Most creative people probably don't spend much of their day thinking about their personal copyright issues. That's because American copyright laws, which were vastly revised and improved in the mid-1970s, made it very easy for artists, musicians, authors and others. Put simply, the moment you create "a thing" — a poem, a novel, a song, a painting, a silly little doodle, whatever — you're copyright protection is immediate and inherent. Put more simply, the act of creation is all that's needed to cover you under U.S. copyright law.
Now it didn't used to be this way. Prior to 1976, whenever you created "a thing," you had to register said thing with the U.S. Copyright Office. It was an enormous amount of work, bureaucracy and bother. Plus, there were some dangerous loopholes. Your protection only lasted 28 years, and if you forgot to re-register your work THREE DECADES after you created, well, then you no longer owned the copyright. Needless to say, if you were a prolific artist, or just one who's been working for a long time and has amassed a large body of work, then trying to stay abreast of your registrations would be a nightmare. But all that changed in 1976 and it's worked well ever since.
So why does the Copyright Office, certain Internet-based corporations like Google and elements in Congress want to change it?
Well, they'll tell you it's because how we produce and deliver art has changed radically since the 1970s, with most of us now using electronic means to do so. As such, they argue, it's time for a re-think. But really it's about money. Entities like Google, Facebook, etc. have been trying for a while to co-opt our creations through their privacy and terms of service agreements. But if there's not inherent copyright protection for anyone — whether you earn your living as an artist or not — then anything you put out there can be essentially legally stolen and resold. Imagine Facebook running its own stock image business using photos pilfered from their users. How messed up is that?
The last time these changes were attempted was in 2008 and it failed miserably due to the massive defense mounted by artists of all kinds from all over the country. It's time to do that again.
And don't be fooled. This effects all of us. If you create anything, you could lose your rights to that "thing" if these new rules pass. Toward that end, I'm encouraging you to join the defense. I've added some links below to where you can learn more and where you should send letters rejecting any changes to the existing copyright laws. If you want to learn more, watch the attached podcast for details from illustrators Will Terry and Brad Holland. But hurry, the next deadline for comments is July 23, 2015.
Teen filmmaker in action. My friend Jake Kreager is only seventeen but he's already a veteran filmmaker. He and his cousin cranked out this suspense film in two days without a script or even a cameraman. You can follow Jake on YouTube here.
Even though I've been doing it since I was nine-years-old, I haven't written much about filmmaking on this website. It's an unfortunate oversight, because I feel we're in a very exciting time for filmmakers of all levels. The ease, affordability and prevalence of digital cameras, editing software and video-sharing websites has given a whole generation the chance to flex their filmmaking muscles. And though this has also given us way too many videos of kittens riding Roombas to the screaming chords of "Eye of the Tiger," the chance to express, create and share with each other is unprecedented.
So filmmakers, indulge me while I tell you how young people once made movies before all this technology made it so darn easy...
My interest in filmmaking began in the mid-1970s when my grandfather gave me an 8mm camera which, even for the time, was a primitive device. It looked primitive — a black metal box with a pebbly surface and a small lens. There was a trigger to expose the film and a large silver lever to operate the zoom. You had to focus manually and though filming in color wasn't an issue, there wasn't any sound. Fresh film was always in short supply. A reel cost about $10 — half of my monthly allowance — and there were still trading cards and that copy of Starlog magazine I needed to purchase, too! Needless to say, my early works had a certain "economy" to them. A typical film was three minutes, an epic would grow to nine. Everything had to be filmed on the first take.
The first film I ever made was entitled "The Horror of the Desert" and starred me, my sister, and the three kids who lived next door. We were all between the ages of 11 and 15. The plot was simple enough. I put on a bright blue papier-mâché monster mask, draped myself in an old blanket and menaced the other four for a total of six minutes. Granted, "The Horror of the Desert" wasn't a long on plot but at least there was lots of running and screaming. (Okay, there wasn't any screaming because, as I just mentioned, the camera had no sound.) Instead, in the true tradition of silent film, there was plenty of melodramatic pantomime. Finally, one of the neighbor girls drives a wooden stake through my monstrous heart, a technique which apparently works as well on aggressive space aliens as it does on vampires. The film was a huge hit, the least among the other neighborhood kids who immediately lined up to be in my next production.
