jordan, “it’s accepted, no stigma attached; even in church they accept the stock market.”

“I never had any money to fool around with stocks,” Murphy added. “Policemen don’t make that much money.”

“I wish I had,” replied the prisoner. “I wish I had some. Really, that would be a good adventure to—to experiment with.”

From money the conversation got philosophical once again.

“What is justice?” asked the prisoner.

“Fair play,” replied Murphy.

“What is fair play?” asked the prisoner.

“Well,” said Murphy, “fair play is only that you don’t take advantage of anybody.”

“Right,” agreed the prisoner. “Treat others as you would want them to treat you, that’s what Jesus said. Beautiful thing.”

“Do you go along with that?” Murphy asked the man who had just shot six people he had never met.

“Very much so, sir. Very much.”


The prisoner, nursing a sprained knee and sitting in a wheelchair, was rolled into the prison chapel, now devoid of religious insignia, as it had been converted into a makeshift courtroom for security reasons. Clad in blue dungarees and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, the accused was lifted in his chair by four deputy sheriffs to a raised platform, where he faced superior court judge Arthur Alarcon at the altar. Robert Kennedy had been dead a day.

Earlier, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury had convened in the chapel to hear twenty-three witnesses before handing down an indictment for murder. Now the prisoner was to be arraigned. The proceeding took about half an hour. The prisoner’s court-appointed lawyers, Richard Buckley and Wilbur Littlefield, did most of the talking. Could they postpone the plea until psychiatric tests could be completed? The judge agreed.

During the proceedings, Judge Alarcon pronounced the defendant’s name “SEER-han Bishara SEER-han.” The defendant, who two days before would not reveal his identity to anyone, now made his first public statement: “It’s not SEER-han,” he said in a voice heard throughout the room. “It’s pronounced Sir-han.”

William Klaber earned a Golden Reel Award nomination in 1993 for The RFK Tapes, a nationally broadcast, one-hour public radio documentary on the murder of Robert Kennedy.

Philip Melanson was a political science professor and the chair of the Robert Kennedy Assassination Archives at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He died in 2006.

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President Carter: The White House Years

by Stuart E. Eizenstat

For good or ill, Carter’s presidency was foreshadowed by the way he governed in Georgia. He showed his determination to address tough issues by abolishing and combining three hundred state agencies, boards, and commissions into twenty-two. At the same time, he left the necessary backroom bargaining with the state legislature to Bert Lance, his highway commissioner, allowing Carter to avoid the messy political compromises he found distasteful. Bert was all too happy to promise new or repaired roads, highways, and bridges to win over recalcitrant legislators.

Jimmy Carter in 1971 as Governor of Georgia. Image is in the public domain via Wikipedia.

Carter also showed his commitment to the environment by an unprecedented decision (with shades of the water wars he would fight in Washington) to block the Sprewell Bluff Dam, a job- and park-creating project of the Army Engineers that would have damaged the swamps, streams, and wild rivers Carter prized as God’s creation. No governor in any state had ever blocked a water project fully paid for by the federal government. His willingness to take on vested interests, combined with his stellar civil rights record, made it unlikely that he would have been reelected if the Georgia Constitution had permitted governors to serve two consecutive terms. But Carter was already setting his sights higher than that.

Shortly after his inauguration as governor in January of 1971, the presidency of the United States clearly was coming onto Carter’s personal horizon, although among his cronies and even in the privacy of their fishing trips the only term they used was “national office.”  Indeed, Carter was so determined to become president that at the 1972 Miami Democratic Convention, he instructed Ham to start a movement to promote him as Senator George McGovern’s running mate, even though he had been a leader in the anti-McGovern elected officials at the convention. Ham recalled that when they went to Miami they “had this crazy idea of getting Carter on the ticket as VP. We tried to have it both ways. We tried to get on the ticket but not get caught trying.” Chance favored Carter in McGovern’s crushing defeat. He also met Patrick Caddell, McGovern’s brilliant young pollster, just out of Harvard and already a major figure in national Democratic politics—but not to the taste of Kirbo, who recalled that it was “the first time I saw that damn pollster with the long hair.” But gradually the Carter team coalesced into a fighting force with awesome political skills.

