The Titan and The Titanic

Hey, Readers. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the story of the RMS Titanic. I vividly remember when Dr. Robert Ballard and his crew found the wreckage in 1985. One of the first videos my husband and I purchased was a National Geographic documentary of Ballard’s crew locating the ship.

Since then, I’ve read books including Titanic Voices – 63 Survivors Tell Their Extraordinary Stories by Hannah Holman, and The Truth About the Titanic written by Col. Archibald Gracie, one of the survivors. More recently I read Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember. It was while reading Lord’s book that I came upon what’s sure to be called a strange coincidence.

Morgan Robertson was a struggling author in the late nineteenth century. In 1898, he penned and published a novel originally titled Futility. The story was about a disgraced former US Navy officer named John Rowland. Now an alcoholic, Rowland works as a deckhand on an ocean liner called the Titan. On a cold April night, the ship hits an iceberg and sinks. Most of the passengers die.

The RMS Titanic (Public domain)

Sound familiar? Fourteen years later, on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank in the Atlantic. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, only 705 survived.

There are some eerie similarities between Robertson’s fictional ship and the real one.

  • The real ship was named the Titanic; Robertson called his ship the Titan.
  • The Titanic was 66,000 tons displacement; the Titan was 70,000 tons.
  • The Titanic was 882.5 feet long; the Titan was 800 feet.
  • Both ships could travel 24-25 knots.
  • Both could carry around 3,000 passengers but both had lifeboats for only a handful of those passengers. It didn’t seem to matter because both were deemed unsinkable.
  • Both ships were British owned, both hit the iceberg on their starboard bow around midnight, and both sank 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland.

There are a few differences. The fictional ship had only thirteen survivors as opposed to the Titanic’s 705. (At least one source states there were 706.) The Titan capsized before sinking, and the Titanic split into two pieces.

The original cover of Futility, published in 1898. (Public domain.)

After the sinking in 1912, many believed Robertson was clairvoyant and foresaw the actual event. Scholars attribute the similarities to the author’s extensive knowledge of shipbuilding and maritime trends. I personally see too many similarities to fully believe the latter explanation. Even the cover photo reminds me of the real ship. What say you?

Lincoln and Kennedy

Hey, Readers. Those of you who have read my blog for a while likely know of my fascination (that’s probably the wrong word to use) with JFK’s assassination. I still maintain that America lost some of its innocence that day, but that is another matter.

Of the forty-five men who have served in the role of president, four died of natural causes while in office – William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin Roosevelt. Four others were assassinated – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. Today’s post deals with an urban legend about two of those men, Lincoln and Kennedy.

Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy (Public domain)

I first heard of the “strange coincidences” between the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy way before the internet was around. A newspaper article listed all the similarities between the two events. Recently, I remembered the article, so I decided to check its validity. Turns out some of the things are true.

  • Both men were elected to congress in ’46. Lincoln in 1846, Kennedy in 1946.
  • Both were elected to the office of president in ’60. Lincoln in 1860, Kennedy in 1960.
  • Each man had seven letters in their last name.
  • Both were concerned with civil rights. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Kennedy was the first to propose what would be the Civil Rights act of 1964.
  • Both men married when they were in their thirties and their wives were in their twenties.
  • Both were shot on a Friday. Lincoln on April 14, 1865, and Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
  • Both men were succeeded in office by Southern democrats named Johnson.
  • Their successors were both born in ’08. Andrew Johnson in 1808, and Lyndon Johnson in 1908.
  • Both assassins are known by their full names, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald. (This is not uncommon as the press often uses a full name to distinguish assassins from innocent people with the same name. Another example is John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.)
  • Speaking of the assassins, the total number of letters in each name is fifteen.
  • Neither Booth nor Oswald lived long enough to go to trial. After refusing to surrender, John Wilkes Booth was killed by Sergent Boston Corbett. (There is a conspiracy theory regarding Booth, and I’ll write about that in a future post.) While being transferred to the county jail, nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald in the basement of the Dallas City Jail.

