Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I'm down at Quantico Marine Base with Tom. Yesterday we attended a golf tournament/auction to raise scholarship funds for for a foundation called "The Young Marines." I had never heard of this group before, but like the ROTC, it teaches military discipline and service the marine way, preparing future officers and leaders.

The experience was moving. I was surrounded by officers in all their variety, from generals on down, with post commanders and retirees proudly wearing their caps and shouting "Ourah!!!" at any mention of the corps. These men are proud Marines, and proud of their Marine heritage which dates back to 1775, and rightly so. Even in my research on the War of 1812, the toughest fighting squad, next to Joshua Barney's Flotillamen, was a group known simply as "Miller's Marines."

As the golfers moseyed in off the greens, the older soldiers posted their golf scores on the board and then gathered around a table to talk, and there was no shortage of opinions or wisdom reflected there. And the topics on these veterans' minds? It wasn't sports scores or movies or popular media darlings. They were doing what they had done for a lifetime--assessing the news, reading between the lines, gathering intel and discussing strategic political and military options some of them no longer had the power to implement. I was a fly on the wall, and the conversations were fascinating as they discussed places that still seem to strange to most of us but places that had clearly been on their radar for many years--Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel.

Their faces were emotion-filled. They were deeply invested in these corners of the world where their young comrades-in-arms were serving or might serve one day. Some had sons and grandsons deployed here, and clearly, they were on their minds.

They talked about God, and about country as if it were an un-severable appendage to it. They knew the Bible and saw a clear connection between events written there and our circumstances today. These men of different colors, different nationalities, and likely of many different faiths, see their service as an extension of their personal faith, and they see their defense of America as a defense of Christianity in a world becoming increasingly negative towards Christians.

A highlight of the day ocurred when three sisters of a Marine killed at the 1983 bombing in Beirut came to participate in the launch of a scholarship named for their slain brother. Several were also Marines themselves, and they wept over the ache of their loss as well as the pride that his memory would be honored in such a manner. It was an honor to be there, and to see steeled, battle-scarred brothers-in-arms from every branch of the service shed a tear or two as well. It reminded me of something Colin Powell once said about how no one works harder for peace than a soldier.

Later in the day, we headed to a field set up as a tent city for the expo. It was fascinating to see trucks and men moving like a living organism to create a small city in a field. Squares of polymer flooring were laid like giant tiles on the ground to create roads, sidewalks, and floors. Carpets were laid indoors to create rooms inside tent walls, and hundreds of crates that blocked the floors were quickly unpacked and moved with mind-boggling efficiency. Our military is amazing in more ways than I can number.

And they are not stupid kids who can't do anything else. I saw some of the highest-tech robotics and computer-driven machinery in the world. Some of it looks like it could have come from the backlot storage for Star Wars. Amazing.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Kathi Oram Peterson

Kathi Oram Peterson understands the challenges and triumphs of youth. In The Stone Traveler, she has not only created a troubled youth from our day, she has created a cast of enchanting characters from 34 A.D. Meso-America who are beset by the concerns of their own complex time. When the dubious actions of our main character, 16-year-old Tag Quincy, catapult him back two thousand years into young leader, Sabirah’s ancient land, both come to discover that dangers abound in both worlds, and that ultimately, peace for each is based on the same two important elements.

When Tag’s father and brother leave the family unexpectedly and without explanation, the changes that occur in his once-perfect world cause Tag to systematically rebel against everything he once believed in. The impact is most apparent on the outside as Tag assumes a Goth-like persona with an angry, rebellious attitude to match.

Ironically, it is on a day when he is actually trying to save his own spineless cousin from being attacked by the problematic gang recruiting Tag that his good intentions are misinterpreted, landing the full weight of his mother’s disappointment and anger on him. The result is a summer of banishment to his grandfather’s lakeside cabin for an attitude adjustment, and Tag will have none of it.

While making his escape one stormy night, Tag happens upon the cabin where three strange men take him in. In their possession is an intriguing glowing stone that entices Tag until he decides to “borrow” it. But the stone exacts its own consequence, hurtling Tag back into 19-year-old Sabirah’s violent world where he is viewed as the promised Wayfarer who will help her locate her own missing father and brother. As the two teens form an alliance, Tag’s dependence on Sabirah’s cunning and wisdom eventually diminishes as he emerges as a young man capable of far more than he ever believed.