Editing of my 8 mm creations was done by hand. I had a cheap, manually-cranked machine through which you could watch your footage on a tiny screen, slicing out the unwanted bits and reordering sequences by taping the strips of film back together. The basic concepts behind editing haven't changed with the newer technology, but the results and rapidity of the process have improved exponentially. What I can now edit by computer in thirty minutes might've taken an entire day in 1979.
By junior high, I was dabbling in stop-motion animation and practical special effects. The latter usually involved creating elaborate miniatures complete with painted backdrops and then setting them on fire in my backyard. By the end of college, I had several "co-producers" assisting me and troupes of amateur actors to do my bidding. And by the mid-90s, I was constructing elaborate parodies of science fiction and fantasy films under the name "Aneurysm Theater."
Technology advanced as well. Eight mm film gave way to videotape and finally digital media. But the real boon didn't come until the home computing giants, Apple in particular, created video editing software which more people could afford and understand.
All this was fun, but it had yet to become a serious venture.
In reality, filmmaking didn't become part of my profession until the early 2000s when I was tasked with creating law enforcement training films in Arizona. I produced six videos in all and that experience paved the way for my current work with the Oregon Coast Aquarium's Oceanscape Network, a web-based project which is extremely video-intensive.
So why am I telling you all this, young filmmakers? Because whether you hope to make film your profession, or it's just a fun hobby, you have tools at your fingertips I couldn't even imagine when I was starting out. And as with the publishing world, the internet and associated technology now allows you the opportunity to reach an audience without having to go through the traditional "gatekeepers" of those industries. Take advantage of it. If the past is any indication, this field's just going to get better and better.
RELATED: For examples of my filmmaking, visit my profile on Stage 32.
I'd heard of Ashland, Oregon, long before I visited it. Its Shakespeare festival, which runs February through November, has a international reputation and is often mentioned in the same breath as Stratford-on-Avon, where the plays originated. I can't say I'm a devotee of The Bard's work, but I have seen and enjoyed enough of his plays to jump at the chance to visit Ashland at the height of the festival. It was road trip time, down through the winding hills and thick forests of Oregon to just a few miles north of the California border. My anticipation was high, but my expectations of finding costumed denizens and live jousting ala a Renaissance Faire turned out to be very different from my experience.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is a celebration of live theater. But a word of caution about this... If you intend to see Shakespeare performed in the classical Elizabethan style, read the play descriptions carefully or you may be disappointed. Some of plays reengineer Shakespeare, placing them in times and places far removed from what the playwright had imagined. The performance I attended of Romeo and Juliet was an excellent example. Set in 1840's Alta California (a Spanish colonial province which is today the combined area of California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah), the performance suffered from a unique case of split personality disorder. I'm still trying to wrap my head around actors delivering their Elizabethan lines in thick Mexican accents; or punctuating an impactful monologue with the occasional Spanish word as if only to reinforce how this version of Romeo and Juliet was so very different. Judging by the recurring snickers from the audience, I wasn't the only one who found this, well, ineffective.
Fear not. If altered Shakespeare isn't your cup of tea, the OSF and Ashland provide plenty of other live theater choices. In fact, we had twelve different options ranging from other Shakespeare titles to off-Broadway productions. The selection reinforced Ashland's catchphrase: "Come for four days, see four plays." With performances running continually in a lavish complex of both indoor and outdoor theaters, you could actually see more than four if you had the inclination and the money.
When I tired of Shakespeare, I strolled the downtown area which, in many ways, reminded me of Sedona in Arizona's Verde Valley. Most of the businesses were upscale boutiques, creekside cafés and art galleries with a strong hippie vibe. The penchant for live performances spilled out onto the sidewalks, where everyone from teenaged crooners to stringed quartets to transients with broken ukuleles vied for attention and tips. The heart of the downtown area is Lithia Park. Dating from early twentieth century, the park was designed as a tranquil refuge where urban dwellers could enjoy the arts, explore nature and ponder their existence. It was also the most visible expression of the Chautauqua educational movement, which strived to bring culture and beauty to America's more rural areas. A century later, Ashland still embraces Chautauqua and it was gratifying to see such large crowds (and so many children and teenagers) attending the plays, hiking the nature paths or listening to music. In the era of Jersey Shore and Twilight, it seems like America needs a good dose of Chautauqua. Kudos to Ashland for providing it!
