Sunday, November 26, 2023

Local author signing event at Fountain Bookstore

I had so much fun and loved chatting with everyone. Annie was the perfect author-companion. Thanks to all who came out on a misty day! πŸ“š☔️

Monday, November 13, 2023

Hanover Book Expo 2023

Last Saturday was the Hanover Book Expo at the VFW. There were more than 40 of Virginia's authors in attendance who were discussing, signing, and selling our latest books. 


Here I am pictured with author Luis Gil Armendariz. We had tables next to one another. 

The Expo is a not-for-profit community event presented by the Hanover Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The Hanover Book Festival began in 2006 as a project to promote reading. 

For more details and news about next year's schedule, visit: http://www.hanoverbookfestival.com/home.html

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Arcadia Publishing Discount Code

I'm collaborating with Arcadia Publishing and they have generously offered 10% off the entire order (Limited to one use per customer).

You could buy all the Poe books from The History Press and save 10% on all!

Use code: SHARON9

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Seven Pines, Cedars, Hemlocks and one GHOST in the Graveyard

The American Civil War was the bloodiest war in our nation's history. Over 600,000 died, more than World War I and World War II combined and a soldier was 13 times more likely to die in the Civil War than in the Vietnam War. (1)

Growing up in an area surrounded by reminders of war, it was common to hear about ghost sightings of Union and Confederate soldiers still wandering the fields and fighting their battles. Visitors throughout Virginia have reported feeling the presence of those who lost their lives during battles. Many of the mortally wounded were hastily buried in makeshift graves on the battlefield and others perished from illness and disease. 

I grew up nine miles from Seven Pines National Cemetery, which is currently 1.9 acres and is surrounded by a brick wall. The cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Like other national cemeteries, the markers are in orderly rows, the grass is well maintained, and the mood is serious. These places reflect the belief that these are hallowed grounds where veterans’ sacrifices should be honored. 

Like so many national cemeteries that were nearby or within battlefields, Seven Pines National Cemetery was established in 1866 mostly for interments of the Union soldiers who had been quickly buried without traditional fanfare. The brick-and-stone superintendent’s lodge, designed by U.S. Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, was built at the southeast corner of the site in 1874. The front of the building is hidden by trees but when walking up toward the steps to the front door entrance, visitors will notice the tablet with the Gettysburg Address, which is a distinctive feature of the national cemetery landscape. 

With hasty burials and the time that had passed, many of the soldiers’ remains were not able to be identified. In this cemetery, 1,216 interments are listed as unknown, which adds to the solemn feel. There are only 141 known dead. The name of the cemetery is derived from seven pine trees that were planted along the inside of the cemetery wall in 1869. A 1938 article notes that along with pine trees, there are seven cedars, seven hemlocks, and there is just one Ghost

To tell the story of how a Ghost came to Seven Pines National Cemetery, we must start in Irwin, Pennsylvania, where parents Samuel and Mary had been married for a decade and were welcoming the birth of another child to a family with brothers and sisters. The year was 1843. President John Tyler was the nation’s tenth President, becoming the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his predecessor, President William Henry Harrison. That year, Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic fiction, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Charles Dickens’ ghostly tale, "A Christmas Carol," were first published. Samuel and Mary’s baby, John, was born into a world that differed from the famous writers and politicians who traveled and read widely. John did not attend school but helped his father with farming; and by 17, he was listed as a farmer on the 1860 US Census. The next year, men were being recruited to join the Union Army and John, at the age of 18, mustered into service in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania on December 11, 1861. 

He served in the 103 Volunteer Pennsylvania Infantry, Company I, which included 105 men. The infantry advanced on Manassas and were then ordered to the Peninsula. The soldiers were involved in a skirmish at Yorktown, the Battle of Williamsburg, a skirmish at Fair-Oaks, and The Battle of Fair Oaks which is also known as the Battle of Seven Pines. The 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment lost three officers and 50 enlisted men who were killed or mortally wounded, and one officer and 352 enlisted men to disease during the Civil War. Approximately two-thirds of all the deaths of soldiers were caused by infectious diseases including pneumonia, dysentery, malaria, and typhoid fever. 