Kathi Oram Peterson’s The Stone Traveler is a wonderful coming-of-age story that delivers a solid fantasy tale with beautifully-paced spiritual elements woven throughout. It’s written in first-person, through Tag’s and Sabirah’s distinctive voices. It took me a few chapters to catch the rhythm of the story, but from the middle to the end I was turning pages furiously, intrigued by unexpected plot twists and surprises at every turn. Her characterizations are distinct and endearing, and her ability to maintain their individual voices while allowing them to grow and develop, was executed masterfully.

The book raises important topics such as family unity, loyalty, integrity, faith, testimony, trust, true friendship, marriage prep, etc. Moreover, the subtle comparison between Tag and the rebels of Sabirah’s day is compelling.

Published by Covenant, The Stone Traveler will satisfy adults and youth alike, making it a wonderful family book to be shared and discussed together.

Click here to buy a copy online.

As I’ve mentioned throughout the month, Kathi is running a unique and exciting blog tour with fabulous prizes. It’s not too late to enjoy the fun at: http://www.kathiswritingnook.com/2010/09/journey-begins.html.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


book four of my
Free Men and Dreamers series,
now has a cover

Free Men and Dreamers captures the events that changed fifteen loosely-tied states into "one nation under God."

Writing historical fiction is a dicey enterprise where an author balances the tasks of writing a gripping novel within a framework of meticulously-researched history. The history of this 1814 time period and its larger-than-life people is already compelling, but the viewpoint our rich, fictional characters add to the storyline makes Free Men and Dreamers a poignant, entertaining read.

Since this volume thrusts our characters into the pivotal Battle of Baltimore and the events surrounding the writing of the "Star Spangled Banner," we tried to capture the emotion of that "perilous night" with "bombs bursting in air" on the cover. I hope the image will leave readers hungry to tear into the story.

"This book touched me deeply, causing me to reflect on the countless lives that have sacrificed freedom and happiness so that I could pursue my own. Lewis has written a compelling, almost epic, novel, full of themes that span from 1812 to 2010—and beyond. As her characters wrestle with the dislocation and trauma of a war, they come to realize what it means to be Americans, what it means to be free—and ultimately, what it means to be human."

Braden Bell, author of "The Road Show."

Research for the book took me on a visit to Fort McHenry where I spent time with the expert on the Battle of Baltimore--Scott Sheads--who not only heads the staff at the fort, but who serves as the curator of the "Star Spangled Banner" exhibit at the Smithsonian. Like most historians with whom I've had the pleasure of chatting, Sheads is generous with his research and observations, offering me tidbits of little-known information about the perilous battle upon which the hopes of a battered nation hinged, and about Francis Scott Key who observed it as a detainee in the harbor, including details about the days surrounding the writing of the poem that became our nation's anthem.

Once started I had to read the whole thing through and many parts brought tears to my eyes. (Ernie, a reader)

But it's the glimpses of the characters, drawn from historical accounts, that drive the story, experiencing the agonies and triumphs of families who lived through these times. Begin at the beginning if you're new to the series:

Volume 1, DARK SKY at DAWN, introduces the complex story of our six lead families--three American, two British, one slave--and the devastating prelude to the war.

Volume 2, TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING, carries readers into the harrowing events at Hampton, Virginia, and illustrates the toll the war takes on civilians--women and children. But through it all, a new tenacity begins to strengthen the young nation's spine as Americans rally to the cause of their nation. (Available at a huge promotional discount.)

Volume 3, DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT, throws our characters into the attack on Washington and the events that proved the mettle of the Constitution and the Presidency.

“Oh, Say Can You See,” crackles with tension and suspense. Although I know how the Battle of 1812 ended, I found myself staying up late at night and turning pages in an urgent attempt to find out what happened to the country and to the characters I came to know and love.

Braden Bell, author of "The Road Show."

OH, SAY CAN YOU SEE is set for an October release but autographed copies can be pre-ordered here. We're beginning pre-release promotional activities, beginning with spreading the word about the book trailer for the series. Click on this link, go to Youtube and view the trailer, then leave a comment beneath the video to be entered to win a copy of "OH SAY CAN YOU SEE" or any other book in the series. Post the trailer to your Facebook page or blog, or post a link on your Twitter account, and you'll win another entry for each. Just leave a comment below telling me where you posted. A winner will be drawn October 9th. By then our release date will be firm and the big contest will commence.

I hope you'll join us for the blog tour, my appearance on the Candace Salima Show with a date TBA, and a host of promotional, history-rich activities aimed to raise our national pride before the bicentennial in 2012.