Carter’s ambition to gain the presidency was reinforced by measuring himself against the stream of potential candidates who visited him at the governor’s mansion seeking his support. He remembered that “after spending several hours with them drinking beer and so forth, I didn’t see that they were any more qualified than I was… I was amazed at how parochial they were and how narrow-minded they were.” As governor, he had to implement laws they had put through Congress, which Carter said they could barely remember. Still, it seemed presumptuous—even absurd in Ham’s view—for Carter to think or at least talk openly about the presidency until prompted by supporters outside his inner circle. The first formal memorandum came from Dr. Peter Bourne, a physician who had helped draft speeches for Carter’s gubernatorial campaign. With the Vietnam War dragging to a close and Watergate further coloring the voters’ suspicion of Washington, Bourne correctly realized that the forthcoming 1976 presidential campaign might be a time for an outsider with a fresh approach. He wrote Carter a long letter in the summer of 1972, arguing that this was his moment and that he needed to start building a political base. He urged him to travel the country campaigning for Democratic congressional candidates and to write an autobiography; Carter did both.

This sparked a series of meetings in Atlanta throughout the 1972 presidential campaign with Ham, Rosalynn, and his cousin Don Carter, a journalist with Knight-Rider newspapers. The regulars at the mansion joined in. On October 17, Ham started off lightly: “Governor, we have come to talk to you about your future. I don’t know any other way to say this, and it’s hard to bring myself to say the words, but I guess I will just have to say it.” After hesitating for a second, he got it out: “We think you should run for president.” Carter put off his decision until the day after McGovern’s overwhelming defeat. When she realized he intended to run, Rosalynn called his sister Ruth and exclaimed, “ ‘Jimmy’s going to run for p-p-p… ’ I couldn’t even say the word, it was so unreal to me.” On November 5 he convened another meeting of his inner circle at the mansion; they realized they needed a concrete plan, and Carter asked Ham to pull together all the ideas in their recent meetings into one memorandum. The result was Ham’s seventy-two-page outline of his brilliant strategy for catapulting the unknown governor of a medium-sized Southern state to the White House. It became one of the most famous campaign blueprints in modern American political history.

Watch the official book trailer for President Carter: The White House Years

STUART E. EIZENSTAT has served as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and Deputy Secretary of both Treasury and State. He is the author of Imperfect Justice and President Carter. He is an international lawyer in Washington, D.C.

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Old Uppsala Visualized

Now gone, the plain surrounding Old Uppsala c. AD 650 was not only marked by the burial mounds but also dotted with halls, an impressive parkway and a surrounding marketplace. New Virtual Reality reconstruction lets visitors walk the landscape

Exploring Old Uppsala via Virtual Reality
Exploring Old Uppsala via Virtual Reality © Uppsala Museum/ Disir Production

In its heyday, Old Uppsala was a prominent royal centre with impressive mounds, a grand hall covering more than 600 m2, an impressive two km long passage bordered by posts and a nearby marketplace. A visit to Old Uppsala is a must for anyone interested in the early Scandinavian world of Beowulf. With the mounds and the later church, the sacral landscape witness to a shifting settlement stretching through millennia. The museum offers a fine introduction as well as an exhibition of the outstanding finds from the archaeological excavations, which have been carried out since the end of the 18thcentury.

Recently, the Museum in Old Uppsala launched a gadget, which brings the visitor closer to experience the site around AD 650. The new VR-gadget allows for the visitor to kindle a fire, greet the sword maiden, pick up artefacts and in general interact with the world as it once was.

The new VR tour is an extension of an app, which was launched in 2016 and which allows for a virtual visit on your IOS device (Ipad or iPhone). The new gadget, however, allows for a better immersion for people who are not able to visit the site or wish for a real time-travel experience.

The VR-gadget is developed by John Ljungquist, assistant Professor at Uppsala University, co-founder of Disir Production.

Another project offers the possibility of visiting Uppsala Cathedral in AD 1509.



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Astonishing Viking Silver Hoard discovered at Rügen in Germany

A few days ago, a 13-year old girl discovered an extraordinary Viking silver hoard with the largest number of so-called cross coins from the reign of Harold Bluetooth.

Cross Coins were minted by Harold Bluetooth c. AD 975 – 90, probably in Haithabu: It is believed that these coins represented the first initiative to mint a regal and managed coinage in Viking Scandinavia. Although coins had circulated since the 8th centuries in numerous of the Viking market towns, most Vikings would use silver as a weighted treasure when trading, doing commerce or building social networks through gifts.