Seven Pines National Cemetery was included in a Ripley’s believe-it-or-not cartoon because of John Ghost’s name. 
The Seven Pines Cemetery got into Ripley’s believe-it-or-not cartoon…because it has a real ghost in it—Jno. Ghost, of Pennsylvania. 
John Ghost died of typhoid fever at White Oak Swamp on June 17, 1862. His remains were moved to Seven Pines National Cemetery, only 1.6 miles from where he died. 
 
Most of the regiment was captured on April 20, 1864. Thirty died in Confederate prisons. Only eleven men remained to be mustered out. 
 
John Ghost was a real person. In fact, his mother Mary Ghost, filed for a Civil War pension on June 28, 1880, after the deaths of her son and her husband. The family had been Germans who immigrated to America. With confusion, misunderstanding, and illiteracy, surnames were improperly spelled frequently. John Ghost’s ancestor, Kraffgoss became Kraft Ghost. Today, descendants use the last name Coast.

Citations:


Friday, November 3, 2023

History Talks- Ashland Museum


πŸ“šJoin us NOV 7th for HISTORYTALKS with Dr. Sharon Pajka, literature professor and cemetery historian.
Dr. Pajka will discuss her book: Women Writers Buried in Virginia.
Free and open to the public! No reservations needed.
Info: AshlandMuseum.org or 804-368-7314
SunTrust Theater in Brock Commons, R-MC campus, 304 Henry St., Ashland.
πŸ“šJoin us NOV 7th for HISTORYTALKS with Dr. Sharon Pajka, literature professor and cemetery historian.
Dr. Pajka will discuss her book: Women Writers Buried in Virginia.
Free and open to the public! No reservations needed.
Info: AshlandMuseum.org or 804-368-7314
SunTrust Theater in Brock Commons, R-MC campus, 304 Henry St., Ashland.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Cemeteries, Ghosts, and Newspapers Oh My! I'm going to have another book!

My third book, provisionally entitled *Haunted Cemeteries of Virginia,* was accepted for publication this morning by the Editorial Board of The History Press to be published in 2025. 

I'm extremely excited about sharing documented Virginia folklore AND newspaper reports of "ghosts" in cemeteries. These ghost stories recount historic tragedies, unjust parts of history, and even share comical tales of what happens when locals take a shortcut through sacred grounds. 

I've added two teasers of newspaper clippings below-- the Hollywood Cemetery ghost saga from 1870 (it's a rather sad story about a woman whose betrothed was killed in the Richmond Capitol Disaster); 

(Alexandria Gazette, June 15, 1870)
and, the Thornrose Cemetery ghost saga in 1952 that turned out to be a monkey! (which nods to the 1906 cold case of circus performer Eva Clark who performed in the Cole’s Brothers Circus that traveled through Staunton where she was murdered). 
(The Roanoke Times, Sep 21 1951)
Just another excuse to travel to so many Virginia cemeteries!

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

October Candlelight Tours at Old City Cemetery-- the best living history event!

This year was the 16th season of the Candlelight Tours at Old City Cemetery Museums and Arboretum; it was my first time attending after wanting to go for many years. I attended on October 21 and was on the 8:10 tour, which I think was the last tour of the night and the last tour of the season. 

It was also right after I packed up from holding a book signing event in
the cemetery, so the evening felt extra special.

 The sky was clear and the moon was bright in the sky as visitors were led by lantern light by our “Spirit Guide” through the cemetery to visit six vignettes of actual cemetery residents “from beyond the grave” to hear “their fascinating tales of life — and death.” 
The scene actors and spirit guides were phenomenal. The amount of work that went into this event showed in all the details-- a great script, skilled actors and performers as well as parking attendants (old cemeteries just are not equipped for the size of today’s vehicles or any vehicles!), those who placed hundreds of candlelight bags along the paths, to the ticket takers. 