Thanks for the support!

laurie lc lewis

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I visted an Early Morning Seminary class this morning and watched sleepy teens stroll in to be greeted by steaming cups of teacher-prepared cocoa, and smiles that were just as warm and soothing. After an hour of bathing in the sweet power of the Spirit, I watched them shuffle out, renewed and refilled, ready to face a day of battle in the arena of popularity and public opinion. I wasn't worried for them. They were armed with another day's complement of hope and love, and the world would be better for their influence.

Such hope comes in small packages, like the sight of a family meeting together at a park with a sack of hamburgers in tow, greeting a dad who popped by with kisses and smiles, to likewise be renewed before returning to his corporate battleground. I watched the father arrive--wearied by noon--but instantly brightened when a rosey-cheeked toddler, having caught the first glance of Daddy, began picking his way through the grass to reach those outstretched arms. I wanted to grab that good mother and hug her for making the effort. Her husband would leave that park knowing by whom and where he was best loved. No other arms would lure him this day. No business opportunity would loom bright enough to make him risk falling from the pedestal that child placed him upon. Again, I felt such peace and hope.

On the way home I followed a bus that made innumerable stops where moms opened their car doors, ushering their precious cargo out with kisses and reminders of homework and lunch boxes. The children were smiling. Life is good. Life is sweet. Life is wrapped in safety and love and order, and the hope bubbled ever more within me.

It's still pretty early here. My husband, who works on California time, is probably still in bed enjoying an episode of some old 1960's western as he coaxes the kinks out of his back. I'll mosey back there and watch the ending with him, giving him a kiss during the credits. Maybe we'll have oatmeal today. That sounds soothing to me on this brisk morning.

Yeah. . . hope and peace come in small packages, reminders that where love exists, great miracles are possible. That's my daughter's favorite saying. I saw a few of those today, and it's only 8:30 A.M.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


As the general election date draws near, party darlings are scrambling to paint themselves as American as apple pie and as true as the red, white and blue. Though the passion is present in all camps, the rhetoric and platforms vary widely.

I'm sure, savvy though we may attempt to be, we each may find ourselves confused when candidates and lobbyists "sell" their groups' positions. When the individual shouts of "lo here" and "lo there" grow into a dull din, step back and look to the people to take the pulse of the nation. Two reports found in the media made a huge impression on me this week.

The first was the two-paragraph letter written by an ER doctor named Dr. Roger Starner Jones concerning what he calls the "culture crisis" at least partially at the root of the country's "health care crisis." It's simultaneously stirring and sobering. And it's gone viral. Friends posted it on one side of the country and now it's being copied and posted on the other in a day's time.

After treating one too many patients whose money was spent on everything but their own health and healthcare, Jones said:

I contend that our nation's "health care crisis" is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. Rather, it is the result of a "crisis of culture" a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. It is a culture based in the irresponsible credo that "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me". Once you fix this "culture crisis" that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you'll be amazed at how quickly our nation's health care difficulties will disappear. Respectfully, ROGER STARNER JONES, MD.

On a happier note, I found inspiration in one of the most unlikely places--a show called "Undercover Boss."

On first inspection the show appears to be another recipe for human over-exposure and self-aggrandizement, but not so. I've come to love this show because it showcases the "little guys" behind the scenes who keep American life running as we know it.

Tonight, I fell in love with a Russian immigrant named Igor who works for 7-Eleven. Igor, a supply-truck driver who delivers goods to the stores, arrived in America with fifty dollars in his pocket and a hunger to grab hold of the American Dream. Some may say that dream has eluded him because he works the night shift while his wife works during the day, leaving them only the weekends to connect. Not so, says Igor. This father of two feels he is immersed in the dream he sought. "America is the greatest land on the earth. You people don't know what you have because you have always had it." Pretty refreshing attitude. And humbling too.

So two diverse glimpses or America presented themselves this week. One glimpse shows what a feeling of entitlement produces. The other shows what happens when gratitude prevails. Amazing, isn't it?

(Laurie's newest release, "OH SAY CAN YOU SEE," the story behind the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, is set for an October 2010 release. View the trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQYHvfQeZvE)

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I generally gain about fifteen pounds during the crunch period of a writing project. I sit too long, move too little, and nibble to stay alert when I hit a creative block. After the manuscript is turned it, I celebrate by taking a hard look at what my literary sacrifice has wrought upon my middle-aged body--an increased mid-tummy tire, enlarged saddle bags, and perhaps a new chin to boot. As always, I begin a renewed commitment to getting to bed by ten, padlocking the fridge, and I begin a new exercise regimen.