For more on Ashland and the chautauqua movement, see my articles on the Oceanscape Network.
What author doesn’t crave a stellar review from the New York Times or Publishers Weekly? But for most of us plebes, the chances of getting such an honor are worse than winning a Powerball jackpot. Which begs the question for new, rising, and independent authors — what reviews can you feasibly get without spinning your wheels forever? I’m going to encourage you to concentrate your efforts on reader reviews.
Professional book reviewers like those mentioned above are deluged with requests and simply cannot or will not consider a title by an unknown writer. Additionally, professional reviewers are usually embedded with the publishing establishment and won’t consider books written by independent or unagented authors. They might give a variety of reasons for this, but what it boils down to is they simply don’t consider these writers to be legitimate and thus their work is not worth reviewing.
But don’t feel bad. If you’re an indy author for example, remember that your "thing" is still a relatively new — only about seven years old at this point. Like other trailblazers, you’ll have to pay your dues along the way. Independent filmmakers have been battling the same recognition and legitimacy issue for much longer and are only now making real headway. Heck, indy films are even considered chic these days — a far cry from a few decades ago when brilliant artists were labeled as unimportant because they refused to play the Hollywood game. If you’ve seen any of the films by Jonathan Levine, Nicolas Winding Refn, or Gun van Sant, you’ll agree that “indy” in no way means “untalented” or “illegitimate.” In truth, most of these folks probably just wanted greater control over their own creations, without having to sacrifice their vision to marketeers and studio execs. Sound familiar, authors?
So instead of spending all your time trying to garner reviews from people who won’t give you the time of day unless you’re sanctioned by their industry, concentrate your efforts on engaging with your readers. Having published two books in the last two years, I’ve found that the average reader is much more open to new talent anyway. Honestly, most book enthusiasts just want a good story and they don’t give a flying fuck if the book came out of Simon and Schuster or Amazon’s CreateSpace. Pedigree doesn’t matter as much to their eyes, and a large number of them thrill to discover new authors. The popularity of book sharing sites like Goodreads and Shelfari further enhances your ability to reach your readership and garner their feedback. You can also encourage reader reviews by doing the following:
Once you start getting reader feedback, don’t ignore it. After all, this feedback is coming from the rank-and-file of your audience, the people who actually buy your titles, tell their friends about you, and wait anxiously for your next release. Obtaining their feedback could be extremely valuable as you continue to write, allowing you to better craft your work and ultimately transform your readers into die-hard fans.
If you grew up during the 80s and 90s, chance are shopping malls played a pivotal role in your adolescence. Regardless of whether you were actually shopping (honestly, I and my teenage brethren did very little of that), malls were an important gathering place akin to medieval Europe’s village square or the agora during Classical times. They were a place to see and be seen; to catch up on news both vital and mundane; or enjoy a good meal or some form of entertainment. They were a place where you could feel included in a group — even when you were surrounded by strangers. They became such an intrinsic part of our consumer society that they had a regular place in popular culture, whether as a haven from zombie hoards, the site of a zany family comedy, or the glittering backdrop for teenage love. Not only did I spend a great deal of my teens and early 20s hanging out in malls, I even worked in one for two years, as did my sister and most of my friends.
The malls in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, have gone through their share of ups and downs. Some are posh, others more blue collar. Some are so choked with people you can barely manuever through their walkways; others have such a small clientele you wonder how they even stay in business. Regardless of what kind of mall it is or who they cater to, there’s a truth looming over them all — their days are numbered.
A good example is the El Con Mall in Tucson. When I returned home this past December, I was stunned to find the city’s first and once most prominent mall had been replaced by a collection of free-standing big box stores. All traces of the indoor passageways which once connected businesses — and people — had been completely eradicated. Ironically, this is close to how the El Con area appeared before the mall was erected in 1965. In that year, enclosed and air-cooled avenues were constructed between the pre-existing buildings and dozens more businesses were added. Even the names of many of those businesses harken back to the Golden Age of Malls: Orange Julius, Walden Books, Chess King, Things Remembered...