Most hoards from the Viking Age would, therefore, consist of a mixture of hack silver and tested and split coins; just as is the case with the present hoard. In the late 10th century, however, numerous hoards in present-day Denmark would also contain so-called cross coins, unhacked and unharmed. Why is that?


Hoard from Rügen 2018 with Cross Coins from the reign of Harold Blutooth © Landesamtes für Kultur und Denkmalpflege
Hoard from Rügen 2018 with Cross Coins from the reign of Harold Blutooth © Landesamtes für Kultur und Denkmalpflege

After AD 963, when Harold Bluetooth converted to Christianity and was baptised, he waged a “cold” war against the large German Empire down south. Part of his effort to keep the Empire at bay consisted in the construction of the magnificent ring fortresses, located inland at strategic places. It is likely they were primarily meant to stock victuals to feed his army. At the same time, he mounted an impressive symbolic manifestation as witnessed by such monuments as Jelling and the bridge at Ravninge. The Danish historian Jens Christian Moesgaard has recently argued in a book that we should understand the Cross Coinage as part of this communicative effort. Thin and not very valuable in terms of their silver-content, they are nevertheless preserved in numerous hoards without having been hacked or split. Likely, they figured as the “King’s money” as payment for soldiers and builders, symbolically sending the message about the new faith of the King and his realm as well as his status as a king with a professionally managed mint. From these payments, the coins seem to have strayed into wider commercial contexts. Accordingly, we know of these coins from single finds in Denmark as well as hoards consisting of hack silver, jewellery and unblemished coins.

The newly found hoard from Rügen belongs to this same category. As can be seen from the initially posted photos, it contains hack silver, jewellery, pecked and tested coins as well as an impressive number of so-called cross coins. Whether all of these are unblemished is not known at present. All-in-all c. 500 – 600 coins have been found, including app. 100 coins belonging to the Cross Coin type. It weighs c. 1.5 kilograms.

Because of the cross coins and their connection with Harold Bluetooth, the media have identified the newly found hoard as the King’s treasure hidden while he was fleeing from the civil war, his son started in the mid-80s. According to later sources, Harold died of his wounds near Jumla, where he was presumably buried.

This interpretation is unlikely. The hoard is not that valuable. More likely, it belonged to a Viking employed in Harold’s army or one of his building projects. Much more, though, will be known when archaeologists and numismatists have had the time to study the hoard in details.


Silberschatz aus der Wikingerzeit auf Rügen entdeckt


King Harold’s Cross Coinage: Christian Coins for the Merchants of Haithabu and the King’s Soldiers
By Jens Christian Moesgaard
Publications from the National Museum:
Studies in Archaeology & History Vol. 20:2
University Press of Southern Denmark 2015






King Harold Bluetooth’s Cross Coinage


Harold Bluetooth’s Cross Coins and a Newly Found Viking Hoard



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The History Behind the Mystery: A Death of No Importance

by Mariah Fredericks

One of my favorite books as a kid was an illustrated chronicle of famous disasters. Pompeii, Titanic, the Chicago Fire.  I loved that book. I wore it out. The spine was cracked; the pages came loose. I put them back in, mixing the Hindenburg with the Black Death. One of the last events in the book was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. That event always felt different to me. The fire happened in New York, about four miles from my house. The majority of those who died were young women only a little older than I was. They weren’t glamorous like the Titanic victims. No Hollywood star has ever portrayed them. They were just going to work. For 12 hours a day.

And on March 25, 1911, they died in the worst workplace disaster in the city’s history. The New York Times wrote, “Scores of working girls were hemmed in aisles formed by wooden sewing machines and filled with flimsy materials. More than fifty jumped from a window to be picked up either dead or fearfully injured. Many others were literally roasted to death.”

“Shirtwaist kings” Max Blanck and Isaac Harris had refused to allow a union or to improve working conditions. One elevator out of the four worked, and it could only take 12 people at a time. One door to the outside was locked to prevent theft, and the other opened in. The indoor fire hose was rotted, the valve rusted shut.

The idea for A Death of No Importance came to me when the first line, “I will tell it,” popped into my head. I didn’t know who the “I” was and I didn’t know what she had to say. But she kept coming back, and over time I figured out it was a she, not rich, probably a servant—someone not used to being heard. Her language was somewhat formal, what I might call old-fashioned. She had to be a New Yorker because I’m a New Yorker. Not modern… but on the brink of modernity. Which brought me to slightly before the outbreak of World War I—and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

The book is called A Death of No Importance because as a society, certain deaths loom large and some seem to matter not at all. You could argue that the lives of the Triangle workers did not matter much to their employers; their deaths actually wound up as a profit once the insurance came in. But in the wake of the tragedy, new laws regarding building safety and workers’ conditions were passed—and actually enforced. The deaths of these women and men have mattered enormously to workers who came after them.

