Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Photo

I found a new photo today of JJ on E-bay. He's the one driving the car on the top photo. I believe it is from 1902. He's got his chauffeur with him, just in case of some dirty work, I suppose. :) Those early machines were prone to break-downs and flat-tires. All those machines had to carry a lot of spare parts--like 2 extra tires, some carried 4. Then extra parts in a tool-box that came as standard equipment strapped to the running board. Glad we don't have to do *that* anymore. Cars were expensive to maintain and to run...and John had 26 in America just before he died. He converted the stables under his house to a car garage to house his New York collection. Both wife one and two knew how to drive. First Mrs. Astor had one of the first electric runabouts. Okay, that's as much as I know...now. I plan on getting to know more about the early autos, I just haven't gotten to it yet. I still have so much to learn. I am still reading my stack of newspapers--but it ought to go faster now and perhaps I'll even be done in the next day or two. I hope. Then the newspapers into the folders, then to get it into the computer. I know I keep harping on that, but this project has been so huge...it almost feels like for every 'bite' I manage to take and get down, two more show up to take its place. This was suppose to be a months research project...at that...and now two and half years later...I'm just getting done with the newspaper printing out...and putting away. I am still amazed that photos keep floating up in E-bay. And all these little tid-bits about JJ in various books, each one I had to go seek out and find out if it important or relevant. Sooo, this is actually an exciting place to be...the getting it all together, making the finial push before having to ***OMG*** TO WRITE TTTHE BOOK. That will be scary.
On a less serious note...I found the camera cable and learned how to transfer photos. (Guess where I found it, ....nope...not there...not there either...It was within hands reach, within sight, on my filing cabinet. I'm only been looking for the cable for about 4 months.)Which means that I can now take photos of my own and be a better blogger/list owner...well, a more interesting one when I do go off traveling. Hey, I might even get a follower or two. Nah, that's really wishful thinking.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mabel Mercer

Sometimes, in my reading of these old newspapers, I come across stories that I wish I knew how they ended. Like today--I found a story about a girl in 1907 that at 18 was considered still a child in Pennsylvania but of age in NY. Her father disapproved of who she was engaged to, so she ran away to NY and became an actress in order to support herself. Her father came, told her that her mother was dying and put her in a convent for being incorrigible. She escaped with the help of her fiance and was back living in NY. Spunky, right...but what happened then? Did she marry the darling fiance? Did she reconcile with her father? What happen to Mabel? I don't know. And a search revealed many Mabels and I can't be sure which is her. I did not find a marriage announcement, but that doesn't mean she didn't marry her fiancee when he too, finally, became of age. *Argh!!!*

I come across stories all the time that I want to find out if the child survived that fall, or if this person or that person managed to do what they set out to do. All these stories, and I won't ever find out without some really hard digging. Really, really hard digging. I don't have the time to research every single one. But I want to. I really really want to, sometimes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More work...

The next week or so is going to be taken up with reading that 2 foot high of newspaper articles, culling out the duplicates, and putting the rest into the binders. I was looking forward working with my books, and putting the references into files...and this mundane bit of housekeeping has to be done first. *Ugh.* It's only virtue is that I can lie on the sofa and read while marking the relevant parts. I have to read them to spot the parts that might be useful later. Time consuming, but ought to save me time later,...I hope. Most of it is just about Mrs. Astor and what she is wearing and how beautiful she is...and where John Astor is off traveling to. I know now that the marriage is beyond repair, and they are basically living separate lives. Yet, still sad to know that they were forced by societal demands to make that sham work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Last Three Percent

I have declared myself done with the newspapers. I could work more, looking for small gleamings...here and there. Yet, when is enough, enough? I am pausing here to admit how scary it is moving from the intake of information to the assimilation of information. Later, I will have to put my assimilation of information into something coherent. Something that other people will want to read. That will be the most scary part of all of this. I think I hesitant because this step is the safest step. You cannot get wrong the information stage -- as long as you keep looking. I still have items outside of the Internet to research--that I have to travel to get to, but I meant, this part...the gathering of what I can find easily. The first 80 percent or so is easy. Like studying for a test in school, there is that learning curve. The first 60 percent is incredibly easy--stay awake in class. The next 10 percent -- do your homework. A little harder, granted but no bloody noses by doing that. To get into the eighties-- well an extra hour with the ol' textbook and maybe make a set of flashcards. Make them but not necessarily use them. But to make an A, up in the nineties, that takes work, real work. Several hours with the textbook, all homework done and understood, flashcards used until you get them right the first time. Hard work. Very hard work. That is where I am now--do I keep going and maybe work another month (or year) and find, maybe another article or two that I can use or say, time to move on. I could spend another year looking under every single rock and boulder and tin can, to really find everything...and I mean everything, but would that be a way of distancing myself from the real work? The writing of the biography? The work that others will see, and judge. Another year of research might make the book better or it might just provide another year of hiding out. Am I working for that A from a B or am I just avoiding the really tough work? And that finial moment of judgement.

