Doc’s Last Cold Days

Doc’s Last Cold Days

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Atlanta Ice Storm

We’re having an ice storm in Atlanta. Sounds strange, here in the usually balmy American South, but not all that unusual. Ice shuts down the city every ten winters or so, starting as cold rain that freezes when it hits anything below 32 degrees: bridges, overpasses, stone stairways, iron gates and rails, roofs, tree limbs, power lines. Eventually everything is covered in ice, looking very pretty but making for dangerous driving or even walking, as the ground is a skating rink and those ice-laden trees and power lines give way under the burden and come crashing down like shattered glass. Continue reading

Doc’s Holliday in New Orleans

Doc’s Holliday in New Orleans

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

The river city of New Orleans has been called one of the most haunted places in America. It certainly is full of spirits — especially the kind found on the French Quarter’s Bourbon Street, lined with bars and restaurants and other, less reputable, places of entertainment. If Doc Holliday had visited the Crescent City, Bourbon Street would surely have been one of his favorite haunts…

On the Exhibit Floor

On the Exhibit Floor

I was in New Orleans for a somewhat more businesslike purpose, attending the Southeast Independent Booksellers Alliance Convention, where authors and publishers present their books for the new season, and where I was showcasing “Inheritance” and “Gone West” which comes out next spring. But what I really wanted to see was the hotel where Doc Holliday likely stayed on his own visit to New Orleans.

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Doc Holliday’s Florida Getaway

Doc Holliday’s Florida Getaway

masterson_bat

Bat Masterson

Mattie Holliday, Doc’s cousin and rumored sweetheart, was quoted as saying, “He was a much different man than the one of Western legend.”  He was also a lot more interesting, with travels that took him far beyond the OK Corral.  But did Doc take a Florida beach break, as well?  That’s the surprising direction the research goes, as historians continue to explore the unanswered questions of why – and how – Doc Holliday left Georgia.  And one of the most intriguing of the answers comes from someone who knew Doc personally:  Dodge City lawman Bat Masterson.

Withlacoochee-rivee

Withlacoochee River

In his later years, Bat became a reporter and did a series of stories about the famous characters of the American West, including an article about Doc Holliday.  The story, published in 1907 in a Boston, Massachusetts magazine, tells a tale of murder and escape set during the troubled times following the Civil War.  According to Bat, there was a swimming hole on a little river near to the south Georgia village where Doc Holliday was raised, and where he one day came across some black boys swimming where he thought they shouldn’t be.  He ordered them out of the water and when they refused, he took a shotgun to them, causing a massacre.  His family thought it best that he leave the area, and he moved to Dallas, Texas.  Although the report of a massacre isn’t likely, there are some interesting points to Bat’s story: Holliday did, in fact, live in a little village in South Georgia, the town of Valdosta, near where there is a river named the Withlacoochee, along which Doc’s family owned some land.  And when Bat’s story was published and the family later asked about it by another reporter, they said that Holliday fired over the boys heads, not at them – but they did not deny the shooting.Continue reading

Searching for Doc’s Grave

Searching for Doc’s Grave

Griffin, Georgia is a long way from the ghost town of rowdy Fort Griffin, Texas, but they both have something in common: Wild West legend Doc Holliday once lived in both places. But only his Southern hometown has a real ghost story to tell: Although Doc died of consumption and was buried in the mountains of Colorado, some say his body was later moved back home and now lies in a quiet grave on a grassy hillside in Griffin.

Doc Holliday memorial in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Doc Holliday memorial in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

As the story goes, John Henry “Doc” Holliday (he was a dentist by trade and training) passed away on the chilly morning of November 8, 1887, and was buried later that day in the Linwood Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The local newspaper noted his passing and the place and time of his burial, along with mentioning that his family in Georgia would be notified through his “only correspondent, a nun living in Atlanta.” The nun was his first cousin Mattie Holliday, who had taken orders in Savannah and was known as Sister Melanie. His obituary mentions that his last belongings would be sent to her.Continue reading

St. Louis and the Southern Son

St. Louis and the Southern Son

In this 20th anniversary year of the movie “Tombstone,” which gave us Val Kilmer’s iconic Doc Holliday and his “hot-blooded Hungarian devil” of a mistress named Kate Elder, it seems appropriate to celebrate their love affair – or at least trace its origins. Which, according to Kate, were something different than the movies might lead us to believe.

Kate Elder in the movie <em>Tombstone</em>

Kate Elder in the movie Tombstone

The real Kate was, indeed, Hungarian, but had lived most of her young life in the Mississippi River town of Davenport, Iowa, not Budapest. Her given name was Maria Katarina Horoney, the daughter of a Hungarian doctor who had fled his home country during political upheavals there. When her father and mother both later died in a fever epidemic, young Kate left home and traveled down the Mississippi to St. Louis, where she met a young man named John Henry Holliday – or so she said in her memoirs years later. But as everyone knew Doc Holliday had never been in St. Louis, her story was discounted for decades and largely ignored by historians. More likely, she met Holliday in the rowdy trail town of Ft. Griffin, Texas, where he also first met lawman Wyatt Earp, and was just trying to give herself a more respectable past.Continue reading

An Irish Blessing

An Irish Blessing

There’s a bit of Ireland running through the Southern Son saga, a little Claddaugh ring that Mattie Holliday inherits from her Grandmother Anne O’Carew Fitzgerald, and that she gives to John Henry as a symbol of their affection.   It first appears in Book One, Inheritance, and comes back again and again through the three books and into the Postscript at the end.  Can’t tell you how or why or where without ruining the story for you, but it’s more than a plot device: it’s a physical symbol of spiritual things and of the emotional story that winds through the adventure of Doc Holliday’s life.  You’ll see it as part of the logo on the cover of all three books.