In truth, my numerous attempts to sustain an exercise program have failed miserably, or else I wouldn't be blogging about the new physical attributes I've earned while hammering out "Oh Say Can You See?"

My daughter, Amanda, delivered a new baby girl seven weeks ago, and as soon as she hit her six-week check-up, we hit the park trail with the babies in tow, to begin a walking routine. It's perfect. We begin as soon as the babies are up and fed. Amanda wears Avery in her front pack and I push Brady in the stroller. We pause at the playground so Brady can slide and swing, and we get some fresh air and mother/daughter chat time.

We do okay. Sure, some granny-aged veteran walkers lap us, and we do note that while we walk the track, many jog past us three times. Still, we pull our elastic-waisted sweat pants up, align the neck of our baggy t-shirts pulled from the bottom drawer where our exercise/ housecleaning/gardening togs are stored, we square our shoulders and push on, claiming our spot on the trail!

But we've also begun to note the wry smiles the veteran exercisers give us as they press past our slovenly little parade. "Newbies," they seem to say as their spandex-ed legs race past our moseying fleece. I give my husband's baseball cap a firm tug, wondering where I can pick up one of those cute, pink visor-things with the "Joggin' Mama" logo.

"How is it that they don't even break a sweat?" I ask myself. Then I realize that they do, only when you're dressed in cute exercise clothes, sweat turns to sheen, and that ruddy "I think I'm about to have a heart-attack" flush appears to be merely a healthy glow.

"We've got to get ourselves some cute exercise clothes," I tell Amanda. "Some black pants with a racing stripe down the leg. They're very slimming." Her expression tells me while I might be on to something, I shouldn't expect too much from a measly pair of pants. "And some cute tops too," I add. She accommodates my dream with a nod and a smile. "Sure, Mom. We'll go shopping."

I need her to catch my dream. I look up swagger in the Urban dictionary:

How one presents him or her self to the world. Swagger is shown from how the person handles a situation. It can also be shown in the person's walk.

YEAH. . . . . . . . !!!

"We need some "swagger," Amanda. We need to dress like we're serious about this exercise thing." Then I wonder what a plus-sized, middle-aged woman would look like in spandex pants with a racing stripe. The image causes me to break out in a sweat . . . and I'm not even moving.

I pull up a web page and begin looking for the fall collection of fleece. Yeah . . . swagger is what swagger does. I'll just have to pull it off in fleece, and spare my family the need of psycho-therapy from viewing a failed fashion experiment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


"Wear your good underwear in case you get in an accident. . ." Ever heard that one? In the event of an accident, is anyone seriously going to care about the status of your under-attire? Hopefully not, but that's probably not why your mama gave you that bit of advice. In my experience, bad things rarely happen when you are "put-together." Nope. They happen when you look your worst, when you're bone-weary, you're hair is dirty, yesterday's make-up is smeared and you're wearing your holey, crusty, painting clothes. Allow me to divulge a few personal experiences that illustrate my point.

A friend was painting and I offered to help for two hours. I dressed in an old pair of tattered hospital scrubs and a t-shirt that served as a timeline of every color every stroked across my walls. I pulled my hair back in a band and ventured out with my two pre-schoolers, right after the older kids hit the buses. On the short four-mile drive, my multiply-questioned two-year-old who swore he didn't need to potty suddenly decided he did after all. "It's a 'mergency," he cried. Horrified at the thought of being seen in public in my current state, I nonetheless sucked it up, pulled into McDonalds and hurried in, leaving my wallet in the car.

As we headed back to the car, the essence of Egg McMuffins overwhelmed my children who began to cry out in hunger. Now, of course they had eaten breakfast at home, and they had probably left food on their plates, but interestingly enough, the section of their stomachs reserved only for McDonald's fare was miraculously vacant. "I fed you at home," I whispered. "And mommy left her wallet in the car. I don't have any money." In a pitiful, dramatic voice that would have landed my son the starving-child role in Oliver, Adam cries out "Oh, Mommy. . . don't you have any money? I'm soooo hungry. . . ." His brother Josh immediately added a pathetic wail to the mix, and soon senior citizens were reaching for their clutch purses, searching for change. I dragged my waifs to the car knowing this would never have happened if I was clean, dressed nicely, and carrying a leather handbag on my shoulder.