(Both photos are my own.)

There are some false assumptions/rumors involving the assassinations. While Ford shot Lincoln in a theater and Oswald ran to a theater after shooting Kennedy from a warehouse, the opposite didn’t hold true. Booth didn’t run to a warehouse as it has often been said but was found in a barn. Also, Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy, but Kennedy’s secretaries were not named Lincoln.

Nonetheless, there are some interesting comparisons between these two dark times in American history.

Don Francisco’s Treasure

Hey, Readers. Happy first Monday of April.

Some of my earliest memories are of stories my mother told me about events that happened to her or members of my family. A couple of those true events served as inspiration for short stories. As you might guess, the tales that most intrigued me were those involving a mystery or a legend.

I recall one story that was passed down by my grandfather. As a young man before moving to Texas, he worked on several plantations in Alabama. One place was rumored to have money buried there. According to Papaw, many men tried to dig it up, but when they reached a certain depth, they became frightened and ran away without completing the task.

He also said that a wealthy man (who obviously didn’t need the treasure) hired two men, held them at gunpoint, and ordered them to dig. Like all the others, after digging for a while, the men became frightened and begged the man to relieve them of their task. He wouldn’t, and they eventually reached the buried money. Before he could pay them for the job, they ran away in sheer terror.

Another story Mom told was of a house where my family lived in Irving, Texas. Mom said there was a tree on the property, and she sometimes saw lights come down the trunk of the tree and disappear into the ground below. Mom said the ground at that spot was much softer than the surrounding areas. According to my grandfather, the light and the soil indicated money was buried somewhere beneath the tree.

Like many tales and legends, there are similar stories. In the book Portraits of The Pecos Frontier by Patrick Derren, a resident of Fort Stockton, Texas claimed there was money buried on her family property, but no one knew its exact whereabouts. The family often saw mysterious lights, but much like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, they could never pinpoint the exact location as the lights kept moving.

According to the website Texas Hill Country, many believe there is an estimated $340 million in buried treasure in this state alone. There are many stories and legends surrounding these treasures. Today, I’ll tell you about one of them.

Don Francisco’s Buried Treasure

Don Francisco Rodriquez was a Spanish nobleman who amassed a fortune during the 1700s. He lived in what is now San Antonio. He had two children, a daughter named Delores and a son also named Francisco who went by the name of Lefty and was in the Spanish army.

The San Antonio skyline with the Hemisphere tower on the left. San Antonio is the second-largest city in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States. (Royalty-free image by Sepavone, courtesy of Dreamstime.)

Delores fell in love with a Spanish Captain named Cordero. It was during the time when Spain and France were attempting to get control of Texas. Cordero came under suspicion by the Spanish authorities who planned to send him away. In order to remain close to Delores, Cordero changed sides and joined the French.

Fearing the French would win, Don Francisco hid his treasure in a cave near what is now known as San Pedro Springs and sealed it with a large stone. He never told anyone, including his daughter, where the exact spot was.

Lefty and Cordova, both on the front lines of their respective armies, found themselves in a sword battle. They fought until both were mortally wounded, and both men died.

Upon learning of his son’s death, Don Francisco suffered a stroke. He sent for his daughter, who was at church praying for the safety of her brother and sweetheart. She went home but was too late. Don Francisco died taking with him to the grave the location of the buried treasure. Overcome with grief, Delores died shortly thereafter.

The story of the buried fortune continued on. People searched for the location and some found a cavern they thought might be the hiding place. Those who entered found it inhabited by bats, snakes, and even wolves. After one man fired at a wolf, the explosion of the rifle caused a rockslide further burying what may have been inside.

That didn’t deter the fortune seekers and many continued to search. It’s said those who entered the cave came out empty-handed and deeply fearful. (Sounds reminiscent of the story my grandfather told.) Not one single person went back a second time.

