Richmond Virginia

The Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va. is one of the capital city’ most visited tourist attractions. It’s also the final resting spot for presidents James Monroe (also governor of Virginia in 1800) and John Tyler, as well as several famous civil war figures. One of Edgar Allen Poe’s school teachers, William Burke, is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery.

Located at the north end of the Robert E. Lee Bridge, the old cemetery (designed in 1847) quietly overlooks the city of Richmond and the ever roiling waters of the James River. Looking for a burial plot? The Hollywood Cemetery is currently accepting new residents. In fact, it’s one of the few cemeteries in the country that’s owned by its lot (plot) owners.

Other famous residents of the Hollywood Cemetery include:

John Randolph – one of America’s forefathers and greatly feared orator.

Mary Harvey – daughter of Chief Justice John Marshall.

Jacob Valentine – The 1871 inventor of Valentine Meat Juice, a popular medicine in its day.

The Phillip Haxall family – owners of the world’s largest flour mills in the 1800s.

James Thomas, Jr. – Philanthropist and leading tobacco producer before the Civil War.

Robert Ryland – Founding president of Richmond College and the pastor of The First African Baptist Church.

General JEB Stuart – Confederate general.

Jefferson Davis – President of the Confederate States of America, and America’s leading hero of the Mexican War.

General Fitzhugh Lee – The Laughing Cavalier. He led the calvary of Northern Virginia.

Major Lewis Ginter – invented the first machine for rolling shredded tobacco in paper. His cigarettes were called Richmond Gems.

Thomas Williams – leading tobacconist

Mary Munford – crusader for public education.

Kate Minor – In 1924, she established a public library in Lewis Ginter’s former residence.

Jack Williams – 15 year old boy scout who volunteered in a makeshift hospital at the John Marshall High School during a severe influenza epidemic. Williams worked to the point of exhaustion, and died from influenza.

Bishop James Cannon – the spark plug that started the movement causing prohibition.

Hollywood Cemetery overlooking the Richmond skyline.

Photos courtesy of Chris and Stephani Fowler

Stacks of old spiral notebooks tell the story of my career in law enforcement. Most of the pages contain brief notations—mileage, oil changes, weather, dates and times, arrests, names of witnesses, informants, and suspects, crime scene information, prisoners transported, and strangely enough, ideas for stories. You see, I’d always wanted to write.

Today, with the threat of a rapidly growing and fast-moving wildfire that’s already delivered smoke and ash to our property, I flipped through the pages of a couple of those notebooks in search of my handwritten documentation of an event that’s forever etched in my mind. I’ve always referred to it as The Fire.

Please join me as I share yet another private moment. This one, while I served as a sheriff’s deputy working the graveyard shift, alone.

Saturday June 9, 1984

11:45 – Relieve 4-12 shift. No serious incidents reported. Slow night.

12:00 – Begin patrol. Mileage 43888.

12:14 – Loud music complaint. Subjects complied.

12:47 – Assist state police with vehicle search and arrests on interstate. Meth.

1:18 – Bar fight. Weapons involved. Break it up. Arrest two males. Disorderly conduct and drunk in public. One charged with assault on officer. Process. Clean and dress minor knife cuts to my right forearm. Back on patrol.

1:59 – Vehicle stop. Expired plates. Stolen car. Murder suspect from Florida. Arrest and process.

3:20 – Assist jail officers with disturbance.

4:14 – Meet trooper for breakfast.

4:27 – Serious crash on county road. Leave before meal arrives, again.

4:33 – Arrive at scene. Vehicle on fire. Fully engulfed.

Passengers trapped. Trooper assists.

Screams from inside car.

Hair burning.

Smells awful, but all too familiar.

Faces contort.

Too hot to approach.

Searing flesh.

Helpless.

Man pushing against door.

Intense heat.

Hopeless.

Fire extinguishers.

Glass exploding.

Tires flat.

Paint bubbling.

Bare metal.

Man climbs from window.

Burning. Collapses. Trooper pulls him to safety.

Dead.

Woman stops screaming.

Dead.

Little girl in back.

Five, maybe six-years-old.

“Mommy!”

Heat unbearable.

Run to car.

Shield face.

Hair on arms burns away.

Eyebrows singe.

Pull child through window.

Arms burn.

Intense pain.

Broken glass.

Tiny girl.

Hair gone.

Badly burned.

