Anna’s Dilemma

*Spoiler Alert* If you are not caught up to Season 4 of Downton Abbey, you might not want to read this post.

I’m still reeling from Season 4. One of the things I love about Downton is that it takes social issues from that time period and brings them to our attention in the present. We take so much for granted. We are allowed so many freedoms – like the freedom to stand up for ourselves, the freedom to speak out, and the freedom to do something about a crime that was committed against us. During the 1920’s women were definitely starting to find their way to speak out in society, they had just obtained the right to vote, but still, there were things that were simply not discussed for a variety of reasons.

The episode where Anna was raped proved to be very controversial in the UK and the US. More so than the makers of the show expected. I found this interview with actress Joanne Froggatt who plays Anna Bates where she talks about why Anna was so terrified to speak up.

I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Leave a comment (on either one of my Downton posts) and receive a chance to win a hardback copy of The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellows. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book.

Jessica Fellowes  is an English author, freelance journalist, and the niece of Lord Julian Fellowes, writer and Creator of Downton Abbey.

Blake or Gillingham?

*Spoiler Alert* If you aren’t completely caught up on all 4 seasons of Downton, you many not want to read this post!

After getting over my anger at Matthew’s death at the end of Season 3, (it took a few months) I was finally looking forward to the new season of Downton Abbey, particularly to find out what happens to my favorite – Lady Mary.

Enter two new suitors, one Anthony “Tony” Foyle, the Viscount Gillingham, who was apparently a childhood friend of the Crawley children. Suddenly smitten with Mary, he breaks off an engagement to the Hon. Mabel Lane Fox, an exceeding good societal match, in order to pursue the grieving widow. Tony is dashing and chivalrous and clearly devoted to spending the rest of his life wooing Mary.

Then comes Charles Blake, a man working for the government to study the demise of England’s grand houses since the war. At first we assume he is a snobby commoner with a penchant for farming and pigs and then we find out he is to inherit a Baronetcy and one of the largest estates in Ulster. He is charming and good looking and has a way of putting Mary in her place.

And then there’s Napier, who has carried a torch for Mary since Season 1 when he was ousted by the exotic Kemal Pemuk, a Turkish Diplomat who takes Mary’s virginity and then has the nerve to die in her bed. Poor Napier. I think I like him, but his character has not been developed well enough to deem him worthy of the heiress!

I hope you enjoyed the video! Let us know who you choose for Lady Mary and what you think will happen in Season 5.

Skyline Drinking – Top of the Mark

Early menu

Early menu

A stay at the Mark Hopkins would not be complete without a visit to its penthouse bar, the Top of The Mark. While at the San Francisco Writer’s conference at the hotel, two of my writer friends and I decided to take in the views while sipping our wine and talking shop. Two of my favorite pastimes!

In 1939, George Smith, owner of the Mark Hopkins converted the large 11 room penthouse suite on the hotel’s 19th floor into a cocktail lounge. Famed San Francisco journalist Herb Caen wrote that while it was being built, Smith  said to his colleagues, “I don’t know what to call the top of the Mark.” They told him, “That’s it.” He asked, “What’s it?” They replied, “The Top of the Mark,” and that’s how the now famous bar got its name.

The Top of the Mark features gigantic glass panels that were designed to withstand the seacoast’s gales which can reach up to 125 miles an hour. The panels also offer a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view. Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the lounge whether or not they stay in the hotel. It is perfect for special events like birthdays, anniversaries, retirement parties or just to celebrate the end of the day — which shouldn’t be too difficult as the bar offers a menu of over 100 different martinis.

During World War II, San Francisco was a stop off point for soldiers going out to war in the Pacific. Servicemen would gather to share a farewell drink and take in the sunset before shipping out. A tradition of the “squadron bottle” was started. A serviceman would buy a bottle of spirits and leave it with the bartender so the next visiting  soldiers from his unit could enjoy a free drink upon their return. The only rule was that whomever had the last sip must buy the next bottle.

Martini glasses

Martini glasses

When it came time for the soldiers to depart, their families would gather in the lounge’s northwest corner where they could watch their loved ones in their ships sail out to sea beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. This corner became known as “Weeper’s Corner.”

Today, hopefully, there is not much sorrow associated with the lounge, only relaxation and celebration. If you are ever in San Francisco, a visit to the Top of the Mark should definitely climb to the top of your to-do list! I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Mark Hopkins Hotel

Last week I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference which was held at the elegant, historic Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco’s posh Nob Hill area. What a treat! Although I have visited the beautiful bay area many times, I’ve never had the pleasure of staying at the luxurious landmark site. I wanted to share some of it’s history with you.