Later that same year, I was wallpapering in another of my many splendid home improvement outfits when the hour arrived to meet Amanda's kindergarten bus. I scooped the little boys up in their under-roos or Superman pj's, and we hurried to the bus stop. The children got off, but Amanda was not there. Racing home in a panic, I called the school when a call arrived from the local minister's wife who explained that Amanda had followed her daughter on to the wrong bus. I buckled the boys in and headed, in a complete dither, to the parsonage which sits next to an old historic church, looking as if my entire life was spent in a complete dither. While there, the minster's wife invited me in for a moment. During that brief exchange, Adam unbuckled his car seat, somehow engaged the key in the ignition and released it. As I walked out the door, I saw his panicked face pressed against the window, crying for me as the car rolled down the driveway, executed a turn that totaled the church secretary's car, rolled back up the parsonage hill, and back down into the grand, historic church's ancient steps. And who drove by at that exact moment? A state trooper. And did I mention that my broken glasses were being held together with tape. Yeah. . . .

So yesterday Amanda and I began our walking program. She buckled 6-week-old Avery into her Baby Bjorn thing, and I pushed 2-year-old Brady in the stroller. There was no time to tidy our appearances before racing to the lab for Amanda's monthly blood tests for her kidney. While she was in the lab, I sat in the car with the kids. Brady pooped his diaper and threw a Baggie filled with goldfish crackers all over himself and the car, while Avery commenced a wail that resembled an emergency siren. I tried to comfort her and Brady began to cry. The look on my face must have unnerved Amanda as she arrived. She immediately took Avery and decided to nurse her right there in the car in the parking lot. She's very discreet, but despite her discretion, a beautifully-coiffed and attired young pregnant mommy, (who could have been a cover model for Parents magazine), glanced at our sweaty, Pepperidge-Farm-goldfish cracker-encrusted selves with Avery at her mommy's breast, and scowled.

Oh . . . you just wait, sister. . . I thought to myself. I looked at Amanda and pled, "Please don't get in an accident on the way home . . . not when we look like this. . . ."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Sometimes we get busy, or complacent, and we think, "What difference does one vote make anyway?" So many recent elections have hinged on small voting margins. I thought I'd share this glimpse of history with you, taken from my upcoming book, OH SAY CAN YOU SEE? It illustrates the power of one man's vote.

Joseph Hopper Nicholson was a member of the House of Representatives during a critical vote. Maybe you won't see the same power in your vote as a private citizen, but the tenacity of his patriotism, and the sacrifices he was willing to make to have his voice heard is humbling, and a good lesson for each of us to remember.


“You asked the captain if there was something he just couldn’t do, he said you asked the wrong man. Do you know what he meant by that?”

Abel shook his mighty head, keeping his eyes riveted to a spot of ground.

“In 1801, what Captain Nicholson wanted more than anything else was for Thomas Jefferson to be elected President of these United States, but the voting in the Electoral College resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Electing the new president then fell to the House of Representatives, where the captain was currently serving the state of Maryland.

“It was February 11. The captain was just a judge then, and very ill . . . so ill that his doctor felt he was about to draw his last breath. It was then that a courier arrived detailing the dilemma in Washington. Though it was snowing, the judge would not allow an entire nation’s destiny to turn on his concern for his own well being. So, he had his sick bed loaded onto a wagon and he rode into Washington with his wife by his side, so he could cast his vote.

“He was placed in a committee room to rest between ballots. Thirty-five were cast, all ending in a tie. In between each, his dear wife Rebecca administered medicines to keep him lucid. When the Federalists realized he was determined to cast his vote for Jefferson until his last breath, a few delegates were so moved they stepped away from the vote, handing the advantage to the Republican-Democrats who elected their candidate, Thomas Jefferson, the third American President. That’s what a man can do when he wants something badly enough, Abel.”

When we consider what Jefferson's connections to the French produced during his presidency--the Louisiana Purchase-- and the impact that singular acquisition has had on America, we can hardly imagine where we would be had that one vote not been cast.

So I hope we all get out to exercise this sacred privilege today.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I heard a most remarkable point of view last Saturday. A commentator mentioned the human capital lost on 9-11. . . including some of the brightest financial minds in the world. Who knows how their loss impacted the U.S. and world markets? Would the economy be such a mess if they had lived? No one knows, but the ripples of that day may be far wider than we realize.