“Mommy!”

So fragile.

Blistered.

Hold her in my arms.

Clinging tightly.

Rag doll.

Mommy …

Weak.

Limp.

Tears. Mine?

“Mom …”

Silence.

0800 – Off duty

0900 – Can’t sleep.

Little girl’s screams on my mind.

Still hear them today.

Tomorrow, too.

And the day after.

 

Touring California

See California Like a Native

Stop monkeying around and have a look at some of the things we’ve seen in California, a side of the state most tourists don’t often see. So put on your hiking shoes and follow me. Yes, you have to get out of the car and walk, but you’ll be glad you did.

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The narrowest point of the Carquinez Straight.

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The Oak Ridge Boys performing in Santa Rosa.

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Yes, those are very large windmills. Interestingly, the landowner(s) receive $5,000 per year, per windmill, as rent for allowing the towers on the property. There are are 350 windmills in this location. You do the math.

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Bodega Bay.

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Note: To the well-intentioned writer. When the scene calls for a shirtless man, well, it’s spelled bare, not bear. Big difference.

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The Golden Gate Bridge, from below.

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The end …

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Flowing River

Get Out and See the Real World

Life passes much too quickly, so why not stop for a moment and see what it has to offer? Take a drive out into the country, park the car, get out, and take a few steps in any direction and you just might see something like the places I’ve posted here. Besides, it sure beats enduring the wailing, weeping, and gnashing of teeth seen on social media these days. And yes, this is indeed a wonderful and beautiful country, as you shall see below …

Twin Falls, Wa. (above and below). Top photo was also taken in Washington state.

Twin Falls, Wa. (above and below). Top photo was also taken in Washington state.

Twin Falls, Wa.

Twin Falls, Wa.

Salt marsh near Savannah, Ga.

Salt marsh near Savannah, Ga.

Grand Canyon, above and below.

Grand Canyon, above and below.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Cow, Savannah, Ga.

Cow, Savannah, Ga.

San Juan Islands, Washington.

San Juan Islands, Washington.

San Juan Islands

San Juan Islands

Tybee Island, Ga.

Tybee Island, Ga.

San Juan Islands.

San Juan Islands.

Looking out from the Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Looking out from the Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Savannah, Ga.

Savannah, Ga.

Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Near Mt. St. Helens.

Near Mt. St. Helens.

Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington.

Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington.

Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington.

Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington.

Marsh, Wilmington Island, Ga.

Marsh, Wilmington Island, Ga.

Castle Hill, Ipswich Massachusetts.

Castle Hill, Ipswich Massachusetts.

California coastline along Hwy 1 (Pacific Coast Highway).

California coastline along Hwy 1 (Pacific Coast Highway).

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Near Hearst Castle, San Simeon, Ca.

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One of the pools at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, Ca.

Mt. St. Helens.

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Boston, Ma.

Woman feeding gulls – Salem, Ma.

Tobacco, near Ellisboro, N.C.

Neighborhood in Bothel, Washington.

Tybee Island, Ga. – January 1st Polar Plunge and Guiness Book of World Records attempt at setting record for largest gathering of people wearing swim caps. Yes, we set the record (this was a few years ago), and Denene and I were part of the historic moment!

Salem, Ma.

Salem, Ma.

Ocean City, Md. one day after the 2008 Bouchercon in Baltimore.

California coastline near Big Sur.

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Half Moon Bay, Ca.

From the deck of a Mighty Midget (the Nakha, formerly the LCS(L) 102), Mare Island, Ca.

From the website of the National Association of USS LCS(L) 102:

“LCS(L)s were usually involved in the first assault on the beach.  Attacking the beach in a line, they made two runs, firing rocket barrages at 1000, 800, and 500 yards.  After the third rocket barrage, they turned broadside to the beach and fired on targets of opportunity before heading seaward for the next run.  On the third run, they were followed by the landing craft.  As they approached the shore, they slowed to allow the troop-laden boats to pass by and deposit their men on the beaches.  The LCS(L)s then continued to fire over the heads of the troops and remained inshore, firing on targets as they became available.  On some occasions, they took Marine artillery spotters on board for assistance in locating enemy targets on shore.  They were active in the campaigns for the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Borneo.”

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Georgia Reflections

 

Savannah, Georgia is an amazing place that’s rich in history, for sure. But “days long ago” is not the focus of this road trip. Instead, I wanted to invite you on a brief journey to see places and things that are not typically accessible to Savannah tourists.