It was everything that I wanted it to be and more! It was one of the best living history events that I've ever witnessed, which just makes me love Old City Cemetery even more. 

It’s one of my top 3 favorite cemeteries for a reason. Also, it is perfectly normal to have a list of favorite cemeteries. I was excited to see a women writer from my book represented on the tour, but I had not expected that she would be the guest speaker at a church celebration. 

Actress Makeda Payne brought Ms. Lizzie Chambers Hall to life! I wanted to cry and hug her! It was quite emotional, especially since she was portraying a woman writer who is not frequently showcased. 

That is one of the best parts of these candlelight tours- they are not about being spooky or merely spotlighting the who’s who from the cemetery; each year, different cemetery residents are featured after months of research. 

I appreciated that the interpretation of history included three examples of Black women who were interpreted through the lens of Black joy- these women's stories (including Lizzie Chambers Hall, Harriet Burton, Judy Rieves) were respected and celebrated. 

I also thoroughly enjoyed the story of George Liskecomb Wilkinson who enlisted in the army and earned the rank of Sergeant in the Army Air Corps. Actor Russell Hill played George Wilkinson, which was extra special since Wilkinson had been the actor’s Boy Scout leader when he was young. 

Old City Cemetery even offered an accessible matinee tour during the day for those who were not able or interested in taking the nighttime tour. It was certainly dark! 

The tour brought our senses to life with the smell of apple pies (I believe these were actually fragrant apple candles or I missed out on tasty some pie!); I even went home with smoke from the bonfire in my hair. It was a magical night that I cannot imagine being topped.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Old Town Alexandria, the Ghosts & Graveyard Tour, and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider of the American Revolution

Yesterday, I had a book signing at Old Town Books in Alexandria. It was their town's Family Trick or Treat Day and the streets were filled with kids and families in costumes. We've had such nice fall weather during the last month but yesterday I was reminded that I live in Virginia and the summer likes to have one final moment like the end of so many horror movies. The temperature was in the mid-80s and sunny! Many of the kids and family members in costumes looked like they were going to melt. One father was dressed in a polar bear costume and I hoped he had an icepack tucked in place somewhere. 

When I had scheduled the book signing event, I thought it would be fun fall day to bring my best friend Sandy aka “Babushka” to check out the Trick or Treaters; and after the book signing, we could walk around town and even go on the Alexandria’s Colonial Tours “Alexandria’s Original Ghost & Graveyard Tour. While we didn't have the fall weather, there were plenty of activities in Old Town. 

We had tickets at 7:30pm, which was the perfect amount of time between my book signing, some shopping, and a dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. They had pumpkin spice margaritas, but I opted for black cherry, which I’m pretty sure ended up being watermelon flavored. That was probably a better choice for such a warm day. 

Old Town Alexandria makes it easy for tourists to visit because there are so many parking deck options. We stashed our purchases in the car before joining the Ghosts & Graveyard tour. There were many tours happening around the same time, which may have been other tour companies. The streets were packed and tour guides were leading groups everywhere. 

We went through an alley and down some streets in the area to hear ghostly tales and some pretty good/bad Dad jokes. There was a bit of history, some questionable history when it came to a story about a burial (someone without a knowledge of cemetery history in the US might not think much about it but it wasn’t accurate) and the biggest disappointment was that on the Ghost and Graveyard tour, the tour didn’t include any graves or graveyards! 


Before I scream “False advertising,” there were several different routes and the weekend before Halloween isn’t the best time to take a tour. The tour guides are probably exhausted from packed schedules, and the streets are crowded with activity. 