Banners representing the workers who lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911.

On March 23, I went to a ceremony organized by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. It is held every year at the foot of the Asch Building—now the Brown Building—where the workers died. A crowd of a few hundred people was gathered, many carrying banners in the shape of shirtwaists, each bearing the name and age of a Triangle victim. Fannie Hollander, 18. Annie Starr, 30. Esther Hochfeld, 21. In some cases, the banners were carried by a descendant of Triangle workers.

The ceremony kicked off with rousing songs from the New York City Labor Chorus. Ladder 20 of the New York Fire Department raised its ladder to the 6th floor of the building. In 1911, fire ladders could only reach the 6th floor, so they were unable to reach the fire on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors. The chasm between the workers and rescue was made horrifically clear. Just the night before the rally, FDNY Lieutenant Michael Davidson had lost his life fighting a fire in Harlem.

In 1911, fire ladders could only reach the 6th floor, so they were unable to reach the fire on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the factory.

White and red carnations were laid at the base of the building as the names were read aloud. That weekend, people were due to march for gun safety laws and the Parkland students were very much on people’s minds, as speaker after speaker pressed the need for laws that would ensure that people could go to work—or school—and return home safe.

Plans for a permanent memorial to the Triangle workers are underway. In a city that has erected statues to Teddy Roosevelt, George M. Cohan, and Sir Walter Scott, it seems more than fitting that we remember the 146 workers whose deaths gave us so many of the labor protections we take for granted today.

MARIAH FREDERICKS was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives with her family. She is the author of several YA novels. A Death of No Importance is her first adult novel.

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The Time of the Sueves in Iberia AD 409–585

The exhibition, In Tempore Sueborum, invites us to explore the life and times of the Suevi and how they lived together with the Gallo-Romans in Late Antiquity in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, where the Suevi settled after AD 409.

The exhibition, In Tempore Sueborum, is organised at three different venues in the Marcos Valcárcel Cultural Center, in the church of Santa María Nai and the Municipal Museum in Ourense. It represents a remarkable effort to gather numerous very precious artifacts from all over Europe in one place. A trip this spring to Ourense, provides an opportunity to see the Ring of Alaric, the Culdron from Mušov, and the diadems from Beiral and Mérida in one place.

Marcos Valcárcel – the History of the Sueves

Necklace and hairpins (?). Mérida © Museu Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida
Necklace and hairpins (?). Mérida © Museu Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida

In the Marcos Valcárcel, we invited to explore the complex process preceding the arrival of the Suevos in Galicia. This process took place between the fourth and fifth centuries and led to the creation of the Suevic Kingdom, which controlled the northwest between AD 411 and 585. It was the first barbarian kingdom in the West, a pioneer for the successor kingdoms of the Middle Ages, and a precursor of the political configuration of today’s Europe.

The exhibition aims not to tell the story in the usual way focusing on “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” but rather present the “new” story, which has revealed itself through archaeological excavations and renewed reflection upon the scarce sources since the end of the 20th century.

Before this, history told the story of the “Barbarian Savage”, who – uncivilised and clad in pelts –invaded Western Europe as part of the “Great Migrations”. Careful sifting of the preserved sources has yielded a much more nuanced version, in which the Germanics lived in wide-ranging and very permeable frontier-zones bordering the Roman Empire. Living here, they supplied manpower in the form of Roman Mercenaries as well as a vibrant market for Roman luxury items. Slowly, during the 3rd and 4th centuries, a lively interplay evolved in and around the Limes and its neighbouring provinces characterised by a mixture of trade, skirmishes and occasionally wars. In this way, the Germanic rulers obtained an elite lifestyle inspired by the Romans, but with a distinct “Barbarian” Twist – as witnessed by the production of glass drinking horns produced for the wider Germanic market at Cologne. Another example is represented by the cauldrons with Suevic heads embellishing the handles, the Mušov and Czarnówko cauldrons, both found in Germanic graves. Such cauldrons or buckets were Germanic “copies” of traditional Roman and Greek cauldrons or situlas fitted with handles depicting Roman Gods.