So please join Denene and me as we pull to the side of Hwy 204 a few miles west of Savannah. This is the spot where we’ll unload our kayaks and then tote them through a dense stand of saw palmettos and Spanish Moss-draped live oaks and swamp black gum trees. Never mind the armadillos and wild hogs scurrying to avoid us, and pay no attention to the swarming mosquitos and relentless attacks from the invisible gnats—noseeums—feasting on your skin, because what’s waiting for us on the other side is absolutely stunning.

Yes, right there. I know, the river is extremely still. Yes, it is quiet. It’s always peaceful. Actually, I’ve never seen another human back here. Just water birds, an occasional fish leaping to catch a bug, and an alligator or two sunning themselves on the banks.

So slide your kayak into the water and follow us for a peek at some breathtaking afternoon reflections. Oh, it’s best that you keep your hands and feet out of the water. You’ll see why in a moment.

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Touring California

 

Stop monkeying around and have a look at a side of California most tourists never experience. After all, this brief trek sure beats the heck out of the snow and cold some of you are experiencing this weekend. Yes, it’s sunny and in the mid 70’s at our house today.

So park the snowblowers, swap your winter boots for a pair of flip-flops, and follow me. I think you’ll enjoy the sights.

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The narrowest point of the Carquinez Straight

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The Oak Ridge Boys performing in Santa Rosa.

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Yes, those are very large windmills, and there are hundreds.

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To the well-intentioned writer. When the scene calls for a shirtless man, well, it’s spelled bare, not bear. Big difference. Here’s why.

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Dozens upon dozens of peacocks live in a neighborhood not far from ours. Ride through and you’ll see the brightly-colored birds perched on rooftops, car hoods, in driveways, front porches, etc. They’re everywhere.

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Finally…

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The end.

 

Pesky, hard-to-find murder scenes

 

Not all murderers choose to do their dirty work in the comfort of someone’s warm and cozy brick rancher on So Sweet Lane in Lovelytown, USA. Sometimes assassins are a bit creative when it comes to disposing of the fruits of their labor. In fact, victims have been found in really odd places, like old, rat-infested, abandoned factories, dilapidated houses, inside rusty farm machinery, lying miles-deep in the woods, a railroad car, inside discarded barrels, inside water towers and tanks, under water, a chimney, and hanging from the rafters in a barn.

So why not be creative when writing your murder scenes? The real killers sure are.

* Some of the photos in today’s blog are from the collection of Maryland photographer, Sunday Kaminski. The others are mine, one of which was once an actual murder scene.

San Francisco Bay: Gilligan style

 

Remember Gilligan’s “three-hour tour” that landed he and his fellow castaways on that famous deserted island? Well, last weekend we decided to take our California-vacationing grandson, Tyler, to San Francisco, and part of the excursion was a trip out on the San Francisco Bay. Our own three-hour tour.

I, the adventuresome grandpa that I am, convinced the others to pass on the group of sleek, modern tour boats, opting instead to charter an antique and very much rundown fishing vessel. Honestly, the boat looked like the S.S. Minnow AFTER it had shipwrecked. It was the oldest, most dilapidated boat at the docks, but I absolutely wanted to try it, even though my fellow shipmates, Denene and Tyler, preferred a much newer model with real seats. Our seats, however, were handmade from old planks with cushions fashioned from garbage bags stuffed with foam. Their torn and duct-taped brown vinyl coverings certainly added to the charm.

But, our very able sea captain (above) guided his powerful, nearly 70-year-old boat out and through the San Francisco Bay, quite possibly crossing the paths of the convicts who made that daring escape from Alcatraz.

So, without further ado, have a seat (don’t worry, they’re nailed to the well-worn wooden deck) and join us for our cruise around the Bay.

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Once the three of us were settled the captain fired up the engine, fiddled with a few things in the cabin (above) and we were off. Please notice the vast amount of high-tech equipment scattered about. For example…nothing. The brown material in the lower left is a greasy, filthy blanket that’s offered to passengers who can’t quite handle the chilly temps out on the waters around San Francisco. By the way, it was 105 at our house just a few miles away, but people on the Bay wore jackets or hoodies to fend off the cool air (upper 60’s-lower 70’s with cold salt spray).