Many refused to talk about their experience, while others claimed to have seen a mysterious blue light (another similarity). Still, others say they saw the ghost of Don Francisco.

Centuries later, the location of Don Francisco’s fortune remains unknown. His legend, however, lives on.

Later this month, I’ll have another buried treasure story from the Texas Gulf Coast.

March Book Reviews

Hey, Readers. I’m way behind on posting reviews. Matter of fact, I was behind on writing them. Lesson learned – don’t wait until days or weeks later. Because of my procrastination, my reviews are shorter than usual. I’m also going back to posting them once a month rather than weekly. Because I didn’t post at the end of February, there are a few books I read during that month.

Variety is the Spice of Life by Sally Cronin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Variety is the spice of life and Sally Cronin did a wonderful job in putting together this eclectic collection of short poems and flash fiction. But don’t let the length fool you. The stories and poems are well-written. Proof that a lot can be said with so few words.

Like with any collection, I had my favorites. Of the poems, “Face in The Mirror” is something many of us can relate to. “Kinship” is about the bonds we form with others—family and friends. It is especially touching as Sally dedicates the book to the online writing community in which she has played a huge role in bringing together. Of the short stories, I loved, “The Neighbourood Watch” and “Miss Lloyd’s Robin.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the poems that are snapshots from Sally’s garden. This book is an easy and quick read, but nonetheless delightful, and one I highly recommend.

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Having become interested in books featuring Native American characters, I read my first Tony Hillerman novel last year—one of the Leaphorn and Chee novels. I enjoyed it, so I decided to pick up the series from the beginning.

This book, first published in 1970, didn’t disappoint. Writing styles were different in those days, and at first, the pace seemed a little slow but picked up. Although Joe Leaphorn is the main character, his friend Bergan McKee plays a big part (and has more action) than Joe. It’s always a plus for me when I’m kept guessing until the end, and I did with this book.

I look forward to reading more of this series.

Redemption by Gwen Plano

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Redemption is a mix of family drama and thriller. When Lisa returns home for a visit, she’s barely in the door when someone murders her father and severely injures her mother.

Lisa, her brother Trace, and family friend Ryan set out to discover the truth. Neither sibling has fond memories of their father and the secretive life he lived.

The action is well-paced and the characters well-developed. The message of redemption at the end is a thought-provoking one that reminds readers of the importance of forgiveness.

Vampire of the Midnight Sun by Priscilla Bettis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a short, easy-to-read duology. Although listed as horror, there is nothing overly graphic. The first story is set in the Alaskan Wilderness and follows two friends who try to make their way back to civilization after a failed rafting trip. I like the twist on the title. Can vampires live in sunlight? If you believe they can’t think again.

The second book was set in drought-raged Texas when a wildfire threatens a town’s existence. I loved how the author used an old steam locomotive to enhance the plot—and the suspense.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys horror stories that don’t go over the top on graphic images.

Wake-Robin Ridge by Marcia Meara

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I read Meara’s Riverbend series a while back, and I’m not sure what took me so long to begin this debut novel.

Wake-Robin Ridge is a mix of suspense, romance, and paranormal. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the author did a wonderful job of describing the setting. I felt as if I was right there to see the beautiful sights and smell the delicious scents of autumn.

This is a dual-timeline story, set in the 1960s and in the twenty-first century that wraps up in a satisfying ending. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy books set in different timeframes.

Sorrowful Soul by Harmony Kent

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sorrowful Soul is the third collection of poems in Harmony Kent’s Soul Poetry series. The subject of this collection, grief, is something we will all face at one time or another.

Each section takes readers through the stages of grief. Some are hard to read, but most readers can relate to the emotions associated with the loss of someone you love.

I recommend all three books in this series.

That wraps it up for this month. I’ll have more reviews to share in April. Happy reading, everyone!