Diadem from Beiral do Lima (Ponte di Lima) © Museo de Etnologia do Porto
Diadem from Beiral do Lima (Ponte di Lima) © Museo de Etnologia do Porto

Such Barbarians lived and were buried far from the Roman Empire. Others, though, apparently settled inside the Roman Empire while obtaining land, status and social prestige. Some would even end up as generals employed in the Roman Army. For them Rome constituted a model and an ideal, to imitate and not to destroy.

However, at the end of the 4th century, the Huns invaded Southern Europe pushing larger groups of people in front of them. Perhaps amounting up to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, these fugitives spilt over the Danube and Rhine. It is likely the size of these throngs of people posed the Romans with insurmountable challenges. Formerly, such bands of people had successfully been split up and spread out over the wider Roman Empire with the men press-ganged into the Roman Army. Now, however, the multitude of people posed a gargantuan task. In the end, both the Goths and later the Vandals, Alans and Suevi were allowed to settle together.

Thus, when more than 200.000 people crossed the freezing Rhine on New Year’s Eve in AD 406 to cross the Pyrenees a few years later, they ended up as distinct “bands of brothers” who settled in Spain. In this process, they also began to be defined and define themselves as tribes and/or distinct aristocratic groups. It is as such, we encounter the Suevi in the northwestern corner of Iberia, in the Roman province of Gallaecia. Led by a powerful Germanic chieftain, Hermeric (AD 409 – 438/41) they chose Braga as their regional centre and initiated the business of consolidating their power base through treatises, marriages, and pillaging. While Hermericus was a pagan, his grandson, Richiarius (448 – 56) was baptised as a Catholic albeit married to an Arian princess (from Toulouse). In 456 he was defeated by his brother-in-law, thus seeing their political influence curtailed severely. During the following decades, numerous kings held sway until the Visigoths finally wiped out the Suevic kingdom in AD 584.

Iberia c. AD 438
Iberia c. AD 456 - 584

Santa María Nai – Christianisation in Gallaecia

Although a gradual process of Christianisation took place in the 4th century, the primary evidence stems from the 5th century during which the pagan Sueves and Arian Visigoths operated in the Catholic vestiges of the 4th-century missionary field. To complicate matters further, several heresies were bitterly fought over, foremost the gnostic Priscillianism. In this religious hotbed, written sources reveal a continuous fight over organisation, liturgies, so-called folk-religious practices etc.

Many of these processes are especially well documents in the crucible of Suevic Galicia, where the Galician-Roman and Hispanic-Roman aristocracy tried to establish an ecclesiastical and administrative organisational platform, gradually moving from an urban and semi-unban context and into the rural countryside. Primarily the work of Martin of Braga – known as the Apostle of the Suevi – has set its mark on the understanding of the events and the rhythm of the process. A unique source in this context is the so-called “Suevic Parish List” from c. 570 – 80, listing 13 episcopal seas and 132 parochial churches. This part of the exhibition presented in Santa María Nai showcases remains of religious art from the 6th and 7th centuries.

Copy of tomb of St. Martin of Braga. Original in Dume, Portugal
Copy of tomb of St. Martin of Braga. Original in Dume, Portugal

Municipal Museum of Ourense – Suevi and Gallo-Romans

Coin minted in Braga Probably in commemoration of of the "coronation" of Rechiar in c. AD 451.
Coin minted in Braga. Probably in commemoration of of the “coronation” of Rechiar in c. AD 451. © Staatliche Museen zur Berlin

The question is: how did the Suevi and the Gallo-Romans live alongside each other? And what changes took place in the landscape. These questions are explored in the final part of the exhibition at the Municipal Museum in Ourense.

The late 4th century in the still Roman province of Hispania experienced a marked renovation. After a period of economic deterioration, cities were rebuilt, and villas were expanded and redecorated. Slowly, though, the centres of cities were no longer focused on the Forum and the immediate surroundings. Instead, the new episcopal centres began to set their mark. Also, in the 5th-century burials were no longer uniformly located outside towns and settlements. Gradually, they became relocated to cemeteries close to churches and basilicas and inside the walls of the fortified cities.