El Con reigned supreme for years until newer malls siphoned off its customer base. There was an attempt to revive El Con in the early 2000s. Many of the 60’s-era structures were bulldozed and replaced with a state-of-the-art theater, a Home Depot and a circular food court which never served a single meal because it never had a single tenant. By 2012, this empty food court was being destroyed to make room for more big box stores and the rest of the mall would soon follow. (To read more about El Con's history, click here.)
So why does any of this matter? It's just a mall, after all. Well, in the larger scheme of things it doesn't. It is just a mall, but it's demise / transformation says a few things about our larger society, I think.
I’ve written other blogs about the changing buying habits of the American consumer, particularly as it relates to books. (See Haunted By Bookshops... Everywhere!) But the gradual extinction of malls isn't just about how we're shopping, it's about how we're socializing.
After all, malls may have only been a fixture in American society for the past thirty or forty years — but they played a huge role in the early lives of Gen Xers and Millennials, or those of us born between the years of 1965 and 1992. Today however, they do not appear to play any significant role in the social lives of teens. Or at least not of any of the teens I know. Most young people I'm friends with prefer to do their shopping online if at all possible — and that's how they prefer to socialize too. A trip to the mall is no longer an anticipated weekend outing with friends or family. If anything it's considered drudgery.
But in exchanging physical gathering places for virtual ones, we’ve also deprived ourselves of the simple human pleasure of seeing and interacting with each other face-to-face in large numbers. In doing so, we’re inadvertently put an end to a tradition which goes back a lot further than just a generation or two.
Related Feature: Abandoned Malls and the Urban Explorer
In the past few years, there have been numerous articles written about the deaths of malls, and how these abandoned structures have become popular haunts for photographers and urban explorers alike.
This past December, as I wandered through the vacant space between Super Target and Burlington Coat Factory which was once the El Con Mall in Tucson, Arizona, I did feel a little sad. Malls had played a pretty important role in my young adult years (see my blog Farewell to the Mall for more), and it seemed somehow inappropriate that Tucson's first such venue was now define by an empty space. Even more disappointing for the urban explorer in me was that I'd missed the opportunity to photograph El Con as an abandoned place before it met its doom beneath the tracks of a bulldozer.
Fortunately, the photo documentation of abandoned shopping malls is a popular pasttime now and there are numerous online features which offer haunting and nostalgic looks back at what was a centerpiece of American culture during the 1980s and 90s particularly. Toward that end, I'm listing a few of the best photo essays I could find below:
If you've crept through the empty hulk of a shopping mall and would like to share any of your images here for others to enjoy, please email them here. You must be the copyright owner of the photograph(s) and give me written permission to use it in this blog. Thanks.
Here be spoilers...
Although my new novel, The Men in the Trees, isn't officially about Sasquatch (aka Bigfoot), it seemed only fitting that I cap off my Halloween spooky stories with this tales of large, furry forest creatures of unknown origin. In fact, elements of this real-life event found their way into my book, particularly as it relates to construction workers and old logging roads. If you've read the book, you'll probably see the bits I'm referring to as you read on through this blog.
The story began on September 19, 1958, the Eureka, California, newspapers printed a letter to the editor penned by a local woman named Mrs. Jess Bemis. Mrs. Bemis wrote that her husband, who worked on a construction crew in the deep woods of northern California, had been confounded by large human-like footprints he would find around his worksite each morning.
"On their way to the job," Mrs. Bemis wrote, "tracks were seen going down the road. The tracks measured 14 to 16 inches in length. The toes were very short, but were five to each foot. The ground was soft and the prints were clear."
Mrs. Bemis's letter would start a sensation as other construction crews began to report similar strange events, most of it centered around areas where logging roads were encroaching on what had otherwise been untouched wilderness. Was some forest resident investigating the work sites after the work crews had departed for the day? The hundreds of immense footprints found at these locations would seem to suggest a nocturnal visitor of mammoth proportions and unknown origin.
By far the most sensational series of events — in fact the one that popularized the term "Bigfoot" – took place in Humboldt County, California, in September and October 1958 as crews were constructing a logging access road in the Bluff Creek area.
"'Bigfoot' made his latest appearance sometime Wednesday night," reported an extensive article appearing in the October 6, 1958, edition of the Eureka Humboldt Standard. "Workmen reporting for work found the tracks in almost the same area as those seen about a week ago... Hundreds of these marks have been seen through the summer by the construction workers..."