Who can measure the impact one life can have on the world? It brings to mind movies like "It's A Wonderful Life" and many others, where seemingly ordinary people's influence changed countless lives, and sometimes, even society in general.

It's sobering.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I've posted once before about Philadelphia's splendid "Please Touch Museum," housed in Memorial Hall, one of only two buildings remaining from America's Centennial hosting of the World's Fair. It's a delightful learning extravaganza for children, from it's life-sized replica of the Liberty arm and torch made from toys and household cast-offs, to the many "hands-on" exhibits and learning stations. Click here to take an interactive visit right now!

My favorite part of the musuem was the scale model of Centennial Park in 1876. This week I received an email from Philip Valenti, one of the tour guides of the exhibit, explaining that the mueum has introduced a new adult tour to explain "the history of the building and its restoration, the Centennial Exhibition as a whole and the background of the Museum itself."

Philip has a passion for the glimpse this exhibit provides into 100 year-old, post-Civil War America and her desire to show the world what and who she was. You will be amazed at the ingenuity and vision of these early Americans. In the following paragraphs, Philip provides"

A Short Introduction to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition:“The International Exhibition of Arts, Manufacturesand Products of the Soil and Mine”

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia was one of the greatest events of modern world history. It celebrated the success of the American Revolution after 100 years, showing that the USA had outstripped the British Empire and all the other kingdoms and empires of the world in manufacturing, agriculture, technology and inventions of all kinds-- thus demonstrating for the first time that the common people are capable of self-government without monarchs, emperors or aristocrats. Over the six months of the Exhibition (May 10 to November 10), almost 10 million people attended—the biggest single day was Pennsylvania Day, September 28, when over 275,000 people visited the Centennial grounds. (The whole US population at the time was about 40 million, and Philadelphia’s about 800,000.)

Thirty-seven nations participated by displaying their best products and achievements in all areas of life. Many also came to learn the American System of economics, and to spread these ideas and methods to their own countries.

For example, the first foreign head of state ever to visit the USA was Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, who stood on the podium on opening day May 10, 1876 with President Ulysses S. Grant right in front of Memorial Hall—an estimated 100,000 people were in the audience on that day, including the US Congress, Supreme Court, and many Governors and foreign dignitaries. On June 25, 1876 Dom Pedro participated in the first public demonstration of the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell by reciting Shakespeare over the phone! Dom Pedro, even though he was an Emperor, wanted Brazil to be more like the United States, so he freed the slaves in Brazil in 1888, and supported railroad building and use of the telephone and other American inventions.

In less than two years, over 200 buildings were built for the Centennial on about 240acres in West Fairmount Park, including: Memorial Hall, constructed out of granite, marble, iron and glass and designed to be a permanent memorial of the Centennial. It was the art gallery of the Exhibition, containing thousands of paintings and sculptures, and became the model for many historic buildings in Europe, such as the famous German Parliament building in Berlin, the Reichstag building. Memorial Hall was dying from decay and neglect until it was rescued and restored to its past glory by agreement between the City of Philadelphia and PTM.

The Main Exhibition Building, although a temporary structure made of wood and iron scaffolding, was the largest building in the world in 1876, stretching more than six football fields in length (approximately 1,876 feet) right alongside Elm (Parkside) Ave. All the participating nations displayed their best products there, so a visit to Main was like a tour of the world. Once again, American inventors and innovations stood out, like Bell and his telephone; Thomas Edison and his mimeograph machine and electric pen; Otis Elevator Co. steam powered elevators that took brave souls to the roof of Main; and Abraham Lincoln’s great economic adviser Henry Carey, who distributed pamphlets and discussed American System economics with one and all.

Machinery Hall, another huge temporary structure, housing hundreds of machines (three-fourths of them made in the USA), all in motion, illustrating the process of production of almost everything. Every machine in the Hall was connected by belts and pulleys to the huge Corliss Steam Engine, standing over 40 feet tall in the middle of the building, donated for free to the Centennial by Rhode Island industrialist, inventor and patriot George Corliss. President Grant and Dom Pedro turned the wheel on opening day to start the Engine—it ran quietly without an accident or breakdown for six months, six days a week, testifying to the power of the American genius for invention.

Another standout feature was the display of Baldwin Locomotives, made in Philadelphia at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, and later used on the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Russia and other projects all over the world. The US Government Building, which featured new inventions used by different branches of the federal government. Two modern US Post Office rail cars were parked outside, demonstrating high speed mail delivery by train.