In the countryside, people seemed to move from the Roman villas to higher ground in the 5th and especially the 6th century. Or they settled in what for want of a better word might be known as villages – smaller, larger, oblong or concentric. The large urban conglomerations – Lugo, Astorga, and Braga – continued to function as urban centres. Excavations in later years have documented that vigorous and far-flung trade with luxurious goods persisted. Thus, at Tintagel in Cornwall – -, recent excavations have uncovered that the British people enjoyed wine from Turkey, olive oil from Greece, and pottery and glass ware from Africa and indeed Iberia. Presumably, ships continued to ply the waters along the Atlantic coast, while using the Galician seaports as stepping stones. Spectacular finds from the excavations of the harbour at Vigo (the Vicus Spacorum) have provided findings that show the scope and intensity of this very dynamic trade in ceramics, wine, olive oil, alum as well as wood, leather, and metals (tin and gold). Even though artistic output in this period was sparse, people seemingly thrived while inventing the new post-Roman world.


The exhibition is accompanied bu a catalogue in Spanish and English


In Tempore Sueborum
15.12.2017 – 06.05.2018


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The Making of a Legendary American Film

by Don Graham

When George Stevens picked Rock Hudson to play rancher Bick Benedict in the big new film that everybody in Hollywood was buzzing about, the actor couldn’t have been happier. He was “walking in clouds,” he wrote Stevens in late November 1954.

Theatrical release poster for Giant. Image is in the public domain via Wikipedia.

It was a long road that led to Hudson’s selection. Stevens began casting near the end of 1953 and didn’t arrive at a decision on who would play Bick Benedict until a year later. Stevens went about the process with his usual thoroughness. He created a kind of Texas bazaar in his office at Warner Bros., with photographs and articles about Texas posted on the walls. He wouldn’t have any trouble finding materials. As Edna Ferber wrote, “Texas of the 1930s and 1940s was constantly leaping out at one from the pages of books, plays, magazines, newspapers. Motion pictures of Texas background were all cowboys and bang-bang, Texas oil, Texas jokes, Texas money billowed out of that enormous southwest commonwealth.” Ferber was right on all counts. Texas had been a movie state from the earliest days of film, going all the way back to 1908’s Texas Tex (shot in Copenhagen, Denmark!). In the run-up to Giant, Hollywood pumped out sixty-three films about Texas from 1950 to 1956, almost all of them shot on studio back lots.

Stevens, however, wasn’t sure how to represent the Texas type, and in October 1954, he placed a call to John Rosenfield, longtime arts critic of the Dallas Morning News. He thought Rosenfield might be able to help. “You know, I don’t know what a Texan looks like. I’m afraid that if I follow my ideas I will show types that Texans will hoot at.” What he wanted, he went on, was “a good portrait artist who will visualize six leading characters for me.” Furthermore, he added, “I want him to do this without any reference to established movie stars.”

Rosenfield knew just the man, Edward Bearden, a Dallas artist and former member of the SMU faculty. At Stevens’s bidding, Bearden drew the six key figures: rancher Bick Benedict; his wife, Leslie Lynnton; Jett Rink, the poor ranch hand who strikes it rich; Luz Benedict, Bick’s cantankerous sister; Uncle Bawley, a wise old bachelor; and Old Polo, the vaquero caporal (foreman). Stevens felt it was imperative to have a Texas perspective, and Bearden gave him that. Delighted with the sketches, Stevens posted them outside his office and distributed copies to casting agents and the press.

Stevens also valued Ivan Moffat’s incisive prose profiles of the principals in the story. Moffat’s insights into character and motive were striking. Typical is this probing analysis of Bick Benedict: “Perhaps deep down Bick had long known that some of his views were wrong and that Leslie was right in her point of view, but he never admitted it. He indulged to his own considerable satisfaction in unfavorable comments about the appearance of his half-Mexican grandson, and relished doing so all the more because he had a sneaking feeling that in actual truth the mixture of his blood would be a pretty good one.”

With Bearden’s drawings and Moffat’s verbal descriptions as guides, Stevens directed his search for actors along those lines. He preferred choosing actors instead of holding auditions. Having grown up in a family of actors, he knew the humiliations associated with auditions. And in casting Giant, he had an abundance of eager talent. Just about every leading man in Hollywood felt he was perfect for the role of Bick Benedict.

After all, most of them had already played Texans in one film or another. Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Robert Mitchum, Joel McCrea, Sterling Hayden, Errol Flynn, Robert Taylor, and Forrest Tucker—all had donned chaps and Stetsons, holstered their side- arms, mounted their trusty steeds, and ridden off to some studio backlot Texas town to save it from desperadoes waiting for a train.

Publicity photo of Rock Hudson. Image is in the public domain via Wikipedia.