Witnesses interviewed for the article seemed to be taking the footprints seriously, and some even remembered other strange occurrences from their years on these isolated construction projects. For example, Gerald Crew, an employee of the Granite Logging and Wallace Brothers companies, remembered an incident two years prior where something had tossed around "filled 50-gallon gasoline drums" on a timber access road just twenty miles from the current site where the footprints were being reported. Other workers reported large footprints they discovered around their heavy equipment in the Mad River area, approximately 30 miles from Bluff Creek. Was it the same animal?
But the hundreds of strange footprints were not the end of bizarre incidents reported by multiple witnesses. Workers recalled the eerie sense of being watched from the treeline or would notice that fruit had be stolen from the worksites. Many of the men employed to construct the Bluff Creek road began to quit and the tractors stopped working. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office intimated that it was an elaborate hoax.
"Who knows anybody foolish enough to ruin his own business, man?" Ray Wallace, one of the construction company owners was quoted as saying. "The men say they quit because it’s too far to drive, but I think most of them are just plain scared!"
Then, on October 15, the Eureka Humboldt Standard's front page was emblazoned with the headline: EYEWITNESSES SEE BIGFOOT!
Two men, Ray Kerr and Leslie Breazeale, both of whom were employed on the Bluff Creek project, spotted an "apelike" creature vault across the road in front of their car. The sighting took place in the early morning hours and only half a mile from where most of the strange footprints were being discovered. Both men described the animal as walking upright with broad but stooped shoulders and low swinging arms. They estimated that the creature was at least eight feet tall and covered dark fur. Once the animal vanished into the trees, the men cautiously left the car and inspected the dirt road with a flashlight. The large footprints left in the soft dirt were virtually identical to those documented at the construction site. But this chance encounter on the road wasn't the only eyewitness encounter with the giant beast.
Wallace confessed that a different employee had also spotted the creature on a previous occasion.
"This sighting took place in the early morning hours when the bulldozer operator had just reached his tractor. Bigfoot apparently was drinking from Bluff Creek when spotted, then bounded up a steep incline into the brush," reported the Standard. The animal's description was very similar to that given by Kerr and Breazeale: a stooped posture with long dangling arms and measuring approximately four feet across at the shoulders. The bulldozer operator quit after this encounter and never returned to the job site.
While the local sheriff continued to imply that it was a hoax, possibly perpetrated by Wallace himself for reasons unknown, the construction workers and residents in the area began to tell their own tales about mysterious footprints and sightings of large, shaggy creatures which went back decades. The line between fact and fable began to blur, but the Bluff Creek construction site encounters do seem to be the starting point for a lot of incidental stories now commonly associated with Bigfoot. One example is the alleged Native American stories about a race of hairy giants who shared the woods with the various tribes. Anthropologists still argue about the veracity of this Native American "Bigfoot tales," some noting that myths about ancient giants are a common fixture in cultures all over the world but don't necessarily constitute proof of Bigfoot's existence. Conversely, enthusiasts point to the same stories and imagine that the tales may recall a time when early Homo sapiens shared the world with other human-like races, such as the Neanderthals. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the sightings, the popular television show "Truth or Consequences" offered $1000 to anyone who could either confirm the creature's existence or reveal the hoax. The money was never claimed.
Regardless of the truth behind the incidents of 1958, they would ultimately be eclipsed by what happened in the same area nine years later. On October 20, 1967, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin would capture 24-feet of silent film of a large, hair-covered creature lumbering across a dry streambed. The film, simultaneously hailed as an important scientific discovery and history's most brilliant hoax, has been scrutinized for nearly fifty years. Recent high-tech analysis of the footage by popular cable television shows seemed to reinforce its authenticity, with a variety of experts claiming that the gait and musculature could not be faked even in the modern day. Skeptics point out the astronomical odds of Patterson and Gimlin actually stumbling upon a Bigfoot and being able to capture it on film. The filmmakers, however, openly acknowledged that they chose the Bluff Creek area due to the stories from 1958 that demonstrated it to be an active Bigfoot area.