So off we went, leaving San Francisco in our wake.

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Next up…Alcatraz Island, home of, well, Alcatraz.

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Please look to your left and you’ll see the area of the island where the boats delivering prisoners docked and unloaded the “cargo.”

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Tyler immediately recognized this place and I was impressed, thinking that his schools were teaching detailed history lessons. However, Tyler said he’d not heard of this famous place from his studies. Instead, he’d gained his knowledge of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from a video game he’d played in his younger years. At least the graphics in the game were accurate…

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In the lower right corner of the above image you’ll see part of one of the high-end seats. Also pictured is a portion of a blue five-gallon “seasick” bucket. Nothing but 1st class on this cruise!

After passing by Little Alcatraz, the rock that’s stranded many unsuspecting boat captains and their vessels, we headed toward the tiny bridge that towers above the Bay. By the way, the water was so rough our boat was tossed from side-to-side like a limp rag doll. At times we took on water which caused Tyler to panic. Not from a fear of capsizing, though. Instead, his worries were for his mega-expensive tennis shoes.

Once Tyler’s shoes were safe were able to focus on the view ahead.

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As we came closer to the Golden Gate Bridge it became clear what a feat it must’ve been to build the massive structure, all while out over the rough waters.

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We passed under the bridge, heading toward the open sea and were treated with a sighting of a dolphin (it was too quick to take a photo).

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Finally, we turned around and made the journey in reverse, with The City in view across our bow.

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A few minutes later we were back at the dock, safe and sound. No shipwrecks and no headhunters.

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Discovering who killed Kenny

 

Ah, the mind of a mystery writer. Always contemplating the simpler things in life, like car chases, explosions, and murder.

For me, there’s nothing better than to open a book and instantly feel as if I’ve been transported to another world, and I want the character’s emotions and senses to take me there. I want the black, murky waters of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana swamps to fill my gut with a sense of foreboding. I want to smell the humid southern air after a crab boil, and I want to experience the heartbreak that Dave feels when his wife dies. Those things are important to me as a reader, and they’re even more important to me as a writer. I want readers to see, feel, taste, and hear what I write.

As a reader I also pay a lot of attention to the names assigned to fictional characters and locations. Not only do they give us a bit of insight about the personality of the characters and locations, they also tell us a little bit about the author. Like the town names Hope and Despair that Lee Child used in his book Nothing To Lose. The road leading to Hope was fresh, new, and smooth ( as smooth as the author). The road to Despair was in disrepair, filled with potholes, and was totally worn out. Using those two simple words (Hope and Despair) was brilliant. Lee typed eleven letters and told us a story about two towns that some writers couldn’t have achieved in a dozen pages.

Now, speaking of appropriate settings and naming of towns in crime novels, how about the name in the photo above—Kilkenny Marina? With a quick and minor change we could come up with “Kill Kenny Marina,” and wouldn’t that be a great place to set a story? I suppose we’d need a few facts, first. Like, who’s Kenny? And why do the folks at the marina want to kill him? What exactly does one fish for at Kill Kenny? Hmm…and what, exactly, would our characters use as bait…pieces of Kenny?

A name alone can serve as a great hook. Catchy names can also become a familiar link between fans and their favorite stories/books. Does Harry Potter ring any bells? How about Metropolis (Superman), Bedrock (The Flintstones), Whoville (The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who), and Emerald City (The Wizard of Oz)?

Anyway, Denene and I stumbled across this little jewel of a place—Kilkenny Marina—while exploring the back roads near Savannah, Ga. Instead of hanging a right onto Belle Island Road in Richmond Hill (south of Savannah) I kept straight, and this is the little slice of heaven we found after passing through the narrow opening in a stand of massive live oaks. A perfect setting for a mystery? Perhaps we should find Kenny to ask his opinion of the situation.

By the way, who says you have to die to see the light at the end of the tunnel? As a more practical means of having a peek at “the light,” simply visit Kilkenny Marina a few minutes before sunset and this is what you’ll see on your way out.

*UPDATE –  We never found Kenny, so we assumed the deed had been done prior to our arrival. His disappearance remains a mystery…

 

Best friends: a moment in time

 

Tyler and Alyssa spent the day hiking. Armed with a camera and the bond of a lifelong, childhood friendship, they tell their story in a few simple photographs.

It’s a 0-word short story.

Do you use too many unnecessary words?

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