The Marfa Lights

Okay, I’m cheating again. There is not a new Mystery Monday post this week, but there’s a good reason. After a couple of weeks of being “stuck in the middle” of Blood Red Dawn, I’m writing again. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a reference to an old Steeler’s Wheel song.)

Part of my problem came about because of the third book, Edge of Twilight. I haven’t even begun that one, but a secondary character in Blood Red Dawn will be the male lead of book three. After an evening of serious brainstorming, I addressed my concerns. Not only is Blood Red Dawn moving along, but I’m making notes and a skeletal outline for Edge of Twilight.

To solve the problem for Mystery Monday, I decided to bring back my very first post from 2019. The Marfa Lights have long been a source of fascination for me, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them.

The town of Marfa is located in Presidio County between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. With a population of less than two thousand, it might just be another dot on the map in a remote area of Texas where people measure distance by minutes and hours rather than miles.

“How far is it to San Antonio?”

“About six hours.”

“Where’s the closest Walmart?”

“Three hours away.”

In recent years, Marfa has become a center for minimalist art. The Chinati Foundation and Building 98 are two of its major attractions. I frequently mention Marfa and the art community in the third book of my Driscoll Lake Series, Unclear Purposes.

But long before the artists arrived in the Trans-Pecos region, Marfa became famous for something entirely different—a mysterious phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights. Just what are these lights and when were they first discovered?

In 1883, Robert Ellison and his wife were driving cattle westward from the railroad in present-day Alpine through the 5,067-foot Paisano Pass when they stopped their wagon on a high, open plateau called Mitchell Flat. Around sundown, the mysterious lights appeared. Ellison thought them to be the campfires of Apache Indians.

Not long afterward, a surveyor named O. W. Williams claimed to have seen the lights. He later recorded in his journal the Indians of that region believed they were the spirit of an Apache chief named Alsate. Ranchers in the 1890s saw the lights and assumed they were Apache campfires. However, when they checked the following day, no one could find signs of any fires.

Sightings continued throughout the years, including during World War II when the Army established a pilot training base near Marfa.

I took this photo in the town of Marathon which is about 57 miles (or 55 minutes) from Marfa. It gives you an idea of what the West Texas landscape looks like.

I first heard of the Marfa Lights in the late 1980s when the television show Unsolved Mysteries did a story about them. In July 1989 the show’s producers asked three scientists from Sul Ross University and the nearby McDonald Observatory to investigate the lights. One was a professor of chemistry, the other was a geologist, and the third was an astronomer. The investigation included eleven other technicians and observers.

The team placed border markers along the road through the Chinati mountains to easily identify automobile headlights. Around midnight, a light appeared near one of the markers which were determined not to be from traffic. The team concluded this light did not come from a man-made source but was unable to determine the origin.

In 2004, a group of students from the University of Texas at Dallas spent four days studying the lights and concluded they were from automobiles traveling along U. S. 67. In May 2008 scientists from Texas State University spent twenty nights in the area. They concluded the lights could be attributed to headlights from vehicle traffic.

Other theories include they are a mirage caused by gradients between warm and cold layers of air. Marfa is at an elevation of 4,688 feet and can experience as much as 40-50 degree temperature differentials between night and day.

It’s not surprising these lights have become a popular tourist attraction. They are best viewed on US 90 about nine miles east of Marfa. There is a pull-off, complete with tables, where you can have a nighttime picnic and wait for the lights to appear.

In 2003, the town of Marfa used $720,000 from the Texas Department of Transportation and the federal government to build the Marfa Lights Viewing Center. It has restrooms, mounted binoculars, and several bronzed plaques.

I have never seen the Marfa Lights, but I have a family member who has. A friend who once lived in the neighboring town of Alpine saw them several times. Ironically, her husband, who was with the border patrol, never saw them during the years he worked in the area.

What do you think? Automobile or campfire lights? A ghost? An atmospheric phenomenon? Please leave a comment.