Because “Graveyard” was in the title of the tour, I pulled out my Find A Grave app and found the nearest churchyard—Alexandria’s Historic Old Presbyterian Meeting House and Churchyard. We headed over and I realized that this was the churchyard where the Tomb of the Unknown Solider of the American Revolution is buried. I had checked my app earlier in the day and wanted to walk over to see the grave. 

Normally, I would not have entered a churchyard at night. I was hesitant about doing so last night until Babushka and I realized that the church was filled with a congregation watching a silent movie. The gates were open and the churchyard was well-light. Plus, there was a large sign reminding us that EVERYONE is welcome. 


The visitor’s guide brochure shares that the churchyard was active as a burial ground between 1760 to 1809 and includes over 300 people including “Andrew Wales, the first commercial brewer in the Washington area,” a confidant of George Washington, Dr. James Craik, Thomas Porter, “who participated in the Boston Tea Party” as well as an unidentified Revolutionary War soldier “whose remains were unearthed just to the north of its current tomb” and was reburied in this churchyard in 1826.

All adventures with Babushka are fun. We spent time together and in the end, I had a fun book signing event in the cutest book store, had a great dinner, saw some amazing home decorations, had great guests on our tour, and Babushka and I saw "ghosts"(ghostly decor) and found the graveyard where history is haunting! 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Friday, October 27, 2023

Grave Inspiration- presentation for Sisters in Crime- Central Virginia, May 16


 Grave Inspiration
Join Sisters in Crime- Central Virginia for a virtual presentation with Dr. Sharon Pajka.

Cemeteries hold a wealth of stories. See how cemeteries and grave markers could liven up your writing.
Thursday, May 16, 7pm ET
Open to All SinC Members- Registration is Required

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ashland Museum guided walking tours and HistoryTalks

 
Click image for the Ashland Museum Facebook page

On Tuesday, Nov 7, Sharon Pajka, literature professor and cemetery historian, will talk about her book Women Writers Buried in Virginia. The HistoryTalk also takes place in Brock Commons SunTrust Theater [Randolph-Macon College] at 6p.m.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

October 21st, from 5:30 - 8pm at Old City Cemetery- Last Night of their Candlelight Tours


 "Announcing a Very Special Guest on October 21st, from 5:30 - 8pm! Dr. Sharon Pajka, author of Women Writers Buried in Virginia, will be joining us to chat about her book, and sign copies for anyone who is interested! Her book features (among lots of incredible women) the writing & life of Lizzie Chambers Hall, who rests here at OCC, and who is a character in this year's Candlelight Tours" 

Saturday, October 21- Writers Round Up at the Goochland Branch Library, Pamunkey Regional Library

 

Click image for more details

Saturday, October 28: Book Signing at Old Town Books in Alexandria

 

Click image for more details

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023- Mechanicsville-Ashland Local, Vol. 49, No. 34, p. 12

Since my book is inspired by the newspaper clippings from my father, it was fun to clip out this piece in our local newspaper about my book party for my dad. 




 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

My Book Release Party at The Poe Museum

Click image to view portfolio by Michael Cope Photography

I held a book release party at The Poe Museum in Richmond, VA on Sunday, August 20th with entertainment including historical interpreter Debbie Phillips as Elmira Royster Shelton, Poe's first and last fiancΓ©e along with poetry recitations by Dean Knight which were interpreted by Miako Villanueva. Guests could take a self-guided tour of The Poe Museum and have their photo taken by photographer Michael Cope. Here is the portfolio of those pictures. 

The museum is gorgeous! The shrine and memorial garden incorporate aspects of Poe’s life and works and were inspired by his poem “To One in Paradise.” I also shared that if black cats crossed their path, pet them! They're the museum cats, Edgar and Pluto!

I invited friends from various time periods of my life so the folks in the enchanted garden on that day and time were some of the coolest humans and my favorites. It was overwhelming. The enchanted garden, where I have stood, sat, and walked through for so many events over so many decades, including presentations that I have given for the museum and where I helped weed during a gardening event, was the very place that held us all. Some people don't believe in magic. I have a hard time not believing in it on days like that. 