Although the Patterson-Gimlin film sensation eclipsed the events of 1958, the controversy around the "Bigfoot invasion" refused to die. There were rumors over the years that Wallace had a much larger role in the footprints than he ever acknowledged, and was even accused of complicity with Patterson and Gimlin in the creation of their film. Wallace's alleged confessions to this were never confirmed and he never admitted to anything publicly. After his death in 2002, however, his family revealed a pair of large wooden feet that they claimed were hidden among his belongings.
Scrutiny quickly fell on the surviving Wallace family members who, it seemed, were perpetrating their own hoax by implicating the dead man. The family was unable to duplicate the footprints found at Bluff Creek using the wooden models, although they attempted to do so for the television cameras. Additionally, many of the family's claims seemed to contradict the news reports of 1958, including Wallace’s threats to sue the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department for slandering him as the hoaxter and offering "a reward of unspecified amount for information on how his name was pushed into the picture as perpetrator of the incident." Certainly the hoax – if it was one – cost Wallace a fortune as his workmen fled the site and his tractors sat idle. Additionally, men who worked the Bluff Creek site in 1958 stated that "Ray Wallace has not been on the job in over a month." Did he drive out to Bluff Creek in the middle of the night and leap around the treacherous terrain in a pair of wooden feet? It seems dubious that a businessman would destroy his own livelihood to perpetrate a hoax that brought him no financial gain.
In the end, the footprints at the Bluff Creek construction site remain an intriguing mystery... and possibly some of the best proof that an unknown primate lurks through the forests of the Northwest.
Major Jessie Marcel was dispatched from the nearby Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) as lead investigator. He accompanied Brazel, the sheriff and another man (assumed to be a counter-intelligence officer) to the desert area and collected some of the debris. Marcel was apparently so intrigued by the fragments, he took a box of it home to show his wife and son. Some of the items included I-beam shaped fragments with a purple writing on them (which none of the witnesses could identify); and a foil-like material which would immediately resume its shape after being crumpled up. Major Marcel's son would later go on to be one of the primary eyewitnesses for UFO investigators on the case.
On July 8, 1947, the Army issued a press release confirming their capture of a "flying disk" which prompted a media sensation. But then something happened. By the end of the day, the Army was reversing it position and claimed the shattered object was actually a crashed observation balloon. Major Marcel even famously posed with some of the "balloon debris" for reporters' cameras. At the time, the public accepted the Army's explanation and the story disappeared from sight for the next thirty years. It wasn't until 1978, when physicist and UFO investigator Stanton Freedman interviewed Jessie Marcel — who refuted this official version of the crash — that Roswell became synonymous with UFOs, extraterrestrials and government coverups.
As time went on, new and more elaborate aspects of the crash emerged. A larger debris field was apparently discovered by a team of archaeologists in the Corona area — a debris field which contained multiple dead alien bodies. A smaller object (considered by some to be an escape pod) was also found closer to Roswell, partially embedded in a canyon wall on a local ranch. This "pod" was said to contain several dead and dying alien beings. The bodies of these creatures were allegedly sent to the funeral home in Roswell, where they were viewed by local mortician Glenn Dennis. Eventually, the remains were moved to Edwards Air Force Base and vanished. Presumably, they're still there somewhere. Maybe locked up next to the Ark of the Covenant?
As a change of pace, I've decided that this Favorite Spooky Story won't have a thing to do with ghosts, as ghosts are not particularly required to make something spooky. Instead, I'm going to take a look at the famous Roswell UFO crash of 1947 and my family's unusual but distant connection to what's certainly the most famous legend about extraterrestrials in American history.
In case you live under a rock, here's a brief summation of the incident:
In either late June or early July 1947, during a violent thunderstorm, a large object crashed in a remote desert area of central New Mexico. In the days that followed, a local sheep rancher named Mac Brazel discovered some strange debris on his ranch just north of Roswell and mentioned it to the sheriff.
As I promised recently on my Facebook page, I'm presenting some of my favorite tales of hauntings, monsters and all-around bizarre stuff leading up to Halloween and the launch of my second book, The Men in the Trees.
I'm starting with the 1901 case of Charlotte Anne E. Moberly and Eleanor F. Jourdain, two English academics whose strange experiences at the palace of Versailles outside Paris became a sensation. I thought this was a great story to start with since these ladies' experiences in France also culminated in a book.