Nearby was a model lighthouse, later used on Long Island; a model US Army hospital (on the walls of which hung Thomas Eakins’ famous painting, “The Gross Clinic”); a laboratory to make cartridges and other ordnance; and a model telegraph office run by the US Signal Service. The US Patent Office displayed 5000 models of inventions patented by Americans, including one by Abraham Lincoln. Plus much, much more…

The Women’s Pavilion, which was the brainchild of Elizabeth Gillespie, great granddaughter of Ben Franklin, who wanted to demonstrate the equality of women as inventors and engineers. The exhibit featured a steam engine run by a woman technician, which powered dozens of patented inventions by women, including an automatic dishwasher and dryer.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to fly back in time and get a bird’s eye view of the entire Centennial Exhibition? We can do that today, thanks to Centennial Board member John Baird and the students of Spring Garden College, who built a magnificent scale model of the Centennial grounds—located since 1901 in the “basement” of Memorial Hall. What a wonderful gift to us from the great generation of Americans who saved the Union in the Civil War, and created the Centennial Exhibition! (Find out more about the Centennial on the PTM website.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


While driving along in the car, my husband frequently asks, "Do you remember the time we ate at. . . ?" Or, "Do you remember the time we . . .?" Invariably, I don't. Maybe, just maybe, on a good day, I'll remember some small remnant of the tale, and I'll twist my face up in worry and timidly reply, "Vaguely," while wondering if I need to immediately put a brain surgeon on speed dial or call up my local psychiatrist to discover why all my memories are erasing.

It sounds like a scary horror movie, doesn't it? I really began to worry that I might have some sort of early onset of aphasia or some mental block. I considered Ginko Biloba and a host of other supplements. And then I got a clue to the real culprit.

My daughter recently had her second baby in eighteen months--not unprecedented, but certainly daunting. She calls from time to time to have me sit for an hour so she can nap. One look at her tired eyes, or her rounded fatigue-burdened shoulders and I remember why my memories are vague. I think I lived in a ten-year fog during which I kept everyone alive, probably faked being awake well enough to raise emotionally-stable kids, but have few solid memories.

I've heard that fatigue in my daughter-in-law's voice for years, which is why I try to get out there from time to time to give them a few days' escape each year. But now I can see it on a daily basis, and I have begun to wonder if most mommies can't admit to a gap in their recall.

It's sad . . . heart-breaking, really. My adult children will look at their own children reaching certain developmental stages and they'll ask, "When did I do that?" I try so hard to sort out all the little feet, the rolling babies, the gooey-faced teethers, the hours spent singing the family potty song, "Push the Guck, Push the Guck, Waaaaayyyyyy out!" to all my children, but I can hardly sort out one face from another. Oddly, my husband, who in his previous-generational macho-phase barely changed a diaper or bathed a tush, can.

So yesterday, after returning home from the pediatrician's with yet another bout of toddler illness, I looked my tired Amanda in the face and said, "Write it down in a journal or baby book. . . write it all . . . the cute moments, the landmark first steps and first songs, the day eyes turned from baby blue to brown, the day Brady fell asleep curled up with the Lab, and the moment Avery gave you her first real smile . . . write all of it down, because you will forget. You think you won't, but the fog will get you, and someday, you'll be sad.

Monday, September 6, 2010


There is a powerful tug on hearts that begin to research their ancestors, or write a personal history. To Latter-Day Saints--Mormons--that tug is called the Spirit of Elijah, referenced in verses 5 and 6 in Malachi 4 of the Old Testament.

I've felt that spirit, and I've seen the miraculous doors that open when one is doing that work--the sudden appearance of a critical piece of info in a document you've read a million times, the nagging feeling you're missing a child in a family you're researching,unseen help in locating a document, a grave in a cemetery of thousands of headstones. A chill settles into your bones and you know your aid came from a more divine source.

Something similar happens when conducting research on historical figures, and why not? After all, what we're writing adds to their personal history, a history that because of the impact their lives had on history, now affects each of us in some tiny way.

I don't claim to be an historian. I'm a debunker. My digging frequently reveals a myriad of variations on a life, and I try to separate the truth from the folklore. This is what happened this past weekend.

Unlike many historical figures whose personal papers get rounded up into one or two creditable collections from which people can draw, Key's papers are scattered in far too many places. And with the coming of the bi-centennial, every town that can claim hold to a sliver of his life or experiences, is holding on to their portion with tight fists, and worse, random stories are emerging from threads of truth.