I am going to move on, even knowing that I don't have every scrap of information yet. I still have to look into the divorce, and see if I can't track down the descendant of Mr. Dobbyns, Astor's secretary....The work is still messy, and fluid, and undefined. I just don't want to be one of those people who keep working on a project and never get done. Done is scary. Done is admitting that a work is the best you can do. But Done also means that you can move on to something else. Something else that could be even more profound than this one. More creative, more yourself, and reach even higher than the last. I would much rather be the author of 10 very good, finished, published books, then the almost author of one incredible but unfinished manuscript that is still a work in progress after 20 years. I have to finish so I can move on, even if there are a few more small strings I could track down. Even so.

Monday, February 8, 2010


This is always the saddest part of my research. When I get to the funeral of John Jacob Astor, I always want to cry. This man, this honorable man, who lived his life on his own terms, who tried to live his ideals even when it got hard, gone. He didn't let others opinions of him keep him from doing what he wanted or needed to do. This in a time when reputation was everything. He did a lot of good with his money, and not just by giving it to charity. He stepped up and gave of the things that were important to him. Smart, eccentric, generous. Col. Astor still had a lot of life left in him.

Still, the most important he did might have been to die on the Titanic. As I research his life (and death)...his being on the Titanic brought it to the forefront of society that if 'lessor' people had died on it, wouldn't have brought as much notice. Congress got involved and insisted on lifeboats to equal all passengers and crew. So in later ship accidents, more lives were saved. How long would this obvious safety feature taken to catch on if the Titanic not happened? I am not diminishing the other deaths on the Titanic, just that Astor's death brought even more attention to the tragedy...than if he had not died there. He was an important man in society. More than a lot of authors give him credit for being. As I was researching his life, there were at least 10 articles per month about him, even more in his later life. The papers followed what he did, even more than Gates or ?? in our times. They reported on his yacht movements, his dining out, what his wife was wearing, etc. And this is not counting the scandals of his divorce and remarriage. There weren't much else scandalous in his life, no murders, no thefts, etc. yet I have 30 binders of newspaper articles on his life and I still don't feel like I know everything about him.

What is one man's life worth? He did not choose his death; his death choose him and yet this sacrifice keeps on serving others. Something about the Titanic draws people to it, even myself. It keeps teaching powerful messages of equality and of worth of the individual life.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Up to Titanic

I am currently up to the Titanic section of the life of JJ. Astor. Of course, every paper had major coverage of it, and I have to search all through the paper to make sure I get all of the pages related to the disaster. I am soooo close to being done with the newspaper part of this that I am tempted to just keep on this project and to heck with the rest of it yet, I have to keep perspective on this. There might be another 2 thousand pages to be printed out. I might be able to get through 500 in a day...I still have time on this, I am not going to be able to be done in a day, even if I worked all day on it. It just isn't going to happen. Anddddd, the goal is not to finish this particular work but to be a historical fiction writer, so I have to keep working on all aspects of this, not just this one part. This time is very important, and I must not rush it. If I rush, just to get finished, I might miss important things along the way. I know, now, that it is not the Titanic that has fascinated me so much but the stories on the Titanic, and how did the people face this overwhelming disaster, and cope with the loss of people that they loved. The Astors are only the beginning of this. I don't know what I will write about when all of this is over, but I have a feeling that this work has only just begun.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Astor's Beechwood

This is Beechwood. John Jacob's place in Newport. It was his mother's home first, but he stayed there a lot except for the occasional times when he rented another home for the season. He inherited it when his mother died, and Vincent Astor inherited it when his father died. They use now as a reenactment place with actors taking the place of the Astors. It is also one of the places I plan on seeing when I go to Newport. I plan to tour it twice. Once, one day and then go back and see it again the next. The first is to get an overview and write out descriptions of the place, then go back and fill in any gaps. This is for the book, well, both books I should say.

I found more proof today that the Astors had not planned to come back on the Titanic, even knowing that Madeleine was pregnant. The plan was to tour Europe until the end of May and come home then. The fire at Rhinebeck has to be what brought them home. Makes me wonder who started the fire.