And so the suitors presented themselves. They telephoned, they wrote, and they visited the Warner Bros. lot. Early hopefuls included Gable, Cooper, Holden, Mitchum, and Hayden. With all that talent around, Rock Hudson wasn’t even in the running in the beginning. But from Stevens’s perspective, all the other aspirants faced an insuperable problem. They were too old. The storyline of Giant covered twenty-five years and whoever played Bick Benedict would have to transition from a young man courting a young woman to a graying middle-aged grandfather. For established male stars, it was a canyon too far.

Stevens believed it was easier to age a younger man than to make an older one appear younger. And he most certainly did not want to use two actors to convey the sense of aging.

Among the actors that Stevens did consider in the beginning are a few surprises. He briefly entertained the idea of Forrest Tucker, a rugged six-foot-four action star in not-so-great Westerns. The lead in Giant would have been a bigger boost for his career even than it was for Hudson.

Budgeting problems expanded the range of possibilities. Already worried about cost overruns, Warners had the studio casting department draw up a list based on box-office appeal. With John Wayne at the top, the roster included sixteen names, among them Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Jeff Chandler. Some seem very implausible: Victor Mature and Cornel Wilde, for example. Edna Ferber’s favorite, Burt Lancaster, was never considered.

For a time, it appeared that Sterling Hayden might have the inside track. His agent lobbied hard for Hayden: “He has the great robust charm these ‘Texians’ seem to have,” but there again was the question of age. The agent thought that with a little makeup and the right clothes, his client could pull off the younger Bick Benedict. But Stevens rejected this argument: “It’s easier to believe a romance between young people than among older, more established stars.”

Gradually, Rock Hudson emerged as the pick.

Don Graham, whom the Dallas Morning News has called “Our premier scholar and critic on Texas literature, films and pop culture,” is J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a writer-at-large with Texas Monthly magazine. He received the Carr P. Collins Prize for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, awarded by the Texas Institute of Letters, and has served as that organization’s president.

Don is the author of Kings of Texas and Giant.

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Minor Medieval News April 2018

Ever so often we stumble on some minor medieval news which do not merit a full article, but nevertheless, deserve a short notice.

Royal Armouries Collection in Leeds currently focus on the War of the Roses. Enjoy the Late Medieval Hightlights intheir collection

Gothic Armour from Royal ArmouriesThe Gothic Armour dating from the late fifteenth century is currently on display on the cruciform in the War Gallery in Leeds. The armour is called ‘gothic’ presumably because it was thought reminiscent of medieval ‘Gothic’ architecture. This particular armour is of German origin, it is more symmetrical than other European armours. A popular form of helmet in Germany was the sallet, this could be made from one piece with the sight cut into the front face or with a broad open face, over which a visor could be fixed. Sallets were often worn with a chin-shaped defence, called a bevor, although the sallet provided great protection, the bevor proved unpopular and there are many accounts of men slain in battle for not wearing their bevor or temporarily lowering it to help them breath. The Gothic Armour is currently on display together with a group of other weapons which were carried by soldiers, nobles and princes in this very bloody Late Medieval war.


Royal Armouries in Leeds
Armouries Drive
Leeds, LS10 1LT United Kingdom

‘Arms and Armour of Late Medieval Europe’ by Bob Woosnam-Savage is available to purchase online and in the museum shop.







































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From Grace Kelly’s Wedding to a Women’s Shelter: A Woman’s Search for the Truth

by Nyna Giles and Eve Claxton

Nyna Giles was picking up groceries at the supermarket one day when she looked down and saw the headline on the cover of a tabloid: “Former Bridesmaid of Princess Grace Lives in Homeless Shelter.” Nyna was stunned, shocked to see her family’s private ordeal made so public—the woman mentioned on that cover, Carolyn Scott Reybold, was her mother.

Nyna’s childhood had been spent in doctor’s offices. Too ill, she was told, to go to school like other children, she spent nearly every waking moment at her mother’s side at their isolated Long Island estate or on trips into the city to see the ballet. The doctors couldn’t tell her what was wrong, but as Nyna grew up, her mother, who’d always seemed fragile, became more and more distant. Now Nyna was forced to confront an agonizing realization: she barely knew the woman on the magazine in front of her.

She knew that her mother had been a model after arriving in New York in 1947, living at the Barbizon Hotel, where she’d met the young Grace Kelly and that the two had become fast friends. Nyna had seen the photos of Carolyn at Grace’s wedding, wearing the yellow bridesmaid gown that had hung in her closet for years. But how had the seemingly confident, glamorous woman in those pictures become the mother she knew growing up—the mother who was now living in a shelter?

