Category Archives: The Heir
We’ve totally lost of glamour of train travel. And it was glamorous, for a while. In the late 20’s, trains were fast losing their market share due to the automobile, so they all got competitive. Instead of being simply a conveyance that got you from point A to point B, the Pullman became a luxurious way to travel, the engines “streamlined”, with elegant cars to sleep in and elegant cars to eat in and others to drink in and the porter to bring you anything you wanted if you didn’t feel up to getting it yourself (much to Emily’s dismay.) The rails were smooth, so that you noiselessly and quickly travelled along. Here’s some pictures of sleeping car arrangements.
The top bunk folds into the wall, the bottom one becomes the seat, in this case with a table that folds down. (I don’t remember hearing anything about that in Emily and Charles’ car, but the varieties of arrangements were endless.) The hall, off which the compartments branches. looks a little like a prison. I’m sure Emily thought so!
Let’s think about the porter for a minute. Without him, a trip would have been impossible, for not only did he make up your bed, when the time came, but he provided lots of other services, aside from hauling your luggage in and out. He’d iron your clothes, baby-sit your children, deliver trays of food, shine your shoes, and endure your racial slurs, if it was your practice to use them, with a smile, for your tips were crucial. If he complained, either about the treatment of the conditions of his work, he was fired. He worked 400 hours a month and was paid $66.Ten years later, in 1939, when Steven took the train from Port Huron to Boston, then took the Old Colony to Waterford, he’d have been well looked after by the train crew, who’d have assumed responsibility for him.
Not long after that came World War Two. Gasoline and tires were rationed, and it didn’t take long for trains to become overloaded with vacationers, soldiers on furlough, and families traveling to visit loved ones at military bases. Reservations for spots in Pullman sleeping cars were so hard to come by that scalpers made a fortune buying and reselling them. They were never as elegant after that, I think. The war had worn them out, and when it was over, you could buy a new car and there was plenty of gas. The trains lost the competitive edge, but you can still reserve a sleeping car, and there’s still a separate place to consume alcoholic beverages.
The 20’s roared because of prohibition and rum running, and at the same time women had been liberated. They’d been trussed up in corsets and imprisoned by social constraints and stuck with all the housework and childbearing besides. For a young woman to have the opportunity to be who she chose to be instead of dutifully fulfilling her parent’s expectations – well, I know how I’d feel. It was bad enough growing up in the 50’s!
So we have Emily and Pris, who had been following the traditional path (as far as we know) insofar as “dutifully fulfilling” parental expectations. But I suspect that, together at Bryn Mawr, a lot more went on than either set of parents suspected.
This led inevitably me to the mode of dress that these party people adopted. The flapper is fairly well known (though not among very young people, I find) with her boyish figure, dropped hemline, feather boa, a necklace down to her waist and a head band often sporting a feather.
I think the most distinctive wear for men was the straw boater, which apparently you wore when you weren’t sporting a fedora.
Certainly a big part of the scene was the automobile. It was a game-changer.Did Henry Ford know how profoundly his invention would affect American life?
His was not the first car on the market, nor the first to be invented, but his application of the production line is what made his model T affordable for a whole lot of Americans. The 20’s was a prosperous era, and more people had more money to spend than ever before.
And while we’re at it, lets not forget the rumble seat!
The Heir starts in 1928. There’s a 50 year gap in the history of the Merrick family to account for. We need to know about Augusta Merrick, way up there in Canada, married to Harold Edgerton, in love with John Bradley. We need to know what happened to Kingsland and Julia Merrick, so proudly holding on, and with the town of Waterford, left to run its own affairs after the departure of the captains.
By starting in the 20’s, I could avoid a lot of boring narrative that would bring the reader up to date but might put him/her to sleep. I wouldn’t have to do flashbacks to account for the intervening years — a common way to handle years gone by, but often confusing, especially when there are a lot of years involved. So I chose to account for those years by one character telling another about them, a bit at a time until all the loose ends were accounted for. And in the process Steven Sinclaire’s entrance onto the scene would be accounted for, too.
I used a story from my mother-in-law’s girlhood days. Before she was married, she served as “companion” to a wealthy girl who summered in town. Just the fact that such an arrangement had been made was all I needed. I’ve always used such facts as I could get hold of to move my plot forward, and here it was – a way to show the wealthy folks and the ordinary ones at the same time. My mother-in-law wasn’t ordinary, exactly, but she wasn’t rich either, so the plot could use her as the template for Alice Bradley. And Fieldstone Hall, which still exists, would serve very well for the Warden mansion.
I have no idea what the job description for a companion might have been. Was it a chaperone? My mother-in-law would have been a little young for that, but such gaps in information never bothered me. We know that Pris Warden was on the wild side, as so many young people were in that period. Their elders escaped from the memory of war with bootlegged alcohol, music and dancing, speak-easies and parties and fun, fun, fun. Certainly there was no reason why the younger set wouldn’t do the same. And Pris, as we know, was not only wild, but had been caught in the act. Her father knew just the person to get her in line.
Sounds like a chaperone, doesn’t it? Certainly she needed one!
We haven’t talked about the Heir, yet. Since it’s been so recently published, we can’t do more than look into the first chapter at this time. But there’s plenty in that chapter to keep us busy. Take, for example, its historical introduction.
Shortly before the American Civil War, an immense silver trophy was captured by the New York Yacht Club. It was awarded by England’s Royal Yacht Squadron when the schooner America beat the Royal’s ship in a race around the Britain’s Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria, watching from the finish line, is said to have asked who was second. “Madam, there is no second,” was the reply.
Not many years after the war, the sailing ship no longer dominated the seas, and many captains were either out of work or took on other kinds of positions. (Remember, they were the buyers and sellers of cargo, and had a lot of expertise in the business world.) This sets the scene for Emily’s chapter (1) which shows us how Steven Sinclaire comes to be the hero of this story. A lot of it is not imagined by me, but certainly is embroidered! To begin with, the “roaring twenties.”
I think we can’t overlook the impact of World War One, for starters. The conditions of the trenches in France and the use of weapons of mass destruction were unthinkable – yet, these had to be faced. This rude awakening to the dark side was so devastating that escaping it with hilarity and alcohol was the only answer for a lot of people.
Then there was Prohibition, and the new freedom of women and girls who dared to take advantage of it. They could smoke and drink in public, have body contact while dancing, wear shorter hair, a good deal of make-up, and loser clothing styles including modification of the corset. They even got the right to vote!
One can hardly mention prohibition without its corresponding accompaniment – organized crime. A killing could be made bringing alcohol to all those thirsty people! All you had to do was bring boats filled with liquor from wherever, park them a foot beyond the three mile limit of US territory, wait for the rum runners to come and load up. And they did.
This summer there’s an exhibit at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum about the rum runners. I didn’t think the Museum would mind if I posted their information here:
Risky Business: Rum Running on Cape Cod
HYANNIS, MA—Importing alcohol into the United States was a risky business between 1920 and 1933, one that drew in Cape Cod sailors and captains, Coast Guard seamen and officers, gangsters and code breakers. Throughout the “Roaring Twenties” the waterways of Cape Cod were the scene of a cat and mouse game played between souped up speedboats built specially for the “wet” trade in illegal liquor, and the Coast Guard ships and boats charged with keeping America “dry”. “Risky Business: Rum Running on Cape Cod” exhibit provides a look at another Cape Cod, where shootouts on the beaches, high-speed chases in the night with no running lights, and murder on the high seas were all part of this very risky business. The exhibit opens on July 10th and runs through December 15th.
And voila! It’s certainly realistic to think that Tom Warden might have dug up a case of gin on the flats.