Hotel de Hopkins

Hotel de Hopkins

One of four founders of the Central Pacific railroad, Mark Hopkins dreamed of  building his wife Mary a grand home. When he saw the panoramic views atop the Nob Hill area, he’d found the ideal location. He built a 40 room gothic beauty which he named “Hotel de Hopkins.” The mansion was indeed grand, complete with spires and gables and one of the largest in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he died before its completion in 1878.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary become enamored with Edward T. Searles, an interior designer from the East coast, thirty years her junior. The two married and moved into the mansion upon its completion. Their bliss was not to last and Mary died in 1891. She left the $70 million estate to Searles. Two years later, he donated “Hotel de Hopkins” to the San Francisco Art Association and they converted the palace-like mansion into a school and museum.

In 1906, the epic San Francisco earthquake demolished many of the beautiful historic buildings in the Nob Hill area. The Hopkins mansion survived only to be destroyed by fires caused by the quake. All that remained were the chimney stacks, the granite retaining wall and a 500,000 gallon cistern full of water. With the remaining solid foundation, the Art Association reconstructed a more modest building on the site.

In 1925, George D. Smith, a mining engineer and hotel investor purchased the Art Association building and then demolished it. He had grander plans for the panoramic hill top area. He built a large, luxurious hotel combining French and Spanish aesthetics and he graciously named it after the original site owner, Mark Hopkins. 

Mark Hopkins Hotel today

Mark Hopkins Hotel today

In December of 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel held it’s grand opening much to the delight of San Franciscans who deemed it “architecturally perfect, flawless in its erection, and comprehensive in its accommodations – strikingly representative of the best there is in modern hostelry.”

Stay tuned for more history of the Mark Hopkins Hotel!

Weird Inspirations – First Blog Post of 2014

Sometimes we find things that really click with our personalities. I’ve always been interested in fashion and I have a pretty classic aesthetic – i.e. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Yves St. Laurent, Coco Chanel. Not that I always buy or wear these designer garments, particularly Yves St. Laurent and Miss Chanel, but these fashion gurus (or companies) make clothes that look best on me. I’m tall and have somewhat of a boyish figure. I’ve never been the edgy, punk, trendy, goth-type customer, nor do I do well with floaty, flimsy, ulta-girly fashion. I fully appreciate those aesthetics, but they’re just not me.

When visiting New York City for the 2011 Romance Writer’s of America Conference, I had a chance to spend some time tooling around the city. My daughter, who has a B.S. in Fashion Marketing and was working at Armani in NYC at the time, was dying to see the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was shortly after he tragically took his own life. Of course, I complied. What I saw blew my mind. The depth of creativity that this man portrayed in his fashions was beyond anything I had ever seen. There was such freedom in his designs it was truly inspiring. On exiting the museum and entering the gift shop – the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift Shop is one of my favorite places on earth – I had to get something Alexander McQueen. There were books, greeting cards, scarves – and pencils. Pencils! Savage Beauty Pencils! They were thin, long, elegant and divine and they were screaming my name.

Fast forward to New Year’s Day, 2014 and I realize I am using one of two of my LAST Alexander McQueen pencils. Impending disaster. Panic sets in. What am I going to do if these two pencils are sharpened into pure nothingness? When I write I don’t use pencils very often, but when I do they must be SHARP.  I had visions of these beautiful pencils being ground into a mass pulp of wonderous reptilian dust. What to do?

Buy more.

Easier said than done.

Finally, through Ebay, I found a set of twelve for $37.50. Who in the hell pays $37.50 for a set of pencils? Well . . . me. And I will savor every single one of them. Whenever I use these pencils I am reminded of pure creative energy, and their long, tapered elegance encourages me to find the savage beauty in myself, and the world around me.

It’s weird what inspires us. For some it can be art or fashion or poetry or nature. For me, on this New Year’s Day of 2014 – it’s pencils. Savage Beauty pencils.

Beautiful Sentiment From George Bernard Shaw

“This is the true joy in life — being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one… being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” 
~ George Bernard Shaw


Molly b’Damn

She was a gregarious and sweet natured person. She often put other’s needs before her own. She nursed the sick and took care of the poor. Mother Teresa? No, a prostitute turned madam named Molly b’Damn.

Maggie Hall was born in Dublin, Ireland on December 26, 1853. Her Protestant father and Irish Catholic mother raised their beautifulmaggie_151crop[1] golden haired child to be obedient and kind-hearted. They provided her with a lovely home and a fine education. The beautiful child grew to be a stunning young woman. Tall, with a halo of golden hair, sparkling blue eyes and an elegant, shapely figure, many men sought Maggie’s hand in marriage. She always managed to discourage these proposals because she desired more from life than an 1870’s Ireland could offer.  At the age of twenty, she set sail for America.

The American dream was harder to find than Maggie expected. New York City was a hectic, crowded, bustling city and a decent living was hard to come by for Irish Immigrants. She finally found employment as a barmaid. The job suited her buoyant personality and she was instantly popular, especially with the young men. She had to constantly remind them of her strict Catholic upbringing and that she wasn’t “that kind of girl.”