There is a tale circulating in Frederick, Maryland--where Francis Scott Key once practiced law and where his family members lived. It claims Key stopped by his attorney's home the night before he went to Baltimore, presumably to set his affairs in order and send his family to safety at Terra Rubra, his parents' farm in the area. When I couldn't find any info to either confirm or debunk the myth, I decided to write the story that way with a caveat in the notes section alerting readers to a possible "folk-lore" thread. I wrote the chapter, and it was beautiful, tender, a real-tear-jerker. But it nagged at me. I knew I could track this down. I simply hadn't done enough legwork to get to the truth and make Key's story accurate.

I sent the manuscript off to the editor, and then I found a single quote floating around the Cyber-universe with no reference. "I cannot go [to Frederick] yet, as I have to make a journey to the Fleet to try to get Dr. Beanes released from the Enemy- I hope I may succeed but think it very doubtful."

And so, a new journey began to get to the source of this quote. After some digging, I was informed of an obscure book of poetry written by Key and published after his death. His brother-in-law, Chief Justice Roger Taney, (Of Dred Scott Decision fame) wrote a touching letter in the preface revealing some details Key had shared with him about his mission to the British fleet. In it, Taney reveals that it was he, Taney, who ferried Key's family to safety.

I spoke with a docent at the Taney House, and then I called Scott Sheads, who is the curator of Fort McHenry and the Star Spangled Banner Exhibit at the Smithsonian. He has been very generous with his knowledge and research, and an invaluable asset over the course of this Free Men and Dreamers project. Interestingly enough, Scott had just recently come across a stack of Key's personal correspondence which included the letter from which this quote was taken. Just recently . . . it was more than curious. . .

So I withdrew the submission of the manuscript and rewrote the chapter, making it as accurate as possible with all the new information. It feels right.

Of course, there are some details we'll never know. . . how his last hours at home were spent, how his wife Polly handled the thought of him heading off to met with the British whose recent exploits had been so brutal, how he felt at leaving his family during such a dangerous time. This is where we take literary license and apply the things we do know about Key's personality to create a plausible supposition. In the end, it often comes down to that spirit of Elijah thing. We somehow know when it's right. Maybe the subject's spirit confirms it to us, maybe it comes from somewhere or someone else, but we know. Yes. . . now it feels right.

The research referred to is woven into Laurie's upcoming 4th novel in her Free Men and Dreamers series-- "OH SAY CAN YOU SEE?" debuting in October.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I'll be reviewing Kathis Oram Peterson's newest release, "The Stone Traveler" later this month, but Kathi is conducting a great contest in conjunction with her blog tour, and I wanted my readers to have a chance to get in on these wonderful prizes.

From the back of Kathi's book:

Sixteen-year-old Tag can’t believe he’s in this much trouble. He’s not actually a member of the gang known as the Primes — all he did was spray paint some graffiti that caught their attention. In all honesty, ever since his dad and brother left, Tag just wants to be alone. And it’s certainly not his fault that the Primes nearly beat up his goofy cousin, Ethan. But his mom is furious about these gang-related activities and insists that Tag spend the whole summer at his grandpa’s lakeside cabin, which is not Tag’s idea of a good time. So he does what any self-respecting teenager would do: run away. But he doesn’t get far before he encounters three strange men carrying an even stranger object — a stone that glows with radiant light as bright as a thousand sparklers. Tag doesn’t steal the stone — not exactly. He feels like he is supposed to take it. But he doesn’t expect the stone to transport him through space and time to a place he’s never seen before — a place that looks an awful lot like the ancient lands described in the Book of Mormon. And he definitely doesn’t expect to join Sabirah, the entrancing daughter of Samuel the Lamanite, on a quest t
o rescue her father and brother from the evil King Jacob. And he absolutely doesn’t expect to be captured by Jacob’s minions and prepared as a sacrifice to the evil idol of the city. But just as Tag faces his death, a terrible storm begins to break, and the ground cracks into jagged pieces. And he’s not sure which event will impact his life more: his captor’s knife coming at his body, the violent tempest sweeping the land . . . or the men who later appear, glowing even more brightly than the traveler’s stone.

The rules of the tour are all listed on Kathi's site. Prizes are being given weekly and the grand prize is a KINDLE!

Check it out, and check back in on the 28th for my review of "The Stone Traveler.