In this powerful memoir of friendship and motherhood, Nyna Giles uncovers her mother’s past to answer the questions she never knew to ask. Keep reading for an excerpt of The Bridesmaid’s Daughter.

* * * * *

A day later, Carolyn stepped down from her train at Penn Station, and caught a cab to 140 East Sixty-third Street. She read all the fashionable magazines, so she knew that the Barbizon Hotel for Women was the best place for a girl to stay while in the big city. Barbizon residents were models, actresses, singers, students, and secretaries, girls who, like Carolyn, wanted to make something of themselves. The hotel’s rooms were reasonably priced, and most important, as male guests weren’t allowed much farther than the lobby, she would be safe.

Most of the hotel’s guests, not only the out-of-towners like Carolyn, would have been intimidated at first sight of the Barbizon. From the sidewalk, even if you craned your neck, it could be hard to see the tip of the building, twenty-three stories high, with dark brown brick terraces and setbacks, like a giant, somber wedding cake. Carolyn pushed inside the revolving doors and into the lobby, nearly as wide and as deep as the building, with a curved staircase sweeping up to an ornate wooden mezzanine. Nervously, she walked toward the front desk, where a small, smiling woman was waiting to greet her. This was Mrs. Sibley, the hotel’s manager. Carolyn handed over her references while Mrs. Sibley looked her up and down.

Candidates for residence at the Barbizon were assessed on their references, as well as their age, looks, and background. The management’s preference was for attractive girls in their late teens or very early twenties—and with a waiting list of at least one hundred names, Mrs. Sibley could have her pick. At nineteen, Carolyn met the age requirement. As for her pedigree, Mrs. Sibley most likely assumed that Steubenville was a steel town and that Carolyn’s parents were solidly blue-collar. Fortunately, Carolyn was pretty enough to pass Mrs. Sibley’s test.

Then Mrs. Sibley read Carolyn the hotel rules and regulations. No cooking appliances in the rooms, lest the building burn to the ground. No liquor in the rooms. It was the hotel’s preference that young ladies did not stay out late at night but returned to their rooms at a respectable hour. A warning would be given to anyone who didn’t comply. If, after a warning, the girl continued to stay out late, Mrs. Sibley would have to inform management, who might decide to give her room to another girl. As a guest of the hotel, Carolyn had the use of its swimming pool, gym, library, and roof garden. In the afternoons, complimentary tea and cookies were served in the recital room, on the mezzanine above the lobby. Should she wish to join, backgammon and card games were held in the evenings in the recreation room, and there were regular educational lectures on a range of subjects, to improve the mind.

But Mrs. Sibley and her fellow staff of the Barbizon weren’t only seeking to improve the minds of the young ladies of the hotel. They were also determined to protect their virtue. No men were admitted beyond the lobby, Mrs. Sibley warned Carolyn, unless a guest wanted to bring her date to the coed lounge on the nineteenth floor, in which case a special pass was required. And after sundown, male elevator operators were switched for female ones, in case any man should be tempted beyond his station.

Carolyn’s room was on the ninth floor, and like all the Barbizon’s rooms, it was tiny and narrow; you could almost stretch out your arms and touch the walls on either side. There was just enough room for a small single bed with a nightstand, a desk with a radio, and a table lamp. The green drapes matched the bedspread and the carpet. Bathrooms were shared and situated at the end of the hall. Carolyn didn’t mind. From her window, she could look out across the rooftops of the tan-colored town houses of Sixty-third Street and beyond to the entire city. Even after midnight, she learned, the streets were alive with noises: traffic, taxi horns, and the voices of people passing down below. For twelve dollars a week, this world was hers.

NYNA GILES is the youngest daughter of Carolyn Scott Reybold, a model best known as one of Grace Kelly’s bridesmaids. Having had a successful, 20-year career in advertising, digital marketing and sales, Nyna now serves as Chief Operating Officer for Giles Communications, a leading public relations company. She is also a tireless advocate for the mentally ill, having served as a vice president on the board of The Association for Mentally Ill Children of Westchester, Inc. for 10 years. She lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband.

EVE CLAXTON is a writer, editor, and Peabody award-winning radio producer. She’s worked as an editor or co-writer on numerous nonfiction books.

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