This was the biggest event that I have ever thrown for myself. It felt extravagant. Even my friend, Southern noir crime fiction writer S. A. Cosby, an Anthony Award-winning writer from Southeastern, Virginia attended. I wrote about our connection previously here

I asked guests to dress in their Poe-attire finest whatever that meant to them and to remember that it was going to be a hot day. I explained part of my outfit in an earlier post. I was the newspaper article about the scene in Westminster Burying Ground after the Poe Toaster visited and left his tributes. My tiny hat was by Sew Truly Me. I adore her hats! The custom design included a small Victorian style top hat with a gold raven and small rose buttons to represent the roses that were left at Poe's grave by the Toaster. I also modified a small Martell cognac bottle keychain into a brooch; again, to represent the tokens left by the Toaster. My necklaces included a cemetery gate, a small raven, and a lily of the valley with a skull inside a crystal coffin-shaped stone. My black shirt was sparkly to match the stars in the sky and my dress was black to show the darkest hours the Toaster would visit the grave. I had a newspaper print purse and even made my only newspaper article about the outfit.  

The amazing bouquets (I'm still dying about how gorgeous the flowers were!) were by Flowers by Zoie. The signature on her website reads, "storytelling through floral designs..." She completely understood my vision. The flowers included purple and wine Anemones with black centers, Black Magic Roses, (they are every bit as lovely as I could have imagined!), Black Callas,  lavender roses, Fiddleheads! and deep wine ranunculus. She also made the loveliest corsage for me to wear.   

The caterer was Groovin' Gourmets

And, the tables, linens, and cute tent were from Party Perfect

If I look cranky, I assure it that it is just my resting face. I was very happy. 

Edgar ALLAN Poe and the A's and the E's

My family name is spelled differently by distant family members and mispronounced all the time by nearly anyone who doesn't interact with me. I may even mispronounce my own family name since I don't speak Polish. Recently I was asked if the misspelling of Edgar A. Poe’s middle name, Allan, bothers me. It happens quite frequently. Nope. I use it as a way to tell stories. It's the Scottish spelling! 

Most of his letters were signed Edgar A. Poe although he did sign E.A. Poe and his full name at times. 

It seems that the author was not given a middle name at birth, which was true for his father, his father’s father (grandfather), and his father’s father’s father (great grandfather). What seems like a Poe family tradition is made more complicated by William Henry Leonard Poe, Poe’s older brother. Perhaps the brother simply took all the middle names! That’s a joke. 
The author was born Edgar Poe and the middle name was added by Frances and John Allan, who took in the orphaned child but never adopted him legally.
(Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - General Topics - Poe’s Middle Name). 

Sacred to the memory of John Allan who departed this life March 27, 1834 in the 54th year of his age. He whose remains lie buried beneath this tomb was a native of Ayreshire, Scotland. 
John Allan's marker between his first wife, Frances Valentine Allan (right) and Louisa Allan (left). 

John Allan was born in 1779 in Scotland. By 1795, a sixteen-year-old Allan, who had been orphaned, immigrated to Richmond, Virginia, to work with his uncle and seek a better future for himself. 

In England the personal name is usually spelled Alan, the surname Allen; in Scotland the surname is more often Allan.

It's interesting to note the size of the markers. Frances Allan’s tombstone is much smaller and shorter than the markers for John Allan and Louisa Allan. At the time, the husband was considered the head of the household, and his decisions were mostly unquestioned. There was a family hierarchy and we often see this in the size and height of gravestones. The second Mrs. Allan’s grave is the same size and stature (actually, it looks a little bit larger in this picture) of her husband’s, most likely because she outlived him by decades. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Come discuss "The Premature Burial" by Poe! TONIGHT!

Tonight @7:00 PM CST I'll be discussing "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe with friends from The 6 Degrees of Edgar Allan Poe.