That little Claddaugh ring has become an important symbol in my writing life as well, as my husband gave me my own Irish ring after it first appeared in the book, and then my mother continued the tradition over the years by sending me gifts that featured the gold Irish ring.  I have necklaces and earrings, a shiny door knocker, wall plaques and kitchen linens and birthday cards.  The image of the Irish ring became an ongoing reminder that she believed in me and the story I had to tell.Continue reading

Roads To Tara

Roads To Tara

Peggy Mitchell Marsh was at a loss for words, and it could not have come at a worse time.  Gerald was dead, killed by a fall from his horse, and there needed to be a proper eulogy spoken, but Peggy couldn’t think of anything to say.  The mourners were gathered around the grave, their faces strained with emotion and flushed with the heat of the June sun, waiting for the words of comfort that only she could give.  No one knew Gerald better than Peggy, or understood what his loss would mean to them all – more than the death of a man; the end of an era as well.

Suellen and Careen, Gerald’s two younger daughters, stood sobbing quietly, leaning on Melanie’s fragile shoulder, and Melanie was crying too.  She had loved Gerald like a father though she was no real relation to him.  Only Scarlett stood dry-eyed, alone and apart.  She was Gerald’s eldest, the most like him, and the one most shattered by his death.  But she had cried herself out last night and she couldn’t cry anymore. 

Beside the grave, golden hair shining in the sun, Ashley stood with the Book of Prayer laid open in his hands.  Scarlett watched him out of cat-green eyes and was glad that it was Ashley who would speak the service – his melodious drawl would be a comfort to her on this most awful of all days.  Ashley raised his eyes and for a moment Scarlett thought he might look her way, but he gazed past her and nodded to Will, the new foreman who had taken over at Fontenoy Hall when the Yankee Wilkerson had been fired.  Will nodded back to him, and Ashley cleared his throat and looked up at the waiting crowd…Continue reading

Haunting the Holliday House

Haunting the Holliday House

I love ghost stories, the spookier the better – like spectral figures that stalk the grounds of ancient estates, faces that appear in old windows and mirrors, doors that lock themselves when no one is in a room, things that go bump in the night…

Doc Holliday grew up in a world of such things, in a land where Indian legends still echoed in strange names like Etowah and Ocmulgee, where Irish ancestors left tales of wood sprites and banshees, where black slaves told stories of haints and bogymen and “boo hags” that hid in the dark piney woods.  When a beloved family member passed, even good Christian folk covered all the reflective glass in the house lest the dearly departed should peer back at them from beyond the veil.  So one would expect that the Holliday’s house, built in the 1850’s and a place where generations of family members lived and loved and died, should be filled to overflowing with spirits.  How could such a classic Southern mansion not have a few classically Southern ghosts to go with it?

So one of my first questions, on one of my first visits to the Holliday House, was whether or not it was haunted. Or, as I put it to the nice girl who worked nights at the answering service that had an office there, back when the house was still an unrestored old home with an interesting past and an uncertain future: “Have you seen any ghosts?”Continue reading

Sunset for a Southern Lady

Sunset for a Southern Lady

I first met Susie in a filing cabinet at the old Margaret Mitchell Library in Fayetteville, Georgia.  Not that she was actually in the filing cabinet, of course.  It was her book I discovered there, tucked away in a file labeled “Holliday Family,” and where I was searching for information for the newly begun restoration of the circa 1855 Holliday House in Fayetteville, forty miles south of Atlanta.  The house was a classic antebellum beauty, with tall white columns across a wide front veranda, a breezeway between the twin parlors, fireplaces in every one of the eight large rooms and hand-blown glass in the multi-paned windows.  But it was an aging beauty: 150 years old and being considered for demolition when I found it and fell in love and started up a community action group and then a non-profit organization to save it and restore it as a museum of Fayette County history.  As the home of a Civil War-era doctor, it was interesting enough, but with the family’s connections to Gone With the Wind and Doc Holliday, it seemed a priceless piece of Georgia’s history.Continue reading

Dancing with Doc Holliday and Rhett Butler

Dancing with Doc Holliday and Rhett Butler

I’ve always found it kind of neat that I was born on Margaret Mitchell’s birthday, November the 8th. Gave me an interesting connection to the writer I so admired from the first time I read Gone With the Wind as a young teen. Don’t remember the year, but do remember how I loved living in the world she created – and how I hated the ending she gave me! No romance with Ashley, whom I adored (so much more interesting in the book than in the movie, sorry Leslie Howard)! Just a shocking, “I don’t give a damn,” from Rhett at the end of those 1200 captivating pages.

Of course, I wanted to fix that awful ending, and imagined how the book should have gone. Being a born writer (well, as long as I can remember, anyhow), it didn’t seem like too much of a task to me. Just pick up the story where Margaret left off, following Rhett down the street to his own adventures before meeting up again with Scarlett. This was before the copycat novels Scarlett and Rhett Butler’s People tried to do the same thing, and my version was sooooo much better! Rhett would return to New Orleans (not Charleston, as in those other books), where his secret son with Belle Watling has been living in a fancy boarding school. That was Belle’s idea, not wanting her son to know who his mother really was, and Rhett went along with her plan, not sure how to tell the fine Butler family that there is an heir born of a prostitute…

Hmm. Seems like a theme that appears elsewhere in my writing. Maybe I get that nobleman-in-disguise storyline from another childhood favorite of mine, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (Mark Twain himself shows up in several places in my Southern Son saga). Fiction is derivative, after all, as a writer can only write what she’s lived or read or otherwise imagined.Continue reading