Miss Moberly was the first principal of St. Hugh's College, a prestigious all-women's institution inside Oxford University. Miss Jourdain was Miss Moberly's assistant and ultimately succeeded her as Principal when the latter retired in 1915. Both were daughters of English clergymen and considered themselves devoutly Christian and opposed to the Spiritualism movement which was sweeping Europe and America at the time.
In August 1901, the Jourdain and Moberly headed to France on vacation. They had limited experiences with the country and, by their own admissions, little knowledge of its history and culture. (Part of the reason for the trip was to educate themselves on both.) On August 10, they visited Versailles, the sprawling estate created by the French monarchy before it was abolished in 1792. After the French Revolution which culminated in the execution of King Louis XVI and his unpopular queen, Marie Antoinette, the palace and its gardens were made public. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Versailles was a popular destination spot for tourists.
After touring the main palace, the two women decided to see the Petit Trianon, the estate-within-the-estate created for Marie Antoinette. The reconstruction of this area began shortly after Marie Antoinette married Louis at only nineteen years of age. The queen was easily bored by the intrigues of the royal court, so the entire parcel was reconfigured to entertain her. It contained palatial homes, mysterious grottos, picturesque lakes and trickling streams. One entire hillside was replanted with pine trees to simulate the Swiss mountains the queen remembered from her childhood. Other areas simulated the French countryside, replete with farmlands and a working dairy. All in all, it was an extravagant melding of nature, architecture and imagination... and proof positive of the excesses that led to the Revolution and Marie Antoinette's own death.
As they wandered, Jourdain and Moberly encountered a variety of individuals, buildings and events that appeared to be at least one hundred years removed from their own time. Highlights included:
Unable to explain their experiences, Moberly and Jourdain returned at least three times to Versailles and spent four years quietly researching its history. Although they shared little, even with close friends and family, they finally made their account public in 1905. The book was entitled An Adventure. But its publication came with risks. As women in sexist Edwardian society, they were open to ridicule and even the destruction of their careers. Ultimately, they chose to publish under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont.
Although it quickly became a best-seller, reaction to An Adventure was mixed at best. The prestigious Society for Psychical Research was critical, stating (correctly) that much of the supporting documentation could've been known to the authors prior to visiting Versailles. Others claimed that the whole account was some kind of mutual fantasy produced by repressed homosexual desires or that they had stumbled upon a fancy-dress party and were too naive to realize it. A more charitable theory supposed that the women experienced a time-slip, a paranormal phenomenon where a living person inadvertently steps through a portal into another era. (For more on this, please reference any of a dozen episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
It ultimately boiled down to a chicken vs. egg argument. Did the women manufacture a carefully researched hoax? Or did they have a legitimate paranormal experience which they attempted to prove through careful research?
Interestingly, James H. Hyslop, Secretary-Treasurer for the American Society of Psychical Research recommended the book, although with some reservations:
"...We can only commend reading [An Adventure] to every one interested in psychic research, regardless of explanations. Of course the first question which every one will ask himself is: "Is this romance or reality?" As the stories are told they seem perfectly incredible, tho psychic researchers are accustomed to quite as startling phenomena. But the manner of telling the story at first suggests a romance and it is only the preface and the appended note by the publishers that tend to inspire trust in the seriousness of the incidents..." – Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research, Volume 5, No. 7, July 1911, pp. 405-06
So does AN ADVENTURE recount a true haunting? Versailles was a place of great drama and suffering, a excellent stage for ghosts of all kinds. To this day, strange phenomenon is regularly reported on the grounds. Moberly and Jourdain even note a long history of hauntings around the Petit Trianon, including sightings of Marie Antoinette:
"That evening when I was preparing to write down my experiences, a French friend whose home was in Paris came into my room, and I asked her, just on the chance, if she knew any story about the haunting of the Petit Trianon. (I had not mentioned our story to her before, nor indeed to anyone.) She said directly that she remembered hearing from friends at Versailles that on a certain day in August Marie Antoinette is regularly seen sitting outside the garden front at the Petit Trianon, with a light flapping hat and a pink dress..." –Personal account by Frances Lamont (Jourdain) in An Adventure, page 21-22.
The controversy around this ghost story has never been resolved. If it is a hoax, it has the distinction of being one of the best researched of all time! If you're interesting in reading An Adventure for yourself, you can do so by clicking here.