Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Thousand Words at Least by Ann Parker

Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boom town of Leadville.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Ann writes historical mysteries based in Colorado. According to her website bio:

"Ann's ancestors include a great-grandfather who was a blacksmith in Leadville, a grandmother who worked at the bindery of Leadville's Herald Democrat newspaper, a grandfather who was a Colorado School of Mines professor, and another grandfather who worked as a gandy dancer on the Colorado railroads."

Thanks for joining us today, Ann.


A Thousand Words, at Least…by Ann Parker

It all started when I was zipping around eBay, looking for old photographs of Manitou Springs.

I was partway through the writing of Mercury’s Rise, which takes place in summer 1880 in Manitou Springs. My protagonist, Inez Stannert, travels to Manitou to see her sister and her young son, after nearly a year’s absence. Inez’s friend, Susan Carothers, accompanies her. I needed old photos of Manitou and its environs to help me re-create the area, but I found more. Much more.

You see, Inez’s friend Susan is a photographer (unusual, but not entirely unknown for that day and age). Sooo, when I stumbled across a cabinet card taken in the Manitou Springs area circa 1880 that was “Photographed and Published by Mrs. A. Galbreaith,” my research antennae began to quiver, and questions arose.

A woman photographer, taking commercial photographs in the very area I was writing about? Talk about serendipity! So, who was Mrs. A. Galbreaith? What was she doing in Manitou Springs? Did she actually have her own studio?

Intrigued, I began a search.

Mrs. Galbreaith wasn’t listed in the 1879 or 1880 or 1882 city directories. Unfortunately, the city directories from 1883 through 1885 are missing, and she wasn’t listed in 1886 either. Luckily, I made a connection with a local historian, who was able to tell me that Anna Galbreaith was indeed a local photographer back in the mid-1880s, and that she also ran a Manitou boarding house (a proper one, I hasten to add) called the “Ohio House.”

I found a couple more tantalizing references to Anna G’s work, far from “home.” She appears in the Guide to the Julia Driver Collection of Women in Photography (Gen MSS 690), by Matthew Daniel Mason, in the Yale University Library, where she apparently has a couple of cabinet cards as part of the collection. The other reference I found was in a Princeton University document, WC064: Western Americana photographs collection.

Mrs. Galbreaith rated a few lines in each of these documents for her landscape card photographs (cabinet cards), which are stored in these various collections.

Her cards also spring up, occasionally, on eBay, and I was lucky enough to snag one of “The Narrows,” in Williams Canyon, shown here.

Now, this card has turned out to be worth far more than a thousand words, not just for the image and for leading me to Mrs. Galbreaith, but also for the information printed on the back.

The back is a bit of an advertisement for the area (a device commonly used for “tourist destinations” of the day), and includes a chemical analysis of the various mineral springs in Manitou (an analysis which proved very useful for my story), as well as names of the springs, and a description of the area and its sights. All very germane to Mercury’s Rise.

The front shows a young fellow posing in “the Narrows.” Hmmm. What are the Narrows? Well, pretty much just as they sound: a very narrow portion of Williams Canyon.

Knowing that, I had to go and see the place in person, so I put it on my “must see” list for my research trip to Manitou Springs. My local guide obligingly took me partway up Williams Canyon, through the Narrows. Photographs were duly snapped.

The upshot? Mrs. Anna Galbreaith plays a small but significant role in my story (and gives my fictional photographer, Susan Carothers, a reason to travel to Manitou in the first place, as well as providing a place for Susan to stay that is near Inez and the action). I liked the idea of two women photographers in 1880, getting together and sharing techniques and stories.

And the Narrows… well, that particular geological feature comes in for a few words as well in Mercury’s Rise.

All in all, that find on eBay ended up worth far more than a thousand words!


Thanks again, Ann, for an excellent post.

The latest book in Ann's series, Mercury's Rise, won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award, and was a finalist for an Agatha Best Historical Novel Award, a Willa Award for Best Historical Fiction, and a Colorado Book Award (Genre Fiction category). It has also been nominated for a Macavity–Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. Publisher’s Weekly said, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal added, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!” 

Learn more about Ann and her series at her website. She is also a contributor to The LadyKillers blog.

Mercury's Rise and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers' Indie Bound, amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other places where mystery books are sold.

A version of this post was originally published at Patricia Stoltey blog on October 31, 2011.

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