Books I've Never Written
Though I am what some might consider a prolific writer, there have been times when I let a project go. Yes, I admit there was a fire under my feet in the beginning, but then it would fizzle out. The usual suspects: procrastination and writer's block, were not the reasons. It was the conclusion that the book was not mine to write. When I come to this realization, I accept it and move on to other projects.
Here are four books I've never written:
1) The Westbrook Hanging:While researching back in the 1990s, I came across an interesting 1930 article in the Shore Line Times (a local paper to the towns of Madison and Guilford, Connecticut). It reported that a Westbrook gentleman saw a man leaning against a tree during his morning walk. As he approached, it dawned on him that the man who he thought was leaning, was in fact, hanging. The deceased man was never identified. The authorities ruled it murder but never brought anyone to justice for it. Besides the news clippings, I obtained the police report, autopsy photos, and burial records. I started this book a few times, but couldn't get it to come together. After lugging all this research around for years, I finally donated it to the Westbrook Historical Society.
2) The Leatherman: If you grew up near the Hudson River in New York or anywhere along the Connecticut coastline, you might have heard of the Leatherman. From the 1850s until his death in 1889, he wandered a 365-mile loop wearing patches of leather, and this included his hat, boots, and hobo pouch. Never known to stay indoors, he took shelter in small caves or rock overhangs. A celebrity in his own right, the newspapers had a field day writing about him whenever he strolled
through their towns. One zealous reporter claimed he spoke to the Leatherman and learned his real name was Jules Bourglay, who, after ruining his father-in-law's to be leather business,was driven out of France. It turns out it was a bogus narrative. The fact is, no one knows who the Leatherman really was. In 2011, a group of Leatherman enthusiasts exhumed his grave, hoping to retrieve some DNA and finally identify him, but when they opened his coffin, it only revealed some nails—no body or bones. His background and story remain the way he would have wanted it—a secret. Other than some news clippings and a few photos, I wasn't able to find enough information on him to warrant a book. However, I did end up writing a fictionalized short story based on his wanderings, which will be included in a collection of short stories to be released in late 2020 tentatively titled "Paco and other Short Stories."
3) The Life of Col. Oliver L. Shepherd: In the late 1990s, while researching at the Charlotte L. Evarts Memorial Archives, I came across the obituary of John Shepherd, who had been the town physician for Madison in the early 1900s. It listed his father, the late Oliver Lathrop Shepherd, who had been a Colonel in the Civil War. Researching and discovering Col. Shepherd's military history was fascinating. Along with William T. Sherman and George H. Thomas, he graduated in 1840 from the US Military Academy. He then went on to serve in the Seminole Florida Wars, the War with Mexico, and the Civil War. After 30 years of service, 25 of those years served on the front lines he retired from the Army. In a letter he wrote to General George Cullum in February 1879, he said, "It is impossible to comparison all of an officer's history and services, but mine has been unceremoniously
active and serviceable to the book." Five times awarded a promotion for "Gallant and Meritorious Conduct," and in a letter to a friend, he wrote about his horse being shot during a battle, then the following morning read his own obituary in the papers. However, not everything in Col. Shepherd's life was gallant or meritorious. Only four of his eleven children lived into adulthood. In the late 1890s, after losing all the monies collected for a monument to honor the fallen soldiers at the Battle of Stones River in which he was treasurer, he was found, "guilty of conduct to the prejudice of good order and military." In four years, 1890-1894, he lost his eldest daughter, his wife, and his mother. Shortly after being released from prison, he died penniless. Shepherd did receive full military honors but somehow eluded history books. I still have all my research on Shepherd, including a letter he wrote to R.W. Johnson in 1888 in which Shepherd recounted his time at the Battle of Stones River. In 2013, an article I'd written based on this letter was published in a Civil War magazine. This may be a project I will one day revisit, but for now, it sits on the back burner.
4) Murder in Punta Gorda: On January 29, 1903, while sitting in his living room with his wife and four children John Bowman, the City Marshal of Punta Gorda, Florida, was murdered by shots fired through his front screen door. The police noted it was an act of revenge for his "tough stance against drinking and gambling." Isaiah E. Cooper, the suspected killer, a carpenter from near-by Fort Ogden who boarded in Punta Gorda, stated he was at a friend's house and didn't even own a gun, but a
witness claimed to have seen Cooper running from the scene. Following this tragedy, Mrs. Bowman moved to her mother's home at Charlotte Harbor Town and died two years later. The children were placed in the Arcadia Orphanage, where they were eventually adopted. Two other men, George Battersby and Dick Windham, were arrested in connection to the murder but were released soon after. Cooper was sentenced to hang on three different occasions, but each time granted a stay. While working on a chain-gang in 1913, he walked into the woods and vanished. In 2008, I was gifted a thick four-inch three-ring binder which held the transcriptions of the Bowman trial (over 400 pages), images of Bowman and his family, and news articles from 1903 to 1913. This was all compiled by a man in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and somehow made its way to Southwest Florida. I spent many evenings combing through all the transcriptions, but other projects took the forefront, and I never did write a book on Bowman. My plan, for now, is to donate the binder to the Punta Gorda Historical Society.
My point is, don't stress over letting projects go. It merely opens the way for new projects to come forward.
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