Little did Maggie know, her life was about to change. She finally met a man she couldn’t reject. He was handsome, charming, well-to-do, and loved by many women. His name was Burdan. By his third visit to the bar, he proposed marriage. Maggie accepted and left her job. She wanted to be married in her beloved Catholic church, but Burdan insisted on a Justice of the Peace. Once they were married, Maggie’s husband suggested her given name was too common and she should change it. He liked “Molly” and oh, by the way, the union was to be kept secret. If his upper-crust family found out he’d married a barmaid, his endless funds would disappear. The secret couldn’t be kept forever and that is exactly what happened. The newly married Burdans were penniless.

Burdan had never worked a day in his life and didn’t know where to begin to find employment. Molly wanted to go back to her job at the bar, but Burdan wouldn’t have it. They were evicted from apartment after apartment. Life was dire and the Burdans were desperate. Molly’s husband noticed the way his friends and other men looked at his beautiful wife. Perhaps she could earn them a living. Burdan suggested that Molly start “entertaining” his friends for money. Shocked, she refused. It was bad enough she hadn’t been married in the church, but this horrid sin? Unfortunately, her love for her husband won out, and she finally agreed. During this time of “employment” Molly made visits to confession. After she confessed her sins the second time, she was excommunicated from the church.

Thoroughly heart-broken and damned to hell forever, Molly left her husband of four years and left New York for the promise of the West. She travelled to California, Oregon, Nevada and the Dakota Territory, working as a much sought after prostitute. She garnered an expensive wardrobe and lived a lavish life-style. But at thirty, Molly grew restless again. She’d heard of a prosperous gold strike in the Coeur d’ Alenes in Idaho. In 1884, she boarded a train for Montana, bought a horse, and then joined a pack-train for Murray, Idaho.

The horse-back ride was long and hard, and those on foot particularly suffered. The pack-train started through the Thompson Pass, and was instantly beset by a nasty blizzard. Molly noticed a mother and young boy, not clothed for a harsh storm, struggling more than the rest. They soon fell behind. When the travelers came upon a meager shelter, Molly tethered her horse, gathered up the woman and her son, led them to the shelter, and bundled them up in her furs. She told the pack train to move on without them. The three, wrapped in Molly’s furs, huddled for warmth.

The townspeople of Murray heard about Molly and her rescue attempt from the travelers and feared the three would not live through the night. Imagine their surprise and delight when a horse carrying two women and a child came galloping into town. People rushed to meet them and tend to their needs. Molly ordered a cabin for the young boy and his mother, to be charged on her bill. When they offered her lodgings in the hotel, she refused. She wanted occupation of Cabin Number One. The cabin reserved for the Madam of the town. A young Irishman, Phil O’Rourke, helped her down from her horse and asked her name. When she said Molly Burdan, he laughed out loud and said, “Well now, fur the life o’ me. I’d never o’ thought of it. Molly b’Damn!” The name stuck.

Molly built a successful business in Murray and was beloved by the townspeople. Her restless spirit had finally been calmed. She was good to her “girls” and provided a comfortable home for them. She fed anyone who was hungry and offered shelter to the homeless. She would often hike up the mountain in her fine clothes to tend to a sick prospector. And, she even attended Protestant church services.

One of Molly’s creative means of making money in the prosperous mining town was to have her “big cleanup bath,” when the cleanup of the mines was due. She would set up a tub in the back of her establishment, fill it with water, and encourage the miners to dig into their pockets and cover the bottom of the tub with gold. When it was sufficiently covered, she’d strip down and sink into the water. For the right price, she’d even allow one of them to scrub her back.

Witty, risqué and sometimes ribald, Molly was also a person who cared deeply for others. In 1886 a stranger walked into Murray with a raging fever and immediately died. He was carrying small pox and had exposed the entire town. It’s wasn’t long before people became ill and many died. The healthy townspeople retreated to their houses, afraid of the disease. This wouldn’t do for Molly.  She called a town meeting and rallied the healthy to help the sick. She and her girls worked tirelessly to tend the ill miners and their families. She rarely took the time to eat or change her clothes during the weeks that small pox raged through Murray.

Eventually, the disease dissipated, but Molly was forever changed. In the coming months she weakened, lost weight and was besieged with a perpetual cough. Soon she was bedridden and the good women of Murray came together and took turns watching at her bedside and taking care of their generous friend, round the clock. She was finally diagnosed with consumption and died on January 7, 1888.

On that day, the townspeople of Murray retreated to their homes. Curtains were drawn and the saloons were closed. Work ceased. The Protestant ministers made arrangements for her funeral and thousands from the area attended to say farewell to the good-hearted prostitute who had brought life and love to their town. To this day, the people of Murray and the surrounding area, celebrate their long lost friend with the Annual Molly b’Damn Gold Rush Days event. Her spirit will live in their hearts forever.

Resource: Soiled Doves, Prostitution In The Early West, Anne Seagraves

Photograph: silentowl: Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the …Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the 19th